identification with the aggressor

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In psychoanalysis, a defence mechanism first named and described in 1936/7 by the Austrian-born British psychoanalyst Anna Freud (1895–1982) in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence whereby a person facing an external threat, such as disapproval or criticism from an authority figure, identifies with the source of the threat, either by appropriating the aggression or else by adopting other attributes of the threatening figure. Anna Freud and the Austrian psychoanalyst René A(rpad) Spitz (1887–1974) argued that this mechanism plays an important part in the early development of the superego, before criticism is turned inward at a later stage of development. The Austrian-born US psychologist Bruno Bettelheim (1903–90) described in an article in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology in 1943 and in Chapter 4 of his book The Informed Heart (1960) how even in Nazi concentration camps, some inmates came to identify with their SS guards. See also identification (2).

Subjects: Psychology.

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