Dreams of Flying
Thrills and Regressions, a book published in 1959 by the psychoanalyst Michael Balint analyses how people relate to the world around them and proposes two extreme ‘character’ types. One is the ocnophil and the other the philobat. Explained simply the ocnophil is a person “who prefers to clutch at something firm when his security is in danger”, where objects become symbols of security. The philobat on the other hand is a thrill seeker, “they prefer to be on their own, away from every support, replying on their own resources. The word is taken from acrobat “he who walks on his toes” i.e. away from the safe earth”.(Balint 1959)
Balint analysis both positions and in doing so gives consideration to thrill-laden activities. The very first category of thrill he considers is connected with high speed, as in all kinds of racing, motor racing, skiing, flying etc. Balint sees all thrills as having three fundamental factors:
“ (a) some amount of conscious fear, or at least an awareness of real external danger (b) a voluntary and intentional exposing of oneself to this external danger and to the fear aroused by it (c) while having the more or less confident hope that the fear can be tolerated and mastered, the danger will pass and that one will be able to return unharmed to safety. This mixture of fear, pleasure and confident hope in the face of an external danger is what constitutes the fundamental elements of all thrills.” (Balint)
Here anxiety is aroused and borne by the philobat. The further the philobat dares to get away from the earth through distance or speed, the more they prove their independence. Others can also partake vicariously in the thrilling activities of the philobat through identification.
He goes on to argue that thrills are not directed against an outside object, but valued for the subjective experience they bring to the philobat and are auto-erotic – that they are ways of embarking on adventures which are fundamentally designed to give oneself pleasure just by the activity involved…