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Jacobson, E. (1943). Depression—The Oedipus Conflict in the Development of Depressive Mechanisms. Psychoanal Q., 12:541-560.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:541-560

Depression—The Oedipus Conflict in the Development of Depressive Mechanisms

Edith Jacobson

Freud's (1) definition of melancholia as a narcissistic neurosis is based on the observation that the patient, while depressed, gives up his object relations and carries on his conflict within himself, between his ego and superego.

According to Abraham (2) the infantile history of melancholic cases regularly shows a primal depression (Urverstimmung). He assumed that these patients must have experienced severe disappointments and narcissistic injuries before the resolution of the Oedipus conflict. This assumption suggests some early, abnormal development of ego and superego functions, predisposing the personality to the later illness.

Melanie Klein (3) indeed shifts the decisive psychologic happenings, including the formation of the superego, back to the very first years of life. According to her, the manic-depressive patient retains archaic introjective and projective mechanisms characteristic of the earliest period of life.

Certainly the analysis of manic-depressive patients reveals a fixation on powerful, ambivalent, oral (cannibalistic) and anal fantasies (2). As Rado (4) has shown, the model for the manic-depressive reaction is likely to be the experience of either the hungry or satisfied baby.

However, if we maintain Freud's opinion that the superego, as a well defined part of the psychic structure, is the heir of the Oedipus conflict, it may be worth-while to examine the difference between the Oedipal development of the normal and of the depressive personality.

The following case report demonstrates the early failure of a depressive patient, a twenty-four-year-old girl, to establish normal object relationships to her parents.


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