Melancholia and depression, cont..

Freud also suggests that internal conflict due to ambivalence should be included among three preconditions of melancholia, together with the real or imaginary loss of a loved object, and the libidinal regression of the ego. From an interpersonal perspective, Coyne (1985) quoting Cohen et al. (1954), describes depression as a process of  ‘seeing others as objects to be manipulated for the purpose of receiving sympathy and reassurance, but also as seeing them as being critical, rejecting and ungenuine in their support’ (pp. 314-5). Here, ambivalent feelings of love and hate are directed to others, while resorting to depressive techniques of complaining and whining when the needs of the depressed one are not satisfied.

Such expressions can be understood as regressive and fixated; Freud suggests that ‘in accordance with the oral or cannibalistic phase of libidinal development’ the ego of the melancholic one regresses and wishes to possess the lost object by devouring it (p. 249). Taking into account Freud’s suggestion, attempts to ‘devour’ the lost object would contribute to further loss of the ego, with an increasing sense of emptiness and desperate hunger for psychic nourishment.

Elaborating further, such cannibalistic urges would be turned against one’s self, with severe depression appearing like an auto-cannibalistic process, during which one would be ‘eating’ oneself inside out. It can be also argued that such cycles would be hard to break though, given also the narcissistic tendencies involved with a pathological self-consumption and disconnection from the world, wrapped up in oneself like a helpless and ravenous baby.

In keeping with Freud, Abraham (1911, 1965) writes about the over-demanding aspects of the depressive orality, which suggests a fixation at the oral stage of development in light of ‘[t]he activity of nutrition …  the source of the particular meanings through which the object is expressed and organised…meanings of eating and being eaten.’ (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988: 287). Abraham (1924, 1965) proposes the oral-sadistic stage in which biting is experienced for the first time. ‘At this point incorporation has the meaning of destruction of the object, implying that ambivalence has come into play in the object-relationship’ (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988: 288).

In line with the above, Freud understands ‘the melancholic’s erotic cathexis in regard to his object’ having undergone ‘a double vicissitude: part of it has regressed to identification, but the other part, under the influence of the conflict due to ambivalence, has been carried back to the stage of sadism which is nearer to that conflict’ (pp. 251-2), and in the name of love, hate rises high:

‘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. The self-tormenting in melancholia, which is without doubt enjoyable…’ (Freud, 1917: 251).

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