This essay presents the case of a depressed, suicidal, but smiling “False-Self” character seen over four and one-half years of twice-weekly psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Countertransference reverie took the author to Victor Hugo’s phantastic novel, The Man Who Laughs, justly considered an arraignment of royalty, and the power, privilege, and capricious misuse of others. The analysis of that novel, about a child abused, narcissistically mortified, and surgically made to smile by order of a vengeful king is read as a case study on the production of False Self. Both “cases” demonstrate negatively tinged Self-esteem, impaired vitality and cohesion, and multiple discontinuities of the Self. Both follow Winnicott’s observation that coercion, mystification, and compliance across a malignant power differential are the breeding grounds of the False Self. The powerful—whether king or mother—misuse the powerless for purposes of mood regulation, producing a temporary lift in mood for the former and a more permanent character pathology in the latter.


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pp. 315-336
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