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Allen, A. (1965). Stealing as a Defense. Psychoanal Q., 34:572-583.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 34:572-583

Stealing as a Defense

Arnold Allen, M.D.


As suggested by Alexander, Fenichel, and others, there is little doubt that my analytic patient's stealing represented an expression of infantile oral receptive attitudes, a spite reaction, a superego bribe, and a way of re-establishing a lost relationship. However, I should like to emphasize the concept, introduced by Alexander, elaborated by Menaker, and supported by Waelder, that many functions can be served by a single act. In certain cases, particularly where there is a strong need to reject underlying dependent strivings, stealing primarily represents an ego defense against anxiety. As in Menaker's boys, the psychopathological family setting, with weak father and phallically perceived mother, was clearly illustrated in my patient. The attempts to solve the bisexual gratification, the fluctuation between masculine and feminine roles, and confusion about them, were also clearly seen. Further he illustrated the type of superego defect which results from inability to identify successfully with the father and from fixation on the pregenital level. His passive homosexual attitude to the father, his failure to identify with him but his wish to be loved by him, and the attempt to identify with a phallic mother were also demonstrated. The most striking finding, however, was the reversal of a desire to be given into active taking, and the use of symptomatic stealing as a defense against passive pregenital wishes

for immediate gratification. Rather than the ego's operating passively as a mere tool for instinctual and superego expression, all of this implies definite defensive ego action.

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