IPA Inter-Regional Encyclopedic Dictionary of Psychoanalysis

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AMAE Tri-Regional Entry

Inter-Regional Editorial Board: Takayuki Kinugasa (North America), Elias M. da Rocha Barros (Latin America) and Arne Jemstedt (Europe) Inter-Regional Coordinating Co-Chair: Eva D. Papiasvili (North America)


Amae is a Japanese word in common daily usage. It is a noun form of amaeru, a verb. Both derive from an adjective, amai, which means “sweet taste.” Amaeru is a combination of a verb, eru , which means “get” or “obtain” and amai. Thus, the original meaning of amaeru is literally to obtain sweetness. In common usage, amaeru refers to behaving in a childlike, dependent fashion to elicit indulgence, to obtain what is desired: be it affection, physical closeness, emotional or actual support, or granting of a request. It is a behavior of an appeal to be indulged, and presumes a degree of familial or intimate closeness. Typically, an infant or child might engage a maternal figure or caretaker in a sweetly dependent manner to get his/her wishes granted. Amae and amaeru behaviors are seen outside of the familial environment and beyond childhood in Japanese interpersonal interactions. This might occur in close personal friendships, the intimacy of a couple relationship, the extended family, or within cohesive small groups such as classmates or teammates. It is also seen in relationships where power or status differentials exist such as teacher/student, boss/subordinate, or senior/junior colleagues. Depending on the interpersonal circumstances, the amae phenomenon is widely accepted as a signifier of the strength and soundness of a relationship on the one hand, but on the other hand, it can be perceived negatively as an indication of the person’s immaturity, self-indulgence, sense of entitlement, or lack of social awareness and common sense. In the North American Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Salman Akhtar (2009) defines Amae as a “Japanese term, which denotes an intermittent, recurring, culturally patterned interaction, in which the ordinary rules of propriety and formality are suspended, allowing people to receive and give affectionate ego support to each other” (p. 12). This definition builds on Takeo Doi’s (1971/73) definition of the term, which is further expanded on within the ego psychological terminology by Daniel Freeman (1998), to be an “interactive mutual regression in the service of the ego, which gratifies and serves the progressive intrapsychic growth and development of both participants” (Freeman, 1998, p.47). The editors of the Japanese Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (Okonogi, K, Kitayama, O, Ushijima, S, Kano, R, Kinugasa et al., 2002) also build on Doi’s definition and point to the complexities of preverbally rooted emotional dependence contained in the dynamic underpinnings of amae.


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