Skip to main content

Annihilation Anxieties

ANNIHILATION ANXIETIES

In annihilation anxieties, the basic danger involves a threat to psychic survival, experienced as a present menace or as an anticipation of an imminent catastrophe. The experience entails fantasies and/or feelings of helplessness in the face of inner and/or outer dangers against which the person feels he can take no protective or constructive action.

The construct derives from Freud's 1926 view of a traumatic situation where the person is faced with a quantity of stimulation that he/she cannot discharge or master, a failure of self-regulation. The experience of overwhelmed helplessness has much in common with Jones' aphanisis, Klein's psychotic anxiety, Schur's primary anxiety, Winnicott's unthinkable anxiety, Bion's nameless dread, Stern's biotrauma, Frosch's basic anxiety, Little's annihilation anxiety, and Kohut's disintegration anxiety. Derivatives of underlying annihilation anxieties are fears of being overwhelmed, destroyed, abandoned, mortified, mutilated, suffocated or drowned, of intolerable feeling states, losing mental, physical or bodily control, of going insane, dissolving, being absorbed, invaded, or shattered, of exploding, melting, leaking out, evaporating or fading away.

Annihilation experiences and anxieties are universal in early childhood, where psychic dangers are regularly experienced as traumatic. Eight related ideational contents are seen to comprise the major dimensions of annihilation anxieties: fears of being overwhelmed, of merger, of disintegration, of impingement, of loss of needed support, of inability to cope, of concern over survival, and of responding with a catastrophic mentality. Pathological annihilation anxieties are a consequence and correlate of psychic trauma, ego weakness, object loss, and pathology of the self. They can be consequential for the process of psychoanalytic therapy and may influence resistance, transference, and countertransference in a given treatment. Symptoms, thought patterns, affect states, and behaviors are especially resistant to change when they are defending against such anxieties.

The concept is especially relevant to psychoses, borderline and narcissistic character pathology, psychic trauma, nightmares, anxiety states and phobias. Annihilation anxieties under various names are mentioned widely in the psychoanalytic literature, but there has been insufficient systematic exploration of interrelationships with psychic trauma, ego weakness and deficit, regression, hostility, depression, transference, and countertransference.

Marvin Hurvich

See also: Anxiety.

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1926d [1925]). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE : 20: 77-175.

Hurvich, Marvin. (1989). Traumatic moment, basic dangers, and annihilation anxiety. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 6, 309-323.

Little, Margaret. (1960). On basic unity. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, 377-384.

Stern, Max. (1951). Anxiety, trauma, and shock. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 20, 179-203.

Winnicott, Donald. (1974). The fear of breakdown. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 1, 103-107.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Annihilation Anxieties." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Annihilation Anxieties." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/annihilation-anxieties

"Annihilation Anxieties." International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. . Retrieved August 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/annihilation-anxieties

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.