The discussion, so far, has merely prepared us to plunge into the heart of the question: What is it that in the last analysis makes a person nervous, and how may he find his way out? This question the next two chapters will try to answer.
In which we go to the root of the matter
=Following the Gleam.= Kipling’s Elephant-child with the “’satiable curiosity” finally asked a question which seemed simple enough but which sent him on a long journey into unknown parts. In the same way man’s modest and simple question, “What makes people nervous?” has sent him far-adventuring to find the answer. For centuries he has followed false trails, ending in blind alleys, and only lately does he seem to have found the road that shall lead him to his journey’s end.
We may be thankful that we are following a band of pioneers whose fearless courage and passion for truth would not let them turn back even when the trail led through fields hitherto forbidden. The leader of this band of pioneers was a young doctor named Freud.
=Early Beginnings.= In 1882, when Freud was the assistant to Dr. Breuer of Vienna, there was brought to them for treatment a young woman afflicted with various hysterical pains and paralyses. This young woman’s case marked an epoch in medical history; for out of the effort to cure her came some surprising discoveries of great significance to the open-minded young student.
It was found that each of this girl’s symptoms was related to some forgotten experience, and that in every case the forgetting seemed to be the result of the painfulness of the experience. In other words, the symptoms were not visitations from without, but expressions from within; they were a part of the mental life of the patient; they had a history and a meaning, and the meaning seemed in some way to be connected with the patient’s previous attitude of mind which made the experience too painful to be tolerated in consciousness. These previous ideas were largely subconscious and had been acquired during early childhood. When by means of hypnosis a great mass of forgotten material was brought to the surface and later made plain to her consciousness, the symptoms disappeared as if by magic.
=A Startling Discovery.= For a time Breuer and Freud worked together, finding that their investigations with other patients served to corroborate their former conclusions. When it became apparent that in every case the painful experience bore some relation to the love-life of the patient, both doctors were startled. Along with most of the rest of the world, they had been taught to look askance at the reproductive instinct and to shrink from realizing the vital place which sex holds in human life.