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Pre-Phobic Anxiety

The Letter, Issue 64, Spring 2017, Pages 65 - 72


Malachi McCoy

‘My dear Professor, I am sending you a little more about Hans - but this time, I am sorry to say, material for a case history.’[1] The boy woke up one morning in tears; asked why he was crying, he said to his mother ‘When I was asleep I thought you were gone and I had no Mummy to coax with.’[2] It is therefore ‘An anxiety dream.’[3]

In 1909 the publication of the case-history ‘caused a great stir and even greater indignation’. Would the findings of a psychoanalysis of a suffering child today meet with the same agitations and scorn as Freud’s case history of the analysis and recovery of Little Hans? Or, can we learn from it and find hope? It’s my hope that this paper, rather than giving a chronological account, can remind us of the mental activities driving the anxious and fearful child before calling up the intervention of his phobic object.

Freud writes ‘We must regard [this dream] as a genuine punishment and repression dream and, moreover, as a dream which failed in its function, since the child woke from his sleep in a state of anxiety. We can easily reconstruct what actually occurred in the unconscious.’[4]

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