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Saul, L.J. (1952). A Note on Exhibitionism and Scoptophilia. Psychoanal Q., 21:224-226.

(1952). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 21:224-226

A Note on Exhibitionism and Scoptophilia

Leon J. Saul, M.D.

A variety of inner emotional relationships between exhibitionism and scoptophilia has been described. Freud used this pair of inpulses as examples in his discussion of instincts (3), showing the changes of aim (active and passive) and of object (self or external object). Fenichel lists the motives of the sexual perversion of male exhibitionism as a denial of feelings of castration, as a reassurance through intimidation against castration fears, and as an invitation, by example, to the object to gratify reciprocally the agent's scoptophilia (2). These impulses are much more commonly seen in sublimated forms than as perversions. Some effects of repressed scoptophilia have been described by Abraham in his classic paper (1). Without tracing the origins, deeper interrelations or effects of these impulses, this note calls attention only to a relationship which is in a sense superficial, yet important for understanding patients.

Repeatedly one hears that a patient dreams of being in a theater, now in the role of admiring spectator, now in the role of admired performer; someone may be praising his appearance or performance, and next he peers at someone who stimulates his own admiration. Such dreams are simple, direct fulfilments of the wish for admiration, and in them one can see how scoptophilia can be directed toward a projection of the patient's own exhibitionism. Scoptophilic impulses can be directed toward any type of projected impulse: for example, grief. An illustration is a dream reported by Freud in which the dreamer, a woman, runs away from her lover and locks him out; then she peers through a keyhole and observes him weeping (4). Freud points out that this man is, in part, a projection of the patient. In reality it was the patient who had been shut out; the man had accepted her only as his mistress and had refused to marry her. She was grief-stricken. Looking through the keyhole is partly looking at herself in the form of a projection.

Exhibitionism in dreams of being admired is often a direct expression of an infantile wish for love which takes this form rather than, for example, being fed, protected, snuggled, or loved genitally (7).

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