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5. Character traits and object relations

Anne-Marie Sandler Karnac Books ePub


In the past, psychoanalytic theory has held that character traits should be viewed as “discharge” phenomena and compromise formations. Many traits can be better understood, however, as devices for evoking particular types of response in others in order to actualize the wished-for relationships existing in unconscious phantasy. Moreover, some “evocative” character traits create the unconscious illusion of the presence of the love objects.

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As Hermann Nunberg1 once remarked, “character is an elusive phenomenon.” It is now generally accepted that the term is often used synonymously with “personality”, referring, as a psychiatric dictionary puts it, to “the characteristic … behaviour-response patterns that each person evolves, both consciously and unconsciously, as his style of life”.2 The early writers on character and character traits—beginning with Freud, who in 1908 shocked his readers with his paper, “Character and Anal Erotism”3—were primarily concerned with understanding particular character traits as surface manifestations of instinctual wishes of one sort or another. This view reflects what can be called a “discharge” theory of character. As Freud expressed it in his paper: “the permanent character-traits are either unchanged prolongations of the original instincts, or sublimations of those instincts, or reaction-formations against them”.

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Medium 9781892746733

Psychoanalysis and Empirical Research: A Reconciliation

Peter Fonagy Karnac Books ePub


There are good historical reasons for the long neglect of empirical research by psychoanalysts. From the point of view of psychoanalysis, empirical research has long been seen as an unnecessary, difficult to comprehend, and even unwelcome intruder. One pattern-setting example of this view occurred in the 1930s. A psychologist in St. Louis, Saul Rozenzweig, in a famous correspondence with Freud, sent Freud some reprints of empirical studies demonstrating the operation of repression. Freud replied that these were interesting, but that he had his own methods of doing things, and that the method presented by Rozenzweig was unnecessary: “I cannot put much value on these confirmations because the wealth of reliable observations … make them independent of experimental verification. Still, it can do no harm” (quoted in Luborsky & Spence, 1971, p. 408; Mackinnon & Duke, 1962). Consistent with Freud’s response, the neglect of empirical research comes from psychoanalysis’s traditional reliance on single case analyses and clinical-theoretical inferences based on what the patient says and does (and Freud may even have been right about these particular supposed analogues of repression called to his attention by Rozenzweig). Freud’s style of investigation also offers an appealing basis to justify the neglect of empirical research on developmental stages as well as on mental functioning - after all, Freud made such world-shaking discoveries, it is natural to consider Freud’s method as the only method; why then should one look elsewhere for a model of method?

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Medium 9781780491080

A Contemporary Reading of “On Narcissism”

Peter Fonagy Karnac Books ePub


Freud’s extraordinarily rich essay reveals several new developments in his thinking and introduces some of his most fundamental and permanent ideas. He explores narcissism as a phase of psychic development, as a crucial aspect of normal love life, as a central dynamic of several types of psycho-pathology (schizophrenia, perversion, homosexuality, hypochondriasis), in terms of the regulation of self-esteem, as the origin of the ego-ideal, and—by way of the ego-ideal—as an aspect of mass psychology. The only significant subjects related to narcissism that occupy contemporary clinical psychoanalysis not dealt with in his essay are pathological narcissism considered as a specific type or spectrum of character pathology and narcissistic resistances as an important factor in psychoanalytic technique. The theoretical and clinical observations that made these two subjects possible, however, are already implicit in this seminal essay.

In what follows I offer a critical reading of Freud’s essay, focusing on the fate of the ideas it contains, especially on how these ideas have since been supplemented or modified.

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Introduction to “On Narcissism”

Peter Fonagy Karnac Books ePub



It is difficult to understand Freud’s work without some idea of the scientific concepts on which he based his models. The physiologist Helmholtz had discovered that the laws of the conservation of energy apply to living organisms as well as to inorganic matter. Freud adopted Fechner’s constancy principle as a physiological analogue to Helmholtz’s discovery that the psychic apparatus tends to keep the quantity of excitation at the lowest possible level. The principle of constancy called for the discharge of quantities of energy if they became too large, as in the case of accumulated or “dammed-up” excitation from the outside (first phase) or the inside (second phase). Affects and impulses were conceived of as moving in a system of communicating vessels, a theory of affective and libidinal hydraulics.

Biology in the period of Freud’s intellectual development was heavily weighted in favor of “purity” in laboratory experiments, in which the object of investigation was isolated as completely as possible and environmental conditions were assumed to be constant. There was as yet no appreciation of the dynamic relationships between the organism and the environment. Another precondition for understanding the development of Freud’s thinking is acknowledgment of his indifference to the rules of semantics. He used language according to his needs, as an artist uses his materials. Precise use of a term had little meaning for Freud; it was the context that mattered. It is thus essential for those who wish to master the subject to tolerate the ambiguities rather than try to eliminate them.

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Medium 9781855751668

3. Remembering in therapy

Peter Fonagy Karnac Books ePub

Valerie Sinason

I had planned to try to do justice to what we can refer to as all the different languages being spoken here, but I now have a profound sense that there are three different languages being spoken, with very few interpreters. I have met several families here in great pain who had come, rather courageously, hoping to understand more of what could have changed their children’s attitude towards them. Some of the families I met had no experience of psychotherapy except as something that had hurt them or hurt their families. Such families had no initial understanding of the different kinds of psychotherapy, and they were very carefully trying to understand the different sorts of training and different ways there are of approaching clinical work. I met psychologists who had understanding of clinical work and of the methodology of psychoanalytic clinical research that comes from consulting-room skills; and I met psychotherapists who did not understand the language of psychology research. There seem to be only a few bilingual people about, and perhaps nobody trilingual. Some of us, of course, have a conflict in our selves with regard to these different languages. For example, in nay role as research psychotherapist, I have had to video patients every year to try to get a visual impression of how they had changed. As a clinician I took great care to say to all these patients with learning disabilities, whose consent is often not properly sought, to check whether they really wanted the video made. When a couple of them, after my having taken much care, actually said no, that they would rather not be videotaped, the clinician in me was absolutely delighted that I had given them a proper choice, but the researcher in me was deeply depressed because I knew that the symmetry of the experimental results had been spoiled.

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