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Epstein, L. (1984). An Interpersonal-Object Relations Perspective on Working with Destructive Aggression. Contemp. Psychoanal., 20:651-662.

(1984). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 20:651-662

An Interpersonal-Object Relations Perspective on Working with Destructive Aggression

Lawrence Epstein, Ph.D.

WINNICOTT HAS MADE SOME illuminating contributions concerning the roots of aggression and destructiveness, and the role these play in the development of the self in life and in psychoanalysis. To begin with, Winnicott (1971) rejected Freud's concept of the death instinct which he saw "as the reassertion of the principle of original sin" He rejected as well Melanie Klein's view that life begins with an envy of the breast which inevitably gives rise to urges to destroy it. He believed that aggression originates in the prenatal activity of the infant where aggressiveness is almost synonymous with activity (1950), and is linked thereby, "to the impulses of the fetus, to that which makes for movement rather than stillness, to the aliveness of the tissues and to the first evidence of muscular eroticism. We need a term here such as life force." (1971) In the development of the self, aggression contributes to "an early recognition of a 'not-me' world and an early establishment of the 'me'" (1950).

Contemporary psychoanalysts find this positive view of the role that aggression plays in the development of the self familiar and congenial. Concerning destructiveness, however, psychoanalysts have focused almost entirely on its negative features and consequences. Here Winnicott offers a different and radical perspective.

Destructiveness, to begin with, is aimed at the object without anger or hate (Winnicott, 1950).

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