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Inhibition: I am because I don't act'

The Letter, Issue 23, Autumn 2001, Pages 109 - 125


Stijn Vanheule


Experience indicates that patients often enter into analysis with the complaint that they can't manage to do the things they want to do; they feel reluctant or unable to act within one or more domains of life, notably in fields such as love and work. According to Freud in Analysis Terminable and Interminable, analysis often - but not always - results in overcoming these kinds of inertias.

In this paper we will discuss inhibitions as an obsessional strategy for dealing with desire. Like other obsessional neurotic symptoms, for example compulsions, inhibitions have a structural function in the obsessional strategy of denying desire. Along this line of reasoning both the absence of activity (inhibition) and excess of it (compulsion) are attempts at avoiding a confrontation with desire. Desire is an issue the obsessional neurotic puts under a taboo.

Furthermore, we will contrast inhibitions, which are typical for obsession, with symptoms, which are typical for hysteria. Symptoms always express a struggle with a desire the subject tries to ignore. The subject tries to ignore a desire, but this strategy fails since the repressed impulse continuously returns. Inhibitions are a much more radical attempt to efface desire as such, and at a more fundamental level they are an attempt to erase the drive. Inhibitions are attempts to nip desire and drive in the bud and as such are exercises in control.

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