Totem and Taboo

The Problem of the Origins of Guilt and Civilization
  • Helen Block Lewis
Part of the Emotions, Personality, and Psychotherapy book series (EPPS)


Freud’s interest in the origins of guilt came relatively late in his work, as he himself acknowledged (1933). It was only after his major clinical accounts had been written that Freud undertook a study of the origins of guilt in Totem and Taboo. In his clinical papers, as well as in his books on dreams and jokes, “disgust, shame, and morality” were simply the counterforces against which sexual longings (libido) contended. Moreover, the origin of these counterforces was at first located in the sexual instincts themselves (see Chapter 4) as sublimations and reaction formations of the sexual instincts. Hostility arose out of frustrated libido; sublimations and reaction formations of hostility (although in the service of the “ego-instincts”) also made use of the energy of the sexual instincts to deflect them into social and moral purposes. In this account, libido theory is the centerpiece of the explanation. Our path might have been easier if Freud had indeed regarded his libido theory as a theory of the emotions (as he said he did in Group Psychology, 1921, p. 90). If one permits libido to stand for the attachment emotions, the origin of hostility and morality in a single source becomes a viable hypothesis. Morality is the affective-cognitive outcome of attachment. Threatened attachment, which first evokes protest aimed at the caretaker—“other,” is then transformed, mainly by identification, into states of shame and guilt that aim at maintaining the attachment.


Moral Judgment Categorical Imperative Oedipus Complex Affectionate Feeling Survivor Guilt 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Block Lewis
    • 1
  1. 1.Yale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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