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From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, friendship is one of the bonds that arise from sexual impulses when their attainment of a directly sexual goal is inhibited. However, this is a process of inhibition rather than sublimation. This approach to a sexual satisfaction that is never consummated forms the basis for especially strong and enduring ties between people. Both in adolescence and in adulthood, Freud had some intense and deep friendships, but he did not write on this subject at any great length. However, friendship, as he defined it, plays a key role between individuals to the extent that it appears as a metaphor for those relationships between two people that, unlike the state of romantic love, lead to a broader form of unity. In this sense, Freud connects it with these other ties that are based on the aim-inhibited sexual impulses: the tender relationship between parent and child, and conjugal love in which the sexual relationship has gradually fallen into second place. These two bonds form the basis for the broader unity that is constituted by the family, just as friendship is the foundation for the creation of social ties. However, these different kinds of bond should not be confused, because the homosexual libido can develop into friendship whereas the conjugal bond is in essence heterosexual and the parent-child relationship involves an elaboration of the parent's narcissistic libido. These ties can even conflict: "a pair of lovers are sufficient to themselves, and do not even need the child they have in common to make them happy" (1930a [1929], p. 108). At the theoretical level, Freud refined the concept of sublimation by distinguishing it from the inhibition of the aim of sexual satisfaction and, in this respect, friendship constitutes a good example. Using the examples of Plato and St. Paul (1921c), Freud emphasized that the libido corresponds to love understood in a wide sense, including, along with the state of romantic love, self-love, filial and parental love, friendship, and even the attachment to physical objects and abstract ideas. The sexual basis of these ties is attested to by the fact that they retain some of the primary sexual aims: "Even an affectionate devotee, even a friend or an admirer, desires the physical proximity and the sight of the person who is now loved only in the 'Pauline' sense" (pp. 138-139). However, these aim-inhibited drives are not only capable of being combined with non-inhibited drives but can also be transformed back in the opposite direction to revert to the directly sexual form from which they have originated. Friendship, admiration, and even the religious bond therefore remain close to the sexual bond itself. There is a particular kind of friendship that merits further consideration—the form that is shared by male homosexuals and leads to the formation of social ties. In relation to Daniel Paul Schreber, Freud wrote that homosexual tendencies "help to constitute the social instincts, thus contributing an erotic factor to friendship and comradeship, to esprit de corps and to the love of mankind in general. How large a contribution is in fact derived from erotic sources (with the sexual aim inhibited) could scarcely be guessed from the normal social relations of mankind" (1911c [1910], p. 61). He bases this on the hypothesis that the shared homosexual impulse is generally aim-inhibited and constitutes a source of unused libido that is therefore available for these various ties. Moreover, the degree of homosexual drive in an individual determines their particular capacity for forming such ties, provided that they continue to inhibit it from direct satisfaction. This highly simplistic economic perspective, which ignores the entire tradition of homosexual friendship in antiquity and mentions only the form that is not aim-inhibited, is somewhat baffling. This is a long way removed from the depth of Freud's analysis of the resexualization of sublimated homosexual ties that leads via narcissism to paranoia (1911c [1910]). However, Freud continues to subscribe to this specific affinity between the homosexual bond and the constitution of the group through friendship and esprit de corps: "It seems certain that homosexual love is far more compatible with group ties, even when it takes the shape of uninhibited sexual tendencies" (1921c, p. 141). While the "social sense," a "sublimated" (or, rather, inhibited) form of the male homosexual libido, may take the form of love of humanity, it can also be extended to a relatively large group. Solidarity is therefore the form of expression given to the recognition of what is identical to the self.

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1911c [1910]). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 1-82.
  2. ——. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.