Saturday, February 14, 2015

Freud and Schreber: Psychoanalysis Brought to Crisis


We have hitherto been dealing with the father-complex, which was the dominant element in

Schreber’s case and with the wishful phantasy round which the illness centred. But in all of this

there is nothing characteristic of the form of disease known as paranoia, nothing that might not

be found (and that has not in fact been found) in other kinds of neuroses. The distinctive

character of paranoia (or of dementia paranoides) must be sought for elsewhere - namely, in the

particular form assumed by the symptoms; and we shall expect to find that this is determined, not

by the nature of the complexes themselves, but by the mechanism by which the symptoms are

formed or by which repression is brought about. We should be inclined to say that what was

characteristically paranoic about the illness was the fact that the patient, as a means of warding

off a homosexual wishful phantasy, reacted precisely with delusions of persecution of this kind...

a number of cases of paranoid disorder which have come under observation. The patients whose histories provided the material for this enquiry included both men and women, and varied in race, occupation, and social

standing. Yet we were astonished to find that in all of these cases defence against a

homosexual wish was clearly recognizable at the very centre of the conflict which underlay the

disease and that it was in an attempt to master an unconsciously reinforced current of

homosexuality that they had all of them come to grief. This was certainly not what we had

expected. Paranoia is precisely a disorder in which a sexual aetiology is by no means obvious; far

from this, the strikingly prominent features in the causation of paranoia, especially among males,

are social humiliations and slights. But if we go into the matter only a little more deeply, we shall

be able to see that the really operative factor in these social injuries lies in the part played in

them by the homosexual components of emotional life. So long as the individual is functioning

normally and it is consequently impossible to see into the depths of his mental life, we may doubt

whether his emotional relations to his neighbours in society have anything to do with sexuality,

either actually or in their genesis. But delusions never fail to uncover these relations and to trace

back the social feelings to their roots in a directly sensual erotic wish. So long as he was healthy,

Dr. Schreber, too, whose delusions culminated in a wishful phantasy of an unmistakably

homosexual nature, had, by all accounts, shown no signs of homosexuality in the ordinary sense

of the word.


I shall now endeavour (and I think the attempt is neither unnecessary nor unjustifiable) to show

that the knowledge of psychological processes, which, thanks to psycho-analysis, we now

possess, already enables us to understand the part played by a homosexual wish in the

development of paranoia. Recent investigations! have directed our attention to a stage in the

development of the libido which it passes through on the way from auto-erotism to object-love."

This stage has been given the name of narcissism. What happens is this. There comes a time in

the development of the individual at which he unifies his sexual instincts (which have hitherto

been engaged in auto-erotic activities) in order to obtain a love-object; and he begins by taking

himself, his own body, as his love-object, and only subsequently proceeds from this to the choice

of some person other than himself as his object. This half-way phase between auto-erotism and

object-love may perhaps be indispensable normally; but it appears that many people linger

unusually long in this condition, and that many of its features are carried over by them into the

later stages of their development. What is of chief importance in the subject’s self thus chosen as

a love object may already be the genitals. The line of development then leads on to the choice of

an external object with similar genitals - that is, to homosexual object-choice - and thence to

heterosexuality. People who are manifest homosexuals in later life have, it may be presumed,

never emancipated themselves from the binding condition that the object of their choice must

possess genitals like their own; and in this connection the infantile sexual theories which attribute

the same kind of genitals to both sexes exert much influence.

After the stage of heterosexual object-choice has been reached, the homosexual tendencies are

not, as might be supposed, done away with or brought to a stop; they are merely deflected from

their sexual aim and applied to fresh uses. They now combine with portions of the ego-instincts

and, as ‘attached’ components, help to constitute the social instincts, thus contributing an erotic

factor to friendship and comradeship, to esprit de corps and to the love of mankind in general.

How large a contribution is in fact derived from erotic sources (with the sexual aim inhibited) could

scarcely be guessed from the normal social relations of mankind. But it is not irrelevant to note

that it is precisely manifest homosexuals, and among them again precisely those that set

themselves against an indulgence in sensual acts, who are distinguished by taking a particularly

active share in the general interests of humanity - interests which have themselves sprung from a

sublimation of erotic instincts.

In my Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality I have expressed the opinion that each stage in

the development of psychosexuality affords a possibility of ‘fixation, and thus of a dispositional

point. People who have not freed themselves completely from the stage of narcissism - who, that

is to say, have at that point a fixation which may operate as a disposition to a later illness - are

exposed to the danger that some unusually intense wave of libido, finding no other outlet, may

lead to a sexualization of their social instincts and so undo the sublimations which they had

achieved in the course of their development. This result may be produced by anything that

causes the libido to flow backwards (i.e. that causes a ‘regression’): whether, on the one hand,

the libido becomes collaterally reinforced owing to some disappointment over a woman, or is

directly dammed up owing to a mishap in social relations with other men - both of these being

instances of ‘frustration’; or whether, on the other hand, there is a general intensification of the

libido, so that it becomes too powerful to find an outlet along the channels which are already

open to it, and consequently bursts through its banks at the weakest spot. Since our analyses

show that paranoics endeavour to protect themselves against any such sexualization of their

social instinctual cathexes, we are driven to suppose that the weak spot in their development is

to be looked for somewhere between the stages of auto-erotism, narcissism and homosexuality,

and that their disposition to illness (which may perhaps be susceptible of more precise definition)

must be located in that region...

In taking the view, then, that what lies at the core of the conflict in cases of paranoia among

males is a homosexual wishful phantasy of loving a man, we shall certainly not forget that the

confirmation of such an important hypothesis can only follow upon the investigation of a large

number of instances of every variety of paranoic disorder. We must therefore be prepared, if

need be, to limit our assertion to a single type of paranoia. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable fact

that the familiar principal forms of paranoia can all be represented as contradictions of the single

proposition: ‘I (a man) love him (a man)’; and indeed that they exhaust all the possible ways in

which such contradictions could be formulated.

The proposition ‘I (a man) love him’ is contradicted by: (a) Delusions of persecution; for they loudly assert:

‘I do not love him - I hate him.’ This contradiction, which must have run thus in the unconscious, cannot, however, become conscious to a paranoiac in this form. The mechanism of symptom-formation in paranoia requires that internal perceptions - feelings - shall be replaced by external perceptions. Consequently the

proposition ‘I hate him’ becomes transformed by projection into another one: ‘He hates

(persecutes) me, which will justify me in hating him.’ And thus the impelling unconscious feeling

makes its appearance as though it were the consequence of an external perception:

‘I do not love him - I hate him, because HE PERSECUTES ME.’

Observation leaves room for no doubt that the persecutor is some one who was once loved. (b)

Another element is chosen for contradiction in erotomania, which remains totally unintelligible on

any other view: ‘I do not love him - I love her.’

And in obedience to the same need for projection, the proposition is transformed into: ‘I observe

that she loves me.’

‘I do not love him - I love her, because SHE LOVES ME.’ Many cases of erotomania might give an

impression that they could be satisfactorily explained as being exaggerated or distorted heterosexual fixations, if our attention were not attracted by the circumstance that these infatuations invariably begin, not with any internal perception of loving, but with an external perception of being loved. But in this form of paranoia the intermediate proposition ‘I love her’ can also become conscious, because the contradiction between it and the original proposition is not a diametrical one, not so irreconcilable as that between love and hate: it is, after all, possible to love her as well as him. It can thus come about that the proposition which has been substituted by projection (‘she loves me’) may make way again for the ‘basic language’ proposition ‘I love her’.

‘It is not I who love the man - she loves him’, and he suspects the woman in relation to all the

men whom he himself is tempted to love.

Distortion by means of projection is necessarily absent in this instance, since, with the change of

the subject who loves, the whole process is in any case thrown outside the self. The fact that the

woman loves the men is a matter of external perception to him; whereas the facts that he himself

does not love but hates, or that he himself loves not this but that person, are matters of internal


‘It is not I who love the women - he loves them.’ The jealous woman suspects her husband in

relation to all the women by whom she is herself attracted owing to her homosexuality and the

dispositional effect of her excessive narcissism. The influence of the time of life at which her

fixation occurred is clearly shown by the selection of the love-objects which she imputes to her

husband; they are often old and quite inappropriate for a real love relation - revivals of the nurses

and servants and girls who were her friends in childhood, or sisters who were her actual rivals.

Now it might be supposed that a proposition consisting of three terms, such as ‘I love him’,

could only be contradicted in three different ways. Delusions of jealousy contradict the subject,

delusions of persecution contradict the verb, and erotomania contradicts the object. But in fact a

fourth kind of contradiction is possible - namely, one which rejects the proposition as a whole:

‘I do not love at all - I do not love any one.’ And since, after all, one’s libido must go somewhere,

this proposition seems to be the psychological equivalent of the proposition: ‘I love only myself.’

So that this kind of contradiction would give us megalomania, which we may regard as a sexual

overvaluation of the ego and may thus set beside the overvaluation of the love-object with which

we are already familiar.

The most striking characteristic of symptom-formation in paranoia is the process which deserves

the name of projection. An internal perception is suppressed, and, instead, its content, after

undergoing a certain kind of distortion, enters consciousness in the form of an external

perception. In delusions of persecution the distortion consists in a transformation of affect; what

should have been felt internally as love is perceived externally as hate...

fixation... is the precursor and necessary condition of every ‘repression’. Fixation can be described in this way. One instinct or instinctual component fails to accompany the rest along the anticipated normal path of development, and, in

consequence of this inhibition in its development, it is left behind at a more infantile stage. The libidinal current in question then behaves in relation to later psychological structures like one belonging to the system of the unconscious, like one that is repressed....

Since I neither fear the criticism of others nor shrink from criticizing myself, I have no motive for

avoiding the mention of a similarity which may possibly damage our libido theory in the estimation

of many of my readers. Schreber’s ‘rays of God’, which are made up of a condensation of the

sun’s rays, of nerve fibres, and of spermatozoa, are in reality nothing else than a concrete

representation and projection outwards of libidinal cathexes; and they thus lend his delusions a

striking conformity with our theory. His belief that the world must come to an end because his ego

was attracting all the rays to itself, his anxious concern at a later period, during the process of

reconstruction, lest God should sever His ray-connection with him, - these and many other details

of Schreber’s delusional structure sound almost like endopsychic perceptions of the processes

whose existence I have assumed in these page as the basis of our explanation of paranoia. I

can nevertheless call a friend and fellow-specialist to witness that I had developed my theory of

paranoia before I became acquainted with the contents of Schreber’s book. It remains for the

future to decide whether there is more delusion in my theory than I should like to admit, or

whether there is more truth in Schreber’s delusion than other people are as yet prepared to


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