Edmund Bergler

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Edmund Bergler in the Wiener Psychoanalytisches Ambulatorium 1922 (standing, 1. right).
Edmund Bergler
Born 1899
Vienna, Austria-Hungary
Died 1962
New York City
Nationality American
Occupation Psychoanalyst

Edmund Bergler (/ˈbɛrɡlər/; German: [ˈbɛɐ̯glɐ]; 1899–1962) was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst whose books covered such topics as childhood development, mid-life crises, loveless marriages, gambling, and self-defeating behaviors. He was the most important theorist of homosexuality in the 1950s.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Edmund Bergler was born in 1899. An Austrian Jew, he fled the Nazis in 1937–38 and settled in New York City,[2][3] where he worked as a psychoanalyst. Over the course of his career, he wrote twenty-five psychology books along with 273 articles that were published in leading professional journals.[4] He also had unfinished manuscripts of dozens of more titles in the possession of the Edmund and Marianne Bergler Psychiatric Foundation.[5] He has been referred to as "one of the few original minds among the followers of Freud".[6] Delos Smith, science editor of United Press International, said Bergler was "among the most prolific Freudian theoreticians after Freud himself".[7]

Summarizing his work, Bergler said that people were heavily defended against realization of the darkest aspects of human nature, meaning the individual's emotional addiction to unresolved negative emotions.[8] He wrote in 1958, "I can only reiterate my opinion that the superego is the real master of the personality, that psychic masochism constitutes the most dangerous countermeasure of the unconscious ego against the superego's tyranny, that psychic masochism is 'the life-blood of neurosis' and is in fact the basic neurosis. I still subscribe to my dictum, 'Man's inhumanity to man is equaled only by man's inhumanity to himself.'"[9]

He was the most important theorist of homosexuality in the 1950s.[1] According to Kenneth Lewes, "...Bergler frequently distanced himself from the central, psychoanalytical tradition, while at the same time claiming a position of importance within it. He thought of himself as a revolutionary who would transform the movement." Near the end of his life, Bergler became an embarrassment to many other analysts: "His views at conferences and symposia were reported without remark, or they were softened and their offensive edge blunted."[1] Bergler was highly critical of sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey, and rejected the Kinsey scale, deeming it to be based on flawed assumptions.[10]

He is noted for his insistence on the universality of unconscious masochism. He is remembered for his theories about both homosexuality and writer's block – a term he coined in 1947.[11] Bergler, who did more work on the subject than any other psychoanalyst, argued that all gamblers gamble because of "psychic masochism".[12]


Novelist Louis Auchincloss named his book The Injustice Collectors (1950) after Bergler's description of the unconscious masochist of that type.[13]

Bergler's Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life? (1956) was cited in Irving Bieber et al.'s Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals (1962). Bieber et al. mention Bergler briefly, noting that like Melanie Klein, he regarded the oral phase as the most determining factor in the development of homosexuality.[14]

Philosopher Gilles Deleuze cited Bergler's The Basic Neurosis (1949) in his Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (1967), writing that, "Bergler's general thesis is entirely sound: the specific element of masochism is the oral mother, the ideal of coldness, solicitude and death, between the uterine mother and the Oedipal mother."[15]

Arnold M. Cooper, former Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University Medical College and a past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, said of Bergler's work: "I have adapted my model for understanding masochism from the work of Bergler, who regarded masochism as the basic neurosis from which all other neurotic behaviors derive. As long ago as 1949 . . . he felt, and I agree, [that the mechanism of orality] is paradigmatic for the masochistic character.[16]

Freud critic Max Scharnberg has given Bergler's writings as an example of what he sees as the transparent absurdity of much psychoanalytic work in his The Non-Authentic Nature of Freud's Observations (1993), writing that few present-day psychoanalysts would defend Bergler. Scharnberg disapprovingly notes Bergler's claim that all homosexuals "are subservient when confronted with a stronger person, merciless when in power, unscrupulous about trampling on a weaker person."[17]

Bergler's theories, with their assumption that the preservation of infantile megalomania or infantile omnipotence is of prime importance in the reduction of anxiety, have been seen as anticipating Heinz Kohut's self psychology.[18]


  1. Bergler, Edmund. (1934). "Frigidity in Women", with Edward Hitschmann (in German). New York (English version): Nervous and Mental Disease Monographs
  2. Bergler, Edmund. (1935). "Talleyrand-Napoleon-Stendhal-Grabbe" (in German). Vienna: Internationale Psychoanalytische Verlag
  3. Bergler, Edmund. (1937). "Psychic Impotence in Men" (in German). Berne: Hans Huber Verlag
  4. Bergler, Edmund. (1946). "Unhappy Marriage and Divorce", with an Introduction by A.A. Brill. New York: International Universities Press
  5. Bergler, Edmund. (1948). "The Battle of the Conscience". Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute of Medicine
  6. Bergler, Edmund. (1948). "Divorce Won't Help". New York: Harper & Brothers
  7. Bergler, Edmund. (1949). "Conflict in Marriage". New York: Harper & Brothers
  8. Bergler, Edmund. (1949). "The Basic Neurosis". New York: Harper and Brothers
  9. Bergler, Edmund. (1949). "The Writer and Psychoanalysis". Garden City: Doubleday and Co.
  10. Bergler, Edmund. (1951). "Money and Emotional Conflicts". Doubleday and Co.
  11. Bergler, Edmund. (1951). "Neurotic Counterfeit-Sex". New York: Grune & Stratton
  12. Bergler, Edmund. (1952). "The Superego". New York: Grune & Stratton
  13. Bergler, Edmund. (1953). "Fashion and the Unconscious". New York: Robert Brunner
  14. Bergler, Edmund, & Kroger, W. (1954). "Kinsey's Myth of Female Sexuality: The Medical Facts". New York: Grune and Stratton
  15. Bergler, Edmund. (1954). "The Revolt of the Middle-Aged Man". New York: A.A. Wyn
  16. Bergler, Edmund. (1956). "Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life". New York: Hill and Wang
  17. Bergler, Edmund. (1956). "Laughter and the Sense of Humor". New York: Intercontinental Medical Book Corp.
  18. Bergler, Edmund. (1957). "Psychology of Gambling". New York: Hill & Wang
  19. Bergler, Edmund. (1958). "Counterfeit-Sex: Homosexuality, Impotence and Frigidity". New York: Grune and Stratton
  20. Bergler, Edmund. (1959). "Principles of Self-Damage". New York: The Philosophical Library
  21. Bergler, Edmund. (1959). "One Thousand Homosexuals: Conspiracy of Silence, or Curing and Deglamorizing Homosexuals?". Paterson, New Jersey: Pageant Books
  22. Bergler, Edmund. (1960). "Tensions Can be Reduced to Nuisances". New York: Collier Books
  23. Bergler, Edmund. (1961). "Curable and Incurable Neurotics". New York: Liveright Pub. Co.
  24. Bergler, Edmund. (1963). "Justice and Injustice", with J.A.M. Meerloo. New York: Grune and Stratton
  25. Bergler, Edmund. (1964). "Parents Not Guilty". New York: Liveright Pub. Co.
  26. Bergler, Edmund. (1969). "Selected Papers: 1933-1961". New York: Grune and Stratton
  27. Bergler, Edmund. (1998). "The Talent for Stupidity: The Psychology of the Bungler, the Incompetent, and the Ineffectual". Madison, CT: International Universities Press


  1. ^ a b c Lewes, Kenneth (1988). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. New York: New American Library. ISBN 0-452-01003-9. 
  2. ^ Terry, Jennifer (1999). An American Obsession: Science, Medicine and the Place of Homosexuality in Modern Society. Chicago University Press. pp. 308–314. 
  3. ^ Melvyn L. Iscove, M.D., in his Introduction to The Talent for Stupidity:The Psychology of the Bungler, the Incompetent, and the Ineffectual. International Universities Press, Inc. Madison, CT. 1998. p. xii. (This book was first published 36 years after Bergler's death, through the Edmund and Marianne Bergler Psychiatric Foundation.)
  4. ^ Selected Papers of Edmund Bergler. Grune and Stratton, New York and London, 1969. p. 953–966.
  5. ^ Bergler, The Talent for Stupidity. p. xv
  6. ^ Review of The Battle of the Conscience, in The Nervous Child, 1948, 7(4):449.
  7. ^ In a December 1964 review of Parents Not Guilty of Their Children's Neuroses.
  8. ^ Edmund Bergler, The Superego. International Universities Press, Madison, CT. 1989. p. 352. (First published by Grune and Stratton, Inc. 1952.)
  9. ^ Edmund Bergler, Principles of Self-Damage, International Universities Press, Inc., Madison, CT. 1992. p. xxxv. (First published by Philosophical Library, Inc. 1959.)
  10. ^ Bell, Alan P. & Weinberg, Martin S. Homosexuality: An Annotated Bibliography. Harper & Row, 1972, p. 136.
  11. ^ Akhtar, Salman (1 January 2009). Comprehensive dictionary of psychoanalysis. Karnac Books. p. 310. ISBN 978-1-85575-860-5. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Peter Fuller, "Introduction", in Jon Halliday/Peter Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 14
  13. ^ A. B. Crowder/J. D. Hall eds., Seamus Heaney (2007) p. 121
  14. ^ Bieber, Irving (1962). Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. New York: Basic Books. pp. 6, 351. 
  15. ^ Deleuze, Gilles; Sacher-Masoch, Leopold von (1994). Masochism. New York: Zone Books. pp. 55, 136. ISBN 0-942299-55-8. 
  16. ^ Arnold M. Cooper, "Narcissism and Masochism," Psychiatric Clinics of North America, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1989. p. 547–549.
  17. ^ Scharnberg, Max (1993). The Non-Authentic Nature of Freud's Observations, Vol. I: The Seduction Theory. Uppsala: Uppsala Studies in Education. pp. 36, 78. ISBN 91-554-3123-2. 
  18. ^ Arnold M. Cooper, Contemporary Psychoanalysis in America (2006) p. 115