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Pöstényi, A. (1982). The Myth of the Omnipotent Servant. Scand. Psychoanal. Rev., 5(2):165-181.

(1982). Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review, 5(2):165-181

The Myth of the Omnipotent Servant

András Pöstényi, M.D.

Basic Characteristics

I have chosen to give the name “omnipotent servant” to a mythical figure that is very common. It is based on the notion of an all-powerful object, standing entirely at a person's disposal. The unlimited power of the figure, and the absolute control of it by the subject (the person in question) are its two defining characteristics.

In the terminology proposed by Kohut (1966, 1971) the figure represents an idealized self-object, with the important rider, however, that the object is idealized only insofar as he/she is a perfect instrument or vehicle for the subject's own grandiosity, in fantasy or reality. Conversely, as will be especially clear when the phenomenon appears in the transference, the subject will measure his own grandiosity entirely in terms of the magnificence of the object that serves him. To feel grandiose or, for that matter, to ward off panic or dejectedness, is dependent on the subject wielding absolute power over some all-powerful being. This self-contradictory requirement soon clashes with the emerging reality principle and secondary process thinking and becomes a seemingly insoluble dilemma. While the omnipotence of the object appears to the subject to fulfill a vital need, at the same time it poses a formidable danger: a danger of abandonment by the object or of its rebellion. The subject doubts either the power of the object, or his hold on it, and he is in both cases threatened by narcissistic disaster. It is therefore no coincidence that the motif of magical control of the object by the subject has to be fancifully elaborated in those day-dreams or stories in which the omnipotent servant appears. The Arabian tale of Aladdin's lamp is paradigmatic in this respect. Two of my patients have spontaneously referred to it when trying to illustrate the type of “interpersonal” relationship they regarded as ideal: “You rub the lamp and the genie appears, fulfills your wish and then disappears again.”

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