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O'Shaughnessy, E. (1981). A Clinical Study of a Defensive Organization. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 62:359-369.

(1981). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 62:359-369

A Clinical Study of a Defensive Organization

Edna O'Shaughnessy

SUMMARY

This paper is concerned with those patients whose lives oscillate between periods of over-restricted object relations based on a defensive organization, and periods of exposure to almost overwhelming anxiety from their objects when their defensive organization fails. The paper reports a twelve-year analysis of one such patient, a young man whose defensive organization had broken down. The clinical material shows how, in the conditions an analysis tries to provide—interpretive understanding, emotional containment, and analytic perseverance—he first reestablished and then maintained his defensive organization long enough to halt the oscillation between exposure and restriction, and to resume instead his forward development.

In the course of this clinical study, the nature of a defensive organization is itself examined. I suggest that a distinction be drawn between defences and defensive organization. Defences allow for the working through of anxiety and are a normal part of forward development. A defensive organization is an overall pathological formation, a fixation of object relations when progress is impossible; its benefits come from the elimination of anxiety from object relations, and inherently, as the clinical material shows, such object relations offer the possibility of exploitation.

As regards technique, the paper shows the necessity of recognizing the patient's need to be analysed for a long time within the framework of his defensive organization. This allows his ego to strengthen and the area of his anxieties to diminish—changes which will enable him, often only after many years, to resume his forward development.

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