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by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
Other Press, 2003
Review by Angela Hunter on Feb 11th 2004

Where Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?

Looking Beyond the Libido for the Lost Ego Instincts

In the preface to Where Do We Fall When We Fall in Love, Elizabeth Young-Bruehl summarizes her written production to date by dividing it into three phases, each one lasting roughly a decade of her life and matching the dominant role of each:  philosopher, biographer, psychoanalyst.  It is not that as a psychoanalyst she has outgrown the first two roles, but rather that the motivating questions--retrospectively seen as focusing on the possibilities of change--endure throughout her career and its various turns. This current book--a collection of essays--reflects the ways in which these questions about change play out in Young-Bruehl's clinical psychoanalytic work.   Like Young-Bruehl's prefatory career scansion, the book is divided into three rather distinct parts, each of which turns around a coherent and cohesive topic. Although any of the three could be read and enjoyed independently, each nonetheless plays into the others, repeating, re-framing and building upon a common set of concerns that could be distilled into the rather general ideas of relationality and cherishment, or the more specific idea of a revivification of Freud's ego instincts.

In Young-Bruehl's own words, these essays "celebrate (and theorize about) the Growth Principle." Young-Bruehl arrived at the concept of the Growth Principle in a collaborative effort with Faith Bethelard, co-author of the book Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart 2000). Young-Bruehl calls this collaboration the "matrix" from which all of the current essays have grown, and indeed, three out of the six essays that compose Part I, entitled "Cherishment Psychology," are co-authored with Bethelard.  The three essays of Part II, "Sexual and Gender Identity," work with the same or related concepts in order to reconsider the long-standing psychoanalytic question of female sexuality, with particular emphasis on female homosexuality.  Part III, "Character Theory and Its Applications," employs these concepts to revisit and re-fertilize ground Young-Bruehl covered previously in her work on characterology (Creative Characters, 1991; The Anatomy of Prejudices, 1996).

Part I

Young-Bruehl's opening essay, "Where Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?", begins with a straight-talking critique of the discourse on love dominating contemporary public spheres in the U.S., namely a sociobiological, neo-Darwinian evolutionism.  According to Young-Bruehl, this discourse offers a reassuring scientific causality--for example, that humans are hard-wired to love as we do--while leaving aside the importance of psychological phenomena.  As she writes, "they obscure what it is in sexual passion that so often leads not to attachment but to impossibilities of attachment, whether tragic or comic or tragicomic." To combat this popular obfuscation of the psychic, Young-Bruehl lays out one of the ideas Darwin and Freud shared, the notion of instincts.  More specifically, two instinct systems, one serving reproduction or species preservation (Freud's sexual instincts) and the other concerned with self-preservation (Freud's ego instincts). 

Here emerges the crux of the argument that Young-Bruehl will continue to develop throughout this collection, from various historical, cultural and therapeutic vantage points: the ego instincts must be recuperated and re-imagined if we are to come to a fuller understanding and experience of love and attachment.  Put in Young-Bruehl's terms, "the fundamental aim of the ego instincts is 'growing,' or 'developing,' which not only requires relatedness rather than aloneness, but is relatedness." By positing a Growth Principle that would take its place alongside the Reality and Pleasure Principles, Young-Bruehl hopes to provide psychoanalysis with a "wider concept of object relations."

 In almost every essay of this collection, Young-Bruehl recounts the story of Freud's shifting views of the instincts, as well as the development of theories of the instincts in succeeding generations and schools of psychoanalysis. As she relates it, Freud initially used the terms "affectionate current" and "sensual current" to describe the ego instincts and the sexual instincts respectively. He quickly revised his thinking such that the libido--naming not just the sexual instincts, but all instinctual functioning--becomes the primary instinct and the basis for the theoretical model of all instinctual life. Freud's next theoretical modification occurs in his post-1920 dual instinct theory with the life instinct  (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Young-Bruehl maintains that Freud lost sight of the ego-instinctual, affectionate current. Here she champions the specificity of the ego instincts as well as their sometimes conflictual, sometimes harmonious relationship to the sexual instincts throughout an individual's lifetime. 

As several of the subtitles in Part I demonstrate--"The Lost Thread of Freudian Theory," "The Hidden History of the Ego Instincts "--the project of Young-Bruehl (and Bethelard, when co-authored) is framed as a recuperation of something that was already there but overlooked or unsatisfactorily developed. The latter essay tracks the history of the ego instincts and how they were ignored or developed by Freud's contemporaries (Adler, Jung, Ferenczi) as well as by those who followed (Balint, Klein, Winnicott). Another essay focuses on the work of the Budapest School, particularly that of Ferenczi and Balint.  Young-Bruehl further chooses to align her view of the ego instincts with the work of the Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi.  Doi's work on amae, which Young-Bruehl and Bethelard translate as "cherishment," informs their earlier collaboration, and amae is featured here as an issue that is not just theoretical, but cultural; that is, it becomes a question of our daily lives.

Part II

Part II opens with a metahistorical account of "women and psychoanalysis."   Young-Bruehl argues that the metapsychological fixation on sexual difference as based on stable dyads has limited our ability to fully explore sexuality.  Noting that we are in a time where the pluralization of psychoanalytic concepts is well under way (for example, one speaks of identifications, of processes of object choices rather than constant, fixed ones), Young-Bruehl advocates for a similar flexibility in the metapsychology. This is evident in her quite perspicacious assessment of the counter-arguments feminists have used against Freud's supposedly sexist emphasis on sexual difference.  Comparing Freud's and his critics' positions on sexuality to reversal and disavowal, Young-Bruehl looks for an exit from what she sees as the impasse of "one-cause thinking in combination with sex stereotyping."  Instead of the re-vamped but still limited question "[h]ow are men and women different (or the same)?" that Young-Bruehl considers as too often dominating the psychological domain, she ends her essay with the following question: "In what ways (plural is crucial) do woman and men of all sorts--all developmental courses, all characters, all pathologies--grow from the original (and historically influenced) condition of dependency, and what roles do sexual differences (also historically influenced and interpreted) play in those ways of development and become influenced, in turn, by those ways of development?". 

The next two essays of this section continue to raise questions about the nature of human sexualities.  In the first essay the focus is "bisexuality" in the history of psychoanalysis, as well as in sexology (Krafft-Ebing, Ulrichs, Kinsey). Young-Bruehl shows that Freudian theory allows a positing of three bisexuality domains--sex, gender, kind of object choice--and subsequently contends that the last of the three has been ignored or misrecognized.  Moreover, she believes the emphasis should be on the object as much as on the choice, that is, on the object's own inner life and type of object choice.  Taking up the complex multiplicities of structuration again, particularly in considering sociocultural factors, Young-Bruehl argues for a more variegated view of the bisexualities. 

The final essay of Part II explores the psychoanalytic history of "the female homosexual" and explains how recent work has loosened the rigidity of this stereotyped sexual position. Young-Bruehl contends that if Freud had not let go of his earliest idea of ego instincts, the possibility of a multi-line developmental schema might have opened a more promising future for female sexuality and less of an inclination to view homosexuality as narcissistically pathological.  Offering her own clinical work with lesbian patients as examples, Young-Bruehl articulates a striking view of the need to look at identifications based not only on sexual and mental characteristics, but also on affectional ones. 

Part III

Part Three's emphasis on characterology does not leave behind the question of homosexuality, but instead opens it to the larger dynamics of culture in the essay "Homophobias: A Diagnostic and Political Manual."  Along with an essay on the "Characters of Violence," this work looks at character types as determining factors in types of prejudices. Although Young-Bruehl  has written extensively on character, this section is far from a re-hashing of old work, as she convincingly argues that too much current research and public discourse on violence, particularly on violent adolescents, looks for a "one-cause" answer. This short essay contemplates the sociological and scientific discussions about violence and delineates a characterological way of viewing different types of violence that includes clinical vignettes.

The last essay of Part III, "Psychoanalysis and Characterology," turns character theory upon itself, exploring the competing histories of characterology--namely those springing from the Freudian and Jungian traditions, including John Bowlby's attachment theory--to show that there is more complementarity than competitiveness to be found.  Summarily tracing characterology from classic Greece to Myers-Briggs, Young-Bruehl delineates three main types--dyadic, triadic/triangular, and fourfold (the one that she seems to advocate as a more balanced version).  Young-Bruehl takes a step beyond simple categorization and into what she terms a reflexive turn, however, when she contends that thinkers of a certain character type produce characterologies of the same type: that is, hysterics who see the world in terms of conflict produce dyadic characterologies.  This reflexivity--turning psychoanalytic technique back onto its own theoretical production--brings with it a new kind of flexibility that banks on the ability of individuals and theories to grow into less rigid characters.

The final essay of the book, "Amae in Ancient Greece," coauthored with Joseph Russo, feels like an addition to the work as a whole rather than an extension of Part III.  In fact, this essay functions as a final tug on the needle that would sew the sections on female sexuality and characterology back to the opening work on cherishment and recovering the ego instincts.  Perhaps fittingly, then, this essay attempts to recover even older territory, that of a linguistic and cultural network in the Western tradition that could compare with the rich Japanese "amae" network of cherishing and nurturing.  This philological foray lays the groundwork for scholars of various fields to rediscover the "cherishment culture" Young-Bruehl and Bethelard find so vital to re-thinking love in psychoanalysis and in contemporary Western cultures. 

Overall, Young-Bruehl centers this collection on the promise she believes the ego instincts hold for investigating the multiplicities of sexual and cultural development.  Although I read it as an invitation to the psychoanalytic community to join in this endeavor, those who are unfamiliar with the historical debates and nuances of psychoanalytic theory will find much of interest here, and profit from Young-Bruehl's clarity and suggestive interpretations. In fact, Young-Bruehl's concerns here lie not only with the temperature of the water in the psychoanalytic pool, so to speak, but with the cultural climate in general.  Because of this attentiveness to the public sphere, one could read the opening, titular essay as a response to the works of reigning sociobiological neo-Darwinians.  It is unfortunate that the discussion of romantic love through the lens of a cross-disciplinary debate becomes a bit lost in the subsequent essays of the collection, and I would like to read a book-length work on this topic. In the end, though, this collection does re-interpret the origins and outcomes of "falling"; of falling in love, yes, but more importantly for Young-Bruehl, of falling (back) into a stance where dependence and relationality are culturally valued.


© 2004 Angela Hunter


Angela Hunter, Program in Comparative Literature and Psychoanalytic Studies Program, Emory University


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