Fate Neurosis

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Helene Deutsch developed the notion of "fate neurosis" on the basis of the notion of "compulsion of destiny" (Schicksalszwang ), which Freud mentioned at the end of the third chapter of Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g, p. 23). In that work Freud described the following trait in nonneurotic people: "The impression they give is of being pursued by a malignant fate or possessed by some 'daemonic' power; but psychoanalysis has always taken the view that their fate is for the most part arranged by themselves and determined by early infantile influences. . . . Thus we have come across people all of whose human relationships have the same outcome: such as the benefactor who is abandoned in anger after a time by each of his protégés, however much they may otherwise differ from one another . . . or the man whose friendships all end in betrayal by his friend; . . . or again, the lover each of whose love affairs with a woman passes through the same phases and reaches the same conclusion" (pp. 21-22).

Helene Deutsch developed this clinical description beginning in 1930 in her paper "Hysterical Fate Neurosis" (1965), in which she presented a case involving a such neurosis. Hysterical fate neurosis, she explained, "is a form of suffering imposed on the ego apparently by the outer world with a recurrent regularity. The real motive of this fate lies, as we have seen, in a constant, insoluble, inner conflict" (p. 27). She linked the neurosis to a lack of control over an anxiety-inducing childhood situation that arose during the genital phase.

The term hysterical fate neurosis then came to be used in a broader sense to describe individuals who lack neurotic symptoms but whose history is marked by repeated painful experiences.

Although some English-speaking writers have referred to this notion briefly, most psychoanalysts have moved away from a "psychopathology of fate" that could not be more clearly defined in metapsychological terms, despite the efforts of such authors as Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis. In the entry on fate neurosis in their Language of Psychoanalysis (1967/1974), they attempted to give it a more precise meaning and to distinguish it from "character neurosis," noting that the experiences characteristic of fate neurosis had to be "repeated despite their unpleasant character," had to "unfold according to an unchanging scenario," and had to "appear to be governed by an external fate, whose victim the subject feels himselfwith seeming justificationto be" (p. 161).

Nevertheless, the notion of fate neurosis continues to be invoked, essentially for descriptive purposes, because it implies a holistic view of the individual, whose past, present, and future are more than a simple succession of random events.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Character neurosis; Deutsch-Rosenbach, Helene; Neurosis.


Deutsch, Helene. (1965). Hysterical fate neurosis. In her Neuroses and character types (pp. 14-28). New York: International Universities Press. (Originally published 1930)

Freud, Sigmund. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

Laplanche, Jean, and Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1974). The language of psycho-analysis (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). New York: Norton. (Original work published 1967)

Further Reading

Kaplan, Donald M. (1984). Helene Deutsch's 'hysterical fate neurosis' revisited. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 53, 240-266.