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Etymologically, the word rival refers to people who live by the river and draw their water from the same stream.

From a psychoanalytic point of view, rivalry is not simply a struggle for possession of the object, but can also be understood as having sexual, identificatory, and narcissistic aspects.

The ensemble of partial drives directed toward the mother, once she is perceived as an object that is differentiated from the self, is accompanied by hostile rivalry toward the father. This oedipal rivalry is extended to the hostile relationships that occur among siblings.

The object of rivalry can change in relation to bisexuality. Wishes for the rival's death are repressed, and the formerly hated rival becomes a homosexual love-object.

In "Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality", Sigmund Freud posited an analogy between this mechanism and the process that is the basis for social bonds: "In both processes, there is first the presence of jealous and hostile impulses which cannot achieve satisfaction; and both the affectionate and the social feelings of identification arise as reactive formations against the repressed aggressive impulses."[1]

Freud thus attributed the decline of rivalry to repression, which results from the establishing of the superego and from the confrontation between hostile wishes and the child's impotence.

Rivalry creates a link of ambivalence between the subject and an other who can always become the subject's alter ego, because the object of desire is the same for both.

Putting himself in the place of this other, the subject imagines himself as being dispossessed of a source of enjoyment (jouissance) that tolerates no sharing. The subject's hatred is all the stronger because unconsciously, this struggle is for possession of an object that bears the narcissistic illusion of perfect continuity between self and other. The destructiveness of the tendency away from differentiation is thus transformed into hatred and suspended through triangulation.

Rivalry, which tends toward repetition and acquires its various layers through reaction formations, is one component in the structuring of human desire.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1909c). Family romances. SE, 9: 235-241.
  2. —— (1922b). Neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality. SE, 18: 221-232.