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Gediman, H.K. (1983). Annihilation Anxiety: The Experience of Deficit in Neurotic Compromise Formation. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 64:59-70.

(1983). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 64:59-70

Annihilation Anxiety: The Experience of Deficit in Neurotic Compromise Formation

Helen K. Gediman


This paper considers the problem of annihilation anxiety as a 'test case' to question some polarization tendencies in psychoanalysis. One such polarization, deficit versus conflict, encourages either-or diagnoses, such as narcissistic or neurotic. An alternative scheme is proposed here, a continuum on which most cases are 'mixed' rather than 'pure', and where annihilation concerns along the range are reviewed and documented.

The non-specific dread of the strength of the instincts reactivates what Kohut has called early

traumatic failures in maternal empathy. Conversely, current failures in empathy may produce great intensities of signal anxiety, anticipating the helplessness of the original traumatic state. These accruals may be experienced in terms of self annihilation. It is here proposed that the term annihilation anxiety be used to refer to a variety of phenomena, including susceptibility to traumatic states, and intensities of anxiety which may always be further elaborated with conscious or unconscious mental content. Once that anxiety, whatever its origin, oedipal or pre-oedipal, is capable of psychic representation, it may become a component of intrapsychic conflict.

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