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Psychoanalysis - The Dual Instinct Theory/the Death Drive

freud energy instincts libido

In 1920 Freud opened Beyond the Pleasure Principle with a comparative discussion of the behavior of soldiers suffering from traumatic war neuroses (what would later be called post-traumatic stress disorder) and a child's game. In each of these situations, Freud observed behavior, such as the dreams of soldiers that compulsively reprised the occasion of their injury, or an infant's repetitive tossing away and retrieval of an object in symbolic enactment of her parent's departure, which seemed to contradict the impulse to satisfy and reduce tension. From these observations of the workings of the repetition compulsion, Freud adduced the existence of a force in human nature that operated against the pleasure principle and its imperatives of human self-preservation and gratification. Freud called this counterforce the Todestrieb—the death drive (or instinct).

The death drive was an extension of Freud's earliest writings, having to do with conservation of energy in the organism, and was also the latest version of the dualism that was a constant in his work. In his earlier thinking, mental conflict had originated among component instincts of the libido—ego and object libido, self-preservative and erotic instincts. In the new conception, all these previous instincts were subsumed under the libido, or Eros, and opposed to the death instinct. According to the logic of the pleasure principle, energy was to be conserved at all costs. In view of the repetition compulsion, Freud amended his view: On the one hand, energy was to be conserved; on the other, according to the logic of the death drive, the reduction of tension demanded that energy be reduced to nothing, returned to a state of rest—a return to the inorganic stasis that Freud (borrowing from the science of his time) believed to be the original condition of all matter.

Freud saw evidence of the death drive in his observations of primary masochism and of hate, which he thought preceded any feeling of love. In these phenomena and others, Freud believed that the death drive was expressed as (or even synonymous with) aggression, and that it was frequently joined (fused) to libidinal energy. Though evidence of aggression and the death drive were readily observable in these "fused" forms, Freud was unable to isolate pure expressions of the death drive. And indeed the operation of the drive remained opaque, "mythical," in contrast to the workings of the libido, which Freud had observed and described in detail.

Because of its opacity and apparent remoteness from clinical practice (Freud himself acknowledged the "speculative" nature of its origins), the death drive became perhaps the most controversial aspect of Freud's theoretical corpus. A number of analytic theorists continued to explore its implications following Freud's death, especially Melanie Klein, in whose work the death drive figures prominently.

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over 6 years ago

it is a very nice explanation many thanks.

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about 1 year ago

For an evolutionary basis for these ideas see "The CAVALRY PRINCIPLE" at academia.edu

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about 3 years ago

freud was good at talking about instincts, but what did he say about an instinct to kill or an instinct to compete?

is it an animal inside, not human being at all, doing all that - and would that be allready jungian theories then?