The symptom and its meaning in Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis regards anxiety as the product of an instinct, which, being unsatisfied, is automatically removed. Its function is necessary in order to produce the removal and therefore the constitution of the symptom.


Advertising message In the medical field, the term symptom derives from the Greek and means “circumstance”. This is consolidated in the usual knowledge, such as the expression or signal of an anomaly or, better, of a different functioning of an organ, an apparatus or a system of behavior. Although often confused with the “sign” which represents the tangible evidence of a pathological event, it is the consequence of a series of altered processes that underlie these anomalies.

In the psychotherapeutic field, the symptom is characterized by different meanings and with readings that can change according to the different theoretical codes of an intervention model. Beyond these, it has an extremely important role because it is an ally of the clinical field that guides the psychotherapist in his choices, to formulate a diagnosis and to understand which altered process the symptom is communicating.

Freud cites a definition in his text Inhibition, symptom and anguish: “The symptom would be the result and substitute for a drive satisfaction that did not take place”.

The sign indicates that we must take into account the dominance of the signifier and language, while satisfaction refers to what Lacan calls enjoyment. It is deduced that the symptom is the product of a drive, which has not found complete satisfaction in its need for discharge. This led the subject, in turn, to suffer anguish in a certain sense.

In the various theoretical frameworks, the symptom has a communicative function and, more often than not, translates as a spokesperson for a certain malaise that calls attention to its existence, or, it is the communication of a way of thinking that has stopped adapt, or the consequence of a process that is highlighting its inability to adequately complete its evolutionary task and, again, the alarm bell of a psychological mechanism that has simply jammed.

The symptom, therefore, is a full expression of the organism which is expressed mainly through the suffering of the host. When in psychopathology a symptom, whatever it is (a compulsion, an obsession, a panic attack, a bulimic attack, a sexual difficulty, a phobia and so on ..), makes its debut, the therapeutic approach towards the latter changes according to the reading code which, in turn, decides how to interpret the type of communication.

Anguish, a term taken from psychopathology, is a central problem of modern philosophy with Kierkegaard, Sartre, Heidegger.

Freud states its function to cause removal and uses the definition of anxiety neurosis to designate the phobia.

In Seminar X The anguish, Lacan makes a real toning. Something of another order, the real, is grasped not by a concept but by an affection: anguish.

Anguish is the product of an instinct, which, being unsatisfied, is automatically removed. Indeed, anguish in itself cannot lie. Its function is necessary in order to produce the removal and therefore the constitution of the symptom. The scheme, shown below:

drive → distress → removal → symptom

This scheme, in particular, states that the drive, or the “enjoyment of the body” is related to the “desire of the Other”, produces an affection (anguish), which, by making a “signal”, determines the removal of the drive (of the signifier of the drive, of the drive representative), whose return is the symptom.

Advertising message One wonders what form the real has and how it enters clinical practice. In fact, it is a question that affects Lacan from the beginning of his research. In Seminar X The anguish, the real is no longer a little known area, from which we are separated by the law of the pleasure principle, but it is an object at the center of ourselves, inaccessible. This object, considered his invention, Lacan, calls it a small object a. What is the small object a? A piece of real. It no longer has unclear contours, but is a small part in the heart of our small inner world. Why do you call it that, small object a? The real, in fact, does not have a precise name. Lacan, therefore, causes anguish, no longer an imaginary phenomenon, such as fear, but a tangible sign of reality.

In the symptom, the subject expresses himself in his entirety, as in art, rediscovering his own sense of himself, accepting a lively change in him and in his expression. It is essential that, before consciously arriving at this work, he must feel respected by the analyst and ensure that this alliance with the analyst helps him to build a ‘crutch’ on his symptom, in order to implement an active change. Since human relationships heal the Other who is listening, it is assumed that listening is attended by the gaze. In this way, non-verbal gestures and movements can be grasped, since words alone are not enough to guide an analysis, nor can it be considered complete.

As for the role of the modern society in which we live, the symptom is the alienated product of a “pathology of normality”. In fact, the absence of symptoms is paid for at the high price of a suffocation of the most authentic aspirations, a lack of self-realization and the loss of integrity of one’s identity. The appearance of a psychosomatic illness or neurosis can mean that, despite everything, there is a vital process of protest going on which, in reality, leads to full awareness of the self.