Melancholia and Freud, cont…

Furthermore, Freud argues that contrary to grieving a loss, in melancholia, the ego refuses to accept the loss, becomes infuriated and regresses to a narcissistic-sadistic level with oral drives, where aggression plays a central role. Following an ego split, part of it regresses further. Here Freud suggests that the lost object becomes an ego loss, through the process of identification of part of the ego with the object. These formulations, according  to Freud explain the internal hostility that is expressed in depression: aggression can not be expressed against the lost object but ‘[w]e see in him [the melancholic] one part of the ego sets itself against the other, judges it critically, and as it were, takes it as its object’ (p. 248). Online counselling and skype psychotherapy online.

The notion of aggression against one’s ego took a central place in Freud’s theories, agreeing also with another analyst of his time, Abraham (1911, 1965). However, later theorists have disputed its role; Birbing (1953) argues that depression appears free from any vicissitudes of aggression or oral drives. What he saw as rather fundamental in depression was ‘the ego’s shocking awareness of its helplessness in regards to its aspirations.’ According to Bibring (1953), depression happens when the person feels powerless to meet narcissistically important needs but, at the same time, unable to abandon such needs.  Regardless of their unconscious implications, Bibring (1953) put forward three main groups of rigidly narcissistic aspirations: 1) wishes to be worthy and loved against experiences of unworthiness, 2) wishes to be strong, superior and secure, opposed to experiences of weakness and insecurity and 3) wishes to be good and loving, against experiences of aggression, hate and destructiveness.

While Freud emphasised aggression against one’s ego, Bibring (1953) pointed out that depression relates to low self-esteem and guilt, following aggressive expressions against others and one’s self. But how a differentiation between self-hostility and aggression against others could take place? One answer to such an open question comes from Wessman et al. (1960) who suggested that relatively healthy individuals become outwardly hostile when depressed, whereas persons with more severe depressive tendencies were more likely to suppress or internalise this aggression.

According to Freud, internal hostility appear inevitable since ego identification with the loved and hated lost object takes place in depression. He writes about the ambivalence that seems central in depression and an underlying tendency towards narcissistic object choices. Psychoanalytically, ambivalence is seen as ‘the simultaneous existence of contradictory tendencies, attitudes or feelings in the relationship to a single object – especially the coexistence of love and hate’ (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988: 26). Such strong and opposing experiences, such as love and hate, appear to play a central role in depression. IMG_0051Searles (1956) sees vengefulness as an ego way to keep the lost object, as Becker elaborates: ‘to hate and to seek revenge is to create a continually present object’ (1985: 380).  If we take into account ego’s identification with what/whoever is lost, then hating oneself appears as way of being alive and staying in touch with self and the lost object. Paradoxically, it appears that wishes of avoiding loss, absence or nothingness would contribute to entrapment and disconnection from self and other, enhancing senses of loss and isolation. ‘[B]y taking flight into the ego love escapes extinction’ (Freud, 1917: 257), with a parallel and downward process of ego-extinction as the inevitable price of such desperate attempts. Love and hate seem like a black and white prison.