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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1992;40(4):1117-38.

The absence of the father.

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  • 1Boston Psychoanalytic Institute.


The author discusses the role of the father in early development through the concept of triangulation. Three male patients are presented who seemed to lack images and memories of their fathers and experienced them as absent, despite their physical presence during childhood. In these men, the oedipal phase appeared skewed and a dyadic relationship with the mother dominated the material. They reported a lack of a sense of masculinity and a phobic concern about the dangers of male violence, along with feelings of specialness and grandiosity. Analytic data suggested that the image of an absent father reflected a process akin to splitting of the ego, in which the significance of the father was disavowed and the patients fantasized a special role with their mothers; via projection, the fathers reappeared as dangerous intruders. It is proposed that this structure derives from a specific developmental situation in which a disturbed parental relationship has impaired the father's position as a "third" in the early triangle. The child's sexual and aggressive tensions cannot be contained in his fantasies of the couple and must be projected outside. The absent father returns in the transference, where the analyst is reexperienced as useless and absent and as a threat to the specialness of the dyad, thereby recapitulating the predicament of the child.

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