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Dissertation

The impact of oral rage on character development: An object relations perspective

21 July 1994

Abstract

Oral rage is a theoretical concept which is a recurring theme in psychoanalytic literature. This paper examines the writings of six major theorists regarding the impact of oral rage and aggression on subsequent character development: Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham, Melanie Klein, W. R. D. Fairbairn, Donald Winnicott, and Otto Kernberg. Freud theorized an oral phase of psychosexual development, an aspect of which was aggression, activated by frustration in the environment. Karl Abraham expanded on Freud's thinking, exploring the specific impact of oral aggression upon psychopathology. He was the first theorist to use the term "oral rage." Object relations theorists attributed significance to the concept of oral rage. Lack of resolution of this stage of development is thought to be a primary contributor to later psychopathology. It is theorized that resolution may be stymied by environmental factors, such as a lack of parental attunement. Several theorists suggest that a biological predisposition toward greater than normal aggressive impulses may also be a factor. Despite extensive theoretical and clinical literature which supports the existence and importance of the concept of oral rage, there is little empirical data to either confirm or deny its existence. Suggestions for future clinical and empirical study are made. The societal implications of failing to provide parents with the skills to promote infant psychological health, as well as possible remediations, are also discussed.


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