Mourning and Melancholia. HTML version

1 [See footnote 1, p. 147 above.]
2 Cf. the preceding paper [p. 230].
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orders cannot be obeyed at once. They are carried out bit by bit, at great expense of time and cathectic energy, and in
the meantime the existence of the lost object is psychically prolonged. Each single one of the memories and
expectations in which the libido is bound to the object is brought up and hyper-cathected, and detachment of the
libido is accomplished in respect of it.1 Why this compromise by which the command of reality is carried out
piecemeal should be so extraordinarily painful is not at all easy to explain in terms of economics. It is remarkable
that this painful unpleasure is taken as a matter of course by us. The fact is, however, that when the work of
mourning is completed the ego becomes free and uninhibited again.2
Let us now apply to melancholia what we have learnt about mourning. In one set of cases it is evident that
melancholia too may be the reaction to the loss of a loved object. Where the exciting causes are different one can
recognize that there is a loss of a more ideal kind. The object has not perhaps actually died, but has been lost as an
object of love (e.g. in the case of a betrothed girl who has been jilted). In yet other cases one feels justified in
maintaining the belief that a loss of this kind has occurred, but one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost,
and it is all the more reasonable to suppose that the patient cannot consciously perceive what he has lost either. This,
indeed, might be so even if the patient is aware of the loss which has given rise to his melancholia, but only in the
sense that he knows whom he has lost but not what he has lost in him. This would suggest that melancholia is in
some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in
which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious.
In mourning we found that the inhibition and loss of interest are fully accounted for by the work of mourning in
which the ego is absorbed. In melancholia, the unknown loss will result in a similar internal work and will therefore
be responsible for the melancholic inhibition. The difference is that the inhibition
1 [This idea seems to be expressed already in Studies on Hysteria (1895d): a process similar to this one will be found described
near the beginning of Freud's ‘Discussion’ of the case history of Fräulein Elisabeth von R. (Standard Ed., 2, 162).]
2 [A discussion of the economics of this process will be found below on p. 255.]
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of the melancholic seems puzzling to us because we cannot see what it is that is absorbing him so entirely. The
melancholic displays something else besides which is lacking in mourning—an extraordinary diminution in his self-
regard, an impoverishment of his ego on a grand scale. In mourning it is the world which has become poor and
empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself. The patient represents his ego to us as worthless, incapable of any
achievement and morally despicable; he reproaches himself, vilifies himself and expects to be cast out and punished.
He abases himself before everyone and commiserates with his own relatives for being connected with anyone so
unworthy. He is not of the opinion that a change has taken place in him, but extends his self-criticism back over the
past; he declares that he was never any better. This picture of a delusion of (mainly moral) inferiority is completed
by sleeplessness and refusal to take nourishment, and—what is psychologically very remarkable—by an overcoming
of the instinct which compels every living thing to cling to life.
It would be equally fruitless from a scientific and a therapeutic point of view to contradict a patient who brings
these accusations against his ego. He must surely be right in some way and be describing something that is as it
seems to him to be. Indeed, we must at once confirm some of his statements without reservation. He really is as
lacking in interest and as incapable of love and achievement as he says. But that, as we know, is secondary; it is the
effect of the internal work which is consuming his ego—work which is unknown to us but which is comparable to
the work of mourning. He also seems to us justified in certain other self-accusations; it is merely that he has a keener
eye for the truth than other people who are not melancholic. When in his heightened self-criticism he describes
himself as petty, egoistic, dishonest, lacking in independence, one whose sole aim has been to hide the weaknesses
of his own nature, it may be, so far as we know, that he has come pretty near to understanding himself; we only
wonder why a man has to be ill before he can be accessible to a truth of this kind. For there can be no doubt that if
anyone holds and expresses to others an opinion of himself such as this (an opinion which Hamlet held both of
himself and of everyone else1), he is ill, whether he is speaking the