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Rolla, E.H. (1970). Symbol Formation in Phobias. Contemp. Psychoanal., 6(2):160-168.

(1970). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 6(2):160-168

Symbol Formation in Phobias

Edgardo H. Rolla, M.D.

IN THAT ORGANIZATION of personality we call "conversion hysteria, " the patient fancies that he can control persecutory objects, "the bad ones, " as if they were situated in his own body. We can observe that the patient also fantasies that he can control any anxiety over the loss or deprivation of objects with that attitude that has been called "la belle indifference." The perceptual meaningfulness of these corporal modifications, in the fantasies of these patients, is that they indicate the "locations" of those objects. These signs are not experienced as coming from phenomena occurring in the body, but as if the objects existed in space, in a "non-ego" which only seems to be localized in the body area.

In anxiety hysteria, on the other hand, the perceived signs do not originate in physical phenomena, but in objects of the external environment; that is, the "non-ego" is now in surrounding space. Yet even these are not considered, in fantasy, as signals proceeding from objects, but as signals of the individual's internal persecutory objects, which have been "situated" in space via projective identification.

In the phobias, the control of objects is accomplished, therefore, in space, which comes to be an alienated part of the personality of the individual. In place of la belle indifference of the conversion hysterias, anxiety serves the phobic person as a sign of the linkage which permits the control of a threatening world of projected objects. This is an animistic world.

In phobic ways of living bordering on psychotic disorganization, (in agoraphobia, for example) not only are the persecutory objects projected, but also "good" objects, so that what we call the "interior" of the subject has been left depopulated of the object world.

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