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Analysis of Ego Depending On the Case of Rat Man Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jun 17th, 2019


Sigmund Freud was a renowned psychoanalyst whose legacy lives on beyond his death. His recognition comes from development of psychoanalytic theories such as The Id, Ego, and Superego Life, Death Instincts, The Conscious and Unconscious Mind, and Psychosexual Development (Lipton, 1977). Freud based his theories on the immense knowledge gathered from interactions with psychoanalytic patients.

He designed his therapy according to the results of interactions between him and his patients. His sole aim of psychotherapy was to reveal how a person’s subconscious mind brings about mental illness. This paper outlines an illustration of ego by looking at the case of Rat Man.

Definition of Ego

Ego refers to pride that is inherent in human beings, regarding issues like intellect, wealth, children and life. Freud visualized ego as part of an individual’s personality, which helps the person to perceive things in a nice way (Freud, 1923). According to Freud, ego works among people with preconscious, unconscious and conscious minds.

It is imperative to note that Freud concluded that ego helps human beings to make rational decisions so as to remain in a sane state of mind.

Ego is the principle behind the concern for oneself and efforts to get something before others get it. It leads to a state of competition whereby everyone aims at getting scarce resources since it makes people feel that they are more salient than others. It can result from a disease or disorder that affects the human body.

Freud used neurosis to explain most of his psychotherapeutic cases. He claimed that the human body gets sustenance from two processes; primary and secondary processes. The primary processes involve the neurons in the body, whereas the secondary processes deal with the external stimulus that makes part of the human body. He concluded that the nervous system can be influenced by one or both processes.

Rat Man’s Case

Rat Man’s Dreams and History

Rat Man was a lawyer aged 29, who visited Freud during one autumn season to tell him his social and medical problems. Freud used the man in a case study while studying psychotherapeutic issues. His real name was Ernst Lanzer, and he was a man with strong obsession for rats.

He had experienced prior punishment for masturbation when he was a child, and he had a history of a father who had been extremely strict on his life. This influenced his childhood and adulthood life.

Rat Man displayed obsession about rats owing to a case of torture that he had heard from a military colleague. Rat Man began thinking about himself and how he would benefit from the death of his father and marriage to Freud’s daughter (Rice, 2004). This resulted from an array of factors including ambivalence.

The victim’s father had died long before this scenario, but since he loved his wealth and wished to inherit it, he still imagined that he was alive. He wondered what could become of him once his father was dead.

This fear coupled with the desire to marry Freud’s daughter, death of his sister and father, childhood masturbation and sexual curiosity, were the problems facing the victim. His ego revolved around these problems, but what he wanted to have, Freud’s daughter, was far from reach.

Rat Man’s Clinical Presentation

Rat Man presented himself before Freud and explained his problems. He was adamant to change his conditions and forge ahead on the right course of his life (Freud, 1995). Freud took it upon himself to examine the patient so as to find out the cause, impacts and possible treatment for his condition. He devoted himself to the study which took about a year.

Freud felt that Rat Man precipitated the behaviour of his father as a result of genetics transfer (Kanzer, 1952). He claimed that the victim was more or less similar to his father in terms of character. However, he did not have enough evidence to support the claim. This has earned him criticism from Lorenz who feels that Freud’s claims fall short of clear explanation of the mother transference.

Rat Man’s Symptom

This refers to the symptoms of neurosis exhibited by Rat Man. The main symptom was “great obsessional fear” for rats (Freud, 1995). Following the incident about anal regression by rats, he developed a phobia for rats. The rats symbolize fear for situations that could not be easily explained in life. The patient also had ambivalence; he was no longer sure of the next vital step in his life.

He had conflicting thoughts that were almost pulling him apart. The positive and negative thoughts that lingered in his mind presented him with ethical and medical problems. These also included payment of money for the lost pince-nez.

Lacan referred to this as “labyrinths” and traces the cause of the problem to the sheer marriage of his parents and argues that his problems had begun long before he came into the world (Mahony, 1986). Freud described the obsessional fear as a symptom of a neurotic disease.

Freud’s Reactions to the Case

The victim had suicidal thoughts about his father in his subconscious mind. These thoughts were driving the ego in a way that made him feel he was the best man to marry Freud’s daughter. Freud would not create any objection to the marriage. In fact, he was ready to integrate him into his family. However, he decided to explore his neural conditions to understand how his subconscious mind was determining his rational decisions.

Freud was able to identify the determinants of the patient’s actions and thought (Freud, 1923). They revolved around the patient’s memory and pride, two key elements of egoism. He eventually concluded that his ego prevented him from making sound judgments. He uses this case to expand knowledge on rational thinking and issues of doubt and displacement.

The patient got intense fear from the colleague, a military officer, who told him about punishment given law breakers (Freud, 1995). Rat Man became immensely obsessed about the issue. In fact, he felt as if the punishment had befallen two people; his father and fiancee.

He claimed to love both of them, but it is clear that this claim of love was just a scum. The victim was overlooking the benefits that would result from his father’s death and marriage to Freud’s daughter. Eventually, Freud concluded that the man was suffering from obsessional neurosis.

He used sadism (issues of libido and punishment) and ambivalence (aspects of love) to justify his claims of anal regression. Anal regression can be termed as a fundamental process that led to the obsession neurosis of the victim. This aspect came into perspective around the year 1926, after an analysis done by Lorenz in the field of psychotherapy.

Contribution of Lacan and Foucault to the Rat Man Case

Lacan rarely published his clinical cases. This was a remarkable difference between him and Freud, although they conducted related studies. However, his terms such as fantasy, symptom and jouissance enable one to uncover the issue of obsessional neurosis, which the patient was suffering from (Dor, 1997).

Lacan presented some information about Freud’s allegations concerning the marriage of Rat Man’s parents. He claimed that their marriage had resulted in a love betrayal and social compromise.

Foucault’s concern lies around madness, liberty, restraint and silence. He shows how historical and cultural factors affect rational decisions (Foucault, 2001). He identified various frameworks for solving psychotherapeutic problems. These can play a central role in solving obsessional neurosis similar to the case presented by Freud.

The representation of this case shows the development in psychotherapy (Mahony, 1986). Freud listened to the victim’s case and took detail of all issues regarding the patient. He assured the patient of his trust and the patient portrayed openness.

Unless there is openness in therapy, then the entire therapeutic process may become a failure. It is worth to note with keen interest, that Freud displayed a strong interpersonal relationship with the patient. This is essential in psychotherapy as it assures patients of mercy, encouragement, empathy and excellent rapport in the whole process.

Analysis of Rat Man’s Personality and Ego

Freud made three distinct classifications of the client. One of this is the conscious mind which enabled the patient to identify and report the symptoms of his illness. The other one is the unconscious mind, characterized by passion and cruelty.

The other distinct category is that of the preconscious mind (Mahony, 1986). This can be illustrated by the superstitions inherent in the victim. Freud used reconstruction whereby he looked into the history of the patient in order to emerge with conclusive decisions about his treatment.

The unconscious mind characterized the situation of the patient. It occurs as a result of the primary process. Rat Man’s energy and thoughts were flowing in his body without any hindrances. As this occurred through condensation, his thoughts were continuously displaced by other thoughts.

For instance, when he heard about the rats, his thoughts about the rats were immediately displaced by thoughts about his father and fiancee. Rat Man kept on hallucinating, and unconscious thoughts were at the core of his mind. The symptoms he precipitated were proof of his unconscious mind.

Similarly, Freud had to come to terms with the problems that Rat Man had experienced with his parents earlier in his life (transference). His father’s strict nature and punishment for masturbation were hindrances to finding solutions of the patient’s problems (Lipton, 1977).

They changed the relationship between the patient and Freud and he was not sure of how to interpret them to the patient. This interpretation would be a significant step towards solving the patient’s psychological problems.

Freud identified three types of transference that the patient could have been suffering from; negative, sensible and erotic. In essence, Rat Man’s ego was affected by his unconscious mind and transference, and he behaved in a manner likely to suggest that he was indeed sick.


Freud’s role in psychotherapy cannot be undermined. His theories form the basis of many therapeutic sessions in hospitals, and he is popular because of these theories. He developed them and validated all claims to the theories. Rat Man’s case study can be termed as a comprehensive study which utilized developmental and historical aspects of the victim in garnering treatment techniques.

The past is extremely valuable as it can determine the present and future. Thus, it is essential for psychotherapists to look deep into the life history of an individual before undertaking therapy sessions. Otherwise, positive impacts of therapeutic sessions on the client would never see the light of day.


Dor, J. (1997). The Clinical Lacan. London: The Other Press.

Foucault, M. (2001). Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Routledge.

Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id. In Strachey, J. The Standard Edition of the Complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, 1: 237-258. London: Hogarth Press.

Freud, S. (1995). Two Case Histories: “Little Hans” and “The Rat Man.” Volume 10 of Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (1909). London: Hogarth Press.

Kanzer, M. (1952). The Transference Neurosis of the Rat Man. Psychoanalytic quarterly, 21: 181-189.

Lipton, S. (1977). The Advantages of Freud’s Technique as Shown in the Analysis of the Rat Man. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 58: 255-273.

Mahony, P. (1986). Freud and the Rat Man. New haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rice, E. (2004). Reflections on the obsessive-compulsive disorders: a psychodynamic and therapeutic perspective. Psychoanalytic review, 91:23-44

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