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Johnson, B. (2008). Just What Lies “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”?. Neuropsychoanalysis, 10(2):201-212.

(2008). Neuropsychoanalysis, 10(2):201-212

Just What Lies “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”?

Brian Johnson

Are there any developments in neuroscience since 1920 that might result in a revision of the concepts of the repetition compulsion and the death instinct? The observation Freud made that there is a force, “More primitive, more elementary, more instinctual than the pleasure principle which it overrides … independently of it and to some extent in disregard to it,” is pursued by an examination of the neural pathways and signaling apparatus that underlie drive, pleasure, and cathexis. The conflict between drive and pleasure has been rediscovered and further explained biologically by Berridge and Robinson (2003). This conflict leads to an understanding both of the biological basis of the transference and of the neural underpinnings of why patients would seek an unhappy relationship with their psychoanalyst. In this neuropsychoanalytic theory paper it is suggested that happiness and emotional health are facilitated by the alignment of drive and pleasure, while neurosis is driven by urgently wanting relationships that cause pain and frustration based on a misalignment of two distinct neural systems. Within this framework, concepts of repetition compulsion and death instinct are adventitious. Understanding the neurobiology that underlies metapsychology can help us resolve disagreements and facilitate more accurate models of human functioning that guide our therapeutic interventions.

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