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Ferenczi, S. (1929). The Unwelcome Child and his Death-Instinct. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:125-129.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:125-129

The Unwelcome Child and his Death-Instinct

S. Ferenczi

In his short study 'Cold, Disease and Birth', Ernest Jones, linking up his own ideas with some trains of thought in my 'Stages in the Development of the Sense of Reality' and related views of Trotter's, Stärcke's, Alexander's and Rank's, traces the disposition of so many people to colds and such-like illnesses back in part to early infantile traumatic impressions, particularly to painful experiences which the child must undergo upon removal from the warm maternal environment and which, according to the law of the 'repetition instinct', he must later always experience anew. The conclusions drawn by Jones were chiefly based on physio-pathological but also partly on analytic considerations. In the following brief communication I shall put forward a similar train of ideas, ranging, however, over a rather wider field.

Since the epoch-making work of Freud on the irreducible instinctual foundations of everything organic (in Beyond the Pleasure Principle) we have become accustomed to look upon all the phenomena of life, including those of mental life, as in the last resort a mixture of the forms of expression of the two fundamental instincts: the life and the death instinct. On just one occasion Freud also mentioned the derivation of a pathological manifestation from the almost complete defusion of these two main instincts; he surmises that the symptoms of epilepsy express the frenzy of a tendency to self-destruction that is almost free from the inhibitions of the wish to live. Psycho-analytic investigations of my own have since in my opinion corroborated the plausibility of this interpretation. I know of cases in which the epileptic attack followed upon painful experiences which made the patient feel that life was hardly any longer worth living. (Naturally I do not mean this as a pronouncement upon the nature of the attack.)

As physician in charge of a war hospital it was one of my duties to decide upon the fitness of many epileptics for service.

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