What is sublimation in psychoanalysis?

One of the defense mechanisms of the psyche, posed by psychoanalysis, is repression, which authors like Freud have linked to psychopathology and great emotional distress and dysfunction.

However, Freud also proposed a mechanism which, similar to repression, is that instead of trying to silence our most basic instincts, it transforms them into something superior, socially accepted and of useful utility to the human being. rest of society: sublimation.

In this article we will talk about what sublimation is in psychoanalysis, What the authors think of the stature of Freud, Jung and Lacan and how this has been linked to the development of humanity.

    Sublimation according to psychoanalysis

    The idea of ​​what is meant by sublimation in the field of psychoanalysis varies according to the author, although they are all very firmly based on the concept given by Sigmund Freud of this idea. Even those who take a critical stance on the Freudian idea of ​​sublimation take it as an example.

    Below, we’ll take a more in-depth look at different positions on the concept, focusing primarily on its postulate, Sigmund Freud, while highlighting alternative views such as that of Lacan and Jung.

    Freud’s psychoanalysis

    In the most classical psychoanalytic theory, and from the mouth of Sigmund Freud is understood by sublimation (“Sublimierung” in German) to the ‘ defense mechanism in which an impulse, sexual or not but socially unacceptable, is transformed in something that apparently has little to do with sexuality. In turn, the end result of the process is that of something that has a beneficial head for society as a whole, usually a product of a cultural, artistic, intellectual, scientific or sporting nature.

    The erotic energy of the human being can be expressed, but within certain limits. If one has an excess of this energy and it is not socially acceptable to demonstrate it, the subject has two options: either sublimation or repression. If suppressed, sexual tension can be incurred in psychopathology depending on the foundations of psychoanalysis itself.

    Freud considered this mechanism to be much healthier than others., Such as repression, denial, intellectualization or projection. According to his daughter Anna Freud in her book “The Self and the Defense Mechanisms” (1936), sublimation is the highest defense mechanism of the psyche.

    It should be noted that the main difference between sublimation and repression is that in this second defense mechanism there is a bypass and channeling of energy. On the other hand, in repression, the drive is deeply repressed and not channeled, which would make room for all the psychopathology proposed by Freud when it comes to repressing sexual energy.

    This is what Freud asserts in his work Pursuite des lessons de introduction à la psychanalyse (1932). Sublimation is nothing more than modification of purpose and change of purpose, adapting to what is socially acceptable. It is a socially acceptable escape valve for excess sexual energy.

    Freud argued that most of the higher aspects of the human species, i.e. culture and its derivatives, were the result of how human beings had self-imposed social norms which, by not allowing one to be sexually free but by not opting for repression. , he had to channel the sexual energy and give it a more accepted use.

    Culture, civilization, humanity is only the result of suffocating sexual urges. Thus, for the Viennese psychoanalyst, culture was seen as an aspect radically opposed to the natural, although this was not necessarily a bad thing. Civilization is the result of the repression by human beings of their most basic instincts throughout history, through a system of values ​​that has become more complex, increasingly penalizing sexuality.

    Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of the maturity of civilization. It was a mechanism to enable people to behave socially functionally, that is, without violating cultural norms, which, as a rule, treated sexuality as something that was not suitable to be treated on public roads and its excess was seen as a problem.

    Faced with such a sacrifice, far from repressing or completely extinguishing the sexual drive, it would have been exploited and would have been the energy which would have created treasures of art, science, knowledge and human intellectual productions in general.

    It is possible to see in areas where sexuality is severely restrictedAs is the case with medieval chaplains, those who had to bow to celibacy and, since they could not satisfy their sexual urge, engaged in codex or Bible study writing, in addition to to be the group that practically monopolized the culture during this time.

    But although the more general definition refers to how the sex drive should be channeled and transformed into something more socially desirable, it is true that Freud noted that the original drive is not always something of a sexual nature. .

    He himself evokes the case of a prestigious German surgeon, Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach, who, in his childhood, was engaged in cutting dog tails. This behavior, clearly sadistic but not sexual, is disturbing, typical of a child who, as a child, would not be surprised to be a psychopath. However, in this particular case, he channeled it and turned it into a more useful and socially acceptable head, being a leading surgeon, known for his breakthroughs in rhinoplasty and maxillofacial surgery.

    interpersonal psychoanalysis

    From the hand of Harry Stack Sullivan, another well-known psychoanalyst but perhaps not of Freud’s stature, comes what is called interpersonal psychoanalysis. Within this psychoanalytic current, and defined by Sullivan, it is understood that sublimation is to involuntary substitution which results in partial satisfaction but with broad social support something that, while giving us great pleasure, society would not look with good eyes.

    This substitution may be something we don’t really want, but it’s the only way to have, no matter how small, satisfaction without behaving very disruptively to the rest of society.

    Sublimation according to Jung

    Carl Gustav Jung considered sublimation to be a mystical thing from nature, Which was significantly different from the Freudian point of view, which gave him a sufficiently detailed and, in a way, logical explanation of human behavior.

    Freud, as we have already mentioned, considered that the concept of sublimation provided an understanding of how humanity had transformed sexual instincts into something non-sexual, with a different head and substantially beneficial to humanity as a whole.

    Jung was critical of Freud’s conception, because he believed that the Viennese psychoanalyst had tried to define it in a way that made it appear credible scientific. For Jung, sublimation is not as voluntary a process as Freud initially claimed.. It wasn’t just the transformation of the sex drive into something different because society didn’t want us to be sexually free. For the Swiss psychoanalyst, sublimation was a very mysterious thing, of an alchemical nature.

      Das Ding, sublimation and Lacan

      Jacques Lacan links the idea of ​​sublimation to the concept of “Das Ding” (“The Thing”). Das Ding is an abstract notion and one of the defining characteristics of the human condition. He sees it as the void we experience as human beings, which we try to fill. through human relationships, objects and experiences. The problem is that not all attempts to fill the void implied by Das Ding are sufficient to achieve full individual satisfaction.

      Once the idea of Lacanian Das Ding is understood, it is possible to understand the concept of sublimation from the perspective of the French psychoanalyst. For him, sublimation, the fact that something morally unacceptable turns into a socially productive product, whether artistic, scientific or cultural, is done to reduce the internal tension of the subject.

      Science and religion are examples of how to fill the void in the worldIn other words, there are things that we don’t know, that we want to know more deeply because it wakes us up unknown, and that is why we seek, either by theological explanations or by scientific research, for answers.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Sigmund Freud, “Civilization and its Discontents” (1930) in the Standard Edition of Sigmund Freud’s Complete Psychological Works: The Future of an Illusion, Civilization and Its Discontents and Other Works, trad. by James Strachey (Hogarth Press; London, 1961), vol. XXI, 79-80
      • Anna Freud, The Ego and Defense Mechanisms (Karnac Books, 2011), p. 44.
      • Carl Jung, Letters, ed. By G. Adler and A. Jaffé (Princeton University Press; Princeton, 1974), vol. 1, 171,
      • CG Jung, Dreams: (From volumes 4, 8, 12 and 16 of the collected works of CG Jung), Princeton University Press (2012), p. 100.

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