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Smith, D.L. (1986). Omnipotence. Brit. J. Psychother., 3(1):52-59.

(1986). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 3(1):52-59



David L. Smith

Introduction and Historical Note

The following paper consists of a review and critical analysis of three classical accounts of the clinical phenomenon of omnipotence as presented during the early decades of the twentieth century by Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham and Sandor Ferenczi. Restricting myself to these three theorists will necessarily exclude discussion of more recent contributors to the theory of omnipotence. This is not meant as a denigration of the significance of these contributions, but rather reflects my conviction that many contemporary disagreements within psychoanalysis can be traced back to conflicts of opinion initially articulated during the early history of psychoanalysis.

A survey of the early literature reveals that there was a great deal of interest in the phenomenon of omnipotence during the period immediately preceding World War One. This can be partially attributed to the advent of the theory of narcissism which has been introduced by Isidor Sadger in a discussion of male homosexuality at a meeting of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society on 10 November 1909 and taken up by Freud in the second edition of the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1910). Because we now take it so much for granted, it is strange to realise that the early analytic theorists were not at first consciously aware of the intimate tie between narcissism and omnipotence. The concept of omnipotence was actually introduced one year before the term ‘narcissism’ emerged in print in a psychoanalytic context.

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