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Andresen, J.J. (1984). The Motif of Sacrifice and the Sacrifice Complex. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:526-559.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:526-559

The Motif of Sacrifice and the Sacrifice Complex

Jeffry J. Andresen, M.D.

SIGMUND FREUD'S DAUGHTER ONCE lay so gravely ill that he gave up hope for her survival. Her condition took an unexpected turn for the better, and as it did Freud hurled a slipper across the room, breaking a marble statue (Freud, 1901). Freud interpreted his destruction of his statue as a "sacrificial act" (p. 169), a votive offering for his daughter's recovery.

Piaget (1929) reported a childhood memory of a woman whose experience was similar to Freud's. She remembered that when she was four or five, her mother, too, lay gravely ill. She treasured a little toy horse, and it occurred to her that she should give up her cherished horse in order to save her mother. She began, with some pain, to take apart the toy, and eventually she smashed it to bits. Her mother's condition subsequently took a turn for the better, and, in the woman's words, "… I was convinced that it was my sacrifice that had mysteriously cured her …" (p. 139). During times of great peril to loved ones, the middle-aged genius and the little girl destroyed valued possessions; they performed sacrifices.

Freud once judged many activities of everyday life to be expressions of such sacrificial fantasies (1901). In another experience, one in which he inadvertently damaged a glazed Egyptian figure while writing a letter to pacify an offended friend, Freud detected a "propitiatory sacrifice to avert evil" (p. 170). Freud found that other parapraxes, such as giving beggars more than intended, could be sacrificial acts intended to avert harm or appease fate. "Apparently accidental" self-injury, too, could be a "sacrificial" act (p. 185). While misplacement or loss of a valued object could express several impulses, "most commonly" they were sacrifices to "obscure powers of destiny" (p. 132).

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