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Firestone, R.W. (1990). The Bipolar Causality of Regression. Am. J. Psychoanal., 50(2):121-135.

(1990). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 50(2):121-135

The Bipolar Causality of Regression

Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D.

The illness followed close upon the fulfillment of a wish and put an end to all enjoyment of it ….

At first sight there is something strange about this; but on closer consideration we shall reflect that it is not at all unusual for the ego to tolerate a wish as harmless so long as it exists in phantasy alone and seems remote from fulfillment, whereas the ego will defend itself hotly against such a wish as soon as it approaches fulfillment and threatens to become a reality.

Sigmund Freud (1916/1957)

Those Wrecked by Success,” pp. 317-318

Like Polycrates, the ego sacrifices success in order to avoid the evil of death, or at least to put it off.

Otto Rank (1936/1972)

Will Therapy and Truth and Reality, p. 188

Human beings exist in a state of conflict: On the one hand, they have powerful drives to fulfill their potential as unique and independent individuals, and on the other they have self-destructive and self-limiting tendencies and strong unconscious desires to be taken care of. People usually feel the best emotionally when they are experiencing a clear sense of self and personal identity, yet these occasions are often fraught with separation anxiety and consequently are of brief duration. The process of regression described in this paper is related to this fundamental conflict between the drive toward assertion and separateness and the unresolved need to remain dependent and fused with another.

Clinicians have long recognized the importance of negative environmental influences and interpersonal stress as causative factors in regression; however, they tend to underestimate the importance of positive events. Unfortunate events such as financial loss, poverty, illness, divorce, or the death of a parent or sibling do contribute to regression; nonetheless, success—personal, professional, or financial—a satisfying love or sexual relationship, marriage, and parenthood are also primary factors in precipitating regressive trends.

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