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Bad Feelings

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Everyone experiences "bad" feelings - guilt, shame, humiliation, envy and more. Yet despite the fact that such emotions are a common occurrence, these painful feelings are often labelled as wrong, a moralistic determination that can complicate existing problems in the individual's emotional life. Through careful research and assessment of psychoanalytical methods, this book offers a new understanding of how painful emotional states can find relief through the talking cure.

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CHAPTER 1. A Joyless Life

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One of Freud’s great contributions to psychoanalytic theory and technique was his constantly calling attention to the gain of pleasure concealed within the chronic psychical suffering that analysands present for treatment. It is now one of the chief aims of psychoanalytic work to interpret this gain in pleasure. To mention only a few examples of these unconscious pleasures: some analysands unconsciously maintain gratifying attachments to figures in their lives who, superficially, are presented as incontro-vertibly “bad objects”; some, suffering from low self-esteem and complaining that they feel alone and helpless in a barren, persecutory world, get to be understood as satisfying their envious intentions to spoil actual or potential “good objects”; still others contrive to be punished as a way of assuaging their unconscious guilt feelings, in that way both enjoying relief from guilt and confirming their reassuring and pleasurable unconscious fantasies of omnipotent control.

It is well known that it is usually difficult to discern, bring to the analysand’s conscious awareness, and work through these pleasure gains. Much of the difficulty stems from the defenses that have been integrated into pathological organizations designed in part to protect these secret pleasures. Additionally, the defenses themselves can be interpreted as also providing unconscious sources of gratification. For example, as a defense against feelings of loss, identification with the lost object relieves painful grief while, in unconscious fantasy, it denies the loss by keeping that object with one—as oneself; also, defensive regression from oedipal-level entanglements to anal-sadistic modes of relationship simultaneously provides unconscious opportunities to gratify sadomasochistic inclinations and allows one to continue oedipal engagements in other terms, as when a son’s tormenting obstinacy can be interpreted as his carrying on a sexualized relationship with his mother.

 

CHAPTER 2. Disappointment and Disappointedness

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Disappointment is an inevitable, pervasive, more or less painful, and perhaps traumatic experience in almost every phase of life. As a central feature of the Oedipus complex, its influence is powerful, far-reaching, and lasting. Hidden pockets of profound disappointment insidiously limit significant aspects of development, sometimes blocking them severely.

Beyond influential individual experiences of disappointment, analytic interest must extend to disappointedness as a fixed, hardened attitude toward life in general. That attitude expresses itself in a grim view of what life has offered and a bleak expectation of what the future holds. It includes the determination that life must not be allowed to be anything but disappointing. Then, disappointedness has become a goal in life—one might say a career. Upon analysis, hardened and insistent disappointedness is often understood to serve aims that are simultaneously defensive, aggressive, and, as in moral masochism particularly, libidinal. Also to be taken into account is the overlay of defenses that may have been erected against exposing oneself both to feeling one’s disappointedness and, what is worse, showing it.

 

CHAPTER 3. Forms of Extreme Shame: Humiliation and Mortification

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Psychoanalyzing experiences of extreme shame brings to the fore unconscious fantasies dominated by degrading, violent, and deadly themes and imperatives. It is inevitable that these fantasies play important roles in deciding the forms and emotional tones of our human relations. I have singled out for special attention two manifestations of extreme shame: humiliation and mortification, both of them outstanding manifestations of bad feelings.

The degrading and violent fantasies that give humiliation and mortification their special qualities include ostracism and death, excrement and rejection, the annihilating consequences of losing face, desperate recourse to compensatory omnipotence, and internalization of bad objects that have actually been encountered, created out of whole cloth by projection, or projectively exaggerated during early development. These fantasies can be inferred and interpreted on the basis of the transferences that analysands construct to cope with their extreme shame in the analytic situation.

 

CHAPTER 4. Envy: Revisiting Melanie Klein's "Envy and Gratitude"

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Envy has come into its own. Contemporary psychoanalysts are actively discussing and debating the varieties of envious experience and their origins and influence (see, for example, Britton 1989, 2001, Frankiel 2000, 2001, O’Shaughnessy 1999, Spillius 1993). That it has not always been so is well known. For many years, envy had been locked up in a box called penis envy. The box now opened, envy is being conceptualized in a manner both more complex and more wide-ranging in implication. Among the factors responsible for this change, two stand out: the creative work of Melanie Klein (1957) in her classic “Envy and Gratitude” and the critical acuity of scores of feminists who have wanted to free psychoanalysis from its phallocentric bias. It is from Klein’s classic that many of the ideas set forth here are drawn. To these I will add some thoughts and observations of my own, together with those to be found in many instructive feminist writings. With envy finally being seen by analysts to be the ubiquitous problem it is, the beneficial analytic consequences of this enriched insight cannot be overestimated.

 

CHAPTER 5. The Psychotherapist's Absence

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In this chapter, I will broaden the coverage of method to include all psychoanalytically oriented treatment. This is not to imply that what has come before or what will come later is not broadly applicable, too, but only that in the other chapters I have tried to stay clear and focused by referring to the psychoanalytic process alone.

It is to be expected that patients will center transference feelings on their psychotherapists* many different features: appearance, professional manner, routine, office setting, speech patterns, and so on. They will also single out the content of what their psychotherapists say, its variations and frequency, and the attitude these communications seem to convey. Especially prominent among the multitude of psychotherapist variables are the psychotherapists’ absences. Absence is the aspect I have chosen to explore in this chapter. I will describe how the analysis of absence, both physical and emotional and both actual and imagined, can open up key issues in the patient’s disturbed and disturbing unconscious fantasies of relations with others. Further insight will be gained into major sources of anxiety, guilt, shame, and envy. Additionally, there will be much examination of exaggerated flux in self-esteem and self-cohesion, sexual and aggressive arousal and activity, means and effectiveness of coping with loss, and the ambivalence surrounding emotional dependency.

 

CHAPTER 6. Defenses against Goodness

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The air of analytic sessions is always thick with implications of goodness. On the one hand, many versions of “badness” pervade analysands’ self-descriptions, actings out, and condemnations of others; these versions imply goodness as their alternative. On the other hand are hidden moral references to goodness in such common locutions as “good-hearted,” “good intentions,” and “it is good for me.” Also, upon analysis, one encounters many usages that seem more or less removed from goodness and yet are freighted with moral or moralistic imperatives: “a good time,” “a good game,” and “a good session.” Goodness flourishes as an idea and a value in that other reality, the internal world of unconscious fantasy.

For many analysands, experiencing and expressing goodness are felt to be moves into a danger situation. Consequently, they erect defenses against these experiences. In this way, they may seriously limit analytic change. Certain analysands enact this problem in the transference through consistently self-injurious transgressions, uncomprehendingness, and negative therapeutic reactions. They also try to evoke negative countertransference in order to block their analysts’ perception of their goodness as well as justifying their own denial of their analysts’ goodness. Unconscious defenses against goodness therefore warrant the closest possible clinical study.

 

CHAPTER 7. Experiencing Termination: Authentic and False Depressive Positions

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It has long been recognized that the process of terminating is stressful for analyst and analysand. Under ordinary circumstances, it is, of course, the analysand who feels far more pained in response to the sharp sense of loss occasioned by the impending separation. The analysand feels increased temptation to regress back into disturbed emotional positions that have been worked on extensively and even appear to have been worked through adequately. In these regressive shifts, primitive defenses will be intensified. She or he hopes that these changes will forestall such painful subjective correlates of separation as grief, guilt, feelings of disappointment and resentment, and fears for the future. Separation is conceived in all-or-nothing terms, physical separation being equated with total loss.

Psychically, however, things are quite different (see Chapter 5). Both consciously and unconsciously, the analytic relationship lives on for an extended period of time, if not permanently. In the internal world, whether as an internal object, identification, or both, the analyst remains a presence in the analysand’s life. If not in the foreground, then behind the scenes, as it were, the analyst will be present as a helpful or critical resource. Under favorable conditions, the regression during and perhaps immediately after ending will be temporary, not extreme, and responsive to interpretation.

 

CHAPTER 8. Painful Progress: The Negative Therapeutic Reaction Reconceived

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Making progress while undergoing psychoanalysis often induces painful anxiety and sadness. Analysands dread what lies ahead and mourn long-lasting commitments to themselves and others they are leaving behind. Now that they are changing their orientation to relationships and to themselves, they must work through shame, anxiety, feelings of loss, and guilt in the internal world. In reaction to these painful changes, they back away from opportunities for further progress and revert to manifestations of the maladaptive orientations they have been relinquishing. In the analytic lexicon, they are said to be engaging in negative therapeutic reactions.

The idea of negative therapeutic reaction has been a mainstay of psychoanalytic discourse since Freud (1923) introduced it. Earlier (1916) he had anticipated this conceptualization when he discussed, “those wrecked by success.” In keeping with his emphasis on the centrality of the Oedipus complex, Freud regarded these wrecks and retreats as guilty acts of abandoning worldly and analytic gains that unconsciously signify forbidden oedipal gratification or steps toward oedipal victory.

 

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