Mourning is the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one (fatherland, liberty, or an ideal). This is a normal response and it is not considered to be an illness

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Sigmund Freud, "Mourning and Melancholy"/"Trauer und Melancholie" (1917)
The essay sets out to define and compare two forms of grief: mourning (Trauer) with that of melancholy (Melancholie).

Mourning is the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one (fatherland, liberty, or an ideal). This is a normal response and it is not considered to be an illness. After a period of grieving, a person will overcome this sorrow; the ego becomes free and unburdened.

Melancholy derives from the same circumstances, but takes on more radical and injurious properties:

--profoundly painful dejection,

--loss of interest in the outside world,

--inability to love, inhibition of activity,

--a decisive lowering of self-esteem and self-hatred,

--the expectation that one will be punished.

Mourning has the same symptoms except a loss of self-esteem.

The loss suffered can be of a real person or an idealized entity. For that reason, the patient sometimes does not know what s/he has lost. Unlike mourning (which involves a conscious sense of loss), melancholy can be related to the unconscious loss of a love object. What is puzzling and troubling about the melancholic is that the loss occupies him/her so strongly and virulently. The ego becomes poor and empty; the individual looses the desire to eat and the ability to sleep--indeed, the will to live. And the melancholic readily expresses his/her sense of lack to everyone.

This disfunction stems from the setting-off of one part of the ego against the other; one part judges and considers the other an object. Freud speaks here of the conscience (Gewissen). Above all the melancholic self has moral disdain for his/her self.

What is at work here is an act of displacement. The self-accusations are in fact applicable to someone else, to the person one loves, has loved, or ought to love--and whom one has lost. "The self-reproaches are reproaches against a loved object which has been shifted on to the patient's own ego."

The scenario operates like this: one has made an object choice and the libido has attached itself to a certain person or entity. This object relationship is destroyed for some reason. Rather than directing one's libidinal energy to another object, one abandons the object-cathexis. In the process one withdraws the free libido into the ego instead of directing itself to another object. "Thus the shadow of the object fell upon the ego, so that the latter could henceforth be criticized by a special mental faculty like an object, like the forsaken object." The loss of the object becomes transformed into a loss in the ego.

The self-torments of melancholics, which are without doubt pleasurable, signify a gratification of sadistic tendencies and of hate, both of which relate to an object and in this way have been turned round upon the self.

The sufferers usually take revenge via self-punishment, tormenting the original objects by means of this illness.

The melancholic's erotic cathexis of his/her object has a double aspect:

--part of it regresses to identification;

--the other part, under the influence of the conflict of ambivalence,

is reduced to the stage of sadism (which can mean acts of violence

against oneself which are really redirected acts of violence against

the loved/lost object in one's ego).
The causes of melancholia are of a much wider range than those of mourning (which is occasioned only by a real loss of the loved object). In melancholia, countless single conflicts in which love and hate wrestle together are fought for by the object; the one seeks to detach the libido from the object, the other to uphold this libido-position vs. assault. By taking flight into the ego, love escapes annihilation. After this regression of the libido, the process can become conscious; it appears in consciousness as a conflict between one part of the ego and its self-criticizing faculty.

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