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Blum, H.P. (1976). Masochism, The Ego Ideal, And The Psychology Of Women. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 24S(Supplement):157-191.

(1976). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 24S(Supplement):157-191

Masochism, The Ego Ideal, And The Psychology Of Women

Harold P. Blum, M.D.


Psychoanalytic advances have led to refinement and reformulation of early models of female personality development. Masochism was taken as a point of departure for a study of the psychology of women and earlier hypotheses of a masochistic and inferior female psychic structure. Masochism is a residue of unresolved infantile conflict and is neither essentially feminine nor a valuable component of mature female function and character. Though the female might be more predisposed to masochism, there is no evidence of particular female pleasure in pain. It is important to distinguish between masochistic suffering as a goal in itself, and tolerance for a discomfort or deprivation in the service of the ego or ego ideal.

Initial hypotheses of a diminished female libido, ego tendencies toward arrest and rigidity, relative inability to sublimate, and a deficient superego are imcomplete and obsolete theoretical propositions. The female ego and superego are different from but not inferior to the male.

Female development cannot be described in a simple reductionism and overgeneralization. Femininity cannot be predominantly derived from a primary masculinity, disappointed maleness, masochistic resignation to fantasied inferiority, or compensation for fantasied castration and narcissistic injury. Castration reactions and penis envy contribute to feminine character, but penis envy is not the major determinant of femininity. Penis envy variously impedes and fosters femininity but penis envy is more closely related to the girl's bisexual masculinity.

The female Oedipus complex is central to feminine development, but has significant normative roots in primary and positive feminine identifications and individuation. Contemporary contributions to the psychology of women have emphasized concepts of gender and sexual identity, body image and self-representation, psychosexual response and empathic motherliness, etc. The female superego includes an ego ideal with feminine ideals and values and regulates feminine interests. The maternal ego ideal consolidates overdetermined maternal attitudes, guides the formation and integration of maternal attitudes, and directs the developmental achievement of "the ordinary devoted mother." Conflicts between the maternal ego ideal and infanticidal impulses are ubiquitous and clinically significant.

Current theoretical amendments conceptualize mature female autonomy, pride, and self-esteem. Female creativity may be exemplified in many and new forms in addition to motherhood. The capacity to sublimate and to foster sublimation in children is a prerequisite for normal motherhood. Femininity evolves under the influence of parents and culture, with unique developmental challenges and transformations, and a universal psychobiological core linked to functions and roles that should be neither idealized nor devalued.

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