Fixation is a concept originated by Sigmund Freud (1905a) to denote the persistence of anachronistic sexual traits. Subsequently, "'Fixation' acquired a broader connotation. With the development of theory of libidinal stages...the term came to mean a persistent attachment, not only to the specific instinctual aims of a particular era, but, instead, to the entire complex of self and object relation" at that time.
More generally, it is the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another person, being, or object (in human psychology): "A strong attachment to a person or thing, especially such an attachment formed in childhood or infancy and manifested in immature or neurotic behavior that persists throughout life".
In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), Freud distinguished "fixations of preliminary sexual aims...as in the case of voyeurs" from the "after-effects of infantile object-choice...an incestuous fixation of his [or her] libido".
Freud theorized that some humans may develop psychological fixation due one or more of the following:
- A lack of proper gratification during one of the psychosexual stages of development.
- Receiving a strong impression from one of these stages, in which case the person's personality would reflect that stage throughout adult life. (He also assumed that "these early impressions of sexual life are characterized by an increased pertinacity or susceptibility to fixation in persons who are later to become neurotics or perverts".)
- "An excessively strong manifestation of these instincts at a very early age [which] leads to a kind of partial fixation, which then constitutes a weak point in the structure of the sexual function".
Whether a particularly obsessive attachment is a fixation or a defensible expression of love is at times debatable. Fixation to intangibles (i.e., ideas, ideologies, etc.) can also occur. The obsessive factor is also found in symptoms pertaining to obsessive compulsive disorder, which psychoanalysts linked to "pregenital fixations" whether caused by "an alternation of unusual gratifications and unusual frustrations...[or] a concurrence of instinctual gratifications with security gratifications".
As Freud's thought developed, so did "the notion of a succession of possible 'fixation points'" during development, and of "the relation between this succession of fixation points and the choice of neurosis". However, he continued to view fixation as "the manifestation of very early linkages – linkages which it is hard to resolve – between instincts and impressions and the objects involved in those impressions".
Fixation has been compared to the way "if you walk in front of a little chick at a certain time in the chick's life he'll follow you...there's a particular time when he gets 'set'". It might seem that a ready explanation for the human phenomenon of fixation is this kind of "filial imprinting...at a particular stage early in life...a 'sensitive period' in development". Freud, however, "wanted to loosen, not tighten, the link between libido and its objects", and always looked for more specific causes for any given (perverse or neurotic) fixation.
According to C. Geissmann-Chambon and P. Geissmann "For Melanie Klein, the fixing of the libido at a given stage is already an effect of the pathological process". She considered that "a fixation that leads to a symptom was already on the way to sublimation but was cut off from it by repression".
Erik H. Erikson distinguished two variants in stage-fixation – that of "zone" and of "mode". Thus, at the oral stage there may be "a zone fixation, i.e., the individual holds on to oral pleasures", or there may be "a mode fixation...he always wants to get whether by mouth and senses, or by other apertures, receptors, or behaviours. This kind of fixation will later be carried over to other zones". He instanced the man who "may eagerly absorb the 'milk of wisdom' where he once desired more tangible fluids from more sensuous containers". His analysand, Eric Berne, developed his insight further as part of transactional analysis, suggesting that "particular games and scripts, and their accompanying physical symptoms, are based in appropriate zones and modes".
"The basic idea that people can become fixated in their development has had an important influence on many post-Freudian psychoanalytic theories of criminality, sexual deviancy and aggression".
Fixation, transference, and cure
In the course of analysis, "a new fixation is thereby established...The original fixation has become a transference fixation". The two fixations may be very different in nature. "Suppose we succeeded in bringing a case to a favourable conclusion by setting up and then resolving a strong father-transference to the doctor. It would not be correct to conclude that the patient had suffered previously from a similar unconscious attachment of his libido to his father": the original fixation may have been quite different from a father-complex, and "the patient's libido was directed to it from other positions".
In popular culture
- Tennyson has been claimed to have a "romantic fixation...'a psychic fixation upon the days that are no more'".
- Harold Bloom states that "Christabel...uses witchcraft as a metaphor for psychological fixation".
- The Robbers is driven by a "psychic fixation on an all too powerful father figure".
- Idée fixe (psychology)
- Psychosexual development
- Regression (psychology)
- Substance dependence
- Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London 2009) p. 112
- Akhtar, p. 112
- Sigmund Freud, On Sexuality (Penguin Freud Library 7) pp. 68–70 and p. 151
- Freud, Sexuality p. 167
- Sigmund Freud, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Penguin 1995) p. 73
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 305
- Angela Richards, "Editor's Note", Sigmund Freud, On Psychopathology (Penguin Freud Library 10) p. 132
- Freud, Psychopathology pp. 137–8
- Janet Malcolm, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (London 1988) p. 158
- Richard L. Gregory ed, The Oxford Companion to the Mind (Oxford 1987) p. 356
- Stephen A. Mitchell, Relational Concepts in Psychoanalysis (1988) p. 78
- C. Geissmann-Chambon/P. Geissmann, A History of Child Psychoanalysis (Routledge 1998) p. 129
- Lyndsey Stonebridge/John Phillips, Reading Melanie Klein (1998) p. 243n
- Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (Penguin 1973) p. 72
- Erikson, p. 57
- Erik Berne, What Do You Say After You Say Hello? (Corgi 1975) p. 161
- Akhtar, p. 124
- Jo Brunas-Wagstaff, Personality: A Cognitive Approach (1998) p. 34
- Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (harvard 1999) p. 53
- Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Penguin Freud Library 1) p. 509
- Freud, Introductory Lectures p. 509
- Kathryn Ledbetter, Tennyson and Victorian Periodicals (2007) p. 52
- Harold Bloom, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2010) p. 189
- W. Hortmann/M. Hamburger, Shakespeare on the German Stage (1998) p. 269