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Alexander, J. Friedman, J. (1980). The Nature of Psychic Defence: On Seriousness. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 7:493-509.

(1980). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 7:493-509

The Nature of Psychic Defence: On Seriousness

James Alexander and John Friedman


The question concerning the nature of psychic defences in general cannot be posed without simultaneously determining 'what' these defences defend. In the present study, a distinction is made between the 'ego', as an anonymous set of possible actions and skills (apparatuses) and its narcissistic ideal (the ego-ideal), and on the other

hand the self. As opposed to being a narcissistic configuration, the self is object-related at its very centre. It is an affective-temporal structure, organized around internalized affective dispositions (ideals of the self) which constitute the most authentic hopes of the individual who is, at the same time, limited and brought back by the call of conscience (also the result of significant object representations). Given this provisional understanding of the nature of the self, the psychic defence mechanisms can be contrasted with these internalized affective dispositions. The former are always characterized by introversion to fantasy and repression, whereas the latter retain their relation to the object-(inner-) world and conform, for the most part, with the reality-principle.

The affective ideal of seriousness is an example of such a disposition. Through a metapsychological description of this phenomenon, its integrating character was revealed. Seriousness is understood as that attitude which preserves the possibility of realistic and authentic care for another. It was further shown that the realm of the aesthetic is also supported by this affective ideal, though modern non-representational art has posed the problem of dis-integration and so must be met precisely with this serious resolve.

It is to be hoped that this study has shown that, without giving up Freud's great discoveries, those concerning the instinctual bases of character and that of the unconscious, questions concerning the nature of the self and the manner in which it defends itself may be better understood through the investigation of affective dispositions (the ideals of the self) in particular and affectivity in general.

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