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Gifts and money are unconsciously associated with anal eroticism. In "On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism" (1916-1917e), Sigmund Freud writes, "It is probable that the first meaning which a child's interest in faeces develops is that of 'gift' rather than 'gold' or 'money.' . . . Since his faeces are his first gift, the child easily transfers his interest from that substance to the new one which he comes across as the most valuable gift in life. Those who question this derivation of gifts should consider their experience of psycho-analytic treatment, study the gifts they receive as doctors from their patients, and watch the storms of transference which a gift from them can rouse in their patients" (pp. 130-131). The gift is meaningful because of its connection to the libido and eroticism. Freud's investigation led him to the discovery of the unconscious link with defecation and its relation to treasure hunting.

Karl Abraham (1916) examined the connection between excessive giving and anxiety. He investigated (1919) the transference meaning of the associations—occasionally excessive—presented by the patient to the psychoanalyst as a gift. This attitude is an expression of narcissism and is characterized by its view of analysis as something governed by the pleasure principle.

What happens to the instinctual impulses of anal eroticism after the genital organization has been established? Freud in "On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Eroticism" (1916-17e) responds with the idea of the transformation of instinct. In this schema, gift equals excrement according to the symbolic language of the dream and daily life.

The first gift is excrement, a part of the infant's body he gives up only upon the mother's insistence and through which he manifests his love for her. Defecation and its relation to the object thus become the first opportunity for the infant to choose between bodily pleasure (narcissism) and object love (sacrifice).

Later in life the interest in excrement is transferred to an interest in gifts and money. The concepts of excrement, infant, and penis are poorly distinguished and are frequently treated as if they were equivalent; they can easily be substituted for one another. Freud perceived the identity of the infant with excrement in the linguistic expression: "to give a child." Similarly, Freud wrote in the "Wolf Man" (1918b), "By way of this detour demonstrating a common point of departure in their significance as gifts, money can now attract to itself the meaning of children, and in this way take over the expression of feminine (homosexual) satisfaction."

Freud views the transference relation of certain patients as a vague recollection of this problematic, arising whenever the patient wants to interrupt the unfinished treatment and place himself in a situation of disdain that originates in the outside world. The patient then replaces the urgent desire to have a child with promises of significant gifts, most often as unrealistic as the object of his past desire. This concept is developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920g).

Melanie Klein (1932-1975) demonstrated the importance of the theme of poison gifts as a source of depression and melancholy toward the object. "For the child gifts attenuate his guilt by symbolizing the free gift of what he wanted to obtain by sadistic means." In this same article, Klein clarifies the role of ambivalence and sees it as a step forward compared to archaic mechanisms. The gift provides access; it is a preliminary form of sublimation within the compulsions of reparation and restitution associated with obsessive behavior.

See Also


  1. Abraham, Karl. (1966). Examen de l'étape prégénitale la plus précoce du développement de la libido. Complete works, vol. 2, 1915-1925. (pp. 231-254) (I. Barande, Trans.) Paris: Payot. (Original work published 1916)
  2. ——. (1979). A particular form of neurotic resistance against the psycho-analytic method. (pp. 303-311) In Selected papers of Karl Abraham, M.D. (Douglas Bryan and Alix Strachey, Trans.) New York: Brunner/Mazel. (Original work published 1927)
  3. Freud, Sigmund. (1908b). Character and anal erotism. SE,9: 169-175.
  4. ——. (1916-17e). On transformations of instinct as exemplified in anal erotism. SE, 17: 127-133.
  5. ——. (1918b). From the history of an infantile neurosis. SE, 17: 1-122.
  6. ——. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
  7. Klein, Melanie. (1975). The psycho-analysis of children. (Alix Strachey, Trans.) London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1932)

Gift(-giving), 18, 19, 33, 76, 95, 99, 100, 108, 115, 159 [1]


  1. Muller, John P. and William J. Richardson. Lacan and Language: A Reader's Guide to Ecrits. New York: International Universiites Press, Inc., 1982.