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Lewin, B.D. (1935). Claustrophobia. Psychoanal Q., 4:227-233.

(1935). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 4:227-233


Bertram D. Lewin

The technical term claustrophobia, introduced into medical literature by Raggi of Bologna in 1871, means literally a dread of being enclosed. There are several forms such a dread may take, and several fears that are akin to it, but current linguistic usage tends to limit the application of the term to a special type of fear dramatized for us by Poe in the Pit and the Pendulum—a fear of being caught or crushed by a gradual closing in of the space about one. This definition, which will be followed in the present essay, would exclude such fears as that of entering a closed space, which might if one wishes be considered "claustrophoboid"; but the reason for this strict definition will become clear as we proceed.

Claustrophobia is a type of morbid fear, a form of anxiety hysteria, yet despite the numerous detailed studies of anxiety hysteria to be found in the psychoanalytic literature, there are nevertheless few references concerning this particular phobia. Jones in one place remarks that dreams and fantasies concerning one's own birth are very common especially in childhood and that these fantasies constitute the basis of such phobias as being buried alive or being shut in an enclosed space (i.e., claustrophobia) and many others. Ferenczi too refers to the association between claustrophobia and the idea of being within one's mother: "The psychoanalysis of numerous dreams and of neurotic claustrophobia explains the fear of being buried alive as the transformation into dread of the wish to return to the womb." Elsewhere Ferenczi states that claustrophobia and a fear of being alone in any closed room in one of his patients developed from an attempt to overcome masturbation.

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