Amae, Concept of

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The concept of amae is a concept which derives from a unique Japanese word amae, a noun form of amaeru, an intransitive verb. It primarily refers to what an infant feels toward the mother when it recognizes and seeks her, hence it is nonverbal to begin with, but it acquires its first-person dimension when a child comes to learn the meaning of amae. Amae may be applied to an adult in a similar situation involving someone who is supposed to take care of him or her. It is on the basis of these linguistic facts plus the clinical experience that Takeo Doi arrived at the concept of amae indicating whatever happens consciously or unconsciously in a person vis-à-vis a possible caretaker.

Amae corresponds to what Freud (1912d) calls "the affectionate current," which should combine with "the sensual current" in love. Also, it should correspond to the process of identification, since Freud (1921c) states that "identification is known to psychoanalysis as the earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person." What is closest in meaning to amae is "primary love or passive object love" defined by Michael Balint (1935/1965). Interestingly, he specifically states that "all European languages. . .are all so poor that they cannot distinguish between the two kinds of object love, active and passive." Among the empirical studies of infants, the attachment behavior which John Bowlby focused upon overlap with the behavior of amae. It is significant that amae is the exact reverse of envy which Melanie Klein emphasized in her thinking of mental life. The self-object needs defined by Heinz Kohut also correspond to amae.

Amae thus bridges many important concepts in psychoanalysis. Its strength lies in the fact that being a verbnoun it represents something alive, and thus suggests a potential feeling. According to Freud's earlier formulation of instincts, amae can be a representative of the ego instincts.

Takeo Doi

See also: Japan; Tenderness.


Balint, Michael. (1965). Critical notes on the theory of the pregenital organizations of the libido. Primary love and psycho-analytic technique. New York: Liveright. (Original work published 1935)

Bowlby, John. (1969). Attachment and loss. London: The Hogarth Press.

Doi, Takeo. (1980). The concept of amae and its psychoanalytic implications. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 16, 349-354.

. (1991). A propos du concept d'amae. Psychiatrie de l'enfant, 34, 277-284.

Freud, Sigmund. (1912d). On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love. SE, 11: 177-190.

. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.