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Isaacs, S. (1929). Privation and Guilt. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 10:335-347.

(1929). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 10:335-347

Privation and Guilt

Susan Isaacs


In his paper on 'The Origin and Structure of the Super-Ego', in 1926, Ernest Jones prefaced his discussion of some of the problems arising out of this topic with the remark that 'there is every reason to think that the concept of the super-ego is a nodal point where we may expect all the obscure problems of the Oedipus complex and narcissism on the one hand, and hate and sadism on the other, to meet'. Since that date, contributions towards the further elucidation of these issues have been made by Freud and others, and our knowledge of the structure and modes of functioning of the super-ego, in the neuroses, psychoses and normal character, has been greatly amplified.

On the other hand, the results of Melanie Klein's direct researches into the minds of very young children, whilst underlining the theoretical value of the concept of the super-ego, and deepening our sense of its enormous dynamic power, have nevertheless increased certain of the theoretical difficulties attaching to the first modes of statement of its origin, of its relation to the Oedipus complex, and the developmental phases of the libido. To my mind, the most illuminating suggestion which has yet been offered on these tangled issues is that made by Jones (elaborating a hint of Freud's), when he says that privation is equivalent to frustration. He further remarks, '… guilt, and with it the super-ego, is as it were artificially built up for the purpose of protecting the child from the stress of privation, i.e. of ungratified libido, and so warding off the dread of aphanisis that always goes with this; it does so, of course, by damping down the wishes that are not destined to be gratified.

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