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Sperber, M.A. (1974-75). Symbiotic Psychosis and The Need for Fame. Psychoanal. Rev., 61(4):517-534.

(1974-75). Psychoanalytic Review, 61(4):517-534

Symbiotic Psychosis and The Need for Fame

Michael A. Sperber, M.D.

In this paper I attempt to synthesize Tartakoff's concept of the “Nobel Prize complex” and Mahler's views on symbiotic relations.6, 7, 8 The “performance-oriented symbiosis” which I have formulated is a dyadic parent-child relationship in which the child gains approval only if he achieves or strives toward some goal which gives the parents vicarious satisfaction. Should the child's performance not meet the parents’ expectations, or should his level of aspiration be lower than theirs, they may reject him. This type of dyadic relationship is common in our achievement-oriented society.

I. The “Nobel Prize Complex”

The “Nobel Prize complex,” a nosological entity described by Tartakoff, applies to the individual who is preoccupied with achieving and ambitious goal. He pursues his objective with an “all-or-nothing” attitude, whether it be wealth, social position, or the Presidency, and his narcissistic tendency seems to be reinforced by an achievement-oriented society. He may have intellectual or artistic talents as well as charismatic qualities admired by others, but his obsession with fame may prevent him from using his abilities effectively. Hypersensitive to real and fantasized disappointments in life, particularly to lack of recognition, he may react by developing psychosomatic symptoms. He unconsciously regards psychotherapy as a form of magic and expects the therapist to applaud him as his mother did.

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