- 1a : a persistent concentration of libidinal energies upon objects characteristic of psychosexual stages of development preceding the genital stage
- b : stereotyped behavior (as in response to frustration)
- c : an obsessive or unhealthy preoccupation or attachment
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 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'.
Sigmund Freud theorized that some humans may develop psychological fixation due to:
- 1: A lack of proper gratification during one of the psychosexual stages of development, or
- 2: 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 susceptibilty to fixation in persons who are later to become neurotics or perverts'.
- 3: '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 too 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"'. Such 'filial imprinting...at a particular stage early in life...a "sensitive period" in development' might seem a ready explanation for the human phenomenon of fixation. 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.
'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'.