Ego and Other in melancholia

 

Depression constitutes probably the most common psychological problem nowadays; two million people diagnosed as depressed each year in the U.K. are a part of an increasing human phenomenon (McKenzie, 2000). While it could be argued that the term ‘depression is now so widely used that it is almost meaningless’ (Cohn, 1997: 107), this very popularity of the word and its spectrum of interpretations and theories seem worthy of greater consideration.

Depression, from a clinical perspective, is basically understood as part of the medical model of prognosis, diagnosis and treatment with overall attempts to fit individual symptoms into preconceived theories. This paper focuses on Freud’s significant and influential 1917[1] study of Mourning & Melancholia[2], with the intention of exploring potential openings to interpersonal understandings of the presented, mainly intra-psychic, psychoanalytical theories on depression. Diverse interpersonal and socially-informed theories of melancholia are compared and contrasted to psychoanalytical ideas, attempting to explore the tensions between certain polarities: self and other, internal and external.

With his 1917 paper, Sigmund Freud moved implicitly from topographical to structural model, which described a more relational internal world (Smith, 1999). Strachey (1955: 242) also noted that what Freud regarded as the most important aspect of his paper was ‘its account of

the process by which in melancholia an object-cathexis is replaced by identification.’ Later in The Ego and the Id, Freud (1923b) argued that these regressive identifications are not restricted in depression, but form one’s personality; the earliest ones derived from the dissolution of the Oedipus complex would form the core of one’s super-ego.

[1] Unless quoted differently, all mentions to Freud’s theories in the following pages refer to his 1917e paper: ‘Mourning & Melancholia.’

[2] The terms ‘melancholia’ and ‘depression’ are being used interchangeably in this essay.

 

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