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Freedman, D.A. (1971). The Genesis of Obsessional Phenomena. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(3):367-384.

(1971). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(3):367-384

The Genesis of Obsessional Phenomena

David A. Freedman, M.D.

In 1907 Freud10 pointed out the many and striking analogies between the behavior of obsessional individuals and the character of religious practice. In summing up his comparative analysis of the two, he stated:

In view of these similarities and analogies one might venture to regard the obsessional neurosis as a pathological counterpart of the formation of a religion, and to describe that neurosis as an individual religiosity and religion as a universal obsessional neurosis. The most essential similarity would reside in the underlying renunciation of the activation of instincts that are constitutionally present; and the chief differences would be in the nature of those instincts which in the neurosis are exclusively sexual in their origins while in the religion, they spring from egoistic sources.

Again in 193115 he noted that there is no reason for assuming that “obsessional types” will be more likely to develop obsessional neuroses than will other individuals.

Whether the experience of the intervening years validates the proposition that religious practices derive from essentially nonsexual impulses, or that the obsessive neurosis is in its essence derived from the sexual instinct, is not an immediately relevant question. Suffice it to say that Freud drew a distinction between obsessive phenomena per se (and therefore whatever may be their determinants), and two specific circumstances in which obsessional modes are utilized (neurosis and religious practice) and whatever may be the specific determinants of each.


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