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Houzel, D. (1996). The Family Envelope And What Happens When It Is Torn. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 77:901-912.

(1996). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 77:901-912

The Family Envelope And What Happens When It Is Torn

Didier Houzel

The author argues that psychoanalytic exploration of severe personality disorders has made it necessary to define the new concept of the psychic envelope, which forms a psychic boundary and provides for the function of holding together the elements contained within it. He traces the development of this concept through related notions in other authors from Freud to Anzieu. Attention is drawn to the value, as well as the risks, of the use of such metaphors, and the concept of stability is examined. The individual psychic envelope is paralleled and supplemented, in the author's view, by a family envelope that contains all the members of a family in a common identity and protects the children from pathogenic transgenerational repetition. Three case histories show how failures of the family envelope expose the therapists and social workers concerned to the pathogenic mechanisms operating in the family and may induce them to act out through counterprojection. The author describes a system whereby these risks are combated by means of joint meetings, led by a psychoanalyst, between all the teams working with a given family, at which the projections made on to them are contained and psychically elaborated. This process gives rise to what the author calls the widened envelope.

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