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Otto F. Kernberg, M.D., The Inseparable Nature of Love and Aggression

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Blogging my Thoughts:

I just read the last chapters of Otto F. Kernberg’s The Inseparable Nature of Love and Aggression: Clinical and Theoretical Perspectives, (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2012), pages 350-388.

The psychiatrist Otto Kernberg, writing about group regression as related to personal insecurity and breakdown, as well as related to narcissistic and paranoid leaders, has helped me gain a far greater insight into Erich Neumann’s analysis of racism as well as conspiratorial theories and mass psychology showing how malignant narcissistic or paranoid leaders gravitate toward group regression, like the masses in Nazi Germany or the Cultural revolution in China, where they become capable of socially sanctioned violence.[1] He mentions Wilfred Bion’s 1961 study of unstructured groups, whose task orientations have broken down: “There is an immediate regression into one of three ‘basic assumption groups,’ namely, 1)  the assumption of ‘dependency,’ 2) of ‘flight-fight,’ or 3) of ‘pairing.’[2] The first idealizes a leader and will usually take a narcissistic one, while the second, will take a paranoid leader, who will lead them in flight or in fighting against real or imagined enemies (Think of Jimmy Jones and Jonestown!); while the third takes a couple and hopes their relationship will spread to characterize the relationships in the group. Hitler and Stalin were malignant narcissistic and paranoid types.[3] Kernberg notes that “a dominant social or political ideology” can shift in the “paranoid-fundamentalist direction, particularly in a culture with strong trends of racism and religious conflict,” because of “severe traumas such as the loss of a war or territory, an economic crisis, the threat of internal foreign groups or external enemies, or belonging to a disadvantaged or suppressed social classes.” Any of these conditions can cause group regression that turns into a violent mob or mass movement.[4]

Then Kernberg also has given me much more insight into how science trespasses its bounds and the dangers involved in it becoming a Weltanschauung. Both Naziism and Marxism co-opted science in this way. “The ‘rational moralities’ of Naziism and communism co-opted science, without which the scope of their depredations would have been seriously curtailed.”[5]

I noted while reading his comments that when science begins to make pronouncements against God and religion and begins to interfere with the practice of religion, the way Marxism and Naziism did, then it operated as a pseudo-science and embarked on a very detrimental historical path. Those scientists, who declare their atheism today on the basis of their science, are also becoming guilty of scientism, which is merely another word for the issue involved.

Kernberg also criticized Freud’s atheism and noted his faith in rationality for the universalization of morality has proven to be unfounded and his position contradicts his own pessimistic conviction that the irrational unconscious had such power over human life. He shows how psychoanalysis can uncover the origin of religion in the depth psychology of object relations and can help the development of religious maturity, but it cannot make any pronouncement about the objective truth of religion or the existence of God. But religion is necessary to place boundaries around and overcome evil, which comes out of the depths of human consciousness, below the place where rationality could combat it. He ends his book in showing how psychological object relations that are internal become transcendent externally and how for the sake of the protection of morality, a spiritual realm exists beside the realm of psychology, which grounded in the normal consciousness, needs to be respected and accepted by the psychoanalytic community. There are different vertices of reality that science, religion, values, and art operate in. As Max Weber noted, a mature science knows its limitations, while an immature science wants to make pronouncements on the totality of reality.

These are some of the section headings of Kernberg’s final chapters:

“Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Religious Experience,” (page 349)

“A Critical Review of Freud’s Position,” (350)

“The Nature of Evil and the Psychology of Religiosity: Some Psychoanalytic Contributions, (354)

“The Relationship between Individual Psychopathology, Group Regression, and Sociocultural Developments,” (366)

“Mature Religiosity: the Characteristics of the Deity and of Mature Religions,” (371)

“The Emergence of a Spiritual Realm.” (377)

Psychoanalysis has come a long way!


[1] Erich Neumann, Depth-Psychology and the New Ethics, Dritter Auflage, (München: Kindler Verlag, 1973).

See my review of his work: A New ethics for the Total Person.

[2] Kernberg, Love and Aggression, page 356.

[3] Ibid., page 367.

[4] Ibid., page 369.

[5] Ibid., page 354.

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One Response

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  1. Your style is really unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.

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    June 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm


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