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Feiner, A.H. Levenson, E.A. (1968-1969). The Compassionate Sacrifice: An Explanation of a Metaphor. Psychoanal. Rev., 55(4):552-573.

(1968-1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 55(4):552-573

The Compassionate Sacrifice: An Explanation of a Metaphor

Arthur H. Feiner, Ph.D. and Edgar A. Levenson, M.D.


The position of the observer not only determines what data shall be looked at but also how the data that are received shall be appraised. This truism has been borne out dramatically during the past five years of our concerted attempts to study intensively and to treat psychoanalytically a group of college dropouts at a psychiatric facility.28 Early stages of our work reflected our traditional interest in the characterology and defenses of our patients. Consequently, we searched for and annotated a mass of demographic and intrapsychic data which we hoped would differentiate our population from others and, furthermore, would give us clues that would explain or make more meaningful their acts. Our own interpersonal orientation brought us to an early appreciation of the dyadic aspects of the problem. Thus, we soon began studying the interactions of our patients with others, particularly parental figures. With the focus on behavior occurring in a family situation or setting, and with the introduction of the concept of homeostasis,20 we arrived at a new vantage point in that we began to see behavior as part of a transactional process, going on among and between family members.

Yet, there seemed to be a fourth stage of organization which can be called the family or even the “tribal” system. The data at this stage we characterized as data of style or ethos. We define ethos as those particular habit patterns and attitudes of a group which can serve to identify it.

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