Personal & Executive Coach

Consulting Psychologist & Psychoanalyst

Loss and Grief

Wu, J. (1997). Beauty and the Beast: A Myth of Sadness, Madness, and Hope in Anaclitic Depression: Wu, J. (1997). Psychoanalytic Review 84(3): 365-380


Development necessarily is a story about the movement from one to two, from merger to separation, about emergence from a matrix into a free-standing structure, ground to figure, and back again. Like so many manifestations of psychopathology, anaclitic depression is a specific case of impairment in the process of movement from union to separation … and appears to be primarily a problem in attachment and separation.…
A peculiar quality of anaclitic depression is the turning away from life, disinterest in the external world, repudiation of other objects. Does this disinterest have the character of pining away, of slow emotional starvation? Is it a matter of economics, an attempt to conserve energy when the fuel is low? Is it spiteful, taking the form of the stubbornly closed mouth that refuses food?

Engel (1962a) distinguishes helplessness from hopelessness, suggesting that helplessness retains hope, looking askance for the possibility of help in the absence of personal power; while hopelessness suggests a psychological, then physiological relinquishing of a connection to life.

We see there are several shades of badness… The affects accompanying these unconscious formulations of self and self-and-object relationships range from profound frustration, pain, and anger, to helplessness, hopelessness, and sadness, all ultimately borne of the need of the object. No wonder that language in its infinite and collectively unconscious wisdom knew that the words “bad,” “mad,” and “sad” must sound alike because they are first cousins.

In anaclitic depression neither the drive for life nor the drive for death should be underestimated. Rather, the psyche seems to allow itself a delicate, sometimes tortuous balance between the two, until a rupture shakes up both the intrapsychic and relationship container, to resettle, hopefully, in the direction of progress.