Love-Hate-Knowledge (L/H/K Links)

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In the 1960s and 1970s Wilfred Ruprecht Bion developed the concept of the link, through three works that appeared in this period: Learning from Experience (1962); Elements of Psycho-Analysis (1963); and Transformations (1965). In these books he described three kinds of links: links of love (L), links of hate (H), and links of knowledge (K)a model that therefore went beyond the Freudian model of the sexual drives of love (with their uniting function) and the sexual drives of hate (with their dividing function).

These concepts were particularly developed in chapters 14 and 27 of Learning from Experience and chapter 6 of Transformations.

"The feelings we know by the names 'love' and 'hate' would seem to be obvious choices if the criterion is basic emotion. Envy and Gratitude, Depression, Guilt, Anxiety, all occupy a dominant place in psychoanalytic theory and would seem with Sex to be choices to place with love and hate. In fact I prefer three factors I regard as intrinsic to the link between objects considered to be in relationship with each other. An emotional experience cannot be conceived of in isolation from a relationship. The basic relationships that I postulate are (1) X loves Y; (2) X hates Y; and (3) X knows Y." (1962, pp. 42-43) In reality, according to Cléopatre Athanassiou: "W. R. Bion not only opposes the formation of links to whatever breaks them apart; he opposes them with another kind of union, the agglomeration, group formation par excellence." She adds: "The basic elements of a person can be transformed through the intervention of another person. This encounter leads to a modification in the way the (psychic) elements are linked together: instead of forming agglomerations, they will form veritable bonds of such a sort that the rigid screen presently secretes a more supple matter, to take its place, capable of allowing passage from one side of the (contact) barrier to the other" (1997).

In other words, the links are formed dynamically at the very heart of the primitive interrelationship. On that basis, Wilfred Bion describes the three links of love, hatred, and knowledge and he makes of these links working tools allowing the easy understanding of the content of a session: "Meaning is a function of self-love, self-hate or self-knowledge" (1965, p. 73).

It is on the basis therefore of a search for the "key" to a session, and of a reflection on the theory of interpretation, that Bion clarifies and deepens the nature of these three types of links. He remains insistant on the fact, fundamental in his eyes, that there is no knowledge of the object that is not, first of all, deeply rooted in emotional ties. The discovery of the object proceeds fundamentally by feeling, which, in itself, is already a kind of encounter with and knowledge of the objectan idea which Donald Meltzer developed later, through his concept of "aesthetic conflict." For Bion, in effect, all emotional experience is a link, because it puts a Self and object in the presence of each other.

The L, H, and K links are proper to life and indissoluble from the mechanism of projective identification. Recall that for Melanie Klein the object of projection is not only matter for an expulsion of whatever has become undesirable in oneself, but enters in fact into a veritable relation with oneself on the basis of only the external expression of an internal link. The object finds itself thereby invested by a link of love, hatred, or knowledge, in direct rapport with the kind of link the subject entertains with its internal objects.

Ultimately, Bion describes equal, but negative ties for each of the three links: -L, -H, and -K, specifying that -L is not the equivalent of H ("not to love" is not "to hate"), -H does not equal L ("not to hate" is not "to love") and that -K, or an aptitude for misunderstanding, is sometimes superior to understanding. "The relationship of K to -K can be epitomized by saying that in K particularization and concretization of the abstract and general is possible, but in -K it is not because the abstract and general, in so far as they exist, are felt to become things-in-themselves" (1962, p. 98). It is considered that the links K and -K testify in their manner to the Kantian influence in Bion on the concept of the thing-in-itself.

Bernard Golse

See also: Emotion; Learning from Experience ; Transformations; Vertex.


Athanassiou, Cléopâtre. (1997). Bion et la Naissance de l'espace psychique. Paris: Popesco.

Bion, Wilfred R. (1962). Learning from Experience. New York: Basic Books.

. (1963). Elements of Psychoanalysis. London: Heinemann.

. (1965). Transformations: Change from learning to growth. London: Heinemann.

Meltzer, Donald. (1988). Le Conflit esthétique: son rôle dans le processus de développment psychique. Psychanalyseà l'Université, 13 (49), 37-57.

Further Reading

Gabbard, Glen. (1996). Love and hate in the analytic setting. Northvale, NJ: Aronson, Inc.

Kernberg, Otto. (1995). Love relations: Normality and pathology. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lear, Jonathan. (1990). Love and its place in nature: A philosophical interpretation of freudian psychoanalysis. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.