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(1989). Meeting of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York. Psychoanal Q., 58:335-336.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 58:335-336

Meeting of the Psychoanalytic Association of New York

October 19, 1987. THE CLAUSTROPHIC CHARACTER. Martin A. Silverman, M.D.

Dr. Silverman described a form of claustrophobia in which neurotic compromise formations are expressed as character traits. He has done analytic work with eight patients whom he designated as claustrophobic characters. These are patients who exhibit no overt phobic symptoms; who instead are "lively, spirited, free-wheeling individuals who throw themselves into life … with zest and enthusiasm." They are outspoken, active, strong-willed, competitive people "with admirable freedom to go where they wish and do what they want." Analysis reveals, however, that "the independence and freedom they prize actually are obligatory." They take command because they are compelled to do so and cannot permit themselves to be directed by others. Unconsciously, they are motivated by a "dread of needing and depending on other people and a fear of entrapment that requires that they be ever on the move." They have developed character traits which both express and conceal their underlying claustrophobic anxieties. The unconscious claustrophobic need to "make certain that flight is possible has been transformed into the outward appearance of flexibility … and a thirst for novelty and adventure."

When these people come for treatment, they complain of feeling thwarted or impeded in their work and relationships. They attribute the source of their frustrations to outside forces and ask for the analyst's assistance in dealing with these.

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