Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-Analytic Work

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Some Character-Types Met within Psycho-Analytic Work is an essay by Sigmund Freud from 1916, comprising three character studies—of what he called 'The Exceptions', 'Those Wrecked by Success' and 'Criminals from a Sense of Guilt'.

Freud described as the 'Exceptions' those who because of early narcissistic injury felt that they were subsequently entitled to special privileges in life, in ongoing compensation.[1] His description has been extended to include an early sadomasochism in the experience of being victimised.[2]

Freud explored the paradox whereby people become neurotic or punish themselves through illness, not as a result of failure but of success, illustrating his theme by way of Ibsen's Rosmersholm, among other examples.[3] He saw the cause as an intense (if unconscious) sense of guilt, which sought relief in the punishment of suffering from what is felt as an unjustified degree of success.[4]

In the shortest of his three studies, Freud highlighted the way an unconscious guilt feeling could precede, indeed precipitate a criminal act—providing a feeling of relief that the guilt-feeling could at least be attached to something concrete.[5] However such rationalisation may backfire, leading to a vicious circle of guilt/crime/increased guilt/further crime.[6] Behind such driven guilt, Freud saw the ambivalence and sense of omnipotence underlying the Oedipus complex—themes taken up and extended by Melanie Klein.[7]

Freud adopted Nietzsche's term 'Pale Criminal' for such figures,[8] though its appropriateness has sometimes been challenged.[9]


  1. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 499
  2. ^ E. S. Person ed., On Freud's A Child is Being Beaten (2013) p. 41
  3. ^ Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 48
  4. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) p. 457
  5. ^ Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (2004) pp. 169–71
  6. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (1946) pp. 371–3 and p. 499
  7. ^ J. M. Hughes, Guilt and its Vicissitudes (2007) pp. 24–5
  8. ^ S. Costello, The Pale Criminal (2002) p. 2
  9. ^ Bruce Mazlish, The Leader, the Led, and the Pscyhe (2013) p. 43

Further reading[edit]

  • Edith Jacobson, 'The "Exceptions": An Elaboration of Freud's Character Study', The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child XIV (1959), 135-54
  • Richard Wollheim, On the Emotions (1988)

External links[edit]