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Schwartz, C. (1989). Ambivalence: Its Relationship to Narcissism and Superego Development. Psychoanal. Rev., 76(4):511-527.

(1989). Psychoanalytic Review, 76(4):511-527

Ambivalence: Its Relationship to Narcissism and Superego Development

Charlotte Schwartz, C.S.W.

A discussion of ambivalence in the current annals of psychoanalytic theory has the ring of an anachronism. New theoretical concepts (new in the sense of extended meaning) dominate the intellectual climate. These have evolved from our attempts to grapple with rather pervasive and resistant character structures and character pathologies that, on the surface, seem untreatable by the old theories and methodologies. One such construct is the concept of splitting, first formulated by Breuer and Freud in The Studies of Hysteria (1893-1895), and further elaborated by Freud in his writings on fetishism (1927, 1940). The current thinking evolving from the writings of Klein, Fairbairn, and Kernberg places the mechanism of splitting in a central position in the structuralization of the psychic apparatus. It has become the sine qua non of mental activity. It is not possible within the framework of this paper to enter into a discussion or comparison of the two concepts. At best, I can only draw attention to the factor that many conditions in mental development, which formerly would have been discussed as indicative of ambivalence, now fall under the aegis of splitting mechanisms.

I propose in this paper a reconsideration of the concept of ambivalence in regard to time of onset and to show the centrality of its role in the integrative process of ego and superego structures. Further, it is my intent to show that the failure to adequately resolve ambivalence has serious implications for clinical practice. Conflicts due to ambivalence result in treatment failure on par with those we ascribe to the negative therapeutic reaction, to the persistence of the repetition compulsion and those stemming from a wide range of ego deficits.


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