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Steiner, J. (2018). Overcoming obstacles in analysis: Is it possible to relinquish omnipotence and accept receptive femininity?. Psychoanal Q., 87(1):1-20.

(2018). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 87(1):1-20

Target Article and Commentaries

Overcoming obstacles in analysis: Is it possible to relinquish omnipotence and accept receptive femininity?

John Steiner

In his discussion of obstacles to progress in analysis, Freud gave emphasis to two factors, the operation of the death instinct and the repudiation of femininity. In this paper, I argue that it is more appropriate to think of the death instinct as an antilife instinct expressed as envy, which leads to destructive attacks against creative links. The prototype of these links is the early oral relationship between the infant and mother, which later is expressed as the genital relationship between adults in a couple. Such mutually interdependent relationships come to represent creativity and maternal care and are particularly likely to provoke envious attacks. The vulnerability of the receptive feminine position to such attacks may lead to a preference for a masculine identity based on omnipotent identifications with powerful phallic objects. Inevitably, such defensive masculinity inflicts further damage so that progress in analysis requires, first, a relinquishment of the omnipotent phallic identification and, second, an acceptance and valuing of femininity. Some of the difficulties in this area are illustrated in a patient who feared to use her intelligence because she saw it as a cruel masculine weapon.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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