Psychotic Panic

views updated


In the psychotic part of the personality, according to Wilfred Bion, anxiety changes into psychotic panic. Earlier, Melanie Klein (1935) had put forward the view that the first anxieties are psychotic in content and that in the normal development of infants there is a combination of processes by which primitive anxieties of a psychotic nature are bound, worked through, and modified.

Bion investigated the nature of the processes by which anxiety is modified during the 1950s and 1960s. He saw projective identification as the means by which the infant communicates primitive anxieties and emotions to the mother, and her reverie, that is, her containment with alpha function, as the process that modifies her infant's anxieties. If there is a pathological matrix between infant and mother of an adverse endowment and adverse nurture so that the infant's primitive and violent emotions find no container, a primitive disaster is felt to have occurred in which the container has been destroyed and anxiety has turned into psychotic panic. A nameless dread, as Bion also calls psychotic panic, is returned to the infant which threatens to suffuse and annihilate the personality, and from then on development takes a divergent course.

Psychotic panic is the origin, the O, of the ensuing transformation in hallucinosis, rather than, as in the neurotic personality, transformation in thought. Defenses are adopted to avoid the experience of panic by the evacuation of ego functions capable of the experience, and there is an explosive projection of ego pieces, images, beta-elements, and objects, into a space that has no limits.

Edna O'Shaughnessy

See also: Hallucinosis.


Bion, Wilfred R. (1959). Attacks on linking, International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 40 (5-6), 308.

. (1962). Learning from experience. London: Heinemann; New York: Basic.

Klein, Melanie (1935). A contribution to the psychogenesis of manic-depressive states. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 16 (2), 145-174.