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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

Some patients seek an analysis at a moment when they hope not to extend their contact with themselves or their objects, but, on the contrary, because they desperately need a refuge from these. Once they are in analysis their first aim is to establish, really to re-establish, a defensive organization against objects internal and external which are causing them nearly overwhelming anxiety.

The current lives of the patients I have in mind are permeated by infantile anxieties that have not been much modified. They are patients with a weak ego who, with more persecution than normal, arrive in infancy at the borders of the depressive position as defined by Klein (1935), but are then unable to negotiate it, and instead form a defensive organization. The defensive organization, however, proves precarious, since the combination of a weak ego and acute assailing anxieties that makes a negotiation of the depressive position impossible also makes it impossible for them to sustain a defensive organization. Their lives oscillate between periods of exposure and periods of restriction; they are exposed to intense anxiety from their objects when the defensive organization fails, and suffer restricted, though tolerable, object relations when it is again established.

This paper aims to show how a defensive organization, established and maintained in the conditions provided by an analysis, can strengthen the ego and diminish the area of anxiety. In this way the oscillation between exposure and restriction is halted, and instead the patient is able—in the particular manner open to him—to proceed with his development.

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