Self-Criticism: Adam Phillips

Adam Phillips, argues that self-criticism stems from our ambivalence towards ourselves. We all have mixed feelings about ourselves, but ambivalence goes beyond that. It’s about having opposing feelings that are dependent on each other. We might criticize ourselves because we’re frustrated with ourselves for not achieving something, but that frustration stems from a desire to succeed, which is a form of self-love.

I summarise here the lecture published on YouTube.

“Jacques Lacan famously remarked that there must surely be something ironic about Christ’s injunction to love thy neighbour as thyself, because actually people hate themselves.”

Christ’s Injunction and Self-Hate: Jacques Lacan observed the irony in Christ’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” since people fundamentally struggle with self-love. This highlights the complex nature of our relationship with ourselves.

 Adam Phillips argues that self-criticism stems from ambivalence – holding opposing feelings about ourselves that are intertwined. For example, criticizing ourselves for not achieving something might be fueled by an underlying desire for success (a form of self-love).

What is Ambivalence?

Ambivalence goes beyond simply liking some things about yourself and disliking others. It’s the experience of holding two strongly opposing feelings or attitudes towards a single object, situation, or even yourself. These feelings are not merely mixed; they coexist simultaneously and can feel conflicting.

A classic example is the love-hate relationship. You might love someone deeply, yet at times experience strong feelings of dislike or frustration towards them. Ambivalence makes these seemingly contradictory emotions both exist at the same time

The Paradox of Self-Criticism

“Self-criticism can be our most sadomasochistic way of loving ourselves.”

Self-criticism can be harsh and unrelenting, preventing us from moving forward from our mistakes. The lecture uses the super-ego concept from Freudian psychoanalysis to illustrate this point. The super-ego acts as our moral conscience, and it can be very critical and judgmental. This constant criticism from the super-ego is excessive.

What is the Superego?

In Freudian psychoanalysis, the superego is one of three parts of the personality (along with the id and the ego). The superego represents our internalized sense of morality, social rules, and ideals. It houses our conscience.

The superego develops during childhood as we internalize the rules, values, and expectations of our parents and society. It acts as a kind of watchful eye, constantly monitoring our behavior and thoughts against those ideals.

The Superego and Our Inner Critic

The superego, our internalized moral compass, is often the source of unrelenting self-criticism. Its constant judgments and unrealistic expectations fuel negativity.

“The super-ego is, like all propagandists, relentlessly repetitive.” The self-critical part of ourselves is incredibly narrowminded, with an impoverished vocabulary, and cruelly intimidating. It is the stuck record from the past, unimaginative.

  • Freudian Breakdown: In psychoanalysis, the superego has two parts:
    • The Ego Ideal: Our aspirations and positive self-image.
    • The Conscience: Source of guilt and shame when we violate internalized rules.
  • Unrealistic Critic: The superego’s ideals are often unattainable, leading to perpetual self-criticism. “The super-ego is, like all propagandists, relentlessly repetitive.”
  • Source of Our Inner Critic: Recognizing this helps us see our self-critical thoughts not as objective reality, but as the superego’s exaggerations.
  • The Never-Satisfied Voice: The superego is rarely satisfied, even when we achieve our goals. It constantly moves the goalpost, fueling an endless sense of inadequacy and the need for further self-critique.

Hamlet: A Case Study in Self-Doubt

  • Paralysis of Conscience: Phillips analyzes Hamlet’s relentless self-scrutiny and struggle with revenge to illustrate the destructive power of the inner critic. Hamlet’s conscience, fear, and desire for honor become obstacles to action.
  • “Conscience Does Make Cowards of Us All”: This famous line showcases how internal conflict can hinder decisive action, even when morally motivated.
  • The Superego at Work: Hamlet’s harsh self-judgment mirrors the superego’s exaggerated demands and constant punishment.

Limits of Being & Unforbidden Pleasures

Self-criticism is nothing if it does not define and over define the limits of being (Brian Cummings).

“Self-criticism is not a reliable way to understand ourselves.” While self-criticism may be negative, it also stems from a kind of self-love. Our critiques arise from the standards of conduct we have internalised, showing a twisted desire to improve ourselves.

Conscience makes something out of us. The superego claims to know the consequences of our actions.

“Self-criticism is an unforbidden pleasure.” Unlike many pleasures which are explicitly condemned by society (like certain desires or indulgences), self-criticism is readily available and even encouraged in some contexts. We are told to be humble, to always strive for improvement, and not to be overly self-satisfied.

While seemingly negative, Phillips suggests that self-criticism carries a perverse sort of pleasure. It can make us feel morally superior and provides a false sense of control over our shortcomings. There’s a satisfaction in wallowing in self-critique.

Our ambivalence towards ourselves can make even painful emotions feel familiar and comforting in their own way. Self-criticism, because it’s often a long-standing habit, can offer a distorted sense of safety.

While painful, our superego’s harsh pronouncements become intertwined with our sense of self. We might derive a strange pleasure from its constant critiques, even while wishing to silence them.

  • Self-Criticism Misleads: “Self-criticism is not a reliable way to understand ourselves.”
  • Twisted Self-Love: Ironically, our negativity stems from internalized standards, showing a desire to improve ourselves.
  • Pleasure in Pain: “Self-criticism is an unforbidden pleasure.” It’s readily available, morally acceptable, and offers a false sense of control and superiority.
  • The Superego as Narcissist: Our inner critic, with its repetitive critiques, focuses narrowly on our flaws, ignoring the bigger picture.


Hamlet, while contemplating suicide in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy, asks the pivotal question:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And by opposing, end them?”

In essence, Hamlet is questioning whether it is braver to endure the pain and suffering life inevitably brings or to end his own life.

Cowardice as a Theme

  • Fear of the Unknown: Hamlet’s fear isn’t physical pain but a deeper fear of the unknown – of death and potential suffering in the afterlife. This fear of what lies beyond life leads to inaction, which he associates with cowardice.
  • Conscience and Moral Cowardice: Hamlet’s conscience weighs heavily upon him. He sees inaction against his father’s murderer as a moral failing, a different kind of cowardice. His conscience, fueled by his desire to uphold his father’s memory and ideals, prevents him from rash action but also tortures him.
  • The Cowardice of Overthinking: Phillips might also suggest that Hamlet is trapped in a paralysis of excessive contemplation. Overthinking, questioning every motivation and potential outcome, becomes another form of cowardice, preventing him from taking decisive action.

“Conscience makes cowards of us all.” The cowardly part of ourselves is like a person who must not have a new experience.\

Self-criticism is a judgment without a jury. The self-criticism, if it weren’t useful for self correcting, is self-hypnosis. It is an order not a recommendation.

The superego is the supreme narcissist; it is a boring soliloquist with an audience of one.

What is self-criticism for?

  • Alternatives to self-criticism: The lecture suggests self-praise as an alternative to self-criticism. Instead of dwelling on our shortcomings, we should focus on celebrating our accomplishments. This can help us develop a more positive self-image. By praising ourselves, we challenge the negative judgments of our super-ego and cultivate a more compassionate inner voice.
  • Lacan’s view on self-criticism: The lecture also mentions Jacques Lacan, a Freudian psychoanalyst, who believed that people misunderstand Freud’s concept of love. According to Lacan, Freud saw stories about love, like the story of Christ, as a way to cover up our ambivalence. This ambivalence can manifest as self-criticism; we criticize ourselves out of a complex mix of love and hate for ourselves.
  • Befriending Our Conscience: He proposes: “If only we could catch our conscience like a fish or a criminal, and then befriend that part of ourselves…”
  • Alternative Selves within Us: He suggests psychoanalysis can help us realize, “…that fragmented, fragmentary repository of alternative selves that are like a troupe of actors. Not so much to get rid of any of them, but to see them for who they possibly are.”
  • The Limits of Traditional Psychoanalysis: Phillips acknowledges that not all psychoanalytic approaches are suitable. He critiques forms of psychoanalysis focused solely on uncovering a singular, hidden truth about ourselves, as this can sometimes reinforce a self-critical narrative.


Phillips’s viewpoint on psychoanalysis in addressing self-criticism:

  1. Understanding, not Eradicating, Our Inner Critic: Phillips advocates understanding the origin and function of our harsh inner critic rather than trying to simply eliminate it. By “befriending” our conscience, we can lessen its power over us.
  2. Discovering Inner Complexity: Central to his argument is that we are not a monolith. Psychoanalysis should help us discover multiple “selves” within us with varying motivations. This challenges the relentless narrative of our inner critic, leading to a more nuanced self-understanding.
  3. The Importance of Approach: Phillips highlights that choosing the right type of psychoanalysis matters. He favors approaches that value multiplicity and interpretation over uncovering a singular “real” self which the superego might latch onto in its critiques.

How This Connects to Self-Criticism

Phillips suggests psychoanalysis can help us:

  • Gain Agency: By understanding the origins of our inner critic, we realize it’s not an objective truth but a construct influenced by our past and unconscious dynamics. This knowledge gives us power to choose whether to listen to it or not.
  • Develop Self-Compassion: Recognizing the complexity of our inner world, including both positive and negative aspects, allows us to be gentler towards ourselves. We no longer see ourselves purely through the lens of the critical superego.
  • Shift Our Narrative: Psychoanalysis, when done well, offers alternative interpretations of our actions and motivations. This helps us develop a new, less self-critical story about ourselves.

What Is Self-Criticism For?

  • Alternatives Exist: Phillips promotes self-praise to counter negativity, cultivating a kinder inner voice.
  • Lacan on Love: Lacan saw stories of love as masking deeper ambivalence, which can manifest as self-criticism.
  • Psychoanalytic Solutions
    • Befriending the Critic: “If only we could catch our conscience like a fish or a criminal, and then befriend that part of ourselves…” Understanding the origins of our inner critic lessens its power.
    • Inner Complexity: “…that fragmented, fragmentary repository of alternative selves…” Psychoanalysis helps us see the multiple facets of ourselves, not just the flaws.
    • Choosing Wisely: Not all psychoanalytic approaches are helpful. Look for those that emphasize multiple perspectives rather than uncovering a singular negative truth.

My Comments

Maybe it’s my self-critic, and I am taking a bit of time to digest the contents of this lecture, before adding my input. I love Phillips’ writing and thoughts on the topic of self-criticism. The self-critic is a phenomenon in the therapy room that has got me feeling oftentimes stuck as a practitioner… What with two punishing super-egos in the therapeutic dyad! Listening to his lecture is like untangling a bunch of wires. I do, however, have evolving thoughts on this, and will write more in time… watch this space.


Phillips, A. (2014, May 13). Against self-criticism [Video]. YouTube.

Decoding Envy: Carveth

A Look at the Destructive and Creative Sides

Envy, a complex emotion often shrouded in secrecy, takes center stage in this video by Don Carveth. Carveth, a prominent figure in the field of psychoanalysis, delves into the nature of envy, exploring its destructive and constructive potential. By drawing on the works of Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein, he sheds light on the dynamics of this powerful emotion.

Defining Envy: Desire and the Other

Carveth opens the video with a straightforward definition of envy: “Envy is the wish to have something that you lack that another person seems to possess.” This definition highlights the core element of envy – a yearning for something another possesses, coupled with a sense of lack within oneself. Carveth emphasizes the presence of another person in the equation, differentiating envy from jealousy. “[Envy] involves two people,” he clarifies, “whereas jealousy involves three.”

Carveth illustrates the distinction using the Freudian concept of the Oedipus complex. In this complex, a young boy develops an unconscious desire for his mother and jealousy towards his father, whom he perceives as a rival for her affection. This scenario exemplifies the triangular dynamic of jealousy, where the envious person desires something (the mother’s love) that another person (the father) possesses.

The Two Faces of Envy: Destruction and Growth

Carveth then delves into the work of Melanie Klein, a prominent psychoanalyst who explored the dynamics of early childhood development. Klein proposed a fascinating, albeit controversial, perspective on envy. According to Carveth, Klein believed that “envy can be destructive and can lead to spoiling the envied person or object.” This destructive aspect of envy manifests when the envious individual, consumed by their desire, seeks to damage or diminish the envied person or object.

However, Klein also recognized a constructive side to envy. Carveth explains, “She [Klein] also acknowledged that envy can be constructive and can motivate people to improve themselves.” In this scenario, envy serves as a catalyst for personal growth. The desire to possess something another has can propel the individual to strive for improvement, to bridge the gap between their current state and the desired state.

The Cycle of Envy and Hate: A Controversial View

Carveth then delves into a contentious aspect of Kleinian theory. Klein suggested that when a person feels threatened by a “bad object” (something or someone perceived as harmful), they might turn to a “good object” (someone perceived as safe and loving) for comfort. However, according to Klein, this seeking of comfort can paradoxically lead to hatred directed at the good object. Carveth explains this concept: “They [the person] may also start to hate the good object because of its goodness.” This potentially creates a vicious cycle where the individual, trapped between envy and hatred, struggles to find solace.

Reframing the Narrative: Envy and Withholding

Carveth challenges Klein’s explanation for hating the good object. He proposes an alternative perspective: “They [the person] may hate the good object not because of its goodness, but because they perceive it as withholding something from them.” This reframing suggests that the hatred stems not from the good object’s inherent qualities, but from a perceived lack of fulfillment. The individual feels the good object is not providing them with what they desire, leading to frustration and resentment.

Carveth’s alternative explanation resonates with the idea of envy as a desire for something lacking. If the good object is perceived as withholding the desired object, it becomes a target for the envious person’s negative emotions. This perspective underscores the importance of clear communication and addressing underlying needs within relationships to prevent the buildup of envy and resentment.

The Antidote to Envy: Cultivating Gratitude

Carveth concludes the video on a hopeful note, introducing the concept of gratitude as a potential antidote to envy. He emphasizes, “Gratitude can be a helpful antidote to envy. If we can be grateful for what we have, we will be less likely to envy others.” By cultivating an attitude of gratitude, we shift our focus from what we lack to appreciating what we possess. This shift in perspective can foster contentment and reduce the sting of envy.

Carveth’s video offers a thought-provoking exploration of envy, highlighting its destructive and constructive potential. By understanding the dynamics of envy, we can learn to manage this complex emotion and cultivate a more fulfilling and grateful approach to life.

Carveth: Psychoanalytic Perspective of Anxiety

This blog post is based on a video by Don Carveth titled “ANXIETY” uploaded on August 7th, 2018. In the video, Carveth discusses anxiety from a psychoanalytic perspective, drawing on the works of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, and other prominent figures in the field.

Unrecognized and Repressed Anger: A Common Thread in Anxiety

Carveth begins by highlighting the prevalence of anger among individuals struggling with anxiety, which often goes unrecognized and repressed. He argues that therapists often misinterpret anxiety as stemming from past trauma, overlooking the possibility that it might be a defense mechanism against unwanted anger.

Freud’s Evolving Theories of Anxiety

Carveth then delves into Freud’s early theory of anxiety, which he calls the “toxicological theory.” This theory proposes that anxiety arises from dammed-up libido, or sexual energy. Carveth explains that Freud later abandoned this theory and instead came to view anxiety as a product of repressed emotions, specifically focusing on two types of anxiety:

  • Traumatic anxiety (or automatic anxiety): This type of anxiety stems from feelings of helplessness and overwhelm in the face of a traumatic situation. Carveth uses the example of a newborn experiencing the trauma of birth.

“According to Freud’s ‘toxicological theory,’ anxiety arises from dammed-up libido, or sexual energy,” Carveth explains. “However, he later abandoned this theory and instead came to view anxiety as a product of repressed emotions.”

  • Signal anxiety: This type of anxiety serves as a warning signal of an impending danger, prompting the individual to take action to avoid it.

Challenging the Notion of Birth Trauma as the Sole Cause of Anxiety

Carveth critiques the work of Otto Rank, who believed that all anxiety could be traced back to the trauma of birth. Carveth argues against this notion, emphasizing that while the birth experience may be a prototype for anxiety, it is not the sole cause.

“While the birth experience may be a prototype for anxiety, it is not the sole cause,” Carveth argues.

The Superego’s Role in Anxiety and Guilt

The video then explores the concept of the superego and its role in generating anxiety and guilt. Carveth distinguishes between the superego and the conscience, explaining that the superego is punitive and judgmental, while the conscience fosters concern for others. He argues that repressing anger can lead to the development of a harsh superego, which manifests as persecutory anxiety and guilt.

“Repressing anger can lead to the development of a harsh superego, which manifests as persecutory anxiety and guilt,” Carveth argues.

Existential Anxiety: The Burden of Freedom

Carveth concludes the video by discussing the existential perspective on anxiety. He acknowledges the burden of freedom and the inherent anxieties associated with it. He argues that attempting to escape these anxieties through various means, such as seeking external guidance or numbing oneself through medication, is ultimately counterproductive. Instead, he emphasizes the importance of facing and accepting existential anxieties as part of the human condition.

“Existential anxiety is a product of the burden of freedom,” Carveth concludes. “Attempting to escape these anxieties is counterproductive. Instead, we must face and accept them as part of the human condition.”

A Thought-Provoking Exploration of Anxiety

Overall, Carveth’s video offers a thought-provoking exploration of anxiety from a psychoanalytic lens. He challenges traditional interpretations of anxiety and emphasizes the significance of recognizing and processing repressed emotions, particularly anger, in the therapeutic process.

It is important to note that this blog post summarizes the key points from the video but does not substitute for watching the entire video, which provides a more nuanced and detailed discussion of the topic.

I hope this blog post summary provides a helpful introduction to the key ideas explored in Don Carveth’s video on anxiety. If you want to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to watch the entire video.

Bassat: Linking Immunology with Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy

The groundbreaking metaphor of “the body keeps the score,” found in trauma research, aligns seamlessly with Bassat’s article exploring the profound impact of embryonic experiences on human development. Her work underscores the convergence of modern biological research with earlier theoretical and clinical insights into primitive mental anxieties, explored by pioneers like Tustin in the 1980s.

Bassat emphasizes that from conception, the human embryo faces a biological challenge: overcoming the mother’s immune system to implant in the uterine lining. This process lays the foundation for what Bassat terms a “neuro-immuno-psychoanalytic” discourse, revealing how the formative experiences of embryonic life shape both our psychological and physiological makeup.

Building on this concept, Bassat references authors like Wilfred Bion, who posited a link between autism and immune system dysfunction during early pregnancy. She further explores the idea that adverse environmental factors in the prenatal period can evoke unbearable states of dread within the fetus, disrupting psychological development and leading to the formation of autistic defenses.

Bassat redefines autistic states as psychophysical protective reactions rooted in bodily sensations rather than solely psychodynamic defense mechanisms. The overwhelming sense of vulnerability and threat experienced in the pre-verbal stage can lead to profound anxieties: a dread of annihilation, disintegration, a sense of boundlessness, or the absence of a safe, containing presence. This bodily experienced terror is not susceptible to rationalization.

Consequently, the autistic infant may resort to clinging behaviors, fixating on autistic objects or shapes. They experience a profound terror of separateness, which equates to a fear of death in their perception.

The author describes how the immune system, with its function of recognizing and responding to ‘self’ vs. ‘non-self’, mirrors the mental processes that determine our sense of individuality and connection with others.

As a psychotherapist with a background in biochemistry and microbiology, I find Bassat’s work both fascinating and deeply resonant. Her writings illuminate the profound impact of prenatal development on psychological wellbeing. Clinically, we frequently encounter clients with deep-rooted anxieties, dread, emptiness, irrational fears, and uncontrollable compulsions – states resistant to rationalization or traditional talk therapy.

These psychophysiological states defy cognitive resolution because their origins lie in pre-verbal trauma. Such experiences, occurring before language acquisition, cannot be consciously recalled. Many psychotherapists recognize the importance of physical presence, movement, and aesthetic connection alongside verbal processing. Metaphors and imagery often prove more potent than purely rational problem-solving in talk therapy.

The Podcast

Episode 129: From Immunology to Psychoanalysis: Reflections on Primitive Mental States with Shiri Ben Bassat (Tel Aviv)

MARCH 4, 2023 00:45:21

The Psychoanalytic Case study

This podcast case study @26:42 is compelling for several reasons. Firstly, it documents the author’s initial case as a psychoanalyst, highlighting the challenges and rewards of working with a child diagnosed with autism and psychosis. The dedication of both the analyst and the child’s adoptive mother to persisting through the child’s violent reactions to therapy demonstrates remarkable commitment. Additionally, the therapist’s innovative use of movement as an embodied mode of communication aligns with psychoanalytic theory, showcasing a thoughtful and adaptable approach within this framework.

In her paper, Bassat (2021) writes: “

  1. I created a stable, consistent setting of five sessions a week at a regular hour – a
    concrete action- needed to rebuild a functional container that would hold her, while
    also remaining flexible and changing, allowing her to take objects from the room
    (Quinodoz, 1992).
  2. I cultivated an accepting and total presence – offering the room, my body, and my
    internal objects so that they could be invaded and even destroyed. I thus enabled her
    to destroy my books, scrawl on my walls, bite me, dribble, and leave behind a
    destroyed, chaotic room – only to re-encounter it in a clean, orderly state upon her
    return. My internal objects had similarly been attacked and injured by evoking
    unbearable memories of my own personal traumas. I understood to what extent Yael’s unrepresented traumas were destructive and painful, in need of a mother-analyst womb to be contained in as Klein’s notion that our consulting rooms are equated, in the unconscious, with the maternal body (1961)
  3. An extensive use of a live, active presence and reparation in action (Alvarez, 1992,
    Pollak, 2009) aimed to distinguish and connect bodily functions, inside and outside,
    self and object, and different emotional states. So, by standing behind the wall to
    concretely separate myself from her, darkening the room, remaining silent, averting
    my gaze, and attempting not to breathe, I was trying to prevent the exterior world
    from intruding while she was still unready. Later, I helped her to envelop herself in
    tape so that she would feel less disintegrated.”

Further reading on Immunology and Psychotherapy

This podcast covers the following topics that warrant specialization and inspires further study:

Epigenetic link to Object Relations

Martin, S. (2014) R. Yehuda, N.P. Daskalakis, A. Lehrner, F. Desarnaud, H.N. Bader, I. Makotkine, J.D. Flory, L.M. Bierer, & M.J. Meaney (2014). Influences of maternal and paternal PTSD on epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor gene in Holocaust survivor offspring. American Journal of Psychiatry 171:872-880.

Karla Ramirez , Rosa Fernández , Sarah Collet , Meltem Kiyar Enrique Delgado-Zayas , Esther Gómez-Gil , Tibbert Van Den Eynde , Guy T’Sjoen , Antonio Guillamon , Sven C Mueller , Eduardo Pásaro (2021) Epigenetics Is Implicated in the Basis of Gender Incongruence: An Epigenome-Wide Association Analysis. Front Neurosci Aug 19; 15:701017

Primitive Anxieties

Durban, J. (2019) ““Making a person”: Clinical considerations regarding the interpretation of anxieties in the analyses of children on the autisto-psychotic spectrum” The International Journal of Psychoanalysis 100:5, 921-939.

Prenatal and Postnatal Influence on the Psyche

Meltzer, D. & Williams, M. H. (1988) 2. Aesthetic Conflict: It’s Place in the Developmental Process. The Apprehension of Beauty: The Role of Aesthetic Conflict in Development, Art, and Violence 146:7-33

Bion, W. R. (1976) “On a quotation from Freud.” In Clinical Seminars and Four Papers, Ed. F. Bion. Abingdon: Fleetwood Press, 1987.

Joanna Wilheim (2004) The trauma of conception. Presented at a Meeting of the Brazilian Society of Psychoanalysis of São Paulo (SBPSP) on October 7, 2004.

Trnsformation of the mother’s immune system. Mandelboim, O. et al’ (2006). Decidual NK cells regulate key developmental processes at the human fetal-maternal interface. Nature Medicine 12: 1065 – 1074.


Bassat, S.B. (2021). “War in times of love”- Prenatal cell relations as a prototype of
autistic anxieties, defenses and object relations. Paper that won the 24th Frances Tustin Memorial Prize, 2021. Tel Aviv University, November 5th, 2021. Download pdf.

The Psychodynamic Diagnostic Process: Nancy McWilliams

This lecture by Nancy McWilliams delves into the intricacies of psychodynamic diagnosis, exploring the complexities beyond the DSM and offering insights into therapeutic approaches for various personality types. Here’s a summary of key points with timestamps for your reference:

Levels of Personality Functioning (1:00):

  • McWilliams emphasizes the importance of considering different levels of personality functioning, ranging from high-functioning to psychotic.
  • High-functioning (neurotic to healthy): Individuals exhibit good attachment security, engage in reflective thinking, and can manage complex emotions.(1:00)
  • Borderline: Characterized by intense emotions, unstable relationships, and difficulty tolerating frustration. Therapists need to set clear boundaries and provide consistent support. (2:00)
  • Psychotic: Individuals grapple with severe anxiety and may experience delusions or hallucinations. Treatment focuses on symptom management and building a sense of safety. (3:00)

DSM vs. Psychodynamic Approach (4:00):

  • McWilliams critiques the limitations of the DSM, arguing that it overemphasizes categorical diagnoses and neglects individual context and complexity.
  • Psychodynamic diagnosis, in contrast, considers a person’s history,temperament, defense mechanisms, and attachment patterns to provide a richer understanding. (5:00)

Therapeutic Considerations for Different Personalities (6:00):

  • Obsessive-compulsive: Helping them find healthier ways to manage anxiety and intrusive thoughts, rather than focusing on eliminating obsessions entirely. (6:00)
  • Depressive: Exploring the underlying causes of their self-criticism and encouraging them to develop healthier coping mechanisms. (7:00)
  • Self-defeating: Recognizing the pattern of seeking help while sabotaging progress, and setting clear boundaries to prevent manipulation. (8:00)

Qualities of a Good Therapist (50:00):

  • Caring and empathetic: Building a genuine connection with the patient is crucial for effective therapy.
  • Humble and willing to learn: Therapists should be open to feedback and continuously seek to improve their skills.
  • Interested in the patient: A genuine curiosity about the patient’s experiences fosters a deeper understanding and better treatment.

McWilliams emphasizes the importance of individualizing therapy based on a patient’s unique personality and level of functioning. By moving beyond the limitations of the DSM and adopting a psychodynamic approach, therapists can provide more effective and meaningful support.

Note: This summary provides a brief overview of key points. For a more comprehensive understanding, watching the full lecture is recommended.

Freud and Fiction: The Psychological Thinking about Literature

Thought and speech are constituted by language. The medium of our consciousness, also known as our psyche, can be understood from verbal thought, as Lacan says, “the unconscious is structured like a language.”

In this blog, I re-post an interesting lecture “Introduction to Theory of Literature ” by Fry (2009). Fry talks about the essay of Peter Brook, “Freud’s Masterplot: a Model for Narrative”, a chapter in his book, “Reading for Plot, Design and Intention in Narrative“. From this essay the psychological meaning of discourse is developed and discussed.

Brooks on Jakobson and de Man

Plot vs. the Story: The Plot, which Brooks calls, syuzhet  in Russian. The story, fabula, it is the subject matter out of which the plot is made.

Metaphor and Metonymy: 

Metaphor unifies, brings together different ideas, situations.

Metonymy brings things together “by a recognizable gesture toward contiguity but which nevertheless does not make any claim or pretension to unify or establish identity” — without unifying. Metonymy is a figure of speech which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept.

Reading Jakobson and de Man, Brooks helps us understand the terms described to us above.  In Brooks’ essay, “Freud’s Masterplot,” the that the framework for argument is psychoanalytic and that the author is draws primarily from the text of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

On Freud

In this essay Brooks takes from Freud is the idea of structure. The idea that the unconscious is structured like a language. Hence in psychoanalysis is considered a “talking cure”, in which the unconscious is revealed via narrating and free association. “Talking cure” was first coined in the case of Anna O.

In terms of creating fictional plots, in terms of the nature of fiction, which is what interests Brooks–well, what does this mean?

Aristotle tells us that a plot has a beginning, a middle and an end. It seems almost logical, but we should consider this … A beginning, of course–well, it has to have a beginning and it has to have an end… but why does it have a middle? What is the function of the middle with respect to a beginning and an end? Why does Aristotle say, that a plot should have a certain magnitude? Why shouldn’t it be shorter? Why shouldn’t it be longer?

What does the middle have to do with the necessary connection with the beginning and the end, in such a way that resolves a kind of logic that makes the story worth being?  How does all this work? Brooks believes that he can understand it in psychoanalytic terms.

From Freud’s  The Interpretation of Dreams, Brook finds the methodological idea that text can be “mechanized”.

The central two mechanisms of the dream work are simultaneously:

  1. Condensation : takes essential symbols of the dream and distills them into a kind of over-determined unit, so that one can see the underlying desires and wishes expressed in a dream, manifest in a particular symbolic unity.
  2. Displacement: essential symbols of the dream, the way a dream attempts to manifest that which it desires, are not  expressed in themselves but are displaced into obscurely related ideas or images or symbols.

Displacement is a detour of understanding. Condensation is a distillation of understanding. SIMULTANEOUSLY.

Jacques Lacan probably noticed that the work in every day discourse, and also in our dreams, and our narratives, can be understood as operating through these two mechanisms, condensation and displacement.

Condensation is metaphorical in nature, and displacement metonymic in nature. Metonymy is delaying, and a “différance of signification”– or deferring to a later time. Metaphor is in trying to bring together meaning “in a statement of identity of the discourse that’s attempting to articulate itself”, bringing together identity, “affirmation of resemblance”.

So we can see how Brooks combines Freud’s structure in the interpretation of dreams, showing its correlation with Jakobson and de Man’s structure of literature.  Brooks is not interested in the psychogenesis of the author, nor the characters.

The text is not there to tell us about the author or the character. The text is alive, to express desire, put in motion. The structure of the text is there to manifest desire. Freud has a particular desire to fulfill a desire for reduced excitation. can be associate the death wish as the reduction of excitation.

Brooks’ Departure from Freudian Criticism

Brook is taking a different angle with his essay by not getting involved in freudian criticism nor does he talk about how freudian ideas are used in literature.  

“I would remind you in passing that although we don’t pause over traditional Freudian criticism in this course, it can indeed be extremely interesting: just for example, Freud’s disciple, Ernest Jones, wrote an influential study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which he showed famously that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex. Think about the play. You’ll see that there’s a good deal in what Jones is saying; and in fact, famously in the history of the staging and filming of Shakespeare–as you probably know, Sir Laurence Olivier took the role of Hamlet under the influence of Ernest Jones. In the Olivier production of Hamlet, let’s just say made it painfully clear in his relations with Gertrude that he had an Oedipus complex. Again, there were actual sort of literary texts written directly under the influence of Freud. One thinks of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, for example, in which the central character, Paul Morel, is crippled by an Oedipus complex that he can’t master and the difficulties and complications of the plot are of this kind.”

“Moving closer to the present, an important figure in literary theory, Harold Bloom, can be understood to be developing in his theories of theoretical text, beginning with The Anxiety of Influence, a theory of the author–that is to say, a theory that is based on the relationship between belated poets and their precursors, which is to say a relationship between sons and fathers. So there is a certain pattern in–and of course, I invoke this pattern in arguing that Levi-Strauss‘ version of the Oedipus myth betrays his Oedipus complex in relation to Freud. Plainly, Freudian criticism with these sorts of preoccupations is widespread, continues sometimes to appear, and cannot simply be discounted or ignored as an influence in the development of thinking about literature or of the possibilities of thinking about literature.”

The text is there to express desire, to put in motion, and to make manifest desire or a desire. Brooks says that he has a particular desire in mind.

The structure of the text, or the way in which the text functions is to fulfill a desire for reduced excitation.  This means that the desire which can be associated with the pleasure principle in sexual terms and can be associated with the idea of the death wish that Freud develops in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

In these ways Brooks understands the structure, the delay, the arabesque, or postponement of the end.

Within the text there involves a kind of coexistence between the possibility through “desire of reducing excitation, being excited, and reducing excitation.”

Dreams and stories don’t just express this desire; they also delay it.

Many of the dreams we have are neither exciting, and are tedious. Fiction, as art, has structure, and is thus precisely designed to create delay to a desired degree but not unduly beyond that degree.

Middle of fiction involve this process of delay, they seem also to revisit un-pleasurable things.  The experiences that constitute the middles have a tendency to un-pleasurable. The middles are not un-interesting, but they are page turners because they reflect un-pleasant episodes… which we seem to be fascinated with.

Why, in other words, return to what isn’t fun, to where it isn’t pleasure, and what can this possibly have to do with the pleasure principle?

Beyond the Pleasure Principle

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle,  Freud considers the phenomena experienced with trauma victims. Written at the end of the First World War,  many of the contemporary books written in that time dealt with the subject of war experiences: Virginia’s Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, that her treatment of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway is a treatment of a traumatized war victim and Rebecca West, wrote one in particular called The Return of the Soldier, the protagonist of which is also a traumatized war victim. It seemed to be the theme of the period and Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle contributes to this theme.

Brooks himself likes to refer to the text of Beyond the Pleasure Principle as itself a master plot–in other words as having a certain fictive character, like The Return of the Soldier or Mrs. Dalloway.

Freud begins by saying, “The weird thing about these trauma victims whom I have had in my office is that in describing their dreams and even in their various forms of neurotic repetitive behavior, they seem compulsively to repeat the traumatic experience that has put them in the very predicament that brought them to me. In other words, they don’t shy away from it. They don’t in any strict sense repress it. They keep compulsively going back to it. Why is that? How can that possibly be a manifestation of the only kind of drives I had ever thought existed up until the year 1919, namely drives that we can associate in one way or another with pleasure–with the pleasure principle, obviously; with a sort of implicit sociobiological understanding that the protraction of life is all about sexual reproduction and that the displacement or inhibition of the direct drives associated with that take the form of the desire to succeed, the desire to improve oneself, and the desire to become more complex emotionally and all the rest of it? All of this we can associate with the pleasure principle. How does this compulsion to return to the traumatic event in any way correspond to or submit itself to explanation in terms of the pleasure principle?”

“The Aim of All Life is Death”

The compulsion to repeat, manifests itself in adults in various forms of neurotic behavior.  We can think of it in terms of effort at mastery of something, like a rehearsal of the inevitability of death. The trauma of death which awaits and which has been heralded by traumatic events in one’s life, a near escape: for example, in a train accident or whatever the case may be. So Freud in developing his argument eventually comes to think that the compulsion to repeat has something to do with a kind of repeating forward of an event which is in itself unnarratable: the event of death, which is of course that which ultimately looms.

Freud’s argument is that there is somehow in us a compulsion or a desire, a drive, to return–like going home again or going back to the womb to return to that inanimate state. “The aim of all life,” he then says, “is death.”

Brooks says:

We need at present to follow Freud into his closer inquiry concerning the relation between the compulsion to repeat and the instinctual. The answer lies in “a universal attribute of instinct and perhaps of organic life in general,” that “an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things.“…

This function [of the drives] is concerned “with the most universal endeavor of all living substance–namely to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world.”

But there’s a reason as to why novels are long: “not too long, not too short, but of a certain length–of a certain magnitude, as Aristotle puts it.”

The organism doesn’t just want to die. The organism is not suicidal. That’s a crucial mistake that we make when we first try to come to terms with what Freud means by “the death wish.” The organism wants to die on its own terms, which is why it has an elaborate mechanism of defenses–“the outer cortex,” as Freud is always calling it–attempting to withstand, to process, and to keep at arm’s length the possibility of trauma. You blame yourself as a victim of trauma for not having the sufficient vigilance in your outer cortex to ward it off. Part of the compulsion to repeat is, in a certain sense–part of the hope of mastery in the compulsion to repeat is to keep up the kind of vigilance which you failed to have in the past and therefore fail to ward it off.

According to Freud, the organism wants to evolve toward its dissolution.

So there is this tension in the organism between evolving to its end and being modified prematurely toward an end, a modification which in terms of fiction would mean you wouldn’t have a plot, right? You might have a beginning, but you would have a sudden cutting off that prevented the arabesque of the plot from developing and arising.

Now what Brooks argues following Freud is that to this end, the creating of an atmosphere in which with dignity and integrity… this is where the pleasure principle and the death wish cooperate.

Hence Freud is able to proffer, with a certain bravado, the formulation: “the aim of all life is death.” We are given an evolutionary image of the organism in which the tension created by external influences has forced living substance to “diverge ever more widely from its original course of life and to make ever more complicated détours before reaching its aim of death.” In this view, the self-preservative instincts function to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death, to ward off any ways of returning to the inorganic which are not imminent to the organism itself. In other words, “the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion.” It must struggle against events (dangers) which would help to achieve its goal too rapidly–by a kind of short-circuit.

… [W]e could say that the repetition compulsion and the death instinct serve the pleasure principle; in a larger sense [though], the pleasure principle, keeping watch on the invasion of stimuli from without and especially from within, seeking their discharge, serves the death instinct, making sure that the organism is permitted to return to quiescence.

Two differing drives coexist in the developing and enriching of the good plot.

The problem in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is that it’s awfully hard to keep death and sex separate. The reduction of excitation is obviously something that the pleasure principle is all about. The purpose of sex is to reduce excitation, to annul desire. The purpose of death, Freud argues, is to do the same thing.

For example,  the compulsion to repeat nasty episodes, to revisit trauma, and to repeat the un-pleasurable.  It could be called something which is a kind of pleasure and which therefore could be subsumed under the pleasure principle and would obviate the need for a theory of the death drive as Freud develops it in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

As with the plot: desire emerges or begins as the narratable.

What is the unnarratable? The unnarratable is that immersion in our lives such that there is no sense of form or order or structure. Anything is unnarratable if we don’t have a sense of a beginning, a middle, and an end to bring to bear on it. The narratable, in other words, must enter into a structure. So the beginning, which is meditated on by Sartre’s Roquentin in La Nausee and quoted to that effect by Brooks. The narratable begins in this moment of entry into that pattern of desire that launches a fiction. We have speculated on what that desire consists in, and so the narratable becomes a plot and the plot operates through metaphor, which unifies the plot, which shows the remarkable coherence of all of its parts.

In narrative theory there’s no such thing in fiction as irrelevant detail. Nothing is there by accident. The nature of the underlying desire that’s driving the plot forward; but on the other hand, metonymy functions as the principle of delay, the detour, the arabesque, the refusal of closure; the settling upon bad object choice and other unfortunate outcomes, the return of the unpleasurable–all the things that happen in the structure of “middles” in literary plots. The plot finally binds material together, and both metaphor and metonymy are arguably forms of binding. Brooks says:

To speak of “binding” in a literary text is thus to speak of any of the formalizations (which, like binding, may be painful, retarding) that force us to recognize sameness within difference, or the very emergence of a sjužetfrom the material of fabula.

Tony the Tow Truck Revisited

Tony the Tow Truck. I would suggest that in the context of Beyond the Pleasure Principle we could re-title Tony the Tow Truck as The Bumpy Road to Maturity. It certainly has the qualities of a picaresque fiction. It’s on the road, as it were, and the linearity of its plot–the way in which the plot is like beads on a string, which tends to be the case with picaresque fiction, and which by the way is also a metonymic aspect of the fiction–lends the feeling of picturesque to the narrative. Quickly to reread it–I know that you all have it glued to your wrists, but in case you don’t, I’ll reread it:

I am Tony the Tow Truck. I live in a little yellow garage. I help cars that are stuck. I tow them to my garage. I like my job. One day I am stuck. Who will help Tony the Tow Truck? “I cannot help you,” says Neato the Car. “I don’t want to get dirty.” “I cannot help you [see, these are bad object choices, right?],” says Speedy the Car. “I am too busy.” I am very sad. Then a little car pulls up. It is my friend, Bumpy. Bumpy gives me a push. He pushes and pushes [by the way, this text, I think, is very close to its surface a kind of anal-phase parable. In that parable, the hero is not Tony in fact but a character with whom you are familiar if you’re familiar with South Park, and that character is of course the one who says, “He pushes and pushes…”] and I am on my way.” [In any case that is part of the narrative, and then:] “Thank you, Bumpy,” I call back. “You’re welcome,” says Bumpy. Now that’s what I call a friend.

So that’s the text of Tony the Tow Truck. Now we’ve said that it’s picaresque. We can think in terms of repetition, obviously, as the delay that sets in between an origin and an end. We’ve spoken of this in this case as–well, it’s the triadic form of the folk tale that Brooks actually mentions in his essay; but it is, in its dilation of the relationship of beginning and end, a way of reminding us precisely of that relation. He comes from a little yellow garage. The question is, and a question which is perhaps part of the unnarratable, is he going back there? We know he’s on his way, but we don’t know, if we read it in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, whether he’s on his way back to the little yellow garage or whether–and there’s a premonition of this in being stuck, in other words in having broken down–whether he’s on his way to the junkyard.

In either case, the only point is that he will go to either place because the little yellow garage is that from which he came; in either case–little yellow garage or junkyard–he’s going to get there on his own terms, but not as a narcissist and not as the person who begins every sentence in the first part of the story with the word “I,” because you can’t just be an autonomous hero. On your journey, and this is also true of the study of folklore, you need a helper. That’s part of fiction. You need another hero. You need a hero to help you, and having that hero, encountering the other mind as helper, is what obviates the tendency, even in a nice guy like Tony, toward narcissism which is manifest in the “I,” “I,” “I” at the beginning of the story. Notice that then the “I” disappears, not completely but wherever it reappears it’s embedded rather than initial. It is no longer, in other words, that which drives the line in the story. So the arabesque of the plot, as I say, is a matter of encountering bad object choices and overcoming them: neatness, busyness–choices which, by the way, are on the surface temptations. We all want to be neat and busy, don’t we? But somehow or another it’s not enough because the otherness, the mutuality of regard that this story wants to enforce as life–as life properly lived–is not entailed in and of itself in neatness and busyness. Resolution and closure, then, is mature object choice and in a certain sense there, too, it’s a push forward, but we don’t quite know toward what. We have to assume, though, in the context of a reading of this kind that it’s a push toward a state in which the little yellow garage and the unnarratable junkyard are manifest as one and the same thing.

Now as metonymy, the delays we have been talking about, the paratactic structure of the way in which the story is told–all of those, and the elements of repetition, are forms that we recognize as metonymic, but there’s something beyond that at the level of theme. This is a story about cars. This is a story about mechanical objects, some of which move–remember those smiling houses in the background–and some of which are stationary, but they’re all mechanical objects. They’re all structures. In other words, they’re not organic. This is a world understood from a metonymic point of view as that which lacks organicity, and yet at the same time the whole point of the story is thematically metaphoric. It is to assert the common humanity of us all: “That’s what I call a friend.” The whole point of so many children’s stories, animal stories, other stories like this, The Little Engine that Could, and so on is to humanize the world: to render friendly and warm and inviting to the child the entire world, so that Tony is not a tow truck–Tony’s a human being, and he realizes humanity in recognizing the existence of a friend. The unity of the story, in other words, as opposed to its metonymic displacements through the mechanistic, is the triumphant humanization of the mechanistic and the fact that as we read the story, we feel that we are, after all, not in mechanical company but in human company.

That’s the effect of the story and the way it works. In terms of the pleasure principle then, life is best in a human universe and in terms of–well, in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the whole point of returning to an earlier state, the little yellow garage or junkyard, is to avert the threat that one being stuck will return to that junkyard prematurely or along the wrong path.

What is interesting?

Narratives are interesting. We compulsively repeat the unpleasant, return to the un-pleasurable… why? In order to gain mastery of what might otherwise be a moment of helplessness in the face of traumatic experiences. I am not sure if it is a death-wish as much as a defying of death. It is as if repeating the event is a means of making “banal” that which has caused so much “excitement” in the form of anxiety. 

As in psychotherapy, patients with psychological issues talk away their suffering. How does the talk do this? Talking or narrating, is a form of repeating unpleasant events. It is not the mere talking about something, but talking to someone who is listening. If there are more people listening, the healing effect gets better.

There is also an effect of hearing another person’s narrative on the listener. The listener is touched by the unpleasant narrative of the other. There is a vicarious effect (something to do with our mirror neurons) and our sense for empathy. Hearing another’s narrative, has a spiritual effect on the listener. This is the reason why we are drawn to such stories and narratives, of plots in literature.  NIk


Brooks, P. (1992). Reading for the plot: Design and intention in narrative. Harvard University Press. p. 90. 

Fry, P. (2009). Introduction to Theory of Literature. Lecture retrieved from:

Kernberg Model of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Diagnostic definitions for Narcissistic Personality Disorders (NPDs) are important to clinicians for communicating and understanding the symptoms laid out before them through the phenomenon of the patients. Diagnostic criteria recorded in the DSM IV which is used as provisional criteria in the ICD 10 are qualitative in nature, describing 9 traits and behaviors of which 5 have to be observable in the individual in order for the individual to be diagnosed positively for the personality disorder.

When accessing the severity of the consequence of the dysfunctional behavior of the individual, the use of this criteria in the DSM falls short. This is due to the fact that the same weightage seems to be implied for all criteria while some criteria e.g. “interpersonally exploitative; takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends” are more destructive to society as a whole as “requires excessive admiration”. From the 2 criteria mentioned one can also see that they are interrelated.

The psychodynamic theory of personality of which a the contribution and influence of Kernberg –whose own roots are in Kleinian theory (Klein, 1957)— is well understood and cited in contemporary literature (Carveth, 2016).

Kernberg’s dimensional model for personality disorders provides a means for us to differentiate the concept of different disorders in relation to the other (Fig.1). In that diagram we can se how NPD belongs to a triad, also called the dark triad, which is continuum of severity in disruption of social function associated with the disorder. Kernberg, in his publications (Kernberg, 2008), also provides us with useful information for differentiating people/adolescents who show antisocial behaviors, if these behaviors are the result of the NPD spectrum, or if it is the result of neurotic defenses and/or social pressures of growing up – of which the latter has better prognosis.

The “dark triad” in NPD – Differentiation Summary

Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), being the most pathological in the NPD spectrum, constitutes marked distortion, deterioration, or absence of the superego system. These patients have a syndrome of “identification with the aggressor”, and live in an internal world of violence. There is a lack of any good, reliable object relations since these individuals tend to consider the good as weak and unreliable. They respond to disappointment with rage and hatred, which is born out painful state of envy. The paranoid orientation of the APD individual makes it impossible for empathic contact with others (ibid. p. 132).

Patients with syndrome of Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder (MNPD) display also antisocial behaviors, paranoid traits and egosyntonic aggression directed at self and others, but without total destruction of the superego functions. The patient has and violent, grandiose self, that has the capacity to idealize significant powerful people, and can themselves depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images. They therefore do have a capacity for loyalty. “Justified indignation” is the justified violence against self and others (ibid. p. 133).

Patients with NPD have the least severe form of pathological narcissism in the triad. There is a certain degree of superego evolution. There is the grandiose self, and the predominating need to protect its integrity. The patient is however able to recognize good aspects of others that they envy and want to incorporate. Antisocial behavior in these individuals reflect the egosyntonic, rationalized entitlement and greed of the grandiose self (ibid. p. 134).


NPD is something we cannot escape from, since the prevalence of the condition is not getting smaller. Societies in the industrialized world support and reward the narcissists. Those who do not meet the standards of society, ironically, end up on the antisocial end of the same spectrum.  NPDs are there with us in the homes, schools and at work. Coming from Asia, I can see the development of the narcissistic character being generated in school children. There is a lot of competition for grades, and this incites envy, paranoia and distrust. In the business world, there exists bullying of executives to rake in sales at all costs—disregarding ethics or consideration for the environment. These kind of stressors wipe out an individual’s ability to empathize. Even those who do not have the personality configuration, end up having to pick up the narcissistic traits.


With this knowledge of what NPD is about, and its underlying affects of shame, guilt, greed and envy it is possible to wean sectors of society out of this trend. With the knowledge of the responsibility of the psychotherapeutic profession to facilitate change, it would be almost unethical to be ignorant on this topic.


In her book, Reaching Your Goal, Korber (2017), interview social entrepreneurs, or people whose “prime aim is to find a solution to a social problem by applying entrepreneurial tools” and who understand “the ability to act entrepreneurially and charitably at the same time, to bundle activities, create synergies or open up new knowledge, to recognize societal inequalities and reduce them efficiently (p. 16-17).”  I think this describes well what ultimately society can do to reduce the prevalence of NPD.


Carveth, D. (2016). Freud & Beyond 2016 #8: Narcissism Lacan, Aichhorn, Kohut, Spotnitz, Kernberg. Abgerufen am 2017 von YouTube:

Interdisciplinary Counsel on Developmental and Learning Disorders. (2017). Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual PDM 2 (2nd Ausg.). (V. L. McWilliams, Hrsg.) NY: The Guilford Press.

Kernberg, O. (2008). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Rela: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.

Klein, M. (1957). Envy and Gratitude.

Korber, M. (2017). Reaching Your Goal. (J. Baer-Pasztory, Übers.) Vienna: BoD.


The Manic Need to Control : Kleinian Theory

These are excerpts on the subjects from notes taken from Carveth’s lecture “Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5”.

Manic defenses are manifested to protect the ego from despair. It is a means of being omnipotent, and is very much belongs to the paranoid-schizoid position as defined by Melanie Klein.

Inability to deal with loss, leads to symptoms, like depression, and behaviors, like rage. This is a sign of a regression into an existence of black-white thinking, in which there are projections made towards the outside world to ward off unbearable feeling. It is attack on psychic reality, in an effort to control the external objects.

Read also : Making Reparation and mourning as the road to mental healing.

Why the need to control, triumph?

These acts defend the self against realization of dependency. It defends against loss. Triumph is needed so that the person defeats the object, so that there is that “I do not have to care for the object”– which is an aggressive and dangerous condition.

This kind of thinking also serves to ward off envy. Hence it is better to come to terms with one’s feelings of envy, so that on can use it constructively, like for self improvement, than to avoid feelings of envy by trying to dominate and destroy the other.

Contempt is there to deny the object’s value …the object is rendered not worthy of guilt. Contempt justifies the abuse and annihilation of the other.

There is also “manic” in the culture we live in. Our culture as we know it, is one that seems to put taboo on tenderness.

Read also : Conformity and Obedience: Slippery Slope to Dehumanization of the Other and Privacy as Personal Control.

Quote from the 18th Century on Control of the Other

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) in Social Contract 1762:

“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.”

Notable notes:

Interesting points (at the last 5 mins of the video) on guilt, control and being omnipotent.

Strategies for dealing with the object related

From Britton’s Sex Death Superego:

  1. The Schizoid withdraws from the object
  2. The borderline colonizes the object
  3. The Hysteric impersonates

From Carveth‘s The Still Small Voice :

  1. The psychotic denies the reality of the
  2. The pervert castrates the object#
  3. The psychopath destroy
  4. The neurotic acknowledge dependence and guilt towards and suffers from the conflicts
  5. The healthy person repairs loves depends on and sacrifices for good object but also prepared to hate the bad object


Carveth, D. (2016) Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5. YouTube Video. Retrieved from on 12.2017.

The Paranoid-Schizoid Position

Melanie Klein (1997/1924-1963) writes that in the first 3-4 months of life the infant experiences anxiety, which is driven by the fear of annihilation. This is a primary cause of persecutory anxiety.

It would appear that the pain and discomfort he has suffered, as well as the loss of the intra-uterine state, are felt by him as an attack by hostile forces, i.e. as persecution. Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into his relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations.

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 09.58.58

The infant’s first feeding experiences are perceived by the child as closely related to the its experiences to its mother’s breast. At this early stage of infancy, the child has yet to grasp the mother as an individual i.e. a whole and separate being.

At this point we may consider the relevance of Bollas’ Transformational Object.

Persecutory Anxiety and Greed

When the child is neither hungry nor full, one can imagine that the child is experiencing a balance in its libidinal and aggressive impulses. These impulses are made stronger when it is reinforced through, e.g. frustration. Klein suggests that the aggressive impulses give rise to emotions of greed. An increase in feelings of greed leads to more frustration and aggression.

Children whose feelings of frustration are reinforced (due to deprivation and/or due to temperament) experience growing persecutory anxiety, and have problems tolerating deprivation and dealing with anxiety.

Persecutory anxiety, however, can in some other children, lead to feeding inhibitions.

Love and Hatred

This swing between gratification and frustration are powerful stimuli for feelings of love and hatred.

As a result, the breast, inasmuch as it is gratifying, is loved and felt to be ‘good’; in so far as it is a source of frustration, it is hated and felt to be ‘bad’. This strong antithesis between the good breast and the bad breast is largely due to lack of integration of the ego, as well as to splitting processes within the ego and in relation to the object. There are, however, grounds for assuming that even during the first three or four months of life the good and the bad object are not wholly distinct from one another in the infant’s mind.


This is where we can perceive the concept of splitting. The infant experiences the positive and negative feelings toward the same object. It is at this position in the development of the child’s ego, that it is able to differentiate its experiences as good or bad. It in turn has love or hate emotions towards that same object. This split in feelings is experienced in the paranoid-schizoid position.

Internalization – Projection and Introjection

These experiences of gratification and frustration, which happen due to external stimuli ultimately become internalized. The infant projects its love impulses to the good attributes of the mother’s breast, and destructive impulses towards the frustrating breast.  The infant introjects by building a picture of the good breast and bad breast. This gets developed and distorted by phantasies.

This good-object and bad-object picture becomes a prototype for all external and internal persecutory objects, which the infant takes with it to adulthood.

Emotions in infants are extreme and powerful in nature. Persecutory anxiety deem the “bad object” as terrifying and, as a means of allaying the fears, the infant creates an internal picture of the good object as a powerful, all gratifying object. This is how idealization of the good object comes about. It is a means being omnipotent : creating characteristics of good object to protect one from the bad object.

Moving Forward from the Paranoid-Schizoid to Depressive Position

How Infants Adjust

Even during the earliest stage, however, persecutory anxiety is to some extent counteracted by the infant’s relation to the good breast. I have indicated above that although his feelings focus on the feeding relationship with the mother, represented by her breast, other aspects of the mother enter already into the earliest relation to her; for even the very young infant responds to his mother’s smile, her hands, her voice, her holding him and attending to his needs. The gratification and love which the infant experiences in these situations all help to counteract persecutory anxiety, even the feelings of loss and persecution aroused by the experience of birth. His physical nearness to his mother during feeding—essentially his relation to the good breast—recurrently helps him to overcome the longing for a former lost state, alleviates persecutory anxiety and increases the trust in the good object. p.63

The infant eventually realizes that the good and bad object belong to the same organism, which is, in the infant’s perception the mother. When this happens, the infant develops into the depressive position ( the term has nothing to do with depression).

The desire for unlimited gratification, as well as persecutory anxiety, contribute to the infant’s feeling that both an ideal breast and a dangerous devouring breast exist, which are largely kept apart from each other in the infant’s mind. These two aspects of the mother’s breast are introjected and form the core of the super-ego. p.70

What Klein explains here is the phenomenon of splitting, omnipotence, idealization, denial and control.  — These are aspects of the personality that, in adults are associated with dysfunction if it predominates, controls the life to the individual; and if the individual has no capacity towards ambivalence (seeing in shades of grey instead of black and white).

In the infant, this is stage is a necessary part of ego development. The infant has to temporarily rely on his phantasy to cope with such acute anxiety. The experience of the good and bad alternate swiftly. The mother’s continued loving behavior towards the infant helps the infant develop towards an understanding that good and bad experiences belong to the same person.

If the infant gets enough good experiences it can integrate the good and bad experience. It would have less need to project his hate externally. He can see in wholeness, it’s mother and later, father etc. It moves forward to the depressive position.

Out of the alternating processes of disintegration and integration develops gradually a more integrated ego, with an increased capacity to deal with persecutory anxiety. The infant’s relation to parts of his mother’s body, focusing on her breast, gradually changes into a relation to her as a person.

The Paranoid-Schizoid Position and Personality Disorders

If, for example, the infant experiences overwhelming frustrations and is not able to have a sense of goodness from the mother, its psyche is kept in the paranoid-schizoid position, unable to develop further.  The individual develops a persecutory complex that does not enable him/her to see beyond black and white. This is the precursor to personality disorders (PDs) like schizotypal PD, paranoid PD, borderline PD, narcissistic PD and antisocial PD.

Low functioning personality disorder states indicate the inability of the individual to move dynamically to and from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. The person in this case remains unable to see both good and bad in the same person. Instead there is projections persecution, and paranoid anxiety.

Growth towards the Depressive Position

As the child develops, and if it is given the necessary love, it moves into the depressive position (this has nothing to do with being depressed, but rather an ability to be ambivalent). This is a development. The child recognizes the mother as an individual separate from it. He learns that he is dependent and learns to accept temporary frustrations. He also learns to love, mourn and pine. He is more able to take responsibility for his impulses. He feels guilt, and is able to care. He lessens his hallucination of being omnipotent.

The depressive position is capable of ambivalence : seeing good and bad in the same object. This is also a position of the neurotic.




Klein, M. (1997). Envy and Gratitude: And Other Works, 1946-1963. Random House.