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Sugarman, A. (1979). The Infantile Personality: Orality in the Hysteric Revisited. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 60:501-513.

(1979). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 60:501-513

The Infantile Personality: Orality in the Hysteric Revisited

Alan Sugarman


For over forty years the psychiatric literature has questioned the validity of the original psychoanalytic postulates concerning the psychosexual fixation point and ego strength of the hysterical personality. The tenacity of their oral mechanisms, their dependency, and fantastic elaborations of reality had led clinicians to question whether they have indeed attained genital primacy. Other clinicians have reported levels of hysterical personality and have differentiated oedipal or neurotic hysterics from less organized ones. This author agrees that such a differentiation is a useful one and favours the term Infantile Personality for this less organized group. One of the purposes of using a term that is not a derivative of the word hysteric is to emphasize the important qualitative differences between the two groups so that what similarity there is, occurs at a superficial descriptive level.

This paper goes on to differentiate the infantile personality from the hysterical personality along several dimensions including representational world, ego weakness, cognitive organization, and affective organization. Specific features of the infantile personality associated with their borderline level of organization need to be elaborated. Specifically, the depressive, masochistic and paranoid features of these patients are discussed. Their depressive elements are thought to be anaclitic in nature while their propensity for paranoid ideation is due to their developmental arrest at a time when paranoid concerns are paramount. It then becomes necessary to distinguish the infantile personality from the narcissistic personality who is also described as self centred, exploitative, manipulative, and demanding. However, the basic neediness and subsequent intense affective bond of the infantile personality is the major discriminating factor. It is this intense affective need which promotes the ego weakness of the infantile personality so that they may appear more disorganized than the narcissistic personality despite their higher level of object relatedness.

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