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Bicudo, V.L. (1964). Persecutory Guilt and Ego Restrictions—Characterization of a Pre-Depressive Position. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 45:358-363.

(1964). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 45:358-363

Persecutory Guilt and Ego Restrictions—Characterization of a Pre-Depressive Position

Virginia Leone Bicudo


The process which I describe as persecutory guilt refers to a particular situation subsequent to the projection of guilt into the object and negation of guilt in the self. Consequently the patient feels persecuted by the object, who 'unjustly' and aggressively forces guilt into him as a way of obliging him to include the object libidinally in his pleasures, benefits, resources, and successes.

The aim of this paper is to call attention to the occurrence of another intermediary solution between progressing to the depressive position and regressing to the schizoid-paranoid position. The patients I have observed, after a diminution of their paranoid anxieties, although still unable to bear depressive anxieties, protected themselves from these anxieties utilizing anew the mechanisms of splitting and projective identification, now, however, in order to deal with

guilt. Thus, instead of feeling guilty because of the aggressions and harm done in fantasy to themselves and their objects, they feel anxious and desperate in facing an object whose only aim is to force them to feel guilty, not deserving of anything good and compulsorily obliged to divide their possessions with them, the objects.

The struggle of the patient involved in persecutory guilt aims at finding a refuge from the two types of hazard: that of a new regression to the primitive schizoid-paranoid position and that of progression to and confrontation of depressive guilt. The regression to the schizoid-paranoid position corresponds to a loss of possessions and enjoyments of certain ego capacities already attained, while progression to a depressive position is anticipated with anxiety from a sentiment of guilt, felt as irreparable, irreversible, unchangeable, and so beyond the ego's capacity to bear. The propitiation of the object is a compromise that the ego makes as an attempt to protect itself from the anxieties which would bring about either a deeper regression or an evolution to the depressive position. Giving up its capacities, the ego aims to benefit and placate its objects, at the same time that it frees itself from the task of dealing with its own feelings of guilt and need for reparation.

Each progressive step achieved is followed by persecutory guilt with more or less intensity depending on the amount of sadism involved. Persecutory guilt appears following processes of ego integration, and evolves into depressive guilt only when the ego, with more maturity, becomes capable of establishing relations with whole objects. However, the more intense the anxiety allied with persecutory guilt is, the more is the road to a better integration impeded. The regression to a more primitive schizoid-paranoid state or to false reparation are indications of emotional difficulties caused by the intensity of the persecutory guilt in operation.

The resentment of the ego, feeling itself unjustly accused by the object as a person unable to be concerned and to feel gratitude, is the sentiment most characteristic of persecutory guilt. All lessening of schizoid-paranoid anxieties achieved in the treatment is first utilized for a reintegration of ego capacities. I believe that only after 'restitutive' reparation of the ego's capacities has taken place is the ego in a position to utilize its resources for reparation to the object.

In conclusion, I have described an intermediary position which I call the pre-depressive position connected with a perfectionist superego and characterized by persecutory guilt, which is linked with the mechanisms of projective identification, propitiation, and denigration of the object.

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