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Stein, M.H. (1969). The Problem of Character Theory. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 17:675-701.

(1969). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 17:675-701

The Problem of Character Theory

Martin H. Stein, M.D.

… the processes of the formation of character are more obscure and less accessible to analysis than neurotic ones (Freud, 1913p. 323).

Sixty years ago, the theory of symptom formation reached a stage of elegance and inclusiveness which has so far been surpassed by no other clinical theory in our field. In an eight-page paper with the deceptive title, "Hysterical Phantasies and Their Relation to Bisexuality" (1908a), Freud summarized what he had discovered up to that point, and managed to anticipate most of what was to be written of symptom formation during the succeeding sixty years. His introduction to the section which embodies his ideas is worth quoting:

For the sake of general interest I will at this point go outside the framework of this paper and interpolate a series of formulas which attempt to give a progressively fuller description of the nature of hysterical symptoms. These formulas do not contradict one another, but some represent an increasingly complete and precise approach to the facts, while others represent the application of different points of view:

1. Hysterical symptoms are mnemic symbols of certain operative (traumatic) impressions and experiences.

2. Hysterical symptoms are substitutes, produced by 'conversions', for the associative return of these traumatic experiences.

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