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Oelsner, R. (2009). One Envy or Many?: Commentary on Paper by Julie Gerhardt. Psychoanal. Dial., 19(3):297-308.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 19(3):297-308

One Envy or Many?: Commentary on Paper by Julie Gerhardt

Robert Oelsner, M.D. and F.I.P.A.


The invitation to discuss Dr. Gerhardt's paper on envy, particularly focused on some American contemporary authors that depart from Mrs. Klein's original contribution, has made me want to take an incursion into a theme that typically divides analytic schools and analysts.

My attempt is not to make an argument for or against theoretical positions but rather try to outline the frames that each position belongs to, so as to analyze in depth their degrees of consistency, their similarities and differences. For the sake of clarity I first go back to my understanding of Klein's concept of primary envy in its relation to gratitude and love and its developmental and clinical implications. Next I remind the readers of some of the post-Kleinian contributions on the concept of envy, some of which differ from Klein but still have a common root in her theories. And finally I examine Dr. Gerhardt's article and the authors she follows. I hope that, at the end, readers will be able to respond to the question of the title by themselves: “One envy or many?”


Mrs. Klein and so-called Kleinian analysts are often believed to have a grim and negative view of patients, finding envy, destructiveness, and trickery everywhere, blaming their patients and never acknowledging the importance of the environment. Some believe that Klein and Kleinian analysts would only go for and interpret the negative transference and make of envy a universal disease that all of their patients suffer and need to be cured from. Klein herself knew that she was up for that as Britton (2008a. p. 125) reminded us, citing Gammill (1989) who remembered her saying a propos her book on Envy: “Some have broken off with me because of the new concepts; others want to believe that the new concept will deal with and explain everything”. We analysts are certainly not a good example of the depressive position!

Looking at Klein's book title Envy and Gratitude we see her being a dualistic thinker as were Freud and Abraham. Right as her first sentence states:

I have for many years been interested in the earliest sources of two attitudes that have always been familiar—envy and gratitude.

[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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