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Feldman, M. (2000). Some Views on the Manifestation of the Death Instinct in Clinical Work. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(1):53-65.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(1):53-65

Some Views on the Manifestation of the Death Instinct in Clinical Work

Michael Feldman

The author argues that the postulation of the instinctual drive towards death can be seen as an attempt to account for the manifestation of a destructive psychological force that is palpably present in many of our patients. He discusses some of the experiences, activities and aims that reflect this destructive psychic force, and the conscious and unconscious gratification that is intrinsically bound up with it. What is ‘deadly’ is the way in which meaning, specificity and differences are attacked, and any developmental processes retarded or undermined. The vitality is taken out of the patient himself as well as his objects, and although in an important sense these drives are ‘anti-life’, the author suggests that their aim is not literally to kill or to annihilate, but that the patient feels compelled to maintain a link with the object that often has an evidently tormenting quality. Using a detailed clinical illustration, the author argues that the gratification that is bound up in these activities, and which gives them such a compulsive quality, does not result from fusion with the life instinct, with the resultant libidinisation of the death instinct. On the contrary, the gratification obtained from attacking, spoiling and undermining, whether directed to the self or the object, is an essential element of such a destructive drive.

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