Medium 9781855757554

On Freud's "Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence"

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This book includes the development of the concept of "splitting" from both metapsychological and clinical perspectives, emphasizing the great importance of this topic for contemporary psychoanalysis. Starting with the history of the concept, the book covers recent French, English and Latin American theorizations on the theme. In regard to clinical approaches it presents the relationship between the "splitting" and complex clinical cases such as borderline, perverse and psychosomatic conditions. The book also includes aspects of "splitting" and virtual reality, as well as in traumatic situations: factors so important in contemporary life. The premise behind this work was to invite authors from different regions and orientations to promote a fruitful debate on the theme, thus enriching one of Sigmund Freud's most seminal concepts.

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1 On splitting of the ego: a history of the concept

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1

Ira Brenner

Human thought leads us to wonder about the origin and nature of things. While such curiosity is not the exclusive domain of our species, our primate cousins appear to be more concerned with the more basic issues of finding food and a suitable mate and of surviving. We, too, concern ourselves with such instinctual demands, and with more sublime themes. Our wonderment about such matters as human nature, our existence, and the origin of the universe have occupied us for millennia and promise to vex us for many more. Such ineffable questions spawn not only scientific inquiry but also challenge our imagination, activate primary-process thinking, and provide a canvas onto which projective phenomena may be painted. As these mental processes converge, resulting in richly textured ideas, theories, and belief systems, it cannot help be noted that certain patterns keep appearing in our attempts to understand and organize our world. One of these patterns is that a thing can change by becoming divided, separated, or split into two or more parts. For example, the division of cells-mitosis-is a basic pattern of life. It is a spatial model, which seems to be more readily understood than a model based on the more abstract but more comprehensive space-time continuum, which is less readily apparent to our minds (Brenner, 2002).

 

2 Splitting, processing loss, and borderline states

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2

Gérard Bayle

Borderline states involve some degree of instability of the sense of identity both in the individual and in his or her objects. Intra-psychic conflict no longer remains within the confines of neurotic structures; it involves attacks and retreats between the intrapsychic and intersubjective modalities. The frontier between inside and outside is more or less blurred by projection and by projective identification, carried out or endured (Green, 1990).

Given the continuous fluctuation between neurotic and psychotic processes, the aetiology of borderline states involves very many factors. I shall take one of these as the starting point of this chapter: the failure of the work of mourning or, more specifically, that of processing loss. I have been studying this subject for over twenty years now (Bayle, 1988).

Emergency barriers and the impact of loss

When the object is no longer there, the drive-related impulses that were linked to it fall as it were into a void. If that absence is a lasting one, what results is a massive drive-related outflow that may prove fatal. The loss of libido generates so much distress and anxiety that it can lead to helplessness [Hilflosigkeit].

 

3 Separating and splitting up

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3

Penelope Garvey

In the final phase of her analysis, Mrs A., who had over the many years of her analysis managed to recover split-off aspects of herself, become more defined as a person, and was able to stand up for herself without feeling humiliated by being seen to have feelings and wants, became increasingly anxious about how she was going to survive the loss of the analysis and feared a return to a state of feeling nothing. She had the following dream:

The car was parked in the yard outside her parent's house. The car caught fire and, afraid that the fire would spread to the house, she called in the air force to bomb it.

Mrs A. bombed the car-which I thought stood for her caring, containing ego-in order to protect me and herself from knowing about versions of me in her mind that could take over and destroy the good feelings that she had about me and her analysis. The bombing broke up and fragmented her ego, propelled out her feelings, and left her feeling nothing. Much has been written about this kind of fragmentary splitting, its developmental origins, and its tendency to reappear in situations of stress. The bombing, as we shall see, occurred not only in her dream. Phantasies do affect reality, and Mrs A. returned to a state that I knew well from the past. Melanie Klein describes something similar:

 

4 Real wolves and fake wolves: alternating between repression and splitting in complex clinical cases

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4

Stefano Bolognini

On the heels of a century of psychoanalysis, we are faced in our field with an extremely complex theoretical dimension, enriched by a myriad of scientific contributions, which are coming from various directions and which take care of, at least in part, illuminating ever-widening areas of the individual's psychic life and of the analytic couple's functioning at work in analysis.

Most analysts set themselves to the long and demanding task of getting to know, augmenting, evaluating, and selecting a kit of conceptual tools that can be gathered together from the literature, seminar studies, and congresses. The goal of getting equipped this way is to integrate new theoretical breakthroughs that prove themselves to be useful for understanding a continually mutating clinical reality and, at the same time, prove to be consistent and sufficiently in tune with one's own analytic identity, founded earlier on.

This approach is profoundly different, then, from ridding oneself of that which one has learned, substituting it in block form with that which seems new.

 

5 The splitting of the ego and virtual reality

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5

Julio Moreno

1

It is advisable to discuss first the concepts of splitting of the ego and virtual reality separately, for besides having been coined in dissimilar contexts, they refer to different phenomena. I will then ponder their relationship.

The “splitting of the ego” is a notion that appears late in Freud's theory. He himself admits in his 1938 posthumous text that this late incorporation into his theory may have been a mistake. “The whole process [of splitting and disavowal] seems so strange to us because we take for granted the synthetic nature of the processes of the ego. But we are clearly at fault in this. The synthetic function of the ego, though it is of such extraordinary importance, is subject to particular conditions and is liable to a whole number of disturbances” (Freud, 1940e [1938], p. 276; emphasis added).

As I understand it, “being at fault” may refer here to the fact that in the inceptions of his theory, Freud defended somewhat fervently the idea of the oneness of the ego against those who spoke of its multiplicity. At the turn of the nineteenth century, studies in psychopathology (e.g., those by Janet, Binet, and Breuer himself) were permeated by terms such as “split personality”, “double consciousness”, and “separate psychical groups”. According to Janet, for instance, the splitting of the psyche into different associative groups is conceived of as a secondary regrouping of a psychic world that has disintegrated due to a primary associative weakness (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1967).

 

6 The “splitting/trauma” pairing: Ferenczi and the concept of trauma

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Thierry Bokanowski

If, in the analytic situation, the patient feels hurt, disappointed or left in the lurch, he sometimes begins to play by himself like a lonely child. One definitely gets the impression that to be left deserted results in a split of personality. Part of the person adopts the role of father or mother in relation to the rest, thereby undoing, as it were, the fact of being left deserted. In this play …we get glimpses into the processes of what I have called the “narcissistic split of the self” in the mental sphere itself.

Ferenczi (1931), pp. 475-476

Sándor Ferenczi [1873-1933] contributed many ideas that have had a remarkable impact on the construction of the psychoanalytic corpus, none more so than those he put forward concerning his exploration of the metapsychology of trauma and went on to develop gradually between 1927 and 1933. These were not only ahead of their time; they remain, to this day, remarkably modern in outlook. The hypotheses he suggested-mainly concerning a re-formulation of the concept of traumatic seduction that had been a feature of Freud's work from the very outset-made it possible to specify both the clinical nature of trauma and its structural effects on the mind when splitting (and in particular what he calls in the above extract the “narcissistic splitting of the self”) becomes the principal means of defence.

 

7 Splitting and trauma: their relationship with après-coup and historicization

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Luis Kancyper

The concept of splitting of the ego is of great significance within psychoanalytic theory and leads to a profound restructuring of both metapsychology and clinical practice. Indeed, this concept has different meanings in the writings of Freud: at the beginning he uses it in a descriptive fashion and later, in his last essays, as a conceptual instrument.

Freud uses “splitting of the ego” as a descriptive term in particular in order to point to the fact that the psychic apparatus is divided into systems (unconscious, preconscious, and conscious systems) and psychic agencies (ego, id, and superego) and also to describe the case when one aspect of the ego observes while the other is observed.

In addition, Freud uses this term in order to point out the splitting between two different sexual currents in an individual's love life: the sensual current and the affectionate current. “The whole sphere of love in such people remains divided in the two directions personified in art as sacred and profane (or animal) love. Where they love they do not desire and where they desire they cannot love” (Freud, 1912d, p. 183).

 

8 Notes for a theory of generalized splitting

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8

Raul Hartke

According to his biographer Ernest Jones (1957), Freud began writing the article “Splitting of the Ego in the Process of Defence” [Die Ichspaltung im Abwehrvorgang] during Christmas 1937, but he left it unfinished and unpublished. It was only published in 1940, just over a year after his death. Jones believed that this may have occurred because a few details of the clinical case reported might have revealed the identity of the patient, a well-known public figure of the period.

The German term Spaltung, in the sense of a division of the mind, had already been used in psychiatry since the end of the nineteenth century, as pointed out by Laplanche and Pontalis (1967). The papers on hysteria and hypnosis in those days, for instance, as these authors remind us, used the notions of “dissociation of personality”, “double consciousness”, and “dissociation of psychological phenomena”. Bleuler also used this term to designate the fundamental disturbance in schizophrenia, a term that means precisely split, divided, or cleaved mind or spirit.

 

9 Splitting of the ego and perversion

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Louise Carignan

Freud's views on perversion evolved through successive stages. In the Three Essays (1905d) he conceived of perversion as the persistence in adult life of untamed components of childhood, or “pregenital” sexuality, at the expense of adult genital sexuality. Perversion was contrasted with neurosis, in which these pregenital or perverse impulses were censored. By the 1920s, however, he had modified his views, seeing perversions as regressive defensive formations in relation to the Oedipus complex (Freud, 1919e). Finally, in his late works on fetishism and the splitting of the ego in the process of defence (Freud, 1927e, 1940a [1938], 1940e [1938]), he described disavowal-a mechanism that allows the fetishist to maintain his belief that his mother has a penis and negate the perceptual reality, side by side with acknowledging the fact of sexual differences and drawing the correct conclusions from it. The disavowal of female castration protects the fetishist from the fear of losing his own penis. Rather than hallucinating the missing female penis as would a psychotic, he only transfers the importance or value of the penis onto another part of the female body or another object called a fetish, which then renders the woman tolerable as a sexual object. Freud noted that the “artful” way of dealing with reality at work in disavowal, where two contradictory attitudes coexist without influencing each other, was, however, achieved at the price of a rift in the ego, which persists or increases over time.

 

10 Splitting and psychosomatics: on a third topography

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10

Rubén Zukerfeld

“I consider splitting a fundamental psychic activity because it is precisely that which gives rise to differentiation.”

André Green, 1998

1 Freudian logic: from the pathologic to universals

Roussillon (2007) says, “it has to be possible to remove the concept of the splitting of the ego from the simple clinical concept of the fetish, it will thus be given a higher theoretical status”. This statement is based on psychoanalytic research into borderline states, which was also intensely carried out by Green (1975), who lays emphasis on the structural value of the psychic operation known as “splitting” or “cleavage”. He points out that “in repression, the relation between the ego, as representative of reality, and drive demands, as representatives of pleasure, is vertical . . ., in splitting this relation is horizontal. The reason for the ego and the reason for drive demands coexist within the same psychic space” (emphasis added). These statements show that there exists a tendency to construct a global conception of psychic functioning starting from borderline pathology.

 

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