Counter-investment—translated as anticathexis in the Standard Edition —is a particular mode of investment used by the ego for defensive purposes. The term is used to designate the dynamic defensive role of certain cathexes and to take into account the economic dimension of repression.
The term first appeared in The Interpretation of Dreams : "There then follows a defensive struggle—for the Pcs. in turn reinforces its opposition to the repressed thoughts (i.e., produces an 'anticathexis')" (1900a, p. 605). The countercathected elements are the "repressed thoughts" mentioned in the letter to William Fliess of February 19, 1899. Thus Freud's conception of repression includes the idea that a counter-position, an investment against, must be set up to keep the undesirable idea in the unconscious. The material that is cathected in order to support repression may consist of an idea linked to the repressed idea, which has thus remained relatively easily accessible to the association of ideas, or it may consist of more remote mental or motor elements. The latter case involves "reaction formations" such as those observed in the character neuroses.
The mental energy deployed in the anticathexis is libido that has been reclaimed by a withdrawal of cathexis from other psychic formations; the pleasure that the realization of a repressed desire might provide is rendered impossible, but the preservation of equilibrium between forces limits the quantity of free energy and implies a form of pleasure that favors the maintenance of the defensive system. Meanwhile, the restrictions on the libido that are involved in anticathexis have a mental cost since they restrict the subject's thoughts or activities.
Gradually, Freud granted the role of organizing counter-cathexes to the ego: "[When] certain ideas . . . [are] cut off from consciousness, we must, on the psycho-analytic view, assume that these ideas have come into opposition to other, more powerful ones, for which we use the collective concept of the 'ego"' (1910i, p. 213). He also pointed out the role of "setting up an ideal" as one of the ego's conditions for repression (1914c).
The theory of anticathexis was taken up again in Freud's metapsychology and in Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety (1926d ). There he emphasized that the constant pressure of the drives necessitated a continuous counter-pressure. In "The Unconscious" (1915e), he assigned to anticathexis not only the role of maintaining this counter-pressure, but also the task of organizing the permanent point of reference that is the prerequisite of all repression (i.e., "primal repression"): "Anticathexis is the sole mechanism of primal repression. . . . It is very possible that it is precisely the cathexis which is withdrawn from the idea that is used for anticathexis" (1915e, p. 181).
See also: Cathexis; Defense mechanisms; Desexualization; Economic point of view, the; Narcissistic defenses; Primal repression; Psychic energy; Reaction-formation; Repression.
Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE : 4-5.
——. (1910i). The psycho-analytic view of psychogenic disturbance of vision. SE : 11: 209-218.
——. (1915e). The unconscious. SE : 14: 159-204.
——. (1926d ). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE : 20: 75-172.
Rouart, Julien. (1967). Les notions d'investissement et de contre-investissementà travers l'évolution des idées freudiennes. Revue française de psychanalyse, 31 (2), 193-213.