Comments on the individual psychology of combat exhaustion

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Abstract

The authors attempted to demonstrate that it is the feelings of overwhelming helplessness associated with the loss of narcissistic defenses and the emerging fear of loss of one's life which is the principal cause of combat exhaustion; that the predominant defenses against the emergence into awareness of this primordial helplessness and fear of death are both reality-oriented and narcissistic components, which are elaborated into a defensive character structure. The vicissitudes of the developmental experience contribute significantly to the capacity of the individual soldier to form an empathic and narcissistic tie to his unit: that the vulnerability of the individual life is denied by the merger with an all powerful and perceived immortal group; that the essence of command and leadership, in addition to realistically supporting a sense of mastery through preparedness and skill in the combat arms, also enhances the primary narcissistic defenses against the fear of death, through the encouragement of a merger with an idealized and omnipotent self-object which will enable one to believe that he is invulnerable to injury and death; that in time of need an individual can turn to his comrades for succorance; and that there will always be an omnipotent leader who will rescue him in the face of adversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-231
Number of pages9
JournalMilitary medicine
Volume148
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1983

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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