Modern Psychoanalysis

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ambivalence

Ambivalence

"This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever" (Sigmund Freud - about the Irish)
There were various reactions expressed by others when the above quote first appeared in my printed list of Irish songs for St. Patrick’s Day – some were outraged, while others laughed their heads off.

Possibly either reaction is understandable, or perhaps one person could entertain both reactions at the same time. In fact, I’ve often thought that the ability to tolerate seemingly conflicting ideas at the same time was a peculiarly Irish phenomenon.

Professor Freud has also been quoted as saying that
“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.”

I don’t believe Freud was using “ambiguity” in a conventional American way, i.e., as a synonym for vagueness or uncertainty; but rather more in the sense of “the quality of having more than one meaning,” or “capable of being understood in more than one sense.” (New Lexicon, 1988).

That understanding of ambiguity is closer to how I mean to refer to ambivalence, i.e., as a state where one has disparate feelings (which may or may not be conflicting) at the same time.

In this respect, I am also proceeding from the belief that much of life, or of our human structure, involves ambivalence.

Observably, people may seem to be functioning adequately and yet be unaware of their ambivalence. Those feelings may instead be repressed, or subsumed in our unconscious processes; though this does not rob them of the capacity to affect our actions, thoughts, perceptions and emotional resiliency.

According to Daniel Siegel:

“Excessive rigidity in a state of mind leads to an inability to try new configurations and to adapt flexibly to changes in the environment.… Homeostasis is achieved at the expense of the connections with others and with primary emotional states of the self.” (1999, p. 237).
Modern analysts recognize this inflexible pattern as part of the structure resulting from the Narcissistic Defense, i.e., a question of what the child has learned to do with aggressive (or other “unacceptable”) impulses mobilized in his mental apparatus. Modern Psychoanalytic treatment seeks to restore human flexibility and emotional resiliency through its clinical methods.

In this sense it might even be said that recognition and acceptance of ambivalence is a good thing; or as Publius Terentius said, "I am a man: I hold that nothing human is alien to me."
References
New Lexicon Ed. (1988). New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language, NY, Lexicon Publications.
Publius Terentius Afer. (185 BC - 159 BC). (Terence). Roman Comic Dramatist.
Siegel, D. (1999). The Developing Mind, NY, Guilford Press.
© 2006, James G. Fennessy, M.A., J.D.
Matawan, New Jersey 07747
E-mail: njanalyst@hotmail.com
http://modernpsychoanalysis.org/

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

What does it mean when it's said that "the patient should have ALL of his\her feelings, and the therapist (analyst) should have all of his\her feelings too." ?

Jim said...

I suppose it might depend on the context; however, most modern analysts follow Spotnitz' idea that "when a patient can get in touch with and express all of his or her feelings, good and bad, emotional healing can take place."

The same may be said for analysts - that analysts always need to know as much of their own unconscious as that of their patients. (Spotnitz, 1997).


Spotnitz, H. (1997). The Goals of Modern Psychoanalysis: The Therapeutic Resolution of Verbal and Preverbal Resistances for Patient and Analyst (CMPS/Modern Psychoanalysis, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1997).

analytic neophyte said...

Hi Jim,
to follow the line of inquiry of ANON, I am curious to know what does it mean for the patient to have the "right feelings" or for the analyst to give the patient "the right feelings".
Thanks,
NEO

Jim said...

Hi Neo,

I'm curious myself to know what it means for the patient to have the "right feelings." What do you think it means?

As far as the analyst is concerned, I think the analyst should first be ready to experience/acknowledge any feelings that arise.

After that, the analyst must answer the question "can I/how can I use these feelings to help my patient?" The answer to that question will help the analyst decide what to give back to the patient.

Jim

analytic neophyte said...

Thanks for your comments Jim.
I understand that being free to express all feelings is the goal for the patient , but what is the difference between "feelings" and the "right feelings" ?

Jim said...

I'm still curious about that, Neo - What's your idea of the difference?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
This question is re: Analytic Neo's inquiry about "right feelings." That is not a term I have come across in my readings...did you read it somewhere or did someone tell you about "right" feelings? When I first began analysis, I worried about "logical feelings" --I only wanted to tell my analyst about feelings that "made sense." Fortunately, I found Jim's blog and he asked me, "what would you do with a feeling if it didn't make sense?" And that has helped me a lot over these last six months to understand that every feeling is up for discussion, whether "logical" or "right" or not-logical or wrong or stupid, etc. EVERY feeling can be discussed. The good analyst will not pooh-pooh any feeling you have, but will discuss and explore it with you.
Thanks Jim, for teaching me that. I have actually had the experience of lying on the couch about to say something, then thought, "That doesn't make sense" and then I recalled your comment, "What would you do with a feeling if it didn't make sense?" Then I went ahead and told my analyst about the feeling(s)withoutfeeling "dumb" or "stupid" or "illogical." And we talked about it and it really was OK. I don't believe there's any feeling that is "right" -- feelings just are whatever they are.
Thanks again Jim. I really have learned from all your postings.
CC

CactusCorner said...

I enjoyed this, because I wrote a book about Sherlock Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty, and have a chapter where Moriarty meets Freud.
I see you are from N.J. I lived there before moving to Arizona.
Mike
http://www.michaelcharton.com
http://www.holmesvsmoriarty.blogspot.com

Jim said...

Sounds like a fun book, Mike. What's the title?
Jim

Dave said...

From where did this quote about Freud and the Irish come? What is the exact source of this oft quoted, but never (in my experience) cited, "quotation?"

Jim said...

Unfortunately I don't have the source of this oft quoted, but never (in my experience) cited, "quotation."

When I first did an internet search for the quote it came up enough times that I was fairly sure of it; paticularly in light of the fact that Freud was greatly interested in humor and traveled to Ireland, which he enjoyed.

I also received quite a large number of inquiries about this after it was quoted in the movie "The Departed."

It's possible that someone at the Freud center in New York might know for sure though I haven't followed it up.

If you do find out I'd appreciate it if you let me know also.