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Fonagy, P. Moran, G. Target, M. (1992). Aggression and the Psychological Self. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):269-284.

(1992). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 15(4):269-284

Aggression and the Psychological Self

Peter Fonagy, George Moran and Mary Target


In this paper, we explore the idea of aggression as a defence against threats to the psychological self. It is a tribute to my friend and colleague, George Moran, in three ways: firstly, it extends some of the ideas that he and I were working on at the time of his death; secondly it includes a report of a case treated by George, which he and I identified as appropriate to illustrate the ideas presented here and which, through Mary Target's assiduous archival work, we were able to recreate from the Centre's and George Moran's own records; thirdly it is for me a personal acknowledgment of my indebtedness to George, in that it fulfils one of the last wishes he expressed when I visited him in Florida a few weeks before his death, that we now apply ourselves to the paper on aggression we had long promised ourselves that we would write.

Psychoanalytic theories of aggression

Psychoanalytic theories of aggression polarize around what may ultimately be a nature/nurture issue. There are theories that consider aggression an innate part of man's constitution, an instinct for destruction (e.g. Freud, 1920, 1929; Klein, 1957; Kernberg, 1976). It is an anti-life, anti-self force. It is an impediment to the development of the ego, not the ego's protest at the presence of such impediments in the environment.

Other theorists see aggression as a reactive phenomenon provoked in the individual by environmental circumstance, frequently described in the literature using the catch-all term of frustration (Hartmann, 1958; Brenner, 1982; Guntrip, 1974; Winnicott, 1965; Balint, 1968; Kohut, 1977).

This paper does not address the issue of the nature of aggression and we limit ourselves to exploring just one of its functions: its defensive role in the protection of self representation and identity.

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