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Abrams, S. (1984). Fantasy and Reality in the Oedipal Phase—A Conceptual Overview. Psychoanal. St. Child, 39:83-100.

(1984). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 39:83-100

Developmental and Theoretical Contributions

Fantasy and Reality in the Oedipal Phase—A Conceptual Overview

Samuel Abrams, M.D.


The facts and theories of psychoanalysis provide the language, the categories, and the organizing framework that make fantasy,

reality, and oedipality comprehensible. Propositions about instinctual drives and psychic structure lead to the understanding of the impetus, character, contents, and functions of fantasy. Psychoanalytic hypotheses and discoveries of the emergence of differentiated systems, of the general and specific influences of the environment, and of adaptation provide a more precise recognition of what is real. Views of development permit the delineation of a complex sequence of progressive differentiation of both fantasy and reality.

The oedipal phase, a discovery of psychoanalytic clinical research, differs in substance from all phases that precede it and, in a certain way, from all that follow it. Fantasy and reality enjoy a particularly rich interplay during this period. Id and ego become more firmly integrated, and fantasy and reality more separable and climactically differentiated. There is usefulness in distinguishing the oedipal phase and the oedipus complex. The phase features the emerging struggle between systems; it bears the disparities between fantasy and reality. The complex contains a concrete set of necessary experiences; it is the nodal conflict of the phase and the nuclear conflict of childhood. Disparities are reconciled and the conflict resolved as the phase is engaged, negotiated by way of a developmentally specific organization, and brought to an end through new defenses, more discriminate identifications, and transformational processes. The yield is the tripartite mind. There are many points of vulnerability in this sequence, but the phase may also provide a reorganizing pull forward that can correct or soften antecedent malformations. Many clinical research opportunities in child and adult analysis are suggested by this conceptual overview.

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