Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Judith Mitriani - Defensive Organizations

"Defensive organizations have been widely investigated, theorized about, and clinically illustrated, especially in the Kleinian literature, since Riviere's (1936) seminal paper on the negative therapeutic reaction. Rosenfeld (1964) described defensive organizations as structured, organized patterns of manic defenses, relied upon to ward off anxieties of a paranoid-schizoid and depressive nature. He observed that defenses such as omnipotence, grandiosity, denial, splitting, and projective identification, as well as the feeling of triumph over a diminished and denigrated object and dominance over the helpless, needy and dependent baby-self — when maintained throughout infancy and childhood without mitigation — may become a well-organized, rigid, and stable aspect of the personality.

This defensive organization, when idealized, often blocks the establishment of and substitutes for those good internalized objects which might otherwise protect and support the nascent self while continuing to foster its growth and development. Ultimately, the impressionable baby-self comes under the control of the defensive organization which employs seduction, "terror, persecution and dread" (Meltzer, 1968), or "the threat of insanity" (Money-Kyrle, 1969).

Rosenfeld (1971) further developed his ideas, titrating out from the concept of narcissism the notion of negative narcissism and its probable relationship to the negative therapeutic reaction. Both Rosenfeld (1971) and Meltzer (1968) conceptualized this character structure as a Mafia or gang: a covert and collusive network of renegade malignant objects in hierarchical organization, which provide the infantile self with a reliable source of protection from madness, psychic pain, and anxiety in return for absolute obedience, loyalty, and constant acts of tribute.

In analysis we can detect the existence of these structures as it becomes apparent that the patient cannot bear or is afraid of being dependent upon and having feelings of affection for or gratitude toward the analyst. In fact, these patients often experience negative therapeutic reactions just as the relationship with the analyst begins to deepen and productive work momentarily proceeds. Thus, when tangible gains are achieved by the analytic couple and the patient might otherwise feel some relief from his psychic pain and anxiety, it is as if the "gang leader" — in an attempt to assert its hegemony — rears its ugly head and brings it all down with doubts, somatic symptoms, guilt, and threats of death and destruction.

During these episodes, we often hear our patients complaining that the analysis is worthless or, even worse, noxious. However, what may appear as an attempt to denigrate the analyst's work and worth may well be intended as an act of appeasement toward some inner force that cannot bear the development of this fruitful alliance between analyst and analysand — since such a new alliance threatens to provide an alternate means of living and coping with and within relationships while rendering the old regime obsolete.
" (pp. 12-13)

Judith Mitrani (2007). Fear of Breakdown, the Compulsion to Repeat, and the Defensive Organization: in Psychoanalysis and in Patrick Suskind's The Pigeon. Fort Da, Vol. 13, pp. 7-25


  1. Great article. I am looking for the bibliography of cited references?

  2. I'm sorry - due to copyright laws - I'm only able to provide excerpts from articles. The intention of my blog is to stimulate interest in a wide variety of psychoanalytic ideas, concepts, and experiences but tracking down the original article is up to the reader.


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