The central part of Dr. Hoffmann's theme seems to be the power of a strongly emotional state (when the ego is either undeveloped or is overpowered, or both) to bring about a certain type of identification or unity between subject and object, in which the object (and the whole environment) seems to share the emotional state of the subject, good or bad. The subject confers pleasure or pain on the object, in this sense, just as much as the subject credits the object with the power of determining his own emotional states, the phenomena of projection depending on the 'double unity' (Zweieinigkeit) of subject and object; that is, the libidinal stream from subject to object is exactly the same, subjectively, as that from object to subject.
The author starts from an inquiry into the reason of the ego-weakness found in addicts of all types, connecting it with faulty development. With many references to authorities on narcissism and ego development, he himself distinguishes between the awareness of an object's presence and the cathexis of the object, giving some explanation of the way in which an idea develops out of a perception.
Dr. Hoffmann provides some interesting case material shewing the return of (or regression to) past developmental stages of the ego, in the form of two different kinds of narcissistic experience.
The patient was subject to states of alienation and depersonalization, both of which she called 'depressions'. One type of narcissistic experience resulted when the patient, in spite of being forewarned by her analyst of a probable delay in his arrival, got into a panic on his non-appearance, although with no thought of possible disaster to him. Having greeted him delightedly when he came, she suddenly relapsed for some minutes into complete silence. Returning to herself, she declared that the joy of his arrival had made her completely forget that he was there. That is, says Dr. Hoffmann, the object—the analyst—had served first to relieve the patient of the panic, and secondly to sink into a state of pleasurable primary and objectless narcissism; the object having fulfilled these functions, the patient withdrew the cathexis, and he could be 'forgotten'. The second type of narcissistic state was observable once only. On this occasion the complete satisfaction (according to the same patient's own account) of the objectlibido passed directly into a state of narcissistic bliss. This happened after the analyst had entrusted her with his door key. But this time the object-cathexis remained conscious, and the narcissistic libidinal satisfaction of being trusted—and therefore loved—brought about an extension and enrichment of the ego. This is to be contrasted with that impoverishment of the ego which, according to Freud, marks the height of the state of being in love. Dr. Hoffmann distinguishes the ego enlarged in the way described, in the process of development from id to ego, from that which has the functions of reality
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testing, control of motility, etc., calling the former the 'early ego' (Früh-Ich). The object cathexes belonging to it serve only for satisfaction of narcissistic libido; and this 'early ego' reacts as a whole to any alteration wrought in it by the object, which seems to belong to, or form a part of it; that is, it reacts with the whole of its undifferentiated narcissistic libido. Objectcathexis and objectlibido are interchangeable at this stage; the true object-libidinal relationbeing established when, without anxiety, the non-satisfying object is felt as well as known to be a part of the external environment—in other words, when painful emotion does not interfere with either libidinal or intellectual links. When this state is not fully achieved, the subject needs to gain parallel satisfaction of narcissistic and objectlibido from the same object at the same time—the early ego's demand for satisfaction of the total libido persisting in this form.
Adaptation to reality and development of true objectlibido are forwarded by the voluntary release of the object to form part of the environment instead of belonging to the early ego, identification with such a released object forming the developmental bridge—a form of identification which must be distinguished from the earlier total one of the primitive narcissistic ego; it possesses an objectcathexis absent from the latter, and is both a compensation for the loss of the object and a method of retaining it. The primary form precedes sexual object choice; the pleasurable self-feeling of the subject is the result of complete similarity with the pleasure-giving object: the object is the source, the subject the receiver of pleasure. Clinical material supports Federn's view of alienation and depersonalization states. Simultaneous satisfaction of both ego and objectlibido are necessary for full experience of a psychical act; an ego-boundary not narcissistically cathected induces alienation, particular parts of the ego being affected, as was formerly the whole ego. Excessive cathexis produces ecstasy, the ego reacting as a whole, like the 'early ego', which it still is. The normal process involves only a temporary and partial extension of the ego-boundary.
The author comes to the conclusion that the state of affairs in which the 'early ego' feels subjectively pleasure-full, and therefore the object appears pleasure-giving, affects the addict's relation to his particular drug. The ego-forming type of identification, involving the destruction of the former unity by voluntary renunciation of the object and the employment of part instead of the total libido, Dr. Hoffmann contrasts with the melancholic state, and also with a patient's identification with the Christ-child, following longing for him and absorption in the thought of him—explained as a regression to a primitive oral phase of object possession and identification without distinction between subject and object. On the other hand, instead of endeavouring to retain the object whose loss is threatened, and reacting normally with grief to the actual loss, the
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primitive ego still remaining in the adult feels the threat to be as actual as its fulfilment, and reacts in the same way in both cases, that is, totally—an explanation of 'signal' anxiety. It is thus left without any power of gaining satisfaction or protection from anxiety, or of mastery of libidinal trends. Also total 'pleasure' resulting from a minimal pleasurable stimulus can just as easily become total 'pain' resulting from a minimal painful stimulus.
More clinical material is given to shew a prevailing erotic desire for complete unity with the object. This Dr. Hoffmann explains as a primitive desire for exact similarity in both centrifugal and centripetal libidinal streams, in genital and anal as well as oral relations, and in mystical states. He distinguishes, in this desire for unity, that for reunion with an object previously renounced to form part of the environment, and the 'double unity' of the primitive ego existing alongside, in which subject and object feel the same, and the subject feels that he receives what he is actually emitting. A temporary and slight form of this feeling is normal in comparison with the more permanent paranoic form. As compared with the voluntary renunciation of the object, a traumatic separation of primitive ego and object in the state of 'double unity' may mean, as in schizophrenia, that the separated object is felt to be entirely similar to the primitive ego. Therefore the resulting desire for unity will be in the form of a desire for union of similars (as in a twin-sister phantasy)—but the subject waits for it to be conferred, doing nothing himself to bring it about.
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Searl, M.N. (1936). General. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 17:512-515