Full text: Ownership as interpersonal dominance

force in the human psyche. Like Freud, Adler considered possessiveness to be an aggressive 
character trait: 
...ceaseless striving for the acquisition of worldly goods now becomes comprehensible. 
To us it seems almost pathological. Again, nothing but a form of vanity which attempts, by 
the heaping up of possessions, to produce a certain semblance of the enchanter’s power. 
(Adler, 1927/1968, p. 174) 
Another of Freud’s students, Horney (1937), emphasized anxiety motivations. She criticized 
Freud's early anal-sadistic and later death-instinct explanations of property. Rather, she argued, 
property is a defensive means of coping with anxieties of helplessness and insignificance: 
Winning affection means obtaining reassurance through intensified contact with others, 
while striving for power, prestige and possession means obtaining reassurance through the 
loosening of the contact with others and through fortifying one’s own position. (Horney, 
1937, p. 162) 
This is similar to Isaacs’ (1935) explanation of possessiveness. On the one hand, 
possessions are a sign of affection and attachment: 
Not to have what others have, or to have less than they, is to feel shut out from the love and 
regard of the person giving. It is to be treated as not loveworthy. (Isaacs, 1935, p. 74) 
On the other hand, possessions represent self-defensiveness: 
Even in the least complicated situation, where the value of the thing owned is intrinsic, the 
means of satisfying some (primary or derived) personal need, the actual wish to own it can 
best be understood in terms of power -or rather powerlessness. “l want to own it because 
if 1 do not it may not be there when 1 need it, and my need will go unsatisfied. If another has 
it, he might keep it for ever. If | am at the mercy of another's will for the satisfaction of my 
need, | am helpless before it. Only if the means of satisfaction of my need is mine, mine to 
have and hold, can | feel safe.” Even here, there is a reference to other people, as potential 
frustrators, challengers or rivals. (Isaacs, in Suttie, Ginsberg, Isaacs & Marshall, 1935, p. 73) 
This is, of course, very similar to the sentiments of the property crime victim quoted earlier 
(Bard & Sangrey, 1979). 
Suttie, a child psychologist and colleague of Isaacs’, described the possession of property 
as anxiety relief: 
The suggestion put before you of a dual significance of property, practical and social, tor 
use or for power, is obviously much nearer an Adlerian than a Freudian interpretation. | 
suggest that a secondary meaning becomes attached to the institution of exclusive 
possession, so that this becomes a means of increasing the social significance of the 
owner and of commanding on his behalf the attention of his social environment; in other 
words, personal property is a means of overcoming the separation anxiety. (Suttie, In 
Suttie, Ginsberg, Isaacs & Marshall, 1935, p. 59) 
There is currently an extensive child development literature, both psychodynamic and 
experimental, on children’s use of transitional objects to overcome separation anxiety (e.g. 
Boniface & Graham, 1979: Gershaw & Schwarz, 1971; Hong, 1976; Kahne, 1967; Passman, 1976).

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