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White, R.B. (1961). The Mother-Conflict in Schreber's Psychosis. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 42:55-73.

(1961). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 42:55-73

The Mother-Conflict in Schreber's Psychosis

Robert B. White

SUMMARY

On theoretical grounds, it is reasonable to assume that primitive, oral, destructive-dependent impulses towards a mother-figure were important in the dynamics of Schreber's psychosis. Reanalysis of the Memoirs shows that disguised and symbolic representations of the mother and of such impulses towards her were, in fact, prominent in the case. The new historical data on Schreber's breakdowns and family also support this assumption. The basic defence which Schreber used against such impulses was that of projection—accusing God of needful, greedy, potentially destructive, oral longings for Schreber when in fact it was Schreber's jealous, possessive, infantile longing for God which was symbolically represented as 'nerve-contact', which motivated 'soul murder', and which threatened to destroy the entire world and even God Himself. Schreber's delusion of being unmanned was at one level an expression of the wish to regain that most primitive and least differentiated relation of the child to the mother which is enjoyed by the foetus. By being unmanned in the peculiar manner of his delusions, Schreber was simultaneously the foetus and the mother who carries the foetus.

The merged mother and father images in the God of Schreber's delusions, a God composed of maternal anterior realms and paternal posterior realms, quite likely reflected the intrusive way in which the father invaded the mother's role and function in Schreber's early infancy. The further division of these paternal posterior realms into a superior god of Goodness, Ormuzd, and an inferior god of Evil, Ahriman, was probably based on Schreber's infantile image of his pathologically ambivalent father. Such divisions could also result from an archaic separation of parental figures into good and bad objects.

Although the father was an important figure in Schreber's life, the mother was the central figure in the earliest and therefore the most pathogenic of Schreber's conflicts. To the infant the mother is the entire world. If a baby is forced too early in life, as Schreber was, to relinquish the subtle, life-giving, trust-endowing nurture which only the mother can give, if he is too soon forced to learn the 'art of renouncing', he comes, as Schreber did, dangerously near to losing his entire world.

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