Freud juxtaposed mourning and melancholia to draw a distinction between what he views as two separate and divergent processes – a view not shared by Bowlby. Melancholia is distinct from mourning in that the loss of the object is essentially denied and an intricate psychic process is engendered to bypass the pain and reality of the object loss. Freud’s conceptualization of this process is briefly outlined below:
a) Object is lost due to either external causes or psychic trauma (rejection of ideal object, disappointment, disillusionment)
b) Object loss is denied and libido withdraws into ego establishing a narcissistic identification with the lost object (substitutive object)
c) Substitutive object takes revenge on the original object by sadistic torments and criticisms. In this way the person avoids openly expressing their rage which would in essence acknowledge the reality of the original loss (akin to normal mourning process).
In melancholia, the object loss becomes ego loss because the individual is unable to fathom existence not in relation to the original object. It is this narcissistic requirement that Freud believes disposes the individual to a pathological response to loss.
Bowlby’s conceptualization differs from Freud on many aspects. First, he conceptualizes pathological mourning (melancholia) as an exaggerated form or extreme variant of normal mourning – thus on the same continuum rather than a divergent process. Second, Bowlby views hatred and animosity inherent in normal and pathological mourning. Freud, on the other hand, views hatred for the lost object as indicative of an ambivalent relationship and a sign of pathological mourning. Third, Bowlby questions Freud’s assertion of identification with the lost object as a regressive attempt to substitute the libidinal tie. Rather, he views the identifactory process as secondary to a persistent striving to recover the lost tie – a response which he views as a normal part of the loss process.
McWilliam’s contribution to the topic at hand is her emphasis on the genetic and environmental factors that may predispose one to a pathological response to loss. Namely, she highlights circumstances that may engender depression: a) lack of space to mourn loss, i.e. poor role modeling from significant others and/or outright discouragement of mourning, b) the developmental influence of rejection from primary object along the lines of overindulgence or underindulgence, especially in breastfeeding (Erna Furman), c) family biology / genetics.
In closing, one question that stood out from Freud’s conceptualization: I wondered how Freud distinguished between the superego and its formation from the critical internalized lost love object part of the ego?