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Meltzer, D. (1975). Compulsive Generosity. Contemp. Psychoanal., 11:135-145.

(1975). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 11:135-145

Compulsive Generosity

Donald Meltzer, M.D.

THE CONFUSION, DUE TO PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION (Klein, 1955), between the mother's breasts and a little girl's buttocks (Meltzer, 1967) can, under certain circumstances, become such a satisfactory solution to a multiplicity of infantile, and later, social anxieties that it may constitute the mainspring of character formation, the leading quality of which may be a charming, but compulsive, generosity. The economic problem of managing to be giving-to-others without completely depleting oneself tends, however, in such people, to promote a certain fragility in their adaptation which may break down in various ways. In several patients, over a number of years, I have recognized this configuration to play a role in such diverse symptoms as depressive breakdown, anorexia, diarrhoea, manic or hypomanic reactions, examination anxiety, pseudo-nymphomania, suicidal rumination and others. In this paper I wish to focus on the character structure and the means of its fragile maintenance. To this end I will try to describe the analytic experience with a young woman in the fourth year of whose analysis we came across most convincing evidence of the deep and lasting effect upon her of her mother having developed a transient breast abscess in the first month of feeding which was incised and drained and left a small round scar.

Mrs G. had been the beautiful child of a beautiful mother who had "the best legs in the village" and a magnificent head of hair, but the feeding of four children had ruined her breasts, which seemed to my patient quite totally collapsed compared to her own.

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