store and pocket it without getting caught. These relatively innocent episodescan’t compare with skydiving, scuba diving, or bungee jumping, but they seemto be part of the process of growing up for all but the most timid souls. Some of us (such as myself) never grow out of it.Probably one of the earliest and best discussions of counterphobic behaviorwas by Otto Fenichel (1939). He refers to:
… a definite type of these fear-defences, which is usually referred to under the inex-act name of ‘overcompensation against fear’, but which could much more preciselybe called the ‘counter-phobic attitude’ (Fenichel, 1939, p. 263)It often happens that a person shows a preference for the very situations of which heis apparently afraid. And even more frequently he will later on develop a preferencefor the situations which he formerly feared. (Fenichel, 1939, p. 264)
Fenichel explored the conditions under which counterphobia might turnout well—that is, succeed as a defense mechanism. The first condition occurswhen a passive position is made into an active one. “We frequently see that inadults too, the search for situations which were formerly feared become pleasur-
able precisely because they are actively sought …”
The second condition has to do with a feeling of trust or protection.
Children overcome their anxiety not only by playing actively at what has threatenedthem, but also by letting a loved person, whom they trust, do to (with) them what theyfear to do themselves … pleasure may be enjoyed so long as one believes in the pro-tection of an outsider. (Fenichel, 1939, p. 264) (parentheses added)
The third condition involves pleasure or excitation from the counterphobic
Fear, like any other excitation, may be a source of sexual excitation. But this is true—justas in the case of pain—only so long as the unpleasure remains within certain limits,for example, in feeling sympathy for the hero of a tragedy. (Fenichel, 1939, p. 271)
The fourth condition is a little obscure. The counterphobe is testing out the
reality of his fears, to convince himself that they were imaginary, and that he is safe.
Search for the anxiety situation has the character of a ‘flight to reality.’ This meansthat the reality of the situation with which imaginary expectations of punishmentwere connected is sought, presumably to convince the subject that this connectionwas purely imaginary and that actually only the situation itself occurs. (Fenichel,1939, pp. 271–272)
This continual testing of the reality of the fearful situation is due to the fact that“there is no proof that the punishment will not occur eventually.” In addition,the pleasure of the release of the tension that is created by seeking the danger issought over and over again, in a sort of addictive process.Fenichel was one of the first to point out that part of the joy in sports is that“one actively brings about in play certain tensions which were formerly feared”