The Freud Museum


from "Introduction to Psycho-Analysis and War Neuroses"

Although Freud himself wrote little about War Neuroses, the subject was taken up by others in his circle, which resulted in the publication of Psycho-Analysis And War Neuroses (1919). Freud wrote the introduction to the book. In the following passage he attempts to reconcile the existence of what he calls 'danger-neuroses' with his view that neuroses are caused by a conflict between repressed libidinal impulses and the 'ego instincts' of self preservation.

"In traumatic and war neuroses the human ego is defending itself from a danger which threatens it from without or which is embodied in a shape assumed by the ego itself. In the transference neuroses of peace the enemy from which the ego is defending itself is actually the libido, whose demands seem to it to be menacing. In both cases the ego is afraid of being damaged - in the latter case by the libido and in the former by external violence. It might, indeed, be said that in the case of the war neuroses, in contrast to the pure traumatic neuroses and in approximation to the transference neuroses, what is feared is nevertheless an internal enemy. The theoretical difficulties standing in the way of a unifying hypothesis of this kind do not seem insuperable: after all, we have a perfect right to describe repression, which lies at the basis of every neurosis, as a reaction to a trauma- as an elementary traumatic neurosis." (SE17, p210)

In the idea of an 'internal enemy' Freud is implying that what is feared in the conditions of trench warfare is not the actual danger, but the prospect of being overwhelmed by emotion ('libido'), leading to a disintegration of the ego. Thus the importance of helplessness as a causative factor which Rivers so often discovered. Roosevelt's aphorism at the time of the great depression - 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' - expresses a similar idea.

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