Love in the Afternoon: a relational Reconsideration of Desire and Dread in the Countertransference

Implications of a New Psychoanalytic Model

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Implications of a New Psychoanalytic Model

Ironically, psychoanalysis proper began with the recognition of infantile sexuality, incestuous wishes, and their impact on the organization of childhood fantasy. The treatment process became a focused attempt to untangle the intricately intertwined threads of identifications, erotic desire, and murderous hatred, as they gave shape and unique coloration and texture to the organization of each individual's internal object world. As the theory of technique became organized around an understanding of the transference (the patient's fantasies about, and wishes in regard to, the analyst, as they reflected earlier and unconscious aspects of relationships between patient and significant objects), a dual emphasis was placed on maximizing these transference experiences and on keeping them “pure,” immune to suggestion and influence by the specific person of the analyst. Intense, one-sided experiences of transference distortion (the patient's distorted reconfiguration of the present in accordance only with her own pathological relationships of the past) became the analytic ideal. The mode of analytic action came to rest upon the elaboration of such distortions and the insight born of interpretive clarification of their historic and essentially pathological roots. As such, the Gemini twins of abstinence and neutrality became the sine qua non of precise analytic technique. Within such a model the analyst existed only as the object of the patient's desires and counter desires; and only complete frustration of transferential oedipal wishes would result in an interpretable transference neurosis.

Certainly psychoanalysis has come a long way in its deconstruction of such fundamental analytic tenets. Many of us have come to view the psychoanalytic encounter as a two-person process in which both the patient and analyst bring to bear a unique perception of their shared experience, not only informed by the realistic perceptions they hold of each other but colored, shaped, at times distorted by the unique system of internalized object relations that each participant projects upon the other and with which each comes to identify in the other. Within such a revised model the traditional understanding of analytic neutrality becomes untenable. We assume—indeed, we rely upon—the hope that analyst and patient together will become enmeshed in complicated reenactments of early, unformulated experiences with significant others that can shed light upon the patient's current interpersonal and intrapsychic difficulties by reopening in the analytic relationship prematurely foreclosed areas of experience.

As we move within a field defined by analytic participation reenactment and, ultimately, understanding, so, too, the classical notions of

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abstinence and nongratification are called into question. It would appear to follow logically that if reenactment within the transference-countertransference experience is to be understood and integrated as anything more than an iatrogenic retraumatization of the patient, something essentially different must happen in order to render this reenactment only a partial one. The analyst, by dint of her very presence and ability to provide certain protective, holding, and containing functions, fundamentally changes the patient's earlier experiences of anxiety, sadness, envy, rage, and erotic hyperarousal. In so doing, the analytic space provides the backdrop against which previously foreclosed experiences can be reopened, mastered, and more effectively integrated within an internal system that no longer views such moments as overwhelming and dangerous. The analyst herself becomes both the magnet that draws out the reenactment of unconsciously internalized systems of self and object and the architect of the transitional arena where such self and object experiences become free to play and reconfigure themselves in more harmonious ways. Magnet and architect, as they volley between foreground of active interpretive work and background of containment and holding, bring into focus the necessity of discovering an optimal tension between interpreting the past and cocreating the new. It would, indeed, be naive to assume that within such a model, the particular history that shapes the analyst's subjective experience of the analytic encounter can be ignored or that the experience itself, subjective though it may be, is anything less than a conduit via which we gain access to as yet unarticulated aspects of the patient's experience.

Thus, comes our current fascination with the analyst's countertransference: how to know it, how to use it, when to disclose it; what represents dangerous, countertransferentially induced acting out on the part of the analyst, and what represents what Aron (1991), in a beautiful clinical application of Benjamin's (1988) important work, has defined as the patient's understanding of, and fantasies about, the analyst's subjectivity. Within such a climate, the essential absence of any informed discussions of the analyst's sexual and erotic experiences becomes even more mystifying. It is my hope that a sober reflection upon the unconscious processes that have kept such a dialogue out of the professional literature may shed light on certain parallel processes at work in the psychoanalytic encounter.

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