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Giovacchini, P.L. (1956). Defensive Meaning of a Specific Anxiety Syndrome. Psychoanal. Rev., 43(3):373-380.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Review, 43(3):373-380

Defensive Meaning of a Specific Anxiety Syndrome

Peter L. Giovacchini, M.D.

Anxiety is a state that the ego finds unbearable. To rid itself of such disturbing tension, the ego musters a variety of techniques and defenses. Freud (6) clearly and classically described how the ego handles anxiety and how anxiety acts as a danger signal, leading to a variety of responses, all of which are attempts to re-establish equilibrium and integration. The organism follows the principle of constancy of psychic energy and is motivated when such constancy is threatened to achieve homeostasis once again. Mayer described the constancy principle as early as 1845 and thereby postulated the first law of thermodynamics. He was concerned with physical systems only; Fechner (4), Freud (6) and Cannon (1) introduced a similar principle in biology.

To go into more detail here about anxiety, homeostasis and defense and symptom formation would be merely to repeat well-established and well-known psychoanalytic principles. I have referred briefly to them because this communication will describe a distinct anxiety syndrome that cannot be explained in terms of present metapsychological concepts based on these principles. This syndrome, instead of acting as a danger signal that initiates defense formation, whether symptomatic or characterological in expression, is in itself part of an integrating force diffusely incorporated into the ego, and it has a defensive status of its own. Whether this is really an anxiety state, as we have come to understand such states, can be debated and will be discussed later.

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