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Fenichel, O. (1945). The Concept of Trauma in Contemporary Psycho-Analytical Theory. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 26:33-44.

(1945). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 26:33-44

The Concept of Trauma in Contemporary Psycho-Analytical Theory

Otto Fenichel

By way of introduction I shall go over some familiar ground and briefly summarize a number of fundamental facts from the general theory of the neuroses.

Neurosis is in the first place a motor irruption, unrecognized and undesired by the ego, of quantities of dammed-up excitation. The damming-up may be caused by an increase in influx during a given unit of time, as is the case in traumatic neuroses, or by a decrease in discharge (whether this is inhibited by fear of the external world or at the bidding of the super-ego), as is the case in the psycho-neuroses.

Hence arises a peculiar relation between neurosis and anxiety. Anxiety too, according to Freud (1926), is in the first instance a mode in which an increase in the tension arising from urgent needs is experienced. Later, however, it is 'harnessed' and turned to account by the ego when it judges a situation to be 'dangerous'. Thus both in the case of neurosis in general and of anxiety in particular the situation of origin is the same—namely a damming-up of excitation, with a relatively inadequate apparatus of discharge. This is in accordance with the important part played by anxiety in the psychology of the neuroses and with the fact that neuroses that are free from anxiety produce anxiety as soon as they are prevented from making use of their symptoms; so that the latter can be regarded as a king of defence against, or as a secondary and further modification of, anxiety. This will become clearer if we recall to our mind Freud's description (1926) of anxiety in traumatic states and of the way in which it is subsequently 'harnessed' by the ego.

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