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Miller, S.J. (2004). Reality and Conflict in Punishment Fantasies. Psychoanal. Rev., 91(1):1-22.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Review, 91(1):1-22

Reality and Conflict in Punishment Fantasies

Stephen J. Miller, Ph.D., ABPP

In 1917 Freud proposed that the internalization of an ambivalently held love object was central to the etiology of depression. At one point Freud (1921) had assumed that such identifications of the ego formed the basis for reality testing: “… among the functions of the ego ideal [is] the business of testing the reality of things” (p. 114). However, he altered and corrected this when he introduced structural theory (Freud, 1923, p. 28, note 2). In Freud's works the actual reality components of such internalizations were largely minimized in favor of explicating unconscious dynamics (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983). Yet implied in the depressed individual's internalized object were memories of the real person toward whom he or she had felt the hostility. The hostility toward this individual had aroused sufficient anxiety to necessitate such a defensive identification.

In other studies of internalized object relations, the internalized object was more clearly fanciful. Freud (1919) understood the erotic/punitive object in masturbatory beating fantasies, for example, as a composite of incestuous erotic impulses, rivalrous feelings, and guilt feelings. Yet somewhere in the image of the girl's oedipal father were vestiges of memories of her actual father. These memories breathed life into the object of her erotic fantasy, making him substantial.

Ferenczi (Stanton, 1991) spoke to this issue with his interest in subtle transference/countertransference enactments, which repeat the patient's childhood traumatization.

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