When Freud introduced his concept of the death instinct in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) he solved three theoretical problems which could not be explained by the one drive theory: masochism, repetition compulsion and the negative therapeutic reaction. The concept of two inherently opposed instincts remained one of the most controversial parts of Freud’s theory. For Melanie Klein, Freud’s idea of the death instinct was a powerful instrument in solving her greatest problems of integrating her clinical evidence of an earlier, very harsh superego. In Freud’s account, the superego was the manifestation at birth of the death instinct operating in destructiveness towards the person, as he had argued. In this way, Klein put – as Hinshelwood claims – clinical “flesh on the bones of Freud’s theory of the death instinct.” I will describe the development of Freud’s theory and how this was elaborated by Klein and her followers Bion, Esther Bick, Segal and Rosenfeld. With three clinical vignettes--from an Infant Observation, a child analysis and an adult analysis--the clinical use of the concept will be illustrated.
Part of the book: Psychoanalysis