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Bloch, D. (1985). The Child's Fear of Infanticide and the Primary Motive Force of Defense. Psychoanal. Rev., 72(4):573-588.

(1985). Psychoanalytic Review, 72(4):573-588

The Child's Fear of Infanticide and the Primary Motive Force of Defense

Dorothy Bloch

Although few people would deny that the fear of being killed, of being physically annihilated, is universal, or question that it generally transcends all other fears, its role in psychic functioning has been strangely neglected. In these times of economic stress and deprivation and their attendant ills, as well as of the threat of nuclear extinction, the social basis of that fear and the real dangers that may surround us may obscure the fact that the fear itself may predate social awareness and have its origins in the familial environment.

Although the fear of being killed and the response to that fear, the wish to kill and the fear of killing, frequently emerge as central —although largely unconscious —preoccupations in the psychoanalysis of both children and adults, they have not been regarded as determining factors in the psyche's defensive process. When Freud(1933) enumerated the dangers the individual encounters at various stages of development, he listed the “danger of psychical helplessness” as characteristic of the “stage of the ego's immaturity.” Although the technique which Spotnitz(1976) has devised for the treatment of schizophrenia has advanced the scope of psychoanalysis to a considerable degree, he also refers to “the early defenses patterned by the ego in the interests of environmental mastery and psychological survival”(p.78). In spite of Winnicott's(1965) concept of the false self as “one of the most successful defense organizations,” his position is not too far removed from either that of Freud or of Spotnitz in his omission of physical and his emphasis on psychological considerations. In his discussion of the false self, he states,“Its defensive function is to hide and protect the true self, whatever that may be”(p.142).


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