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Arundale, J. (2004). Eros and Thanatos in Context. Brit. J. Psychother., 20(4):453-454.

(2004). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 20(4):453-454

On Sexuality and the Death Drive

Eros and Thanatos in Context

Jean Arundale

We take the life instincts somewhat for granted in our psychoanalytic theory and practice, the drive to experience, to love, to learn and to grow - the instinctual life force that Freud termed the libido, which he went on to elaborate in regard to the different forms libido takes from infancy through the various stages to adulthood. That there are obstructions and impediments to the life force in individuals is also assumed, but how we think about these anti-developmental forces is arguable. Attempts to conceptualize these occur throughout Freud's writing (fixations, defences, resistances, repetitions and so on) and in the writing of many others. However, Freud's most striking idea is of a primal death instinct, an anti-life force in place at the very beginning of infant life that strives to foreclose the terrors involved in survival and being alive by establishing a state of quiescence or death. Based on the biological principles of his day, he believed the helpless infant is overwhelmed in the face of the inflaming, disturbing stimuli of being alive. Thus Freud put forward his most controversial and paradoxical notion that death is free from tension and desire, and is thus the ultimate pleasure.

In discussing these larger issues of life and death, Freud enters the arena of philosophy. There are, however, many clinicians who employ these concepts in clinical practice, and see psychoanalysis itself becoming a struggle between these elemental forces. A number of contemporary British thinkers including Segal, Feldman, and Britton have identified the death instinct in the clinical setting as attacks on the progress of analysis, as assaults on awareness, thinking or any emotional liveliness.

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