Death and annihilation anxieties in anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and self-mutilation

Sharon K. Farber*, Craig C. Jackson, Johanna K. Tabin, Eytan Bachar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Self-starvation, bulimic behavior, and self-mutilation comprise a triad of associated self-harm syndromes that are potentially life threatening, with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. They are associated with trauma and are extremely resistant to treatment. These patients present a disturbing lack of anxiety about their own life-threatening behavior, yet are preoccupied with death and anxiety about annihilation. Because dissociation compartmentalizes and separates psychological and somatic aspects of traumatic experience (psychological and somatoform dissociation), it enables these patients to disavow the life-threatening nature of their behavior, which makes the dissociative processes the most destructive factor in this psychopathology. The self-harm symptoms are a presymbolic form of communication that must be decoded and confronted in treatment to make recovery possible. For many patients who starve, purge, or mutilate themselves, the body is speaking of death. They require a treatment that protects their safety, determines their personal construct of death, treats the dissociative pathology and sadomasochism, and builds signal anxiety and other ego functions, especially affect regulation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)289-305
Number of pages17
JournalPsychoanalytic Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2007


  • Annihilation
  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Bulimia
  • Death anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Self-mutilation
  • Trauma


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