Wish, Hallucinatory Satisfaction of a

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The notion of the hallucinatory satisfaction of a wish is one of the key elements in the Freudian conception of psychic functioning. It postulates that, under certain conditions, there is an intense need, transformed into a wish for an object from which satisfaction is expected, which, under certain circumstances can produce sensations that are attributed wrongly to an external agent, yet present all the characteristics of reality. This is hallucinatory satisfaction.

These certain conditions can be of four kinds: the immaturity of the psyche of the newborn baby, dreams, problems in psychic functioning in certain neurotics, or certain psychoses, called, as a matter of fact, delusional.

Concerning the first kind, Freud expressed, from the time of his Project for a Scientific Psychology (1950a [1895]), a hypothesis that must be placed among the founding ones of psychoanalysis. What are the possible outlets, he asked, for the "need that has been excited" in the child? The child has no means of autonomous satisfaction at its disposal, so that "the primal powerlessness of the human being becomes the earliest source of all moral notions " (in other words: of the entire psychic life, insofar as it is pointed toward the wishthe italics are Freud's). An "experience of satisfaction" can ensue, because of an intervening adult who creates an association between the two "mnemic images," that of need (or wish) and that of satisfaction. The reappearance of the former can, when the need (wish) is intense, reactivate this association: "Now, when the state of urgency or wishing reappears, the cathexis will also pass over on to the two memories and will activate them. . . . I do not doubt that in the first instance this wishful activation will produce the same thing as a perception, namely a hallucination " (1950c, p. 319), Freud adding forthwith: "If reflex action is thereupon introduced, disappointment cannot fail to occur."

This idea was taken up again a few years later in The Interpretation of Dreams : "The first wishing seems to have been a hallucinatory cathecting of the memory of a satisfaction. Such hallucinations, however, if they were not to be maintained to the point of exhaustion, proved to be inadequate to bring about the cessation of the need or, accordingly, the pleasure attaching to satisfaction" (1900a, p. 598).

As Freud wrote, in 1911, in a text called "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning": "The state of psychical rest was originally disturbed by the peremptory demands of internal needs. When this happened, whatever was thought of (wished for) was simply presented in a hallucinatory manner, just as still happens to-day with our dream-thoughts every night. It was only the non-occurrence of the expected satisfaction, the disappointment experienced, that led to the abandonment of this attempt at satisfaction by means of hallucination." At this point the reality principle is introduced, supplanting the pleasure principle. Freud answered a possible objection in a note at the bottom of the page: a being totally under the sway of the pleasure principle could not survive "for the shortest time," responding, in fact: "the infantprovided one includes with it the care it receives from its motherdoes almost realize a psychical system of this kind. It probably hallucinates the fulfillment of its internal needs" (1911b, pp. 219-220). This "provided one includes with it the care it receives from its mother" was well remembered by a number of later authors, especially Donald Winnicott.

The notion returned in "A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams" (1916-17f, p. 231): "At the beginning of our mental life we did in fact hallucinate the satisfying object when we felt the need for it. But in such a situation satisfaction did not occur, and this failure must very soon have moved us to create some contrivance with the help of which it was possible to distinguish such wishful perceptions from a real fulfillment and to avoid them for the future. In other words, we gave up hallucinatory satisfaction of our wishes at a very early period and set up a kind of 'reality-testing."'

There is a certain hesitancy in these texts of Freud between the terms need and wish ; and only in his later work did Freud come to distinguish them more clearly, need being defined as the expression of an organic function (hunger, sexual and so forth), wish as something mental when this need is transformed into the wish to have an object. Accordingly, the status of the drive, as a "border concept" (between psyche and soma) is put into question (cf., among others, Laplanche, 1987).

As a matter of fact, in all his writings Freud insisted on the "disappointment" following "inevitably" on hallucinatory satisfaction (a hallucination of milk supplies no nourishment . . .). Accordingly, a reality principle is set up at the same time representation is born, pointing to what is "here inside," not, as in the case of perception, to what is "also outside" (1925h).

This notion was utilized by Freud, in very similar terms, in his theory about dreams (1900a): the dream is, in effect, a realization of a wish. In the framework of psychic functioning, cut off from perception and motor functions, "excitation follows a retrograde way." There is a "topographical regression," and a restitution of "the identity of perception," or an association between the "images" of the movement of desire and its satisfaction; but also regression to a primitive functioning as "the dream is a fragment of infantile psychic life." If the pleasure principle prevails momentarily over the reality principle, this sort of satisfaction is quite liable to take on a hallucinatory quality.

At the same time as he was forming these theories, Freud was also approximating dream functioning to the function of psycho-neurotic defense mechanisms, in particular those of hysteria: certain hysterical symptoms, especially those affecting perception, can be explained by an analogous schema.

Psychoses lend themselves particularly well to the hallucinatory satisfaction of wishes, and, moreover, in a waking state: "In psychoses these ancient and repressed modes of psychic work return in force," as the analysis of the Schreber case (Freud, 1911c) showed dramatically.

Sándor Ferenczi (1913) took up the schema of Freud and used it to account for the omnipotence of thought, such as is observable in the young child ("stage of hallucinatory magical omnipotence," characteristic of infantile megalomania), but also of obsessional structures.

Foremost among later authors who were interested in this question is Donald Winnicott (1971), who gave a further nuance to the idea by introducing the notions of illusion and transitional space, and also by describing the process of progressive re-autonomization of the mother (beyond the "primal maternal madness," prolonged temporarily by the symbiosis of pregnancy). He saw in this the condition for the advent of disappointments, which in the Freudian model were both inevitable and necessary: the mother became "very good," but would be also "very bad." Winnicott wrote that a "perfect" mother, that is to say, one who immediately satisfied all her child's needs, "could be nothing but a hallucination." Denise Braunschweig and Michel Fain (1975) developed an analogous idea in a different theoretical context, opposing the "day mother" to the "night mother."

In this respect, the studies of André Green (1993) should be mentioned; he did significant work on "negativity," on the basis of a case of negative hallucination (where a perception is banished from existence). Equally the work of César and Sára Botella are relevant, centering on the concept of the "hallucinatory," the term being taken as a substantive, as a description of a vast processual set.

Roger Perron

See also: Amentia; Convenience, dream of; Experience of satisfaction; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Wish/yearning; Wish-fulfillment; Word-presentation.


Botella, César, and Botella, Sára. (1990). La Problematique de la régression formelle de la pensée et de l'hallucinatoire. In La Psychanalyse: Question pour demain, colloque de la S.P.P. Paris: Unesco, Presses Universitaires de France.

Ferenczi, Sándor. (1913). Le développement du sens de la réalité et ses stades. In Psychanalyse I, Oeuvres complètes (Vol. 1: 1908-1912; pp. 51-64). Paris: Payot, 1968.

Laplanche, Jean. (1987). Nouveaux Fondements pour la psychanalyse. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Winnicott, Donald W. (1969). Development of the theme of the mother's unconscious as discovered in psychoanalytic practice. In C. Winnicott, R. Shepherd, M. Davis (Eds.), Psychoanalytic explorations. London: Karnac Books.

. (1971). Playing and reality. London: Tavistock Publications.