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Beiser, H.R. (1979). The Problem of Infantile Omnipotence. Ann. Psychoanal., 7:113-132.

(1979). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 7:113-132

III Clinical Theory

The Problem of Infantile Omnipotence

Helen R. Beiser, M.D.


Infantile omnipotence is one of those terms which is frequently used, but, like infantile neurosis (Tolpin, 1970), seems to have different meanings according to the user. Is it the omnipotence projected onto the infant who appears to be in control of the ministrations of the mother and, according to Freud (1911), hallucinates the breast if it does not appear when wanted? How far up the developmental scale is it found? Is all omnipotent thought evidenced in adulthood pathological? Is latency the “glacial period,” when children are dull and use the reality principle, as indicated by S. Freud (1905), Anna Freud (1965), and Ferenczi (1916)? I became interested in this subject through my treatment of latency children and my surprise at the amount of omnipotent fantasy they demonstrated—even those who did not seem to be extremely pathological.

Reviewing the literature is confusing. The term itself is not listed in the index of Freud's Collected Works, in Anna Freud's Normality and Pathology of Childhood, or in a Glossary of Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. The Chicago Psychoanalytic Literature Index has only two references, one to an article by Pumpian-Mindlin (1969) entitled “Vicissitudes of Infantile Omnipotence” and another, with the same title, to a Panel (1974, Kramer, reporter) held by the American Psychoanalytic Association. In the latter, Ritvo states that persistent omnipotence in adults indicates a universal need to return to an infantile fusion with the mother.

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