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Feldman, E. De Paola, H. (1994). An Investigation Into the Psychoanalytic Concept of Envy. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 75:217-234.

(1994). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 75:217-234

An Investigation Into the Psychoanalytic Concept of Envy

Eliahu Feldman and Heitor De Paola


The authors describe the evolution of the concept of envy since Freud's first account of penis envy. Influenced by Abraham, Klein stressed the importance of envy 'lato sensu', turning it into a major issue in both psychoanalytic theory and practice. Her final proposition that envy is a direct expression of the death instinct was criticised from many quarters. These critiques, as well as her followers' contributions to the theme, are examined. Although the Kleinian conceptualisation contributed greatly both to psychoanalytic theory and practice, the time has come to re-evaluate it in the light of later clinical and theoretical developments. The authors consider envy to be a complex feeling, not an impulse or a drive derivative. The object of envy is not the good object but the omnipotent-idealised object, thought to have qualities felt by the infant as unattainable. The newborn's mind is overwhelmed with a sense of loss that cannot be mourned. The coping is done through a process called Precocious Mourning, at a stage in which there is barely any self-object differentiation, leading to sensations that the authors call precursors of envy. Envy (proper) is a universal feeling, whose strength depends on subjectobject (complementary series) interactions occurring when differentiation is under way.

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