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Rutstein, E.H. Goldberger, L. (1973). The Effects of Aggressive Stimulation on Suicidal Patients: An Experimental Study of the Psychoanalytic Theory of Suicide. Psychoanal. Contemp. Sci., 2(1):157-174.

(1973). Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Science, 2(1):157-174

4 Clinical-Experimental Studies

The Effects of Aggressive Stimulation on Suicidal Patients: An Experimental Study of the Psychoanalytic Theory of Suicide

Eleanor H. Rutstein, Ph.D. and Leo Goldberger, Ph.D.

Of the psychological theories that have been formulated to account for suicidal behavior, Freud's psychoanalytic theory is outstanding, not only because of the economy and power of its explanatory constructs but also because of its influence on subsequent theories, many of which differ only in qualifications and specifications (Williams, 1936; Zilborg, 1937; Menninger, 1938; Palmer, 1941; Teicher, 1947).

Freud's classical statement of the dynamics of suicide (1917) focused on the vicissitudes of the aggressive impulse. First, he assumed a narcissistic choice of a love object, followed by a relationship which became undermined either by the loss of the object or by hurt, neglect, or disappointment at the hands of the object. This situation either imparted ambivalent feelings of love and hate toward the object or reinforced pre-existing ambivalent feelings. Normally, under these conditions of object loss or disappointment, the libido is withdrawn from the object and transferred to a new one. In cases of depression, however, the libido becomes withdrawn into the self rather than transferred to another object. A narcissistic identification with the abandoned object is established, allowing the self to become the target of the aggression originally leveled at the love object. In depression and in the extreme case, suicide, it is the unconscious sadism and hatred of the original love object which become turned back upon the self.

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