Little Hans

Who was Little Hans?

Little Hans’ real name was Herbert Graf. He was a boy who suffered from a phobia of horses. His fear was particularly crippling since their house was just opposite a coaching inn. It was then quite difficult for him to leave the house due to the constant horse traffic. He was specifically afraid of horses drawing carts with heavy loads as he once saw a horse collapse and die. The beast seemed to have died of exhaustion as it was pulling a busload of passengers.

Little Hans was a son of Sigmund Freud’s friend and the famous psychoanalyst explored the factors which could have led to the 5-year-old boy’s fear. Freud did not actually work with Little Hans; he corresponded with his friend who initiated the communication in 1909. Little Hans’ father was familiar with psychoanalytic theories and he thought that his son’s case would interest the psychoanalyst. Freud suggested questions which the father asked Hans and the responses were regularly reported.

Little Hans' Case as an Example of Oedipus Complex

The case of Little Hans is in line with Freud’s Oedipus Complex. When Hans was three years old, he showed much interest with his penis, which he called “widdler”, as well as those of others. When he was about three and a half years old, his mother threatened that she would call the doctor to cut off Hans’ penis if he would not stop touching it. Hans was eventually taken to see Freud who noted that the boy was particularly scared of horses with black bits around their mouths. Freud associated the black bits with the moustache of Hans’ father. Also, the boy especially felt uncomfortable with white horses wearing blinkers. Similarly, the father was fair-skinned and wore eye glasses. Such theories were backed up by Hans’ statement, “Daddy don’t trot away from me!”

Freud concluded that Little Hans desired his mother and was scared that his father would discover his incestuous wishes and castrate him. Freud furthered that the boy was scared that the horse, which represents the father, would bite off his penis (castration). This was evidenced by Hans’ fantasies that he had imaginary children and the mother was “mummy” and the “grand daddy” was his father. He also imagined that a plumber removed his penis and gave him a bigger one.

Little Hans Outgrows His Phobia

Freud instructed Hans’ father to reassure his son that he is loved and that his “widdler” was safe. The boy’s fear then eventually faded and vanished. After 14 years, Hans’ visited Freud and he did not have any memories of his phobia. The young man then went on to become a popular opera director.

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