Castration anxiety

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The castration anxiety or the castration complex is a concept from classical psychoanalysis that goes back to the theory of Sigmund Freud and was later developed by Jacques Lacan .

Castration anxiety in Freud

According to Freud, the discovery of the anatomical sex difference in the toddler triggers a development that is decisive for going through the oedipal phase (see also Oedipus complex ). This development is different for girls and boys, but is based on the commonality that - according to Freud - children of both sexes consider the possession of a penis to be the norm.

Penis envy in girls

In the case of girls, the observation that some people have a penis and others do not lead, according to Freud, to unconsciouspenis envy ” and to rejection of the mother , the “castrated man”. The girl does not want to become like the castrated mother, since she blames the mother for not having a penis and for being responsible for her castration . When the girl turns to the father, she gets into the oedipal situation in which she desires the father's penis and ultimately, at least Freud's view, unconsciously wants to conceive a child from him because the child equates the child with a penis.

Castration anxiety in boys

For the little boy, discovering the gender difference has a different meaning. When he sees that some people do not have a penis, while others and himself do have one, he assumes that some people have lost their penis through castration. For this reason, he subconsciously sees himself threatened by the possible loss of his penis. This fear is castration fear . Particularly in the context of the oedipal situation, this castration fear can have positive consequences for the development of the child if it leads to the boy giving up the unconscious incestuous desire for his mother because he fears that the father, whom he is not physically able to cope with, is yet to be found is to castrate him as punishment for his desire.

As a result, the child is urged to fulfill his or her desire in the world outside of the family (with other women), which makes it possible for the child to orientate himself towards society . Usually the boy manages to turn this situation around in a positive way by identifying with the father . He no longer wishes to murder his father and take his mother away from him, but rather wants to be like the father and to have his power.

The symbolic representation of this power of the father and his "possession" of the mother is the phallus , the symbolic penis. Upon reaching sexual maturity , the child gains its own phallus, its own 'sexual tool', with which it can now physically perform the previously (ideally) already emotional detachment from the oedipal situation and ultimately from the parental home.

Castration fear in Lacan

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan describes the "threat of castration" to which the child feels exposed as "no-the-father" (Non-du-Père). This no can be pronounced “ in the name of the father ” (mostly implicitly) by the father himself as well as by other people . Since for Lacan the name-of-the-father (le Nom-du-Père) also represents the laws of society (such as the incest taboo ), the castration complex belongs to the symbolic order . With the father's no, the child is introduced to the symbolic order of society and the laws. Lacan describes castration, which is always only threatened, and the turn to the symbolic that goes hand in hand with this threat, therefore also as "symbolic castration".

With the entry into the symbolic, the castration fear partly transfers to the symbolic itself represented by the father, the great other : "Without a doubt there is more neurotic than the fear of losing the phallus, namely not wanting the other to be castrated." ( J .-B. Pontalis : Between dream and pain , p. 128)

See also


  • Sigmund Freud : The Infantile Genital Organization (1923). In: study edition. Volume VS Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1972, pp. 235-241
  • Sigmund Freud: About some of the consequences of the anatomical sex difference. (1925). In: study edition. Volume VS 253-266
  • Sigmund Freud: The separation of the ego in the defense process. (1938/1940). In: Study edition Volume III, pp. 389–394
  • Jacques Lacan : Seminar VI: Object Relations. (1956-1957). Turia + Kant Verlag, Vienna 2003
  • Jacques Lacan: On the importance of the phallus. (1958). In: Schriften II. 3rd edition. Quadriga Verlag, Berlin / Weinheim 1991, pp. 121-132
  • Peter Widmer: Two key concepts of Lacan and their meaning for practice. In: Hans-Dieter Gondek et al .: Jacques Lacan - Paths to his work. Klett-Cotta Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, pp. 15-48, here: pp. 38-44
  • André Green : The castration complex. Edition Diskord, Tübingen 1996
  • Jean Laplanche & Jean-Bertrand Pontalis : The Vocabulary of Psychoanalysis. Suhrkamp-Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1972, pp. 242-247, ISBN 3-518-27607-7 .
  • Jean-Bertrand Pontalis: Between Dream and Pain. S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1998
  • Adrian de Klerk: The importance of castration fear and circumcision in Freud's work and life . In: Matthias Franz (ed.): The circumcision of boys. A sad legacy . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2014, ISBN 978-3525404553 .