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Olden, C. (1943). The Psychology of Obstinacy. Psychoanal Q., 12:240-255.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:240-255

The Psychology of Obstinacy

Christine Olden


Following Freud, we tend to look upon the phenomenon of obstinacy as a derivative of anal conflicts, a component of the so-called 'anal character'. The development of ego-psychology has emphasized the importance of the struggle between the ego and threatening forces from within and without. The mechanisms of this struggle underlying the phenomenon of obstinacy are somewhat complex but one can immediately see that obstinacy is the symptom of such a struggle. The obstinate person is one who fights, not to achieve some aim in reality, but rather to reëstablish a subjective feeling of supremacy. Should he actually achieve the reality purpose for which he believes he is fighting, it loses all importance to him. Furthermore, he must quarrel again and again with characteristic persistency and stubbornness because the unconscious need—to establish a feeling of security through superiority—is never satisfied.

'Stubbornness' originally meant heroism. It is still used in this sense when it refers to the fight of a person or a group for a realistic aim in spite of the adversary's actual supremacy. We call this also a 'stubborn' fight, and it wins our approval and admiration because of its aim, even though it is similar to that of the neurotic inasmuch as it contains an irrational element in the persistence with which it is carried through against the probability of victory.


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