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Joffe, W.G. (1969). A Critical Review of the Status of the Envy Concept. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 50:533-545.

(1969). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 50:533-545

A Critical Review of the Status of the Envy Concept

Walter G. Joffe


The subject-matter of this paper is not as simple and uncomplicated as may appear at first sight. The term envy has been common currency in psychoanalysis from its beginning and refers to reactions and motives which all psychoanalysts are accustomed to dealing with in their everyday clinical practice. On the one hand it has been used to refer to overt and conscious feelings and attitudes which are regarded as indicating underlying unconscious wishes, fantasies and conflicts of many different kinds. On the other hand a whole variety of conscious or surface manifestations have, at one time or another, been regarded as representing derivatives of or reactions to unconscious envy.

The concept of envy, innate or otherwise, plays a large role in the thinking of many members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society—indeed, the British Society is, in a sense, for one reason or another a supremely envy-conscious Society, and it is for this reason that I want to take some pains to point out that the topic of envy has been and can be considered from a psychoanalytic viewpoint other than the Kleinian. Here I feel somewhat at a disadvantage. Once a feeling-state, attitude or motive has been elevated to the status of a simple, primary and basic concept, any consideration of it as a complex and secondary phenomenon must seem, by comparison, dull, conservative and uninteresting, lacking the glitter and magic of a great new discovery; or alternatively, merely carping criticism.

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