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Carlson, C. (1992). The Damaged Identity Tag: A Prematurely Terminated Analysis of a Latency Boy. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 15(1):53-73.

(1992). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 15(1):53-73

The Damaged Identity Tag: A Prematurely Terminated Analysis of a Latency Boy

Cynthia Carlson

Hugo was referred to the Centre at the age of 8 by his doctor, because he suffered both day and night from the fear of being ‘taken away’ by a gnu. The initial diagnostic hypothesis was of a typical infantile neurosis, but it became evident early on that the neurotic superstructure masked a more profound narcissistic disturbance with associated problems in structuralization, integration and sense of self. In Hugo's inner world cathexis of self had not given way to more age-appropriate object relations. He was absorbed with beating fantasies which served in place of missing ego functions, including control of drive discharge, defence against painful affect and stabilization of self-cohesiveness. Hugo was locked in a sado-masochistic relationship with his mother which was especially frightening due to the lack of separateness he experienced in relation to her. His sense of omnipotence, which was fuelled by parental handling, was a major source of resistance.

This paper looks at the 17-month analysis which gradually focussed on the preoedipal tie to mother, as it became apparent that it was here that the impasse in his development lay. The analysis was characterized by a double resistance from both mother and son, and was prematurely terminated by mother when separation issues came to the fore in our work.


Although Hugo's other serious problems, were mentioned by his parents in their description of him, such as his friendlessness and unhappiness, these were glossed over, the gnu fear being the main presenting problem, largely because it had spread to the point where Hugo's anxiety had begun to rule the household. Hugo was afraid to stay alone on any floor of their large house for fear the gnu might appear.

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