Compassion and altruism in psychoanalytic theory: an evolutionary analysis of self psychology.


Freud's creation of psychoanalysis was, in part, a reaction to the societal, religious morality that denied the ubiquitous drivenness that repeatedly confronted him, the essential animal nature of homo sapiens as had been recently made clear by the theory of evolution. For example, Freud (1933) wrote an aggression, It is a general principle. . .that conflicts of interest between men are settled by the use of violence. This is true of the whole animal kingdom, from which men have no business to exclude themselves. Though evolutionary theory was in its infancy, incompletely understood even by its creator, Freud's commitment to facing its truths led to an unswerving stance in reaction to attempts to deny the narcissistic injury inherent in his psychoanalytic discoveries. He insisted on trying to reinterpret virtually all social behaviors in the light of his new theory, and he and his followers have stretched his drive/structure model to its limits. Yet, as we have seen, this evolutionary creation--the human psyche--cannot be fully accounted for utilizing the vicissitudes of Freud's two instincts. What we come to appreciate when we bring the perspective of the theory of evolution to the relational/structure versus drive/structure debate, is that the debate is about the two sides of the same coin. Like this metaphor, in the case of the selfish, yet social, human animal, you cannot have a one-sided coin. Both drives and relationships are biologically inherent and have their structuralizing effect upon the supraordinate self. A modern evolutionary biological, psychoanalytic conception of conflicts and drives may actually be closer to the adaptive/functional tone of aspects of the self psychological paradigm than to the traditional perspective. As human animals we are inherently in conflict over our irreducible biologically based driven, asocial needs (i.e., self-enhancing pleasure seeking and avoidance of unpleasure) and our irreducible biologically based needs for a self-selfobject milieu. A dynamic tension between these two motivational pulls is adaptive (has been selected for) due to the great flexibility it provides in enabling this large brained, nonreflexively driven, social organism fully to exploit all aspects of its environment in pursuit of its own best interest. In its clinical application this viewpoint sees our patients caught between their basic self-enhancing instinctual drivenness for sensual pleasure and power, and their irreducible self-enhancing need for a self-selfobject milieu.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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@article{Kriegman1990CompassionAA, title={Compassion and altruism in psychoanalytic theory: an evolutionary analysis of self psychology.}, author={David J. Kriegman}, journal={The Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis}, year={1990}, volume={18 2}, pages={342-67} }