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Fenichel, O. (1943). Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States: Melanie Klein. Int. J. Psa., XXI, 1940, pp. 125–153.. Psychoanal Q., 12:288-289.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States: Melanie Klein. Int. J. Psa., XXI, 1940, pp. 125–153.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:288-289

Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States: Melanie Klein. Int. J. Psa., XXI, 1940, pp. 125–153.

Otto Fenichel

In her previous paper, A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States,1 Melanie Klein expressed the opinion that there is a phase in the normal development of every child, usually as a reaction to weaning, which she called the 'depressive position'. It is this period to which the victims of depression regress. Klein's 'depressive position' is different from that which Abraham called 'Urverstimmung'. It is not limited to persons who later develop depressions, but is experienced by everyone and the fantasies which form the basis of the experience also differ from those described by Abraham. Melanie Klein was of the opinion that the child who 'loses' its mother's breast believes it to be its own fault and due to the sadistic attitudes growing out of the primary (oral) Oedipus complex, which, according to Klein, is already established in the first year of life. The child then tries to undo the loss by introjection and the incorporated objects continue to exist in the interior of the child as its 'inner objects' which have very complicated relations to the real 'outer objects'. These relations depend partly on the child's real experiences and partly on its fantasies and impulses. Continued sadistic fantasies threaten the existence of


1 Int. J. Psa., XVI, 1935.

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inner and outer objects but eventually experiences with 'good' object overcome the anxieties connected with the 'depressive position'.

Melanie Klein's new paper does not try to adduce further proof of this 'depressive position'. It takes the existence of this phase for granted, and tries to find the relations which in her opinion exist not only between depression and the 'depressive position' but also between normal mourning and the 'depressive position'. Her main thesis runs as follows: 'In my view there is a close connection between the testing of reality in normal mourning and early processes of the mind. My contention is that the child goes through states of mind comparable to the mourning of the adult, or rather, that this early mourning is revived whenever grief is experienced in later life… We have now to connect the infantile depressive position with normal mourning. The poignancy of the actual loss of a loved person is, in my view, greatly increased by the mourner's unconscious fantasies of having lost his internal "good" objects as well.'

According to Melanie Klein human object relationships are generally governed by the way in which the 'depressive position' has been overcome. The work of mourning, i.e., the gradual overcoming of the mourning after the loss of an object, is the direct repetition of the overcoming of the 'depressive position'. It is done by experiences with 'good' objects and by inner 'reparations'. Melanie Klein investigates all childhood neuroses and also the normal phases in the libidinal development of the child, in the light of disturbances in the process of overcoming the 'depressive position'. 'I think that new light will be thrown on the child's libidinal development if we consider it in connection with the depressive position and the defenses used against that position.'

She then discusses the details of the mechanisms which produce this overcoming. The main mechanism is that of the 'manic position' with denial, identification with the objects, and regression to omnipotence. Such denial, it is true, very rarely succeeds. 'Omnipotence, however, is so closely bound up in the unconscious with the sadistic impulses with which it was first associated that the child feels again and again that its attempts at reparation have not succeeded, or will not succeed.'

Manic and depressive attitudes alternate in normal mourning. The 'triumph' of the manic attitudes which Freud missed in mourning and the tendency to secure 'good' objects and to render 'bad' ones harmless are all very obvious. 'Through tears, which in the unconscious mind are equated to excrement, the mourner not only expresses his feelings and thus eases tension, but also expels his 'bad' feelings and his 'bad' objects, and this adds to the relief obtained through crying.' The difference between a child in the 'depressive position' and the mourning adult is that the child is able to overcome its mourning by convincing itself that the real outer mother is still present while the mourning adult has really lost his object and he has to help himself through the reëstablishment of 'inner good objects'.

Finally, Melanie Klein discusses 'these anxiety situations which I have found to be of crucial importance also in manic-depressive states', namely 'the anxiety about the internalized parents in destructive sexual intercourse; they as well as the self are felt to be in constant danger of violent destruction'.

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Article Citation

Fenichel, O. (1943). Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States. Psychoanal. Q., 12:288-289

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