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Fenichel, O. (1941). The Ego and the Affects. Psychoanal. Rev., 28(1):47-60.

(1941). Psychoanalytic Review, 28(1):47-60

The Ego and the Affects

Otto Fenichel, M.D.

Affects and emotions are but rarely discussed in psychoanalytic literature.

In the “Studies in Hysteria” the affects still were—in the conception of “strangulated affects”—the kernel of the theory. Later the interest decreased considerably, and only lately several psychoanalytic writers have again taken up the subject.

If we wish to investigate the problem how the ego, i.e., the organized part of the personality which physiologically controls the relations to the outer-world, adjusts itself to the affects, we must first determine what we mean by “affects”. Psychoanalysis does not usually have a simple time with the conceptions taken over from psychology, because these are descriptive, whereas psychoanalysis strives for dynamic-economic definitions. But these can only be the end, not the starting point for a psychoanalytic investigation. Hence we cannot set forth from ultimately defined conceptions, but only from described phenomena, and we must come to an agreement as to which phenomena we mean. Most of the textbooks make no fundamental differentiation between “affect” and “emotion”. It is my impression that the expression “emotion” means rather the feeling sensations themselves, “affect” more the outcome of those sensations, the discharge phenomena, as they, for example, come to light in an emotional spell. In German we use the word “Affekt” for both; the sensations which accompany certain specific tensions are likewise called “Affekts”, e.g., “grief”, though no discharge phenomena or movements occur, or at least are not in the foreground of the picture. Glover therefore suggested subdividing the affects into “tension affects” and “discharge affects”. However, we shall start with the discharge phenomena. Phenomena like a spell of rage, a sudden anxiety, sexual excitement, overwhelming disgust, or shame, or a general unspecific excitation will be our first objects.

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