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Caper, R. (1998). Psychopathology and Primitive Mental States. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 79:539-551.

(1998). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 79:539-551

Psychopathology and Primitive Mental States

Robert Caper

The author discusses the psychoanalytic concept of primitive mental states, arguing that normal primitive mental states contain omnipotent fantasies that in an adult would be classified as delusions and hallucinations, but also contain sufficient reality sense to allow the infant to learn through experience that its omnipotent unconscious fantasies are not real, but only ordinary unconscious fantasies. Psychopathology of the type requiring psychoanalytic treatment is connected to persistent unconscious omnipotent fantasies (delusions). It is not the result of a regression to a normal primitive mental state, since in a normal primitive mental state, such delusions and their resultant inhibitions, symptoms and anxieties are gradually and spontaneously overcome through learning from experience. The unconscious delusions related to psychopathology persist because they are insulated from the effects of the learning from experience that would ordinarily convert them into unconscious fantasies by the use of transformations in hallucinosis, reversal of perspective and realistic projective identification by the psychotic part of the personality. Together, these mechanisms distort experience in such a way that reality appears to confirm, not challenge, the delusions, making learning impossible. The theory that psychopathology is due to a regression or fixation to a normal primitive mental state acts as a defence against the awareness that the mental states associated with current psychopathology are not like normal primitive ones, and that they differ from normal primitive mental states by containing forces that are sufficiently destructive of learning from experience to have prevented the patient's mental state from evolving in a normal fashion.

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