Freud first remarks that he has previously devoted an entire lecture (number XXV in his earlier collection) to the topic of anxiety.
He then begins this new lecture by briefly summarizing the earlier work’s key points. First, he describes anxiety as an “affective state” linked to pleasure or displeasure, and the psychic energy associated with those feelings (102). However, he also argues that a person first feels anxiety at birth, and that all subsequent anxieties are a reflection of that initial one.
To clarify the term's definition, Freud distinguishes between “realistic anxiety,” which is caused by the perception of external danger, and “neurotic anxiety,” which at first appears to lack any obvious cause, and is usually characterized by its connection to the “sexual life” (103). When the libido (the sexual aspect of the psyche) is excited but not satisfied, this arousal eventually transforms into neurotic anxiety. Freud relates this process to that of repression, suggesting that any feeling becomes anxiety once repressed, no matter the original nature of that feeling. In other words, both love or hatred could become anxiety if repressed and hence unsatisfied.
Freud next remarks that inner anxiety and external symptoms are closely connected, because they “represent and replace each other” (105). As example, a symptom – such as agoraphobia, or fear of outside spaces – develops after a person initially experiences anxiety while walking outside. The symptom then develops to prevent him from returning to that experience. In a different case, a neurotic who is prevented from performing a habitual, obsessive exercise – such as washing, for instance – will experience increased anxiety over it.
Overall, Freud believes that anxiety is the primary condition, and that symptoms develop secondarily, in response to it. Based on his experience with children who suffer from phobias, he believes the root cause of anxiety to be libidinal energy. Thus, it follows that a neurotic is ultimately afraid of his own libido, and that a phobia forms once that neurotic displaces his fearful anxiety onto an outside association (like outside spaces). This external fear produces the illusion that the patient can protect himself from the source of anxiety. In other words, an agoraphobic is ultimately frightened by his libido, but displaces that anxiety onto outside spaces so he can believe the anxiety avoidable.
Having summarized the essential points from his previous lecture, Freud admits that these different elements still lack a unifying theory, a concept of anxiety that would “bring all these pieces together into a whole” (106).
Freud then notes some revisions to his original theories on the relationship between anxiety and instincts. Though the case studies used in the original lecture (on ‘The Wolf Man’ and ‘Little Hans’) suggested that repression led to anxiety, Freud now believes that the relationship is inverse to that - in other words, it is anxiety which causes repression, and not the other way around. Anxiety, he argues, is usually linked to an outside, "realistic" threat (107). He poses the fear of castration as the primary threat which leads to anxiety, and suggests that a particular form of anxiety haunts each stage of psychic life.
Recapitulating the essence of this revision, he notes that the central truths of anxiety are that: it causes repression, and not vice versa; and the instinctual fear results from a perceived external threat.
Following these points, Freud outlines the process of psychic repression in greater detail. When the id delivers an instinctual impulse to the ego, the ego then weighs the potential pleasure against the potential displeasure as regards fulfilling the impulse. Through this process, one of these results might occur:
1 - The ego might withdraw completely from the challenge, engendering a panic attack.
2 - The ego might counter the id's excited state with an anticathexis (meaning the energy used to counter the id), which then combines with the energy of the repressed impulse to form a symptom.
3 - The ego internalizes the anticathexis (rather than using it to counter the id), thereby altering its character.
Meanwhile within the id, the repressed impulse is either successfully restrained, in which case it continues to exert libidinal pressure, or it is successfully destroyed and that libidinal energy is routed elsewhere. In other words, provided the ego does not fulfill the id's desire, it must exert great energy to repress that desire, and hence open the door to trouble.
As a final note on anxiety, Freud suggests a twofold origin to it. First comes a traumatic moment experienced early in life, and second comes an outward signal that threatens a return to that traumatic moment.
The lecture then moves from the topic of anxiety to a sustained discussion of instincts. Freud acknowledges "the theory of instincts" as the "mythology" of psychoanalysts, meaning they are defined largely by their "indefiniteness” (118). Nevertheless, they are central to the human psyche despite their variability.
Human beings are essentially defined by two kinds of instincts. One class of instincts is directed toward the preservation of the species (sexual instincts), and the other class toward self-preservation of the individual organism (ego-instincts). Freud associates the sexual instincts with the energy and drive of the libido, and describes them as dynamic, capable of being easily changed. He names the process by which one instinctual desire can be transformed into another as "sublimation," and suggests that this process allows us to adjust our behavior to different social pressures (120). In contrast, instincts of self-preservation are much more inflexible in their demands, since they seek to protect the individual.
Freud connects the sexual instincts to “organ pleasure,” suggesting that certain erotogenetic zones of the body are associated with stages of psychic-sexual development (122). These zones include oral, anal/sadistic, phallic, and genital. Though he once believed these stages cleanly separated from one another according to periods of maturation, Freud now believes that elements from each stage are preserved within the libido, and continue to resonate in later periods of our lives.
Based on this new belief, Freud argues it is crucial to understand each stage if one is to understand the relationship between fantasies and the unconscious. As example, he notes how the unconscious often makes symbolic associations between seemingly unrelated ides, such as feces and money, or a baby and a penis. Moreover, Freud asserts that particular sexual stages can be linked to certain enduring personality traits – for example, an “anal character” of excessive orderliness can be linked to the stage of anal eroticism (127).
The discussion next addresses a more general question about instinctual life and the nature of libidinal drives. Clarifying his earlier description of the separation between the types of instincts, Freud suggests that the sexual instincts are driven by the desire to unite (which he calls Eros), while the protective instincts are driven by the aggressive desire to destroy. However, these instincts can certainly sublimate into one another.
To explore this idea, he considers sadism (deriving sexual pleasure from the suffering of others) and masochism (deriving sexual pleasure from self-mutilation). He suggests that these are instances of the aggressive instincts merging with Eros. In the latter case, the desire to destroy is directed inwards; in the former case, it is directed outwards. Based on this analysis, Freud concludes that masochism must be older than sadism, and that sadistic impulses are a mere step away from masochistic destruction. He then introduces the idea that all instinctual impulses contain “fusions or alloys” of these two classes (130). Freud notes that this analysis suggests the difficult impression that aggression is so deeply rooted within us that we must destroy something else lest we otherwise destroy ourselves.
To qualify the notion, Freud claims that the aggressive instinct must also be present in organisms that lack consciousness, since instinctual impulses rule not only psychic life but also vegetative life. These vegetative forms are remarkable because they exhibit an instinctual urge to restore a previous state of being. When a particular state of being has been disrupted, an organism displays the urge to return to that previous state. Freud describes this drive as the compulsion to repeat, and claims that it reveals the inherently conservative nature of instincts.
This discussion leads Freud to the concept of the death-instinct, whereby organic matter desires a return to its previous state of inorganic existence. Overall, these competing instincts - to protect and to destroy - merge together in humans.
To conclude, Freud notes the inevitable challenges individuals face when their aggressive instincts are turned inward and directed by the super-ego against the ego, as part of psychic development in accordance with society’s demands. Erotic instincts play a crucial role in mitigating this conflict, since they merge with these aggressive desires and provide an outlet of satisfaction that the psyche might not otherwise find when battling the super-ego.
Freud's argument at the beginning of this lecture - that the event of birth works as a precipitate for later experiences of anxiety - relies on two key points. First, humans are by nature anxious creatures. Our psychic life is always shaped by some form of anxiety. Second, this primordial experience of birth anxiety serves as a kind of template for later forms of anxious experience. In other words, Freud is not attempting to explore an abnormality here, but rather a universal experience rooted in our first moments.
From these assumptions, Freud progresses to explore the distinctions between different forms of anxiety, and to question whether birth does indeed precipitate all later anxieties. Instead, he proposes a far more controversial cause: the fear of castration. This theory does allow him to revise his theory, suggesting that anxiety begins from the perception of an outside threat and hence is the cause of repression (rather than vice versa). However, it also ties these ideas back to the central facets that Freud acknowledged in earlier lectures causes much criticism of his work: that everything in life is tied into sexuality.
This essay also provides an instance of Freud's ever-evolving process. Though he does not repudiate his earlier discoveries, he does note that they failed to provide a unifying principle for anxiety. This willingness to constantly question assumptions in search of greater hypotheses conforms to the scientific principle. This is important because it conforms to his claims in the first essay about the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. Clinical observations and practice must always inspire revision, and indeed, revision is a key theme to the entire collection.
Freud's discussion here of the relations between the ego and the id is amongst the most complicated in the collection. Hence, the argument deserves repeating. Freud claims that the id's urges create a signal of anxiety, which the ego must then react to. The ego, in a manner of speaking, creates a miniature “drama,” in which it imagines the outcomes of giving in to the id’s demands, weighs them according to a pleasure-unpleasure principle, and responds in one of three ways. As noted in the Summary, none of the ego's possible reactions is perfect, although the third - in which the ego absorbs the energy of the anticathexis and hence expands its power - is the healthiest for psychic life. In fact, it exemplifies Freud’s famous statement “Wo es war, soll ich werden,” or “Where id was, ego shall be.” It also allows him to transition back to Oedipus and the power of myth in his ensuing discussion of the instincts.
The second part of Freud’s lecture deals more concretely with his theory of the instincts. In considering his claim that “he theory of the instincts is so to say our mythology,” we should take note of two points (118). On the one hand, Freud implies that modern man lacks the kind of coherent and organizing mythology that defined prior civilizations, such as that of the ancient Greeks. Hence, we have created a roughly scientific “mythology” that explains human actions and behavior through an appeal to biological instincts. At the same time, Freud’s comment returns us to the idea of the formative role of the Oedipus complex, whose name Freud takes from the Greek myth of Oedipus the King, told most famously by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. The statement hence suggests that even our supposedly scientific, biological theories of instinctual life contain elements of myth and literary associations, which also expands upon his earlier notion that the ego deals with the demands of the id by staging or “dramatizing” to itself the consequences of certain actions.
In the latter half of the essay, Freud touches on one of his signature theories: that humans are defined by a conflict between sexual and destructive, aggressive impulses. He argues that all drives are ultimately based in "Eros and aggressiveness,” but that all instinctual impulses are basically mixtures of these two classes (136).
However, instances of sadism and masochism complicate his perspective. Once he acknowledges that the masochistic drive for self-destruction counters his beliefs, he introduces another controversial idea: the death-instinct. Perhaps because he can imagine knee-jerk opposition, he poses the idea in extremely scientific terms. First, he attributes this drive even to inorganic material. Secondly, he discusses it not in terms of our emotions, but in terms of an instinctive drive to return to organic material. He does not shy away from acknowledging the contradiction; he instead embraces it as a central aspect of our psyches.
The lecture's conclusion contains a sort of joke that both plays upon Freud’s audience and relates to the process of psychoanalysis itself. When Freud says “we have emerged from the psychical underworld into the open market-place,” he is subtly returning to the example of agoraphobia which he had earlier used (137). “Agora” is a Greek root that means “market-place”, so Freud is likening the audience’s journey through his lecture to a journey from the underworld of the unconscious, upward and outward into the daylight and exposure of the public world. This process is also akin to the ego’s incorporation of the id, and so Freud implies that the experience of working through his lecture is a kind of psychic labor by which unconscious knowledge or repressed urges can be brought into the open, and incorporated into psychic life more successfully. The joke is certainly subtle, but evidences Freud's extreme intellect and his joy in not only discovering truth, but in turning that truth into a type of literature.