The function of the object in the binding and unbinding of the drives


The function of the object in the binding and unbinding of the drives

Rene ́ Roussillon

Destructiveness and violence are usually badly thought of and often have negative adjectives attached to them. They are nonetheless a necessary feature of life and of the various processes that make life possible. Without destructiveness, nothing can be created – the earlier state of something has to be destroyed if something new is to emerge. Both bodily metabolism and psychical metabolization imply the deployment of destructive procedures. The clinical problem of destructiveness is therefore not that of destructiveness per se but of the ways in which it is expressed and manifested – in other words, what becomes of it.

The problem of the outcome of destructiveness is that of the desired result. If destructiveness is employed in such a way as to promote or prolong life, if it serves creativeness, the immediate impression we have is that it will have a completely different effect from what would occur if actual destruction were its aim. Nonetheless, that difference may be much more relative than might appear to be the case at first glance; there may well be significant differences depending on whether we look at manifest or latent issues and modalities. This could be the situation too depending on the length of time taken into consideration, or on a broadening of the context, or if survival of the species is a factor, for example. Absolute or ‘pure’ destructiveness may perhaps not exist other than as a concept. Destructiveness cannot be looked upon as an ‘in-itself’ invariant – and the same is broadly true of creativeness. In clinical work, it has to be analysed in terms of its ‘meaning’, the meaning that it has, not in any absolute sense, but for a given individual.

I shall therefore take as my starting point the idea that the clinical issue has to do with the ways in which destructiveness is manifested and how these link up with other drive-related tendencies. 
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The hypotheses that I shall attempt to explore can be expressed as several postulates:

1. Violence and aggressiveness should not be looked upon as a direct form of expression of a ‘destructive drive’ or ‘destructive instinct’. There are always other factors that are not manifest, ‘unconscious’ issues that have to do with something other than violence and aggressiveness: anxiety, suffering, helplessness, etc. Like every other feature of the workings of the human mind, destructiveness and the various forms that it may adopt should not be looked upon as if they were completely identical in or to themselves; they necessarily cast some kind of shadow, which ‘says’ both more and less. I hope to clarify that point in the course of my exploration. I would suggest that there are three levels or ‘forms’ that this articulation can have:

2. From a clinical point of view, it is always important to take into consider- ation how destructiveness is articulated, bound up and blended with that other great force with which it has to come to terms: creativeness and the love that lies behind it. ous work. This was initially part of my exploration of paradox, of paradoxicality and of ‘paradoxical logic’, which is expressed in the course of psychoanalytical treatment mainly as a paradoxical transference underlying some kinds of negative therapeutic reaction. Subsequently, I presented a paper at the 1995 Monaco Congress on Violence in which I explored the


1) The first level is that of ‘binding’, the primary amalgamating of the drives. I would argue that what is usually called the ‘death drive’ is in fact an indication that this binding has failed – leading to unbinding. We do need concepts that can describe what a moment of ‘pure’ creative- ness or of ‘pure’ destructiveness might be, always assuming – but I per- sonally am rather doubtful of this – that these are more than simply speculative abstractions.

2) The second level of articulation involves how the conflict of ambivalence is structured. This implies differentiating between love and hate, between tenderness and violence, and between creativeness and destructiveness. I emphasize both the idea of differentiation (binding is a mixture, not a differentiation) and that of setting up a kind of articulation characterized by conflict. Ambivalence implies a conflict between two antagonistic and contradictory tendencies with respect to the same object or the same pro- cess. The conflict of ambivalence is based on the acknowledgement of the simultaneous nature of those two antagonistic tendencies with respect to the same object.


3) The third level of articulation – I shall not go into any detail about this in the present paper, given that its clinical manifestations do not involve violence – has to do with the different ways in which the conflict is set up and dealt with; this in turn requires us to look at the pre-eminence, in these, of love or creativeness.


What I am now about to develop here follows on from some of my previ-issue of pre-ambivalent primary guilt. I shall not go into any detail about the findings that I presented in those articles (Roussillon, 1995a, 1995b) but, since they are implicit in what I am now about to develop, I shall touch on some aspects of them, i.e. those that are directly relevant to this paper.

Conflict and paradoxicality


Conflict has to do with drive-related impulses in a context of object rela- tions, while paradox appears to be more specific to issues and deadlocks involving narcissism. Thus setting up a conflict of ambivalence implies a psychical structure governed by the pleasure⁄unpleasure principle, which in turn assumes that the individual is able to draw a sufficiently clear distinc- tion between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, between experiences of pleasure and those of unpleasure.In the course of psychoanalytical treatment, the paradoxicality that I have just outlined produces a ‘borderline’ or ‘extreme’ situation in the analysing space (Roussillon, 1991). This is manifested via a paradoxical transference and the predominance of the process of reversal. It gives rise to negative therapeutic reactions in which the more the treatment progresses, the worse the patient’s condition seems to be.

On the other hand, some kinds of paradoxicality disrupt those differentia- tions and bring about a degree of confusion in the mind between the dimen- sion of pleasure and that of unpleasure. They lead to a kind of psychical paralysis that Anzieu (1975a, 1975b), for example, sees as a manifestation of the death drive. The most extreme example of this is Shakespeare’s Richard III who, at the beginning of the play, puts it thus (I am summarizing): ‘‘Since I possess none of the attractiveness that appeals to human beings, let evil be my good.’’ Here, ‘bad’ does not clash with ‘good’; it actually becomes ‘good’ in a kind of reversal that throws any difference into turmoil. It is on that basis that Richard III sets off on a whole series of murders.

When Freud (1916) studied this play, he put Richard III in the category of character traits that are ‘exceptions’. The individual is an outlaw, or rather above the law; having ‘paid’ once and for all, from the very begin- ning. From birth, he or she was marked by evil, by the ‘devil’ – doomed to be evil, that person will, like Richard III, ‘prove a villain’. The paradoxical reversal of evil into good disorganizes the fundamental conflictuality based on the contrast between good and bad and the bringing into conflict of good and evil. Henceforth, nothing can counterbalance destructiveness, nothing can stand in its way – it is, in fact, treated as being the supreme ‘good’. My hypothesis (Roussillon, 1991, 1995) is that, underlying the rever- 3 sal of good into bad, there is a merging together of the two, a failure to dif- ferentiate the one from the other and therefore a paralysis of basic psychical functioning, of attributive judgement, which has its roots in the ability to differentiate between pleasure and unpleasure, in the ability to seek out plea- sure and avoid unpleasure.

The negative therapeutic reaction and the logics of paradoxicality

The processual forms of negative therapeutic reaction, and of the out-bursts of destructiveness and negativity ⁄ negativism that go hand in hand with this, are the particularly pernicious variations on the theme of ‘all or nothing’ typical of the less civilized kinds of drive manifestation. Some examples of the way in which negativism can be expressed, taken from a classical form of psychoanalytical treatment, will enable us to see how negativity functions; they highlight the ‘paradoxical logic’ to which they give rise in secondary processes.

Here is a fairly recent example, taken from my own clinical work, of repeated awareness of the acuteness of some kinds of negativity in the course of an analysis. The patient is a woman in her 50s; treatment follows the standard psycho- analytical procedure (three sessions per week, with the patient lying on the couch). I am her fourth analyst. According to the patient, her three earlier attempts brought only slight changes to her mental functioning and clinical symptoms, the dominant feature of which is severe depression that borders on melancholia. From what the patient tells me, my impression is that her previous analysts had difficulty in ‘surviving’ her destructiveness. Two of  them ended up, as she put it, by ‘‘showing [her] the door’’, while the third ‘‘didn’t have a clue’’, so that there was no possibility of anything happening.

So, when I began this treatment, I was ‘‘warned’’ that she was a very difficult patient, borderline, whose destructiveness was very poorly integrated. Indeed, it took months if not years of slowly ‘surviving’ and processing her mechanisms before any kind of positive outcome could even be hoped for.

In the months preceding the most significant phase of the analysis, the patient’s negativistic processes could begin to be approached. Our work led to the well-known formula that Bergeret (1981) has emphasized: ‘‘Faced with a glass that is half full, [the patient] sees one that is half empty’’. In the following session, she wanted to pick up on that statement in order to chal-lenge it, but in fact said: ‘‘Yes, that’s right, when a glass is full, I see it as being half empty.’’ She then paused and burst out laughing as she heard herself modifying the saying and, in fact, making it even more inflexible instead of challenging it as she had set out to do. That proved to be a deci- sive step forward.

Later, some processing of her destructiveness began to be possible; this took different forms, the various versions of which I think may be useful to explain insofar as putting words on the different patterns of destructiveness in that patient represented the most significant part of the work of the analysis, enabling her to break free of the existential deadlocks in which she kept imprisoning herself.

Here is a list of the various formulations to which the analysis gave rise in the course of the many long months of working through that followed:

‘‘What you say is good and correct. But it’s worthless, and it’s even bad for me in fact because I’m not the one who, all by myself, had the thought.’’

Therefore: ‘‘What I get from other people is worthless because it comes from someone else. The only things that are good and acceptable are those that I myself produce.’’

Or again: ‘‘Getting something from somebody else means that I wasn’t able to produce it myself – and that means that I’m completely useless.’’

We can see in these statements the necessity of a kind of self-engendering, which implies rejection of any form of dependence. Here are some more examples:

‘‘What I have is worthless, because I have it. It is only what someone else has and I don’t that is good; only what I do not possess is of any value.’’ (This, of course, is one form that destructive envy may take on.)

I owe it to Groucho, of the Marx Brothers, for helping me to find a par- ticularly apposite way of expressing the reverse situation: ‘‘I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.’’

So, ‘‘What I have is bad because I have it; everything that I possess is bad or worthless because I possess it.’’

Then, ‘‘Everything that touches me becomes bad, because I am evil.’’

And, finally, this series of statements, which unfolded according to how they were expressed in the clinical work of the analysis.

‘‘What I receive is right and ‘good’, but it is worthless (it’s ‘bad’) because …’’ (for one or other of the following reasons):

– ‘‘I didn’t receive it at the proper time (when I was a child, when I had so much need of it).’’ The analysand feels herself to be ‘foreclosed’ in Lacan’s conception of the word. This is the opposite of the well-known saying ‘better late than never’.

– ‘‘I didn’t receive it from the right person (from my mother or my father, from whom I was expecting it; only what I receive from them can be good and valuable, but I received nothing from them …).’’ The object is unique, irreplaceable; even if it is defective, no transference or exchange is possible.

– ‘‘I didn’t receive it in the proper way, as I should have done, exactly as I was expecting it … therefore, I can’t make use of it.’’

It is not difficult to imagine that this kind of procedure is an obstacle to the clinical work of processing and integrating the vagaries of the history of past failures and traumas. What is thought about and understood in the space of the session is ipso facto invalidated by the fact that it was not there, beforehand, in the past.

Indeed, the present revelation that things can be different only increases the pain of not having received earlier what now appears possible. In this kind of situation, the patient, feeling obliged to do so, initiated a process of mourning and, in despair, at long last gave something up – only to find out that what she thought she had to give up, as if it were something intrinsi- cally impossible, was in fact possible and depended on the intersubjective context of the time, on the responses that were made to what was transpir- ing, not to the actual events themselves.

The past deadlock experienced by the patient is transferred onto the psy- choanalytical space so that it is the psychoanalyst who experiences it, because the more ‘relevant’ he is in what he suggests, the less the patient can make use of it! Transference here is not a kind of displacement, as it is traditionally described, but a form of turnaround in which the analysand inflicts on the analyst what he or she had been subjected to without being able to integrate it – it may operate, in fact, in both modalities simultaneously, displacement and reversal, but these are split off from each other and set up a kind of double deadlock.

Hope, and the risk of suffering linked to the possibility of disappointment that every hope carries with it, are therefore actively counter-cathected: ‘Better the disappointment that we know about, than hope and its succession of unknown factors and potential suffering’. What is bad is more ‘sure’, more predictable than good; evil is better than good, which is more uncertain, and therefore evil is cathected and reproduced to a greater extent.

The individual thus puts him- or herself into a position of ‘existential foreclosure’: what did not take place in childhood and with the parents is now too late; it can never be produced, never take place. Transference and the necessary ‘illusion’ that lies at the root of its analysable manifestations are thus paralysed from the very outset; nothing can be expected of analysis because what ought to have taken place at the proper time simply did not occur – and there is no possible way it can be replaced, no transference can even be envisaged …

That kind of reasoning does, of course, bring to mind what Klein said about envy and the forms that it may take, as well as Rosenfeld’s idea of the negative therapeutic reaction. However, when we go beyond the processual manifestations that I have described, the analysis reveals a subjective position that lies at the heart of the problem, one that persists thanks to ensuring that all therapeutic efforts are doomed to failure. ‘‘If I didn’t receive what was ‘owed’ to me as a child, it is because I am in essence bad; it’s all my fault … Those in my early family circle, the context – none of that has anything to do with it.’’ If what occurred in the past is due to the inevitability of fate, if it is linked to the ‘evil’ that inhabits the individual, then he or she cannot bear a grudge against those past objects – and is therefore protected against experiencing any violent affect towards them.

Those violent affects are then turned back upon the self and contribute to reinforcing the feeling of a ‘bad self’. The person concerned is thereby protected against experiencing feelings of infantile helplessness when faced with the limitations, inadequacies or failures of the primary objects.

Better to be guilty, better to be ‘bad’, than helpless and constrained.

‘A piece of ego-analysis’ and binding of the drives

These, then, are some of the processual modalities that are the outcome of the impact of the kind of destructiveness and negativity which, when they are activated, take over the workings of the mind. In Analysis terminable and interminable, Freud (1937c) emphasizes the necessity of alternating between ‘a piece of id-analysis’ and ‘a piece of ego-analysis’. It would proba- bly be quite useful to follow that advice and to examine whether some ego experiences may contribute to reinforcing the impact of destructiveness. This could be an alternative hypothesis to the one according to which innate destructiveness is particularly important in some people, who, for example, have ‘‘a temperament intolerant of frustration’’ (Bion, 1970, p. 14).


This is the point at which I must return to the first level of articulation that I mentioned earlier, relating to the issue of binding of the drives and primary amalgamating.

Binding of the drives is often looked upon – and perhaps even by Freud himself – as going without saying; only their unbinding constitutes a problem. I would now like to discuss the relevance of a different hypothesis, according to which certain primary subjective experiences can either contribute to making binding of the drives possible – a primary amalgamating, a pre-form of ambivalence – or, on the other hand, be an obstacle to its structuring. According to that hypothesis, the binding of the drives is not a ‘given’; it is a product of certain primary and very early experiences. Conversely, failure to set up this primary binding is also due to experiences – of a primary traumatic nature – that result in the person being overwhelme by primary erotogenic masochism. Thanks to the processes of libidinal and sexual co-excitation (which Freud described in 1914 and 1925), that form of masochism is appropriate for binding; when it is overwhelmed, binding also becomes unable to cope.

I shall now present four clinical patterns or problem situations that will enable me to explore these initial ideas more deeply. Some of these patterns are directly related to the clinical work of psychoanalysis and can be identified through what Winnicott referred to as the kind of treatment that amounts to psychoanalytical exploration; others, however, have nothing to do with psychoanalytical treatment as such, but with mythology and with the institutional treatment of certain kinds of violence for which the traditional form of psychoanalysis is not appropriate. It is nonetheless possible to treat these situations while maintaining a psychoanalytical conception of the process; in this way, some highly significant clinical data can be discovered. I would argue that, for our thinking, we ought not to miss out on that kind of experience when it is possible to devise an appropriate analysing setting; ‘extreme’ situations can throw light on certain aspects of ‘borderline’ situations – which can be treated in the traditional psychoanalytical manner, and which in turn throw light on the more ordinary situations encountered in our psychoanalytical practice.

Clinical work with extremely violent children

I shall therefore begin with an example of a non-traditional setting. This has to do with clinical work with extremely violent children; my collabora- tion with Dr M Berger and his staff in the St Etienne day hospital in Lyon enabled me to discover and explore this kind of situation.

I shall not go into any great detail as regards this clinical work and the overall setting in which the therapy was undertaken; I shall simply mention the main results of the clinical support given in terms of ‘exploration and research’.

An 11 year-old pre-adolescent boy (who weighed all the same almost 80 kg [12 stone]) was always ‘‘breaking everything’’; he had already caused several attempts at therapy, individual and institution-based, to fail. When he was admitted to Dr Berger’s unit, we could say that all the ‘‘traditional’’ assortment of therapies had failed. After coming to the conclusion that, in the day centre too, all the traditional forms of therapy had failed, the staff, who were being pushed to breaking point by him, asked me to supervise the care procedure that they were offering the boy.

After examining the clinical problem and coming to the conclusion that the staff were just about at their wits’ end, I suggested that the boy could be given some support through ‘‘enveloping’’ him in a sheet at normal room temperature. After some trial and error, we managed to set up a procedure with three therapists (all of whom had had training in psychoanalysis) participating in each session. One of the psychologists would lie down beside the boy; she too would be more or less wrapped up so that she would be a ‘‘double’’ for the boy and be ‘‘with him’’, ‘‘by his side’’. Two other clinicians were present during each session; there were three or four sessions per week, each lasting for about an hour and a half. Whenever the staff had the impression that they were starting to feel overwhelmed again, I would be called upon to help, but it was usually Dr Berger, the consultant practitioner in the day hospital, who would give them support.

That part of the treatment lasted six months. After two months, it was the boy himself who asked for sessions whenever he felt panicky: these ‘‘on request’’ sessions were in addition to those already programmed. At the end of that six-month period, psychoanalytical psychotherapy at last became possible. This was done via the ‘alternating stories’ technique that Dr Berger has devised; these could be seen as resembling a kind of ‘Squiggle’ game in which parts of stories replace the lines that are drawn.

The two main results of this clinical work with an ‘‘extreme situation’’ could be expressed as follows:

In the first place, manifest destructiveness served as a screen behind which lay anxiety about being fragmented and the terror of exploding and disintegrating. The boy ‘‘exploded’’ with anger, with rage, in order not to be shattered or exploded; he ‘‘broke everything’’ because he felt that he was threatened with being broken up and did what he could to avoid this. That is an important point: destructiveness is not simply the direct expression of a ‘destructive drive’; there are underlying issues and it is at that level that some kind of help has to be offered.

Secondly, there is what can be reconstructed, through and thanks to this setting, of the primary narcissistic deprivation experienced by chil- dren such as that young patient. One of the things that did a lot to calm down the anxiety that he felt was the fact of being with somebody acting as a ‘‘double’’. The psychologist was lying down side-by-side with the boy; she acted as a kind of ‘‘double’’, experiencing and putting into words the feelings and affects that the boy seemed to be manifest- ing. Functioning as a ‘‘double’’ like that enabled some degree of psychi- cal containment and a bringing together of the boy’s fragmented experiences; it was as though accompanying him in that way enabled some integration and binding of the subjective amorphousness in which he found himself, into which fragmentation plunged him.

Primary physical ⁄ bodily rejection

I shall now discuss the second clinical pattern dating from early childhood. This involves babies and infants who have experienced a kind of primary rejection, in particular the kind of primary rejection that is physical or cor- poreal. Ferenczi (1929) was the first to explore this pattern of primary rejec- tion in ‘unwelcome’ children. Later, in a clinical study of children who were particularly aggressive and violent, Hopkins (1987) emphasized the impor- tance of primary bodily rejection in the way in which such an intensification of destructiveness comes about. A child who is physically rejected, or one whose mother develops a phobia about touching her infant, constructs an initial representation of him- or herself as ‘‘rubbish’’ – or ‘‘a turd’’, to put it even more precisely; violence then develops as a reaction to that basic repre- sentation.

In adding to that, I argue (Roussillon 1995a, 1995b) that the sense of self which is then constructed is organized not around the process which, for Freud, was the baby’s first subjective position (‘‘I am the breast’’ [Freud, 1941[1938], p. 299]) but around one that has more to do with ‘‘I am (the) evil’’. I went on to study several clinical patterns that sometimes come into being in an attempt to survive such a subjective position, evocative of ‘‘some character-types met with in psychoanalytic work’’ as described in Freud’s famous 1916 paper that I mentioned earlier:

– A negative exceptional position, such as that of Richard III, whom I have already mentioned: ‘Let evil be my good’.

– Criminals because of their guilt feelings, in which violence and crimes are committed in order to localize unconscious feelings of guilt that are impossible to fence in.

– Failure neurosis and fate neurosis expressed as a compulsion to repro- duce failures; these reinforce the individual’s feeling of being ‘damned’. Anything ‘good’ about success becomes ‘bad’ as a result of a kind of primary guilt.

These patterns, set up early in life, are an obstacle to the binding of the drives. They prevent any structuring of conflict involving ambivalence thanks to which violence could be bound and thereby lose its destructive quality. They are all the same difficult to distinguish as isolated phenomena since later in life other issues cloud them over somewhat.

The myth of Narcissus and Echo is to some extent an illustration of that process. As we know, Echo was punished by Hera for having distracted her attention by endlessly chattering, thus enabling the nymphs to flirt with her husband. Echo was punished by making it impossible for her to do any- thing other than repeat the final syllables spoken by other people. She did, however, learn to make use of that constraint in order to try to make known what she desired. That is what happened in Ovid’s myth when Echo met the beautiful young Narcissus. She fell in love with him and followed him, hidden in the forest, waiting for a favourable opportunity to approach him and try her luck. She thought that she had found that opportunity when Narcissus left the group and found himself alone. In a very clever way, by skilfully repeating the final fragments of Narcissus’s sentences, she succeeded in intriguing him to the extent that he asked her to join him.

When Narcissus said: ‘‘Let us come together here’’, Echo replied: ‘‘Come together here’’. She then came out of her hiding place, let herself be carried away by her love and came up to Narcissus. He shook her off roughly, saying: ‘‘I will die before you ever lie with me’’. Her momentum stopped, Echo was dumb-founded; full of shame, she withdrew and again hid away in the depths of the forest. She stopped eating, became anorexic, her flesh melted away little by little, and her bones became as hard as the stones which they ended up resembling. In that part of the myth, Ovid, in a remarkable way, figured out the cause-and-effect relationship between Echo’s reactive anorexia, the fact that she turned into something resembling a pile of hardened faeces and the violent physical rejection she suffered at the hands of Narcissus.

The infant’s eagerness is broken by a physical, bodily rejection implying, for the child, that his or her surge of affection is bad. Fairbairn (1940) emphasized the fact that physical rejection implies for the child that his or her love is ‘bad and destructive’; this creates a confusion in the child’s mind as to what is good and what is bad, as I pointed out earlier. The child then feels that his or her skin-ego (Anzieu, 1974) is full of bad contents that are potentially dangerous for the object. Clinical practice shows that two different kinds of control can be set up, sometimes coming into play alternately.

The first reaction is similar to Echo’s: all drive-related impulses in the child are restricted, any surges felt to be unwelcome are frozen in their tracks; through internalizing the meaning that the object applies to them, the child also feels them to be bad and dangerous.

The second is quite the opposite. The child becomes horrible, similar to the mirror-image that the object’s reaction sends back, actively ‘bad’ because there is no way of avoiding that outcome, in a last-ditch attempt at remaining in control; manifest destructiveness is then intensified.

Failures in primary satisfaction

A third pattern, which also dates from early childhood and tends to exacer- bate many kinds of destructiveness and violence, has to do with failures in primary satisfaction. For long, it had been thought that this level of satisfac- tion went without saying and that, in a way, it was a fundamental ‘given’ upon which metapsychology could be constructed. Clinical work with very early experiences in feeding and the structuring of auto-eroticism has shown that this is not the case; the satisfaction of needs, linked to self-preservation (the infant is indeed fed), should not be mistaken for the experience of satis- faction as a whole and its value as a model.

This depends not only on self-preservation but also on the way in which the object expresses its affective presence and on what it mirrors of the infant’s own feelings. More precisely, the kind of affective presence shown by the object and the pleasure that it takes are necessary for the experience of primary satisfaction to be set up because the infant experiences them as a reflection of his or her own satisfaction, which, as a result, becomes an acceptable experience. When the object shows no sign of satisfaction, the infant remains unaware of his or her own pleasure and satisfaction. This implies that some people have no knowledge at all of satisfaction, even though they may experience some kinds of pleasure: the affect of satisfaction, which cannot be mentally set up, remains unconscious.

One of the consequences of failure in the experience of satisfaction and of the exacerbation of primary disappointment (what Winnicott [1974] refers to as ‘tantalizing’) is the great difficulty that the individual is in as regards producing the conditions under which a positive primary amalgam of drive-related experiences – a good ‘binding of the drives’ – becomes possible.

Here too, envy in particular is exacerbated and the individual settles into the subjective position of the ‘eternally dissatisfied’, criticizing or attacking what occurs in the name of that dissatisfaction. The experience of satisfaction is vital if the fervour of the drives and the ruthless object relation (Winnicott, 1974) – the primary form of drive impulses – can bring together and bind both creativeness and destructiveness. The fervour that is typical of the drives must be able to express itself and obtain satisfaction in order for a basic form of binding of the drives to occur (if this does not happen, erotogenic masochism will tend to replace it but this will lead satisfaction onto the slippery slopes of perverse solutions).

When amalgamating of the drives is unsuccessful, destructiveness tends to become unbound and remain outside any conflict situation – examples of which are violence against the self (for example, in somatic illnesses) or against other people (in some kinds of negativism and antisocial manifestations of violence). Destructiveness is then exacerbated by the very fact of not being bound; it appears to take place quite openly. Here is an example of psychoanalytical treatment in which issues involving non-satisfaction lay at the very heart of the work.

Paul, 40 years old, was a senior executive, energetic and very impressive in his work. He undertook analysis because he was suffering from a kind of cold depression; he did not (or could no longer) have any ‘‘taste for things’’, and felt that everything he did was futile even though he was usually successful in carrying it out. Before reaching that stage, he would project into the future the time when everything would be better; he built up for himself an ideal picture of what he was going to be like in order, at long last, to feel that he had reached what was right for him. Over the past few years, however, he had begun to draw closer to the fulfilment of his ideals (he had obtained a very significant promotion in the international company for which he worked, he had courted and married a very beautiful woman resembling the one he had dreamt of since his teenage years), so that his feeling of pointlessness was getting stronger and stronger. ‘‘What’s the use of all this, of all this effort just to get where I already am?’’ In place of the satisfaction he thought would be his, he felt very disappointed, with the impression that he had let himself be taken in, especially in his work environment, where he felt that he had been ‘‘exploited’’.

When I met him for some preliminary interviews before beginning the analysis, he was in despair, very negative about everything that was going on in his life; ‘‘What’s the use of it all?’’ was the dominant theme.

The beginning of his analysis (with the setting that is quite usual in France: three sessions per week) was marked by a whole series of extramarital adventures. With his wife, he had no feeling of pleasure: ‘‘When I come, I don’t feel a thing,’’ he said. Pleasure was there, but he did not experience it as such; the sexual orgasm accompanying ejaculation gave him no feeling of pleasure – he did not feel a thing. Paul then set off on a whole series of female conquests. With those women, whom he chose because of their sensuality, he did have pleasure during sexual intercourse.

He gave them pleasure and he himself experienced pleasure. But what was striking above all was the fact that, immediately after intercourse, he did not feel well. Pleasure did not lead to satisfaction: on the contrary, it gave rise to a general feeling of ill-being. Since that feeling went hand in hand with self-reproach, my initial hypothesis was that he was experiencing guilt feelings that were more or less unconscious. That kind of interpretation did give him some relief from his discomfort: identificatory links with his skirt-chaser of a father, famous for his many sexual escapades, could gradually be made. Those too went some way to improving how Paul felt, but did not completely resolve his distress. He did, however, begin to get closer to his internal world bereft of any perception of his affects.

In the transference, even though Paul acknowledged that I was ‘‘doing a good job’’ and that he was ‘‘feeling better’’, he experienced me as ‘‘cold, not emotionally focused, impervious to [his] suffering and despair’’. Processing that aspect of the transference led first of all to a link with the relationship between him and his wife. That beautiful woman, in love with him, the one he had always seen in his dreams as absolutely ideal, began to take on a somewhat different allure. As he gradually got back in contact with his emotions and feelings, Paul tried to talk things over with her and to set up a new kind of dialogue with her in their relationship as man and wife. But things did not turn out as he had expected; his wife, emotionally speaking, was quite a cold person and had little appetite for intimate emotional conversation. As long as he was searching for an ideal, focused on his attempt at narcissistic fulfilment, everything was fine between them but when he began to move towards a more ‘‘object’’ relationship and engage more with his emotions, things took a turn for the worse. Paul had the impression that he was coming up against ‘‘a wall of ice’’, with nothing to get to grips with, ‘‘with no feelings’’, and which ‘‘never gave [him] any feedback’’. The destabilization of their relationship led his wife to request analysis – proof, perhaps, that she was not as cold and unfeeling as Paul made her out to be.

In the analysis, it then became possible to go back in time from the criticisms he made of his wife to those that he had never allowed himself to express concerning his mother. She too had always been for him a ‘‘perfect’’ woman, always true to form; but then he began to see her as suffering from a kind of cold depression, never satisfied, never really happy, unable to experience pleasure and perhaps even to have any real feelings.

He came to the conclusion that she had remained a prisoner of her relationship with her own mother. A certain kind of narcissistic identification with her could then begin to be analysed. His father’s adventures also began to take on another dimension, that of the economy of survival within the atmosphere of cold depression that dominated their life together as a family.

At that point, Paul went through phases of deep depression. His feeling that it was all pointless, which had improved significantly in the first part of the analysis, reappeared; I could perceive the melancholia that underlay his condition, and for several months I was very worried by it. He resisted the to have recourse to antidepressants as a solution: he had already taken that kind of medication in the past, but without much improvement. His despair was expressed through a series of important attacks: on the analysis, on his wife, on his mother, on the company he worked for and, in general, on anything that might happen in his life. I mentioned that I was worried because at times I was afraid that he might commit suicide. This was, all the same, always mitigated by the feeling that he preferred the emotional authenticity that he had managed to acquire to the kinds of false-self situations that had so often presided over his life. I felt confident in the way the analysis was progressing and in my own capacity to ‘‘survive’’ those attacks. Paul went through some very painful psychical phases, often fuelled by what he felt was the ‘‘inhuman’’ way in which his colleagues were treated at work and by the conflicts he had with his wife. I made use of the various situations of which he spoke during the analysis in order to continue processing the history of his early relationship with his mother. A certain number of elements belonging to what I thought of as his primary relationship with her were still very much part of Paul’s situation at that time. The very early aspects of that relationship seemed to have come down through the years, leaving a whole series of marks on Paul’s childhood and adolescentyears.

To conclude this overview of Paul’s clinical trajectory, I must say that he did manage gradually to break free of his agonizing despair as we succeeded in reconstructing the specific features of his early relationship with his mother; this helped him to move on from his need to reproduce these in his current life. What turned out to be decisive in this development was the work we did on the failure of the maternal function of being the ‘‘primary mirror’’ of his emotional life. It was when the despair of ever managing to satisfy his mother came more and more to the fore and when Paul was able to connect that, not with any of her own features in particular, but with the vicissitudes of the relationship between his mother and her own parents that the improvement in his condition became more stable.

Moreover, Paul was a very gifted analysand and very satisfying from my point of view. This was the case even when he was going through some very intense negativistic phases – he remained very stimulating with respect to my analysing function. I think he sensed the intense cathexis that I made of our work together; he was able to find in that cathexis the wherewithal to enable him to have a new kind of experience. I should point out, too, that his relationship with his wife improved significantly thanks to the combined action of the two analyses; in that domain too, he gradually came to have experiences that were more and more satisfying.

The ‘survival’ of the object and the failure to survive

I shall now discuss briefly the fourth and final clinical problem situation that has its roots in the individual’s past history. It is paradigmatic and cen- tral to this kind of situation, which is why I have used it in the title of this paper. We have in fact already come across it in the various other clinical situations that I have described, because it is involved in all kinds of prob- lems that have to do with destructiveness. I am referring to the failure of what Winnicott called the ‘survival’ of the object, which is necessary for the capacity to ‘make use of the object’.

Once primary drive manifestations have been sufficiently bound through experiences of satisfaction, the question of a secondary differentiation of drive impulses arises – that between love and hate (I am not convinced that this is the best way to express it). According to Winnicott, the decisive expe- rience is that of the encounter with the object’s capacity for ‘surviving’ the primary fervour of the drives, the ruthless nature of their primitive forms, and the earliest manifestations of destructiveness and anger. In a perhaps more ‘Freudian’ terminology, we could say that all of this has to do with cruelty (Cupa, 2007) and perhaps even with a fundamental kind of violence (Bergeret, 1984). According to Winnicott, it is the object’s response, i.e. its capacity not to retaliate in the face of what it might be tempted to see as a destructive attack, which is decisive for the individual’s subsequent ability to distinguish between the internal and the external object. The internal object is the one that is ‘destroyed’ by the fervour of the drives; it withdraws or takes reprisals. The external object is the one that ‘survives’, remaining suffi- ciently steadfast in its emotional stance.

The experience of ‘survival of the object’ thus enables a distinction to be drawn between the two ways in which the object is present – the object of hallucination and the object of perception – given that the experience of the found–created object merges them together. This in turn means that a psy- chical topography can be set up in which the world of fantasy, in which the object is destroyed, can be distinguished from that of objective objects, which ‘survive’ destruction. The possibility of destroying the object in and through fantasy goes some way towards pacifying destructiveness or offering it non-destructive means of expression. That is the fundamental paradox of destructiveness and its exacerbation: it is exacerbated when it does not reach its goal in fantasy and it is exacerbated when it is confused with actual destruction. Here again, it is the failure to satisfy the drive impulses in a ‘psychical’ way that leads to the actual carrying out of something: the fail- ure to set up a destructive fantasy is an incitement to actual destruction.

Conversely, topographical confusion between the world of psychical repre- sentations and fantasy on the one hand (Donnet and Green, 1973; Janin, 1989) and, on the other, that of objective objects (which are no longer ‘objective’, given that topographical confusion) has a traumatic effect and tends to exacerbate the manifestation of destructiveness and forms of vio- lence against the self or against the other person.

The experience of the survival of the object makes it possible to move from the ‘relationship with the object’, in which the ‘external’ object and the object of the drives – the ‘internal’ object, as it is called – are merged together, towards the ‘use of the object’, in which the external object is seen ‘objectively’, i.e. without any infantile omnipotence, so that it can be put to use like a truly external object, distinct from that of the drives.

Another way of putting it would be to say that there is a movement from the object ‘perceived’ as external to the object ‘conceived of’ as such, i.e. conceived of as an other-subject. The use of the object thus represents the paradoxical prototype of the intersubjective relation.

Conversely, if that topographical differentiation fails, so that the capacity to be alone in the presence of the object becomes more difficult, this could well play an objective part in manifestations of relation-based violence. When the object survives, the topographical distribution – ‘‘Object, I love you because you survive’’ and ‘‘I destroy you all the time in my unconscious fantasy’’ (I can do without you, in the sense of an alienating form of dependence) – makes it possible to set up a conflict of ambivalence, which is the strongest of all barriers against expressions of violence. I shall now describe the vagaries of an analysis in which the issue of the analyst’s ‘survival’ contributed to the patient’s capacity to move beyond the ‘non-survival’ in the past of her primary objects.

Noire was a 35 year-old woman who requested an appointment with me to discuss her overall state of distress. In our first meeting, I felt her to be somewhat strange. Although she was a high-ranking member of the legal profession, married with two children, and therefore appeared to be socially well adapted, I felt that she had a kind of psychotic contact that went beyond that of a false self. In fact, my impression was that I could not make any real contact with her at all. In the initial interviews, she did not look at other than via very brief glances, when her face would light up with a ‘little-girl’ kind of smile, in stark contrast to the very stern attitude that she usually adopted. I therefore began seeing her three times a week in a face-to-face setting; about a year later, the three weekly sessions were of the traditional kind, with the patient lying on the couch.

From the very beginning, one feature of the sessions was the somewhat strange ‘associativity’ that she presented. With her eyes closed, she would plunge into some kind of ‘vision’ that became a daydream – in reporting these, she would always begin by saying: ‘‘I see …’’. I found it very difficult to remain in contact with her; I was obliged to enter into her daydreaming in an attempt to preserve at least a minimal link with her. Those daydreams led us in the end to a grave, beside which a young girl (no doubt the patient herself) was handcuffed, with the handcuffs going all the way down into the grave. Tied to the dead person? The corpse turned out to be that of a woman, who little by little took on the features of the patient’s grand-mother, no doubt the first representation of a transference link. The day-dreaming became almost delusional: Noire said that she was convinced that her grandmother had been killed by her mother and her family. Gradually, thanks to these ‘visions’ and to my elucidating many details of them, part of her past history began to become clearer.

Noire was the younger of two girls, and her family was of noble origin, living in the Paris region. Her maternal grandmother ruled over the entire family in a despotic way; it was only with her paternal grandmother (the grandmother in the grave) that Noire received any degree of warmth and tenderness – but this lasted only until she was 7 or 8 years old, when a quarrel broke out and that grandmother never visited them again. Noire remained very attached to her, all the same, and, since she did not live very far away, she saw her once or twice a year.

As a daughter of the lord of the manor in that region, Noire did not adapt well to school; most of the time she was on her own, sad and rejected by the other children, with whom she quarrelled a lot. Her family was never really well liked, and that had an impact on the kind of relationship with the other children that she had as a girl – they made her ‘pay’ for her family. It was very difficult to reconstruct those few elements of her past. Noire was not only very embarrassed when she talked about it, but also full of shame and reticence. As our work was progressing and the contact between us improved, I invited her to lie down on the couch, in conformity with the traditional psychoanalytical setting. Although the analysing situation was still threatened by derealization because of the pressure of her ‘visions’ and daydreams, some ‘real’ dreams did begin to appear. In one of these, Noire was in a mountainous region, with snow all around. In the distance, she saw her family going away, leaving her behind, all alone. The footprints in the snow were gradually erased. She woke up, feeling very anxious. I tried to make a connection with the analysing situation – now that she was lying on the couch, she could not see me any more – but she did not react to that. It was another dream that gave rise to a kind of delusional transference.

In that dream, Noire was in a trench, being ‘bombarded’ with pieces of bricks. The fireplace in my waiting-room is made of large stones, and I suggested that there might be a link between this and her dream – perhaps she felt that she was going to be ‘bombarded’ during the sessions. She remained silent for the rest of the session, then left without looking at me or shaking my hand, contrary to what usually took place between us at the end of each session.

As soon as I went to fetch her in the waiting-room for her next session, I sensed that something had changed. She walked in front of me, a determined look on her face, without looking at me or saying hello. As she lay down on the couch, she said that she ‘‘was going to show me how [she] really was, because [she] was fed up being kind, [she] was not at all a kindly person’’. That was the beginning of a series of sessions in which she treated me in a tyrannical way, forbidding me in a very confrontational manner to say anything at all. I was at times amazed by the vigour with which she would yell: ‘‘Be quiet!’’ at me – or, occasionally: ‘‘Say something!’’ She explained that she liked records: ‘‘You switch the player on and it talks or sings, you switch it off and it falls silent’’. I understood that that was how I was supposed to be in her sessions – speaking or keeping quiet, depending on the ‘order’ I was given. At that time, I felt that this had something to do with a ‘malleable medium’ (Roussillon, 1991), and I agreed to go along with it without any interpretative retaliation.

Noire went through some very painful phases that were also marked by a great deal of destructiveness. Then she refused to go on lying on the couch; she wanted to sit on the chair again but without my seeing her – she there- fore demanded that I turn the chair round so that her back would be towards me. She felt more protected by the back of the chair, less exposed to my gaze or to what I might say – which she felt to be extremely intrusive. She was, however, unable to turn the chair round by herself because it was too heavy for her. I thought that it would be a good idea to come to some arrangement, so I offered her an armchair on castors that would be easy to turn round. That made her fly into a terrible rage, the reason for which I discovered only later, when I was able to make a connection between the armchair on castors and the wheelchair that her maternal grandmother used. It was sitting in that wheelchair that her grandmother, who was disabled, tyrannized the whole mansion, forcing everybody – and in particular Noire’s father– to do what she wanted, ruling over them with an iron fist.

Without meaning to and without even realizing it, by suggesting that Noire sit in the armchair with castors, I had in fact ‘interpreted’ a transference that was underpinned by Noire’s narcissistic identification with that tyrannical grandmother. Once I began to understand that, the work of the analysis became easier. I still had to talk or keep quiet depending on the orders that I was given, but the overall atmosphere of the sessions was less violent and the terror which she made me feel – and which she experienced in relation to me – began to diminish significantly.

When Noire agreed to lie down on the couch again, another phase of the  analysis could begin. What became the key to our work together was made clear when she began to speak about her early childhood. According to her mother, she had been a frail baby, sickly, difficult and quick-tempered. Her older sister, however, was apparently from the very beginning much more satisfactory and warmly cathected by her mother. Noire’s birth was a disap- pointment – she was a girl, not a boy. This was confirmed later when her little brother was born. When she was about 18 months old, both girls fell seriously ill; her sister died, and as a result her mother became severely depressed. It was at that point that the paternal grandmother became so important to Noire and she quickly became very attached to her. Later, her mother said to Noire that she would have preferred her to die and her sister to survive.

It gradually became possible to interpret her fantasy of having killed her sister and made her mother depressed and dead-like; neither of them had ‘survived’ Noire’s destructive attacks. That interpretation took a lot of processing because on several occasions Noire’s mother did not ‘survive’ her drive impulses; it did nonetheless bring about a fundamental shift in Noire’s relationship to the outside world, with a quite remarkable drop in her vio-lence and destructiveness. Conversely, the important factor in that analysis seemed to me to lie in the lengthy test of survival to which Noire subjected me. During her tyrannical phase, and in addition to what she was putting me through in a kind of repetition of what the maternal grandmother had done to all the family, Noire was attempting to test my ability to preserve a psychoanalytical attitude in the face of her repeated attacks – she was trying to see if I could ‘survive’ her destructiveness. I think that it was only when she came to realize that my creativeness had not been destroyed, that I was not going to retaliate nor become depressed, and that, even if I continued most of the time to obey her instructions, I still remained free and able from time to time to ignore them, that Noire began to reveal material from her past that made the ongoing process meaningful. It is indeed worth pointing out that it was when I obeyed her instructions, while at the same time remaining alive and creative, that Noire seemed to discover me as existing independently from her; she then became able to perceive my otherness, to see me as an other-subject, which, in the initial stages of that analysis, I most certainly was not.



What is interesting in borderline and extreme situations of subjectivity is that they force us, in our attempt to account for them metapsychologically, to go back to the very fundamentals of our theory and take a closer look at it. That is when what appears to be a primary ‘given’ has to be examined again to see whether what looks as though it has always been there is per- haps in fact the product of an early phase of intersubjective history – and maybe even ‘prehistory’. What seems to be due to the particular individual alone has to be looked at afresh since it may perhaps be the result of the internalization of what was initially an intersubjective pattern – or ‘inter- psychical’, if that term is preferred.

Clinical practice teaches us also that what causes our thinking and mental processing to break down is the occurrence of the ‘identical to itself’ phe- nomenon. Whenever a process, a drive impulse or a psychical structure appears to be ‘identical to itself’, to ‘go without saying’, it can no longer be worked through; it loses its capacity for mentalization and symbolization. This is what, in thinking processes, is referred to as perceptual identity. I tend to think that the ‘death drive’ is manifested in and by that identity equivalence between a thing and itself. The Unconscious no longer exists, there is no longer a gap between a thing and its representation in the mind – and therefore there is no more interplay, no more space for work. Such are the threats that ‘silent’ forms of violence impose on the mind. That kind of violence need not be ‘raucous’, it does not have to be expressed as violence; it is a kind of violence that belongs to what is presented as being ‘real in itself’, a Real against which the mind is shattered and shatters all hope of making something meaningful. That is why also, in my view, as clinicians we have to be aware of the threat that treating a thing and the way in which it is expressed as identical represents for our clinical thinking. Violence comes from processes that abrade differences and present identity as being intangi- ble. It is on that basis that I have tried to develop a concept of destructive- ness that becomes meaningful in a dialectical context between an individual and his or her environment, giving to the responses of the environment their rightful place in the exacerbation and eventual outcome of destructiveness.

In this paper, I have explored four kinds of traumatic situations in which certain particular features of the responses and reactions of the environment to the individual’s drive impulses have impeded the integration and process- ing of these. As a result, either directly or in response to this, destructiveness is manifested to an even greater degree. In clinical situations like these, binding of the drives becomes difficult to set up, and ambivalence, rather than being expressed as a conflict, tends to generate paradoxical patterns that imprison the individual in various kinds of existential deadlock.



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