Nicole Sotelo for National Catholic Reporter:
A little more than 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud presented a lecture to his colleagues on the "The Aetiology of Hysteria." It was to be his magnum opus, his great contribution to the budding field of psychology. Instead, this lecture on his discovery of the origins of hysteria was not met with the warm reception he expected and Freud found himself uncomfortable with his own theories. In a year's time, Freud questioned his findings that had revealed an uncomfortable truth: the mysterious disease of hysteria from which so many women suffered may not have been the result of an illness, but symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.
Judith Herman, a well-known psychiatrist on trauma, has written that Freud's skepticism about the widespread nature of abuse eventually led him to disavow his research. Later, Freud hypothesized that the women's stories and revelations of abuse were not based in fact, but rather, fantasies of their own desire for one or another parent. Freud eventually abandoned his earlier research into sexual abuse and turned instead to other work.
Today we find the same skepticism regarding childhood abuse among most members of the church hierarchy and some Catholics who do not want to face the horrors of sexual abuse and other atrocities that have been committed against children in our faith communities. We hear the stories. We read the statistics. And we turn away. It is too painful.
Yet what happened to Freud could be a lesson for our church today. After largely ignoring childhood sexual abuse, now the field of psychology not only recognizes the unfortunate widespread nature of such abuse, but has taken immense strides to help survivors heal. How much farther into the field of abuse psychology would be today -- and how much better we would be as a society -- if, in 1896, Freud had believed in the women he was studying and continued to research how the field of psychology could address childhood sexual abuse and other issues they faced. ...
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