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Cathexis

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Energy and His Eye Made His Eventual Elec-

Energy and His Eye Made His Eventual Elec- by DerrickT via Flickr

In psychoanalysis, Charles Rycroft says cathexis is a term coined by Sigmund Freud‘s English translators to indicate an “investment” of libidinal (sexual) energy that attaches to an internal object, representation or mental structure.¹ Some years later, Rycroft’s assertion has been expanded on in Wikipedia:

The Greek term cathexis (κάθεξις) was chosen by James Strachey to render the German term Besetzung in his translation of Sigmund Freud‘s complete works.²

Once inside the head, so to speak, the libidinal energy can transfer from one mental structure to another, much like troops positioning around a battlefield.

According to Freud’s theory, cathected energy may attach to one mental process in order to repress another. Sooner or later there’s a build up of energy. This results in psychological dysfunction, or more positively in sublimation, where the energy is redirected toward some socially acceptable outlet (such as creating artwork).

Object cathexis refers to mental energy invested in an external object instead of the self. It should be noted that Freud’s use of the term “object” includes people. “Object” for Freud simply means a recipient of instinctual drives. So an object can be inside one’s own head or outside in the environment.

Also of note is how Freud never considers the possibility that pent up libidinal energy could be redirected to the spiritual life. On this score, many saints and mystics attest to the importance of celibacy. Without it, they say, their spiritual work (e.g. intercession) just can’t get done. Many go even further, describing chastity not as a kind of unavoidable necessity but as a great gift and virtue. This positive attitude lead St. Frances de Sales to say

Chastity is the lily among virtues and makes men almost equal to angels.³

Sadly, many people still on a materialistic level of consciousness find this difficult to understand. As a result, some predominantly spiritual people may suffer ridicule and persecution, even by their apparently religious peers. Even more sad, it seems that some potential spiritual sensitives are, themselves, duped by the status quo viewpoint. So instead of flowering into sainthood, they may end up in psychiatric wards.

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¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 16.

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathexis

³ Cited in The Voice of the Saints, ed. Francis W. Johnston, Tan Books, 1986 [1965], p. 55.

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