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Scharfman, M. (1967). Meetings of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York. Psychoanal Q., 36:155.

(1967). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 36:155

Meetings of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York

Melvin Scharfman

DISCUSSION: Dr. Kurt Eissler felt that Dr. Stern had made a most useful contribution in redirecting our attention toward the fear of death in the analytic process. He confirmed that in cases in which fear of death plays an inordinate role, one finds an archaic preoedipal relationship to the mother—an intense wish to return to the womb simultaneously with the dread of fulfilment of that wish. The excessive passivity in such cases, and the defense against it, is often combined with feminine identification and converts castration fear into the wish for castration, enormously increasing anxiety. There is a need to study the conditions under which anxiety leads into the regressive forms described by Dr. Stern. The formula 'rather castrated than dead' appears to be a secondary defense in order to cope with inordinate castration fear. He felt that anxiety and depressive affects cannot be reduced to the same denominator; depression is a response not to danger but to loss.

Dr. Frank Berchenko agreed with Dr. Stern's concept that early traumas later become associated with fear of dying, and presented material from the analyses of two cases in which fear of death played a prominent role. In both cases excessive exposure to frustrating non-nurturing parents caused fusion fantasies. Death wishes played a role in fear of death in one of the cases. He also found that patients in whom fear of death is prominent are afraid to grow up and remain infantile in their behavior.

Dr. Jan Frank spoke of the fact that in deep regressive states there is the potentiality to climb up and resulpture the complete dependence on the mother image.

In conclusion, Dr. Stern stressed that he did not intend to deal with special cases characterized by exorbitant fear of death but with the role of fear of death in every neurosis. His cases showed no more fear of death than presumably does any case of perversion. He stressed that Freud's term 'mortal terror' is not identical with signal anxiety; it is not a response to danger but a reponse to a traumatic situation, later called by Freud 'automatic anxiety'. Its paralyzing quality explains Freud's equation of mortal terror with depression. As Fenichel stressed, depression has to be recognized as being, beside anxiety, the main affect underlying human pathology.

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