Manic Defenses

views updated


The notion of manic defenses was introduced by Melanie Klein as an extension of Freud's thoughts on mania. By adopting a triumphantly scornful attitude toward psychic reality, the patient uses this kind of defense to avoid the depression associated with the conviction of having destroyed an internal object.

In "Mourning and Melancholia" (1916-17g [1915]), Freud wrote: "In mania, the ego must have got over the loss of the object (or its mourning over the loss, or perhaps the object itself). . . . [T]he manic subject plainly demonstrates his liberation from the object which was the cause of his suffering" (p. 255). Karl Abraham elaborated on Freud's view by attributing manic triumphalism to a liberation from the sway of the ego ideal or of an incorporated object.

In the context of her theories on the depressive position, Melanie Klein (1940) emphasized the importance of manic defenses for mental life. She enriched the Freudian conception of mania by adding the idea of the subject's feelings of guilt concerning the disappearance and destruction of the object. The manic subject tends to downplay the power of the object, to disdain it, while at the same time maintaining maximum control over objects. Manic defenses are typified by three feelings, namely control, triumph, contempt.

In clinical practice, the notion of manic defenses has suffered from the rise of a psychiatric approach that tends to sideline any consideration of psychic conflict.

Elsa Schmid-Kitsis

See also: Defense; Depressive position; Mania; Megalomania; Melancholia; Reparation.


Freud, Sigmund. (1916-1917g [1915]). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.

Klein, Melanie. (1940). Mourning and its relation to manic-depressive states. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21 : 125-153.