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Davanzo, H. (1962). A Contribution to the Analysis of Resistances in Neurotic Dependence. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 43:441-447.

(1962). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 43:441-447

A Contribution to the Analysis of Resistances in Neurotic Dependence

Hernán Davanzo


The neurotic dependence conflict lies between impulses to independence, self-assertiveness, self-sufficiency, initiative, self-determination, etc., on the one hand, and opposite tendencies on the other. Dependent needs arise from a condition of immaturity at the beginning of development; but neurotic dependent needs do not fulfil any useful function in reality, serving only unconscious purposes.

Manifestations of the need to be independent can be observed very early in human development, and it can be considered innate. If the head of a newborn infant is forced towards the breast, without considering spontaneous motility or intensity of hunger, resistance appears that can lead to complete rejection of the food. If food is offered too late or too early in relation to the sudden appearance of hunger, or if repeated or prolonged interruptions occur during breast feeding, the whole feeding process becomes a frustration for the immature ego that does not yet possess sufficient inhibitory mechanisms. Again, the infant may systematically reject the bottle once or twice before accepting it greedily. In this way the infantile ego appears to reject impositions from without and affirms his individuality. Similar manifestations can be noticed in other young mammals, such as the dog.

The mother's ego exerts the functions of a subsidiary ego over the small child, satisfying the biological needs of the infantile organism. When the infantile ego begins to function, because of the maturation of the organism, a special situation is created between the infantile ego and the maternal subsidiary ego. Lack of coordination between the infantile ego, the subsidiary ego, and instinctive needs, may result in a harmful struggle instead of a healthy synergy of functions. The infantile ego must organize itself in order simultaneously to satisfy its own needs of individualization, the conditions imposed by the subsidiary ego, and the pressing instinctive needs. We might express in the following terms what then occurs within the infantile ego: 'I am hungry, but will swallow only when I want to and not when you tell me to.' In successive periods of instinctive development this same conflict recurs. 'I will only excrete when I decide to. Perhaps I'll do it after you have changed and cleaned me, only when you have abandoned any hope of dominating me.' Placing the infantile ego in an intermediate situation between the instinctive demands and those of the subsidiary ego, would represent the future habitual position of the mature ego, split off between the id and the superego demands.

Such needs to be independent appear to be peremptory, and the mother who does not recognize the demands for independence can only consider them as rebellion and disobedience

to parental authority and its logical laws. She could hardly tolerate or encourage them unless she understands that they really constitute more than anything the first beginnings of initiative and decision-taking, of vital importance for the normal development of the independent infantile personality. With an anti-independence situation installed very early by the subsidiary ego, a source of anxiety is created in which the infantile ego cannot build foundations firmly upon the successful accumulation of integrated experience of independence. Instead, there develops a capacity for hidden opposition, indirect aggression, and reparation, to the threat of the maternal subsidiary ego (and later on of the superego). We might describe this partial opposition in the following words: 'Don't get angry, I'll let it appear that you dominate me; I'll let the food stay in my mouth, but I shall only swallow it when I decide to.' When the mother feels she is not obeyed she becomes more insecure, using tricks to assert her domination, such as the use of threats expressed by partial satisfaction in feeding, either too early or too late, with compulsive interruption, etc., as if she were to answer: 'You do not dominate me. I serve you, but only as I wish.' In this way she may become aggressive towards her son with new defence-mechanisms arising to conceal these feelings. One such mechanism is overprotection, which is represented by such words as: 'If I do not (over-)protect you, you may die. Thanks to my devotion I control all dangers (that exist in my phantasy, owing to my unconscious aggression); thus I assert my goodness (I remain guiltless) and the authority (of the superego) is maintained. On the other hand, if you do not submit to me I shall suffer, I shall get ill and die, all because of you. You'll remain all alone and abandoned, confronting the dangers that I have taught you to fear.' Such coercion, disguised as maternal affection, forbids any aggressive response by the infant.

The situation of the dependent child, mainly unconscious, can be described in the following terms: 'I accept the role of a "good" child (dependent) so that my mother will love me (so that she won't hate me, she won't die or blame me). But if my role is so indispensable to her it is she who depends on me.' Thus the submissive-dominant son controls the power and security of the omnipotent dependent parents to control the threat of their insecurity.

This type of mother-child relationship is, of course, completely different from the 'ideal one' (1). In the latter case, the child demands and receives the security of total understanding, permanent and unconditional love, without the mother's demanding the same in return; this can occur only when her mature security and independence can be nourished by other sources, besides her maternal role. It must be emphasized that the 'good mother' is not omnipotent; she needs satisfactions and sometimes she must also frustrate her child. It is impossible not to frustrate the child at times as part of the learning process. These frustrations may be administered in such a way that, considering the needs of the infantile ego, they permit the realization of substitutions and sublimations, creating new sources of satisfaction and making of each such experience a favourable element in development. This 'ideal good mother' is precisely the desperately longed-for object whose introjection is sought by the patient in the transference. The introjection of the contrasting situation of conflict between the infantile ego and the subsidiary maternal ego is the basis for splitting the ego, for the neurotic dependence syndrome, ego weakness, negativism, ambivalence, and a series of neurotic and psychotic manifestations, that this psychodynamic hypothesis seeks to explain.

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