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Barnett, J. (1969). On Aggression in the Obsessional Neuroses. Contemp. Psychoanal., 6(1):48-57.

(1969). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 6(1):48-57

On Aggression in the Obsessional Neuroses

Joseph Barnett, M.D.

FEW CLINICAL conditions serve as well for a study of aggression in its many expressions as do the obsessional neuroses. Aggression permeates the experience of the obsessional, playing a major role in the etiology of the condition and figuring prominently in the obsessional patient's symptomatic living.

There is general agreement that hostility, rejection, and power struggles mark the obsessional's early life experience. But such experiences are common in the history of many other neurotic patients. What seems specifically true in the case of the obsessional, as Sullivan 11 pointed out, is the hypocrisy typical of his family experience. In such a family, the parents camouflage hostile behavior toward the child with a facade of love and concern. They rationalize their own needs as being objectively right, and self-assertion by the child as wrong. This private, arbitrary system of morality is mediated through interpersonal operations creating anxiety, shame, and guilt. I have observed 2, 3, 4 that the discrepancy between the hostility implicit in the parents' destructive behavior and their explicit avowals of concern creates a dichotomy in the experience of the child. This dichotomy forms the nucleus around which a characteristic cognitive disorder develops which, I feel, is the central fault of obsessional living.

The dilemma created for the child in such a setting is that the explicit and the literal come to represent love, approval, and ultimately self-esteem, while the implicit and the inferred come to mean hostility, rejection and consequently self-contempt.

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