Fixation (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
An intense psychological association with a past event or series of events that triggers certain feelings or behaviors in a person when confronted with similar events or series of events.
Sigmund Freud theorized that the developmental stages of infancy and early childhood chart our lives in ways that are difficult to change. He believed that most adult neuroses could be attributed to a fixation developed during one of these stages of early life. Freud was especially concerned about how these stages were related to sexual development in later life, and in this he was, and continues to be, quite controversial. In his time, it was considered by many to be outlandish that an infant sucking on her mother's breast was experiencing sexual gratification, yet Freud classified it as such and composed a theory of psychosexual development.
Freud's theory of psychosexual development suggests that children pass through several stages in their earliest years. These stages are the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage, and genital stage. During each stage, children learn to gratify themselves (Freud would say sexually) via distinct patterns of behavior. During the oral stage, for instance, children learn that the highest level of physical gratification occurs through oral stimulation. (They feed by...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
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Fixation (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
The notion of fixation involves a certain mode of connection that a drive has with its ideational representatives (its objects) as a function of a primitive phase of the subject's sexual organization. This mode of connection is characterized, at the economic level, by the withdrawal from general circulation of more or less significant quantities of libido. On the dynamic level it is marked by the absence of mobility of the drive in question. On the topographical level, the connection is inscribed in the unconscious.
In Freud's work, the idea of fixation is theoretically associated with four other notions: traumatism, regression, repression, and predisposition. These form the successive stages of Freud's elaboration of the concept of fixation.
The notion of fixation first appeared in a context, which would later turn up again, that is associated with Freud's first work on the psychoneuroses of defense around the time of the Studies on Hysteria (1895d): "The traumatic neuroses give a clear indication that a fixation to the moment of the traumatic accident lies at their root" (1916-17a, p. 274). The fixation to the trauma accounts for the neurotic disorder and for the patient's inability to master the affect contained in the traumatic events. Thus the first version of fixation is dominated by the economic dimension.
The notion of fixation next appeared in the Three Essays (1905d): "[W]e propose to describe the lagging behind of a part trend at an earlier stage as a fixation fixation, that is, of the [drive]. . . . [T]he portions which have proceeded further may also easily return retrogressively to one of these earlier stageshat we describe as regression" (p. 340).
In the Freudian conception of infantile sexuality, the sexual function develops according to a graduated rhythm. A partial drive may either pursue a development that achieves the ability to organize freely circulating energy under the aegis of the oedipal genital structures, or stop at some point along the way, lagging behind by fixing upon an earlier stage of sexual development or a primitive object of satisfaction. In clinical work, perversions, just like neurotic symptoms, are evidence of libidinal vestiges from the past.
Fixation appeared in a third context in regard to the case of Daniel Paul Schreber: "The libidinal current in question then behaves in relation to later psychological structures like one belonging to the system of the unconscious, like one that is repressed" (1911c, p. 66). For Freud, in fact, the psychical representatives of component drives are made the object of a fixation that then falls under repression. Similarly, in the formation of symptoms the return of the repressed goes back to the very point of fixation to which the libido has regressed.
Finally, the notion of fixation is associated, in Freud's teaching, with that of sexual constitution insofar as it brings together the various ways in which the different components of the libido are inscribed in the early stages of its development. Fixation thus represents predisposition as a factor in the etiology of neuroses.
The notion of fixation can be found in other currents of psychoanalytic thought, particularly in that of Pierre Marty, whose work represents an original contribution to the concept. For him, the fixation-regression system forms the basis of any functional organization and has a field of influence that stretches from mental to somatic functions. In the course of any psychosomatic disturbance, the presence of fixations, whether psychical or somatic, constitute the stopping points of a counter-developmental current, points from which a psychosomatic reorganization can take place. According to this point of view, the fixation-regression system represents the set of defensive capacities in the development of each individual.
See also: Cathexis; Choice of neurosis; Constitution; Disorganization; Ego states; Libidinal development; Psychic causality; Psychic temporality; Psychosomatic; Regression; Repression; Self-object; Stage (or phase); Traumatic neurosis.
Freud, Sigmund. (1905d). Three essays on the theory of sexuality. SE, 7: 123-243.
. (1911c). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a Case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 1-82.
. (1916-17a). Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. SE, 15-16.
Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d) Studies in hysteria. SE,2.
Greenacre, Phyllis. (1960). Regression and fixation. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 8, 703-723.
Nagera, Humberto. (1964). On arrest in development, fixation, and regression. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 19, 222-239.