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Satow, R. (1985). A Question of Bedrock: Is Penis Envy the Bottom Line?. Psychoanal. Rev., 72(2):265-275.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Review, 72(2):265-275

A Question of Bedrock: Is Penis Envy the Bottom Line?

Roberta Satow, Ph.D.

Historically, there has been a shift in the understanding of penis envy — from Freud's view of it as the “bedrock” of female neurosis to the tendency to view it as a highly condensed mental product with many levels of meaning. However, while the shift has been formidable in terms of how modern clinicians work, it is only hinted at in psychoanalytic literature. This article will give an historical overview of this change and then provide two clinical examples that illustrate the variety of meanings and functions penis envy can serve. This discussion should clarify the clinical usefulness of removing the concept of penis envy from its origins in id psychology and placing it within a developmental ego psychology framework.

Penis envy in adult women must be viewed as a phenomenon that may be a regressive attempt to resolve the oedipal conflict, but that can also reflect developmental arrests at several levels as well as have many defensive functions. It is my contention that penis envy has many derivatives, but is itself derivative of earlier developmental issues if it comes up in analysis in anything more than a transitory way. The nature of those developmental issues determines the meaning of the penis envy, whether it is used defensively, the type of anxiety attached to it, and its intensity.

Review of the Concept

Freud saw penis envy as the core of female neurosis and the bedrock of psychoanalytic investigation in female patients.

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