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Mortido is a term used in Freudian psychoanalysis to refer to the energy of the death instinct, formed on analogy to the term libido.[1]

In the early 21st century, the term has been used more rarely, but still designates the destructive side of psychic energy.[2]

Origins: Federn[edit]

Mortido was introduced by Freud's pupil Paul Federn to cover the psychic energy of the death instinct, something left open by Freud himself:[3] Edoardo Weiss preferred to use destrudo.[4] Providing what he saw as clinical proof of the reality of the death instinct in 1930, Federn reported on the self-destructive tendencies of severely melancholic patients as evidence of what he would later call inwardly-directed mortido.[5]

However, Freud himself favoured neither term – mortido or destrudo. This worked against either of them gaining widespread popularity in the psychoanalytic literature.[6]

Eric Berne[edit]

Eric Berne, who was a pupil of Federn's, made extensive use of the term mortido in his pre-transactional analysis study, The Mind in Action (1947). As he wrote in the Foreword to the third edition of 1967, "the historical events of the last thirty years...become much clearer by introducing Paul Federn's concept of mortido".[7]

Berne saw mortido as activating such forces as hate and cruelty, blinding anger and social hostilities;[8] and considered that inwardly directed mortido underlay the phenomena of guilt and self-punishment, as well as their clinical exacerbations in the form of depression or melancholia.[9]

Berne saw sexual acts as gratifying mortido at the same time as libido; and recognised that on occasion the former becomes more important sexually than the latter, as in sadomasochism and destructive emotional relationships.[10]

Berne's concern with the role of mortido in individuals and groups, social formations and nations, arguably continued throughout all his later writings.[11]

Laplanche and the death drive[edit]

Jean Laplanche has explored repeatedly the question of mortido,[12] and of how far a distinctive instinct of destruction can be identified in parallel to the forces of libido.[13]

Wider applications[edit]

The importance for the individual of integrating mortido in their life, as opposed to splitting it off and disowning it, has been taken up by figures like Robert Bly in the men's movement.[14]

The term has also been applied in contemporary expositions of the Cabbala.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London 1995) p. 104
  2. ^ Jadran Mimica, Explorations in Psychoanalytic Ethnography (2007) p. 78
  3. ^ Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (2009) p. 176
  4. ^ Eric Berne, A Layman's Guide to Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis (Middlesex 1976), p. 101
  5. ^ Franz Alexander et al, Psychoanalytic Pioneers (1995) p. 153
  6. ^ Akhtar, p. 176
  7. ^ Berne, A Layman's Guide, p. 16
  8. ^ Berne, A Layman's Guide, p. 69
  9. ^ Berne, A Layman's Guide p. 95 and p. 214
  10. ^ Berne, A Layman's Guide p. 124
  11. ^ Petrushka Clarkson, Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy (1993) p. 5
  12. ^ Bernard Golse "Destrudo"
  13. ^ Jean Laplanche/John Fletcher, Essays on Otherness (1999) p. 34
  14. ^ Keith Tudor, in B. J. Brother, Power and Partnership (1995) p. 71
  15. ^ Z. B. S. Halevi, Introduction to the Cabbala (1991) p. 197

Further reading[edit]

  • Paul Federn, Ego Psychology and the Psychoses (1952)
  • Jean Laplanche, Vie et Mort en Psychanalyse (1970)