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Hyman, M. (1975). In Defense of Libido Theory. Ann. Psychoanal., 3:21-36.

(1975). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 3:21-36

In Defense of Libido Theory

Marvin Hyman, Ph.D.

I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.


The concept of psychic energy, and particularly of libido as a form of psychic energy, is a central one in psychoanalytic theory. From this central concept, the main hypotheses and formulations that make up the theory have been derived: repression, sublimation, psychosexual development, the structural hypothesis, ego psychology, and the theory of dreams. The various elaborations and extensions of the concept of libido are too numerous to mention here, nor would their enumeration be consistent with the purposes of this presentation, but certainly, beside the metapsychological formulations of Freud's (1900, 1905, 1915a, 1915b, 1915c), two contributions of Sterba's do deserve mention. In his text on libido theory, Sterba (1968) provides both an elementary statement of the theory and, at the same time, an example of the coherence that psychoanalytic theoretical presentations ought to, but frequently do not, have. In that same text, we also find a remarkable observation that provides, as will be elaborated below, the basis for the continued utilization of the energy concept in psychoanalytic theory. Sterba's (1930) paper on sublimation illustrates beautifully the descriptive uses to which libido theory can be put and the value of the concept as a theoretical tool.

My purpose in citing Sterba's works at this point is to provide examples to which the reader can refer in assessing the manner in which psychoanalytic theory has utilized the concepts of psychic energy and libido.

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