Freudian Interpretations of Obsession and Compulsion

Freudian Interpretations of Obsession and Compulsion
   (from 1896)
   Aside from hysteria, obsession and compulsion constituted the core psychoneuroses (symptoms having an unconscious mechanism) that psychoanalysis sought to explain. Freud first articulated his concept of obsessional neurosis (Zwangsneurose) in a paper "Further Observations on the Defense-Neuropsychoses" ("Weitere Bemerkungen über die Abwehr-Neuropsychosen") in the Neurologisches Zentralblatt in 1896. He explained that (all following translations are those of James Strachey), "the nature of the obsessional neurosis [is that] obsessional ideas are invariably transformed selfreproaches which have re-emerged from repression and which always relate to some sexual act that was performed with pleasure in childhood" (Freud, Standard Edition, III, p. 169).
   In 1909, Freud enlarged this definition somewhat in "Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis" (Bemerkungen über einen Fall von Zwangsneurose), published in the Yearbook of the Psychoanalytic Movement and often referred to as "The Rat Man Case." Freud now wrote, "The compulsion . . . is an attempt at a compensation for the doubt and at a correction of the intolerable conditions of inhibition to which the doubt bears witness" (Standard Edition, X, p. 243; Gesammelte Werke, VII, p. 459). In this case, Freud viewed the process of regression as a special feature of the obsessional neurosis.
   In 1926, in The Problem of Anxiety (Hemmung, Symptom und Angst), Freud spelled out the various defense mechanisms of the psyche against the intrusion of unwanted feelings, especially anxiety: "It is perhaps in obsessional cases more than in normal or hysterical ones that we can most clearly recognize that the motive force of defense is the castration complex and that what is being fended off are the trends of the Oedipus complex" (Standard Edition, XX, p. 114; Gesammelte Werke, XIV, p. 144). Freud said that the function of repression in patients with obsessional neurosis was to isolate the toxic affects from consciousness rather than to repress them by total amnesia, as in hysteria.
   Otto Fenichel (1945) supplied the ultimate psychoanalytic formulation of obsessive neurosis in his textbook, Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1945). He began his chapter on "Obsession and Compulsion" with: "In all psychoneuroses the control of the ego has become relatively insufficient. . . . In compulsions and obsessions, the fact that the ego governs motility is not changed [unlike conversion disorders], but the ego does not feel free in using this government power. It has to use it according to a strange command of a more powerful agency, contradicting its judgment. It is compelled to do or to think, or to omit certain things; otherwise it feels menaced by terrible threats" (p. 268).

Edward Shorter. 2014.

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