The Irish Psyche And Sigmund Freud

The Irish psyche is a deep topic for a blog post on the day after St. Patrick’s Day, when many facets of said psyche were on display all over the world.  As I did a little research for this post I came across a quotation attributed to the father of psychoanalysis himself, Sigmund Freud.

In the movie The Departed, Matt Damon’s character claims that Freud said:

 

“This is one race of people for whom

psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”

- Sigmund Freud (about the Irish)

 

Some claim this Freudian quotation was derived from a phrase by one of his followers.  This student of Freud claimed that the Irish, when in psychic trouble go to poetry, go to storytelling, or to escapism.  He believed the Irish have no interest in picking apart their own brains.

Freud is also claimed to have stated that the Irish are a mass of contradictions and impervious to the rational thought processes that might resolve them.

And finally another follower of Freud supposedly said the Austrian doctor categorized people as “Irish and non-Irish.”

Whether or not Freud actually said these words, we may never know.  However  it seems clear that the Irish psyche was at some point a topic of conversation for this famous psychiatrist and his students.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdrummbks/4632835980/in/photostream/Image Credit

The real question for me is why Freudians were so intrigued by the Irish psyche?

 

What characteristics of the Irish people led them to these conclusions? 

 

What exactly did Freud mean?

 

Was it said as an insult, a compliment or neither?

 

My proud Irish side wants to answer by saying we are too fine tuned to benefit from inward thinking, or perhaps we are just too complex for analysis.

But then there is my down-to-earth, practical Irish side that realizes we don’t do psycho anything very well.  We hate to share our emotions, we are ridden with guilt, and believe life’s fleeting fortunes are precursors to inevitable doom and gloom.

Let’s face it, no psychoanalyst is getting inside my Irish head – there’s barely enough room for my thoughts in here.

Irish people are stubbornly polite.  Saying what we think is difficult at times, but then in complete contrast there are times when we can’t stop talking and saying exactly what we think.  We are a mass of contradictions.

Words that come to mind to describe our nature are stubborn, humble,  explosive, friendly, bad-tempered, humorous, hardassed and artistic.  See what I mean?  A mass of contradictions.

And so this got me thinking about all the factors which helped form our elusive Irish psyche over the centuries.

 

Is their something about our Irishness begging to be explored?

 

Is there a story of Irish psychological development crying out to be told?

 

What is it about the Irish and our personality that makes us different and possibly unique?

 

Why did so many Irish succeed in America?

 

Do we really put the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL?

 

Can Irish proverbs help us better understand our collective psyche?

 

And so I decided why not create a section on my blog dedicated to discussing the Irish psyche.

But am I qualified to talk about this topic authoritatively?  Not in the least. Pychoanalysis is definitely not my realm of expertise. My degrees are in physical health and well being. But why let that stop me.  I’m going to take on the topic of the Irish psyche in true narcissistic, Freudian fashion.

I may not hold any psychology credentials but I have been educated in the school of life on both sides of the Atlantic, helping me to develop my own opinion of the Irish psyche.  I may not be able to personally answer all of these questions, but I can moderate a good discussion, and together who knows what insights and stories we may discover.

So stay tuned for more interesting posts on the Irish psyche.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

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Comments

  1. I’ll look forward to this series of posts. I always enjoy reading your stories and your unique way of looking at things and exploring our Irishness.

    • Thanks so much Sheila. I hope you’ll join in the discussion as we delve into the Irish Psyche.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

      • I don’t think you did much research and have to assume you did not see “The Departed.” In the film, Matt Damon’s character asks his date, a psychiatrist, if she knows what Freud said about the Irish. He then states “We are the only people who are impervious to psychoanalysis.” The screenplay writer said he paraphrased a quote attributed to Freud, which is the one you erroneously attributed to Damon’s character in the film.

        • Liz – Thanks so much for clarifying this. My wording and layout are not very clear in this post. The quote I highlighted is the one attributed to Freud, not meant to be a direct quotation from the movie. I’m so glad you were able to add the exact words spoken by Matt Damon’s character in the movie.
          All the best,
          Mairéad

    • Freud never said this , if you find it actually quoted by Freud I owe you a black & tan ! I personally believe we are impervious to psychoanalysis we are a strong race of people I’ve been blessed with Viking blood mixed with my Irish blood now let’s talk impervious !

      • Doc – Freud probably never said these exact words. Ever since he was attributed with the line in “The Departed”, it has become a topic of interest for many, whether fact or fiction. No matter who first started the discussion about the Irish being impervious to psychoanalysis, there is some truth in this idea. As you so aptly point out we are a strong race of people. We Irish deal with life in our own unique way. Thanks for stopping by and adding to our discussion.
        All the best,
        Mairead

  2. This is a fascinating subject! My husband said I am exactly like my Mom, Worry that there is nothing to worry about! Will be looking forward to your ideas.
    Thank you so much for answering my email…now I see where to follow you… I really enjoy your site.

    • Thanks so much for following Pat. Funny – my husband also tells me I am getting more like my Mom as I get older. As we say in Ireland “an ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding.” Have a wonderful week.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  3. There are so many typical Irish traits perfect for discussion. From our love of a good chat, to not getting too big for our boots, we all have learned these Irish ways from our elders. I’ll watch out for your posts.

  4. Hi Mairead, Hmm couldn’t have anything to do with the history of Ireland, farmers, sailors, and nomads who at different times had to deal with Vikings, Normans, British, but surviving it all to fight another day. You would know better than I.
    Cheers,
    Brian.

    • Brian – That sums it up beautifully. Surviving it all is what made us what we are today. Hope you had a lovely St. Patrick’s Day.
      All the best,
      Mairéad

      • anne nolan says:

        Well done Mairead.Frank Mc Court sums it up pretty much for me ‘So much going on in my head’ more professionally termed ‘Flight of ideas’.Have often thought if we could delete the useless information & download more into another file look at the space we could create.Loved the quotes esp Yeates .I will add an Oscar Wilde ‘Learning to love yourself is the start of a life long romance’

        Love Anne

        • Dear Anne – That is a great quote from Oscar Wilde. I like how Frank McCourt sums it up too. I think we will have many more posts to really get into the nuances of the Irish psyche. Thanks so much for checking this one and adding to the discussion.
          Best wishes,
          Mairéad

  5. Ha! That could really explain some things. Contradictions? That doesn’t even begin to explain it. Shop around. You may or may not enjoy my Irish madness
    http://eatgrueldog.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/lost-irish-soul/

    • Jay -Thanks for stopping by. An intertwined mass of contradictions and deep convictions – the Irish spirit or madness or whatever it is may be beyond our explanation, but I can see that we are both going to do our best to try to explain it. I checked out your beautiful, open verse poem – “Lost Irish Soul”. Thanks for sharing this link. You captured the spirit of your friend in eloquent, memorable words – a truly heart-warming and touching piece.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  6. When and who Freud was dealing with would prevent the Irish from being a patient. The angst in Vienna in the years from 1850 to 1950 was based around the emerging middle class and the only Irish he would’ve encountered would have been Jesuits, Bishops and the like. Extremely wealthy Papal knights and the remnants of the wild geese who fit rather well into the aristocratic life of the Austro-Hungarian polity. In other words the very class that would never have gone near Freud.

    • So true Vince. He may also have formed some of his opinions of the Irish during his time spent in London, being influenced by a less than favorable attitude towards the Irish by those around him. Conjecture on my part, I know, but could well have been the case.
      Thanks again for adding to our discussion.
      Mairéad

      • Hmm, perhaps. But that tosses up a new one. Which cohort of Irish was he on about.
        At the lower, East End irish and jews were allies. And at the top, like in NYC, the money men were allies too. But again it’s doubtful if in either camp would they be telling their deepest. Nor I expect would what he defined as a problem be seen in those terms. For the most, the rich went off to wild places and shot something if they were feeling a bit poorly.

        • More great insights, Vince. I don’t know which class of Irish he may have been referring to, but I think we can rest assured that no Irish person was going to open up to Freud or one of his associates, no matter what socioeconomic group he or she belonged to.
          All the best,
          Mairéad

  7. Ed Matthews says:

    Wonderful to have stumbled upon your blog, Mairéad. My story isn’t so different from many, many others. We’re undeniably Irish; the Conroy, O’Roarke and Halliday relatives bear witness to the connection to Ireland that is with me always. Unfortunately, the family tree was sundered long ago; my fraternal grandfather was an orphan. Consequently, we cannot say for sure if “Matthews” is a birth name or an adoptive name. So far, even DNA testing hasn’t yielded clues. sláinte.

    • Ed – Welcome to my little corner of the web, where we celebrate all things Irish and Irish American. Thanks so much for checking out my posts and for letting us know about your family’s immigrant tale. I think many young children were orphaned during the 19th and early 20th century when they first came to America, or tragically separated from their families. One reader even told me how her father lost his brother on the crowded streets of New York City and they never again found each other. These heart wrenching stories make me realize how fortunate we are today, and how limited our understanding of our ancestors’ struggles is. Above all else I admire their determination and tenacity. Family research is difficult in the face of such historical hurdles. I wish you every success as you continue your search for the Matthews branch of your family tree.
      Best wishes, and thanks so much for stopping by.
      Mairéad

  8. I smiled when i started reading this blog, inthat way that only an outsider could , my grandparents left Dublin in !916 to live in England , i returned 25 years ago for a short stay and never left. Setting up a small business i found dealing with my kindred to be the most frustrating part of this process yes meant maybe or even no, arrangements and agreements made were at times vauge and nebulas, the Irish attitude made me want to scream, reading your take on the Irish psyche will be both informative and perhaps liberating as i look for my hidden gael

    • Andrew – I’m glad you appreciate my take on the Irish psyche. I think it is only when we move away from Ireland, or return from another country, that we truly come to appreciate the little nuances of character that make us uniquely Irish. Some traits are definitely frustrating, but others make us what we are. Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy my future posts on the infamous Irish psyche.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  9. Penny Wolf says:

    A local (Dublin Ohio) town is about to have an Irish festival that we like attending. Looking at the web site for info on the upcoming events I looked up the http://dublinirishfestival.org/celtic-canines, Irish Terrier.
    When I read about the temperament of this dog I remembered your piece here and had to share. It
    seems even the dogs have this same lively, live life to it’s fullest personalitiy. Is it the land itself that has
    taught us this way?

    • Thanks Penny for a great link with wonderful information about all these Irish dog breeds. Last year I took my kids to a Celtic Festival across the Ohio River in Clarkesville, Indiana. My kids were enthralled by an Irish wolf hound. All these Irish dogs are wonderful breeds, with great personality. Love them all.
      Best wishes,
      Mairéad

  10. We fell from stars and landed light, on the green meadows of the emerald isle.
    Had we known then the trials that would meet us and the hunger for freedom and food that
    would savage our souls, we would of died on arrival.
    As it stands we stayed and endured,and suffered, and used humour to shield us
    from pain, and anger to shield us from fear.
    We as a people are the ultimate contradiction.

  11. Dr Denis O'Callaghan says:

    I have not been back home (Mallow) for fifteen tears (not a typo). Love your wee site.

    • Dear Denis – Thank you so much for visiting my site and checking out my ramblings. My father’s family hail from Kildorrery just a few miles from Mallow. North Cork is a beautiful part of the world. I hope when you revisit Ireland and your hometown of Mallow after all these years, your experiences will bring you tears of joy.
      Best wishes for a very happy and peaceful New Year.
      Mairéad

  12. Any statement that begins ” the Irish are all” is inevitably going to be racist. The presumption that Irish people are beyond psychological analysis is tiresome racism at it’s best. Along with the old hackneyed idea that Irish people are somehow suffering guilt more than any other group. Modern Ireland is a multicultural society, very much wanting to be recognised as the equal to any other in the world. Irish people have had to put up with horrendous stereotyping for centuries. (“The Irish are all pigs” – princess Anne, the queen of England’s sister!) Please refrain from perpetrating such nonsense. Ireland is a peaceful country, one of the few nations of the world that has actually managed to overcome its extraordinary difficulties with a deeply aggressive neighbour, often intent on nothing less than genocide. Read your history. For such a small country, we have given a lot to the cultural enrichment of the planet. Oh, and we never tried to take over the world.

  13. The reason we Irish are beyond pyschoanalysis has nothing to do with our contradictions, guilt or tendancy when in psychic trouble go to poetry, go to storytelling, or to escapism. It’s because 600 years of occupation by the culturally “superior” British and the spiritually “superior” Roman Catholic church caused a mutation in the Irish genome which is passed on to Irish children through their mammys X-chromosome. This gene, named BS101 is now present in 99.6% of the Irish population. People with this mutation have shown a 57% increase in the ability to smell and detect bullshit and bullshitters at a range up to 20 meters. A good example of this gene in action would be Oscar Wilde who called bullshit on many things, Bertie Ahern is an example of someone who can use this ability to not only detect bullshit but also produce some of the finest bullshit in human history.
    What has this got to do with psychoanalysis? Simple, Freud was full of shit, Jung was full of shit (and mildly insane himself) and all psychologists since are inherently and largely unintentionally full of shit. How can you pretend to understand something ( human consciousness) that science cant even begin to describe, well, you can if you are full of shit and you want to be rich,powerful, loved by many ( this is why most Irish people hate Bono) and like to tell people how they should live their lives. Freud couldn’t understand this about the Irish because to do so would have destroyed his world-view and undoubtedly led to many years of expensive psychotherapy.

    P.s. This text contains a test to determine if the reader is a carrier of the BS101 gene. If you wish to find out if you have the gene all you have do is find the hidden test in the text, if you can find the test the you you have the gene and your definitely Irish.

  14. Michael Dilley says:

    I have always been fascinated by my Irish heritage and how it ties into my own personality traits. References made to the Irish & psychoanalysis have further peaked my interest into our culture. I look forward to learning more.

    • Michael – I’m glad you found this little piece interesting. It truly is an intriguing topic. I’m not an expert in psychology, but over the coming weeks and months I’ll write about some Irish personality traits I’ve become more aware of, simply by living in the United States.
      All the best,
      Mairead

  15. Sean Gilhooley says:

    Being a fan of Scorcese films, I was especially fond of this one in particular, due to my Irish-American heritage. I found this idea very interesting as I was unfamiliar with it at the time. But, being an American, raised around many different ethnic groups, I try not to generalize any type of people. However, I do agree that there is something mysterious, if not, magical about the Irish people as a race.

    • Sean – I too think generalizing any group of people is dangerous territory. However, I like to think we can learn a little about who we are, by examining our commonalities and shared experiences. My goal is to discover the mysterious and mystical connections Irish people have experienced through the ages, and which make us who we are today. I hope to further explore the Irish Psyche in future posts.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      Best wishes,
      Mairead

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