= D.: Abreagieren.–Es.: abreacción.–Fr.: abréaction.–I.: abreazione.–P.: ab-reação.
Emotional discharge whereby the subject liberates himself from the affect*
attached to the memory of a traumatic event in such a way that this affect is not able to
become (or to remain) pathogenic. Abreaction may be provoked in the course of
psychotherapy, especially under hypnosis, and produce a cathartic* effect. It may also
come about spontaneously, either a short or a long interval after the original trauma*.


The notion of abreaction can only be understood by reference to Freud’s theory of the
genesis of the hysterical symptom, as set out in his paper ‘On the Psychical Mechanism of
Hysterical Phenomena’ (1893a) (1a, α). The persistence of the affect attached to a memory
depends on several factors, of which the most important is related to the way in which the
subject has reacted to a particular event. Such a reaction may be composed of voluntary or
involuntary responses, and may range in nature from tears to acts of revenge. Where this
reaction is of sufficient intensity a large part of the affect associated with the event
disappears; it is when the reaction is quota of affect*. For the reaction to be cathartic,
however, it has to be ‘adequate’.


Abreaction may be spontaneous; in other words, it may come about fairly shortly after
the event and prevent the memory from being so burdened with a great quota of affect that it
becomes pathogenic. Alternatively, it may be secondary, precipitated by a cathartic
psychotherapy which enables the patient to recall the traumatic event, to put it into words and
so deliver himself from the weight of affect which has been the cause of his pathological
condition. As early as 1895, in fact, Freud noted that ‘language serves as a substitute for
action; by its help, an affect can be “abreacted” almost as effectively’ (1b).


A massive abreaction is not the only way for a subject to get rid of the memory of a
traumatic event; the memory may be integrated into a series of associations which allows the
event to be corrected–to be put in its proper place. From the Studies on Hysteria (1895d)
onwards, we find Freud speaking on occasion of the actual effort of recollection and mental
working out* as a process of abreaction in which the same affect is revived at the memory of
each of the different events which have given rise to it (1c).


The effect of an absence of abreaction is the persistence of the groups of ideas* which lie
at the root of neurotic symptoms; they remain unconscious and isolated from the normal
course of thought: ‘… the ideas which have become pathological have persisted with such freshness and affective strength because they have been denied the normal wearing-away processes by means of abreaction and reproduction in
states of uninhibited association’ (1d).


Breuer and Freud were concerned to identify the different sets of conditions which
prevent the subject from abreacting. They felt that in certain cases these sets of conditions
were related not to the nature of the event, but rather to the mental state of the subject at the
moment of its occurrence: fright*, autohypnosis or hypnoid state*. Alternatively, their origin
was sometimes to be found in the circumstances–usually of a social nature–which oblige the
subject to restrain his reactions. A final possibility was that there were ‘things which the
patient wished to forget, and therefore intentionally repressed from his conscious thought and
inhibited and suppressed’ (1e). These three different sets of conditions defined the three types
of hysteria: hypnoid hysteria*, retention hysteria* and defence hysteria*. It was immediately
after the publication of the Studies on Hysteria that Freud abandoned the first two of these
three types.


The exclusive emphasis on abreaction as the key to psychotherapeutic effectiveness is
above all typical of the period in Freud’s work which is known as the period of the
cathartic method. Yet the notion is retained in the later theory of psycho-analytic treatment.
There are empirical reasons for its survival, for every cure involves manifest emotional
discharge, though to varying degrees according to the type of patient. There are theoretical
reasons too, in so far as every theory of the cure must take into account repetition* as well as
recollection. Concepts such as transference*, working-through* and acting out* all imply
some reference to the theory of abreaction, even though they also lead us to more complex
conceptions of treatment than the idea of a pure and simple elimination of the traumatising


(α) The neologism ‘abreagieren’ seems to have been coined by Freud and Breuer
from the verb reagieren in its transitive use and the prefix ab-, which has several
meanings, particularly distance in time, the fact of separation, diminishment,
suppression etc.

这个新词「清涤」abreagieren 似乎是弗洛依德与布鲁尔自创,根据这个动词reagieren,具有及物的用途与字首ab—它具有好几个意义,特别是时间上的距离,分开,减少,压抑等等的事实。
(1) Breuer, J. and Freud, S.: a) Cf. G.W., I, 81-9; S.E., II, 3-10. b) G.W., I, 87; S.E., II, 8. c) G.W., I, 223-4;
S.E., II, 158. d) G.W., I, 90; S.E., II, 11. e) G.W., I, 89; S.E., II, 10.

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