Castration Complex

The castration complex refers to thought process behind the fear of losing something precious from the body. This mainly refers to the fear of genital mutilation, particularly in men, but also extending to women. This fear has been extended to other body parts, the eyes in particular. Freud writes;

…psychoanalytic experience reminds us that some children have a terrible fear of damaging or losing their eyes. Many retain their anxiety into adult life and fear no physical injury so much as one to the eye…The study of dreams, fantasies and myths has taught us also that anxiety about one’s eyes, the fear of going blind, is quite often a substitute for the fear of castration.”

Here Freud goes on to relate to his theories of the oedipal complex and the role of the castration complex in the mental health of neurotic patients. He provides an example of this concept from the story of the ‘Sand Man’ by E.T.A Hoffman, in which a man, terrified since childhood of the legend of the Sand Man and the physical form he took as his fathers lawyer, experiences a neurotic breakdown and commits suicide over the re-emergence of the terrifying entity in his adulthood, who has taken the form of an optician.

…many other features of the tale appear arbitrary and meaningless if one rejects the relation between fear for the eyes and fear of castration, but they become meaningful as soon as the Sand Man is replaced by the dreaded father, at whose hands castration is expected.”

(Freud, 1919)


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