Excerpts from Must Read Books & Articles on Mental Health
Articles- Part XXI
A DIFFICULTY IN THE PATH OF PSYCHO-ANALYSIS
Sigmund Freud (1917)
I will say at once that it is not an intellectual difficulty
I am thinking of, not anything that makes psycho-analysis hard for
the hearer or reader to understand, but an affective one--something
that alienates the feelings of those who come into contact with it,
so that they become less inclined to believe in it or take an interest
in it. As will be observed, the two kinds of difficulty amount to
the same thing in the end. Where sympathy is lacking, understanding
will not come very easily.
My present readers, I take it,
have not so far had anything to do with the subject and I shall be
obliged, therefore, to go back some distance. Out of a great number
of individual observations and impressions something in the nature
of a theory has at last shaped itself in psycho-analysis, and this
is known by the name of the `libido theory'. As is well known, psycho-analysis
is concerned with the elucidation and removal of what are called nervous
disorders. A starting-point had to be found from which to approach
this problem, and it was decided to look for it in the instinctual
life of the mind. Hypotheses about the instincts in man came to form
the basis, therefore, of our conception of nervous disease.
Psychology as it is taught academically
gives us but very inadequate replies to questions concerning our mental
life, but in no direction is its information so meagre as in this
matter of the instincts.
It is open to us to make our first soundings
as we please. The popular view distinguishes between hunger and love,
as being the representatives of the instincts which aim respectively
at the preservation of the individual and at the reproduction of the
species. We accept this very evident distinction, so that in psycho-analysis
too we make a distinction between the self-preservative or ego-instincts
on the one hand and the sexual instincts on the other. The force by
which the sexual instinct is represented in the mind we call 'libido'--sexual
desire--and we regard it as something analogous to hunger, the will
to power, and so on, where the ego-instincts are concerned.
With this as a starting-point we go
on to make our first important discovery. We learn that, when we try
to understand neurotic disorders, by far the greater significance
attaches to the sexual instincts; that in fact neuroses are the specific
disorders, so to speak, of the sexual function; that in general whether
or not a person develops a neurosis depends on the quantity of his
libido, and on the possibility of satisfying it and of discharging
it through satisfaction; that the form taken by the disease is determined
by the way in which the individual passes through the course of development
of his sexual function, or, as we put it, by the fixations his libido
has undergone in the course of its development; and, further, that
by a special, not very simple technique for influencing the mind we
are able to throw light on the nature of some groups of neuroses and
at the same time to do away with them. Our therapeutic efforts have
their greatest success with a certain class of neuroses which proceed
from a conflict between the ego-instincts and the sexual instincts.
For in human beings it may happen that the demands of the sexual instincts,
whose reach of course extends far beyond the individual, seem to the
ego to constitute a danger which threatens its self-preservation or
its self-esteem. The ego then assumes the defensive, denies the sexual
instincts the satisfaction they desire and forces them into those
by-paths of substitutive satisfaction which become manifest as nervous
The psycho-analytic method of treatment
is then able to subject this process of repression to revision and
to bring about a better solution of the conflict--one that is compatible
with health. Unintelligent opposition accuses us of one-sidedness
in our estimate of the sexual instincts. `Human beings have other
interests besides sexual ones,' they say. We have not forgotten or
denied this for a moment. Our one-sidedness is like that of' the chemist,
who traces all compounds back to the force of chemical attraction.
He is not on that account denying the force of gravity; he leaves
that to the physicist to deal with.
During the work of treatment we have
to consider the distribution of the patient's libido; we look for
the object-presentations to which it is bound and free it from them,
so as to place it at the disposal of the ego. In the course of this,
we have come to form a very curious picture of the original, primal
distribution of libido in human beings. We have been driven to assume
that at the beginning of the development of the individual all his
libido (all his erotic tendencies, all his capacity for love) is tied
to himself--that as we say, it cathects his own ego. It is only later
that, being attached to the satisfaction of the major vital needs,
the libido flows over from the ego on to external objects. Not till
then are we able to recognize the libidinal instincts as such and
distinguish them from the ego instincts. It is possible for the libido
to become detached from these objects and withdrawn again into the
The condition in which the ego retains
the libido is called by us `narcissism', in reference to the Greek
legend of the youth Narcissus who was in love with his own reflection. Thus in our view the individual advances
from narcissism to object-love. But we do not believe that the whole
of the libido ever passes over from the ego to objects. A certain
quantity of libido is always retained in the ego; even when object-love is highly
developed, a certain amount of narcissism persists. The ego is a great
reservoir from which the libido that is destined for objects flows
out and into which it flows back from those objects. Object-libido
was at first ego-libido and can be transformed back into ego-libido.
For complete health it is essential that the libido should not lose
this full mobility. As an illustration of this state of things we
may think of an amoeba, whose viscous substance puts out pseudopodia,
elongations into which the substance of the body extends but which
can be retracted at any time so that the form of the protoplasmic
mass is restored.
What I have been trying to describe
in this outline is the libido theory of the neuroses, upon
which are founded all our conceptions of the nature of these morbid
states, together with our therapeutic measures for relieving them.
We naturally regard the premises of the libido theory as valid for
normal behaviour as well. We speak of the narcissism of small children,
and it is to the excessive narcissism of primitive man that we ascribe
his belief in the omnipotence of his thoughts and his consequent attempts
to influence the course of events in the external world by the technique
After this introduction I propose to
describe how the universal narcissism of men, their self-love, has
up to the present suffered three severe blows from the researches
(a) In the early stages of his researches,
man believed at first that his dwelling-place, the earth, was the
stationary centre of the universe, with the sun, moon and planets
circling round it.
In this he was naively following the dictates of his sense perceptions,
for he felt no movement of the earth, and wherever he had an unimpeded
view he found himself in the centre of a circle that enclosed the
external world. The central position of the earth, moreover, was a
token to him of the dominating part played by it in the universe and
appeared to fit in very well with his inclination to regard himself
as lord of the world.
The destruction of this narcissistic
illusion is associated in our minds with the name and work of Copernicus
in the sixteenth century. But long before his day the Pythagoreans
had already cast doubts on the privileged position of the earth, and
in the third century B.C. Aristarchus of Samos had declared that the
earth was much smaller than the sun and moved round that celestial
body. Even the great discovery of Copernicus, therefore, had already
been made before him. When this discovery achieved general recognition,
the self-love of mankind suffered its first blow, the cosmological
(b) In the course of the development
of civilization man acquired a dominating position over his fellow-creatures
in the animal kingdom. Not content with this supremacy, however, he
began to place a gulf between his nature and theirs. He denied the
possession of reason to them, and to himself he attributed an immortal
soul, and made claims to a divine descent which permitted him to break
the bond of community between him and the animal kingdom. Curiously
enough, this piece of arrogance is still foreign to children, just
as it is to primitive and primaeval man. It is the result of a later,
more pretentious stage of development. At the level of totemism primitive
man had no repugnance to tracing his descent from an animal ancestor.
In myths, which contain the precipitate of this ancient attitude of
mind, the gods take animal shapes, and in the art of earliest times
they are portrayed with animals' heads. A child can see no difference
between his own nature and that of animals. He is not astonished at
animals thinking and talking in fairy-tales; he will transfer an emotion
of fear which he feels for his human father onto a dog or a horse,
without intending any derogation of his father by it. Not until he
is grown up does he become so far estranged from animals as to use
their names in vilification of human beings.
We all know that little more than half
a century ago the researches of Charles Darwin and his collaborators
and forerunners put an end to this presumption on the part of man.
Man is not a being different from animals or superior to them; he
himself is of animal descent, being more closely related to some species
and more distantly to others. The acquisitions he has subsequently
made have not succeeded in effacing the evidences, both in his physical
structure and in his mental dispositions, of his parity with them.
This was the second, the biological blow to human narcissism.
(c) The third blow, which is psychological
in nature, is probably the most wounding. Although thus humbled in his external
relations, man feels himself to be supreme within his own mind. Somewhere
in the core of his ego he has developed an organ of observation to
keep a watch on his impulses and actions and see whether they harmonize
with its demands. If they do not, they are ruthlessly inhibited and
withdrawn. His internal perception, consciousness, gives the ego news
of all the important occurrences in the mind's working, and the will,
directed by these reports, carries out what the ego orders and modifies
anything that seeks to accomplish itself spontaneously. For this mind
is not a simple thing; on the contrary, it is a hierarchy of superordinated
and subordinated agencies, a labyrinth of impulses striving independently
of one another towards action, corresponding with the multiplicity
of instincts and of relations with the external world, many of which
are antagonistic to one another and incompatible. For proper functioning
it is necessary that the highest of these agencies should have knowledge
of all that is going forward and that its will should penetrate everywhere,
so as to exert its influence. And in fact the ego feels secure both
as to the completeness and trustworthiness of the reports it receives
and as to the openness of the channels through which it enforces its
In certain diseases--including the very
neuroses of which we have made special study--things are different.
The ego feels uneasy; it comes up against limits to its power in its
own house, the mind. Thoughts emerge suddenly without one's knowing
where they come from, nor can one do anything to drive them away.
These alien guests even seem to be more powerful than those which
are at the ego's command. They resist all the well-proved measures
of enforcement used by the will, remain unmoved by logical refutation,
and are unaffected by the contradictory assertions of reality. Or else impulses appear
which seem like those of a stranger, so that the ego disowns them;
yet it has to fear them and take precautions against them. The ego
says to itself: `This is an illness, a foreign invasion.' It increases
its vigilance, but cannot understand why it feels so strangely paralysed.
Psychiatry, it is true, denies that
such things mean the intrusion into the mind of evil spirits from
without; beyond this, however, it can only say with a shrug: `Degeneracy,
hereditary disposition, constitutional inferiority!' Psycho-analysis
sets out to explain these uncanny disorders; it engages in careful
and laborious investigations, devises hypotheses and scientific constructions,
until at length it can speak thus to the ego:
'Nothing has entered into you from without;
a part of the activity of your own mind has been withdrawn from your
knowledge and from the command of your will. That, too, is why you
are so weak in your defence; you are using one part of your force
to fight the other part and you cannot concentrate the whole of your
force as you would against an external enemy. And it is not even the
worst or least important part of your mental forces that has thus
become antagonistic to you and independent of you. The blame, I am
bound to say, lies with yourself. You over-estimated your strength
when you thought you could treat your sexual instincts as you liked
and could utterly ignore their intentions. The result is that they
have rebelled and have taken their own obscure paths to escape this
suppression; they have established their rights in a manner you cannot
approve. How they have achieved this, and the paths which they have
taken, have not come to your knowledge. All you have learned is the
outcome of their work--the symptom which you experience as
suffering. Thus you do not recognize it as a derivative of your own
rejected instincts and do not know that it is a substitutive satisfaction
`The whole process, however, only becomes
possible through the single circumstance that you are mistaken in
another important point as well. You feel sure that you are informed
of all that goes on in your mind if it is of any importance at all,
because in that case, you believe, your consciousness gives you news
of it. And if you have had no information of something in your mind
you confidently assume that it does not exist there. Indeed, you go
so far as to regard what is "mental" as identical
with what is "conscious"--that is, with what is known to
you--in spite of the most obvious evidence that a great deal more
must constantly be going on in your mind than can be known to your
consciousness. Come, let yourself he taught something on this one
point! What is in your mind does not coincide with what you are conscious
of; whether something is going on in your mind and whether you hear
of it, are two different things. In the ordinary way, I will admit,
the intelligence which reaches your consciousness is enough for your
needs; and you may cherish the illusion that you learn of all the
more important things. But in some cases, as in that of an instinctual
conflict such as I have described, your intelligence service breaks
down and your will then extends no further than your knowledge. In
every case, however, the news that reaches your consciousness is incomplete
and often not to be relied on. Often enough, too, it happens that
you get news of events only when they are over and when you can no
longer do anything to change them. Even if you are not ill, who can
tell all that is stirring in your mind of which you know nothing or
are falsely informed? You behave like an absolute ruler who is content
with the information supplied him by his highest officials and never
goes among the people to hear their voice. Turn your eyes inward,
look into your own depths, learn first to know yourself! Then you
will understand why you were bound to fall ill; and perhaps, you will
avoid falling ill in future.'
It is thus that psycho-analysis has
sought to educate the ego. But these two discoveries--that the life
of our sexual instincts cannot be wholly tamed, and that mental processes
are in themselves unconscious and only reach the ego and come under
its control through incomplete and untrustworthy perceptions--these
two discoveries amount to a statement that the ego is not master
in its own house. Together they represent the third blow to man's
self-love, what I may call the psychological one. No wonder, then,
that the ego does not look favourably upon psycho-analysis and obstinately
refuses to believe in it.
Probably very few people can have realized
the momentous significance for science and life of the recognition
of unconscious mental processes. It was not psycho-analysis, however,
let us hasten to add, which first took this step. There are famous
philosophers who may be cited as forerunners--above all the great
thinker Schopenhauer, whose unconscious `Will' is equivalent to the
mental instincts of psycho-analysis. It was this same thinker, moreover,
who in words of unforgettable impressiveness admonished mankind of
the importance, still so greatly under-estimated by it, of its sexual
craving. Psycho-analysis has this advantage only, that it has not
affirmed these two propositions which are so distressing to narcissism--the
psychical importance of sexuality and the unconsciousness of mental
life --on an abstract basis, but has demonstrated them in matters
that touch every individual personally and force him to take up some
attitude towards these problems. It is just for this reason, however,
that it brings on itself the aversion and resistances which still
hold back in awe before the great name of the philosopher.
Fantasy, Memory and Reality Testing
Jacob A. Arlow, M.D. (1968)
Reality testing, one of the most important of the functions
of the ego, is relatively easy to define but quite difficult to comprehend.
It is part of a conglomerate of ego functions which include such activities
as perception, memory, object relations, sense of reality, superego,
and the more recently discussed concept of reality constancy (19).
As used in psychoanalysis, reality testing
refers to the ability to distinguish between perceptions and ideas.
It is quite different from the philosopher's concept of the nature
of reality. As defined in analytic terms, emphasis is placed upon
the differentiation between representations of what is external--of
the object world--from representations of what is internal--of the
self or of mental life. The feeling of reality is not necessarily
a part of perceptual experience. It does not have the sense of immediacy
that characterizes consciousness. There is nothing in the quality
of the perceptual experience which makes it apparent at once whether
a mental representation is external or internal, real or unreal. An
additional mental function, perhaps a set of mental functions, have
to be called upon in order to make this decision. This operation has
to be applied to all data registered at that station of mental experience
that we call awareness.
A great deal has already been learned
concerning how the function of reality testing develops but much still
remains to be understood. Reality testing develops gradually. The
early stages of this process are particularly difficult to study.
In addition to the maturation of the essential ego apparatuses, the
vicissitudes of development are very important. All workers in the
field see the development of reality testing as a gradual evolution
in the child from an attitude toward the world which is self-centered,
pleasure seeking, animistic, and magical, to a later capacity to differentiate
between inner fantasy and objective reality (9, 12, 29).
There is yet another dimension to reality
testing. According to Hartmann (20) it consists of the ability to
discern subjective and objective elements in our judgment of reality.
Learning to do this is an unending process. Essentially this is the
principal task which the analyst poses to his patient. He helps the
patient to delineate in his assessment of and response to reality
the contribution made by inner, subjective pressures from the past.
In this paper I hope to demonstrate that how reality is experienced
depends for the most part on the interaction between the perceptions
of the external world and the concomitant effect of unconscious fantasy
The perceptions of reality are sensed
against the background of individual experience. Memory, recording
conflicts, traumata, vicissitudes of the drives and of development
are organized in terms of the pleasure-unpleasure principle into groups
of schemata centering around childhood wishes. These make up the contents
of a continuous stream of fantasy thinking, which is a persistent
concomitant of all mental activity and which exerts an unending influence
on how reality is perceived and responded to.
How can one describe in functional terms
the interplay of these forces? It is as if the perceptual apparatus
of the ego were operating at the same time in two different directions.
One part of it looks outward, responding to the sensory stimuli of
the external world of objects. The other part looks inward, reacting
to a constant stream of inner stimulation. The organized mental representations
of this stream of inner stimulation is what I call fantasy thinking.
It includes fantasies and the memory schemata related to the significant
conflicts and traumatic events of the individual's life. Fantasy thinking
may be conscious or unconscious. It is a constant feature of mental
life. It persists all the time that we are awake and most of the time
we are asleep.
The data or contents of our fantasy
thinking become known to us through the process of introspection.
There is no direct antonym to the word introspection which we could
conveniently juxtapose to it and then apply to the process of perception
of stimuli from the external world. Etymologically exterospection
would be correct but it seems an awkward term. Traditional usage refers
metaphorically to the functional separation of these two concomitant
orientations of perception in terms of the inner eye and the outer
How does the external perceptual apparatus
of the mind function? According to Freud (16) so long as there is
consciousness all external sensory stimuli are passively and indiscriminately
received. He states: '. . . cathectic innervations are sent out and
withdrawn in rapid periodic impulses from within into the completely
pervious system Pcpt. Cs. So long as that system is cathected
in this manner, it receives perceptions (which are accompanied by
consciousness) and passes the excitation on to the unconscious mnemic
systems; but as soon as the cathexis is withdrawn, consciousness is
extinguished and the functioning of the system comes to a standstill.
It is as though the unconscious stretches out feelers, through the
medium of the system Pcpt.-Cs., towards the external world
and hastily with. draws them as soon as they have sampled the excitations
coming from it' (p. 231). In another publication written in the same
year as the one just quoted, Freud (17) returns to the subject but
this time he states that the cathectic energy innervating the perceptual
system originates in the ego. From the context of the two different
quotations it would appear that in the former he was concerned with
the utilization of the perceptual apparatus in the service of the
pleasure dominated unconscious wishes; in the latter he was concerned
with the ego function of judgment achieving mastery over repression
and at the same time achieving independence from the rule of the pleasure
The data of perception are not experienced
in isolation. They are experienced against the background of the individual's
past development and are checked against earlier perceptions and the
memory traces which they have left. Stimuli are selectively perceived
in terms of the mental set operative in the individual at the time.
The mental set is determined both consciously and unconsciously, consciously
by the nature of the task before the individual, unconsciously by
the cathectic level of the dominant unconscious fantasy system. Percepts
become meaningful almost immediately as they are perceived because
they are compared with other data and integrated into memory schemata.
Certain aspects of the development of
this process were carefully studied by Freud (17). He wrote that at
the beginning the essential task of judgment, as far as reality testing
is concerned, is to determine whether something which is present in
the ego as an image can be rediscovered in perception (reality) as
well. The process of reality testing develops this way, he says, because
'all presentations originate from perceptions and are repetitions
of them. Thus originally the mere existence of a presentation was
a guarantee of the reality of what was presented. The antithesis between
subjective and objective does not exist from the first. It only comes
into being from the fact that thinking possesses the capacity to bring
before the mind once more something that has once been perceived,
by reproducing it as a presentation without the external object having
still to be there. The first and immediate aim, therefore, of reality
testing is, not to find an object in real perception which
corresponds to the one presented, but to refind such an object,
to convince oneself that it is still there' (pp. 237-238).
It would seem that this would be a simple
enough task for the mind; but this is far from the fact. As Freud
noted, the reproduction of a perception as an image--in other words,
how we recall parts of our experience--is not always a faithful one;
it can be modified by omissions or by the fusion of a number of elements.
The process of testing a thing's reality must then investigate the
extent of these distortions. If one cannot be sure that the image
(or set of images) that he is trying to rediscover
in the form of a perception (of reality) actually corresponds to the
earlier perceptions which the image supposedly reflects, reality testing
becomes difficult indeed.
The most powerful influence distorting
the image of the past and contributing to the misperception of the
present is the intrusion of unconscious fantasy thinking. During our
busy wakeful life, dominated by the reality principle, we are only
intermittently aware of the persistent intrusion into our conscious
experience of elements of fantasy thinking. Nevertheless the stream
of perceptual data from the external world which passes before the
outer eye is paralleled by a stream of perceptual data from the inner
world which passes before the inner eye. Although Freud wrote often
about the process of exteroception (Pctp.Cs.) he said little
about the so-called endopsychic observer. Perhaps he took it for granted
that psychoanalysts, so fully involved in their own and in their patients'
introspection, required little instruction in this area. His description
of the process of free association as given in the Introductory Lectures
is probably his most definitive statement on the subject. What the
patient does while associating freely on the couch is compared to
a train traveler looking out of the window and reporting as much as
he is able to of the scenes flashing by his view. There is much more
that he notices than he reports but he does the best he can. Free
association in the analytic situation, it should be emphasized, corresponds
to the reporting aspect of the experience. The really significant
part of the analytic situation is the concentration of attention on
the process of introspection, that is, the creation of a set of conditions
that minimize the contribution of the external world and enhance the
emergence of derivatives of the inner world--the world of fantasy
thinking (3, 8).
Because dreams are perhaps the richest
and clearest expression of fantasy thinking and because dreams are
part of the experience of sleep, several authors have linked the emergence
of daydreams, fantasies, and other regressive, visually experienced
phenomena with alterations in the state of consciousness resembling
sleep. Lewin (27) says: 'Psychoanalysts are now aware that subtle
signs of the sleeping state may be intermingled with thinking, particularly
in free association, but in general and in "nature" also,
so as to say, even when there is no conscious somnolence'. He supports
his statement with a quotation from Kubie (24): 'We are never really
totally awake or totally asleep. These are relative and not absolute
terms. Parts of us are asleep in our waking moments and parts of us
are awake in our sleeping moments, and in between lie all the gradations
of states of activity and inactivity.'
One can hardly take issue with Kubie's
statement; however, Lewin's formulation seems to beg the question,
inasmuch as from the outset his statement defines sleep in terms of
dreaming. It does not follow that because when we are asleep, we dream,
that when we dream (or daydream or have other similar, related experiences),
we are asleep. I emphasize this point because clinical experience
demonstrates how daydreaming may intrude upon the conscious experience
of the individual at all levels of wakefulness and somnolence. In
a previous contribution (s) I dealt with the ubiquitous intrusion
of daydreaming activity into conscious experience, under circumstances
which Lewin would say corresponded to the state of 'nature'. Several
clinical experiences were cited from the daily lives of patients.
In some of these experiences while the patients were alert and vigorously
involved in reality oriented activity, their judgment of reality and
their response to it was completely distorted by the intrusion of
an unconscious fantasy. Actually this kind of distortion is one of
the essential features of the neurotic process and of the transference.
Aphoristically we may describe the state of mind in such patients
by stating that while the outer eye was perceiving quite accurately
the sensory stimuli from reality, the inner eye was focused on a fantasy.
The response of the patient was appropriate enough, not in terms of
reality, but in terms of the inner, unconscious fantasy.
This is the approach we use all the time in connection with neurotic
symptoms. We understand our patients' anxiety not in terms of the
realistic situation, but as a misperception of reality in terms which
are appropriate for the contents of the unconscious fantasy. It would
seem difficult to maintain that every time a neurotic patient experiences
a symptom he is undergoing an alteration in the state of consciousness.
In some instances alterations in the state of consciousness do occur,
but they represent the effect of and not the cause for the emergence
of an unconscious fantasy. I have presented material previously describing
how in certain distortions of the sense of time (1), in the deja
vu experience (2), and in states of depersonalization (6), the
state of consciousness and/or the experiencing of reality were altered
in consequence of the defensive needs of the ego resulting from the
pressure of an emerging fantasy. To return to Lewin's statement, it
would seem that it is not the subtle signs of sleep that we perceive
intermingled in our thinking, but the subtle evidence of the intrusion
of fantasy thinking.
These considerations are pertinent to
the initiation of the anxiety signal. When the ego becomes aware of
the threatening development of the danger situation associated with
the emergence of an instinctual demand, it institutes the signal of
anxiety to stimulate the function of defense. How does the ego become
aware of the threatening danger? What data does it use to reach such
a conclusion? My answer would be: from the data of introspection,
from the perception, mostly outside of consciousness, of the contents
of the stream of fantasy thinking. Introspection of fantasy thinking
provides the data leading to the conclusion that a danger may develop
and the individual then begins to feel anxious. In this last instance,
the endopsychic observer (Descarte's res cogitans which Lewin
 has so brilliantly and wittily elucidated for us) acts like an
internal psychoanalyst, observing the stream of fantasy thinking and
making an interpretation for himself before the disturbing material
appears in undisguised, panic-provoking form. The interrelation of
the successive contents in the stream of unconscious fantasies under
those circumstances would resemble that of certain sequences of dreams
with which we are familiar. I refer to those series of dreams where
each one conveys the same instinctual wish, one dream following another,
the manifest content of each dream progressively less disguised and
less distorted than the previous one, until the final dream appears--a
dream with manifest content so distressingly close to the dangerous
unconscious wish that panic develops, sleep is broken off, and the
patient awakens as from a nightmare.
Free association in the psychoanalytic
situation represents an artificial method for tapping samples of the
constantly flowing stream of fantasy activity. There are however natural,
spontaneous sources of information concerning what is contained in
fantasy thought. Children daydream frequently, vividly, and often
report them openly. Many retain this capacity into adult life. Freud
(14) called the primitive, self-centered world of daydreams the individual's
secret rebellion against reality and against the need to renounce
pleasurable instinctual gratification. Masturbation fantasies are
a particularly striking example of vividly experienced daydreaming
associated with instinctual gratification. Creative people are particularly
perceptive of their fantasy thinking. Many retain a capacity for vivid
visual daydreaming to a remarkable degree.
Young children regularly intermingle
their perceptions of reality with wishful fantasy thinking and sometimes
find it hard to distinguish in recollection between what was real
and what was imagined--between what constituted fantasy and what constituted
accurate memory. The intensely visual nature of children's fantasies
endows them with a quality of verisimilitude. As the individual grows
older and reality increases its domain at the expense of the pleasure
principle, visual daydreams and visual memories become fewer. There
are notable exceptions, some of which have been referred to above.
Most adults probably have explicit,
conscious fantasies many times during the day only to forget them
as promptly as they do night dreams--and for the same reasons. The
experience of being an analysand provides the conditions, the training,
and the motivation to take note of the fleeting fantasy thoughts and
to hold them fast, long enough to examine them. The constant inner
stream of fantasy thinking nevertheless produces many derivatives
which present themselves, often unexpectedly, to the inner eye of
introspection. In fleeting thoughts, misperceptions, illusions, metaphors
of speech and action, the analyst can detect the influence of unconscious
fantasy. As I have suggested, the aesthetic effectiveness of metaphor
in literature is derived in large measure from the ability of metaphorical
expression to stimulate affects associated with widely entertained,
communally shared, unconscious fantasies (5). Roheim (31) said that
the mythology of a people is an indicator of their dominant psychological
conflicts. Mythology thus is a culturally organized, institutional
form of communal daydreaming (3). The same is clearly true of many
aspects of religious and artistic experience. A person's favorite
joke or the kind of humor he generally prefers usually leads directly
to the nature of his fantasy thinking inasmuch as every instinctual
fixation is represented at some level of mental life in the form of
a group of associated unconscious fantasies (cf. Ref. 34).
Evidence of the subtle intermingling
of fantasy thinking with the perception of everyday reality may take
the most subtle of forms and may be overlooked if one is not alert
to its operation. Two examples will illustrate what I mean. In a session
during which he was working through certain memories and fantasies
connected with the primal scene, a patient mentioned quite in passing--or
at least so it seemed--that he had seen a former professor of his,
a respected and friendly father. figure. He had wanted to approach
this man and greet him but, for reasons which he could not understand,
felt extremely inhibited and failed to do so. The patient went on
to say: 'Perhaps it was because Professor X was busy at the time putting
on his galoshes. It would be an awkward time to disturb him.' Or another
patient, a woman, one of a set of identical twins whose fantasy thinking
was dominated by impulses of hostility and competition toward her
sibling, impulses which were fought
out in the inner vision of her mind on the intrauterine battlefield.
She reported: 'While I was cleaning out the closet and getting rid
of a lot of junk, I remembered a dream I had the night before'. The
patient went on to relate the dream which concerned an underwater
struggle in a diving bell with a shark which threatened to devour
her. In both patients, reality was metaphorically perceived in terms
of fantasy thinking. In other words, disturbing a man putting on his
galoshes was like interfering with a person having intercourse; emptying
junk out of a closet in reality was in fantasy killing a rival in
a claustrum. The adventitious words describing the realistic setting
in which introspective data are perceived exemplify this process in
daily analytic work. Like the comments which a patient makes about
the form or structure of a dream, these adventitious comments may
be considered part of the inner fantasy. Thus if a patient says: 'As
I stepped into the elevator, or as I entered the door of the building,
I had the following thought', the analyst should be alerted to the
possible intrusion of some fantasy about penetration of the body or
incorporation into it. Similarly if the patient introduces some idea
with a statement: 'While I was in the bus', he may be introducing
thereby a fragment of a fantasy of pregnancy or of being within a
This constant intermingling of fantasy
and perception helps make it clear why memory is so unreliable, especially
memories from childhood, because in childhood the process of intermingling
perception and fantasy proceeds to a very high degree. Klein (22)
and Joseph (21) in recent contributions have called attention to the
many problems concerning the function of memory which remain to be
solved. What is forgotten and what is remembered? What can and what
cannot be recalled? Just where in the therapeutic process do we place
the recollection or retrieval of the memory of a childhood experience?
How does a patient come to have a sense of conviction, a feeling about
the reality of a childhood experience which is reconstituted by way
of reconstruction, reconstruction which utilizes primarily the data
available from screen memories? Both Klein and Joseph, following Hartmann
(20), call attention to the need to redefine some of these problems
in terms of the structural theory. Joseph in particular stresses the
importance of approaching these problems from the point of view of
the defense function of the ego.
In reviewing the early literature of
the subject, I was struck by the fact that there were many more references
to forgetting than to remembering. Sometimes the only reference to
be found under memory was 'See Amnesia'. The juxtaposition of memory
to amnesia was of course a major element in the topographic theory
based, as it was, on the essential dichotomy of mental contents into
what could and could not be remembered. This led to some interesting
formulations which, superficially viewed, seem like amusing paradoxes.
For example, the hysteric whose problem is amnesia suffers mainly
from reminiscences. He cannot recall the important events which shaped
his life, yet his recollections are characterized by a 'wonderful
freshness of memory'.
The resolution of this paradox is contained,
of course, in Freud's early paper on screen memories (13). Like so
many of Freud's ideas, the ideas contained in that paper have to be
rediscovered periodically. If we review that classic paper in the
light of our present knowledge we can understand screen memories as
an exquisite example of the mingling of fantasy with perception and
memory, the raw material for the construction of the screen memories
originating from many periods of the individual's life disguised and
rearranged in keeping with the defensive needs of the ego. The same
principles we understand today operate in the construction of dreams,
fantasies, and in what Kris (23) has called the 'personal myth'. We
can thus amend Freud's original statement to read that the recognition
of how the ego operates in the service of defense tends to
diminish the distinction between memory and fantasy. Freud goes on
to say: 'It may indeed be questioned whether we have any memories
at all from our childhood: memories relating to our childhood
may be all that we possess. Our childhood memories show us our earliest
years not as they were but as they appeared at the later periods when
the memories were aroused. In these periods of arousal ... memories
did not ... emerge; they were formed at that time. And
a number of motives, with no concern for historical accuracy, had
a part in forming them, as well as in the selection of the memories
themselves' (13, p. 322).
In the context of intrapsychic conflict,
the ego integrates drives, defense, memory, fantasy, and superego
in keeping with the principle of multiple function (33). What we think
was real, or what we think really happened, is a combination or intermingling
of fantasy with perception of reality. When memory and perception
offer material which is in consonance with fantasy thinking, the data
are selectively perceived and the memories are selectively recalled
and used as material to serve as a vehicle for the unconscious fantasy.
When we are able to undo the defensive distortion which the ego has
imposed upon the material, we can see that the fantasy contains the
kernel of what really happened. This is not the objective reality
which can be observed by outsiders and validated consensually. This
is almost impossible to recollect because what the child experiences
is at the very moment of experience a complex intermingling of perception
and fantasy. This complex intermingling is what 'really' happened
as far as the individual is concerned. Only through the process of
inference can the analyst sometimes elucidate from the material that
part of the individual's recollection which belongs to objective history,
as it were, as opposed to the patient's personal 'mythological' past.
I would like to illustrate my point
by citing a reconstruction of the past based upon the interpretation
of a fantasy. There is nothing particularly unusual or striking about
this example. Every experienced analyst will recall many similar instances
from his own practice. For purposes of discretion certain details
have been changed and displaced, but the essential features of the
material, namely, the relationship of the interpretation to the data,
has not been altered in any significant way.
This material is taken from the case
of a male adult who spent several years of his early childhood, perhaps
as many as three, possibly four, in his parents' bedroom. Except for
some few peripheral or tangential memories like the sounds of neighbors
quarreling, the patient could remember nothing of the events in the
bedroom. However, his life story, his character formation, the symptoms
which he developed, the nature of the transference, and how he behaved
toward his children during their oedipal phase all bore more than
ample testimony of how deeply he had been affected by this early experience.
He developed into a pseudo-imbecilic
'detective'. He noticed nothing but knew everything. He was constantly
looking but never seeing. What he could not remember, he kept repeating.
In all sorts of 'innocent' ways he managed to stumble upon and interfere
with couples engaged in private activities. A constant trend which
appeared in dreams, fantasies, and sometimes in real life behavior
contained the elements of disturbing a performance or a spectacle
in which a father image was figuring in a prominent and successful
role. His favorite joke was about a famous Shakespearean actor whose
successful performance was ruined by absurd and obscene requests originating
from some obscure member of the audience sitting in the back stalls
of the balcony.
The privacy of the analytic twosome
accordingly was highly consonant, one could say congruent, with elements
in his fantasy life. As analysts we understand that external, realistic
elements which are consonant with fantasy elements are selectively
perceived and seem to have the capacity to intensify the cathectic
pressure of unconscious fantasy. Under these circumstances the fantasies
tend to come to the fore in the sense that they produce more and clearer
mental derivatives or propel the individual toward some form of action.
In this respect their dynamic thrust resembles the role of the day
residue in dream formation. Day residues are selected for inclusion
in dreams not so much because of their neutral, inconspicuous nature
as for the fact that they are congruent with or reminiscent of certain
important fantasies or memory schemata. There is, accordingly, a reciprocal
interplay between reality and fantasy, selective perception on one
side, cathectic intensification on the other. For our pseudo-imbecilic
detective therefore the analytic situation, one could say, was made
During the period when we were working
on the problem of oedipal rivalry as it came up in the transference
and in connection with his son, the patient reported the following
The key to the understanding of the fantasy came in the first associations
which dealt with the theme of reversal of roles, the patient taking
the analyst's role, the analyst becoming the patient. Other associations
concerned the sexualization of the analytic situation, the couch as
a bed, the attractive woman patient as an object of our competitive
rivalry, three people in a room where only two should be, biding one's
time until one gets rid of a rival, how weak and helpless people need
the police in situations where their own physical force is insufficient.
I had a fantasy that I came for my session and headed toward the
couch. You were annoyed with my behavior in the analysis and decided
to terminate treatment. I wanted to go to the couch but you waved
me to the chair and told me that the treatment was over. I objected
violently. I became very angry. I rushed to the couch, laid down and
said I would not budge. You decided that if I did not move you would
call the police to remove me. Your next patient was around. You told
her to wait. You would go on with her as soon as you got rid of me.
In the fantasy you were also frightened. You thought that I could
get away from the police and come back to get you.
By invoking the principle of dream interpretation
concerning opposites, the fantasy could be explored as a reversal. With
the knowledge of the previous material, of the transference situation,
and of the associations, this fantasy could be interpreted first in
terms of the transference and then much more meaningfully as a reconstruction
concerning the past. At the level of transference the patient is angry
and jealous. He wishes to get rid of me but I cling to my possessions.
He will use greater force, throw me out, and claim my position, my office,
and the attractive woman patient as a special prize. As a reconstruction
of the past, the interpretation could be quite precise because of the
unusually rich material. The patient in his parents' bedroom had awakened
from sleep and tried in various ways, or perhaps many times, to get
his father to abandon the bed, hopefully for good. But the father persisted
in returning to his bed and there was very little that the weak and
small oedipus could do. If only he could call the police or perhaps
some criminals. They are stronger, they would get rid of father, take
him away, and the little boy could enjoy mother for himself. Of course
father is strong. He could get away. He would be very angry. He could
return and punish the little boy. (The patient's childhood neurosis
consisted of a fear of criminals who might intrude during the night
and kidnap or injure him.) The interpretation was confirmed at the next
session in a dream which recapitulated all the events mentioned above
and carried the reconstruction further by introducing the element of
relations with the mother and giving her a child.
What can we say about this fantasy and
the reconstruction built on it? What was real in the sense that it actually
happened and what was unreal in the sense that it was only imagined?
Distracting the father, calling him from his bed, a temper tantrum,
perhaps, and the father returning and persisting in possession of his
bed and his mate--these are all events which possibly could have happened
and presumably did happen. The calling of the police (or the robbers)
assuredly did not happen.
The appreciation of the role of police or the significance of kidnaping
may even date from a later period. Whether at any time the patient overtly
expressed to his mother the classical oedipal wishes is hard to say.
Probably he did. Yet in the fantasy, all elements are given equal weight
in a well-integrated story that seems consistent, logical, and realistic,
if not probable. The point is that the intermingling of real events,
real perceptions with the elements of fantasy and wishful thinking
must correspond quite closely to what the patient actually experienced
as a child at the time. External perception and internal fantasy were
intermingled at the time of the experience and together they formed
the reality which to the patient was the record of his past. It was
upon this confused fantasy thinking, which was dynamically effective
in influencing so many aspects of his life, that the inner eye of
the patient remained consistently focused.
This is what I think is the proper understanding
of the concept 'psychic reality'. It is not a fantasy that is taken
for the real truth, for an actual event, but the 'real' recollection
of a psychic event with its mixture of fact and fantasy. This becomes
the dynamic reality for the patient under the influence of the traumatic
events which live on in his inner fantasy. Subsequent events and perceptions
of reality are selectively organized into memory schema consonant with
inner fantasy thinking.
To recapitulate, in keeping with the synthetic
function of the ego and the principle of multiple function, the traumatic
events in the individual's life and the pathogenic conflicts that grow
out of them are worked over defensively by the ego and incorporated
into a scheme of memories and patterns of fantasy. In one part of the
mind the inner eye, as it were, remains focused on an inner stream of
fantasy thought in which the traumatic memories are retained in a disguised
form. Freud conjectured that the delusion owes its convincing power
to the element of historical truth which it contains and which it inserts
in place of the rejected reality. It would follow, he added, that what
pertains to hysteria would also apply to delusions; namely, that those
who are subject to them are suffering from their own recollections.
What I have tried to demonstrate in this paper is that this is a general
principle of mental life. The traumatic events of the past become part
of fantasy thinking and as such exert a never-ending dynamic effect,
occasionally striking, sometimes less so, on our responses to and appreciation
One of the measures of the involvement
of a person in the neurotic process and his traumatic past can be taken
from the extent to which his mental functioning is pulled toward concentrating
on the inner stream of fantasy thinking in competition with realistic
daytime preoccupations. This can be clearly seen in fetishists and in
some former fetishists who develop unusual responses to the perception
of reality. The fetishist suffers from the memory of a traumatic perception,
a confrontation with the sight of the penisless female genital at a
time when he was particularly vulnerable to castration anxiety. He seems
unable to get over it. Around the traumatic events he weaves a wish-fulfilling,
reality-denying fantasy, the illusion of the woman with a phallus. But
it does not seem to help. Before his mind's eye, even through the compensating
fantasy, he continues to see, however dimly, the original perceptions
of the female genital proclaiming the danger of castration. Looking
at reality becomes a hazard, for at any moment he fears he may encounter
a set of perceptions identical with those that precipitated the original
In some individuals this leads to a peculiar
relationship to reality in general (7) because they make an unconscious
equation of reality with the female genital (25) and they treat the
former the way the fetishist treats the latter. They refuse to face
it. They cannot take a really good look at anything. This tendency influences
them in the direction of impracticality and propels them into unrealistic
behavior in many areas of their lives. During analytic sessions it is
hard for them to look at their productions or at the analyst's interpretations.
At best they give them only a fleeting glance. In presenting a problem
such patients tend to seize upon some insignificant, minor detail, tangential
and peripheral to the heart of the matter. Although at one level they
clearly perceive the true nature, the real nature of the problem, at
another level they persist in 'beating around the bush'. During the
analysis they have a set of mannerisms involving their eyes. Either
they keep them closed, shield them with their hands, rub them, or blink
continually throughout the session. In speaking, they express themselves
in the conditional voice, for example--It seems, I suppose, Perhaps,
Maybe, Could it be that?, etc. Nothing is definitely asserted. The central
reality has to be obscured and denied, but in the manner of the fetishist,
these patients have to fasten their attention on some distracting, peripheral,
reassuring perception that corresponds to the female phallus as envisaged
in their inner fantasy. A variation of these trends may be seen in individuals
who are petty liars, who have a compulsive need to embellish, adorn,
and obscure reality.
From a study of these unusual character
traits one can see how painful events are woven into fantasy thinking
and how persistent focusing on these elements in the stream of fantasy
thought leads the individual to scan the data of perception of reality
to discover reassuring evidence of the validity of the solution which
he arrived at in fantasy. Under the pressure of unconscious wishes and
in keeping with the need to fend off anxiety, the perceptual apparatus
of the ego is oriented and alerted to incorporate, integrate, correlate,
deny, or misinterpret the data of perception.
The interplay between unconscious wishes,
defense, and perception may serve as a transition to the next point
concerning the psychology of moods. Growing as they do out of the vicissitudes
of individual experience, the memory schemata of each person are typical
and idiosyncratic. The memory patterns which are important in psychoanalytic
treatment are grouped together according to the pleasure-unpleasure
principle and are reactivated in the context of emerging conflicts over
instinctual wishes. I referred earlier to the capacity of external perceptions
to intensify the cathectic pressure of fantasy. Thus it is easy to see
how moods may be evoked by perceptions of reality in the sense that
real experience stimulates the emergence of specific memories and systems
Most often, but not always, the patient is aware of which event it was
that precipitated or provoked his mood. For the duration of the mood
the thoughts that come to mind are in consonance with the fantasy that
gave rise to it. No other thoughts seem to present themselves to awareness.
Opposing thoughts are brushed aside and the perceptions of the external
world are selectively attended to and interpreted in terms of the mood.
During analytic treatment, we are in a
position to correlate the mood with the fantasy whose content is appropriate
to the affects, thoughts, and perceptions characteristic of that specific
mood. It is the pervasive quality of the fantasy which establishes the
nature of the mood and its cathectic potential perpetuates its existence.
I have illustrated this point with the material from a patient who was
in a depressed mood (5). His realistic perceptions--breakfast, birthday,
and oranges--intensified the cathexis of a latent cannibalistic fantasy.
The mood, thoughts, and activities and the response to reality were
in keeping with the contents of the stream of fantasy thoughts.
But what can we say about moods whose
appearance cannot be traced to any specific event or external perception?
The evocation of such moods I would suggest might still be related to
some perception of external reality, to some sensory stimulus which
found registration outside of consciousness. Clinical experience
and experimental studies offer abundant proof of Freud's idea that while
the perceptual system is functioning it is completely pervious to external
stimuli. Potzl (30), Fisher (10, 11), and others have demonstrated conclusively
that even stimuli which are subliminal in intensity may find registration
outside of consciousness. It seems highly plausible that, like the day
residue of a dream, percepts registered outside of awareness may dynamically
affect fantasy thinking to the end that a fantasy is cathected, stimulating
emergence of the mood.
Finally, another question must be raised. What is the form of fantasy
thinking? How highly structured is it? Some authors, for example,
have rejected the suggestion that unconscious fantasies may have a
complicated organization or contain elements of imagery that are visually
representable. My own experience and thinking have led me to the conclusion
that for the most part fantasy thinking has a quasi-visual nature.
It is easily transformed and transformable into visual representations.
At first I thought of this relationship in terms that were uncomfortably
static. In connection with an attempt to demonstrate how reality is
experienced in terms of inner fantasy needs, I wrote:
There is a hierarchy in the fantasy life of each individual,
a hierarchy which reflects the vicissitudes of individual experience
as well as the influence of psychic differentiation and ego development?
To use a very static analogy for a highly dynamic state of affairs,
we may say that unconscious fantasies have a systematic relation to
each other. Fantasies are grouped around certain basic instinctual
wishes, and such a group is composed of different versions or different
editions of attempts to resolve the intrapsychic conflict over these
wishes. Each version corresponds to a different 'psychic moment' in
the history of the individual's development. It expresses the forces
at play at a particular time in the person's life when the ego integrated
the demands of the instinctual wishes in keeping with its growing
adaptive and defensive responsibilities. To continue with a static
analogy, we may conceive of the interrelationship between unconscious
fantasies in terms of a series of superimposed photographic transparencies
in which at different times and under different psychic conditions
one or more of these organized images may be projected and brought
into focus (3, p. 377)
The expression 'hierarchy of fantasies' is meant to convey the idea
that instinctual derivations operate throughout life in the form of
fantasies, usually unconscious. The organization of these fantasies
takes shape early in life and persists in this form with only minor
variations throughout life. To borrow in analogy from literature,
one could say the plot line of the fantasy remains the same although
the characters and the situation may vary.
A few years later it occurred to me
that the interaction between fantasy thinking and reality could be
expressed illustra tively through the use of a visual model. I compared
this aspect of the operation of the mind to the effect that could
be obtained if two motion picture projectors were to flash a continuous
series of images simultaneously but from opposite sides onto a translucent
screen. Here I have altered the analogy in order to carry it further.
There are two centers of perceptual input, introspection and exterospection,
supplying data from the inner eye and data from the outer eye. It
is the function of a third agency of the ego, however, to integrate,
correlate, judge, and discard the competing data of perceptual experience.
All of these factors influence the final judgment as to what is real
and what is unreal. In addition I have tried to make room in my conceptualization
for the infinite complexity of the relationship between the outer
world of perception and the inner world of thought.
The predominant role of vision in the
totality of human perception can hardly be overstressed. Supposedly
eighty percent of learning is affected through vision. There is a
vast literature of psychological studies of visual perception. In
those areas which are of particular interest to psychoanalysts, namely,
the development and alteration of mental functions under the impact
of intrapsychic conflict, the study of visual experience has always
been considered to be of special importance. Many, perhaps most, of
the models of the psychic apparatus which Freud devised to illustrate
his concepts of the functioning of the mind were either visually representable
or based on analogies either to optical instruments or to contraptions
which could somehow record experience in visual form. In most of these
models he discussed perception in terms that were primarily, if not
exclusively, applicable to visual perception, although it is always
clear that he had no intention of treating the two as if they were
identical. It is possible that this resulted from the fact that his
earlier models were devised to integrate the data derived mostly from
the study of the psychology of dreams and of the neuroses. In the
case of the former, he was concerned with the problem of why the sleep-time
hallucinations which we call dreams are almost exclusively visual
in nature. In the case of the neuroses, he was impressed by the etiological
significance of memories and fantasies and of the vivid visual form
in which they are recalled. According to Freud, the closer a thought
or fantasy is to the pleasure-dominated unconscious instinctual tendencies,
the greater the possibility that
it will be represented mentally in a visual form (15).
The element of visual representability
of fantasy thinking has an important bearing on psychoanalytic technique.
In his 1966 Nunberg lecture (27), and in a number of as yet unpublished
works which I have been privileged to read, Lewin refers to the pictorial
nature of the individual's store of memories. In connection with the
patient's response to a construction he says: 'It is as if the analysand
was trying to match the construction with a picture of his own'. Each
analyst has a different capacity for visual memory or fantasy representation.
But following Lewin, I think it is correct to say that some form of
visual thinking occurs in the analyst's mind as he thinks along with
his patient's free associations. The joint search by patient and analyst
for the picture of the patent's past is a reciprocal process. In a
sense, we dream along with our patients, supplying at first data from
our own store of images in order to objectify the patient's memory
into some sort of picture. We then furnish this picture to the analysand
who responds with further memories, associations, and fantasies; that
is, we stimulate him to respond with a picture of his own. In this
way the analyst's reconstruction comes to be composed more and more
out of the materials presented by the patient until we finally get
a picture that is trustworthy and in all essentials complete.
The successfully analyzed patient stands
in contrast to the hero of Antonioni's poetic motion picture, Blow
Up. The photographer hero has witnessed and recorded a traumatic event,
a sadistic conceptualization of the primal scene. His life has been
altered thereby but out of the vast storehouse of his (memory) pictures
he can no longer retrieve the one that contains the record of the
trauma. Not being able to produce the photograph is the analogue of
being unable to recall the traumatic event. Thus the hero in Blow
Up becomes a kind of twentieth century Everyman traumatized in childhood.
He has lost his connection with his past and has, in his hand; only
the fragment of the experience, a fragment out of context, enlarged
to the point of unreality. Is it memory or fantasy? Without confirmatory
evidence he begins to doubt his own reality. Only through psychoanalysis
can the picture be restored and the individual be reintegrated with
his past. In this way he comes to appreciate the connection between
fantasy, memory, and reality.
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