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Rizzuto, A. (1997). Clinical Applications of a Revised Theory of Aggression. Canadian J. Psychoanal., 5(2):181-196.

(1997). Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis, 5(2):181-196

Clinical Applications of a Revised Theory of Aggression

Ana-María Rizzuto

My colleagues and I have presented in the last 13 years (Buie et al. 1983, 1996, Meissner et al. 1987, and Rizzuto et al. 1993) a series of papers with a revised psychoanalytic theory of aggression. We do not consider aggression a drive in the traditional Freudian sense but a “biologically rooted drive capacity” (Rizzuto et al. 1993, p. 29) that can be called into action by appropriate stimulus conditions and motivational contexts (Buie et al. 1996, p. 1). The aggressive action aims at overcoming an obstacle that interferes with an intended physical or psychical action.

We believe that a motivational theory of aggression is more suitable to understand the dynamic components of the vicissitudes of aggressive behaviours in the psychoanalytic process.

When aggression is conceived as a biologically based drive, it becomes a force that impinges on the psyche, forcing it to discharge it We say things such as His intense aggression drove him to humiliate his wife. Here the aggressive drive exerts pressure on the husband's psyche to carry out some specific action against his wife. When aggression is conceived as a psychic capacity operating under stimulus conditioning, the analyst explores the obstacle interfering with internal or external actions that motivate the person to call upon aggressive capabilities, aiming at permitting the completion of the psychic action intended. One may come to see, then, that a man's inability to believe that his love is accepted may lead him to forcefully use other means—constructive or destructive—to make it acceptable.

In theory and in clinical work, aggression is frequently confused with hostile and destructive affects and actions. We make a clear distinction between any affect and aggression.

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