Psychoanalysis > Theory

[About the Psychoanalytic Libido]

Libido means in psychoanalysis in the first instance the force (thought of as quantitatively variable and measurable) of the sexual instincts directed towards an object - "sexual" in the extended sense required by analytic theory. Further study showed that it was necessary to set alongside this "object-libido" a "narcissistic" or "ego-libido", directed to the subject's own ego; and the interaction of these two forces has enabled us to account for a great number of normal and abnormal processes in mental life. (Sigmund Freud: A Short Account of Psychoanalysis,1924.)

It is hard to say anything of the behaviour of the libido in the id and in the super-ego. All that we know about it relates to the ego, in which at first the whole available quota of libido is stored up. We call this state absolute, primary narcissism. It lasts till the ego begins to cathect the ideas of objects with libido, to transform narcissistic libido into object-libido. Throughout the whole of life the ego remains the great reservoir from which libidinal cathexes are sent out to objects and into which they are also once more withdrawn, just as an amoeba behaves with its pseudopodia. It is only when a person is completely in love that the main quota of libido is transferred on to the object and the object to some extent takes the place of the ego. A characteristic of the libido which is important in life is its mobility, the facility with which it passes from one object to another. This must be contrasted with the fixation of the libido to particular objects, which often persists throughout life. (Sigmund Freud: An Outline of Psychoanalysis, 1938.)

There can be no question but that the libido has somatic sources, that it streams to the ego from various organs and parts of the body. This is most clearly seen in the case of that portion of the libido which, from its instinctual aim, is described as sexual excitation. The most prominent of the parts of the body from which this libido arises are known by the name of "erotogenic zones", though in fact the whole body is an erotogenic zone of this kind. The greater part of what we know about Eros - that is to say, about its exponent, the libido - has been gained from a study of the sexual function, which, indeed, on the prevailing view, even if not according to our theory, coincides with Eros. (Sigmund Freud: An Outline of Psychoanalysis , 1938.)

Libido is an expression taken from the theory of the emotions. We call by that name the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude (though not at present actually measurable), of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word 'love'. The nucleus of what we mean by love naturally consists (and this is what is commonly called love, and what the poets sing of) in sexual love with sexual union as its aim. But we do not separate from this - what in any case has a share in the name 'love' - on the one hand, self-love, and on the other, love for parents and children, friendship and love for humanity in general, and also devotion to concrete objects and to abstract ideas. Our justification lies in the fact that psycho-analytic research has taught us that all these tendencies are an expression of the same instinctual impulses; in relations between the sexes these impulses force their way towards sexual union, but in other circumstances they are diverted from this aim or are prevented from reaching it, though always preserving enough of their original nature to keep their identity recognizable (as in such features as the longing for proximity, and self-sacrifice). (Sigmund Freud: Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921.)

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