Customer Service | Help | FAQ | PEP-Easy | Report a Data Error | About
Tip: To contact support with questions…

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

You can always contact us directly by sending an email to

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Sperling, M. (1971). Spider Phobias and Spider Fantasies—A Clinical Contribution to the Study of Symbol and Symptom Choice. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 19:472-498.

(1971). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 19:472-498

Spider Phobias and Spider Fantasies—A Clinical Contribution to the Study of Symbol and Symptom Choice

Melitta Sperling, M.D.


Psychoanalytic studies of patients who used spider symbolism for the expression of their repressed (perverse) impulses and conflicts revealed, as important genetic factors, pregenital, particularly anal, fixations and unresolved preoedipal relationships with their mothers. The spider symbolism as well as the symptoms most frequently found associated with it, such as severe sleep disturbances and phobias, are also an indication of unresolved separation conflicts and a high degree of ambivalence which intensifies bisexuality and the problems of sexual identification. The mechanisms of defense employed in spider symbolism and in phobias are denial, externalization, projection, splitting, and displacement. They indicate the primitive, ambivalent, narcissistic ego organization of this phase. The personalities of these patients and of the mothers in cases where it was possible to study them showed marked paranoid trends. They also used psychosomatic symptoms in stress situations, either episodically or more persistently for the immediate (somatic) discharge of threatening impulses. The spider symbolism in most cases remained latent and became manifest in traumatic life situations and in analysis when the phobic and psychosomatic defenses were invalidated. In the analytic situation the spider symbolism was indicative of a specific mother transference.

I have tried to elaborate on some of the factors operating in the genesis and choice of the spider symbolism and to deal more fully with its dynamic and economic functions. I particularly wanted to draw attention to the diagnostic and prognostic significance of spider symbolism in clinical practice.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

Copyright © 2019, Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing, ISSN 2472-6982 Customer Service | Help | FAQ | Download PEP Bibliography | Report a Data Error | About

WARNING! This text is printed for personal use. It is copyright to the journal in which it originally appeared. It is illegal to redistribute it in any form.