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Young, R.M. (2003). Lincoln, Mandela and the Depressive Position. Free Associations, 10(4):431-453.

(2003). Free Associations, 10(4):431-453

Lincoln, Mandela and the Depressive Position1

Robert M. Young

It is My Habit to accept invitations as an opportunity to think about things I care about and upon which I want to reflect. In this case I wanted to take the Kleinian concept of the depressive position and apply it to the lives of my two greatest heroes — not just their public, mythical, clichéd lives but their whole lives, insofar as these can be fathomed by reading their writings and the literature about them. Little did I know when I began, that a bibliography of writings about Lincoln is 900 pages long, with over 800 titles currently available at Amazon.com. Mandela, still alive, mind you, has nearly 200 titles on Amazon. Both have huge and rich internet presences.

If you saw the film As Good as It Gets with Academy Award winning performances by Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, you will recall the moment when he, a deeply obnoxious and obsessive-compulsive person, traipses through a therapist's waiting room full of patients who are obviously very disturbed and says, as it were, over his shoulder, ‘What if this is as good as it gets?’ Well, in Kleinian psychoanalysis, the depressive position is as good as it gets. This may seem a bleak prospect, but one of my purposes here is to try to persuade you that it's not a bad deal, as life in the real world goes. Moving from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position, according to Irma Brenman Pick, is the goal of every analytic interpretation (Brenman Pick, 1985, p. 158). Getting people to ‘take back the projections’, i.e., dwell more of the time in the depressive position, is one way of describing the goal of therapy. As I'll explain in a moment, resolution of the Oedipus complex and the recurring oedipal situation is considered by Ronald Britton to be synonymous with moving from the paranoid—schizoid to the depressive position.

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