Psychoanalysis > Theory

[About the Psychoanalytic Libido]

Libido means in psychoanalysis in the first instance the force (thought of as quantitatively variable and measurable) of the sexual instincts directed towards an object - "sexual" in the extended sense required by analytic theory. Further study showed that it was necessary to set alongside this "object-libido" a "narcissistic" or "ego-libido", directed to the subject's own ego; and the interaction of these two forces has enabled us to account for a great number of normal and abnormal processes in mental life. (Sigmund Freud: A Short Account of Psychoanalysis,1924.)

It is hard to say anything of the behaviour of the libido in the id and in the super-ego. All that we know about it relates to the ego, in which at first the whole available quota of libido is stored up. We call this state absolute, primary narcissism. It lasts till the ego begins to cathect the ideas of objects with libido, to transform narcissistic libido into object-libido. Throughout the whole of life the ego remains the great reservoir from which libidinal cathexes are sent out to objects and into which they are also once more withdrawn, just as an amoeba behaves with its pseudopodia. It is only when a person is completely in love that the main quota of libido is transferred on to the object and the object to some extent takes the place of the ego. A characteristic of the libido which is important in life is its mobility, the facility with which it passes from one object to another. This must be contrasted with the fixation of the libido to particular objects, which often persists throughout life. (Sigmund Freud: An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1938.)

There can be no question but that the libido has somatic sources, that it streams to the ego from various organs and parts of the body. This is most clearly seen in the case of that portion of the libido which, from its instinctual aim, is described as sexual excitation. The most prominent of the parts of the body from which this libido arises are known by the name of "erotogenic zones", though in fact the whole body is an erotogenic zone of this kind. The greater part of what we know about Eros - that is to say, about its exponent, the libido - has been gained from a study of the sexual function, which, indeed, on the prevailing view, even if not according to our theory, coincides with Eros. (Sigmund Freud: An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1938.)

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Sigmund Freud

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