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Garma (1971). Within the Realm of the Death Instinct. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 52:145-154.

(1971). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52:145-154

Within the Realm of the Death Instinct

Ángel Garma

This paper is intended as a basis for discussion of the subject of aggression and will deal with various aspects of the death instinct theory. My choice of this theory for discussion was influenced by the existence in our modern civilization of profound discontents, in spite of immense possibilities for happiness.

After a review of the theory I attempt to show that masochistic reactions are incompatible with the pleasure principle. Afterwards I defend the thesis that everybody loves or is aggressive against his neighbour as he loves or is aggressive against himself. I then investigate manifestations of the death instinct unrelated to guilt feelings and discuss psychoanalytic interpretations of sadism turned against the self. In conclusion I maintain that the theory of the death instinct, which answers to reality, is both sinister and optimistic.


Freud reformulated the instincts into two main groups: those of life and those of death. He postulated the death instinct on the basis of his speculations on the repetition compulsion and the tendency of the instincts to re-establish earlier situations, and also on the basis of clinical facts allegedly contrary to the pleasure principle, as for example: traumatic neuroses, fate neuroses, masochism, unconscious guilt feelings, the transferential repetition of painful infantile experiences and negative therapeutic reactions.

Freud (1920p. 38) thought that the instincts were the result of interaction between organic matter and environmental circumstances:

the phenomena of organic development must be attributed to external disturbing and diverting influences.

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