IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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CONFLICT Tri-Regional Entry Inter-Regional Consultants: Christine Diercks (Europe), Daniel Traub-Werner (North America) and Héctor Cothros (Latin America) Inter-Regional Coordinating Co-Chair: Eva D. Papiasvili

“… It is from this pair of opposites that our mental life springs” (Freud, Letter to W.Fliess of February 19, 1899; in Freud, S. 1886-1899, p. 278.).


Freud inaugurated psychoanalysis on the foundation of psychic conflict – the functioning of the human mind, reflective of the interaction of opposing forces and tendencies. Psychoanalysis places special emphasis on the effects of unconscious conflicts defined as interactions in the mind among forces of which the individual is unaware. In a conflict, opposed wishes, feelings, needs, interests, ideas and values are confronted with each other. In psychoanalytic theory, psychic conflict is central to the dynamics of the human mind and is, in the classical view, fuelled by instinctual [drive] energy and mediated by affectively cathected fantasies. All mental processes are based on the interaction of conflicting psychic forces, which in turn are in complex interaction with external stimuli. The primary subjects of psychoanalysis are unconscious latent aspects of psychic conflict, which are ultimately founded in repressed infantile wishes. These unconscious contents resurface in distorted forms such as in dreams, parapraxes, symptoms and in the form of cultural manifestations. For Freud, the core conflict of psychoanalysis is the Oedipal conflict. This dispute – situated between infantile desire and prohibition – is constitutive for the dynamics of psychic life and its manifestations. In addition to its dynamic qualities, conflict also has several metapsychological components: Topographic (conscious, preconscious, unconscious), economic (sensory overstimulation, reality and the pleasure principle), genetic (depending on the development of ego-functions) and structural (conflicts between ego, super-ego and id). Furthermore, the Oedipal conflict is set within the instinct/drive-dualism (sexual instinct / instinct of self-preservation, ego-libido / object-libido, life / death instinct).


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