A key concept from the economic point of view, "cathexis" refers to the process that attaches psychic energy, essentially libido, to an object, whether this is the representation of a person, body part, or psychic element. Implicit in Freud's early works, the idea of cathexis stems directly from the hypothesis of psychic energy. The term first appeared in 1895 in Studies on Hysteria, as well as in "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c ). It then recurs throughout Freud's works.
The term is used to designate various psychic impulses in energic terms. As a result, "cathexis" is also used to refer to organizational psychic impulses, the interplay of symptoms and regressions, and the workings of attention and pain. Freud used it to describe major and modulated quantitative phenomena in symptoms and psychic processes. The term also denotes the binding of psychic energy to interconnected representations in the progressive organization of the psyche. Cathexis relates to the affects, where the issue of the quantum of affect becomes paramount (Freud, 1933a ). A feeling not cathected with energy, or loaded with a certain quantity of affect, does not become fixed in memory. Psychic objects and representations are the result of cathexis. Most psychic mechanisms have to be considered from the economic point of view, that is, in terms of cathexis, decathexis, anticathexis, and hypercathexis. The concept of cathexis thus underpins Freud's entire theory of the constitution of the psyche.
Everything that takes place in the body or the psyche can be an object of cathexis. Real persons are cathected only through the intermediary of the psychic representations constructed of them. Cathexes are objective when they are directed at individuals with a corresponding existence in the external world and are narcissistic when they have meaning only for the subject. Any stable psychic formation, essentially any psychic formation constituted from a stable cathexis, can in turn become the support for a cathexis added to its constituent cathexis.
Every cathexis has an impact on psychic equilibrium because it reduces the quantity of free energy, but the cathexes most constitutive of the psyche are the drive cathexes. Libidinal cathexis of the object of the drive and of the experience of satisfaction obtained in the subject's interaction with that object constitute the most vital internal objects that can support pleasurable ego functioning.
The concept of fixation has to be understood in terms of libidinal cathexes that have remained organized around historically determined objects (in the widest sense). Freud used many different metaphors to describe this process. He used military metaphors to describe how troops (psychic energy) occupy (cathect—the literal meaning of "Besetzung") a particular piece of the psychic territory and how some of these troops remain behind to establish a base for a return of forces that have completed the advance. Freud also used metaphors from banking, deploying an analogy between libidinal cathexes and financial investments. With the metaphor of an amoeba, Freud illustrated how narcissistic and objective cathexes are related: the pseudopodia that the amoeba extends toward objects are currents of object cathexis that can be withdrawn back into the subject and turned into narcissistic cathexes. The stronger the narcissistic fixation, the greater the potential for narcissistic regression.
The concept of displacement too is related to that of cathexis. Quantities of cathected libido, or psychic energy, can be displaced onto other supports. These displacements result from the greater or lesser capacity of cathected libido to detach from its early objects and from its "viscosity" (1916-1917a [1915-1917]).
Cathected psychic energy is essentially libido. In the context of his structural theory, Freud theorized that the id is the source of libido and thus the origin of libidinal cathexes. Freud also posited a form of free energy that can emanate from the ego and hypercathect a particular psychic element. Via this process, the ego essentially comes to direct cathexes. Such free energy is neutral and displaceable energy belonging to hypercathexis, which plays a part in the economy of attention, perception, and the ego's preparation for possible traumas (1940a ). It is Freudian formulations of this kind that formed the basis for ego psychology, which postulates a conflict-free sphere of the ego. The term "hypercathexis" is also used more generally to refer to libidinal intensification of an existing cathexis.
In Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety (1926d ), Freud addressed the issue of psychic pain caused by substantial cathexis directed at a lost object. Freud outlined how a painful bodily lesion imposes a substantial narcissistic cathexis that tends to "empty the ego" (p. 171). He then identified cathexis as the common element in physical and psychic pain: "The intense cathexis of longing which is concentrated on the missed or lost object (a cathexis which steadily mounts up because it cannot be appeased) creates the same economic conditions as are created by the cathexis of pain which is concentrated on the injured part of the body" (p. 171).
See also: Anticathexis; Cathectic energy; Decathexis; Defense mechanisms; Economic point of view; Ego boundaries; Free energy/bound energy; Hypercathexis; Libido; Object; Primal repression; Psychic energy; Transference relationship. Bibliography
* Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The interpretation of dreams. SE, 4: 1-338; 5: 339-625. * ——. (1910i). The psycho-analytic view of psychogenic disturbance of vision. SE, 11: 209-218. * ——. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204. * ——. (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 15-16. * ——. (1926d ). Inhibitions, symptoms, and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172. * ——. (1933a ). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182. * ——. (1940a ). An outline of psycho-analysis. SE, 23: 139-207. * ——. (1950c ). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387. * Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106. * Rouart, Julien. (1967). Les notions d'investissement et de contre-investissement à travers l'évolution des idées freudiennes. Revue française de psychanalyse, 31 (2), 193-213.
* Holt, Robert R. (1962). Critical examination: Freud's concept of bound vs. free cathexis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 10, 475-525. * Ornston, Darius. (1985). The invention of 'cathexis' and Strachey's strategy. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 12, 391-400.
The investment of libido in objects. An example would be Freud's enormous cathexis of interest around sexuality. Cathexes correspond to ideas, whereas affects are discharge products.
In psychodynamics, cathexis is defined as the process of investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea. This concept was developed by Sigmund Freud in 1922. In psychoanalysis, cathexis is the libido's charge of energy. Freud often described the functioning of psychosexual energies in mechanical terms, influenced perhaps by the dominance of the steam engine at the end of the 19th century. In this manner, he also tended to think of the libido as a producer of energies.
If an individual is frustrated in his libidinal desires, Freud often represented this frustration as a blockage of energies that would then build up and require release in other ways. This release could occur, for example, by way of regression and the "re-cathecting" of former positions (i.e. fixation at the oral phase or anal phase and the enjoyment of former sexual objects ["object-cathexes"], including autoeroticism).
When the ego blocks such efforts to discharge one's cathexis by way of regression, i.e. when the ego wishes to repress such desires, Freud uses the term "anti-cathexis" or counter-charge. Like a steam engine, the libido's cathexis then builds up until it finds alternative outlets, which can lead to sublimation or to the formation of sometimes disabling symptoms.
The libido's charge of energy. Freud often described the functioning of psychosexual energies in mechanical terms, influenced perhaps by the dominance of the steam engine at the end of the nineteenth century. He often described the libido as the producer of energies that, if blocked, required release in other ways. If an individual is frustrated in his or her desires, Freud often represented that frustration as a blockage of energies that would then build up and require release in other ways: for example, by way of regression and the "re-cathecting" of former positions (ie. fixation at the oral or anal phase and the enjoyment of former sexual objects ["object-cathexes"], including auto-eroticism). When the ego blocks such efforts to discharge one's cathexis by way of regression, i.e. when the ego wishes to repress such desires, Freud uses the term "anti-cathexis" or counter-charge. Like a steam engine, the libido's cathexis then builds up until it finds alternative outlets, which can lead to sublimation or to the formation of sometimes disabling symptoms.
Cathexis (58) CD