Freud death instinct essay

For the tendency to self-destruction exists to a certain degree in many more persons than in those who bring it to completion. Self-inflicted injuries are, as a rule, a compromise between this impulse and the forces working against it, and even where it really comes to suicide, the inclination has existed for a long time with less strength or as an unconscious and repressed tendency.

Even suicide consciously committed chooses its time, means and opportunity; it is quite natural that unconscious suicide should wait for a motive to take upon itself one part of the causation and thus free it from its oppression by taking up the defensive forces of the person. These are in no way idle discussions which I here bring up; more than one case of apparently accidental misfortune has become known to me whose surrounding circumstances justified the suspicion of suicide.

His behavior after regaining consciousness was remarkable in more than one way, and his conduct previous to the accident was still more remarkable. He had been greatly depressed by the death of his beloved mother, had crying spells in the society of his comrades, and to his trusted friend had spoken of the taedium vitae. He had wished to quit the service in order to take part in a war in Africa which had no interest for him. Formerly a keen rider, he had later evaded riding whenever possible. Finally, before the horse-race, from which he could not withdraw, he expressed a sad foreboding; in the light of our conception, it is not surprising that his premonition came true.

It may be contended that it is quite comprehensible without any further cause that a person in such a state of nervous depression cannot manage a horse as well as on normal days. But I know that in any case you were not inclined to give easy credence to the accusation that schools drive their pupils to suicide.


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Do not let us be carried too far, however, by our sympathy with the party which has been unjustly treated in this instance. Not all the arguments put forward by the opener of the discussion seem to me to hold water. If it is the case that youthful suicide occurs not only among pupils in secondary schools but also among apprentices and others, this fact does not acquit the secondary schools; it must perhaps be interpreted as meaning that as regards its pupils the secondary school takes the place of the traumas with which other adolescents meet in other walks of life.

But a secondary school should achieve more than not driving its pupils to suicide. It should give them a desire to live and should offer them support and backing at a time of life at which the conditions of their development compel them to relax their ties with their parental home and their family. It seems to me indisputable that schools fail in this, and in many respects fall short of their duty of providing a substitute for the family and of arousing interest in life in the world outside.

Extremely rare actual teacher teaching, Freud's death drive psychoanalysis in literature

This is not a suitable occasion for a criticism of secondary schools in their present shape; but perhaps I may emphasize a single point. The school must never forget that it has to deal with immature individuals who cannot be denied a right to linger at certain stages of development and even at certain disagreeable ones.

The school must not take on itself the inexorable character of life: it must not seek to be more than a game of life. Gentlemen,—I have an impression that, in spite of all the valuable material that has been brought before us in this discussion, we have not reached a decision on the problem that interests us. We were anxious above all to know how it becomes possible for the extraordinarily powerful life instinct to be overcome: whether this can only come about with the help of a disappointed libido or whether the ego can renounce its self-preservation for its own egoistic motives.

It may be that we have failed to answer this psychological question because we have no adequate means of approaching it. We can, I think, only take as our starting-point the condition of melancholia, which is so familiar to us clinically, and a comparison between it and the affect of mourning. The affective processes in melancholia, however, and the vicissitudes undergone by the libido in that condition, are totally unknown to us.

Nor have we arrived at a psycho-analytic understanding of the chronic affect of mourning. Let us suspend our judgement till experience has solved this problem.

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Melancholia, therefore, borrows some of its features from mourning, and the others from the process of regression from narcissistic object-choice to narcissism. It is on the one hand, like mourning, a reaction to the real loss of a loved object; but over and above this, it is marked by a determinant which is absent in normal mourning or which, if it is present, transforms the latter into pathological mourning.

The loss of a love-object is an excellent opportunity for the ambivalence in love-relationships to make itself effective and come into the open. Where there is a disposition to obsessional neurosis the conflict due to ambivalence gives a pathological cast to mourning and forces it to express itself in the form of self-reproaches to the effect that the mourner himself is to blame for the loss of the loved object, i.


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  8. These obsessional states of depression following upon death of a loved person show us what the conflict due to ambivalence can achieve by itself when there is no regressive drawing-in of libido as well. In melancholia, the occasions which give rise to the illness extend for the most part beyond the clear case of a loss by death, and include all those situations of being slighted, neglected or disappointed, which can import opposed feelings of love and hate into the relationship or reinforce an already existing ambivalence.


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    • The Ego and The Id!

    This conflict due to ambivalence, which sometimes arises more from real experiences, sometimes more from constitutional factors, must not be overlooked among the preconditions of melancholia. If the love for the object—a love which cannot be given up though the object itself is given up—takes refuge in narcissistic identification, then the hate comes into operation on this substitutive object, abusing it, debasing it, making it suffer and deriving sadistic satisfaction from its suffering. In both disorders the patients usually still succeed, by the circuitous path of self punishment, in taking revenge on the original object and in tormenting their loved one through their illness, having resorted to it in order to avoid the need to express their hostility to him openly.

    It is this sadism alone that solves the riddle of the tendency to suicide which makes melancholia so interesting—and so dangerous. We have long known, it is true, that no neurotic harbours thoughts of suicide which he has not turned back upon himself from murderous impulses against others, but we have never been able to explain what interplay of forces can carry such a purpose through to execution. Thus in regression from narcissistic object-choice the object has, it is true, been got rid of, but it has nevertheless proved more powerful than the ego itself.

    The last years have produced a dispiriting number of examples of the failures to which Freud pointed. And the book remains in print to this day.

    Freud's Theory of Basic Urges | Psychology

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    Freud's Theories of Life and Death Instincts

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