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Rosen, A.S. (1990). Fromm-Reichmann's Last Paper. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:356-359.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:356-359

Fromm-Reichmann's Last Paper

Allison Stern Rosen, Ph.D.

DR. FROMM-REICHMANN'S PAPER ON "Loneliness" was published from a rough draft of her ideas found in her desk following her sudden and unexpected death. In these notes, Dr. Fromm-Reichmann struggled to communicate what she learned from her patients about loneliness. She was primarily interested in describing a loneliness so profound that it may lead to psychosis if experienced for any significant duration of time.

She faced a serious "terminological handicap". Many affective experiences have similar nuances of feeling; yet Dr. Fromm-Reichmann was interested in conveying what she considered incommunicable—namely, the terrifying, helpless state of "real loneliness". "Real loneliness" is defined by Dr. Fromm-Reichmann as that type of loneliness which is destructive, disintegrative, and has a "specific character of paralyzing hopelessness and unutterable futility". A loss of reality or a sense of world catastrophe may be viewed as expressions of this form of loneliness. "Real loneliness" is so severe that when one experiences it, the fact that people existed in one's past or may be present in one's future is outside the realm of possibility.

Loneliness is built into the basic fabric of our lives—we are social beings with a need for intimacy. From birth onward we are threatened by the loss of intimacy. If our need for closeness is not fulfilled, we experience the "exceedingly unpleasant and driving experience ordinarily called loneliness" (Sullivan, 1953p. 290).

Dr. Fromm-Reichmann describes three circumstances leading to the development of "real loneliness" which can be categorized as follows: 1) Loss of a figure with whom one is intimate; 2) Absence of an intimate relationship when in the presence of people or a person with whom one would ordinarily expect to have such a relationship; 3) The development of defenses which preclude intimacy. Unifying these three causes of loneliness is the idea that whenever a person's need for intimacy exceeds their experience of intimacy, the potential for "real loneliness" exists.


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Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Vol. 26, No. 2 (1990)

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