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Books, Part XXXVII
The Intrepretation of Dreams
Sigmund Frued (1899)
Chapter VII- The Psychology of the Dream Processes (pp. 509-32)
Among the dreams which have been reported to me by other people, there is one which has special claims upon our attention at this point. It was told to me by a woman patient who had herself heard it in a lecture on dreams: its actual source is still unknown to me. Its content made an impression on the lady, however, and she proceeded to 're-dream' it, that is, to repeat some of its elements in a dream of her own, so that, by taking it over in this way, she might express her agreement with it on one particular point.
The preliminaries to this model dream were as follows. A father had been watching beside his child's sick-bed for days and nights on end. After the child had died, he went into the next room to lie down, but left the door open so that he could see from his bedroom into the room in which his child's body was laid out, with tall candles standing round it. An old man had been engaged to keep watch over it, and sat beside the body murmuring prayers. After a few hours' sleep, the father had a
dream that his child was standing beside his bed, caught him by the arm and whispered to him reproachfully: `Father, don't you see I'm burning? He woke up, noticed a bright glare of light from the next room, hurried into it and found that the old watchman had dropped off to sleep and that the wrappings and one of the arms of his beloved child's dead body had been burned by a lighted candle that had fallen on them.
The explanation of this moving dream is simple enough and, so my patient told me, was correctly given by the lecturer. The glare of light shone through the open door into the sleeping man's eyes and led him to the conclusion which he would have arrived at if he had been awake, namely that a candle had fallen over and set something alight in the neighbourhood of the body.
It is even possible that he had felt some concern when he went to sleep as to whether the old man might not be incompetent to carry out his task.
Nor have I any changes to suggest in this interpretation except to add that the content of the dream must have been overdetermined and that the words spoken by the child must have been made up of words which he had actually spoken in his lifetime and which were connected with important events in the father's mind. For instance, `I'm burning' may have been spoken during the fever of the child's last illness, and `Father, don't you see? may have been derived from some other highly emotional situation of which we are in ignorance.
But, having recognized that the dream was a process with a meaning, and that it can be inserted into the chain of the dreamer's psychical experiences, we may still wonder why it was that a dream occurred at all in such circumstances, when the most rapid possible awakening was called for. And here we shall observe that this dream, too, contained the fulfilment of a wish. The dead child behaved in the dream like a living one: he himself warned his father, came to his bed, and caught him by the arm, just as he had probably done on the occasion from the memory of which the first part of the child's words in the dream were derived. For the sake of the fulfilment of this wish the father prolonged his sleep by one moment. The dream was preferred to a waking reflection because it was able to show the child as once more alive. If the father had woken up first and then made the inference that led him to go into the next room, he would, as it were, have shortened his child's life by that moment of time.
There can be no doubt what the peculiar feature is which attracts our interest to this brief dream. Hitherto we have been principally concerned with the secret meaning of dreams and the method of discovering it and with the means employed by the dream-work for concealing it. The problems of dreaminterpretation have hitherto occupied the centre of the picture. And now we come upon a dream which raises no problem of interpretation and the meaning of which is obvious, but which, as we see, nevertheless retains the essential characteristics that differentiate dreams so strikingly from waking life and consequently call for explanation. It is only after we have disposed of everything that has to do with the work of interpretation that we can begin to realize the incompleteness of our psychology of dreams.
But before starting off along this new path, it will be well to pause and look around, to see whether in the course of our journey up to this point we have overlooked anything of importance. For it must be clearly understood that the easy and agreeable portion of our journey lies behind us. Hitherto, unless I am greatly mistaken, all the paths along which we have travelled have led us towards the light--towards elucidation and fuller understanding. But as soon as we endeavour to penetrate more deeply into the mental process involved in dreaming, every path will end in darkness. There is no possibility of explaining dreams as a psychical process, since to explain a thing means to trace it back to something already known, and there is at the present time no established psychological knowledge under which we could subsume what the psychological examination of dreams enables us to infer as a basis for their explanation. On the contrary, we shall be obliged to set up a number of fresh hypotheses which touch tentatively upon the structure of the apparatus of the mind and upon the play of forces operating in it. We must be careful, however, not to pursue these hypotheses too far beyond their first logical links, or their value will be lost in uncertainties. Even if we make no false inferences and take all the logical possibilities into account, the probable incompleteness of our premises threatens to bring our calculation to a complete miscarriage. No conclusions upon the construction and working methods of the mental instrument can be arrived at or at least fully proved from even the most painstaking investigation of dreams or of any other mental function taken in isolation. To achieve this result, it will be necessary to correlate all the established implications derived from a comparative study of a whole series of such functions. Thus the psychological hypotheses to which we are led by an analysis of the processes of dreaming must be left, as it were, in suspense, until they can be related to the findings of other enquiries which seek to approach the kernel of the same problem from another angle.
A. The Forgetting of Dreams
I suggest, therefore, that we should first turn to a topic that raises a difficulty which we have not hitherto considered but which is nevertheless capable of cutting the ground from under all our efforts at interpreting dreams. It has been objected on more than one occasion that we have in fact no knowledge of the dreams that we set out to interpret, or, speaking more correctly, that we have no guarantee that we know them as they actually occurred.
In the first place, what we remember of a dream and what we exercise our interpretative arts upon has been mutilated by the untrustworthiness of our memory, which seems quite especially incapable of retaining a dream and may well have lost precisely the most important parts of its content. It quite frequently happens that when we seek to turn our attention to one of our dreams we find ourselves regretting the fact that, though we dreamt far more, we can remember nothing but a single fragment which is itself recollected with peculiar uncertainty.
Secondly, there is every reason to suspect that our memory of dreams is not only fragmentary but positively inaccurate and falsified. On the one hand it may be doubted whether what we dreamt was really as disconnected and hazy as our recollection of it; and on the other hand it may also be doubted whether a dream was really as connected as it is in the account we give of it, whether in attempting to reproduce it we do not fill in what was never there, or what has been forgotten, with new and arbitrarily selected material, whether we do not add embellishments and trimmings and round it off so that there is no possibility of deciding what its original content may have been.
Indeed one author, Spitta (1882, ),1 goes to the point of suggesting that in so far as a dream shows any kind of order or coherence, these qualities are only introduced into it when we try to recall it to mind. [Cf. p. 47.] Thus there seems to be a danger that the very thing whose value we have undertaken to assess may slip completely through our fingers.
Hitherto in interpreting dreams we have disregarded such warnings. On the contrary, we have accepted it as being just as important to interpret the smallest, least conspicuous and most uncertain constituents of the content of dreams as those that are most clearly and certainly preserved. The dream of Irma's injection contained the phrase `I at once called in Dr. M.' [p. 111]; and we assumed that even this detail would not have found its way into the dream unless it had had some particular origin. It was thus that we came upon the story of the unfortunate patient to whose bedside I had `at once' called in my senior colleague. In the apparently absurd dream which treated the difference between 51 and 56 as a negligible quantity, the number 51 was mentioned several times. [See p. 435.] Instead of regarding this as a matter of course or as something indifferent, we inferred from it that there was a second line of thought in the latent content of the dream leading to the number 51; and along this track we arrived at my fears of 51 years being the limit of my life, in glaring contrast to the dream's dominant train of thought which was lavish in its boasts of a long life. In the `Non vixit' dream [p. 421 ff.] there was an inconspicuous interpolation which I overlooked at first: `As P. failed to understand him, Fl. asked me', etc. When the interpretation was held up, I went back to these words and it was they that led me on to the childhood phantasy which turned out to be an intermediate nodal point in the dream-thoughts. [See p. 483 f.] This was arrived at by way of the lines:
Rarely have you understood me, and rarely too have I understood you.
Not until we both found ourselves in the mud did we promptly understand each other.
Heine, Buch der Lieder, `Die Heimkehr', LXXVIII.
Examples could be found in every analysis to show that precisely the most trivial elements of a dream are indispensable to its interpretation and that the work in hand is held up if attention is not paid to these elements until too late. We have attached no less importance in interpreting dreams to every shade of the form of words in which they were laid before us. And even when it happened that the text of the dream as we had it was meaningless or inadequate--as though the effort to give a correct account of it had been unsuccessful--we have taken this defect into account as well. In short, we have treated as Holy Writ what previous writers have regarded as an arbitrary improvisation, hurriedly patched together in the embarrassment of the moment. This contradiction stands in need of an explanation.
The explanation is in our favour, though without putting the other writers in the wrong. In the light of our newly-won understanding of the origin of dreams the contradiction disappears completely. It is true that we distort dreams in attempting to reproduce them; here we find at work once more the process which we have described as the secondary (and often ill-conceived) revision of the dream by the agency which carries out normal thinking [p. 488 fl.]. But this distortion is itself no more than a part of the revision to which the dream-thoughts are regularly subjected as a result of the dream-censorship. The other writers have at this point noticed or suspected the part of dream-distortion which operates manifestly; we are less interested, since we know that a much more far-reaching process of distortion, though a less obvious one, has already developed the dream out of the hidden dream-thoughts. The only mistake made by previous writers has been in supposing that the modification of the dream in the course of being remembered and put into words is an arbitrary one and cannot be further resolved and that it is therefore calculated to give us a misleading picture of the dream. They have underestimated the extent to which psychical events are determined. There is nothing arbitrary about them. It can be shown quite generally that if an element is left undetermined by one train of thought, its determination is immediately effected by a second one. For instance, I may try to think of a number arbitrarily. But this is impossible: the number that occurs to me will be unambiguously and necessarily determined by thoughts of mine, though they may be remote from my immediate intention. The modifications to which dreams are submitted under the editorship of waking life are just as little arbitrary. They are associatively linked to the material which they replace, and serve to show us the way to 'that material, which may in its turn be a substitute for something else.
In analysing the dreams of my patients I sometimes put this assertion to the following test, which has never failed me. If the first account given me by a patient of a dream is too hard to follow I ask him to repeat it. In doing so he rarely uses the same words. But the parts of the dream which he describes in different terms are by that fact revealed to me as the weak spot in the dream's disguise: they serve my purpose just as Hagen's was served by the embroidered mark on Siegfried's cloak. That is the point at which the interpretation of the dream can be started. My request to the patient to repeat his account of the dream has warned him that I was proposing to take special pains in solving it; under pressure of the resistance, therefore, he hastily covers the weak spots in the dream's disguise by replacing any expressions that threaten to betray its meaning by other less revealing ones. In this way he draws my attention to the expression which he has dropped out. The trouble taken by the dreamer in preventing the solution of the dream gives me a basis for estimating the care with which its cloak has been woven.
Previous writers have had less justification in devoting so much space to the doubt with which our judgement receives accounts of dreams. For this doubt has no intellectual warrant. There is in general no guarantee of the correctness of our memory; and yet we yield to the compulsion to attach belief to its data far more often than is objectively justified. Doubt whether a dream or certain of its details have been correctly reported is once more a derivative of the dream-censorship, of resistance to the penetration of the dream-thoughts into consciousness. This resistance has not been exhausted even by the displacements and substitutions it has brought about; it persists in the form of doubt attaching to the material which has been allowed through. We are especially inclined to misunderstand this doubt since it is careful never to attack the more intense elements of a dream but only the weak and indistinct ones. As we already know, however, a complete reversal of all psychical values takes place between the dream-thoughts and the dream [p. 330]. Distortion is only made possible by a withdrawal of psychical value; it habitually expresses itself by that means and is occasionally content to require nothing more. If, then, an indistinct element of a dream's content is in addition attacked by doubt, we have a sure indication that we are dealing with a comparatively direct derivative of one of the proscribed dreamthoughts. The state of things is what it was after some sweeping revolution in one of the republics of antiquity or the Renaissance. The noble and powerful families which had previously dominated the scene were sent into exile and all the high offices were filled by newcomers. Only the most impoverished and powerless members of the vanquished families, or their remote dependants, were allowed to remain in the city; and even so they did not enjoy full civic rights and were viewed with distrust. The distrust in this analogy corresponds to the doubt in the case we are considering. That is why in analysing a dream I insist that the whole scale of estimates of certainty shall be abandoned and that the faintest possibility that something of this or that sort may have occurred in the dream shall be treated as complete certainty. In tracing any element of a dream it will be found that unless this attitude is firmly adopted the analysis will come to a standstill. If any doubt is thrown upon the value of the element in question, the psychical result in the patient is that none of the involuntary ideas underlying that element comes into his head. This result is not a self-evident one. It would not make nonsense if someone were to say: `I don't know for certain whether such and such a thing came into the dream, but here is what occurs to me in connection with it.' But in fact no one ever does say this; and it is precisely the fact that doubt produces this interrupting effect upon an analysis that reveals it as a derivative and tool of psychical resistance. Psychoanalysis is justly suspicious. One of its rules is that whatever interrupts the progress of analytic work is a resistance."
The forgetting of dreams, too, remains inexplicable unless the power of the psychical censorship is taken into account. In a number of cases the feeling of having dreamt a great deal during the night and of only having retained a little of it may in fact have some other meaning, such as that the dream-work has been perceptibly proceeding all through the night but has only left a short dream behind. [Cf. pp. 279 f., 489, and 576.] It is no doubt true that we forget dreams more and more as time passes after waking; we often forget them in spite of the most painstaking efforts to recall them. But I am of opinion that the extent of this forgetting is as a rule over-estimated; and there is a similar over-estimation of the extent to which the gaps in a dream limit our knowledge of it. It is often possible by means of analysis to restore all that has been lost by the forgetting of
the dream's content; at least, in quite a number of cases one can reconstruct from a single remaining fragment not, it is true, the dream--which is in any case a matter of no importance--but all the dream-thoughts. This demands a certain amount of attention and self-discipline in carrying out the analysis; that is all but it shows that there was no lack of a hostile [i.e. resistant] purpose at work in the forgetting of the dream.
The proposition laid down in these peremptory terms--`whatever interrupts the progress of analytic work is a resistance'--is easily open to misunderstanding. It is of course only to be taken as a technical rule, as a warning to analysts. It cannot be disputed that in the course of an analysis various events may occur the responsibility for which cannot be laid upon the patient's intentions. His father may die without his having murdered him; or a war may break out which brings the analysis to an end. But behind its obvious exaggeration the proposition is asserting something both true and new. Even if the interrupting event is a real one and independent of the patient, it often depends on him how great an interruption it causes; and resistance shows itself unmistakably in the readiness with which he accepts an occurrence of this kind or the exaggerated use which he makes of it.
Convincing evidence of the fact that the forgetting of dreams is tendentious and serves the purpose of resistance is afforded when it is possible to observe in analyses a preliminary stage of forgetting. It not infrequently happens that in the middle of the work of interpretation an omitted portion of the dream comes to light and is described as having been forgotten till that moment. Now a part of a dream that has been rescued from oblivion in this way is invariably the most important part; it always lies on the shortest road to the dream's solution and has for that reason been exposed to resistance more than any other part. Among the specimen dreams scattered through this volume, there is one in which a part of its content was added like this as an afterthought., It is the travel dream in which I revenged myself on two disagreeable fellow-travellers and which I had to leave almost uninterpreted on account of its gross indecency. [See p. 455 fl.] The omitted portion ran as follows: `I said [in English], referring to one of Schiller's works: "It is from . . ." but, noticing the mistake, I corrected myself:"It is by . . ." "Yes", the man commented to his sister, "he said that right."
Self-corrections in dreams, which seem so marvellous to some writers, need not occupy our attention. I will indicate instead the recollection which served as the model for my verbal error in this dream. When I was nineteen years old I visited England for the first time and spent a whole day on the shore of the Irish Sea. I naturally revelled in the opportunity of collecting the marine animals left behind by the tide and I was occupied with a starfish--the words `Hollthurn' and 'holothurians [sea-slugs]' occurred at the beginning of the dream--when a charming little girl came up to me and said: `Is it a starfish? Is it alive?' `Yes,' I replied, `he is alive', and at once, embarrassed at my mistake, repeated the sentence correctly. The dream replaced the verbal error which I then made by another into which a German is equally liable to fall. 'Das Buch ist von Schiller' should be translated not with a `from' but with a `by'. After all that we have heard of the purposes of the dream-work and its reckless choice of methods for attaining them, we shall not be surprised to hear that it effected this replacement because of the magnificent piece of condensation that was made possible by the identity of sound of the English `from' and the German adjective 'fromm' ['pious']. But how did my blameless memory of the sea-shore come to be in the dream? It served as the most innocent possible example of my using a word indicating gender or sex in the wrong place-of my bringing in sex (the word `he') where it did not belong. This, incidentally, was one of the keys to the solution of the dream. No one who has heard, furthermore, the origin attributed to the title of Clerk-Maxwell's `Matter and Motion' [mentioned in the dream, p. 456] will have any difficulty in filling in the gaps: Moliere's 'Le Malade Imaginaire'-'La matiere est-elle laudable?''--A motion of the bowels.
Moreover I am in a position to offer an ocular demonstration of the fact that the forgetting of dreams is to a great extent a product of resistance. One of my patients will tell me he has had a dream but has forgotten every trace of it: it is therefore just as though it had never happened. We proceed with our work. I come up against a resistance; I therefore explain something to the patient and help him by encouragement and pressure to come to terms with some disagreeable thought. Hardly have I succeeded in this than he exclaims: `Now I remember what it was I dreamt.' The same resistance which interfered with our work that day also made him forget the dream. By overcoming this resistance I have recalled the dream to his memory.
In just the same way, when a patient reaches some particular point in his work, he may be able to remember a dream which he had dreamt three or four or even more days before and which had hitherto remained forgotten.
Psycho-analytic experience has provided us with yet an other proof that the forgetting of dreams depends far more upon resistance than upon the fact, stressed by the authorities, that the waking and sleeping states are alien to each other [p. 45]. It not infrequently happens to me, as well as to other analysts and to patients under treatment, that, having been woken up, as one might say, by a dream, I immediately afterwards, and in full possession of my intellectual powers, set about interpreting it. In such cases I have often refused to rest till I have arrived at a complete understanding of the dream; yet it has sometimes been my experience that after finally waking up in the morning I have entirely forgotten both my interpretative activity and the content of the dream, though knowing that I have had a dream and interpreted it.' It happens far more often that the dream draws the findings of my interpretative activity back with it into oblivion than that my intellectual activity succeeds in preserving the dream in my memory. Yet there is no such psychical gulf between my interpretative activity and my waking thoughts as the authorities suppose to account for the forgetting of dreams.
Morton Prince (1910) has objected to my explanation of the forgetting of dreams on the ground that that forgetting is only a special case of the amnesia attaching to dissociated mental states, that it is impossible to extend my explanation of this special amnesia to other types and that my explanation is consequently devoid of value even for its immediate purpose. His readers are thus reminded that in the course of all his descriptions of these dissociated states he has never attempted to discover a dynamic explanation of such phenomena. If he had, he would inevitably have found that repression (or, more precisely, the resistance created by it) is the cause both of the dissociations and of the amnesia attaching to their psychical content.
An observation which I have been able to make in the course of preparing this manuscript has shown me that dreams are no more forgotten than other mental acts and can be compared, by no means to their disadvantage, with other mental functions in respect of their retention in the memory. I had kept records of a large number of my own dreams which for one reason or another I had not been able to interpret completely at the time or had left entirely uninterpreted. And now, between one and two years later, I have attempted to interpret some of them for the purpose of obtaining more material in illustration of my views. These attempts have been successful in every instance; indeed the interpretation may be said to have proceeded more easily after this long interval than it did at the time when the dream was a recent experience. A possible explanation of this is that in the meantime I have overcome some of the internal resistances which previously obstructed me. When making these subsequent interpretations I have compared the dream-thoughts that I elicited at the time of the dream with the present, usually far more copious, yield, and I have always found that the old ones are included among the new. My astonishment at this was quickly halted by the reflection that I had long been in the habit of getting my patients, who sometimes tell me dreams dating from earlier years, to interpret them--by the same procedure and with the same success-as though they had dreamt them the night before. When I come to discuss anxiety-dreams I shall give two examples of postponed interpretations like these. [See p. 583 fl.] I was led into making my first experiment of this kind by the justifiable expectation that in this as in other respects dreams would behave like neurotic symptoms. When I treat a psychoneurotic--a hysteric, let us say--by psycho-analysis, I am obliged to arrive at an explanation for the earliest and long since vanished symptoms of his illness no less than for the contemporary ones which brought him to me for treatment; and I actually find the earlier problem easier to solve than the immediate one. As long ago as in 1895 I was able to give an explanation in Studies on Hysteria [Breuer and Freud, 1895 (Frau Cacilie M., in Case History V)] of the first hysterical attack which a woman of over forty had had in her fifteenth
And here I will mention a number of further, somewhat disconnected, points on the subject of interpreting dreams, which may perhaps help to give readers their bearings should they feel inclined to check my statements by subsequent work upon their own dreams.
No one should expect that an interpretation of his dreams will fall into his lap like manna from the skies. Practice is needed even for perceiving endoptic phenomena or other sensa-
tions from which our attention is normally withheld; and this is so even though there is no psychical motive fighting against such perceptions. It is decidedly more difficult to get hold of `involuntary ideas'. Anyone who seeks to do so must familiarize himself with the expectations raised in the present volume and must, in accordance with the rules laid down in it, endeavour during the work to refrain from any criticism, any parti pris, and any emotional or intellectual bias. He must bear in mind Claude Bernard's advice to experimenters in a physiological laboratory: 'travailler comme une bete'--he must work, that is, with as much persistence as an animal and with as much disregard of the result. If this advice is followed, the task will no longer be a hard one.
The interpretation of a dream cannot always be accomplished at a single sitting. When we have followed a chain of associations, it not infrequently happens that we feel our capacity exhausted; nothing more is to be learnt from the dream that day. The wisest plan then is to break off and resume our work another day: another part of the dream's content may then attract our attention and give us access to another stratum of dream-thoughts. This procedure might be described as `fractional' dream-interpretation.
It is only with the greatest difficulty that the beginner in the business of interpreting dreams can be persuaded that his task is not at an end when he has a complete interpretation in his hands--an interpretation which makes sense, is coherent and throws light upon every element of the dream's content. For the same dream may perhaps have another interpretation as well, an 'over-interpretation', which has escaped him. It is, indeed, not easy to form any conception of the abundance of the unconscious trains of thought, all striving to find expression, which are active in our minds. Nor is it easy to credit the skill shown by the dream-work in always hitting upon forms of expression that can bear several meanings--like the Little Tailor in the fairy story who hit seven flies at a blow. My readers will always be inclined to accuse me of introducing an unnecessary amount of ingenuity into my interpretations; but actual experience would teach them better. [See p. 297 f. n.]
On the other hand, I cannot confirm the opinion, first stated by Silberer [e.g. 1914, Part II, Section 5], that all dreams (or many dreams, or certain classes of dreams) require two different interpretations, which are even stated to bear a fixed relation to each other. One of these interpretations, which Silberer calls the 'psycho-analytic' one, is said to give the dream some meaning or other, usually of an infantile-sexual kind; the other and more important interpretation, to which he gives the name of `anagogic', is said to reveal the more serious thoughts, often of profound import, which the dream-work has taken as its material. Silberer has not given evidence in support of this opinion by reporting a series of dreams analysed in the two directions. And I must object that the alleged fact is nonexistent. In spite of what he says, the majority of dreams require no `over-interpretation' and, more particularly, are insusceptible to an anagogic interpretation. As in the case of many other theories put forward in recent years, it is impossible to overlook the fact that Silberer's views are influenced to some extent by a purpose which seeks to disguise the fundamental circumstances in which dreams are formed and to divert interest from their instinctual roots. In a certain number of cases I have been able to confirm Silberer's statements. Analysis showed that in such cases the dream-work found itself faced with the problem of transforming into a dream a series of highly abstract thoughts from waking life which were incapable of being given any direct representation. It endeavoured to solve the problem by getting hold of another group of intellectual material, somewhat loosely related (often in a manner which might be described as `allegorical') to the abstract thoughts, and at the same time capable of being represented with fewer difficulties. The abstract interpretation of a dream that has arisen in this way is given by the dreamer without any difficulty; the correct interpretation of the material that has been interpolated must be looked for by the technical methods which are now familiar to us.'
The question whether it is possible to interpret every dream must be answered in the negative. It must not be forgotten that in interpreting a dream we are opposed by the psychical forces which were responsible for its distortion. It is thus a question of relative strength whether our intellectual interest, our capacity for self-discipline, our psychological knowledge and our practice in interpreting dreams enable us to master our internal resistances. It is always possible to go some distance: far enough, at all events, to convince ourselves that the dream is a structure with a meaning, and as a rule far enough to get a glimpse of what that meaning is. Quite often an immediately succeeding dream allows us to confirm and carry further the interpretation we have tentatively adopted for its predecessor. A whole series of dreams, continuing over a period of weeks or months, is often based upon common ground and must accordingly be interpreted in connection with one another. [Cf. pp. 193 and 362.] In the case of two consecutive dreams it can often be observed that one takes as its central point something that is only on the periphery of the other and vice versa, so that their interpretations too are mutually complementary. I have already given instances which show that different dreams dreamt on the same night are, as a quite general rule, to be treated in their interpretation as a single whole. [See p. 333 f.]
There is often a passage in even the most thoroughly interpreted dream which has to be left obscure; this is because we become aware during the work of interpretation that at that point there is a tangle of dream-thoughts which cannot be unravelled and which moreover adds nothing to our knowledge of the content of the dream. This is the dream's navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown. [Cf. p. 111 n.] The dream-thoughts to which we are led by interpretation cannot, from the nature of things, have any definite endings; they are bound to branch out in every direction into the intricate network of our world of thought. It is at some point where this meshwork is particularly close that the dream-wish grows up, like a mushroom out of its mycelium.
But we must return to the facts concerning the forgetting of dreams, for we have failed to draw one important conclusion from them. We have seen that waking life shows an unmistakable inclination to forget any dream that has been formed in the course of the night-whether as a whole directly after waking, or bit by bit in the course of the day; and we have recognized that the agent chiefly responsible for this forgetting is the mental resistance to the dream which has already done what it could against it during the night. But if all this is so, the question arises how it comes about that a dream can be formed at all in the face of this resistance. Let us take the most extreme case, in which waking life has got rid of a dream as though it had never occurred. A consideration of the interplay of psychical forces in this case must lead us to infer that the dream would in fact not have occurred at all if the resistance had been as strong during the night as during the day. We must conclude that during the night the resistance loses some of its power, though we know it does not lose the whole of it, since we have shown the part it plays in the formation of dreams as a distorting agent. But we are driven to suppose that its power may be diminished at night and that this makes the formation of dreams possible. This makes it easy to understand how, having regained its full strength at the moment of waking, it at once proceeds to get rid of what it was obliged to permit while it was weak. Descriptive psychology tells us that the principal sine qua non for the formation of dreams is that the mind shall be in a state of sleep; and we are now able to explain this fact: the state of sleep makes the formation of dreams possible because it reduces the power of the endopsychic censorship.
It is no doubt tempting to regard this as the only possible inference that can be drawn from the facts of the forgetting of dreams, and to make it the basis for further conclusions as to the conditions of energy prevailing during sleeping and waking. For the moment, however, we will stop at this point. When we have entered a little more deeply into the psychology of dreams we shall find that the factors making possible the formation of dreams can be viewed in another way as well. It may be that the .resistance against the dream-thoughts becoming conscious can be evaded without any reduction having taken place in its power. And it seems a plausible idea that both of the two factors favouring the formation of dreams--the reduction and the evasion of the resistance--are simultaneously made possible by the state of sleep. I will break off here, though I shall pick up the argument again presently. [Cf, p. 573 f.]
There is another set of objections to our method of interpreting dreams with which we must now deal. Our procedure consists in abandoning all those purposive ideas which normally govern our reflections, in focusing our attention on a single element of the dream and in then taking note of whatever involuntary thoughts may occur to us in connection with it. We then take the next portion of the dream and repeat the process with it. We allow ourselves to be led on by our thoughts regardless of the direction in which they carry us and drift on in this way from one thing to another. But we cherish a confident belief that in the end, without any active intervention on our part, we shall arrive at the dream-thoughts from which the dream originated.
Our critics argue against this along the following lines. There is nothing wonderful in the fact that a single element of the dream should lead us somewhere; every idea can be associated with something. What is remarkable is that such an aimless and arbitrary train of thought should happen to bring us to the dream-thoughts. The probability is that we are deceiving ourselves. We follow a chain of associations from one element, till, for one reason or another, it seems to break off. If we then take up a second element, it is only to be expected that the originally unrestricted character of our associations will be narrowed. For we still have the earlier chain of thoughts in our memory, and for that reason, in analysing the second dream-idea, we are more likely to hit upon associations which have something in common with associations from the first chain. We then delude ourselves into thinking that we have discovered a thought which is a connecting point between two elements of the dream. Since we give ourselves complete liberty to connect thoughts as we please and since in fact the only transitions from one idea to another which we exclude are those which operate in normal thinking, we shall find no difficulty in the long run in concocting out of a number of `intermediate thoughts' something which we describe as the dream-thoughts and which--though without any guarantee, since we have no other knowledge of what the dream-thoughts are--we allege to be the psychical substitute for the dream. But the whole thing is completely arbitrary; we are merely exploiting chance connections in a manner which gives an effect of ingenuity. In this way anyone who cares to take such useless pains can worry out any interpretation he pleases from any dream.
If we were in fact met by objections such as these, we might defend ourselves by appealing to the impression made by our interpretations, to the surprising connections with other elements of the dream which emerge in the course of our pursuing a single one of its ideas, and to the improbability that anything which gives such an exhaustive account of the dream could have been arrived at except by following up psychical connections which had already been laid down. We might also point out in our defence that our procedure in interpreting dreams is identical with the procedure by which we resolve hysterical symptoms; and there the correctness of our method is warranted by the coincident emergence and disappearance of the symptoms, or, to use a simile, the assertions made in the text are borne out by the accompanying illustrations. But we have no reason for evading the problem of how it is possible to reach a pre-existing goal by following the drift of an arbitrary and purposeless chain of thoughts; since, though we may not be able to solve the problem, we can completely cut the ground from under it.
For it is demonstrably untrue that we are being carried along a purposeless stream of ideas when, in the process of interpreting a dream, we abandon reflection and allow involuntary ideas to emerge. It can be shown that all that we can ever get rid of are purposive ideas that are known to us; as soon as we have done this, unknown--or, as we inaccurately say, 'unconscious'--purposive ideas take charge and thereafter determine the course of the involuntary ideas. No influence that we can bring to bear upon our mental processes can ever enable us to think without purposive ideas; nor am I aware of any states of psychical confusion which can do so. Psychiatrists have been
far too ready in this respect to abandon their belief in the connectedness of psychical processes. I know for a fact that trains of thought without purposive ideas no more occur in hysteria and paranoia than they do in the formation or resolution of dreams. It may be that they do not occur in any of the endogenous psychical disorders. Even the deliria of confusional states may have a meaning, if we are to accept Leuret's brilliant suggestion [1834, 131] that they are only unintelligible to us owing to the gaps in them. I myself have formed the same opinion when I have had the opportunity of observing them. Deliria are the work of a censorship which no longer takes the trouble to conceal its operation; instead of collaborating in producing a new version that shall be unobjectionable, it ruthlessly deletes whatever it disapproves of, so that what remains becomes quite disconnected. This censorship acts exactly like the censorship of newspapers at the Russian frontier, which allows foreign journals to fall into the hands of the readers whom it is its business to protect only after a quantity of passages have been blacked out.
It may be that free play of ideas with a fortuitous chain of associations is to be found in destructive organic cerebral processes; what is regarded as such in the psychoneuroses can always be explained as an effect of the censorship's influence upon a train of thought which has been pushed into the foreground by purposive ideas that have remained hidden. It has been regarded as an unfailing sign of an association being uninfluenced by purposive ideas if the associations (or images) in question seem to be interrelated in what is described as a `superficial' manner--by assonance, verbal ambiguity, temporal coincidence without connection in meaning, or by any association of the kind that we allow in jokes or in play upon words. This characteristic is present in the chains of thought which lead from the elements of a dream to the intermediate thoughts and from these to the dream-thoughts proper; we have seen instances of this--not without astonishment--in many dream analyses. No connection was too loose, no joke too bad, to serve as a bridge from one thought to another. But the true explanation of this easy-going state of things is soon found. Whenever one psychical element is linked with another by an objectionable or superficial association, there is also a legitimate and deeper link between them which is subjected to the resistance of the censorship.
The real reason for the prevalence of superficial associations is not the abandonment of purposive ideas but the pressure of the censorship. Superficial associations replace deep ones if the censorship makes the normal connecting paths impassable. We may picture, by way of analogy, a mountain region, where some general interruption of traffic (owing to floods, for instance) has blocked the main, major roads, but where communications are still maintained over inconvenient and steep footpaths normally used only by the hunter.
Two cases may here be distinguished, though in essence they are the same. In the first of these, the censorship is directed only against the connection between two thoughts, which are unobjectionable separately. If so, the two thoughts will enter consciousness in succession; the connection between them will remain concealed, but, instead, a superficial link between them will occur to us, of which we should otherwise never have thought. This link is usually attached to some part of the complex of ideas quite other than that on which the suppressed and essential connection is based. The second case is where the two thoughts are in themselves subject to censorship on account of their content. If so, neither of them appears in its true shape but only in a modified one which replaces it; and the two replacing thoughts are chosen in such a way that they have a superficial association that repeats the essential connection which relates the two thoughts that have been replaced. In both these cases the pressure of the censorship has resulted in a displacement from a normal and serious association to a superficial and apparently absurd one.
Since we are aware that displacements of this kind occur, we have no hesitation when we are interpreting dreams in relying upon superficial associations as much as upon others.
In the psycho-analysis of neuroses the fullest use is made of these two theorems--that, when conscious purposive ideas are abandoned, concealed purposive ideas assume control of the current of ideas, and that superficial associations are only substitutes by displacement for suppressed deeper ones. Indeed, these theorems have become basic pillars of psycho-analytic technique. When I instruct a patient to abandon reflection of any kind and to tell me whatever comes into his head, I am relying firmly on the presumption that he will not be able to abandon the purposive ideas inherent in the treatment and I feel justified in inferring that what seem to be the most innocent and arbitrary things which he tells me are in fact related to his illness. There is another purposive idea of which the patient has no suspicion--one relating to myself. The full estimate of the importance of these two theorems, as well as more detailed information about them, fall within the province of an account of the technique of psycho-analysis. Here, then, we have reached one of the frontier posts at which, in accordance with our programme, we must drop the subject of dream interpretation.
There is one true conclusion that we may glean from these objections, namely that we need not suppose that every association that occurs during the work of interpretation had a place in the dream-work during the night. [Cf. pp. 280 and 311.] It is true that in carrying out the interpretation in the waking state we follow a path which leads back from the elements of the dream to the dream-thoughts and that the dream-work followed one in the contrary direction. But it is highly improbable that these paths are passable both ways. It appears, rather, that in the daytime we drive shafts which follow along fresh chains of thought and that these shafts make contact with the intermediate thoughts and the dream-thoughts now at one point and now at another. We can see how in this manner fresh daytime material inserts itself into the interpretative chains. It is probable, too, that the increase in resistance that has set in since the night makes new and more devious detours necessary. The number and nature of the collaterals [see p. 311 n.] that we spin in this way during the day is of no psychological importance whatever, so long as they lead us to the dreamthoughts of which we are in search.
The Dream Frontier
Mark J. Blechner
Chapter 15- Kleinian Positions and Dreams
O God, I could be bounded in a nut-shell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Melanie Klein, one of the first psychoanalysts to develop the theory of object relations, worked out a series of psychological "positions" which have emerged as some of the most important and clinically useful psychoanalytic concepts. The Kleinian positions, however, have not to my knowledge been systematically applied to the understanding of dreams. I would like here to identify and discuss this very important vector for looking at dreams. The vector of Kleinian positions addresses the basic question: How does the dreamer experience himself in relation to the physical and interpersonal world?
Melanie Klein (1946, 1952) originally described two positions, the
paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions. Thomas Ogden (1989)
revised Klein's psychology and added a third position, the autistic contiguous position. Together, the three Kleinian positions form a series
of dimensions along which one can experience oneself in relation to
the world. They describe fundamental aspects of our relatedness to
things and to people. This includes our relations to people as things and
things as people, in all human functioning, not just psychosis per se.
In the paranoid-schizoid position, one feels oneself to be the focus
of the universe, with other people as extensions of oneself or else as
threats to the self. One feels no guilt, because all aggression makes
one the victim. In the depressive position, other people are recog
nized as individuals in their own right, who can suffer from our own aggression. Therefore, we may feel guilt toward them, and try to make reparations to them if we have harmed them. In this light, the depressive position is seen as an achievement that is beyond the paranoidschizoid position. Jessica Benjamin (1988) deals with the shift from paranoid-schizoid to depressive. She highlights the importance, in a child's development, of recognizing the mother as an independent being with her own subjectivity, feelings, and private experience. This is one of the milestones of the development of the depressive position. Benjamin's views were an important correction to much previous psychological theory that saw the mother primarily as a need-provider to the child, rather than in the stance of an independent subject.
Klein originally used the terms "paranoid-schizoid" and "depressive" about intrapsychic relations with internal objects. Ogden did something very interesting--he took Klein's metapsychology and put it in more interpersonal terms. In fact, by his account, the two original Kleinian positions are interpersonal, hence the need for an autistic-contiguous position, which is more exclusively intrapersonal. It deals with the questions: Can my body and self hold together? What is inside? What is outside? The paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions, as revised by Ogden, address the questions: What are the dangers to my body from others, and from my body to others? Do I use people? Do I care about them? Does everything they do matter primarily for how it affects me? Do they have an existence separate from me? Do I care what anyone else's experience is like for their own sake?
The original Kleinian positions have often been placed in a developmental hierarchy, where the paranoid-schizoid position is seen as more primitive than the depressive. Ogden made the Kleinian positions more complex. He argued that they are all stances in relation to the world, all in equipoise, balanced one against the other. An excess of any of the positions can lead to pathology. Thus, too much experience in the autistic-contiguous position leads to excessive bodily concerns, perhaps as hypochondria. Too much experience in the paranoid-schizoid position leads to excess self-involvement and the sadistic treatment of others as extensions of the self. Finally, too much experience in the depressive position can lead to excessive selflessness and masochistic suffering.
The autistic-contiguous position is an important dimension of much twentieth-century art. Consider Francis Bacon, who paints humans with varying gradations of their insides exposed. Bacon highlights the "meatness" of the human body. Some of his portrayals of the human figure look like carcasses. Inside is partly outside, and the distinction between
the human body and the inanimate world is blurred. Flesh is not just adjacent to the chair it sits on; it merges with it. In Bacon's triptych, "Scenes from a Crucifixion," the three panels show varying states of human flesh. The left panel is human, more or less, and the right panel is a butchered body; the middle panel shows an intermediate state between live organism and dead flesh.
Twentieth-century filmmakers also featured the autistic-contiguous position and its anxieties as a primary theme. The works of Jan Svankmajer, the great Czech filmmaker (See, for example, Svankmajer's Scenes from the Surreal and Faust.) portray similar issues, often using the technique of claymation. The body, once whole, is dismembered, attacked, reassembled. Body parts that have been riven, one from the other, try to find each other. They struggle to regain their interconnection, their proper use, their existence within a bodily gestalt rather than as mere parts.
The works of Bacon and Svankmajer, along with those of many other artists (e.g., de Kooning, Picasso) could be derived from dreams. They are like dreams in which a frightening subjective reality is portrayed. They make the boundary between our bodies and a carcass of meat seem fragile indeed. All of us could be butchered and turned into a carcass. What makes us human, what makes us a self, what differentiates us from a mere collection of bodily organs, what makes us different from the inanimate world, what differentiates us from other people--all these issues are described by the Kleinian positions, and are portrayed in dreams.
If we apply the vector of the three Kleinian positions to dreams, we raise many questions:
How do I experience myself as a physical body in a physical world (the autistic-contiguous position)? Am I a separate physical entity, with boundaries between myself and the rest of the physical objects in the world? What is the physical world of objects like? Is it full of hard, straight surfaces that I can lean on and which will support me? Is it a world of soft, liquid, changing features that is enveloping, protective, or engulfing?
How do I experience myself as a person among other persons? Are all people significant primarily for how they affect me (the paranoidschizoid position)? Are other people important as separate experiencers, on whom I have an impact (the depressive position)?
There is much to be learned from analyzing dreams according to the Kleinian positions. There are two basic approaches. We can ask: (1) Which Kleinian position predominates in the dream? An alternative approach is to ask: (2) What is this dream like from each of the positions?
If we take the first approach, we may ask: What proportion of dreams are primarily focused on the autistic-contiguous position? The paranoid-schizoid? The depressive? My own impression is that very few dreams, at least those I hear from clinical situations, are really in the depressive position. Most are focused primarily within the autistic-contiguous and the paranoid-schizoid. This is another way of saying that our dreams are mainly self-absorbed, with our own bodily concerns and ourselves as centers of the human universe. (We could say, however, that this fact is somewhat iatrogenic; the psychoanalytic tradition of interpreting everyone in a dream as an aspect of the dreamer forces the dream into the paranoid-schizoid position.)
Freud's "Irma" dream, however, is at least partly located in the depressive position. Freud examines Irma, and he registers her suffering. She says, "If only you knew what pains I've got now in my throat and stomach and abdomen--it's choking me." And Freud is alarmed and looks at her. "She looked pale and puffy." As the dream progresses and the other doctors join in the examination of Irma, her subjective feeling fades into the background. She becomes a medical "specimen."
Although the manifest Irma dream seems to be in the depressive position, once Freud starts associating to it, his focus becomes more paranoid-schizoid--toward a concern with what Irma's medical status would mean about him--about his standing as a physician, his competence, his ability relative to his colleagues. But as I have already mentioned, subsequent re-analyses of the dream (e.g., Schur, 1972) have revealed that Irma was referred by Freud to Fliess for a nasal operation to treat her hysteria. Fliess left a piece of gauze in the wound, which led to serious postoperative complications. It would seem likely that Freud felt guilt at her suffering. His associations lead away from such depressive concerns, but the manifest dream makes them abundantly clear.
Let us apply the second approach, of examining the Irma dream from each of the Kleinian positions. First, considering the autistic-contiguous position, we would ask: Where is the dream taking place physically? What is the physical world like in this dream? What are the surfaces and spaces of the world like in the dream? Hard or soft? Sharp and dangerous or curved and gradual? Smooth or rough? What is this dreamer's sense of the world like, and what is his sense of his body in relation to the world? Does it fit in smoothly or is there physical conflict?
The dream starts in a large hall with numerous guests. It is a big, relatively public space. But it moves quickly into a much more restricted space. Freud takes Irma to one side, and is soon looking into her mouth and observing a white patch and whitish scabs. We can feel a movement from the public to the private, from the open space of a large hall into a confined, inner cavity of the mouth. If Freud were our patient, we would want to know more about this shift from public to private. Nevertheless, we can speculate, from the autistic-contiguous position, that the dream shows a special concern with the oral cavity
From the perspective of the autistic-contiguous position, the Irma dream also shows Freud's (or someone's) sense of his physical body in the physical world: there is intrusion, resistance, embarrassment, false body parts, and disease.
From the paranoid-schizoid position, there is the supposedly helpful doctor who sees in the patient a threat to his self-esteem. Is the doctor concerned for the patient or for himself? Is he more taken up with the needs of the patient, or of his competitive feelings and his need to maintain his status?
From the perspective of the depressive position, the dream has separate people who express subjective states. Irma's reply about her suffering enlists the depressive position. I am suffering, you don't realize how much, do you care? Who comes first, you or I? Do you appreciate my whole person-ness, do you appreciate my suffering, my embarrassment, and so on? As I noted above, the manifest dream per se, which starts with such a vivid expression of Irma's suffering, is more in the depressive position than Freud's analysis of it, which focuses primarily on his wish for self-justification before his colleagues.
Using the vector of Kleinian positions, let us examine another dream, the dream of "Martha," from Fosshage and Loew's (1987) book, Dream Interpretation: A Comparative Study. One of Martha's dreams is a beautiful example of a shift from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. Martha has a cockroach phobia, and she dreams:
I was in the bathtub and a cockroach was there. It was half dead. It got on my leg. I didn't panic. I got out. It crawled onto the wall near my bed. A girl was there and she went over to kill it, but it was too big and wouldn't quit. I took a can of spray and gave it one long spray. As I sprayed, it got bigger, turned into a chicken, then into a dog. I stopped spraying since I didn't want to kill a dog. It had some human characteristics, too. It asked to leave. I opened the door and apologized for spraying [p. 12].
The dream starts deep in the paranoid-schizoid position. The dreamer sees the cockroach as an enemy, a disgusting intruder. But as she tries to kill it, it becomes transformed into more evolved species, finally turning into a dog with some human characteristics. As it evolves, so too does the dreamer's feeling toward it. She comes to feel concern for it, even guilt, a prerequisite of the depressive position, according to Klein. She takes care of it by opening the door and even apologizes; reparation is another hallmark of the depressive position, according to Klein.
The dream can be seen as the evolution of the patient's feelings towards the people in her world--her mother, whom she perceives as intrusive and unpleasant at the beginning of treatment; her father, whom she considers disgusting; the analyst; herself; and perhaps others. Her paranoid-schizoid position defines her attitude to nearly everyone.
The dream is a milestone in her treatment. It marks a transition for her into accepting other people as humans toward whom she has concern, care, and guilt.
The Dream Screen and the Autistic-Contiguous Position
Bertram Lewin (1973), with his notion of the "dream screen," focused particularly well on what I would call the aspect of dreams having to do with the autistic-contiguous position. Thinking of the dream as a film, Lewin focused attention on the background setting of the dream, and related that background to early, sensual experiences of the dreamer (An even earlier discussion of dreams as a film-like dramatization can be found in Ella Freeman Sharpe's book Dream Analysis [1937, 58f .]). Lewin drew our attention particularly to the transformation of early bodily experience into dream images. Because those early experiences are prelinguistic, they are best remembered in the nonlinguistic format of dreams. Isakower, in his 1938 paper on the pathopsychology of falling asleep, had already identified such experiences in the imagery we have when we are falling asleep, which he thought was related to the image of the breast.
Lewin suggested an added vector of looking at dreams: What is the textural experience of the perceived dream? A dream may be just a static image, as opposed to a moving, changing scenario. Is the dream a story with words? Is it just a feeling? The dream screen may revive early experiences of body and feeling states that we could not remember any other way.
In my view, Lewin's idea was a good one and can be understood in terms of the autistic-contiguous position. However, Lewin's work needs to be expanded. The analogy of dreams with film is a common one, yet I think it is somewhat inaccurate. We rarely dream in two dimensions. Although our dreams are often primarily visual, they occur in threedimensional space. If they are films, they are IMAX films or what Aldous Huxley called "feelies" in his book Brave New World. In our dreams we usually feel in the midst of the imagery, we experience the space kinesthetically as well as visually, and our emotions are usually prominent.
The Negative Dream Screen
I have observed a rare version of the dream screen, which I call the "negative dream screen," that especially captures the immediacy of early traumatic experience and its subsequent elaboration in the Kleinian positions. A patient dreamt that he was holding his nephew: "He wasn't a person. He was a circle with a hole in the middle. A dangerous, devouring circle. The more open and open this hole, the more I was afraid it would get me. Someone said, `You can't drop your nephew like that.' It was devouring and unpleasant."
The dreamer had nearly starved during the first two weeks of his life. This left an "imprinting" of potential starvation that felt to him like an immediate and constant danger during his adult life. He illustrated well what Winnicott wrote (1988):
Chaos first arrives in the history of the emotional development of the individual through reactive interruptions of being, especially when such interruptions last too long. Chaos is at first a broken line of being ... if the disturbance is beyond a degree that is tolerable ... then ... chaos enters into the individual's constitution.
Chaos had indeed entered this man's constitution. He experienced many aspects of the psychoanalytic relationship as putting him on the brink of destruction. Any break in the regular scheduling of daily sessions felt life threatening to him. It did not threaten him only with hunger; it threatened annihilation. He could be turned into that hole
portrayed in his dream that opened wider and wider until it became nothing-a powerful image of hunger ("open your mouth wide") turning into a self-destructive nothingness.
For this man, existence could turn into emptiness and nothingness, which was tersely portrayed by the blunt imagery of the dream. If one examines almost any dream from the perspective of Kleinian positions, one can grasp how the dreamer experiences the physical and social world. And if the clinical work is effective, this basic patterning of experience can shift.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Nina Coltart (2000)
Chapter Seven- On the Tightrope:Therapeutic & Non-Therapeutic Factors in Psychoanalysis
I was asked to be one of the speakers at a symposium, organized by the British Psycho-Analytical Society, on therapeutic and nontherapeutic factors in psychoanalysis. I welcomed the opportunity to put together some thoughts about the exercise of our `impossible profession'. It occurred to me that one might compare the daily work of an analyst to that of a tightrope walker. The tightrope itself is the years-long stretch of sessions, in which we try to do, in partnership with our patients, something which has been called impossible and is by any standards unusual. Of course, the analogy fails in the sense that we do actually walk to the very end of the tightrope, wherever that may be. But what are the factors which contribute to the balancing act? The all-embracing subtitle provides us with an opportunity to examine some of them in detail.
If one is on a tightrope and it is not far from the ground, and so there is not far to fall, then it may not matter; sooner or later, and quite often, fall one will. By falling to one side of the analytic tightrope, one may do something therapeutic, and by falling to the other, non-therapeutic. The metaphor can be developed to the point of exaggeration, so that, for example, falling off the tightrope one way may be experienced as abrasive and assaulting to one's patients, and falling off it the other way may be experienced as frightening or dislocating to oneself -- though perhaps not too bad at all for the patient. It is a source of great surprise to the young analyst -- and never becomes a matter for complacency -- that, more frequently than not, a clumsy, ill-timed interpretation, or something that may seem like a worryingly awkward technical error, is later reported back to one as having been helpful, enlightening, or a rich source of further reflection. Such an event is not only a relief, but also a healthy reminder of just how little one knows much of the time. The constant aim is to stay on the tightrope, and maybe a psychoanalyst's early years have to be spent in neverflagging attempts to refine and perfect one's balancing acts. The metaphor itself wobbles as one searches for a definition of `positive' therapeutic factors; it begins to look as if it is the complex act of staying on the rope, however achieved, the act of movement while balancing, that is positive, whatever the constituents of the 'therapeutic factors' involved.
If there is anything that can accurately be considered to be the one aid the tightrope walker always carries -- the pole -- it has to be interpretation. There is little new or original to be written about interpretation, from any angle; nor, truthfully, about its subordinates -- comment, confrontation, explanation, `preparation' -- these are all the groundwork done in the build-up to interpretations. But interpretation has silent partners, too, which need repeated acts of attention from us, not only as we work, but also at the beginnings and endings of the working day. Silent, unnoticed, as they often are, they are, or can be in their quiet way, consistently positive therapeutic factors. They are the features which become so much part of our daily life and work with patients that direct observation and reference to them may only rarely be made during the course of analyses: they include consistency of the setting, provision for quietness, attention to punctuality, exactness about money, and an alert awareness to any changes which may occur in any of these. This last point includes listening for oblique references to such changes, from the patient, or, if none is heard, alluding to the changes ourselves, if we have spotted them, because extremely detailed noticing by patients goes on, even if some of it is unconscious or suppressed. I have written more fully elsewhere (1990; this volume, Ch. 12) on factors such as these, both in relation to our patients and, at deeper levels which touch on our whole philosophy of life, to ourselves as analysts.
Although so much has long since been said, it is impossible to avoid completely the subject of interpretation, its theory and technique. It is vast and daunting. For three quarters of a century now, this one subject -- our balancing pole on the tightrope -- has provided scope for discussion, definition, disputes, denigrations, demonstrations and development. Controversy flows back and forth. In the end it is individual analysts who use their own analysis, their training and themselves to realize the truth of the ever-recurring phenomenon that one becomes what suits one best, and what gives one the deepest sense of self-forgetful confidence. The temptation here to discover and subdivide and discuss a number of selected ideas within the field is great. When, why, how and what to interpret is the balancing act of our daily lives. Some theorists would see us struggling to make a transference interpretation at all costs -- perhaps at the cost of falling off the rope into the pit of ignoring historical meaning; this is a real danger, especially to the inexperienced. We may fall into an inclination to exaggerate the intense influence of the analyst, to the exclusion of all other object-relationships in the patient's life. Some theorists, on the other hand, stress continued reference to the past, with many laborious reconstructions; with this technique there is a danger of ignoring the potential illumination of the here-and-now impact, or of making the patient feel misunderstood and neglected in the present. Persistent avoidance of the immediate message of the living transference is an anti-therapeutic factor, a fall from the tightrope; but sustained ignorance of the developmental, chronological nuances which give meaning to a patient's life is the opposite danger. Patients have a great need to have their intimate personal history heard, known and used. We owe an everlasting debt to Strachey for his unforgettable statement on the mutative interpretation; this was in his paper in the International Journal of PsychoAnalysis of 1934, in which he is now almost exclusively remembered for saying that only the transference interpretation effects mutation; we owe him gratitude for its positive teaching. But there is a price to be paid for his clarifying, and his forceful advocacy; the price is that he evokes a kind of anxiety in many people, while they are learning their own balancing act, by misleading us with what Blum called his `sweeping charismatic absolutism' (1983, p. 594). Pure transference analysis is an idealized fiction, and it was the core of truth in Strachey's remark, which has become idealized, that has fostered the dangerous notion that it can be realizable. It is often forgotten that towards the end of that classic paper, Strachey was also writing:
If I may take an analogy from trench warfare, the acceptance of the transference interpretation corresponds to the capture of a key position, while the extra-transference interpretations correspond to the general advance ... An oscillation of this kind between transference and extra-transference interpretations will represent the normal course of events in an analysis. (p. 158)
One of the only things I want to add to this brief consideration of the act of interpreting is an absolute necessity: that one should have reached it with conviction oneself. This holds for our constant scrutiny and attempts to understand the countertransference, as well. If the countertransference is scrupulously observed and there is a serious wish and intention to build an interpretation based on information derived from it, then it must be done with great care, for the sake of authenticity; not too theoretical, not forced, not overemotional (though the subjective experience we are having may be deeply felt), but reflectively authentic. To keep the countertransference as `pure' as possible, as Betty Joseph has
expressed it, is part of our daily self-study.
In this connection, we may consider further a particular aspect of therapy which is to do with our technique. This has to be organically linked to our theories, but it is, of course, also an expression of our character, our ways of thinking and our personal style. There is a paradox here - a subject I delve into more deeply in `What does it mean: "Love is not enough"?' (this volume, Ch. 8). On the one hand it is essential to study and learn and develop a general technique, with attention to timing, tact, dosage, selection of language, and level of interpretation; on the other hand, there is the ever-present phenomenon that every patient is unique, and any generalized statement about how to do what, when, where and why, must always be subject to modifications in the light of the patient's uniqueness and our unique developing relationship to him and his personality. This is at the heart of clinical skill as opposed to clinical cleverness; the latter is nothing of the sort if it produces a piece of intellectual brilliance but fails to communicate with the patient in a mode which can be understood. The art of the positive therapeutic approach is to watch and learn and follow and adjust
technique to meet the needs of each individual. How do we create the `right atmosphere for the process of good-enough analysis? This is not an easily answerable question; one arranges the setting, and keeps it quiet and constant, but the atmosphere of the analysis is the joint creation of the patient and the analyst, and between this unique pair it grows and `happens'. In fact, if I were to settle for which of the pair in the therapeutic dyad has more influence than the other on the whole way-of-being of an analysis, I would say it is the patient. Throughout his two excellent books, The Shadow of the Object (1987), and Forces of Destiny (1989), Christopher Bollas describes this process of creation from many viewpoints. In any given treatment, the methods operating in the patient as he `uses' his analyst inevitably ordain to a great extent the whole of the analyst's response, however personalized his own most deeply characterological style may be.
However, one of our own contributions to this creation, which we can never avoid, stretches from the beginning to the end of our professional lives and changes with ourselves alone; we have no choice about being on this aspect of the tightrope, and learning to walk it every day. I refer to where we are in our lives -- in other words, our age -- both chronological and as trained analysts: there are positive and negative therapeutic characteristics at all ages. Sometimes I notice that students feel, or this gets projected into them, that to be young is a horrible handicap, which with luck will be grown out of; but one of the positive factors about being young in analytic years is enthusiasm. Freshness to the whole thing is another. There is often a strong devotion to the task, a flexible readiness to learn and to explore, and eagerness to practise and listen with an open mind, as yet not too clouded by theory, views and opinions. Such qualities contribute towards successful treatments; they compensate for anxieties, inexperience, and excessive respect for elders, the sort of idealizing transferences which float about in Institutes.
Sometimes, now, when I look back over the early years of building up a practice, when one gratefully accepted whatever came one's way, and just got stuck in, I shudder and wonder at some of the gross psychopathology that revealed itself on our proud, young couches. Or at times, of course, off them, as we sat through session after session of violent acting-out, with the patient storming, crying, crouching, throwing things, in one case cutting herself -- either in one's room, or God knew where. Across my mind's eye, there lurches such a procession -- the woman who brought a long kitchen knife, and sat in the chair opposite me, twirling it and humming a careless little tune; this same woman, maddened with anger because I `tricked' her into handing over the knife, leaping out of the chair and with one great sweep of her arm, hurling everything on my mantelpiece off it on to the floor and all over me - a carriage clock, two silver vases filled with water and freesias, a little box which sprang open and poured out pins, brooches and kerbigrips; an ivory carved netsuke, several postcards, and a cutglass scent jar. She stood over me triumphantly as I sat and dripped among the ruins. `There!' she spat out. `You minded, didn't you? I can see you blushing . . .' Then there was the woman of seventy-three who had to end every session by crawling to the end of the couch and diving head first off it to the floor; she called it `being born again'. She never listened to a word I said; this diving activity was what she came for. And the extremely sadomasochistic doctor with severe, life-threatening ulcerative colitis, who could start to bleed from his rectum if I said something he didn't like, on one occasion so profusely that he trembled and screamed in the lavatory while I telephoned for the ambulance -- and then visited him in hospital daily for four weeks. And the senior `alternative' therapist (though that epithet had not yet arrived on the scene), who prowled like an angry panther up and down, up and down, but if I spoke, darted behind a chair and crouched there, making whimpering animal cries, but glancing out from time to time to give me sharp, baleful glares ...
Yes, in youth one tackles tough cases, out of ignorance: I might be terminally baffled or fed up now, but then -- no. Baffled, yes, but then that was part of the ignorance. I had worked in mental hospitals, and I began to think that this was not so very different. And since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, the foolish, strictly dynamic interpretations one rushed in with must have done something; it was almost as if chutzpah was the healing factor, or what I earlier called our zeal, our fresh enthusiasm. All these patients, with the exception of the exsanguinating doctor, did well, after months or years of Uproar, as Beachcomber would have called it. Early on, when one accepted severely disturbed people out of ignorance and innocence and gratitude, I was given the opportunity to learn how very often the deep causes of improvement in a patient's wellbeing are (and still often so remain) a mystery.
Life goes on, and early zeal and fresh cathexis of the task in hand are gradually replaced by increasing knowledge and confidence; anxieties are slowly worked through, one learns some technical skills, and there grows a developing sense of strength and security. There is a saying that by the time you're fifty, you've got the face you deserve; by now, I think too that by the time you're fifty, you've got the analytic skill and style you deserve. Thus one set of positive therapeutic factors is slowly, almost imperceptibly, replaced by another: but in the latter, one is endangered by falls from the tightrope in new directions. One may fall from clarity and flexibility in one's thought processes, into more rigid positions. It cannot be denied that arthritic changes slowly come about in thought processes; the familiar awareness, which we are all shrewdly perspicacious about in other people, of becoming more dogmatic, more unavailable for mind-changing, slower, more conservative with a small c (`further to the right' is the political phrase for it), brings real problems for us all. One of the greatest is that this onset of rheumatic mental stiffness is harder to spot in ourselves, and trying to work on it is a constant requirement, for fear of self-scotomization, so fatally easy in the most experienced analysts.
Leading on from this, I would like to refer to a comment which a member of the audience made at the time when I first gave this paper. He said that some people near him in the audience had thought that, during the discussion, I `hadn't talked enough' in response to some of the questions and criticisms. This comment revealed a paradoxical link with the foregoing survey of some of the dangerous changes that may take place in us, imperceptibly, as we grow older; for many people, these must include talking too much. There is a distinct tendency, in ageing, perhaps especially in women -- am I wrong here? I hope so, but I fear not -- to become steadily more verbose. It is by no means restricted to analysts, indeed it happens in almost every social stratum one encounters. It is something to do with becoming less shy, less socially insecure, more self-confident over all, and these are desirable things; but it is also to do with becoming more dogmatic in one's view and one's thinking. If one does observe it in one's own self-scanning it is a feature that one should guard most scrupulously against. It may tend towards pomposity, which can turn into a dreadful sort of windbag effect; liking the sound of one's own voice, being very sure one is right, developing a conviction of authority to pontificate and impose one's views not only on the young, but on anyone at all who is listening. All this can be -- is -- not only deeply boring but also counter-therapeutic. A long-winded, heavy, slightly muddled interpretation, which may cover too much ground, lacks impact in direct ratio to its length and weight. In doing our psychoanalytic therapy there are a few -- not many -- Golden Rules: `When in doubt, say nothing', and `Prune where you can' are two which are always worth remembering. Winnicott used to teach `Never deal with more than one thing in an interpretation'; this simple-sounding maxim is extraordinarily hard to achieve. If one catches oneself saying `On the one hand ... and on the other ...', one needs to rein oneself in, however great the temptation to clarify with the patient a number of things in which one may just have perceived coherence; the patient is most unlikely to take in more than one thing, and even that may be made more difficult if confused with one or several others.
Patients are charitable, on the whole, and they get used to us and our personal styles and idiosyncrasies. The transference is often, itself, a scotoma for them: but often it is not, and they can be reflecting mirrors to their analysts as they nudge and criticize, and it is of positive value, to them and to us, that we heed them.
Contemplation of the subtle interactions of the transference and the countertransference leads on to `mistakes'; a `mistake', in content, or understanding, or direction of an interpretation, is not necessarily non-therapeutic. By what means and to what extent one acknowledges mistakes is worth a lot of consideration; there is another tightrope here. To fall off one way is to fail to refer to the error straight away if perceived, or anyway later; letting patients struggle on alone, without the required correction, and therefore under a remediable misapprehension not of their own making, compounds the mistake. Falling off the other way into a maelstrom of guilt (at the recognition that one has done something wrong) is a sign of unresolved anxiety in the analyst, besides being a dead
end and a waste of energy. It blocks clear thinking, and may well inhibit the analyst from an unselfconscious look at exactly how the patient is responding and what can and should be made of that. There is nothing to be said for analytical sackcloth and ashes, which may in fact only strengthen a tendency to a sadistic response in the patient; or an insecure patient will become more uneasy still in the presence of an analyst who will be perceived to be unduly anxious and self-abasing. Acknowledgement of a crude mistake, the simplest example being over times or bills, is very likely, if skilfully and courteously handled, to become a positive therapeutic factor. Once an analyst has made this acknowledgement, indicating that not only does one not feel one ought to be omniscient but also that one can bear not being so, a mistake may be a fertile source of reminiscence and free association in the patient. Over the years, I have come to think that it is in itself a mistake to attach exaggerated power to any one thing that we say or do; from this overestimation can arise constricting and anxious fears, especially in the young analyst, about being `destructive' to a patient or a treatment. This kind of anxiety is an error of judgement which may in itself be non-therapeutic, in that it may prevent one, for example, from hearing or seeing the way in which a mistake can be reclaimed, or from noticing potentially positive features arising from the event. These may include relief in the patient. Patients are in an exposed and dependent position; subtle ways in which they retain any power are not easily accessible to them; it is not our job to overemphasize their dependence or to strip them of realistic power, and it may well be that a recognition by them that the analyst can be wrong, or stupid, or know less than they do about various things, including themselves, may lead to beneficial results. On this matter of not attaching too much importance to any one thing one may say, it is instructive to meet patients after treatment -- they often come back for one or two sessions, or to `report'; and they often say. `I've never forgotten when you said . . .' and then go on to quote something one either does not remember or, more amazingly, something which at the time one thought was rather feeble, or more likely, not to the point, or even a mistake.
The event just described may, in a simple and straightforward way, even cause some quiet amusement in both patient and analyst, but the whole subject of amusement, and humour, and laughing, is not simple at all. On the contrary, it is very complex, and, within the metaphor of the tightrope, can be the cause of severe loss of balance, and maybe sharp and painful falls. I would like to concur here with a comment in a paper by Dr R. Baker in a Bulletin (1987) (the Bulletin is a sort of house magazine of the British PsychoAnalytical Society) concerning the hopeless ineptitude of ever `telling a joke' to a patient: it may well take some considerable working through. To do it once is a salutary lesson; even as one embarks on it, a horrid sixth sense says that it is not going to be as funny as it might be at a party, or over dinner; one lumbers on to the punchline; either the patient rather tolerantly, or compliantly, laughs or there ensues the sort of reverberating silence that is not in any way pleasing to one's narcissism. One may find oneself immediately embarking on a further elaboration of why one made this now deeply tedious joke in the first place, and how it is supposed to relate to the patient; or one may sink back, covered in mortification, while the patient with weary aggression changes the subject, or, quite rightly, starts to criticize or express, at the very least, justifiable annoyance or, even worse, caps the joke with one of his own, and the imbroglio deepens. Occasionally, a patient who has the gift for telling a really funny story will recount a joke; it may be very amusing, and it would be inappropriate and rude to stifle laughter; nearly always it is extremely illuminating and one may then proceed to analyse it. For ourselves, to use humour to make a little joke (which is very different from telling one) at an exact psychological moment, can be an effective and succinct form of interpretation. A `joke' in this sense can be one line or even one word -- perhaps in a particular tone of voice which will be significant to the patient; or perhaps to underline a shared memory. But a word of warning is needed here, in terms of technique, and especially of timing; it is not a good idea to make a `joke', as just described, or sound humorous or ironic, until a patient has been in treatment for quite a long time, and analyst and patient know each other pretty well; it can be heard in a persecutory or belittling way, and early in treatment is no time to risk this. Also, at any phase of the treatment one's aim and intention will be to perceive very accurately the current mood of patients, and not introduce a jarring `humorous' note if they are cast down or depressed, or deeply reflective or very regressed.
It will have become apparent to my readers by now that I do not think that the tightrope, the daily balancing act, disappears, or is replaced by broad, firm, sunlit uplands as one grows older; on the contrary, though anxiety decreases and unselfconscious confidence in one's technique grows, new difficulties concomitant with the ageing process appear. But if, having practised for thirty years, one does not have some sorts of depths on which one relies with conviction, and which may be used as reserves of strength and inspiration and from which one can speak, with experience, then I think equally one would deserve criticism for impoverishment. A difficult area to tackle in this connection but one which I do not feel inclined to omit, is that of the philosophy which we develop about our life, ourselves and our work. Our own analyses helped, we hope, to stabilize our own psychic structure, and continuing development of our own internalized analytic function -- for our own self-study -- is a vital ingredient of the job. But alongside this many of us also incline to develop a conscious, active philosophy of life, deriving perhaps from some other field of study; for example, an ego-syntonic version of a religion, cultivated as an interest, a support or a sublimation, and organized in such a way that it becomes a philosophy of work as well as life. Whatever its origin, it helps us to continue to grow and not stagnate both emotionally and psychologically, and is a valuable instrument for managing ourselves in the taxing work we have chosen. It will assist in resolving anxieties in ourselves, and thus removing hindrances to self-disciplined creativity. I might make particular mention of the value of learning how to harness our aggression skilfully in the service of clinical work. Securely based in good theory, this in itself is a strongly positive factor. To learn to be tough and direct in analysis is important, and may take quite a long time. I can only say that patients always welcome it and experience it with relief. A sharply observant patient who is tuned in to his analyst with his `third ear' just as surely as the analyst is to him, will probably know very well if one is flannelling a bit, and trying to be less sharp than one feels; equally if one is genuinely concerned for his wellbeing, the patient will recognize it, however tough one is in the work. And one cannot be authentically tough, even hard if required, unless one is free of anxiety, and truly unafraid in oneself, at great depth. To be consistently loving in one's behaviour takes much practice, and an essential ingredient is to be unafraid. To speak about it in direct language is truly difficult. There is a very real potential for loss of balance on the tightrope; criticisms of sloppiness, evasion of theoretical issues, and sentimentality may arise and may be well-founded. Overtones of religiosity -- as opposed to thought rooted in experience of a genuine philosophical or religious tradition -- rightly stand as anathema to psychoanalysts; to some they are exaggeratedly distasteful, especially to analysts whose own cultural condition is profoundly secular, and this is part of the difficulty of the balancing act on this particular tightrope. The concept of love, not by any means always arising from religious convictions, as the informing energy of various professional practices, including our own, has in fact nothing sentimental, careless or erotic about it. Indeed, since anxiety about a feeble technique, or a shallow, inauthentic quality, is aroused by this sort of language, it might be as well to remind ourselves that both in Greek philosophy and early religious thought the concept of agape is used to describe a strongly-felt, but non-sensual love, in contrast to that of eros. Agape was originally the term used for the religious feast which was shared by loving friends, hence Holy Communion. It could also mean a ceremonial form of celebration between two or more people; this view of it is valuable to us. As Bollas has described in Forces of Destiny (1989), celebration between analyst and patient over a piece of significant work achieved can be a genuine and integral part of an analysis, and can consolidate an already positive piece of work.
Our continued involvement in the psychic suffering of others, our drive to maintain this involvement with a view to making people `feel better', must, it seems to me, of necessity have a whole conceptual, philosophical, framework round it. We need to work continuously on building, strengthening and deepening such a philosophy, which some reflection reveals as a philosophy of life itself, for ourselves, with, for us, its very special dimension relating to our work. Many people become more aware of the need for this as they grow older, when they have more space and peace of mind to contemplate it after the primary construction of their years of detailed work on theory and technique. We need to ask ourselves often why we do this work, where do our sustained urges to repair and heal come from, and not lose touch with the meaning of this for us. It is primarily for our own benefit that we make this enquiry of ourselves, but the direct result which we can rest on in our working life is that this life is deepened and strengthened by the enquiry. Our own personal religious or philosophical views should not, in my opinion, be directly referred to in communication with patients, with only very rare exceptions. But if we ourselves find we need a reliable philosophy of life, which we may reflect and act upon -- which is thinkable, in other words -- it can only prove to be a refreshing source of renewable energy. We must all face the tasks of ageing and of our death, and if we deny the enhancing support of studying our lives and their meanings for us, it is likely that we will create emptier analyses. A kind of automaticity is a danger here, as we rely on routines, safe ways we have trodden many times before, which, conjoined with the possibilities of rigidification which I touched on earlier, may lead to a kind of despair, a very late development of a false self in ourselves as analysts. An analogy which comes to mind is that of the priest who loses his faith, and is trapped in the only rituals and words he knows how to perform and utter, while experiencing a darkness in his soul. To begin earlier on in our own lives to develop a philosophical attitude to them and to our choices (and by this I do not mean that our own views will be a suitable prescription for anybody else) will ensure that as age becomes real and death approaches as a sure event for us, our philosophical musculature is ready and working, enabling us to embrace these events in ways that are positive for ourselves and therefore for us in our working life. For comprehensive reliability our personal philosophy should, in my view, be independent of any psychoanalytical Weltanschauung. I have referred in greater detail to this whole subject in a paper entitled `What does it mean: "Love is not enough"?' (this volume, Ch. 8).
I must hope that the reader has not been misled here into thinking that I have been exploring an almost totally different subject, but one which crops up in discussion from time to time -- rather than in the literature. This is the one about whether liking one's patients is a positive therapeutic factor: it is deliberate that this subject was preceded by the last paragraph, on the concept of love, because I see that as more fundamental to the positive therapeutic process. Liking people is anyway subject to fluctuations in a way that love is not. A deep and thorough professional attitude which may best be described as being with our patients in their search for truth and health, does not necessarily entail an obligation, moral or otherwise, to like them and certainly not to `take sides' in a prejudiced way; it is one of the strongest therapeutic factors in psychoanalysis that our whole style and attitude make the patient feel, rightly, important to us over a long period and this is fundamentally different from a kind of partisanship. Vicissitudes of this feeling in ourselves are there for our own self-analysis as we proceed, and are inevitable. One might go so far as to say that they are what the countertransference is about. And I imagine that we mostly have the repeated experience of coming to like, certainly to care for, each patient as the analysis unfolds. Again however this must be distinguished from an off-balance failure in perspective, when we may fall into the delusion that all our geese are swans; special favouritism, getting caught in idealizations, even becoming over-preoccupied with a particular patient, all say something about a temporary impairment in our own judgement and detachment. An interesting variant of this matter is that being thoroughly dislikable can be a major symptom of a rewarding form of psychopathology to treat, and I am not of the opinion that a prospective patient should be turned down at first interview on these grounds alone, though the countertransference work may be tough and slow. I will now describe an example.
Many years ago, a man in his late fifties was sent to me by a colleague who had been running a therapeutic group for several years. The group was a consolidated one, and had worked steadily on as a group all that time. This man was a member of it. I cannot remember now how or why he got into group therapy in the first place; I rather think some definite symptoms had presented and had cleared up. He was referred to me for the possibility of analysis on the rather unusual grounds that nobody liked him. He was proposing to leave the group, as he did not like any of them, either. A lot had been worked on, including this very matter, but usually only in rather disguised ways, for example, he was very often the selected bad object, or the excluded one, in the group work. I am not sure that the way my colleague put it to me had ever quite been put to this man in such bald terms -- indeed, as a sort of diagnosis, which is what it was. I found this not only unusual, but
challenging and after a preliminary interview, I took this man into analysis. I soon saw exactly what my colleague and his group had meant. He had an air of almost insufferable, humourless selfrighteousness about him, and yet that in itself was only an approximate formulation. There was an indefinable something which was unattractive and dislikeable, a slightly whingeing quality, a kind of subtle self-pity. This was unattractively meshed with a demanding insensitivity. Everything he said was a self-orientated statement, which immediately put one's back up, but also made one think of things which might indeed provoke such an attitude. He was clearly not an agreeable member of a group. It slowly transpired in analysis that this man had, almost consciously, adopted a scapegoat role in his childhood; he had identified, at an early age, with an attitude of his parents and siblings which was for certain complex reasons, completely understandable, but deeply excluding. Very rapidly, and very young, he assembled a defensive armour whereby he achieved a number of things -- he identified with the aggressors, he became defiant and gloried in his role -- like Richard Crouchback, he was himself, alone; he showed, and came to believe, that he Didn't Care and of course, he set up a constantly self-fulfilling prophecy. I was already very interested in the ways in which children, and later adults, try to give meaning to themselves and their lives, often at the cost of great suffering, as if this sense of meaning is of the highest importance for survival and sanity; from this I began to deduce that it is of the highest importance, since the resulting personality is often disturbed and even unloveable, and yet it makes a kind of deep existential sense to the patient. In the case of this particular man, it was as if he had perceived and said to himself: `Well, people seem to treat me as if I am bad and not loveable, so perhaps they are right; perhaps I am not loveable or at least if I behave as if I am not, they will love me for being brave and spotting the truth.' It was an intricate and long analysis but when we really got hold of this central idea, it slowly became possible to unravel the long tangled skein of his life. He quite simply, and in many different ways, got better. He became likeable, and then somewhat loveable. This is not simply the prejudiced view of the analyst who is pleased with her own handiwork; he married and became a happier and more generous person with his wife, his new young children, and his friends. He had had the `will to work' at his analysis and a kind of hope which sustained us through many a tough and painful passage.
While I am on this subject, I would like to go to its furthest extreme and make a point about something we work towards in analysis with people who hate -- especially one or other or both of their parents, who may indeed truly have been hateful, and hurt and damaged the patient. Slowly, as the patient emerges from chronic pain and damage, he may come to be able to analyse for himself the damaging parent and may come to see that he or she, in their ways, were young and hopeful once, before they became injured and hateful. They may come to see that he or she was, or could have been, likeable. The patient may well come to forgive the parent, or at least to replace hate with tolerance and a kind of love.
We have come a long way from the excited enthusiasm of our first faltering steps on the tightrope of our daily life as analysts. If I am asked now to select one comprehensive feature as the most constantly and positively therapeutic, what would be my choice? Without doubt, the quality of sustained, unflagging attention. The slow development of this kind of attention reminds us of how paradoxical the analytical attributes need to be; our attention should be both detached and involved, both scanning and focused; if possible it should be, as Bion suggested, free from memory and desire (1970, p. 34). At first encounter, people sometimes have difficulty with Bion's idea; but it is an idea which is relative, firstly to our overall goals in treatment, and secondly to time. To speak succinctly, our only goal in analysis should be that the patient's disturbed unhappiness and symptomatology should be reduced. During every session, we clear our conscious minds of his and our own memories; thus we free all our psychic and emotional energies for attending to his here-and-now; blended with a strong curiosity and an unexploitative wish to reduce his suffering, attention forms the constant matrix of a positive therapeutic attitude to our work.