Sergei Pankejeff

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Sergei Konstantinovitch Pankejeff (December 24, 1886–May 7, 1979) was a Russian aristocrat from Odessa, who was best known for being a patient of Sigmund Freud, who gave him the pseudonym of Wolf Man (der Wolfsmann) to protect his identity, after a dream Pankejeff had of a tree full of white wolves.


The Pankejeff family (note: this is Freud's German transliteration from the Russian; in English it would today be transliterated as Pankeyev) owned large estates in both Odessa and near St. Petersburg. Sergei attended gymnasium in Russia though after the 1905 Russian Revolution he spent considerable time abroad studying. In 1906, his older sister Anna committed suicide while visiting the site of Lermontov's fatal duel, and by 1907 Sergei began to show signs of serious depression himself. Sergei's father Konstantin also suffered from depression, often connected to specific political happenings of the day, and committed suicide in 1907 by consuming an excess of sleeping medication, a few months after Sergei had left for Munich to seek treatment for his own ailment. While in Munich, Pankejeff saw many doctors and stayed voluntary at a number of elite psychiatric hospitals. In the summers he always visited Russia.

Der Wolfsmann

In 1910, Pankejeff's physician brought him to Vienna to have treatment with Freud. Pankejeff and Freud met with each other many times between February 1910 and July 1914, and a few times thereafter, including a brief psychoanalysis in 1919. Pankejeff's "nervous problems" included his inability to have bowel movement without the assistance of an enema, as well as debilitating depression. He also felt like there was a veil cutting him off from the world. Initially, according to Freud, Pankejeff resisted opening up to full analysis, until Freud gave him a year deadline for analysis, prompting Pankejeff to give up his resistances.

Freud's first publication on the "Wolf Man" was "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis" (Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose), written at the end of 1914 but not published until 1918. Freud's treatment of Pankejeff centered around a dream the latter had as a very young child, and described to Freud as such:

"I dreamt that it was night and that I was lying in bed. (My bed stood with its foot towards the window; in front of the window there was a row of old walnut trees. I know it was winter when I had the dream, and night-time.) Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree in front of the window. There were six or seven of them. The wolves were quite white, and looked more like foxes or sheep-dogs, for they had big tails like foxes and they had their ears pricked like dogs when they pay attention to something. In great terror, evidently of being eaten up by the wolves, I screamed and woke up. My nurse hurried to my bed, to see what had happened to me. It took quite a long while before I was convinced that it had only been a dream; I had had such a clear and life-like picture of the window opening and the wolves sitting on the tree. At last I grew quieter, felt as though I had escaped from some danger, and went to sleep again." (Freud 1918)

Freud's eventual analysis (along with Pankejeff's input) of the dream was that it was the result of Pankejeff having witnessed a "primal scene" — his parents having sex a tergo ("from behind") — at a very young age. Later in the paper Freud posited the possibility that Pankejeff had instead witnessed copulation between animals, which was displaced to his parents.

Pankejeff's dream would play a major role in Freud's theory of psychosexual development, and along with Irma's injection (Freud's own dream, which launched dream analysis), it was one of the most important dreams for the developments of Freud's theories. Additionally, Pankejeff became the main case used by Freud to prove the validity of psychoanalysis. It was the first detailed case study not involving Freud analyzing himself which brought together the main aspects of catharsis, the unconscious, sexuality, and dream analysis put forward by Freud in his Studies on Hysteria (1895), The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), and his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).

Freud's Analysis

Freud found that Pankejeff associated his recurring nightmare with a fairytale he had heard in his childhood about a woodsman climbing a tree to escape a pack of wolves and threatening to cut off their tails. Freud took this as evidence that Pankejeff suffered from castration anxiety. Because the dream reverses the position of the wolves from the fairytale, Freud theorized that there must be other reversals in the dream. Freud decided that the manifest content of the dream, which involved being stared at and quiet stillness, was really a reversal of what the dream actually represented, that is, viewing something involving loud, violent motion. In addition, Freud knew that Pankejeff had possessed a strong attachment to his father as a child, possibly wanting to be the sole object of his father's affection. For these reasons, Freud decided that Pankejeff must have seen his parents having sex as a young child. His castration anxiety was caused by seeing that his mother lacked a penis which led him to believe that castration was the price of his father's love. The feeling of having a veil between himself and the world represented the veil over his crib when he was awakened as a child in the middle of the night and witnessed his parents' sexual intercourse.

Later life

Pankejeff would later publish his own work under Freud's given pseudonym, and would be in contact with Freudian disciples until his own death (undergoing analysis for six decades, despite Freud's pronouncement of his being "cured"), making him one of the longest-running famous patients in the history of psychoanalysis.

A few years after finishing psychoanalysis with Freud, Pankejeff developed a psychotic delusion. He was observed walking the streets staring at his reflection in a mirror, convinced that some sort of doctor had drilled a hole in his nose. A Freudian explained the delusion as displaced castration anxiety.

See also

  • The 'Rat man' was a pseudonym for another of Freud's patients.