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Fenichel, O. (1939). The Counter-Phobic Attitude. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:263-274.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:263-274

The Counter-Phobic Attitude

Otto Fenichel

Ernest Jones pointed out in his study on 'The Phallic Phase' that not all the manifestations characteristic of that phase of libidinal development are directly parallel to the effects of the erotogenic sensations which emanate from the penis or from the clitoris and which finally establish the primacy of those organs. He shewed that in part these manifestations are on the contrary determined by the very fact that the subject has to deal with fears which arose when he yielded to those sensations. Accordingly, Jones distinguishes a 'proto-phallic' phase, in which the primacy of the phallus entirely dominates the picture, from a 'deutero-phallic' phase, in which the task of dealing with these fears complicates the picture. In fact, considering the abundance of actual manifestations, it is not easy to recognize which are determined primarily and biologically, and which arise only when fear has to be dealt with. Sometimes it has seemed as if writers who have attempted to investigate the interrelationships psychologically have underestimated the primary biological component. I have already expressly pointed out the danger of such an underestimation. I have since learned, however, to what an extent efforts towards defence against fear, and even the pleasure derived from successful efforts, actually complicate the picture of primary erotogenic pleasure.

In the present paper I should like to devote my attention to a definite type of these fear-defences, which is usually referred to under the inexact name of 'overcompensation against fear', but which could much more precisely be called the 'counter-phobic attitude'. Its manifestation is by no means confined to the phallic phase.

The phobic attitude consists of avoiding certain situations or certain parts of situations, such as objects, perceptions, feelings or sensations, because they would be connected with anxiety. This anxiety is the symptom of an existing instinctual conflict. The situation feared usually represents a temptation towards an instinct whose activity is unconsciously regarded as dangerous.

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