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Atwood, G.E. (1978). On the Origins and Dynamics of Messianic Salvation Fantasies. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 5:85-96.

(1978). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 5:85-96

On the Origins and Dynamics of Messianic Salvation Fantasies

George E. Atwood


This paper has examined the origins and dynamics of messianic salvation fantasies from an object-relations perspective. Three cases are briefly described which have the following features in common: (1) the experiencing of a profound sympathetic identification with states of suffering and need in the world outside of the self; (2) an irresistable inner imperative to rescue others and release them from their suffering; and (3) a subjective feeling that the mission to be helpful is part of a higher spiritual calling. A theoretical interpretation is offered in which the salvation fantasy is seen as a complex reaction to traumatic childhood experiences of disappointment and loss. This reaction involves processes of splitting, idealization, identification and projection. Depressive, paranoid and moral variants of the salvation fantasy are distinguished. Finally, the role of atonement and reparative processes in rescue activity is considered.

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