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Saul, L.J. (1950). The Punishment Fits the Source. Psychoanal Q., 19:164-169.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:164-169

The Punishment Fits the Source

Leon J. Saul, M.D.


According to the law of the talion, 'the punishment fits the crime'. In addition to this an unconscious mental mechanism is often seen in which 'the punishment fits the motive for the crime'. This can be carried further to cases in which 'the punishment fits the source of the motive'. A person whose hostility is revenge for oral frustration develops oral symptoms. One whose hostility is revenge for frustrated needs for love or for prestige punishes himself by frustrating these very needs. The main interplay of emotion, id impulse, and superego reaction takes place over this pathway. The central pathway may be an organ system, such as the gastrointestinal (e.g. as in certain oral cases) or the genital, or, on a higher or more sublimated psychological level, the pathway may be needs for prestige. Each person has, or tends to have, a particular pathway, or combination of pathways, for satisfying his needs—and over which his major emotional interplay is expressed—his frustrations, his fight-flight reactions, and the reactions of his superego. This is an important mechanism for understanding certain patients. It is of interest in relation to the behavior of the superego, and casts light upon various symptoms such as

paranoid jealousy and castration anxiety and upon the choice of symptoms.

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