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Reik, T. (1941). Aggression from Anxiety. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 22:7-16.

(1941). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 22:7-16

Aggression from Anxiety

Theodor Reik

This communication is not intended to be a critique of Anna Freud's book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1), which has already been reviewed in these pages; it is merely a contribution to the discussion of a theme which is developed in the ninth chapter of that book. This aim has been facilitated both by the clarity and precision of the author's thought and by the conspicuous directness of her approach to the difficult psychological problems involved, qualities which are particularly noticeable in the second half of the book.

Let us take as our point of departure Aichhorn's case, cited in the chapter entitled 'Identification with the Aggressor', of a young boy who habitually reacted to the blame and reproaches of his teacher by making faces which caused the whole class to burst out laughing. These grimaces were simply a caricature of the angry expression of the teacher. When the boy had to face a scolding by the latter, he tried to master his anxiety by involuntarily imitating him. He identified himself with the teacher's anger and copied his expression as he spoke, though the imitation was not recognized. Through his grimaces he was assimilating himself to or identifying himself with the dreaded external object. A similar psychological development is seen in the other cases reported, a specially clear illustration being afforded by a little girl of six years, who by reproducing the attributes and deportment of her assailant transformed herself from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat.

Anna Freud observes that this process of transformation strikes us as more curious when the anxiety relates not to some event in the past but to something expected in the future. To illustrate this type of prophylactic reaction, she refers to the case of a boy who on certain occasions proceeded to accuse and abuse the very persons who had reason to complain of his naughtiness. In another case the aggressiveness displayed by a little boy was still more obviously designed to dramatize and forestall his fears.

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