In classical psychoanalysis, the investment of psychic energy in a person or object connected with the gratification of instincts is referred to as cathexis.
The English word cathexisa replaces the German besetzung, and it is derived from the Greek word for I occupy. Through the process of cathexis, which Sigmund Freud saw as analogous to the channeling of an electrical charge, the psychic energy of the id is bound to a selection of objects. An infant's earliest cathected objects are his mother's breasts, his own mouth, and the process of sucking.
When a cathected object becomes a source of conflict, as parents do during the Oedipal stage, anticathexes redirect all thoughts about the object to the unconscious in order to relieve anxiety. Cathexes are believed to originate in the id, whereas anti-cathexes are formed by the ego and the superego.
Freud believed that most personality processes are regulated by cathexes and anti-cathexes. He believed anti-cathexes to represent an internal form of frustration, paralleling the external frustration of instincts resulting from environmental factors over which one has no control. In the case of anti-cathexis, this frustration is generated internally by the individual's psychic mechanisms. It cannot, however, occur until the person has already experienced external frustration, typically in the form of parental discipline. Having been subjected to external controls, one becomes able to develop inner ones.
Cathexes are involved in the repression of undesired memories, which can be recalled either by weakening the anti-cathexis or strengthening the cathexis. Either process is difficult and may be facilitated by the use of psychoanalytic techniques such as hypnosis, free association, and the interpretation of dreams.
See also Catharsis ; Free association ; Freud, Sigmund; Hypnosis .
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