Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety

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Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety was published in German in 1926, a year after Freud's famous article "Negation" (1925h) and "An Autobiographical Study" (1925d). Ernest Jones wrote that the work was written in July 1925, corrected in December, and then published in the third week of 1926 by Fisher Verlag of Frankfurt.

Concerning this work Sigmund Freud wrote, "It contains several new and important things, takes back and corrects many former conclusions, and in general is not good" (Jones, 1953-1957, vol. 3, p. 131). There were a number of "contradictions" in the translations, and it was not until 1936 that Alix Strachey finally produced a better translation, again according to the testimony of Ernest Jones, published by Hogarth Press in the "International Psycho-Analytical Library" series. In addition to Alix Strachey, "Freud had also given the translation rights to H. A. Bunker in New York without informing either translator of the other" (Jones, 1953-1957). At the same time a thirteenth edition of this text, lacking the passage about Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung, was published in the Encyclopaedia britannica with a different title: "Psycho-Analysis: Freudian School" (1926f).

In any event, this was obviously an extremely important essay for the evolution of Freudian thought and should be seen, in large part, as a response to the ideas of Otto Rank in The Trauma of Birth (1929). As a curious side note, it is worth noting that when Freud was writing Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety, his daughter Anna was preparing "The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Children"; that is, while the father was investigating anxiety, separation anxiety in particular, his daughter was working on the distinction between child and adult psychoanalysis.

Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety is divided into ten chapters (without titles) and three addenda, entitled "Modification of Earlier Views," "Supplementary Remarks on Anxiety," and "Anxiety, Pain, and Mourning." Some commentators saw in the fact that Freud discussed pain in the final addendum a reflection of the theoretical difficulties he had encountered in studying the phenomenon, which he had discussed earlier in Mourning and Melancholia (1916-1917g [1915]).

The first chapter discusses the connections between inhibitions and symptoms. The second presents the ego as the site of anxiety ("There are good grounds for firmly maintaining the idea that the ego is actually the site of anxiety") and sees the role of repression from a perspective different from Freud's earlier one, which viewed anxiety as the automatic consequence of repression. Chapter 3 takes up the relations between the ego and superego. Chapter 4 returns to the phobia of "little Hans" to show that "the motive force of the repression was fear of castration" (p. 108). Chapter 5 focuses on obsessional neurosis and the mechanism of the formation of symptoms within this context. Chapter 6 further investigates the defense mechanisms of isolation and retroactive undoing within obsessional neurosis. Chapter 7 examines the problem of phobias. Chapter 8 provides a brief interlude in which Freud analyzes the experience of unpleasure and distinguishes object loss and the fear of object lossa distinction that provides the framework for a discussion of automatic anxiety and signal anxiety. Chapter 9 then focuses on the relations between symptom formation and the development of anxiety. Finally, the last chapter distinguishes three factors that lead to neuroses: a biological factor ("the long period of time during which the young of the human species is in a condition of helplessness and dependence" [p. 154]), a phylogenetic factor (the two-stage development of sexual life, with emphasis given to puberty), and a psychological factor (the defects of the mental apparatus lead Freud to treat libidinal drives as dangers in the face of which the ego can only restrain its own mechanisms and tolerate the formation of symptoms "in exchange for having impaired the instinct" [p. 156]).

The key points in this theoretical text are the following: Freud challenges Otto Rank's view on the trauma of birth, which Rank regarded as the prototype of all later anxieties. For Freud:

In man and the higher animals it would seem that the act of birth, as the individual's first experience of anxiety, has given the affect of anxiety certain characteristic forms of expression. But, while acknowledging this connection, we must not lay undue stress on it nor overlook the fact that biological necessity demands that a situation of danger should have an affective symbol, so that a symbol of this kind would have to be created in any case. Moreover, I do not think that we are justified in assuming that whenever there is an outbreak of anxiety something like a reproduction of the situation of birth goes on in the mind (pp. 93-94).

In other words, Freud wanted to retain Otto Rank's idea that birth provides a kind of mold or expressive content for anxiety, but insisted that the mental content of the affect of anxiety is determined by later existential experiences and subsequent psychological reworkings of the affects. He also insisted that anxiety is experienced by the ego but not produced by it. Here he returned to his theory of anxiety by making repression not the cause but the result of anxiety. Thus, what is involved is not "automatic anxiety" but "signal anxiety," which must now be accounted for. Signal anxiety reflects the significant adaptive and maturational progress of the child to the extent that anxiety is no longer a simple reaction to object loss but an anticipation of the threat of the loss of love from the object.

Finally, the text provided Freud with an opportunity for further investigation of mental pain, which reflects a loss of a part of the self rather than a loss of the object, in the strict sense. This led Freud to recognize the importance of the more or less narcissistic valence of the lost object, which serves to demarcate mourning and melancholic depression.

Bernard Golse

See also: Abandonment; Anxiety; Anxiety development; Castration complex; Cathexis; Defense mechanisms; Ego; Ego psychology; Erotogenicity; Isolation; Obsessional neurosis; Pain; Phobias in children; Resistance; Signal anxiety; Subsitutive formation; Undoing.

Source Citation

Freud, Sigmund. (1926d [1925]). Hemmung, Symptom und Angst, Leipzig-Vienna-Zurich, Internat. Psychoanal. Verlag; G.W., 14:111-205; Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. SE, 20: 77-172.


Freud, Sigmund. (1916-1917g [1915]). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.

Jones, Ernest. (1953-1957). Sigmund Freud: Life and work. London: Hogarth Press.

Rank, Otto. (1929). The trauma of birth. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co. (Original work published 1924.)