How Freud Arrived at the Origin of AnxietyBy Test Therapist MA (Merit) Psychoanalysis
The problem of anxiety was constantly present for Freud throughout his work on the neuroses. Anxiety had a relation to the neuroses which Freud tried to elucidate. The problem of this thesis is how Freud arrived at castration anxiety as the origin of anxiety.
The story started with his first theory of anxiety. In anxiety neurosis he discovered that anxiety was accumulated libido that found discharge in the form of anxiety. From the start phobias raised a complication. The study of dreams brought about his first conceptualisation of the psychical apparatus. From there he attempted to explain anxiety dreams in the same was as he had explained anxiety neurosis. From early on there was the problem of reversal of affect under repression. Freud’s self analysis led to the introduction of the Oedipus complex. The analysis of Little Han’s phobia was decisive for his theory of the castration complex. These complexes were fundamental for his second theory of anxiety. After introducing his second conceptualisation of the psychical apparatus Freud reconsidered the influence of the ego and repression. Finally, Freud’s rejection of Rank’s views that birth was the prototype of anxiety, saved the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety from being dethroned from their fundamental and central position in psychoanalysis. With the distinction between the signal of anxiety and automatic anxiety, and there no longer being a need to see a difference between realistic and neurotic anxiety, Freud was able to abandon his first theory of anxiety and establish his second. He showed that the danger situation of castration in the phallic phase had corresponding determinants in other stages of development. They were psychical helplessness, loss of an object or loss of its love, and fear of the super-ego.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A NOTE ON TRANSLATION
THE FIRST THEORY OF ANXIETY
Anxiety as Transformed Libido
The Psychical Apparatus
The Oedipus Complex and the Castration Complex
THE PROBLEM OF BIRTH
The Form of Anxiety
Rank and the Trauma of Birth
THE SECOND THEORY OF ANXIETY
The Aetiology of Castration Anxiety
The Signal of Anxiety
Realistic Anxiety and Neurotic Anxiety
Modifications of Loss of the Object and the Danger Situations
The subject of this thesis was born out of the desire to understand what I think is the central problem in psychoanalysis: anxiety. I realise that the problem of anxiety in Freudian psychoanalysis and the areas upon which it touches could easily generate a larger paper than this. My intention therefore has been to relate what I see as the main points within the present restrictions. I wish to thank my tutor Bernard Burgoyne for indicating the way forward.
A NOTE ON TRANSLATION
There are problems concerning the translation of Freud’s works. One is that of anxiety. The German ‘angst’ was translated as ‘anxiety’ within the texts that I have referred to. (Editor in 1950a[1892-1899]:xxiii). However it is also possible to translate ‘angst’ as ‘fear’ or ‘fright’. (Editor in 1894:116). Freud thought that the word anxiety was often about something indefinite or it lacked an object, and the word fear (rather than anxiety) was often used if there was an object. (1916-1917:443 and 1926:324). It has also been stated that this view does not correspond precisely with Freudian distinctions. (Laplanche and Pontalis 1973:379). Freud himself wrote: “We might say, therefore, that a person protects himself from fright by anxiety”. (1916-1917:443).
Unless indicated otherwise, all dates and page numbers within sets of brackets refer to Freud’s works.
THE FIRST THEORY OF ANXIETY
Anxiety as Transformed Libido
In 1895 Freud wanted to define psychical mechanisms in the neuroses. His classification separated the psychoneuroses which brought out the role of psychical conflict (1894:45-61), from the actual neuroses where the aetiologies were the shortcomings of the function of sexuality. (1895a:35-63). He had already considered the relationship between anxiety and the sexual function. (1950a[1892-1899]:179). Whilst investigating the actual neurosis and in his earliest published discussion on anxiety Freud introduced the term ‘anxiety neurosis’. There he explained his first theory of anxiety. He had taken the principle of constancy according to which the psychical apparatus tended to reduce or keep constant the quantity of excitation in itself. (1950b:312, 1915a:116). One way of achieving constancy was through the discharge of excitation. When Freud realised that in anxiety neurosis there was an interference with the discharge of sexual excitation, he concluded that the accumulated excitation was being discharged in the transformed shape of anxiety.
Freud was the first to isolate the symptoms and aetiology of anxiety neurosis from the widely invoked condition of neurasthenia. (1895a:35). Neurasthenia had been described as a physical fatigue of nervous origin that consisted of various symptoms. (Beard cited in Laplanche and Pontalis 1973:265). Freud had observed anxiety neurosis in isolation and combined in mixed neuroses. The mixed neurosis consisted of symptoms that belonged to neuroses which had distinct aetiologies. Freud identified symptoms which he thought belonged only to anxiety neurosis. They included general irritability, anxiety attacks and chronic anxious expectation. Anxiety attacks were accompanied or replaced by somatic equivalents including, tremors, ravenous hunger, congestions, practically everything that had been termed vasomotor neurasthenia, waking at night in a fright, sleeplessness, vertigo, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, heart palpitations, accelerated breathing, and sweating. (1895a:37-43). The last three symptoms were seen as surrogates of the omitted specific action that followed from sexual excitation. In copulation the excitation was expended through such symptoms which correspondingly appeared in anxiety attacks. (1895a:59, 1905b:116-7). Freud later related these same symptoms of anxiety to the accompaniments of birth. (1926:288-9).
Freud thought that the symptom of anxious expectation could develop into and reinforce phobias. (1895a:42). He related the phobias of anxiety neurosis to those of obsessional neurosis, the mechanism of which he described elsewhere. (1895b:74-84). In the phobias of both neuroses an idea became obsessional because it was bound to an available affect. Freud termed this mechanism ‘transposition of affect’. The idea was impossible to identify as a symbolic substitute for another repressed idea. Only in the phobias of anxiety neurosis was the affect always anxiety. Both types of phobias often appeared concurrently. (1895a:4-43, 1933:114). He wrote: “We may perhaps say that here a quantum of anxiety in a freely floating state is present, which, where there is expectation, controls the choice of ideas and is always ready to link itself with any suitable ideational content”. (1895a:39).
Freud thought that the aetiological conditions of sexual life were responsible for the acquired anxiety neurosis. (1895a:46). In women there was virginal anxiety. (1894:99, 1895a:46). This described virgins approaching their first encounter of the sexual act through either witnessing, reading or hearing about it. (1895a:46). Freud also stated that virginal anxiety could be due to an arousal of a memory of sexual passivity in childhood. (1896:166). Other causes in women were those who were widowed, intentionally abstinent, newly married, or anaesthetic. The most common causes in women were those whose husbands had ejaculation praecox or impaired potency, or practised coitus interruptus or reservatus where the woman did not obtain satisfaction. The aetiological conditions in men were intentional abstinence, unconsummated excitement, and the practice of coitus interruptus. (1895a:46-48).
Freud realised that these aetiological conditions were common. The great prevalence of anxiety neurosis meant that it would have been inappropriate to use aetiological factors of rare occurrence. He concentrated on the aetiological factor of an accumulation of sexual tension in coitus interruptus for confirmation of his theory. The effect of coitus interruptus came into force through summation. In men and women there were changes in the intensity of anxiety neurosis. Periods of improvement or good health coincided with wives being pregnant when the need for preventive intercourse was not present. The symptoms of anxiety neurosis had at some time succeeded and replaced the symptoms of other neuroses such as neurasthenia, and were often preceded by a change in the form of the sexual conditions. In some cases there was a long interval between the aetiology and the emergence of the symptoms. (1895a:49-51).
Freud thought that the anxiety which corresponded to the accumulated sexual excitation was accompanied by a decrease in psychical participation, “sexual libido or psychical desire”. The sexual excitation was deflected directly on to the somatic field where it manifested itself in the form of anxiety. The process involved an inadequate psychical working over. This was due to attempted suppression, or insufficient development, or decay of psychical sexuality, or alienation between physical and psychical tension. The anxiety that was underlying the symptoms could not be traced to a psychical origin. Anxiety neurosis was the product of all those factors which prevented the somatic sexual excitation from being worked over psychically. (1895a:54-6).
Freud thought that the aetiological conditions of anxiety neurosis exhibited the common characteristic of a process of sexual excitation. “The manifestations of anxiety neurosis appear when the somatic excitation which has been deflected from the psyche is expended subcortically in totally inadequate reactions”. The same happened in anxiety neurosis through severe illness, overwork, and exhausting sick nursing. The psyche, due to deflection, could not continuously master the somatic excitation. Under those conditions the libido diminished. Although there was no sexual aetiology in the three latter cases, there was a sexual mechanism. (1895a:57-9).
Freud thought that the psyche experienced anxiety when it was unable to appropriately react to and deal with an external danger. The psyche also experienced anxiety when it was unable to even out an “endogenous” (internal) sexual excitation, and behaved as though it had projected the excitation outwards. Anxiety was a reaction to an “exogenous” (external) excitation, and anxiety neurosis was the corresponding reaction to an analogous endogenous excitation. Exogenous excitation operated with a single impact, the endogenous excitation operated as a constant force. “In the neurosis, the nervous system is reacting against a source of excitation which is internal, whereas in the corresponding affect it is reacting against an analogous source of excitation which is external”. (1895a:59-60). Freud returned to the relations between internal and external dangers much later. (1926:325-8).
Freud observed that the symptoms of anxiety neurosis more often occurred simultaneously combined in a mixed neurosis with symptoms of neurasthenia, hysteria, obsessions or melancholia. The clinical intermixture did not acknowledge anxiety neurosis as independent. The mixed neurosis consisted of an multiplicity of aetiological factors. One factor sometimes brought about another. A married woman whose husband practised coitus reservatus without consideration for her satisfaction could have felt compelled to masturbate in order to discharge her excitation. This would produce anxiety neurosis and neurasthenia. If the woman had fought against the desire to masturbate she could have acquired anxiety neurosis and obsessions. A married woman could lose her attraction for her husband as a result of coitus interruptus and become secretly attracted to another man. This would produce anxiety neurosis and hysteria. (1895a:60-1).
Freud thought that anxiety neurosis presented both similarities with and differences to other neuroses. With neurasthenia it shared the characteristic of the source of excitation. The precipitating cause of the disturbance, lay in the somatic field instead of the psychical one, as was the case in hysteria and obsessional neurosis. The antithesis between the symptoms of anxiety neurosis and neurasthenia such as accumulation of excitation and impoverishment of excitation, did not prevent the two neuroses from being intermixed. Instead it showed that the most extreme forms of each were in both cases the purest. (1895a:62). From the first, anxiety in phobias and in obsessional neurosis raised a complication. There, the reason for the accumulation of undischarged excitation was repression. However, what followed was the same as in anxiety neurosis, an actual neuroses. The accumulated excitation or libido was transformed into anxiety.
Freud drew attention to the common features in the symptomatology of anxiety neurosis and hysteria: “A further similarity to hysteria is provided by the fact that in anxiety neurosis a kind of conversion takes place on to bodily sensations which may easily be overlooked - for instance, on to rheumatic muscles”. (1895a:44). Conversion was a mechanism of symptom formation which had a symbolic meaning. (1894:49, 1908a:90). Freud thought that anxiety neurosis was the somatic counterpart to hysteria. He considered the accumulation of excitation to be the basis for the similarity between their symptoms. In both there was the psychical insufficiency from which abnormal somatic processes arose. They differed in that in anxiety neurosis the excitation, in whose displacement the neurosis expressed itself, was purely somatic (somatic sexual excitation). It did not enter the psychical field but remained on the physical path. In hysteria it was psychical excitation (provoked by conflict) that took a wrong path into the somatic field. Symptoms which were surrogates of an anxiety attack, but which both neurosis had in common were attributed to anxiety neurosis rather than hysteria. (1895a:62-3).
During the period in which Freud introduced the anxiety neurosis, his conception of an unconscious appeared to imply a differentiation of the psychical apparatus. The unconscious was organised in “strata”. Memories were arranged in “files” around a “pathogenic nucleus”. (1895c:374-9). During that period Freud described anxiousness as often “latent as regards consciousness”. Anxiousness could “break through into consciousness without being aroused by a train of ideas” and provoke an anxiety attack. (1895a:39). However, he also appeared to have not completely adopted the idea of the unconscious. He distinguished between “somatic sexual excitation” and “sexual libido, or psychical desire”. Libido was exclusively “psychical”, and without a clear distinction yet from “conscious”. (1895a:54). Freud evidently accepted the view of libido as something potentially unconscious only a few years later. He wrote: “Neurotic anxiety is transformed sexual libido”. (1897:251).
Freud maintained and repeated the first theory of anxiety for approximately thirty years. “One of the most important results of psychoanalytic research is this discovery that neurotic anxiety arises out of libido, that is the product of a transformation of it, and that it is thus related to it in the same kind of way as vinegar is to wine”. (1905a:147). Even in the paper where he disregarded the first theory of anxiety and introduced his second he wrote: “Here once more, though the matter is of little importance, it is very possible that what finds discharge in the generating of anxiety is precisely the surplus of unutilized libido”. (1926:298-9). From quite early on Freud appeared to have doubts about his first theory. “I have decided, then, henceforth to regard as separate factors what causes libido and what causes anxiety”. (1950a[1892-1899]:271). The first theory was finally abandoned when he wrote that in the anxiety neurosis too the appearance of anxiety was a reaction to a traumatic situation: “we shall no longer maintain that it is libido itself that is turned into anxiety in such cases”. (1933:127).
The Psychical Apparatus
Freud introduced two conceptualisations of the psychical apparatus. The study of dreams brought about the first through the idea of an unconscious with its own laws. The first conceptualisation was traceable to an earlier neurological framework. (1950a[1892-1899]:233-9, 1950b:295-397). It was developed further in the metapsychological papers of 1915. The first conceptualisation distinguished between the three systems of the unconscious, preconscious and conscious. Each system had its own functions, processes, and ideational contents. Psychical phenomena was the dynamic outcome of conflict. It entailed an economic view of quantifiable cathetic energy, which was supposedly instinctual in origin. Between systems censorships inhibited and controlled transposition from one system to another. Censorship showed the spatial aspect of his conceptualisation. Mnemic systems were constituted by groups of ideas which obeyed laws of association. (1900:652-783). Freud attempted not to make an anatomical localisation of functions as was predominant at that time. Instead he compared the psychical apparatus to a telescope. Psychical systems corresponded to the points between telescopic lenses rather than its component parts. (1900:771). Symptoms were the symbolic expression of a psychical conflict whose origins lay in the individual’s childhood, or the shortcomings of the sexual function. Symptoms constituted compromises between wish and defence.
Freud thought that a dream was the fulfilment of a wish. The dream work transformed the latent dream thoughts through the mechanisms of condensation, displacement, considerations of representability and secondary revision, to produce the manifest content of a dream. (1900:200-727). Freud wrote: “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind”. (1900:769). He related the first theory of anxiety to anxiety dreams: “Since then this formula has met the test of time; it enables us now to infer from it that anxiety-dreams are dreams with a sexual content, the libido belonging to which had been transformed into anxiety”. (1900:246). Anxiety dreams involved a conflict between systems: “If, therefore, the cathexis from the Pcs. ceases the danger is that the unconscious excitations may release affect of a kind which (as a result of the repression which has already occurred) can only be experienced as unpleasure, as anxiety”. (1900:739). Anxiety dreams “touched on the problem of the generating of anxiety and the problem of repression”. (1900:334). The determinants of anxiety dreams were “outside the psychological framework of dream formation”. Freud realised that there were “obscurities” surrounding anxiety dreams. (1900:739).
Freud introduced the term ‘anxiety hysteria’ as there had been no independent position for phobias in the classificatory system of the neuroses. (1909b:273). They formed part of neuroses such as obsessional neurosis and anxiety neurosis. (1895a:42-3). Freud suggested the term anxiety hysteria to Stekel who was working on anxiety states, in the hope that it would gain psychoanalytical usage. (1908c:250-1, 1909b:273). The phobia of Little Hans had a structural similarity to conversion hysteria (1909b:273), so much so that Freud called it anxiety hysteria. (1926:265). In both, repression separated affects from ideas. (1915c:185-8). There was, however, one dissimilarity. In anxiety hysteria “the libido which has been liberated from the pathogenic material by repression is not converted (that is, directed from the mental sphere into a somatic innervation), but is set free in the shape of anxiety”. Conversion hysteria did not involve anxiety. The formation of phobic symptoms came about in anxiety hysteria because the psychical apparatus were constantly at work in the direction of psychically binding the anxiety which had become liberated. However, this work “can neither bring about a retransformation of the anxiety into libido, nor can it establish any contact with the complexes which were the source of the libido”. (1909b:273-5).
The Oedipus Complex and the Castration Complex
Freud discovered the ‘Oedipus complex’ during his self analysis, which had been conducted prior to his first published use of the term. (1910:238). From his self analysis he recognised his love for his mother and his jealousy for his father whom he also loved. (1950a[1892-1899]:265). The Oedipus complex involved both loving and hostile wishes that the child experienced towards it parents. In its positive form the complex appeared as in the story of Oedipus Rex. There was a desire for the death of the rival who was the parent of the same sex, and a sexual desire for the parent of the opposite sex. In its reverse negative form there was love for the parent of the same sex and jealous hatred for the parent of the opposite sex. (1924:315-322, 1923b:307-12).
Freud’s analysis of ‘Little Hans’ was decisive for his theory of the ‘castration complex’. (1909b:169-303). When the complex was first described the castration phantasy was identified behind a variety of symbols. (1908b:187-204). Freud assigned the castration complex to its fundamental position in the development of infantile sexuality in both sexes. He outlined its relationship to the Oedipus complex, and posited its universality. “ Every new arrival on this planet is faced by the task of mastering the Oedipus complex; anyone who fails to do so falls victim to neurosis”. (1905a:149). The castration complex centred on the phantasy of castration. The phantasy was a response to the child’s confusion over the presence of the penis in boys and the absence of the penis in girls. The child attributed the difference to the girl’s penis having been castrated. The structure and consequences of the castration complex were different in the boy and the girl. In the girl the absence of a penis was experienced as a wrong suffered which she attempted to deny, compensate for, or to remedy. (1923b:307-12).
So far as the Oedipus complex was concerned the phallic stage had an essential role. In the case of the boy the dissolution of the complex was determined by the threat of castration. This depended on the narcissistic interest directed by the little boy towards his own penis. It also depended on his discovery of the lack of the penis in the little girl. The boy could not transcend the Oedipus complex and achieve identification with the father without first having overcome the castration crisis. He must have confronted the rejection of his demand to use his penis as an instrument of his desire for his mother. For him castration anxiety inaugurated the period of latency and precipitated the formation of the super-ego. (1923b:307-12). The threat of castration set the seal on the prohibition against incest. It was the embodiment of the law that found human order from the primeval family. (1933:119). It was possible to put castration anxiety in the context of a separation from an object such as the breast in feeding and weaning, defecation, a gift, money, and a baby. (1917:296, 1923b:310, 1924:317, 1909b:310, 1933:133-4). Elsewhere Freud deprecated the application of the term castration complex to other kinds of separation. (1909b footnote added 1923:172).
THE PROBLEM OF BIRTH
The Form of Anxiety
Before Freud could establish his second theory of anxiety, there remained the question of what it was that determined the form in which anxiety manifested itself. He had related the expressions of anxiety to the sexual act. (1895a:59). His views on the expression of affects appear to have been derived from Darwin’s ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals’ (1872). Freud thought that Darwin had shown us that the expression of affects “consists of actions which originally had a meaning and served a purpose”. (1895c:254). Freud thought that the nucleus of an affect was “the repetition of some particular significant experience”. (1916-1917:444). Freud recalled his earlier explanation of hysterical attacks as revivals of events in infancy. (1909a:100). He added that “an hysterical attack may be likened to a freshly constructed affect, and a normal affect to the expression of a general hysteria which has become a heritage”. (1916-1917:444). Anxiety had become incorporated in the mind as precipitates of traumatic experiences which were revived like mnemic symbols (1908a:91), whenever a similar situation occurred. (1926:244). The theory of the affects played an essential role in a new explanation which emerged when he wrote: “Moreover, the act of birth is the first experience of anxiety, and thus the source and prototype of the affect of anxiety”. (1900 second edition 1909:525-6). The connection between anxiety and birth appeared again. (1910:240). Later, Freud spoke of birth as “the first great anxiety-state”. (1923a:400).
Rank and the Trauma of Birth
Rank attempted to found the castration complex on the act of birth. He thought that the separation from the mother in the birth trauma, together with the physical reactions which accompanied the event provided the prototype for all subsequent anxiety. He concluded that castration anxiety was the echo (mediated through a long series of traumatic experiences) of the anxiety of birth. Rank’s book was far more than an adoption of Freud’s explanation of the form taken by anxiety. He thought that all later attacks of anxiety were attempts at the abreaction of the trauma of birth. He accounted for all neuroses on similar lines, and thereby dethroned the Oedipus complex. He proposed a reformed therapeutic technique based on the overcoming of the birth trauma. (Rank 1924:17-23, 213-216).
Freud stated that Rank’s contention that anxiety was a consequence of the event of birth and a repetition of that experience had also been his own. (1926:321). Freud’s published references to Rank’s book seemed at first to be favourable. (1905a footnote added in 1924:150, 1909b footnote added in 1923:274). But Freud made a complete and final reversal of those opinions. Freud wrote that he could make no headway with Rank’s views that birth was a trauma, anxiety a reaction of discharge to it, and all subsequent anxiety an attempt to abreact it more completely. His rejection of Ranks views, however, stimulated him to a reconsideration of his own. (1926:231). Freud’s second theory of anxiety was the result.
Freud thought that Rank’s attempt to establish a relationship between the earliest phobias of children and the impression made on them by the event of birth had not been successful. Freud recounted that Rank assumed the child received visual impressions from birth which when renewed, recalled the trauma of birth and evoked a reaction of anxiety. Freud’s objection to Rank was that the child probably retained only tactile and general sensations from birth. Freud also recounted that Rank had related later anxiety to the traumatic act of birth which disturbed the happy intra-uterine existence. Freud thought a child alone in the dark produced anxiety where according to Rank it welcomed the re-establishment of the intra-uterine existence. (1926:292. Rank 1924:11,19,13-17). Freud thought that the phantasy of returning to the womb was a substitute for a wish to copulate with the mother. (1933:120).
Freud stated that he did not consider that the theory of Rank contradicted the aetiological importance of the sexual instincts as recognised by psychoanalysis. He described the theory of Rank as only referring to the relation of the individual to the danger situation. Freud stated that this allowed him to assume that if the individual had not mastered the first dangers, he would also not master later situations involving sexual danger and thus develop a neurosis. Therefore, Freud did not believe that Rank had solved the problem of the causation of the neurosis. (1926:311. Rank 1924:43-45).
Freud rejected Rank’s view that people became neurotic due to intensely traumatic births which they were unable to abreact. Abreaction meant that the more intensely the affect of anxiety was reproduced, the closer one came to mental health. Freud stated that this was an untenable conclusion, and the reason why he gave up the theory of abreaction which played a large part in the cathartic method. Freud thought that birth was not experienced subjectively as a separation from the mother or that there could be a place for its abreaction, as the narcissistic foetus was unaware of her existence as an object. In addition, the affective reactions to separation were pain and mourning, and not anxiety. (1926:286, 291, 295). Freud’s main objection was that there was no collected evidence to show that difficult and protracted birth coincided within the development of a neurosis. The lack of an attempt at verification meant that it was impossible to assess the value of Rank’s theory. (1926:309-10. Rank 1924:17,212-213).
Freud placed the act of castration under the category of primal phantasies. This indicated that the effects of castration are felt without it being carried out, even without it becoming the subject of express formulations on the part of the parents. Castration was one of the aspects of the Oedipus complex in which the sexual desires of people had their origin. This happened despite the fact that castration anxiety, which arose only at the phallic stage, was far from being the first in a series of anxiety producing experiences. Freud would establish these within his second theory of anxiety. Rank, on the other hand, placed the act of birth, an actual real experience, as the origin of the neuroses, and thereby tried to do away with the Oedipus complex.
In accordance with his general views of the pleasure principle and the reality principle (1920:275-280), Freud assumed that an anxiety-state was the reproduction of a past experience. It contained the necessary conditions for an increase in excitation, acts of discharge, and perceptions of those acts. From that circumstance the unpleasure of anxiety received its specific character. (1926:286-9). In the course of his second theory of anxiety and his discussion of Rank’s thesis, Freud attempted to trace the sources of castration anxiety as far back as possible and to discover the working of the category of separation. That was of narcissistically invested object-loss, from earliest infancy to a variety of later experiences. Freud’s critique of Rank showed Freud’s wish to disassociate himself from Rank’s argument. Freud’s constant concern during the second theory of anxiety was to replace the castration complex at the very centre of psychoanalysis.
THE SECOND THEORY OF ANXIETY
The Aetiology of Castration Anxiety
In formulating his second theory of anxiety Freud returned to the phobia of Little Hans. Little Hans had an idea that a horse would bite him. This inhibited him from going out into street for fear he came upon one. He was in the jealous and hostile Oedipus attitude towards his father whom he also loved. The phobia was an attempt to solve this ambivalent conflict. The repressed instinctual impulse was hostility towards his father. Little Hans wanted his father to fall and hurt himself, just as he had seen a horse fall and a play mate fall and hurt himself. The choice of anxiety animal was determined by the fact that Little Han’s father had played horses with him. Little Hans aggressive impulse towards his father had been repressed by the process of being transformed into its opposite. Instead of aggressiveness towards his father, there was aggressiveness in the shape of revenge from his father towards himself. Little Han’s aggressiveness was rooted in the sadistic phase of the libido. Degradation reduced it to the oral stage. This stage appeared in Little Han’s fear of being bitten. His phobia disposed of the two main impulses of the Oedipus complex: aggressiveness towards his father and his over fondness for his mother. The positive Oedipus complex of Little Hans differed from the negative Oedipus complex of the Russian ‘Wolf Man’. However the final outcome of the phobias was approximately the same. In both cases the motive force of the repression was the fear of castration. Little Hans gave up his aggressiveness towards his father from fear of being castrated. His fear that a horse would bite him was in fact the fear that a horse would bite off his genitals and would therefore castrate him. (1909b:169-303, 1926:254-62).
“Here, then, is our unexpected finding: in both patients the motive force of the repression was fear of castration. The ideas contained in their anxiety - being bitten by a horse and being devoured by a wolf - were substitutes by distortion for the idea of being castrated by their father. This was the idea which had undergone repression. In the Russian boy the idea was an expression of a wish which was not able to subsist in the face of his masculine revolt; in ‘Little Hans’ it was the expression of a reaction in him which had turned his aggressiveness into its opposite. But the affect of anxiety, which was the essence of the phobia, came, not from the process of repression, not from the libidinal cathexes of the repressed impulses, but from the repressing agency itself. The anxiety belonging to the animal phobias was an untransformed fear of castration. It was therefore a realistic fear, a fear of a danger which was actually impending or was judged to be a real one. It was anxiety which produced repression and not, as I formerly believed, repression which produced anxiety”. (1926:262-263).
Up until that point Freud had asserted that in repression the instinctual representative was distorted and displaced, while the libido belonging to the instinctual impulse was transformed into anxiety. The problem of reversal of affect under repression had been around for a long time. (1950a[1892-1899]:271, 1900:738, 1915:145b, 1920:279, 1926:242-3). Freud’s examination of phobias contradicted his first theory of anxiety. Anxiety in animal phobias was the ego’s fear of castration. The anxiety was felt by the ego in regard to the demands of the libido. The ego’s attitude of anxiety was primary as it set repression going. Anxiety did not arise from repressed libido. Freud could no longer maintain his first theory of anxiety. He had found it “impossible” to explain how the transformation happened. (1926:263-264). It had been a phenomenological account rather than a metapsychological one. (1926:244). Freud remarked that his second theory of anxiety had done away with the necessity of considering the economic factor of the first. (1926:297). At that time Freud had not distinguished between processes in the ego and the id. The first conceptualisation of the psychical apparatus had proved insufficient for identifying defensive conflict, so Freud had introduced a second. It involved an interplay between the three agencies of the id (the instinctual pole of the personality), the ego (which put itself forward as representative of the whole person), and the super-ego (agency of judgement and criticism, constituted by the internalisation of parental demands and prohibitions). (1923a:350-407). Freud overlaid one conceptualisation on to the other. (1933:111, 1940:388-96).
Freud thought that “the essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious”. (1915b:147). Freud had shown that most repressions were cases of after pressure, which presupposed the operation of earlier primal repressions which exerted an attraction on the more recent situation. (1915b:147, 1926:245-246). In repression the ego was under the influence of external reality. The ego stopped the substitutive process from effecting reality. The ego also controlled access to consciousness. In repression the ego exercised power upon the instinctual impulse and the psychical representative of that impulse. Freud considered how he could have reconciled this acknowledgement of the power of the ego with his earlier description. (1923a:389-401). There he had described the ego’s dependent, powerless, and apprehensive relation to the id and super-ego, and with what an effort it maintained its superiority. (1926:245-247). Freud realised that it was too simplistic to think of the ego as either strong or weak in relation to the id and the super-ego. In repression the decisive fact was that the ego was the organised portion of the id. Although repression demonstrated the strength of the ego it also showed how weak it could be. (1926:249 and 1933:125). Freud reintroduced an old concept of defence from his 1894 paper, on the grounds that it was necessary to have an inclusive category under which other methods of defence could be subsumed. “It may well be that before its sharp cleavage into an ego and an id, and before the formation of a super-ego, the mental apparatus made use of different methods of defence from those which it employs after it has reached these stages of organisation. (1926:323).
The Signal of Anxiety
One form of defence instigated by the ego was the ‘signal of anxiety’. It was hinted at in Freud’s early works as a signal of unpleasure. (1905b:326, 1900:762). Eventually the signal of unpleasure was related to anxiety. (1915c:186, 1916-1917:453). Within the context of his second theory of anxiety Freud made the short step from the signal of unpleasure and introduced the signal of anxiety. In the case of Little Hans Freud had observed that when the ego recognised the danger of castration it gave the signal of anxiety. This inhibited through the pleasure-unpleasure agency the impending cathetic process in the id. At that point the phobia was formed. The castration anxiety was directed to a different object (a horse) and expressed in a distorted form (being bitten by a horse). This substitutive formation had enabled the ego to cease generating anxiety which was conditional on a perception of the danger situation. Freud introduced the term ‘generation of anxiety’ to describe the process in which anxiety increased in the individual. Freud introduced the term ‘automatic anxiety’ to imply a spontaneous reaction to a traumatic situation or a reproduction of it in which the anxiety could not be mastered. The term automatic anxiety was therefore opposed to the term signal of anxiety. (1926:280-1).
Realistic Anxiety and Neurotic Anxiety
Freud thought that it could still be true that in repression anxiety was produced from the libidinal cathexis of the instinctual impulses. He was not sure how he could reconcile this conclusion with his other conclusion that the anxiety felt in phobias was an ego anxiety and arose in the ego, and that it did not proceed out of repression but, on the contrary, set repression in motion. “There seems to be a contradiction here which it is not at all simple to solve. It will not be easy to reduce the two sources of anxiety to a single one”. (1926:264). The answer was in the case of Little Hans. Little Hans had imposed a restriction upon his ego, the inhibition of not leaving the house in order to avoid horses. Freud had thought that phobias had the character of a projection. (1915c:187). The internal instinctual danger was replaced by an external perceptual one. (1926:281). Freud went further than in 1915 by stating that the instinctual demand was not in itself dangerous. It became so as it entailed a real external danger, the danger of castration. (1926:282).
“The anxiety felt in animal phobias is, therefore, an affective reaction on the part of the ego to danger: and the danger which is being signalled in this way is the danger of castration. This anxiety differs in no respect from the realistic anxiety which the ego normally feels in situations of danger, except that its content remains unconscious and only becomes conscious in the form of a distortion”. (1926:282).
Freud used the term ‘realistic anxiety’ in the context of his second theory of anxiety. Realistic anxiety was about a real and known external danger. Neurotic anxiety was about an unknown instinctual danger. As the instinctual demand was real, neurotic anxiety had a realistic basis. By bringing the danger that was not known to the ego into consciousness, the analyst made neurotic anxiety no different from realistic anxiety. (1926:325). “Neurotic anxiety has changed in our hands into realistic anxiety, into fear of particular external situations of danger”. (1933:125). One reaction to real danger was an outbreak of anxiety. Another reaction to a real danger was a protective action. One reaction gave the signal for the other to appear. This co-operation could happen in both expedient and inexpedient ways. In the latter, paralysis from anxiety could set in, and the one reaction spread at the cost of the other. In certain cases the characteristics of realistic and neurotic anxiety were mixed together. A real and known danger was accompanied by an inappropriately large amount of anxiety. The surplus of anxiety betrayed the presence of neurotic anxiety. This was because that attached to the real and known danger there was an unknown instinctual one. The ego defended itself against an instinctual danger with the signal of anxiety as it did against an external real danger. The instinctual demand became an internal danger when its satisfaction brought on an external danger. The instinctual danger therefore represented an external one. The real external danger was recognised as related to a past situation of helplessness. In the situation of helplessness, real external dangers and internal instinctual dangers converged. (1926:325-8, 1933:114-125).
Freud thought that although the neuroses of adults were more complicated than those of children, their phobias were fundamentally identical to them. An agoraphobic adult would impose a restriction on his ego to avoid the instinctual danger of giving away to his erotic desires. For if he did so the danger of castration would once more be conjured up as it was in childhood. The symptomatology of agoraphobia was complicated by the fact that the ego did not only make a renunciation. It effected a temporal regression to infancy in order to rob the situation of danger. The regression became a condition whose fulfilment exempted the ego form making a renunciation. An agoraphobic adult would be able to walk in the street as long as he was accompanied like a small child. Infantile regression could of course only take place when the adult was no longer a child. The phobia generally set in after an anxiety attack had been experienced in a specific situation (being in the street). The anxiety was held in ban by the phobia. It re-emerged whenever the protective condition (not entering the street) could not be fulfilled. The mechanism was a stable means of defence. (1926:282-3, 1933:116).
Freud thought that in obsessional neuroses the source of all later symptom-formation was the ego’s fear of the super-ego. The danger situation from which the ego must get away was the hostility of the super-ego. The danger was completely internalised and therefore there was no projection. The ego feared punishment from the super-ego. It was an extension of the punishment of castration. The father had become depersonalised in the super-ego. The fear of castration by the father was transformed into an undefined social or moral anxiety. The ego escaped this form of anxiety by obediently carrying out the commands, precautions and penances that had been enjoined on it. If the ego was impeded in doing so, it was immediately overtaken by an extremely distressing feeling of discomfort, which was an equivalent of anxiety. (1926:283-4).
Freud had been careful not to overestimate his finding that the danger of castration was of importance in more than one neurotic illness. His reason was that the finding was not decisive for women. He could not speak of castration anxiety where castration had already taken place. (1926:278). “We now see that there is no danger in regarding castration anxiety as the sole motive force of the defensive processes which lead to neurosis”. (1926:300). He indicated in his paper how young girls in the course of their development are led into making a tender object-cathexis by their castration complex. (1925:334-43, 1926:300). Freud thus had to modify his description of women’s determinant of anxiety. It was no longer a matter of feeling the want of, or losing the object itself, but of losing the object’s love. (1926:301). Freud realised that phobia, conversion hysteria and obsessional hysteria all had the destruction of the Oedipus complex as their outcome. In all three the motive force of the ego’s opposition was the fear of castration. Only in the phobias did the fear appear. (1926:278, 1933:119). “We are aware that here we are diverging widely from the general opinion: but we must hold fast to the view that fear of castration is one of the commonest and strongest motives for repression and thus for the formation of symptoms”. (1933:119).
Freud thought that symptoms were created in order to remove the ego from a situation of danger, whose presence had been signalled by it. The danger situation was “the danger of castration or of something traceable back to castration”. (1926:284). Without the symptom, the danger situation would have materialised. The ego would have been helpless in the face of a constantly increasing instinctual demand. This was the earliest and original determinant of anxiety. The danger situation existed in the relationship between anxiety and symptom. There was an inclination to limit the amount of anxiety generated and to employ it as a signal in accordance with the pleasure principle. Symptom formation put an end to the danger situation. The defensive process brought about an alteration in the id in virtue of which the ego was removed from danger. The symptom formation or substitute formation showed what had been created in place of the instinctual process that had been altered. (1926:302-3, 1933:116).
Freud was inclined to view the fear of death as analogous to the fear of castration. (1923a:400, 1926:285). The situation to which the ego was reacting was one of being abandoned by the protecting super-ego. It no longer had any safeguard against all the dangers that surrounded it. In addition, experiences which led to a traumatic neuroses involved the protective shield against external stimuli being broken through. Excessive amounts of excitation impinged upon the mental apparatus. Therefore, anxiety was not only being signalled as an affect, but was also being freshly created out of the economic conditions of the situation. By just stating that the ego had been prepared to expect castration by having undergone constantly repeated object-losses, Freud had placed anxiety in a new light. Up to that point anxiety was regarded as an affective signal of danger. Now, as the danger was so often one of castration, it appeared as a reaction to a loss, a separation. (1926:286).
Modifications of Loss of the Object and the Danger Situations
Freud thought that anxiety appeared as a reaction to a felt loss of an object which was traceable to castration anxiety. It was a fear of being separated from a highly valued object. The child wanted to perceive the presence of the mother. From experience it knew that she satisfied its needs. The child wanted to protect itself from the danger situation of non satisfaction. There was a growing tension due to need against which it was helpless, as the mother was absent. The situation of non satisfaction involved an economic disturbance caused by an accumulation of stimulation which needed to be disposed of. This was the essence of the danger situation and the essence of automatic anxiety. As that danger situation arose the signal of anxiety was given before the economic situation set in. Freud thought that this change constituted a first step forward in the provision made by the infant for its self-preservation. It also represented “a transition from the automatic and involuntary fresh appearance of anxiety to the intentional reproduction of anxiety as a signal to danger”. (1926:293-5). Later Freud was to state that the traumatic situation “cannot be dealt with by the pleasure principle”. He thought that it was “a long step from the pleasure principle to the self preservative instinct, the intention of the two of them are very far from coinciding from the start”. (1933:126).
Automatic anxiety and the signal of anxiety were a product of the new born and infant’s psychical helplessness. This was a natural counterpart of its biological helplessness, conditioned by separation from the mother. The mother’s body satisfied the foetus’s needs. She also satisfied the infant’s need. The biological dependency of the foetus with the mother was replaced by a psychical object-relation of the child with the mother. Anxiety was a signal for the avoidance of a danger situation. Later, anxiety occurred under castration anxiety within the phallic phase. It represented a fear of separation. It was therefore attached to the same determinant. The danger was of being separated from one’s genitals. The penis guaranteed a reunion with the mother (via a substitute) in the act of copulation. Castration amounted to a renewed separation from the mother. This would create an unpleasurable tension due to instinctual need belonging to the genital libido. (1926:295-6, 1933:120). Later, the depersonalisation of the parental agency from which castration was feared meant that the danger became less defined. Castration anxiety developed into a moral or social anxiety. This was due to separation and expulsion from the horde, and applied to a later portion of the super-ego formed on the basis of social prototypes. It did not apply to the nucleus of the super-ego which was formed by the introjected parental agency. Therefore the danger situation for the ego which it responded to with the signal of anxiety was that the super-ego should be angry with it or punish it or cease to love it. The final transformation which the fear of the super-ego underwent was the fear of death or fear of life. (1926:296-7). This was the fear of the super-ego projected on to “the powers of destiny”. (1923a:400, 1926:286,296-7, 1933:120-1).
Within the evolution of danger situations Freud asserted that each determinant of anxiety did not completely invalidate the preceding one. Each determinant of anxiety could persist simultaneously. The ego could react to them with anxiety at a period later than the appropriate one. Several of them could come into operation at the same time. Freud had been able to show that each danger situation corresponded to a particular period of life or a particular developmental phase of the psychical apparatus. Certain determinants of anxiety were relinquished and certain danger situations lost their significance as the individual matured. Other determinants of anxiety such as fear of the super-ego accompanied people throughout life. Neurotics remained infantile in regard to anxiety and had not overcome its earlier determinants. (1926:299-307, 1933:121).
Freud went from the anxiety reaction to the danger situation that lay behind it and opened up new aspects on the problem of anxiety. He recognised anxiety as a reaction to situations of danger, and the part played by the ego as the seat of anxiety by allocating to it the function of producing anxiety according to its needs. (1926:321-2). Freud was confident of his assertion that the ego was the actual seat of anxiety. (1923a:399, 1926:244, 297, 1933:117). He thought that there was no reason to assign any anxiety to the super-ego. The id could not have anxiety as it was not able to make a judgement about situations of danger. However, particular processes in the id could cause the ego to produce anxiety. (1926:297-8, 1933:117). So Freud had attributed two modes of origin to anxiety in later life. One was involuntary, automatic and always justified on economic grounds, and arose whenever a danger situation was established. The other was produced by the ego as soon as a situation of this kind merely threatened to occur, in order to call for its avoidance. (1926:321-2).
When the infant was presented with a stranger instead of its mother it exhibited anxiety which was attributed to the danger of loss of the object. The infant’s facial expression and reaction of crying also indicated the presence of pain. It could not distinguish between temporary absence and permanent loss. It could learn that her disappearance was usually followed by her reappearance by repeated consoling experiences. This included the game of the mother hiding her face from it with her hands and then, to its joy, uncovering it again. It could then feel longing without despair. (1920:284, 1926:330). Thus Freud thought that the first determinant of anxiety, which is the ego itself introduced, was loss of perception of the object. He equated this with loss of the object itself. Later, through experience the child realised that the object could be present, but angry with it. Loss of love from the object was then felt as a new and enduring danger and determinant of anxiety. From then on repeated situations of satisfaction created an object (the mother). The object received an intense cathexis of longing whenever the infant felt a need. Pain was the reaction to the loss of the object. Anxiety was the reaction to danger which that loss entailed. By a further displacement anxiety was also a reaction to the danger of the loss of the object itself. (1926:330-331).
Freud enquired further into the essence and meaning of the danger situation itself. It consisted of the individual’s estimation of his own strength guided by his own experiences compared to the magnitude of the danger. It involved an admission of helplessness in relation to the danger on the part of the individual. Physical helplessness for a real and known danger, and psychical helplessness for an unknown instinctual danger. Freud called a situation of helplessness that had actually been experienced a traumatic situation. This was the fundamental determinant of automatic anxiety. This gave him grounds for distinguishing a traumatic situation from a danger situation. In the danger situation the anxiety signal announced that it was expecting a helplessness situation to set in that reminded it of a previous traumatic situation. Anxiety was an expectation of a trauma. It was also a repetition of a trauma in a mitigated form. Anxiety and the expectation that often accompanied it belonged to the danger situation. The notion of indefiniteness and lack of an object belonged to the traumatic situation of helplessness, the situation which was anticipated in the danger situation. (1926:326).
Freud wrote that a danger situation was a recognised, remembered and expected situation of helplessness. Anxiety was the original reaction to helplessness in the trauma. Anxiety was reproduced in later danger situations as a signal for help in the form of the signal of anxiety. The ego, which had experienced the trauma passively, then repeated it actively in a weakened form in the hope of directing it’s course. What was of decisive importance to Freud was the first displacement of the anxiety reaction from its origin in the situation of helplessness to an expectation of that situation, that is, to the danger situation. After that came the later displacements, from the danger to the determinant of the danger: loss of the object and the modifications of that loss. (1926:327).
The problem of anxiety had been constantly present for Freud throughout his work on the neuroses. Anxiety had a relation to the neuroses which Freud elucidated. The problem of this thesis was to establish how Freud arrived at castration anxiety as the origin of anxiety. The story started with his first theory of anxiety. In anxiety neurosis he discovered that anxiety was accumulated libido that found discharge in the form of anxiety. From the start phobias raised a complication. The study of dreams brought about his first conceptualisation of the psychical apparatus. From there he attempted to explain anxiety dreams in the same was as he had explained anxiety neurosis. From early on there was the problem of reversal of affect under repression. Freud’s self analysis lead to the introduction of the Oedipus complex. The analysis of Little Han’s phobia was decisive for his theory of the castration complex. These complexes pathed the way for his second theory of anxiety. After introducing his second conceptualisation of the psychical apparatus Freud reconsidered the influence of the ego and repression. Finally, Freud’s rejection of Rank’s views that birth was the prototype of anxiety, saved the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety from being dethroned from their fundamental and central position in psychoanalysis.
Although the first theory of anxiety had insisted that anxiety was transformed libido, Freud had considered the relationship between anxiety due to internal and external dangers from the start onwards, especially in connection with phobias. It had been difficult for Freud to maintain the sameness of the anxiety for both internal and external dangers whilst the first theory of anxiety was insisted upon for the actual neuroses. The abandonment of the first theory and the introduction of the second theory with the distinction between automatic anxiety and signal of anxiety clarified the situation. There ceased to be any reason for seeing a generic difference between neurotic and realistic anxiety. Freud’s second theory where he regarded the ego as the sole seat of anxiety resulted from the second structural division of the psychical apparatus that he had made. Freud showed that the danger situation of castration in the phallic phase had corresponding determinants in other stages of development. They were psychical helplessness, loss of an object or loss of its love, and fear of the super-ego.
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