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Grotjahn, M. (1945). 'Self-Preservation and the Death Instinct.': Ernst Simmel. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1944, Vol. XIII, No. 2, pp. 160–185.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 26:180-181.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: 'Self-Preservation and the Death Instinct.': Ernst Simmel. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1944, Vol. XIII, No. 2, pp. 160–185.

(1945). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 26:180-181

'Self-Preservation and the Death Instinct.': Ernst Simmel. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1944, Vol. XIII, No. 2, pp. 160–185.

Martin Grotjahn

Simmel's paper presents clinical material and its interpretation, as well as conclusions based on work reported as far back as 1921 and 1924, in papers on 'Primal Repression' and 'Intestinal Libido', and later (1932) on 'Pregenital Instinctual Primacy and Libidinal Organization'. His theory differs to a certain degree from Freud's views, for, according to him, the destructive energies are not manifestations of a death instinct but of an instinct for self-preservation. Freud considered that the oral stage of the libido, the impulse to cannibalistic destruction and the manifestations of the instinct of self-preservation were identical or closely coordinated. With this theory Freud paved the way for new insight, but, in Simmel's view, did not follow it up.

Freud's formulation that the ego, in all its conflicts, can have no other aim than to maintain itself is re-interpretated in terms of the pleasure principle. Self-preservation indicates the ego's impulse to keep itself free from anxiety. The ego's aim to maintain itself expresses its need to restore its narcissistic equilibrium to normal. The narcissistic equilibrium of the mature ego is reflected in unawareness of itself. The narcissistic equilibrium of the immature ego is reflected in a state of unconsciousness. An ego is immature before it develops a workable super-ego or, in a pathological condition, when the super-ego function is regressively disturbed. This is by and large the case in psychotic deteriorations of the ego, where the aim of self-preservation means unconsciousness.

What is the origin of the principle of self-preservation? What are its organic source, aim and object? Simmel answers these questions as follows: 'The origin is the instinct to devour. The organic source is the gastro-intestinal tract. Its aim is to remove the stimulus from the gastro-intestinal tract and its object is food.' Gratification of the sexual instinct removes the excitation of its organic source and preserves the object, whereas gratification of the instinct for self-preservation removes the excitation of the gastro-intestinal zone and destroys the object. In this way Simmel reconciles Freud's latest general conception of libido with the thesis of destruction as a manifestation of the self-preservation of the ego and with the view that the ego instincts are of a libidinal nature.

Simmel's fundamental thesis is that the most primitive stage of libidinal development is not the oral, but the gastro-intestinal one. Mouth and anus are merely to be considered as the terminal parts of this organic zone. Simmel terms the psychological condition of prenatal existence 'primordial narcissism'. It is the vegetative stage of the pre-ego, identical with the id. At this stage there is complete instinctual repose, manifested in unconsciousness. Satiation of the gastro-intestinal zone, the representative of the instinct of self-preservation, can bring back this complete instinctual

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repose, which, under pathological conditions, can become the aim of the instinct.

Freud's statement that in the beginning of life the qualities of narcissistic libido and object libido are indistinguishable is confirmed. The individual's aggressive impulses, which are aroused as a reaction to object frustration, are irrespective of the executive organ, unconscious derivatives of the demands of the gastro-intestinal zone. Hate is the emotional expression of the demands of the gastro-intestinal zone, just as love is the emotional expression of the genital zone. To summarize: 'The genital primacy of our libido organization is preceded by a pregenital gastro-intestinal primacy.' A continuous conflict between these two instinctual primacies persists throughout life. In every traumatic experience, based on a frustration of object love, the ego tends to abandon its genital libidinal primacy in exchange for the gastro-intestinal libidinal primacy, i.e. to abandon love for hate.

The more clinical part of the paper illustrates the application of these theories to the different psycho-pathological syndromes, of which the analysis of the psychoses is the most interesting. The author maintains, for instance, that what the individual tends to repeat under pathological conditions is not the birth trauma. What he really wants to repeat is the repair of the disruption of his primal narcissism. According to Simmel, it is not the impulse to return to the mother's womb which is at the bottom of ego disorders, but the unconscious impulse to repeat the post-natal act of incorporation, which was able to re-establish psychologically the pre-natal condition of primal narcissism. Again, Simmel regards regression from one instinctual primacy to the other as a normal prerequisite for the solution of the Oedipus complex. Super-ego formation comes about as a substitute for, and, at the same time, as a reaction against, actual gratification of the devouring instinct.

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Article Citation

Grotjahn, M. (1945). 'Self-Preservation and the Death Instinct.'. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 26:180-181

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