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Bergler, E. (1952). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: Basic Psychic Structure of the Obese. Arnaldo Rascovsky, Matilde W. de Rascovsky, Teodoro Schlossberg. Pp. 144–149.. Psychoanal Q., 21:144-145.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: Basic Psychic Structure of the Obese. Arnaldo Rascovsky, Matilde W. de Rascovsky, Teodoro Schlossberg. Pp. 144–149.

(1952). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 21:144-145

International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: Basic Psychic Structure of the Obese. Arnaldo Rascovsky, Matilde W. de Rascovsky, Teodoro Schlossberg. Pp. 144–149.

Edmund Bergler

This is a description of a case of obesity and an attempt at a general formulation of the genetic principles of obesity. The patient, aged nineteen, lived the first six years of his life under the exclusive dominance of his overprotective, seductive mother; he slept in his mother's bed 'and she maintained a frankly seductive attitude toward him, caressing and exciting him, biting him and rubbing him against her, while she repressed any genital attitude on his own part'. The father entered the child's life at six. He was sarcastic, ironical and rather cruel. The boy was always obese; one year before starting treatment he underwent a tonsillectomy, following which his weight increased forty pounds in a few months. During this year he also developed obsessive ideas of having intercourse with his mother, then of killing her. Finally he fled to his father, who worked at that time in a distant city, and confessed his thoughts. His masturbation fantasies consisted of 'the vision of a monster opening its jaw or … fellatio of his own penis in church with simultaneous flagellations; sexual organs would appear as sugar and cakes and an urge to destroy would make his hands twitch'. Prior to this, conscious fantasies of feminine identification predominated.

The authors' explanation is as follows: mother's behavior was 'like a prolonged tolerance of the boy's primitive oral relation. The restrictions imposed by his superego on his weak ego in the plane of his dependence on his father forced him to keep up a rigid obsessive attitude, which, with the first traumatic situation, the tonsillectomy, became unbalanced and dragged him into regression. He abandoned the last stand internalized in his superego—the father—and returned to his original position, turning on his mother all the aggressive content of his primitive cannibalistic situation… He flew in search of his externalized father, in order that he might help him to limit his overflowing id…' This psychic structure seems paradigmatic to the authors for other cases as well.

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The merits of the authors' deductions in these orally regressed cases is their understanding of the relative unimportance of the father image for the structural process and the predominance of the undigested role of the mother. However, objections are possible against the lack of precise differentiation of the preoedipal and Oedipal mother images, both subsumed under the term 'mother'. In the patient described the mother must have appeared to the child as a devouring ogre, represented in his masochistic masturbation fantasy of 'a monster opening its jaw'. Too much stress is put by the authors on the 'overprotective mother'—from the child's viewpoint, arousal ('biting') without satisfaction spelled 'malicious refusal'. It is also doubtful whether the patient's cannibalistic tendencies, his 'overflowing id', represents a direct continuation of the baby situation. It is more likely that a defense mechanism intervenes: after the establishment of a masochistic attitude, pseudoaggression is used as defense. This assumption is based on a series of futile attempts of the patient to 'take the blame for the lesser crime'—his conscious feminine identification, his half-conscious expectation of punishment by the father after his confession, his pseudogenital wishes of raping mother, even his pseudoautarchic self-fellatio fantasies, etc. The decisive argument for this assumption is the behavior of obese and orally neurotic people: when they try to reduce they fail because a restriction of food intake is (unconsciously) not perceived as a voluntary, rational act but as repetition of the masochistic situation 'bad mother refuses'. To counteract the accusation of the superego pertaining to the masochistic pleasure, pseudoaggression is mobilized: 'I don't want to be refused; I want to get'. Thus, what superficially impresses one as voracity is but an inner defense. The clinically visible 'wish to get' in adults is by no means identical with its historical precursor. Unfortunately, this paper does not take reducing (in obese neurotics) into consideration.

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Article Citation

Bergler, E. (1952). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950. Psychoanal. Q., 21:144-145

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