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Ross, N. (1967). The "As If" Concept. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 15:59-82.

(1967). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 15:59-82

The "As If" Concept

Nathaniel Ross, M.D.


It is perhaps more fruitful not to isolate the "as if" personality as a sharply demarcated syndrome, but to consider the "as if" state as ranging along a spectrum, with the "as if" personality in pure culture at one end, and numerous "as if" states with varying degrees of pathology, "pseudo" states resembling the "as if" in the middle, and "as if" phenomena in individuals who appear relatively normal and well functioning at the other end. Perhaps we can even speak of sublimations of the "as if" state, such as acting, political activity, extreme conformity, etc. (This "spectrum" is not meant to describe descending degrees of pathology.) It is generally agreed that the "as if" phenomenon is represented developmentally at the two-three year level of imitativeness, and does not represent true or secondary identification. Narcissism is extreme and object choices, if they can truly be called such, are of the narcissistic type. Affect is singularly poor and presumably reflects the severe retardation of ego maturation, especially with respect to

object relations. Most writers feel that this relative affectlessness is predefensive in nature, although it may be incorporated into later defensive structures. I have raised the question whether it may not represent the persistence of the operation of the primitive stimulus barrier against overwhelming instinctual pressures. While this is not technically speaking ego defense, its breakdown would account for the bizarre outbursts of primitive rage and pseudo anxiety (without affect). The superego in the "as if" state is undeveloped, and the ego ideal is of a fragile, magical, early grandiose type. I have raised the question whether the scarcity of true "as if" personalities may not be more apparent than real, because it is difficult to imagine what would motivate such individuals to seek psychiatric treatment. With extreme conformity the rule, affectlessness in the upbringers of children a widespread phenomenon, marked emphasis on material values as primary in so many families, and the very common denial of the most elementary psychic realities, it seems likely that the "as if" personality may be a far more common type than we have encountered in analytic practice.

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