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Sletvold, J. (2016). Freud’s Three Theories of Neurosis: Towards a Contemporary Theory of Trauma and Defense. Psychoanal. Dial., 26(4):460-475.

(2016). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 26(4):460-475

Freud’s Three Theories of Neurosis: Towards a Contemporary Theory of Trauma and Defense

Jon Sletvold, Psy.D.

This paper explores the development of Freud’s thinking on the aetiology of the neurosis. It is shown that Freud in the years 1893 to 1897 formulated three distinct and mutually incompatible theories of neurosis centred respectively on (a) psychic trauma and defence, (b) sexual trauma (seduction), and (c) repressed sexuality (libido). For Freud the decisive step was the shift from the first to the second theory, not from the second to the third. It is examined how Freud gave priority to the libido/fantasy theory until he returned in 1926 to a general trauma theory with his second theory of anxiety. The fate of Freud’s theory of neurosis in later psychoanalytic thinking is described as a process of dilution rather than an exploration of what is right and what is wrong in the theory. It is argued that the basic fault common to Freud’s second and third theories is the insistence on an exclusive sexual aetiology of the neurosis. On the other hand, it is argued that Freud’s first theory, centred on emotional trauma and defence, has turned out to be basically right and is therefore well suited to constitute a basis for a contemporary theory of neurosis (non-neurological mental disorders).

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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