Psychoanalysis > Theory

[The Pleasure Principle]

We have long observed that every neurosis has as its result, and  probably therefore as its purpose, a forcing of the patient out of real life, an alienating of him from reality. Nor could a fact such as this escape the observation of Pierre Janet; he spoke: of a loss of 'la fonction  du réel' ['the function of reality'] as being a special characteristic of neurotics, but without discovering the connection of this disturbance with the fundamental determinants of neurosis.(1) By introducing the  process of repression into the genesis of the neuroses we have been able to gain some insight into this connection. Neurotics turn away from reality because they find it unbearable - either the whole or parts of it. The  most extreme type of this turning away from reality is shown by certain cases of hallucinatory psychosis which seek to deny the particular event that occasioned the outbreak of their insanity (Griesinger). But in fact  every neurotic does the same with some fragment of reality.(2) And we are now confronted with the task of investigating the development of the relation of neurotics and of mankind in general to reality, and in this way  of bringing the psychological significance of the real external world into the structure of our theories.

In the psychology which is founded on psycho-analysis we have become accustomed to taking as our  starting-point the unconscious mental processes, with the peculiarities of which we have become acquainted through analysis. We consider these to be the older, primary processes, the residues of a phase of development  in which they were the only kind of mental process. The governing purpose obeyed by these primary processes is easy to recognize; it is described as the pleasure-unpleasure [Lust-Unlust] principle, or more shortly the  pleasure principle. These processes strive towards gaining pleasure; psychical activity draws back from any event which might arouse unpleasure. (Here we have repression.) Our dreams at night and our waking tendency to  tear ourselves away from distressing impressions are remnants of the dominance of this principle and proofs of its power.

1. Janet, 1909.
2. Otto Rank (1910) has recently drawn attention  to a remarkably clear prevision of this causation shown in Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea.

[The Reality Principle]

I shall be returning to lines of thought  which I have developed elsewhere (1) when I suggest that the state of psychical rest was originally disturbed by the peremptory demands of internal needs. When this happened, whatever was thought of (wished for) was  simply presented in a hallucinatory manner, just as still happens to-day with our dream-thoughts every night.(2) It was only the non-occurrence of the expected satisfaction, the disappointment experienced, that led to  the abandonment of this attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination. Instead of it, the psychical apparatus had to decide to form a conception of the real circumstances in the external world and to endeavour to  make a real alteration in them. A new principle of mental functioning was thus introduced; what was presented in the mind was no longer what was agreeable but what was real, even if it happened to be disagreeable.(3)  This setting-up of the reality principle proved to be a momentous step.

1. In the General Section of The Interpretation of Dreams.

2. The state of sleep is able to re-establish the  likeness of mental life as it was before the recognition of reality, because a prerequisite of sleep is a deliberate rejection of reality (the wish to sleep).

3. I will try to simplify the above schematic account  with some further details. It will rightly be objected that an organization which was a slave to the pleasure principle and neglected the reality of the external world could not maintain itself alive for the shortest  time, so that it could not have come into existence at all. The employment of a fiction like this is, however, justified when one considers that the infant - provided one includes with it the care it receives from its  mother - does almost realize a psychical system of this kind. It probably hallucinates the fulfilment of its internal needs; it betrays its unpleasure, when there is an increase of stimulus and an absence of  satisfaction, by the motor discharge of screaming and beating about with its arms and legs, and it then experiences the satisfaction it has hallucinated. Later, as an older child, it learns to employ these  manifestations of discharge intentionally as methods of expressing its feelings. Since the later care of children is modelled on the care of infants, the dominance of the pleasure principle can really come to an end  only when a child has achieved complete psychical detachment from its parents.

- A neat example of a psychical system shut off from the stimuli of the external world, and able to satisfy even its nutritional  requirements autistically (to use Bleuler's term), is afforded by a bird's egg with its food supply enclosed in its shell; for it, the care provided by its mother is limited to the provision of warmth. - I shall not  regard it as a correction, but as an amplification of the schematic picture under discussion, if it is insisted that a system living according to the pleasure principle must have devices to enable it to withdraw from  the stimuli of reality. Such devices are merely the correlative of 'repression', which treats internal unpleasurable stimuli as if they were external - that is to say, pushes them into the external world.. (From Sigmund Freud: Formulations On the Two Principles of Mental Functioning.)

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Sigmund Freud

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