1940 Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States
1940 Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 21:125-153 (IJP)
Mourning and its Relation to Manic-Depressive States1
An essential part of the work of mourning is, as Freud points out in 'Mourning and Melancholia', the testing of reality. He says that 'in grief this period of time is necessary for detailed carrying out of the behest imposed by the testing of reality, and ?by accomplishing this labour the ego succeeds in freeing its libido from the lost object', 2 And again: 'Each single one of the memories and hopes which bound the libido to the object is brought up and hyper-cathected, and the detachment of the libido from it accomplished. Why this process of carrying out the behest of reality bit by bit, which is in the nature of a compromise, should be so extraordinarily painful is not at all easy to explain in terms of mental economics. It is worth noting that this pain seems natural to us.'3 And, in another passage: 'We do not even know by what economic measures the work of mourning is carried through; possibly, however, a conjecture may help us here. Reality passes its verdict梩hat the object no longer exists梪pon each single one of the memories and hopes through which the libido was attached to the lost object, and the ego, confronted as it were with the decision whether it will share this fate, is persuaded by the sum of its narcissistic satisfactions in being alive to sever its attachment to the non-existent object. We may imagine that, because of the slowness and the gradual
1This paper was read originally before the Fifteenth International Psycho-Analytical Congress, Paris, 1938. It was subsequently revised and enlarged with a view to its inclusion in the Ernest Jones Sixtieth Birthday Number of this JOURNAL, Vol. XX, Parts 3 and 4, 1939.
2Collected Papers, Vol. IV, p. 163.
3Collected Papers, p. 154.
4Collected Papers, p. 166.
- 125 -
way in which this severance is achieved, the expenditure of energy necessary for it becomes somehow dissipated by the time the task is carried through.'4
In my view there is a close connection between the testing of reality in normal mourning and early processes of the mind. My contention is that the child goes through states of mind comparable to the mourning of the adult, or rather, that this early mourning is revived whenever grief is experienced in later life. The most important of the methods by which the child overcomes his states of mourning, is, in my view, the testing of reality; this process, however, as Freud stresses, is part of the work of mourning.
In my paper 'A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States', 5 I introduced the conception of the infantile depressive position, and showed the connection between that position and manic-depressive states. Now in order to make clear the relation between the infantile depressive position and normal mourning I must first briefly refer to some statements I made in that paper, and shall then enlarge on them. In the course of this exposition I also hope to make a contribution to the further understanding of the connection between normal mourning, on the one hand, and abnormal mourning and manic-depressive states, on the other.
I said there that the baby experiences depressive feelings which reach a climax just before, during and after weaning. This is the state of mind in the baby which I termed the 'depressive position', and I suggested that it is a melancholia in statu nascendi. The object which is being mourned is the mother's breast and all that the breast and the milk have come to stand for in the infant's mind: namely, love, goodness and security. All these are felt by the baby to be lost, and lost as a result of his own uncontrollable greedy and destructive phantasies and impulses against his mother's breasts. Further distress about impending loss (this time of both parents) arises out of the Oedipus situation, which sets in so early and in such close connection with breast frustrations that in its beginnings it is dominated by oral impulses and fears. The circle of loved objects who are attacked in phantasy and whose loss is therefore feared widens owing to the child's
5This JOURNAL, Vol. XVI, 1935. The present paper is a continuation of that paper, and much of what I have now to say will of necessity assume the conclusions I arrived at there.
- 126 -
ambivalent relations to his brothers and sisters. The aggression against phantasied brothers and sisters, who are attacked inside the mother's body, also gives rise to feelings of guilt and loss. The sorrow and concern about the feared loss of the 'good' objects, that is to say, the depressive position, is, in my experience, the deepest source of the painful conflicts in the Oedipus situation, as well as in the child's relations to people in general. In normal development these feelings of grief and fears are overcome by various methods.
Along with the child's relation, first to his mother and soon to his father and other people, go those processes of internalization on which I have laid so much stress in my work. The baby, having incorporated his parents, feels them to be live people inside his body in the concrete way in which deep unconscious phantasies are experienced梩hey are, in his mind, 'internal' or 'inner' objects, as I have termed them. Thus an inner world is being built up in the child's unconscious mind, corresponding to his actual experiences and the impressions he gains from people and the external world, and yet altered by his own phantasies and impulses. If it is a world of people predominantly at peace with each other and with the ego, inner harmony, security and integration ensue.
There is a constant interaction between anxieties relating to the 'external' mother梐s I will call her here in contrast to the 'internal' one梐nd those relating to the 'internal' mother, and the methods used by the ego for dealing with these two sets of anxieties are closely inter-related. In the baby's mind, the 'internal' mother is bound up with the 'external' one, of whom she is a 'double', though one which at once undergoes alterations in his mind through the very process of internalization; that is to say, her image is influenced by his phantasies, and by internal stimuli and internal experiences of all kinds. When external situations which he lives through become internalized梐nd I hold that they do, from the earliest days onwards梩hey follow the same pattern: they also become 'doubles' of real situations, and are again altered for the same reasons. The fact that by being internalized, people, things, situations and happenings梩he whole inner world which is being built up梑ecome inaccessible to the child's accurate observation and judgement, and cannot be verified by the means of perception which are available in connection with the tangible and palpable object-world, has an important bearing on the phantastic nature of this inner world. The ensuing doubts, uncertainty and anxieties act as a continuous incentive to the young child to
6Here I can only refer in passing to the great impetus which these anxieties afford to the development of interests and sublimations of all kinds. If these anxieties are over-strong, they may interfere with or even check intellectual development. (Cf. Klein, 'A Contribution to the Theory of Intellectual Inhibition', this JOURNAL, Vol. XII, 1931.)
- 127 -
observe and make sure about the external object-world, 6 from which this inner world springs, and by these means to understand the internal one better. The visible mother thus provides continuous proofs of what the 'internal' mother is like, whether she is loving or angry, helpful or revengeful. The extent to which external reality is able to disprove anxieties and sorrow relating to the internal reality varies with each individual, but could be taken as one of the criteria for normality. In children who are so much dominated by their internal world that their anxieties cannot be sufficiently disproved and counteracted even by the pleasant aspects of their relationships with people, severe mental difficulties are unavoidable. On the other hand, a certain amount even of unpleasant experiences is of value in this testing of reality by the child if, through overcoming them, he feels that he can retain his objects as well as their love for him and his love for them, and thus preserve or re-establish internal life and harmony in face of dangers.
All the enjoyments which the baby lives through in relation to his mother are so many proofs to him that the loved object inside as well as outside is not injured, is not turned into a vengeful person. The increase of love and trust, and the diminishing of fears through happy experiences, help the baby step by step to overcome his depression and feeling of loss (mourning). They enable him to test his inner reality by means of outer reality. Through being loved and through the enjoyment and comfort he has in relation to people his confidence in his own as well as in other people's goodness becomes strengthened, his hope that his 'good' objects and his own ego can be saved and preserved increases, at the same time as his ambivalence and acute fears of internal destruction diminish.
Unpleasant experiences and the lack of enjoyable ones, in the young child, especially lack of happy and close contact with loved people, increase ambivalence, diminish trust and hope and confirm anxieties about inner annihilation and external persecution; moreover they slow down and perhaps permanently check the beneficial processes through which in the long run inner security is achieved.
- 128 -
In the process of acquiring knowledge, every new piece of experience has to be fitted into the patterns provided by the psychic reality which prevails at the time; whilst the psychic reality of the child is gradually influenced by every step in his progressive knowledge of external reality. Every such step goes along with his more and more firmly establishing his inner 'good' objects, and is used by the ego as a means of overcoming the depressive position.
In other connections I have expressed the view that every infant experiences anxieties which are psychotic in content, 7 and that the infantile neurosis8 is the normal means of dealing with and modifying these anxieties. This conclusion I can now state more precisely, as a result of my work on the infantile depressive position, which has led me to believe that it is the central position in the child's development. In the infantile neurosis the early depressive position finds expression, is worked through and gradually overcome; and this is an important part of the process of organization and integration which, together with his sexual development, 9 characterizes the first years of life. Normally the child passes through his infantile neurosis, and among other achievements arrives step by step at a good relation to people and to reality. I hold that this satisfactory relation to people depends upon his having succeeded in his struggles against the chaos inside
7The Psycho-Analysis of Children, 1932; in particular, Chapter VIII.
8In the same book (p. 149), referring to my view that every child passes through a neurosis differing only in degree from one individual to another, I added: 'This view, which I have maintained for a number of years now, has lately received valuable support. In his book, Die Frage der Laienanalyse (1926), Freud writes: "Since we have learnt to see more clearly we are almost inclined to say that the occurrence of a neurosis in childhood is not the exception but the rule. It seems as though it is a thing that cannot be avoided in the course of development from the infantile disposition to the social life of the adult" (S. 61).'
9At every juncture the child's feelings, fears and defences are linked up with his libidinal wishes and fixations, and the outcome of his sexual development in childhood is always interdependent with the processes I am describing in this paper. I think that new light will be thrown on the child's libidinal development if we consider it in connection with the depressive position and the defences used against that position. It is, however, a subject of such importance that it needs to be dealt with fully, and is therefore beyond the scope of this paper.
- 129 -
him (the depressive position) and having securely established his 'good' internal objects.
Let us now consider more closely the methods and mechanisms by which this development comes about.
In the baby, processes of introjection and projection, since they are dominated by aggression and anxieties which reinforce each other, lead to fears of persecution by terrifying objects. To such fears are added those of losing his loved objects; that is to say, the depressive position has arisen. When I first introduced the conception of the depressive position I put forward the suggestion that the introjection of the whole loved object gives rise to concern and sorrow lest that object should be destroyed (by the 'bad' objects and the id), and that these distressed feelings and fears, in addition to the paranoid set of fears and defences, constitute the depressive position. There are thus two sets of fears, feelings and defences, which, however varied in themselves and however intimately linked together, can in my view, for purposes of theoretical clearness, be isolated from each other. The first set of feelings and phantasies are the persecutory ones, characterized by fears relating to the destruction of the ego by internal persecutors. The defences against these fears are predominantly the destruction of the persecutors by violent or secretive and cunning methods. With these fears and defences I have dealt in detail in other contexts. The second set of feelings which go to make up the depressive position I formerly described without suggesting a term for them. I now propose to use for these feelings of sorrow and concern for the loved objects, the fears of losing them and the longing to regain them, a simple word derived from everyday language梟amely the 'pining' for the loved object. In short梡ersecution (by 'bad' objects) and the characteristic defences against it, on the one hand, and pining for the loved ('good') object, on the other, constitute the depressive position.
When the depressive position arises, the ego is forced (in addition to earlier defences) to develop methods of defence which are essentially directed against the 'pining' for the loved object. These are fundamental to the whole ego-organization. I formerly termed some of these methods manic defences, or the manic position, because of their relationship to the manic-depressive illness.10
10'A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States', this JOURNAL, Vol. XVI, 1935.
- 130 -
The fluctuations between the depressive and the manic position are an essential part of normal development. The ego is driven by depressive anxieties (anxiety lest the loved objects as well as itself should be destroyed) to build up omnipotent and violent phantasies, partly for the purpose of controlling and mastering the 'bad', dangerous objects, partly in order to save and restore the loved ones. From the very beginning, these omnipotent phantasies, both the destructive and the reparative ones, stimulate and enter into all the activities, interests and sublimations of the child. In the infant, the extreme character both of his sadistic and of his constructive phantasies is in line with the extreme frightfulness of his persecutors梐nd, at the other end of the scale, the extreme perfection of his 'good' objects.11 Idealization is an essential part of the manic position and is bound up with another important element of that position, namely denial. Without partial and temporary denial of psychic reality the ego cannot bear the disaster by which it feels itself threatened when the depressive position is at its height. Omnipotence, denial and idealization, closely bound up with ambivalence, enable the early ego to assert itself to a certain degree against its internal persecutors and
11I have pointed out in various connections (first of all in 'The Early Stages of the Oedipus Complex', this JOURNAL, Vol. IX, 1928) that the fear of phantastically 'bad' persecutors and the belief in phantastically 'good' objects are bound up with each other. Idealization is an essential process in the young child's mind, since he cannot yet cope in any other way with his fears of persecution (a result of his own hatred). Not until early anxieties have been sufficiently relieved owing to experiences which increase love and trust, is it possible to establish the all-important process of bringing together more closely the various aspects of objects (external, internal, 'good' and 'bad', loved and hated), and thus for hatred to become actually mitigated by love梬hich means a decrease of ambivalence. While the separation of these contrasting aspects 梖elt in the unconscious as contrasting objects 梠perates strongly, feelings of hatred and love are also so much divorced from each other that love cannot mitigate hatred.
The flight to the internalized 'good' object, which Melitta Schmideberg (in 'Psychotic Mechanisms in Cultural Development', this JOURNAL, Vol. XI, 1930) has found to be a fundamental mechanism in schizophrenia, thus also enters into the process of idealization which the young child normally resorts to in his depressive anxieties. Melitta Schmideberg has also repeatedly drawn attention to the connections between idealization and distrust of the object.
- 131 -
against a slavish and perilous dependence upon its loved objects, and thus to make further advances in development. I will here quote a passage from my former paper:
In the earliest phase the persecuting and the good objects (breasts) are kept wide apart in the child's mind. When, along with the introjection of the whole and real object, they come closer together, the ego has over and over again recourse to that mechanism梥o important for the development of the relations to objects梟amely, a splitting of its imagos into loved and hated, that is to say, into good and dangerous ones.
One might think that it is actually at this point that ambivalence which, after all, refers to object-relations梩hat is to say, to whole and real objects梥ets in. Ambivalence, carried out in a splitting of the imagos, enables the small child to gain more trust and belief in its real objects and thus in its internalized ones梩o love them more and to carry out in an increasing degree its phantasies of restoration on the loved object. At the same time the paranoid anxieties and defences are directed towards the "bad" objects. The support which the ego gets from a real "good" object is increased by a flight-mechanism, which alternates between its external and internal good objects. [Idealization.]
It seems that at this stage of development the unification of external and internal, loved and hated, real and imaginary objects is carried out in such a way that each step in the unification leads again to a renewed splitting of the imagos. But as the adaptation to the external world increases, this splitting is carried out on planes which gradually become increasingly nearer and nearer to reality. This goes on until love for the real and the internalized objects and trust in them are well established. Then ambivalence, which is partly a safeguard against one's own hate and against the hated and terrifying objects, will in normal development again diminish in varying degrees.12
As has already been stated, omnipotence prevails in the early phantasies, both the destructive and the reparative ones, and influences sublimations as well as object relations. Omnipotence, however, is so closely bound up in the unconscious with the sadistic impulses with which it was first associated that the child feels again and again that his attempts at reparation have not succeeded, or will not succeed. His sadistic impulses, he feels, may easily get the better of him. The young child, who cannot sufficiently trust his reparative and constructive feelings, as we have seen, resorts to manic omnipotence. For
12'A Contribution to the Psychogenesis of Manic-Depressive States', pp. 172?.
13The Psycho-Analysis of Children, pp. 170 and 278.
14The Psycho-Analysis of Children, Chapter IX.
- 132 -
this reason, in an early stage of development the ego has not adequate means at its disposal to deal efficiently with guilt and anxiety. All this leads to the need in the child梐nd for that matter to some extent in the adult also梩o repeat certain actions obsessionally (this, in my view, is part of the repetition compulsion);13 or梩he contrasting method梠mnipotence and denial are resorted to. When the defences of a manic nature fail, defences in which dangers from various sources are in an omnipotent way denied or minimized, the ego is driven alternately or simultaneously, to combat the fears of deterioration and disintegration by attempted reparations carried out in obsessional ways. I have described elsewhere14 my conclusion that the obsessional mechanisms are a defence against paranoid anxieties as well as a means of modifying them, and here I will only show briefly the connection between obsessional mechanisms and manic defences in relation to the depressive position in normal development.
The very fact that manic defences are operating in such close connection with the obsessional ones contributes to the ego's fear that the reparation attempted by obsessional means has also failed. The desire to control the object, the sadistic gratification of overcoming and humiliating it, of getting the better of it, the triumph over it, may enter so strongly into the act of reparation (carried out by thoughts, activities or sublimations) that the benign circle started by this act becomes broken. The objects which were to be restored change again into persecutors, and in turn paranoid fears are revived. These fears reinforce the paranoid defence mechanisms (of destroying the object) as well as the manic mechanisms (of controlling it or keeping it in suspended animation, and so on). The reparation which was in progress is thus disturbed or even nullified梐ccording to the extent to which these mechanisms are activated. As a result of the failure of the act of reparation, the ego has to resort again and again to obsessional and manic defences.
When in the course of normal development a relative balance between love and hate is attained, and the various aspects of objects are more unified, then also a certain equilibrium between these contrasting and yet closely related methods is reached, and their intensity is diminished. In this connection I wish to stress the importance of triumph, closely bound up with contempt and omnipotence, as an
- 133 -
element of the manic position. We know the part rivalry plays in the child's burning desire to equal the achievements of the grown-ups. In addition to rivalry, his wish, mingled with fears, to 'grow out' of his deficiencies (ultimately to overcome his destructiveness and his bad inner objects and to be able to control them) is an incentive to achievements of all kinds. In my experience, the desire to reverse the child-parent relation, to get power over the parents and to triumph over them, is always to some extent associated with the impulse towards the attainment of success. A time will come, the child phantasies, when he will be strong, tall and grown up, powerful, rich and potent, and father and mother will have changed into helpless children, or again, in other phantasies, will be very old, weak, poor and rejected. The triumph over the parents in such phantasies, through the guilt to which it gives rise, often cripples endeavours of all kinds. Some people are obliged to remain unsuccessful, because success always implies to them the humiliation or even the damage of somebody else, in the first place the triumph over parents, brothers and sisters. The efforts by which they seek to achieve something may be of a highly constructive nature, but the implicit triumph and the ensuing harm and injury done to the object may outweigh these purposes, in the subject's mind, and therefore prevent their fulfilment. The effect is that the reparation to the loved objects, which in the depths of the mind are the same as those over which he triumphs, is again thwarted, and therefore guilt remains unrelieved. The subject's triumph over his objects necessarily implies to him their wish to triumph over him, and therefore leads to distrust and feelings of persecution. Depression may follow, or an increase in manic defences and more violent control of his objects, since he has failed to reconcile, restore, or improve them, and therefore feelings of being persecuted by them again have the upper hand. All this has an important bearing on the infantile depressive position and the ego's success or failure in overcoming it. The triumph over his internal objects which the young child's ego controls, humiliates and tortures is a part of the destructive aspect of the manic position which disturbs the reparation and re-creating of his inner world and of internal peace and harmony; and thus triumph impedes the work of early mourning.
To illustrate these developmental processes let us consider some features which can be observed in hypomanic people. It is characteristic of the hypomanic person's attitude towards people, principles and events that he is inclined to exaggerated valuations: over-admiration
- 134 -
(idealization) or contempt (devaluation). With this goes his tendency to conceive of everything on a large scale, to think in large numbers, all this in accordance with the greatness of his omnipotence, by which he defends himself against his fear of losing the one irreplaceable object, his mother, whom he still mourns at bottom. His tendency to minimize the importance of details and small numbers, and a frequent casualness about details and contempt of conscientiousness contrast sharply with the very meticulous methods, the concentration on the smallest things (Freud), which are part of the obsessional mechanisms.
This contempt, however, is also based to some extent on denial. He must deny his impulse to make extensive and detailed reparation because he has to deny the cause for the reparation, namely the injury to the object and his consequent sorrow and guilt.
Returning to the course of early development, we may say that every step in emotional, intellectual and physical growth is used by the ego as a means of overcoming the depressive position. The child's growing skills, gifts and arts increase his belief in the psychical reality of his constructive tendencies, in his capacity to master and control his hostile impulses as well as his 'bad' internal objects. Thus anxieties from various sources are relieved, and this results in a diminution of aggression and, in turn, of his suspicions of 'bad' external and internal objects. The strengthened ego, with its greater trust in people, can then make still further steps towards unification of its imagos梕xternal, internal, loved and hated梐nd towards further mitigation of hatred by means of love, and thus to a general process of integration.
When the child's belief and trust in his capacity to love, in his reparative powers and in the integration and security of his good inner world increase as a result of the constant and manifold proofs and counter-proofs gained by the testing of external reality, manic omnipotence decreases and the obsessional nature of the impulses towards reparation diminishes, which means in general that the infantile neurosis has passed.
We have now to connect the infantile depressive position with normal mourning. The poignancy of the actual loss of a loved person is, in my view, greatly increased by the mourner's unconscious phantasies of having lost his internal 'good' objects as well. He then feels that his internal 'bad' objects predominate and his inner world is in danger of disruption. We know that the loss of a loved person leads to an impulse in the mourner to reinstate the lost loved object in the
- 135 -
ego. (Freud and Abraham.) In my view, however, he not only takes into himself (re-incorporates) the person whom he has just lost, but also reinstates his internalized good objects (ultimately his loved parents), who became part of his inner world from the earliest stages of his development onwards. These too are felt to have gone under, to be destroyed, whenever the loss of a loved person is experienced. Thereupon the early depressive position, and with it anxieties, guilt and feelings of loss and grief derived from the breast situation, the Oedipus situation and all other such sources, are reactivated. Among all these emotions, the fears of being robbed and punished by both dreaded parents梩hat is to say, feelings of persecution梙ave also been revived in deep layers of the mind.
If, for instance, a woman loses her child through death, along with sorrow and pain, her early dread of being robbed by a 'bad' retaliating mother is reactivated and confirmed. Her own early aggressive phantasies of robbing her mother of babies gave rise to fears and feelings of being punished, which strengthened ambivalence and led to hatred and distrust of others. The reinforcing of feelings of persecution in the state of mourning is all the more painful because, as a result of an increase in ambivalence and distrust, friendly relations with people, which might at that time be so helpful, become impeded.
The pain experienced in the slow process of testing reality in the work of mourning thus seems to be partly due to the necessity, not only to renew the links to the external world and thus continuously to re-experience the loss, but at the same time and by means of this to rebuild with anguish the inner world, which is felt to be in danger of deteriorating and collapsing.15 Just as the young child passing through the depressive position is struggling, in his unconscious mind, with the task of establishing and integrating his inner world, so the mourner goes through the pain of re-establishing and re-integrating it.
In normal mourning early psychotic anxieties are reactivated; the mourner is in fact ill, but, because this state of mind is so common and
15These facts I think go some way towards answering Freud's question which I have quoted at the beginning of this paper: 'Why this process of carrying out the behest of reality bit by bit, which is in the nature of a compromise, should be so extraordinarily painful is not at all easy to explain in terms of mental economics. It is worth noting that this pain seems natural to us.'
- 136 -
seems so natural to us, we do not call mourning an illness. (For similar reasons, until recent years, the infantile neurosis of the normal child was not recognized as such.) To put my conclusions more precisely: I should say that in mourning the subject goes through a modified and transitory manic-depressive state and overcomes it, thus repeating, though in different circumstances and with different manifestations, the processes which the child normally goes through in his early development.
The greatest danger for the mourner comes from the turning of his hatred against the lost loved person himself. One of the ways in which hatred expresses itself in the situation of mourning is in feelings of triumph over the dead person. I refer in an earlier part of this paper to triumph as part of the manic position in infantile development. Infantile death wishes against parents, brothers and sisters are actually fulfilled whenever a loved person dies, because he is necessarily to some extent a representative of the earliest important figures, and therefore takes over some of the feelings pertaining to them. Thus his death, however shattering for other reasons, is to some extent also felt as a victory, and gives rise to triumph, and therefore all the more to guilt.
At this point I find that my view differs from that of Freud, who stated: 'First, then: in normal grief too the loss of the object is undoubtedly surmounted, and this process too absorbs all the energies of the ego while it lasts. Why then does it not set up the economic condition for a phase of triumph after it has run its course or at least produce some slight indication of such a state? I find it impossible to answer this objection off-hand.'16 In my experience, feelings of triumph are inevitably bound up even with normal mourning, and have the effect of retarding the work of mourning, or rather they contribute much to the difficulties and pain which the mourner experiences. When hatred of the lost loved object in its various manifestations gets the upper hand in the mourner, this not only turns the loved lost person into a persecutor, but shakes the mourner's belief in his good inner objects as well. The shaken belief in the good objects disturbs most painfully the process of idealization, which is an essential intermediate step in mental development. With the young child, the idealized mother is the safeguard against a retaliating or a dead mother and against all bad objects, and therefore represents security and life
16'Mourning and Melancholia', Collected Papers, Vol. IV, p. 166.
- 137 -
itself. As we know, the mourner obtains great relief from recalling the lost person's kindness and good qualities, and this is partly due to the reassurance he experiences from keeping his loved object for the time being as an idealized one.
The passing states of elation17 which occur between sorrow and distress in normal mourning are manic in character and are due to the feeling of possessing the perfect loved object (idealized) inside. At any time, however, when hatred against the lost loved person wells up in the mourner, his belief in him breaks down and the process of idealization is disturbed. (His hatred of the loved person is increased by the fear that by dying the loved one was seeking to inflict punishment and deprivation upon him, just as in the past he felt that his mother, whenever she was away from him and he wanted her, had died in order to inflict punishment and deprivation upon him.) Only gradually, by regaining trust in external objects and values of various kinds, is the normal mourner able once more to strengthen his confidence in the lost loved person. Then he can again bear to realize that this object was not perfect, and yet not lose trust and love for him, nor fear his revenge. When this stage is reached, important steps in the work of mourning and towards overcoming it have been made.
To illustrate the ways in which a normal mourner re-established connections with the external world I shall now give an instance. Mrs. A., in the first few days after the shattering loss of her young son, who had died suddenly while at school, took to sorting out letters, keeping his and throwing others away. She was thus unconsciously attempting to restore him and keep him safe inside herself, and throwing out what she felt to be indifferent, or rather hostile梩hat is to say, the 'bad' objects, dangerous excreta and bad feelings.
Some people in mourning tidy the house and re-arrange furniture, actions which spring from an increase of the obsessional mechanisms which are a repetition of one of the defences used to combat the infantile depressive position.
In the first week after the death of her son she did not cry much, and tears did not bring her the relief which they did later on. She
17Abraham writes of a situation of this kind: 'We have only to reverse [Freud's] statement that "the shadow of the lost love-object falls upon the ego" and say that in this case it was not the shadow but the bright radiance of his loved mother which was shed upon her son.' (Selected Papers, p. 442.)
- 138 -
felt numbed and closed up, and physically broken. It gave her some relief, however, to see one or two intimate people. At this stage Mrs. A., who usually dreamed every night, had entirely stopped dreaming because of her deep unconscious denial of her actual loss. At the end of the week she had the following dream:
She saw two people, a mother and son. The mother was wearing a black dress. The dreamer knew that this boy had died, or was going to die. No sorrow entered into her feelings, but there was a trace of hostility towards the two people.
The associations brought up an important memory. When Mrs. A. was a little girl, her brother, who had difficulties in his school work, was going to be tutored by a school-fellow of his own age (I will call him B.). B.'s mother had come to see Mrs. A.'s mother to arrange about the coaching, and Mrs. A. remembered this incident with very strong feelings. B.'s mother behaved in a patronizing way, and her own mother appeared to her to be rather dejected. She herself felt that a fearful disgrace had fallen upon her very much admired and beloved brother and the whole family. This brother, a few years older than herself, seemed to her full of knowledge, skill and strength梐 paragon of all the virtues, and her ideal was shattered when his deficiencies at school came to light. The strength of her feelings about this incident as being an irreparable misfortune, which persisted in her memory, was, however, due to her unconscious feelings of guilt. She felt it to be the fulfilment of her own harmful wishes. Her brother himself was very much chagrined by the situation, and expressed great dislike and hatred of the other boy. Mrs. A. at the time identified herself strongly with him in these resentful feelings. In the dream, the two people whom Mrs. A. saw were B. and his mother, and the fact that the boy was dead expressed Mrs. A.'s early death wishes against him. At the same time, however, the death wishes against her own brother and the wish to inflict punishment and deprivation upon her mother through the loss of her son梫ery deeply repressed wishes梬ere part of her dream thoughts. It now appeared that Mrs. A., with all her admiration and love for her brother, had been jealous of him on various grounds, envying his greater knowledge, his mental and physical superiority, and also his possession of a penis. Her jealousy of her much beloved mother for possessing such a son had contributed towards her death wishes against her brother. One dream thought, therefore, ran: 'A mother's son has died, or will die. It is this unpleasant woman's son, who hurt my mother and brother, who
- 139 -
should die.' But in deeper layers, the death wish against her brother had also been reactivated, and this dream thought ran: 'My mother's son died, and not my own.' (Both her mother and her brother were in fact already dead.) Here a contrasting feeling came in梥ympathy with her mother and sorrow for herself. She felt: 'One death of the kind was enough. My mother lost her son; she should not lose her grandson also.' When her brother died, besides great sorrow, she unconsciously felt triumph over him, derived from her early jealousy and hatred, and corresponding feelings of guilt. She had carried over some of her feelings for her brother into her relation to her son. In her son, she also loved her brother; but at the same time, some of the ambivalence towards her brother, though modified through her strong motherly feelings, was also transferred on to her son. The mourning for her brother, together with the sorrow, the triumph and the guilt experienced in relation to him, entered into her present grief, and was shown in the dream.
Let us now consider the interplay of defences as they appeared in this material. When the loss occurred, the manic position became reinforced, and denial in particular came especially into play. Unconsciously, Mrs. A. strongly rejected the fact that her son had died. When she could no longer carry on this denial so strongly, but was not yet able to face the pain and sorrow, triumph, one of the other elements of the manic position, became reinforced. 'It is not at all painful', the thought seemed to run, as the associations showed, 'if a boy dies. It is even satisfactory. Now I get my revenge against this unpleasant boy who injured my brother.' The fact that triumph over her brother had also been revived and strengthened became clear only after hard analytic work. But this triumph was associated with control of the internalized mother and brother, and triumph over them. At this stage the control over her internal objects was reinforced, the misfortune and grief were displaced from herself on to her internalized mother. Here denial again came into play梔enial of the psychical reality that she and her internal mother were one and suffered together. Compassion and love for the internal mother were denied, feelings of revenge and triumph over the internalized objects and control of them were reinforced, partly because, through her own revengeful feelings, they had turned into persecuting figures.
In the dream there was only one slight hint of Mrs. A.'s growing unconscious knowledge (indicating that the denial was lessening) that it was she herself who lost her son. On the day preceding the dream
- 140 -
she was wearing a black dress with a white collar. The woman in the dream had something white round her neck on her black dress.
Two nights after this dream she dreamt again:
She was flying with her son, and he disappeared. She felt that this meant his death梩hat he was drowned. She felt as if she, too, were to be drowned梑ut then she made an effort and drew away from the danger, back to life.
The associations showed that in the dream she had decided that she would not die with her son, but would survive. It appeared that even in the dream she felt that it was good to be alive and bad to be dead. In this dream the unconscious knowledge of her loss is much more accepted than in the one of two days earlier. Sorrow and guilt had drawn closer. The feeling of triumph had apparently gone, but it became clear that it had only diminished. It was still present in her satisfaction about remaining alive梚n contrast to her son's being dead. The feelings of guilt which already made themselves felt were partly due to this element of triumph.
I am reminded here of a passage in Freud's 'Mourning and Melancholia':18 'Reality passes its verdict梩hat the object no longer exists梪pon each single one of the memories and hopes through which the libido was attached to the lost object, and the ego, confronted as it were with the decision whether it will share this fate, is persuaded by the sum of its narcissistic satisfactions in being alive to sever its attachment to the non-existent object.' In my view, this 'narcissistic satisfaction' contains in a milder way the element of triumph which Freud seemed to think does not enter into normal mourning.
In the second week of her mourning Mrs. A. found some comfort in looking at nicely situated houses in the country, and in wishing to have such a house of her own. But this comfort was soon interrupted by bouts of despair and sorrow. She now cried abundantly, and found relief in tears. The solace she found in looking at houses came from her rebuilding her inner world in her phantasy by means of this interest and also getting satisfaction from the knowledge that other people's houses and good objects existed. Ultimately this stood for re-creating her good parents, internally and externally, unifying them and making them happy and creative. In her mind she made reparation to her parents for having, in phantasy, killed their children, and by this she anticipated their wrath. Thus her fear that the death of
18Collected Papers, Vol. IV, p. 166.
- 141 -
her son was a punishment inflicted on her by retaliating parents lost in strength, and also the feeling that her son frustrated and punished her by his death was lessened. The diminution of hatred and fear all round allowed the sorrow itself to come out in full strength. Increase of distrust and fears had intensified her feeling of being persecuted and mastered by her internal objects and strengthened her need to master them. All this had expressed itself by a hardening in her internal relationships and feelings梩hat is to say, in an increase in manic defences. (This was shown in the first dream.) If these again diminish through the strengthening of the subject's belief in goodness梙is own and others'梐nd fears decrease, the mourner is able to surrender to his own feelings, and to cry out his sorrow about the actual loss.