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EROS AND THANATOS

Several military hospitals consulted the psychoanalysts who had built their reputation on the treatment of certain forms of trauma. Because the treatments they developed were useful in certain cases, more and more psychoanalytic psychiatrists were hired by hospitals, where they sometimes assumed important positions.

Nonetheless, traumatized war veterans responded only moderately well to the psychoanalytic treatment. The psychoanalysts had particular difficulty understanding why certain horrible nightmares regularly invaded the soldiers mind after the war, when the organism was no longer under threat. Freud had grown weary of the incessant slaughter and the lies, of the politicians of the time. He (1915d) viewed humanity with an increasing bitterness. The only way he had to make sense about what was going on was to postulate the existence of a destructive instinct (Thanatos) aimed at self and others that was at least as powerful as the pursuit of pleasure (Eros).

Freud’s first theory attempts to construct itself, like Wallace’s theory, around a single principle that is almost a nonlaw.❠Therefore, Freud proposed that the psyche structures itself around the pursuit of sexualized pleasure. He advanced in this direction, in spite of the severe critical opposition of psychiatrists like Carl Gustav Jung who were willing, if need be, to admit to a basic life force (elan vital) that was not necessarily sexual. It is difficult for someone who works with individuals who suffer from schizophrenia to admit that their problem reduces itself to a fear of sexuality. In analyzing the descriptions of the behaviors of those traumatized by war with his colleagues, Freud had to admit that the psyche cannot be explained by only one principle. He nevertheless had confidence in his analysis about the relationship between libido and neurosis. He therefore took up, in part, Jung’s argument; he postulated that the impulses of life are differentiated into survival forces through violence and survival forces through sexual pleasure. In these two cases, he notes an autoerotic component (masturbation and self-destruction) and a component directed toward the exterior (copulation and combat).61

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