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Brenner, C. (1999). Charles Brenner on Compromise Formation. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(3):875-876.

(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(3):875-876

Charles Brenner on Compromise Formation

Charles Brenner

July 21, 1999. In Arnold Goldberg's recently published plenary address (JAPA 47/2) there appears the following statement: “My unhappiness with my unnamed colleague who urged me to return to the study of ‘compromise formation’ follows from the fact that she feels that everything is a compromise formation. If that is true, it can have no meaning, since once you say that ‘everything is,’ you have also said that ‘nothing is.’ We can only study differences” (p. 400).

As a principal proponent of the view of the role of compromise formation in mental functioning to which this quotation refers (see Brenner 1976, 1982, 1994, 1998), I think the following remarks are in order. To say that everything in mental functioning that is of interest to us in our work as analysts is a compromise formation means that the mind regularly functions in such a way as to achieve as much pleasure as possible from gratification of sexual and aggressive wishes of childhood origin and, at the same time, to avoid as much as possible the unpleasure associated with those wishes. Freud (1894) discovered very early that this statement is correct as far as psychogenic symptoms are concerned. What I have emphasized is that it is correct not only for those aspects of mental functioning that are called pathological, but also for the ones that are customarily called normal.

An objection that has been raised to this view is, I think, the one to which Goldberg meant to refer: if everything is compromise formation, how can one distinguish pathology from normality—i.

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