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Sezione Locale della Società Psicoanalitica Italiana


Sezione Locale della Società Psicoanalitica Italiana


Destructiveness: an intolerable reality

Patrizio Campanile

(Venice) Full member and Training Psychoanalyst Member Italian Psychoanalytical Society, President of the Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi.

How can we deal with the disastrous effects of war?

I’m not to referring to material consequences which can be addressed by reconstruction and financial investment, but those which affect people. How people can overcome the horror of war?

These are just some of the questions that we will not to solve today, but we can try developing some thoughts around it.

Today’s meeting stems from a proposal that the Foundation / Sklad Libero and Zora Polojaz made to the Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi. Some members of the CVP are part of it and a good number have contributed over the years to its initiatives always sponsored by the CVP. In this case, however, there is a direct commitment from our side that aims to emphasize both the appreciation for the initiatives carried out over the years by these colleagues, as well as the commitment and solidarity that since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the members of the CVP showed towards colleagues who are suffering terrible abuse. Beyond the initiatives that each of us, as citizens, have decided to undertake, as analysts’ members of the International Psychoanalytic Movement we wanted to give concrete signs of brotherhood towards our Ukrainian colleagues, both by proposing to the SPI to organize a fundraising, and by activating the group of analysts who have been dealing with refugees in the CVP for years.


Thinking, thinking about destructiveness while it is being perpetrated is even more difficult than at other times and because of it I can say on behalf of all that we are very grateful to the Colleagues who today have accepted to bring their experiences as psychoanalysts who are, with their fellow citizens, undergoing an invasion war that is bringing pain, death and destruction.

Thanks also to those who suffered the same fate not many years ago and who today make themselves available to bring us their testimony. I think it takes a good dose of courage to face the fatigue of thought in the heat of the moment, because it is a matter of great effort to face horror. We know well even after many decades that it is still difficult for us to face the traces of the war and not only because we saw our country lined up on the side of the aggressors and murderers. War leaves sometimes incurable wounds, divides communities; creates enemies among friends and even among family members themselves. It raises children by depriving them of all that is necessary and to which they would be entitled. It puts colleagues who until recently kindly cooperated, on the opposite side of the line. As it is inevitable, it becomes difficult to understand ourselves exposed, as it is and we all are, to propaganda, ideology and the manipulation of truth.

How to save what can be saved?

I do not say how to save humanity, the sense of the human, and I do not say it consciously because unfortunately we are also made by destruction. This is the most hidden and most difficult component of the human to accept. We know how difficult it can be to recognize it and recognize its action in our lives and in the choices of individuals and human groups.

For me, the pain that Freud had to face has always been a cause for reflection, since he has always forced himself not to hide the truth, and that is reality, when he could not escape the recognition of destructiveness as an original component of the human: “ Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him” (Freud S., 1930. Civilization and its Discontents” (Freud S., 1930. Civilization and its Discontents. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 21, 111).

This is a difficult way of seeing the human and to accept.

As Freud said: “The assumption of the existence of an instinct of death or destruction has met with resistance even in analytic circles; I am aware that there is a frequent inclination rather to ascribe whatever is dangerous and hostile in love to an original bipolarity in its own nature. To begin with it was only tentatively that I put forward the views I have developed here, but in the course of time they have gained such a hold upon me that I can no longer think in any other way.

To my mind, they are far more serviceable from a theoretical standpoint than any other possible ones; they provide that simplification, without either ignoring or doing violence to the facts, for which we strive in scientific work. […]

I remember my own defensive attitude when the idea of an instinct of destruction first emerged in psycho-analytic literature, and how long it took before I became receptive to it.1 That others should have shown, and still show, the same attitude of rejection surprises me less. For ‘little children do not like it’2 when there is talk of the inborn human inclination to ‘badness’, to aggressiveness and destructiveness, and so to cruelty as well” (Freud S., (1930). Civilization and its Discontents. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 21, 119-120).

I would like briefly to draw attention to an element that I personally believe to be central: the horror of destructiveness as a central trait of the human involves resorting to ways to explain and justify one’s own destructive acts in one’s own eyes and those of other human beings. The ideals to which we promptly resort then make our destructive actions presentable, justifiable and possibly even worthy.

The ongoing aggression in Ukraine gives us yet another example.

The fact is that even to add a contrast to the aggressions it is inevitable to put ideals on the field. They are necessary to support the ego especially in times of difficulty, they contribute to its edification and development; at the same time, they can also open the path of destructiveness within the victim. As Freud showed, there is a link between the construction of ideals and sublimation and this explains how they, due to the defusion of instinct that sublimation brings with it, can be at the origin of intolerance, oppression and destructive actions.

How complex is the way we are!


I’m sure today will offer us new incentives for reflection. Thanks again on behalf of those who wanted and organized this meeting and good work.


Freud S. (1929). Il disagio della civiltà. O.S.F., 10.


Patrizio Campanile, Venezia

Centro Veneto di Psicoanalisi



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