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Devereux, G. (1942). Social Structure and the Economy of Affective Bonds. Psychoanal. Rev., 29(3):303-314.

(1942). Psychoanalytic Review, 29(3):303-314

Social Structure and the Economy of Affective Bonds

George Devereux

Freud's studies of the economy of the libido, have led him to formulate a highly self-consistent doctrine, whose central axiom is perhaps best expressed in his analysis of Mourning and Melancholia. Briefly stated: when death or other circumstances make a continuation of the existing libido-position impossible, the libido is re-directed toward the self. Subsequently there occurs frequently an intensive search for a suitable new love-object. When the substitute love-object is found, the individual is enabled to assume a new libido-position in the external world. In the same paper Freud also stresses the difficulties involved in operating such a shift.

It is my thesis that it is generally impossible to shift the libido from one object directly to another object, without first investing the libido temporarily in one's own self. These shifts in libidinal position involve a certain amount of time, even where a shift from the external love-object to the self occurs. Psychological upheavals occur frequently during these transitory periods and during the lapse of time, however brief, during which the libido is almost wholly invested in the self.

This principle has led me to postulate elsewhere the psychological importance of the constancy and continuity of the emotional environment. These factors are especially important when old age, increasing social isolation, a decrease in social status, or social factors limiting the individual's freedom of changing his libidinal position, etc. make it difficult for him to obtain a suitable substitute love-object, fully equivalent to the lost love-object. By “fully equivalent love object” I mean an external object or person permitting the investment of an amount of libido roughly equal to the amount of libido which had to be detached from the previous love-object and invested subsequently in the self.

The difficulties involved in such shifts vary from culture to culture, from status to status and from person to person.

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