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Bergler, E. (1943). On a Specific Group of Neurotic Symptoms—(Dramatizing the 'Tertium Comparationis' as an Alibi). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 24:56-58.

(1943). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 24:56-58

On a Specific Group of Neurotic Symptoms—(Dramatizing the 'Tertium Comparationis' as an Alibi)

Edmund Bergler

Every neurotic symptom contains, according to Freud, elements of unconscious wishes and unconscious prohibitions. The stress laid upon id and super-ego (or more precisely the unconscious ego) differs in different symptoms. In obsessional neurosis, for instance, the longer the symptom persists the greater the amount of id wishes which are smuggled into the defence. To express the point in a caricaturing manner, this type of symptom starts, so to speak, with the unconscious assertion 'I am a good boy'; but in the actual proof of this the 'bad boy' is visible to an ever increasing degree, and the mischief is continued. The alibi element is therefore present in every neurotic symptom. That is a generally accepted truism among Freudians and needs no repetition.

I should like to describe a specific group of neurotic symptoms characterized by the peculiar dramatization of a 'tertium comparationis'. The term is used in ars poetica to denote the comparison between two widely different objects which have only one element in common. This point of similarity is called the 'tertium comparationis'. When Homer compares the Greek soldiers storming Troy to a swarm of bees, the similarity of the Greek soldiers in movement—clinking their armour—to bees seems far-fetched. The common denominator for the poet, however, is that both produce noise. That noise is the tertium comparationis. As in poetry, we find in neurosis that certain symptoms seem to be built upon this formula. I will illustrate with some clinical examples.

An obsessional patient produced the symptom of fear of acquiring a tic.

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