Cathexis and Anticathexis According to Freudian Theory

According to the Freudian Theory of Drives

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According to psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the cathexis and anticathexis control how the id utilizes its energy. Cathexis refers to the id's dispersal of energy while the anticathexis serves to block inappropriate uses of this energy. Learn more about how this process works.

Drives and Psychic Energy

In his psychoanalytic theory of personality, Sigmund Freud suggested that psychic energy is generated by the libido. But how is this psychic energy used? According to Freud, this energy is released through biological means known as drives.

A drive has two parts: a biological need and a psychological need. For example, the state of hunger leads to both a physical need for food and a psychological desire to eat. These two forces work together to form a drive to eat food when it is needed.

Freud believed that people continuously generate psychic energy, but only a certain amount is available for use at any point in time. This psychic energy is then used by the three components of personality: the id, the ego, and the superego.

The id is the first location where all of this psychic energy can be found. The id is responsible for satisfying basic needs and desires and operates through the primary process. This energy eventually moves through the other aspects of personality—the ego and the superego.

What Is Cathexis?

This investment of energy in an object, idea, or person is known as cathexis. However, since the id does not distinguish between a mental image and reality, it may not lead to direct action to satisfy a need. Instead, the id may simply form an image of the desired object that is satisfying in the short term but does not fulfill the need in the long term. For example, a person who is hungry may create a mental image of a desired food rather than actually eating.

Because of this, the ego is able to capture some of the energy dispersed by the id. When this energy becomes associated with an ego-related activity, it becomes known as an ego cathexis. This dispersal of energy might involve seeking out activities that are related to the need. For example, a person may purchase a cookbook or watch a cooking show on television when they are hungry.

What Is Anticathexis?

Remember, the id does not distinguish between reality and fantasy. Because of this, the id may act in ways that are unrealistic or not socially acceptable. Fortunately, the ego can also act to block irrational, immoral, or unacceptable actions from the id. This is known as an anticathexis and acts to block or suppress cathexes from being utilized.​

Repression is perhaps the best-known anticathexis. Repression serves to keep undesirable actions, thoughts, or behaviors from coming into conscious awareness. However, repressing these unwanted id urges takes a considerable investment of energy. Because there is only so much energy available, the other processes may be shortchanged by the energy use of the anticathexes.

1 Source
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  1. Johnson B, Flores Mosri D. The neuropsychoanalytic approach: Using neuroscience as the basic science of psychoanalysisFront Psychol. 2016;7:1459.doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01459

Additional Reading
  • Cathexis. Updated March 11, 2020.

  • Freud, S. The Ego and the Id. Vienna: Internationaler Psycho-analytischer Verlag; 1923.

  • Lapsley, DK, & Stey, PC. Id, ego, and superego. In: Ramachandran V, ed. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. Academic Press; 2011.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.