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Mitchell, S.A. (1998). Aggression and the Endangered Self. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(1):21-30.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(1):21-30

Aggression and the Endangered Self

Stephen A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Aggression is one of the most complex issues psychoanalysts grapple with, both in theory and in daily clinical practice. Aggression, like all central psychoanalytic problems involving biological, historical and clinical concerns, is something none of us individually, nor we as a collective discipline, are likely to come to a fixed and final position on.

The very word aggression is such a clumsy tool to describe what are probably many, many different kinds of experiences. I am sure there are at least as many different kinds of aggression as there are different kinds of snow. As the Eskimos developed many different words to distinguish kinds of snow, we are at a point in the history of psychoanalytic ideas where we need to develop many different words and different theoretical concepts to distinguish kinds of aggression. Given the present crude state of our terminology and concepts, it is very difficult to say everything one would want to about aggression all at once. This article is a very schematic condensation of my current thinking about what might be termed “destructive aggression” or “sadism” and the way it fits in with various lines of prior psychoanalytic theorizing. Destructive aggression is very different from other closely related experiences like assertion, which, among other things, has a very different biology.


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