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Geroe, G. (1943). The Ego and the Affects: Otto Fenichel. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 47–60.. Psychoanal Q., 12:295-296.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: The Ego and the Affects: Otto Fenichel. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 47–60.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:295-296

The Ego and the Affects: Otto Fenichel. Psa. Rev., XXVIII, 1941, pp. 47–60.

George Geroe

In this paper Fenichel gives a complete summary of the psychology of affect phenomena from the viewpoint of psychoanalysis. He points out that the common characteristic of 'discharge-affects', such as in spells of rage, sudden anxieties and sexual excitement, is the interrelationship between body movements or other physiological discharges and emotional feelings. Affect phenomena are more or less independent of conscious intentions because the ego is more or less overwhelmed. Fenichel describes two conditions under which such an overwhelming takes places. An outburst may be a response to an extraordinary stimulus, or it may be caused by a normal stimulus while the organism is in a state of tension. This tension may be the consequence of a previous suppression of emotion. The readiness for the development of emotional outbursts is a sign of a certain weakness of the ego, of a lack of ability in mastering ordinary stimuli and is found in children and neurotic persons who show a greater affective lability than normal adults.

Fenichel describes three developmental stages in the relation of the ego to the affects. In the beginning, the ego is weak and the affects are dominant, then the ego becomes stronger and learns to master and direct the affects. However, a third stage is always possible in which an elementary affect may again overwhelm the organism. Traumatic anxiety is found in the first stage in which the organism is overwhelmed by excitement. In the second stage anxiety of a slight degree is used by the ego as a 'signal' to initiate defense measures. A hysterical attack of anxiety is found in the third stage. According to Fenichel, this threefold stratification may also be observed in other affects.

The ego attitude toward the affect, which is especially important for analytic practice, is one of defense. Fenichel discusses the different defense mechanisms

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used against affects, such as blocking, reaction-formation and displacements. In addition, the quality of the affect itself may change, while another possibility is found in the postponement of the affect and its appearance at the wrong time.

Finally, Fenichel considers some normal affect mechanisms. He rejects the opinion that a normal person is without affects. Affects are an enrichment of the personality and should only be called pathological if they disturb conscious intentions.

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Article Citation

Geroe, G. (1943). The Ego and the Affects. Psychoanal. Q., 12:295-296

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