ca·​thex·​is kə-ˈthek-səs How to pronounce cathexis (audio)
plural cathexes kə-ˈthek-ˌsēz How to pronounce cathexis (audio)
: investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea

Did you know?

You might suspect that cathexis derives from a word for "emotion," but in actuality the key concept is "holding." Cathexis comes to us by way of New Latin (Latin as used after the medieval period in scientific description or classification) from the Greek word kathexis, meaning "holding." It can ultimately be traced back (through katechein, meaning "to hold fast, occupy") to the Greek verb echein, meaning "to have" or "to hold." Cathexis first appeared in print in 1922 in a book about Freud's psychological theories (which also established the plural as cathexes, as is consistent with Latin), and it is still often used in scientific and specifically psychological contexts.

Examples of cathexis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Dependency and cathexis are also incredibly painful and difficult to extricate yourself from. Janey Starling,, 10 Apr. 2020 There’s a word for this loss of self in devotion: cathexis. Janey Starling,, 10 Apr. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cathexis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


New Latin (intended as translation of German Besetzung), from Greek kathexis holding, from katechein to hold fast, occupy, from kata- + echein to have, hold — more at scheme entry 1

First Known Use

1922, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cathexis was in 1922


Dictionary Entries Near cathexis

Cite this Entry

“Cathexis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Medical Definition


ca·​thex·​is kə-ˈthek-səs, ka- How to pronounce cathexis (audio)
plural cathexes -ˌsēz How to pronounce cathexis (audio)
: investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea
: libidinal energy that is either invested or being invested

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