This article describes a specific type of work disturbance encountered in clinical practice with male patients. The “impossible project” is characterized by grandiose, boundary-less content, intense absorption in solitary activity; and difficulty formulating and sustaining goal-directed work. It is the man's attempt to “patch over” significant ego deficits without fundamentally reworking the traumatic identification with his mother and the emotional absence of his father. The project is fantasized as providing a hitherto elusive masculine identity but also partakes of feelings of fraudulence and impossibility.
Three cases exemplifying the impossible project serve to highlight the typical family constellations and developmental deficits of these men. How best to respond to the patient's work strivings as well as common transference paradigms are discussed.