Ordinary Language Essentials of Clinical Psychoanalytic Theory

Wynn Schwartz / Presentation

(adapted from George Klein, 1976 or others as noted)

  1. Character or personality, whether normal, healthy or pathological, is to a great extent the result of conflict, i.e., the resolution of incompatible intentions or dispositions. Crisis and dilemma are inescapable and are the expected and necessary conditions for normal maturation. Neuroses and personality disorders are the ways this process can go wrong. Growth or maturation involves the incompatibility of old and new demands, crisis, impasse, and resolution. (In therapy, the analyst recognizes this as “the crunch†(Paul Russell), or the testing of boundaries; in the transference as a representation of old dilemmas and new opportunities.)
  2. The ability to tolerate and enjoy sexuality, aggression, conflict, separation and being alone develops in a parental “holding environment†understood in terms of the key parental figure’s availability, intrusion, reliability, and empathy (Donald Winnicott and Heinz Kohut). (In therapy the analyst creates a safe place in her attempts to remain neutral, empathic, reliable and available while providing tolerable frustration and disappointment.)
  3. The necessity of resolving conflict, and the fact of conflict itself, implies a need for integration at all life stages. People generally desire (and our actions require) a sense of coherence. We want our abilities and dispositions to result in self-understandable actions. The self is the referent of this sense of coherence, continuity and integrity at every stage of life. (The goals of psychoanalytic interpretation include the provision of clarity where before there was something obscure and establishing the coherence of the past as manifested in current actions and patterns of life. Where appropriate the analyst attributes to the actor agency in bringing about the analyzed state of affairs. The analyst is especially interested in transforming unconscious intentional actions into potential cognizant actions thereby enhancing the domain of deliberate action and the real world).
  4. Some sense of coherence is maintained from the actor’s point of view. People take it that things are as they seem unless they have reason to think otherwise. And when a person is called upon to do something he can’t do he will instead do something that he can do (Peter Ossorio). Psychological defenses maintain coherence but at the cost of personal freedom. Defenses clarify actions and the world through restrictions in behavior potential. (The analyst must supply from the analysand’s history and associations the reasons that things might not be as they seem to the analysand. The analyst respects the requirement for coherence by interpreting and redescribing tactfully and close to the analysand’s current awareness.)
  5. There are two major components of self hood: the assertion of personal autonomy and the need for being an integrated and desired part of a larger more encompassing entity or social unit. Selves require autonomy, family and community and this creates inevitable conflict. (The analyst recognizes the analysand’s struggles for autonomy and dependency and fosters and analyzes both given the inter-dependent nature of the therapeutic relationship).
  6. The experience of pleasure and anxiety are central in the development of self-identity and in structuring motives. Pleasure and anxiety are two fundamental and contrasting feelings generated by encounters with people, events and objects. Anxiety is informative of estrangement, denoting threat or conflict; pleasure is informative of accord and well-being, of people, events and objects acquiring values of approachability and desirability. Anxiety motivates avoidance, pleasure motivates contact. The competent achievement of hedonic, prudent, ethical and esthetic aims is pleasurable. Helplessness or the expectation of incompetence is experienced as anxiety (or as depressive affect).
  7. Defensively, coherence is maintained and unmanageable anxiety is avoided by repression and dissociation. During any developmental period a person’s capacity to bear the incoherence and anxiety of trauma, urge, or fantasy is limited. Overwhelming environmental trauma may result in dissociation and overwhelming fantasy or urge may result in repression. (In the treatment situation the analyst attempts to foster a sense of safety in which fantasy, memory or urge is tolerable and can be examined.)
  8. Attempts at the mastery of passively endured experience may be accomplished through active reversals (Jane Loevinger). “What I have experienced as being done to me, I must make happen (repeatedly).†Repression, dissociation, and active reversal are equally basic modes of confronting and resolving conflict, impasse and crisis. (The analyst recognizes the power of the “repetition compulsion†in the analysand’s motivation for returning to an issue again and again if it is to be “worked throughâ€.)
  9. The internalization ( or personalization) of interpersonal relationships is accomplished through active reversals, dissociation, and repression. Repression and dissociation create introjects,i.e. dystonic anomalous experience with confusions of agency, whereas active reversals may establish identifications, resulting in behaviors recognized as self initiated. (The analyst’s stance of neutrality, abstinence, and acts of empathic confrontation, redescription and interpretation promotes self-observation, and qualities of delay and toleration as identifications available to the analysand.)
  10. When in crisis, people tend toward regressive repetition. Crises are the occasion for the activation and enactment of earlier prototypes of conflict, pleasure and proven resolutions. Growth involves repetition. (The analyst expects and welcomes the analysand’s transference neurosis as a response to the ordeal of the treatment situation and as an opportunity to work through earlier fixations, symptoms, and character formations. The analyst recognizes that she represents both old and new ways of life)
  11. Autonomy grows out of successful dependency at it’s own rate. (Analysts allow and foster an inter-dependent relationship and recognize that analysis takes as long as it takes, which is to say, a long time. Analysis begins with the recognition of an open ended process and ends with the recognition that it could go on forever. Analyst and analysand grow older together.) 
  12. Maturation and the development of personal characteristics involves relationships moving from the dyadic to the triangular. Identifications start with a significant dyadic attachment and develop with an appreciation of the significant other’s attachments. The development of non constitutional personal characteristics can be understood in terms of fixations, regressions, and resolutions that developed in reference to dyadic and triangular dilemmas and opportunities.