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Chessick, R.D. (1994). The Dead Self. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(3):266-273.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(3):266-273

The Dead Self

Richard D. Chessick, M.D., Ph.D.

O man, citizenship of this great world-city has been yours. Whether for five years or five score, what is that to you? Whatever the law of that city decrees is fair to one and all alike. Wherein, then, is your grievance? You are not ejected from the city by any unjust judge or tyrant, but by the selfsame Nature that brought you into it; just as when an actor is dismissed by the manager who engaged him. “But I have played no more than three of the five acts.” Just so; in your drama of life, three acts are all the play. Its point of completeness is determined by him who formally sanctioned your creation and today sanctions your dissolution. Neither of those decisions lay within yourself. Pass on your way, then, with a smiling face under the smile of him who bids you to go.

—Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

How difficult it is to write about nothingness! Yet psychoanalysts must understand it somehow, so I will try. Nietzsche said that the price of creative fruitfulness is to be rich in internal opposition. Also, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra he (1968) said we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. Here is my dance for today, in the spirit of Ibsen (Kadarkay, 1991), who wrote that “living means fighting within you the ghosts of dark powers; writing is putting on trial your inmost self” (p. 401). Dear colleagues, I want to put that self on trial for you; perhaps patients have told you they have a “dead self,” empty and depleted. This is what it is like.

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