Multiple moralities: Theoretical and clinical aspects of oscillation in superego cohesion

Margery Beth Kalb, Pace University


Morality is a thorny area persistently neglected by psychoanalysis despite the moral dimensions inherent in conceptions of the superego and the analytic relationship and process. Vicissitudes in morality, in particular, have been mostly ignored by psychoanalytic theorizing. Through the lens of a clinical case illustration, this project explores manifestations of transitory discontinuities in superego functioning and proposes theoretical interpretations that may help to elucidate oscillations in moral behavior, or multiple moralities. How can we reconcile discordant oscillations in moral behavior? What is the psychogenesis of multiple moralities? Does iniquitous behavior and a lack of guilt signal an ephemeral or basic deficiency of morality? Are vicissitudes in moral behavior related to superego integration? To faulty identifications? To ego regressions? To object relations? To defenses? How are transitory destabilizations in morality reflected in treatment? Drawing on the work of Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Loewald, and several contemporary psychoanalysts such as Bromberg, Benjamin, Freedman, and Sagan, the complex interrelated roles played by identificatory mechanisms, dissociative phenomena, trauma, symbolization, action, sadomasochistic relationships, and their significance in the transference and countertransference are explored. The present study is theoretically and clinically driven and derived, endeavoring to begin to create a space for oscillations in morality theoretically and clinically within a psychoanalytic paradigm. Theoretical material is presented and reviewed, data from the case of Tara is described, followed by interpretive examination of the treatment reflecting upon origins and manifestations of oscillations in morality. Methodologically, expert critique by numerous senior psychoanalysts has been integrated into both the theoretical and clinical interpretations of this project, providing more than one method by which to assess and gather preliminary external validation of theories and clinical approaches developed. Empirical research of current theoretical proposals is a next logical step, subsequent to explication and preliminary validation of theoretical concepts in a hermeneutic mode. Toward that end, a proposal for future testing of hypotheses in an empirical paradigm is presented. Advantages and disadvantages of hermeneutic approach, and implications of the present study for clinical child and school psychology, are also considered.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Kalb, Margery Beth, "Multiple moralities: Theoretical and clinical aspects of oscillation in superego cohesion" (2003). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3095128.



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