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Stolorow, R.D. (1975). A Note on Devouring and Being Devoured. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(3):285-285.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(3):285-285

Brief Communications

A Note on Devouring and Being Devoured

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.

According to classical Freudian theory, images of devouring and being devoured are interpreted as primitive oral-cannibalistic instinct derivatives. The following clinical vignette suggests another (noninstinctual) pathway along which the theme of devouring and being devoured may develop.

A severely narcissistically disordered patient with borderline features described the tremendous pressures he felt to live up to a superhuman, grandiose-perfectionistic image of the self: “There's a part of me that never gives me peace, never lets me alone. This part of me can never be satisfied. It's omnivorous! Whatever I do is not enough. Whatever I do, this part of me devours and demands more. It's omnivorous. It can't be satisfied.” The patient then came to the insight that his devouring need for total success and fulfillment stemmed in part from his fruitless attempt to satisfy this insatiable, omnivorous part of him which, after more than four years of treatment, had become painfully ego-alien.

He associated to his feeling as a child that it was his duty to make his mother happy through his own success and perfection, which would reflect back on her and raise her self-regard. If the patient revealed to his mother any dysphoric affect or difficulties in his living, the mother would break down in tears, regarding his dysphoria or difficulties as her own personal failure. Clearly, his mother regarded him as her narcissistic extension; that is, she looked to his performance to regulate her own precarious self-esteem.

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