Linking, Attacks on

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Wilfred Bion's notion of "attacks on linking" was first expounded in "Attacks on Linking" (1959) as part of his innovative work on psychosis. Attacks on linking are destructive attacks from the psychotic part of the personality directed against all links between objects. An internalization of an "ego-destructive super-ego," as Bion called the figure which attacks links of emotion and reason between objects, occurs when the relationship between mother and infant lacks the normal links of primary communication by projective identification. He thinks that the chief source of the failure of primary communication in such cases stems from an inborn disposition of excessive hate and envy in the infant whose situations is worsened if the mother is unreceptive, and diminished but not abolished if the mother can introject the infant's violent feelings while remaining balanced.

Bion showed the theoretical importance of the concept of "attacks on linking" for understanding some symptoms in borderline patients. Lacking a state of mind capable of making links for growth, the patient feels that his mind is an ongoing disaster which he fears is incapable of resolution. Moreover, since there is a deficiency of curiosity in his psyche, any development which depends on enquiry is impossible, and the links in his mind remain perverse, cruel, and sterile.

In clinical practice the concept of "attacks on linking" shifts the analyst's attention in an important wayfrom the nature of the object to the nature of the relations between objects, i.e., from structures to functions. Attacks on linking manifest themselves in the attempted destruction of the inner mental functioning of patient and analyst, and on the verbal and nonverbal communication which is the link between them. Problems in the analysis tend to become focused not on why but on what, in the sense of what the function of the analysis and the analyst are for the patient.

Bion's notion of "attacks on linking" fits Freud's description in Civilization and its Discontents of the death instinct as an instinct seeking to dissolve units. It is also an elaboration of Klein's concept of splitting.

Edna O'Shaughnessy

See Also: Emotion; Learning from Experience; Love-Hate-Knowledge (links L/H/K); Selected fact; Subject's castration; Symbiosis/symbiotic relation; Vertex.


Bion, Wilfred. (1959). Attacks on linking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 40 (5-6), 308.

Freud, Sigmund. (1930a [1929]). Civilization and its discontents, SE, 21: 64-145.

Klein Melanie. (1946). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms, The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 3, pp. 1-24). London: Hogarth Press.