Grief Freud's Theory Chapter

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Hence, melancholia means the loss of an object of love like in mourning but in this case, the loss is not viewed and accepted by the conscious mind. Due to this difference, the experience of a melancholic varies from the one mourning. This is because, the condition of a melancholic is quite complex like a puzzle since he is unaware of the fact that what is keeping him so absorbed. In the case of mourning, the world looks poor where as for melancholic's, it is their ego. For such patients, their ego is seen to be worthless. These people often complain about themselves as being bad and worthy of punishment. In addition, a melancholic degrades his self in front of others and pity his relatives from being connected with such an unworthy person. He is not of the opinion that a change occurred in him but instead justifies such a behavior by linking it with his past saying that he was never good. Consequently, he suffers from sleeplessness and refuses to eat showing his disinterest and detachment in life (Jackson, 1986).

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Dealing with such patients in a therapeutic setup is often difficult. This is because it would be complicated to present such a view of life which would contradict with his opinion held by the ego. He must have some depth and truth while stating his feelings and behavior which in beginning must be acknowledged and accepted by the therapist. This is because of the underlying fact that his behavior of lacking interest and other symptoms are present but are secondary. This is because there is an internal framework being governed by the ego which is responsible for such behaviors. In this regard, according to the theory of grief by Freud, the melancholic while describing these symptoms and holding such a negative, critical view about him is actually getting to know him better and is often stating the truth.

However, the symptoms or the experience of a melancholic and a person who is crushed and worthless although may look similar, appear to be different. This is because the feeling of shame in front of others is not present in a person suffering from melancholia. Therefore, the patient's description suggests his suffering in relation to the loss of an object of love and the loss held by the ego (Jackson, S, 1986).

Chapter on Grief Freud's Theory of Grief Assignment

While listening to the details of a melancholic, it is observed that there is dissatisfaction with the ego on the moralistic grounds. This can be seen since the patient's discontent is rarely with bodily weakness or ugliness. It is rather more directed towards his fears or the state of impoverishment. However, Freud is of the opinion that while analyzing many patient's of melancholia, a common observation that could be made was the idea that the self accusations made by the patient rarely fitted him. Instead, those accusations could actually be perfectly applied to someone else; the object of love which has been lost.

Thus, the reproaches are actually against the object of love which has been shifted to the ego of the person suffering from melancholia. In other words, while explaining this concept, Freud is bringing in his defense mechanism of projection where a person projects his own feelings onto someone else. For instance, if a lady has sympathy for her husband for being with such an incapable woman, is in real accusing the man of being incapable. Such a behavior shows the constant state of struggle which the patient goes through merely because of losing the beloved object.

The process of object love which is lost can be reconstructed because the libido at one time was attached to a particular person. Due to the loss and disappointment on account of this loved person, the object relationship dismantled. Consequently, the usual result of withdrawal of the libido from one point and displacement at the other did not occur. Instead, it was withdrawn into a different place; the ego. Therefore, the ego actually identified with the object that was abandoned. This ultimately gave rise to the transformation object-loss into ego-loss.

Thus, it would be correct to say that melancholia has adopted many characteristics from mourning along with other features arising due to the regression to the state of narcissism from the narcissistic object-choice (Freud, 1914). At one hand, it is similar to mourning while on the other it incorporates the distinctive feature of a factor which is usually absent in mourning. Like mourning, the state of melancholia vanishes with time without leaving its trace. Furthermore, another conspicuous feature of melancholia is the presence of mania.

Relapse often occurs during which many times the sign of mania is present. Mania is in contrast a complete opposite condition to melancholia. However, several psychoanalysts have regarded these two conditions to be similar having overlapping roots. The ego in the case of melancholia has been succumbed whereas the ego in the mania has mastered or pushed the complex. Another possible explanation for mania and melancholia going hand in hand is the discharge of psychic energy which has been maintained for a long period of time. This in other words, could be understood through a parallel example of an extremely poor person winning a lottery one day.

This enthusiasm and high spirit marks the features of mania which is opposite to the state of melancholia. Thus, mania is the condition of relief experienced here because of the suffering arising due to the loss of an object of love.

Therefore, melancholia is a step ahead of mourning. However, the relationship with the object in this state is complex because of ambivalence which is the coexistence of opposite attitudes. For this reason, the reasons of melancholia are more as compared to mourning. Melancholia incorporates the process of separate struggles such as the detachment of libido from the object of love and the corresponding struggle to sustain the position of the psychic energy specifically to this attack. This ambivalence is often kept away from the conscious mind which may have likely activated or triggered other repressed material (Freud, 1917).

Freud's theory of grief and bereavement has been criticized by several scholars and a number of questions have been raised regarding the view which he has proposed. Although Freud's theory proposes that the stage of mourning gradually comes to an end when the mourner accepts the reality of loss of a loved object and gradually invests the psychic energy into a new object, his later works talk about a revised version of this theory. In his later works, Freud talks about identification which was previously linked with the condition of melancholia, as a key feature in mourning. Moreover, this revisions also focus on the never ending period of grieving. In addition, the revised version incorporates the many extreme and violent characteristics found in melancholia to be a part of mourning. Therefore, the previous works contradict with the new volumes when it comes to the explanation and comparison between mourning and melancholia.

Thus, Freud's works have been often criticized by several scholars. Despite that it holds value, is applicable, taught and practiced at institutes and at the therapeutic sessions to treat patients. Losing a loved one is a truth which is experienced by every individual at some point of his life. Despite this loss and sorrow, life goes on. Although it is difficult and almost uncertain to accept this reality or replace the object of loss with someone else, a person has to move on and continue developing other relationships. Those fixated at this stage face trouble in functioning and suffer from a low self-esteem, the inability to love and lack of interest towards the world. These people often accuse themselves of the bad and become highly critical and negative about their own selves. At times, these symptoms are often accompanied with hallucinating about the presence of the lost object of love. This is the whole idea that has been explained by Freud who proposes that with time, a person gets over the stage of mourning. In addition, he is able to invest the psychic energy into a new object of attachment and move on. However, on the other hand, the person experiencing melancholia must be treated so that he can lead a normal life.


Butler, J. (1997). The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Freud, S. (1914). On narcissism: An introduction. Standard Edition. 14:73 -- 102.

Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and melancholia. Standard Edition 14:243 -- 258

Freud, S. (1923). The ego and the id. Standard Edition 19:12 -- 66.

Gay, P. (1988). Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: Norton.

Gorer, G. (1977). Death, Grief, and Mourning. New York: Arno Press.

Jackson, S. (1986). Melancholia and Depression: From Hippocratic Times to Modern Times. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Jones E. (1955). The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud: Vol. 2. Years of Maturity, 1901 -- 1919.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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