5. Mourning and Melancholia (1917 [1915])

The beginnings of this paper can be seen when in may 1897, Freud wrote to Fliess 'hostile impulses against parents are repressed at times when compassion for parents is active - times of their illness or death... '. Abraham (1915) then suggested the connection between melancholia and the oral stage of libidinal development.

Freud goes on to describe the distinguishing mental features of melancholia as profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self- reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment. Furthermore the same traits are met with in mourning, without the disturbance of self-regard.

Freud then looks at what and 'how' mourning does, concluding that ultimately it allows the ego to become free and uninhibited once more. Relating this to melancholia, he finds that in this state, there is some relation to object-loss that is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradiction to mourning in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious.

On observing the melancholic condition, Freud notes that the self-reproaches (as described above) can be seen to be originally felt against a loved object, and have been shifted away from it on to the patient's own ego. From this proposition he goes on to describe various case studies, before making the following conclusion - namely that the disposition to fall ill of melancholia (or some part of that disposition) lies in the predominance of the narcissistic type of object-choice - (however it should be noted that this was also a hypothetical proposal, not necessarily confirmed by observation) - since as Freud himself acknowledges the empirical material upon which this study if founded, is insufficient. But overall, he argues that melancholia borrows some of its features from mourning and others from regression from narcissistic object- choice to narcissism. On the one hand it is like mourning - a reaction to the real loss of a loved object, but on the other it is marked by a determinant which is absent in normal mourning or which if it is present, transforms the latter into pathological mourning. The loss of a loved object is an excellent opportunity for the ambivalence in love-relationships to make itself effective and come into the open. Furthermore, Freud sees the sleeplessness in melancholia as a testimony to the rigidity of the condition; however most remarkably, he notes the characteristic of melancholia to change round into mania. From these findings he argues that it is necessary to extend an analytic explanation of melancholia to mania as well.

From doing so, he finds that in mania, the ego must have got over the loss of the object (or its mourning over the loss, or perhaps the object itself) and thereupon the whole quota of anticathexis which the painful suffering of melancholia had drawn to itself from the ego, will have become available. In accepting these views of melancholia, Freud finishes with the idea that then, of the three preconditions of melancholia - the loss of the object, ambivalence, and regression of libido into the ego, the first two are also found in the obsessional self-reproaches arising after a death has occurred. In those cases it is unquestionably the ambivalence that is the motive force of the conflict and observation shows that after the conflict has come to an end there is nothing left over in the nature of the triumph of a manic state of mind. Therefore it must be the third factor as the only one responsible for the result.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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