The problem of anxiety
I had a very ominous feeling when I started reading the forewords, seeing the notorious ‘one-sentence’ paragraph, and the book turned out exactly as I’d expected- clinical, academical and obscure enough to scare off beginner psychology buff like myself. I’m sure this is a result of strictly translating from a serious professional piece, and from Deutsch, no less. Yet, having a crack at it is still worthwhile and potentially rewarding.
To draw a line between inhibition and symptom, it is helpful to borrow the ‘half-empty’ and ‘half-full’ analogies - inhibition being the half that is not in place while naturally, symptoms are what is observable. This may also be linked to the ‘strength language’ and ‘deficit language’ in the sphere of educational where a scaffolding perspective rather than a prescriptive one is encouraged.
In order to understand the distinction between the two concepts in question, it is also necessary to review the foundation of Freud’s propositions:
source: Google image
As indicated in the chart above, ego can be seen as the mediating and fluid process that connects the primitive, visceral desires of an individual with the world and expectations from the society where he is situated. Freud states that to avoid imminent repressions of such instinctive desires, the ego will interfere as a precaution with activities that can potentially cause conflicts between the id and superego. I personally would like to further propose this process as a learning curve that is strengthened by daily experiences of dealing with such conflicts. Especially when dealing with severe psychological crisis, such as suppressing anger and fear, the ego tends to shut down or at least slow down all functions and thereof puts an individual in a paralysing, depressive state. In this sense, depression, as exhibited as decreased appetite, libido and mobility, or physical discomfort, is observed as a symptom for which a prescription may be executed to alleviate it. However, to investigate it from the inhibition perspective helps determine the deeper, underlying causes of the behavior and therefore provides more insights into the intricate functioning of human minds.
In addition, some basic grounds are covered in section I: firstly, the ego functions involved in this book are sexual function, eating, locomotive and vocational. Secondly, when we’re talking about inhibition, we’re basically talking about what we’re not doing as we’re supposed to.
This chapter is rather confusing as it referred extensively to other works and theoretical assumptions of Freud’s. A few points could be extracted:
What is anxiety?
‘The release of unpleasure’, as a result of ego repressing instinctual impulses, for which consciousness is largely responsible. In other words, desires that are not brought to gratification. However, whether this process takes place consciously or unconsciously I couldn’t find a definite answer in the texts.
The impact of ego on id has been underestimated, as it has been found able to simulate and send out distress signals that are almost indistinguishable from those aroused by external dangers, so that the body is forced to prevent the unwelcome impulses for pleasure from being satisfied.
Instinctual impulses, when repressed, will find a substitute satisfaction that is ‘crippled, restricted and repressed’, and excluded from reality, and therefore no pleasure is experienced.
There’s also a veiled revelation of Mr. Freud’s pragmatic and critical philosophies of life. He refused to recognize all the existing Weltanschauung and guidelines on what normality should be and suggested an open mind in research as well as in life.
This short chapter explains one question: what does the ego do with the symptom or simply put, how do we make peace with ourselves? The answer might seem self-evident in the light of modern psychology, yet it could be imagined what a ground-breaking and logical finding it was in Freud’s time. The short answer is one word - equilibration - a concept that is not strange to a layman with the basic knowledge about Piaget’s theories. The process of equilibration is how human minds assimilate and accommodate novel stimuli within their own cognitive system to achieve a state of homeostasis or equilibrium. However, Freud did accentuate the constant struggle between the ego and the symptom despite their reconciling relationship ongoing. This being said, the ego has a natural tendency to make peace with the repressed instincts and to constantly seek self-assertion, the latter of which is supposed to justify compulsion and paranoia. It is also of note that the three structures of personality are not separate unless there’s a conflict between them.
This chapter is certainly painful to read, watching Mr. Freud touching on the iconic angle of Oedipus complex as criticized the most ferociously and going back and forth about ‘which comes first, anxiety or repression?’
The case analysis is hardly an valid one, in terms of the scarce of data provided, which made the conclusions less convincing. Personally, I would hazard the guess that the dissertation has over-complicated an otherwise fairly straightforward and less confusing process, that is, the relationship between libidinal impulses and phobia. I concur that sexuality may somehow lie at the root of most of the phobias, but it seems more forthcoming to conceptualize it from an evolutionary perspective. That is successful sexual relationships are required for the sustainability of the species, an instinct that is genetically hardwired. Therefore, any threats to the survival of the subject, thereof to his sexual functions instantly register fears and anxiety. (castration anxiety?)The Oedipus complex might have its place in that a caring parent is representative of pro-social behavior that is essential to survival.
Logic in my understanding:
(Impulse: Getting dad out of the way, because I love mum <suppressing> against a, dad’s trying to eliminate me too; b, I love dad, transformed to anxiety?)
This section on compulsion neurosis is exceptional insightful, although with the absence of empirical evidence presented. It connects all the dots that are so far laid out in popular psychology, and at a personal level makes very much sense to me.
First of all, Freud noted that in compulsion neurosis, the ego has a natural tendency to synthesize gratification from a substitute behavior, or symptom, in spite of the repression instituted against the original impulse. This process takes place when the ego amalgamates prohibition and gratification and therefore the symptom is reinforced. The substitute is potentially dichronous in nature, which means it is performed even though it represents exactly what has rendered the initial impulse objected. Freud also attributed this contradiction to the bitter conflict between the id and superego, while in the case of compulsion, the superego has a particularly large influence on the ego in suppressing the initial impulse.
However, the force of id, in terms of the primitive urges for sexual gratification, is almost insurmountable, which is why the ego experiences a regression to the ‘anal-sadistic’ phase when the substitute behavior (symptom ) is exhibited. This kind of ‘betrayal’, according to Freud, doesn’t enter consciousness, so as far as the ego is concerned, it successfully fought back the instinctual impulse. Again, just as Dr. Gilbert said, your mind can trick you, for completely self-serving purposes!
Once the ego is assured, however deceptively, that the defense against the original urge is successfully executed, there begins the ‘latency period’ - which I can’t put in better words than Mr. Freud’s original - is “the creating or consolidating of the superego, and the erecting of ethical and aesthetic barriers in the ego.” Freud also acknowledged the fact that sexual impulses always appear as destructive and aggressive designs, and the defence against it is continued in a ethical aegis. This makes me wonder if there is deeper and evolutionary explanations to the taboo of sexuality, and if one of them could be that display of and attention to sexuality would bring about unwanted attention which may lead to competition. As Freud stated, “it is precisely in the interest of the maintenance of masculinity (dominance in my words) that every manifestation of masculinity is prevented.” Again, the lengths human beings are willing to go to avoid vulnerability.
Freud’s propositions on Oedipus complex are not to be taken word by word. Personally, I would like to see it as his symbolisation of a sexual partner that promises successful reproduction.
Is it possible that a person who is less concerned about social conventions is less likely to exhibit compulsive behavior? Seems like a no-brainer.