Psychoanalysis > Theory


  • Definition

Both of the two sets of feelings (the affectionate and the hostile), which, as we have good reason to believe, exist towards the dead person, seek to take effect at the time of the bereavement, as mourning and as satisfaction. There is bound to be a conflict between these two contrary feelings; and, since one of the two, the hostility, is wholly or for the greater part unconscious, the outcome of the conflict cannot be to subtract, as it were, the feeling with the lesser intensity from that with the greater and to establish the remainder in consciousness - as occurs, for instance, when one forgives a slight that one has received from someone of whom one is fond. The process is dealt with instead by the special psychical mechanism known in psycho-analysis, as I have said, by the name of 'projection'. The hostility, of which the survivors know nothing and moreover wish to know nothing, is ejected from internal perception into the external world, and thus detached from them and pushed on to someone else. It is ho longer true that they are rejoicing to be rid of the dead man; on the contrary, they are mourning for him; but, strange to say, he has turned into a wicked demon ready to gloat over their misfortunes and eager to kill them. It then becomes necessary for them, the survivors, to defend themselves against this evil enemy; they are relieved of pressure from within, but have only exchanged it for oppression from without. (Sigmund Freud: Totem and Taboo.)

  • Origin of the Tendency to Project

It is, however, safe to assume that that tendency will be intensified when projection promises to bring with it the advantage of mental relief. Such an advantage may be expected with certainty where a conflict has arisen between different impulses all of which are striving towards omnipotence - for they clearly cannot all become omnipotent. The pathological process in paranoia in fact makes use of the mechanism of projection in order to deal with mental conflicts of this kind. The typical case of such a conflict is one between the two members of a pair of opposites - the case of an ambivalent attitude, which we have examined in detail as it appears in someone mourning the death of a loved relative. This kind of case must seem particularly likely to provide a motive for the creation of projections. (Sigmund Freud: Totem and Taboo.)


  • Description

Now both the clinical history and the psychical mechanism of obsessional neurosis have become known to us through psycho-analysis. The clinical history of a typical case of 'touching phobia' is as follows. Right at the beginning, in very early childhood, the patient shows a strong desire to touch, the aim of which is of a far more specialized kind that one would have been inclined to expect. This desire is promptly met by an external prohibition against carrying out that particular kind of touching. The prohibition is accepted, since it finds support from powerful internal forces,╦Ť and proves stronger than the instinct which is seeking to express itself in the touching. In consequence, however, of the child's primitive psychical constitution, the prohibition does not succeed in abolishing the instinct. Its only result is to repress the instinct (the desire to touch) and banish it into the unconscious. Both the prohibition and the instinct persist: the instinct because it has only been repressed and not abolished, and the prohibition because, if it ceased, the instinct would force its way through into consciousness and into actual operation. A situation is created which remains undealt with - a psychical fixation - and everything else follows from the continuing conflict between the prohibition and the instinct.

The principal characteristic of the psychological constellation which becomes fixed in this way is what might be described as the subject's ambivalentł attitude towards a single object, or rather towards one act in connection with that object. He is constantly wishing to perform this act (the touching), and detests it as well. The conflict between these two currents cannot be promptly settled because - there is no other way of putting it - they are localized in the subject's mind in such a manner that they cannot come up against each other. (Sigmund Freud: Totem and Taboo.)

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Sigmund Freud

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