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Freud on the Concept of Mourning

Mourning is widely considered a natural and healthy process of grieving a loss. However, Freud’s definition of the concept of mourning is broader, comprising, besides the reaction to the loss of loved ones, reaction to any other substituted abstraction. As such, Freud connects the concept of mourning with that of abandonment while also introducing socio-political aspects of considerable importance. Overall, Freud argues that mourning is a process that takes place in the conscious mind, which seeks to deal with the agony of losing a love object.

Freud’s central argument on mourning is that during the process, an individual deals with the pain of losing a particular love object, hence mourning occurs in the conscious mind. Freud further argues that mourning is necessary for the recovery of the loss, though it should not be viewed as a need for medical intervention (Freud, 1924). To elucidate his argument, Freud contend that the painfulness an difficulty of mourning process is caused by the fixation of libidinal cathexes, especially on the lost love object. The unavailability of the love object is due to the physical death or as a result of a slight detachment from the love object, which prompts the libido to halt its interest in the previous love object.

To a greater extent, Freud maintains that during mourning, the disinterest in the past love and the previous passionate feeling leads to internal conflict. The reason is that the libido encounters conflicting forces of the lost veneration of object love as well as the previous libidinal drive of aspiring to remain connected with the past love-object (Freud, 1924). In this regard, when the libidinal force is too strong, the subject will get back to the love object in a hallucinatory form rather than in reality. Consequently, the subject will go in psychosis. While the negative self-approach and self-regard that the subject depicts can be easily disproven or challenged by an observer, from a therapeutic, research, and clinical point of view, the approach would be useless (Bokanowski, 2018). Rather, what would be vital from a therapeutic, clinical, and scientific standpoint would be to understand the psychological and subjective statements as regards the subject.

Notably, Freud emphasized an economic definition of the concept of mourning and the role of grieving in acting on the binding of agonizing memories. He views mourning as an ego activity that is totally unrelated to the diminution caused by forgetfulness linked to the passage of time (Freud, 1924). On the economic definition of mourning, Freud maintains that in mourning, the world becomes empty and impoverished. According to Granek (2016), Freud is however, keen to distinguish melancholia from mourning. Unlike mourning, melancholia is often directed as the love object itself, following that this is the cause of distress for the subject. Rather than withdrawing cathexis, the subject unconsciously identifies with the now-detested object, to which the subject remains firmly attached.

In conclusion, Freud’s fundamental argument on the concept of mourning is that the process of mourning entails dealing with the grief of losing a love object, implying that mourning is a conscious activity. It is in light of this argument that Freud maintains that mourning only ends at the point when the subject breaks its emotional attachment to the loved object and attach its free libido to another love object. Mourning, in view of Freud, is a critical aspect of grieving as it serves to bind the agonizing memories.


Bokanowski, T. (2018). On Freud’s” mourning and Melancholia”. Routledge.

Freud, S. (1924). Mourning and melancholia. The Psychoanalytic Review (1913-1957)11, 77.

Granek, L. (2016). Grief as pathology: The evolution of grief theory in psychology from Freud to the present. History of Psychology13(1), 46.


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