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The term fear, whose metapsychological status remains uncertain, was used by Freud, in contrast to anxiety, to refer to the reaction to some real danger. In several works Freud discussed the semantic relationship between the terms Angst (anxiety), Furcht (apprehension, fear), and Schreck (fright). For Freud the distinction between anxiety and fear relates primarily to its object, a distinction found in his earliest writings. In an article from 1895, which discusses the distinguishing characteristics of phobias and obsessions, he differentiates phobias "according to the object of the fear," while anxiety refers to the emotional state experienced by the subject, without reference to a specific object (1895c [1894]). Similarly, in 1916, in his Introduction to Psychoanalysis (1916-1917a [1915-1917]), Freud, referring to the use of these terms in popular speech, indicated that "anxiety is related to a state with no direct allusion to an object, while in fear the person's attention is precisely focused on the object." In 1920, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g), Freud emphasized the difference between fear and anxiety in terms of their relation to danger: Anxiety is a state characterized by the expectation and preparation for a danger, "even if unknown," while fear implies a determinate object. In Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety (1926d [1925]), he further insisted on the association of anxiety with a state of expectancy and the use of the term fear—"in keeping with current usage"—to represent the situation when anxiety has found an object. We see that the term fear is quoted with reference primarily to contemporary language. According to Catherine Cyssau, fear has no means of representation and its object does not conform to the criteria for repression. Although the status of anxiety, as an affect, occurs early in the development of Freudian theory, fear is more uncertain and seems to fall mostly within the context of behavioral description. Moreover, the opposition between fear and anxiety is hardly ever mentioned in Freud's later writings, especially in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933a [1932]), where the theory of anxiety is again discussed. In fact, another concept appeared in 1916 in Freud's writings, that of "Realangst," which can be translated as "realistic anxiety" or "anxiety in the face of a real danger," and which is contrasted with neurotic anxiety or the anxiety of desire. In the Introduction to Psychoanalysis, Freud emphasized the rational and comprehensive nature of realistic anxiety, triggered by the perception of an external danger, that is, under conditions that can give rise to fear. From then on the fundamental question, to which he would frequently return, was that of the conditions required for the emergence of anxiety, a signal triggered by an external or internal danger. In post-Freudian work the concept of fear is essentially used to characterize certain infantile manifestations of anxiety. Anna Freud, in particular, insisted on the structural differentiation between archaic, or primitive, fears and the phobias. It is important to remember that the "fear of the stranger's face," which, as described by René Spitz, arises in the infant when it is between six and eight months old, raises the question of determining if this reaction should be interpreted as a realistic anxiety responding to an external danger—the face perceived as unknown—or if it is an expression of unpleasure and the internal threat caused by the absence of the maternal object. Fright, or Schreck, which is associated in several Freudian texts with traumatic neurosis, corresponds to the effects of a danger for which the subject "is not prepared by an earlier state of anxiety" (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Freud goes on to say that anxiety contains "something that protects against fright" (1920g). Roger Dorey has remarked that Freud, in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), described, in contrast to the "primary experience of satisfaction," an "experience of fright whose origin is external" and which leaves behind a painful memory trace that the primitive psychic apparatus tries to avoid. This flight before the memory of the present pain, is, according to Freud, the "model and first example of psychic repression." Thus, the prototype of fright is nothing but the experience of object loss, an experience that submerges the primitive psychic apparatus in excitations it is unable to control. For Dorey this "painful memory image" of the absent object forms a representation that contributes to the formation of the primal unconscious.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1895a [1894]). (1916-1917a [1915-1917]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis (Parts I and II). SE, 15-16.
  2. ——. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.