"The Allure Of The Bad Object

Eleanore M. Armstrong-Perlman

Free Associations

Years ago when working in a psychiatric hospital I became aware that in many cases admission had been precipitated by the loss of a relationship.  Such patients might vary from being acutely regressed to presenting with a florid psychotic confusional state with the manic grandiosity, paranoid and phobic features.  Internal reality was superimposed on external reality.  I was involved in interviewing the immediate family and any other relevant, significant others.  Slowly a picture emerged of what might have been the emotionally salient features precipitating the breakdown.  The breakdown might have been precipitated by the marriage of a sibling who had been in loco parentis.  The patient could not tolerate the loss and the phantasies that it had aroused in him.  It might have been precipitated when the long-separated wife finalized divorce proceedings for remarriage.  Or it might have been precipitated by more immediate and comprehensible cases of loss such as a current rejection in their erotic life.

In this hospital, there was a policy of going through previous medical records with a fine toothcomb, and, where there was a history of previous breakdowns, looking for circumstances that might explain the periods or relative remission.  One would often find varying clinical features so that no neat classificatory diagnosis could be assigned.  The patients concerned could be described as poly-neurotic with intermittent psychotic episodes.  Borderline was not then a fashionable term.  In a Fairbairnian sense, it appeared that various forms of neurotic defense had been utilized to stave off the collapse of the ego.  Sometimes one found that the period of relative remission coincided with a period where the patients had been seen regularly by an interested senior registrar and that the current episode had been precipitated by his leaving.  The senior registrar had become a significant figure or good object for them.  Their response to loss was fragmentation.

In private practice there are emergency referrals of people with similarities to the patients described.  The more acute of these referrals tend to come from psychodynamically minded general practitioners.  The patient arrives complaining of fragmentation and often a fear of going mad.  Again, on exploration one often finds that there was a loss, or there is a threatened loss of a relationship, which appears to function as a precipitant for the current subjective experience of a disintegrating, beleaguered, overwhelmed self.  There are variations in how much they have been able to establish holding situations for themselves, in terms of their capacities to use friends or relatives to establish a containing environment.

However, the presenting situation is that the loss or impending loss of a relationships traumatizing—traumatizing in as much as the anxiety or terror experienced has almost overwhelmed the self.  An experience of loss or rejection has precipitated affects and fantasies that they cannot encompass.

With these patients one often finds a history of detachment or even active rejection of others in their erotic relationships.  Such people are often significantly high achievers with an established history of being inspirational managers or teachers.  But they have functioned as a resource for others.  They are often acutely perceptive and adaptive to the needs of others and have done well in careers where the use of these skills is maximized.

The currently lost, or about the lost, other has been an object of desire.  They had felt ‘real’ in the relationship.  But when they give a history of the relationship, one wonders at their blindness.  Their object choice seems pathological or perverse.  There had been indications that the other was incapable of reciprocating, or loving, or accepting them in the way they desire.  They had been pursuing an alluring but rejecting object; and exciting yet frustrating object.  The object initially may have offered the conditions of hope but it failed to satisfy.  It had awakened an intensity of yearning but it is essentially the elusive object of desire, seemingly there but just out of reach.

These patients appear not to perceive or register how narcissistically damaged the other is.  They assume that the rejective response of the other is due to the extent of their own need driving the other away.  Or, if they do perceive the other, they have a fantasy that they can omnipotently repair them and then convert them into the loving accepting object or person that they are so desperately and obsessively seeking.

They often assume that if only they can repress the intensity of their own needs and adapt themselves to the needs of the other, the relationship offers hope, whatever the costs of personal submission.  The rage consequent on the frustration and humiliation when this hope is not fulfilled may not totally repressed, or converted into anxiety, or into a somatic symptoms, or deflected on to others, or turned against the self for not being able, as they see it, to submit enough or wanting too much.

The judgment of the other becomes paramount.  It is as if the other becomes the ego-ideal, now externalized, who must be submitted to at all costs.  The loss of the relationship, or rather the hope of a relationship, cannot be borne.  The frustrating aspects of the relationship are denied as well as the consequent rage, hatred and humiliation, and the shame regarding the humiliation.  It is as if they tailor themselves, their behavior, their wishes and their fantasies to the behest or assumed needs of the other.

The shame may lead to estrangement from friends who withdraw support.  They are aware only of the self-destructive nature of the relationship, and lose patience and sympathy with a relationship which, perceived at an everyday level, is perverse, or masochistic, or addictive.  But the individual cannot let go no matter how malign the experience.  The need is compulsive and the fantasy of loss is experienced as potentially catastrophic, leading either to the disintegration of the self or to a fear of a reclusive emptiness to which any state of connectedness, no matter how infused with suffering, is preferable.  Any anguish occasioned by the relationship is preferable to the feared anguish of the acceptance of the hopelessness of the relationship.  They cannot acknowledge the hopelessness of that relationship, or that its satisfactions are partial and illusory, for to give up that hope may lead to a collapse of the self.  They cannot accept that the desired other perhaps cannot love them as they would wish to be loved.  As Bowlby says, no child under ten can tolerate the emotional realization that his parents do not love him.  But these patients are not, at least superficially, children.

For Freud, a compulsive relationship is a mark of the unconscious.  For Fairbairn, is a mark of the infantile.  For both, the issue is the adhesiveness of the libido.  The individual is ‘fixated’ to a particular form of object choice.  For Freud, this poses a problem given the stress he puts on the pleasure principle.  For Freud, it is a form of repetition compulsion or a manifestation of the death instinct.  Fairbairn, however, stresses that the basic need of the individual is the acceptance of the object and that the maintenance of the relationship with the object is necessary for the psychic survival of the infant.

I believe that Fairbairn’s theoretical structure provides insight into understanding the compulsive, masochistic persistence of such relationships.

Fairbairn offers a theory of the personality ‘conceived in terms of relationships between the ego and its objects, both external and internal’ (1949, p. 153).  In this theory, the self is reality-oriented from the start and therefore reality-constrained from the start.  ‘The real libidinal aim is the establishment of satisfactory relationships with objects; and it is, accordingly, the objects that constitutes the true libidinal goal’ (1946, p.138).  This view would appear to have increasing empirical validation from the work inspired by researcher in attachment theory, and also in the works of developmental psychologists (Stern, 1985).

The basic need of the child is for a satisfactory relationship with the object.  There is a need to relate as a whole person to a whole person.  In as much as there is failure in the empathic responsiveness of the mother to her child, the child turns to other forms of substitutive satisfactions.  According to Fairbairn, it is only then, if the basic needs have not been met, that the pleasure principle arises as a secondary and deteriorative principle.  Thus, in Fairbairn’s theory, the self develops and is structured in the context of its relationships with the parents and is affected by the actual vicissitudes of that relationship.  Actual frustrations lead to the development of accentuated need and to further consequent frustration.  Because of this frustration the infant develops an ambivalent attitude to his objects and is then confronted with an ambivalent object that he finds both exciting and rejecting.  It tantalizes and is thus exciting but in as much as it frustrates it is rejecting.  If the mother is too frustrating, given his absolute need of her, she becomes infinitely desirable but at the same time she is infinitely frustrating which gives rise to his hatred.

The mother thus has a duality of aspects.  She represents both hope and hopelessness.  For Fairbairn the strength of the ambivalence is related to the actual frustrations experienced at the hands of the object.  ‘Ambivalence is not itself a primal state, but one which arises as a reaction to deprivation and frustration’ (1915a, p.171).  It is rooted in the subjective experience of the infant with its particularities related to a particular mother’s interaction pattern.  Again there is empirical validation for this.  Attachment patterns are established which are related to the actual capacities of the mother to respond empathically to the needs of her child, as has been shown by Ainsworth (1982).

Frustration gives rise to aggression which represents ‘a reaction on the part of the infant to deprivation and frustration in his libidinal relationships – and more particularly to the trauma of separation from his mother’ (Fairbairn, 1915a, p.172).  The child’s ambivalence is structured by the fear of the loss of the object which, given his state of absolute dependence and need for acceptance, is necessary to his psychical and physical survival.

Given his absolute need for his parents, the child must somehow cope and defend himself against his intolerable situation.  His total need does not allow a recognition of his mother as a bad object; a strategy that would solve the ambivalence, but an intolerable psychic cost.

The first attempt at a solution is internalization.  ‘With a view to controlling the unsatisfying object, he employs the defensive process of internalization to remove it from outer reality, where it eludes his control, to the sphere of inner reality, where it offers prospects of being more amenable to control in the role of internal object’ (1915a, p.172).

Fairbairn stresses the defensive use of internalization.  If one considers that a defense always has a protective function, the protective function of internalization in this case would be to preserve the image of his mother as a safe person that he can safely love.  By controlling the embodied expression of his emotional and physical needs, it also limits the risk of the experience of disappointment and rejection at the hands of his mother.

It is clear from Fairbairn that what is internalized at this stage is the whole object with all its contradictory and confusing features.

However, this first method of protection does not solve the problem because the main body of the object is internalized and ‘both the over-exciting and over-frustrating elements in the internal (ambivalent) object are unacceptable to the original ego’ (1951b, p. 135).

The next step in the process of defense is to cope with this internalized object.  The way this is done is by splitting the internal whole object.  There is conflict between the internalized object and the original ego.  So the frustrating and the rejecting elements ‘are both split off from the main body of the object and repressed in such a way as to give rise to “the exciting object” and “the rejecting object”.  The libidinal cathexes of these two objects, persisting in the spite of their rejection, will then give rise to a splitting of the ego’ (1951b, p.135).

This is the second step in the establishment of the child’s endopsychic situation.  But this step affects his ego, the part that relates, and in future will relate to and filter his perceptions of the external other, because the self splits in terms of its attachment to these internalized objects.  The libidinal self is attached to the exciting objects and the anti-libidinal self is attached to the rejecting object, or, as Fairbairn calls it, the ‘internal saboteur’.

The successful maintenance of this endopsychic situation depends on both the strength of the infantile need and the persistence of the original ambivalence.

But the child still needs his mother in external reality, and the reality still persists.  He has coped with this by internalization and splitting which means that he can no longer see his mother as bad.  But all these strategies do not alter the reality of the mother who may continue to be frustrating and rejecting in reality.  He has only altered his perception, so he is left with the problem of rationalizing and explaining to himself when she is bad.  Why is she bad?  How does he explain the situation to himself?  Obviously because he is bad.  If she does not behave to him in a loving way it is because he is bad or unlovable.  His defense mechanisms to protect the relationship with his mother in external reality have left him totally unprotected, except for the illusion that if he behaves differently perhaps his mother might love him.  Given his absolute dependence he cannot afford to perceive the objects he depends as bad, so he must be bad.  Given the threat of the loss of his mother he cannot risk expressing his feelings lest he lose her as a good object.  The blame for the badness is attributed to the self.  He can attempt to alter and control himself rather than acknowledge the confusing duality of aspects of his mother.  Fairbairn puts this very strongly.

It also becomes a dangerous procedure for the child to express his libidinal need, i.e. his nascent love, of his mother in face of rejection at her hands: for it is equivalent to discharging his love into an emotional vacuum.  Such a discharge is accompanied by an affective experience which is singularly devastating.  In the older child this experience is one of intense humiliation over the depreciation of his love, which seems to be involved.  At a somewhat deeper level (or at an earlier stage) the experience is one of shame over the display of needs that are disregarded or belittled.  In virtue of these experiences of humiliation and shame he feels reduced to a state of worthlessness, destitution or beggardom.  His sense of his own value is threatened; and he feels bad in the sense of ‘inferior’.  The intensity of these experiences is, of course, proportionate to the intensity of his need; and intensity of need itself increases his sense of badness by contributing to it the quality of ‘demanding too much’.  At the same time his sense of badness is further complicated by the sense of utter impotence which he also experiences.  At a still deeper level (r at a still earlier stage) the child’s experience is one of, so to speak, exploding ineffectively and being completely emptied of libido.  It is thus an experience of disintegration and of imminent psychical death. (1944, p.113)

He is afraid of expressing his aggression lest he loses his good object and afraid of expressing love for fear of loss of himself.  A patient of mine once said that the subjective experience of his mother’s failure to respond to a loving gesture was like falling down a cliff.

The steps in Fairbairn’s argument can be briefly summarized.  The frustrations of an actual reality relationship with the mother lead to ambivalence.  This leads to internalization as an attempt at control.  This does not work, as it has merely banished the intolerable situation to the inner world.  The next step is the splitting of the whole object which leads to the splitting of the self.  Both these stratagems, though they effectively protect the view of the mother, do not alter the frustrating situation of the unresponsiveness of the mother.  Having successfully protected the object, the only way to cope with the reality is by attacking the self.

The process I have described results in an internal trinity being established in the child.  The child has become split in relation to the whole object.  This may put him on a path determined by the persistence of his infantile need of looking for an object to put him together again so that he can regain the lost unity of the self.  We can view the ‘perverse’ addictive object choice as an attempt to find an object which, through associative links, combines the duality of aspects of the internalized whole object.  Its duality of aspects may offer the illusory hope of the reintegration of the self.

Though all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again, perhaps if he finds an object or a person that resembles his mother in her duality of aspects but in another guise, this will provide a relationship that can re-establish the lost unity of the self.  The seemingly perverse, addictive, object choice should be viewed as a libidinal manifestation in an attempt to restore the lost unity of the self.  It is attempt to repeat and work through in a relationship, which has the alluring and rejective features that led to the establishment of the basic endopsychic situation which structured the splitting of the self.  This structuring was necessary for the emotional survival of the self to stave off the terror and fragmentation induced by the fear of object loss, but led to a depletion of the central self.  Perhaps the perverse object choice enables him to feel real.  As one patient said after he was able to grieve the loss of such a relationship, at least it had enabled him to feel real rather than frozen.

Some patients are able to give a clinically detached picture of the exceedingly disturbed mother they had emotionally repudiated, a picture based not only on childhood memories but also on the mother’s grossly distributed behavior in the present.  The mother has continued to behave as an exciting and rejecting object.  The exciting and rejecting aspects of the relationship have been internalized by the child.  But this defense can be continuously threatened by an external relationship.  The parent is not a safe object.  Some of the mothers of my patients had thoughtlessly used their children for their own physical comfort until late in pubescence.  The child has perhaps been confused, excited and disgusted by this, but cannot acknowledge it.  Thus the original splitting is continuously threatened and there is probably increasing layering and fusion superimposed upon the internal exciting and rejecting objects.  The central ego has continually to adopt fresh measures to strengthen the original repression.

But when these patients begin to elaborate on their current fears of losing, for example, their wife, one has the sudden and growing realization that they have, like Oedipus, married their mothers in ignorance.  The parallels between mother and wife can be glaring, but the patients are blind to the fact that they are consumed by a desperate desiring need for their mother.  This need is related to her alluring, rejecting features.  The wife might behave with them in a tantalizing fashion, craving body contact but at the same time rejecting sexual contact, thus repeating the pattern of a relationship with the mother who used the child inappropriately for her own needs.  She has tantalized the child sexually and in some sense excited him, but always diminished him.  Like Jocasta, she had not been able to relate to her child as her son and her boundaries were blurred.  She had offered him excitement.  His need for her is accentuated and in conditions of stress he may turn to the only satisfactions he has known.  Despair and desolation are denied and the adult then seeks sexualized but rejecting encounters, which again exacerbate the need and the frustration, but are necessary to stave off the object loss and the feared fragmentation of the self.

They are inveterate breast seekers at heart, but now the breast has become genitalized.  They are seeking a relationship with a woman’s body perhaps out of despair and futility about the possibility of establishing a relationship with another as a whole person.

In such cases, the father has often been psychically unavailable to the child to help him out of this stifling bond with the mother.  She has been essentially his only means of satisfaction.  As one patient said, ‘My mother has colonized my sexuality.’  His mother had idealized him and had behaved sexually inappropriately in an arousing fashion but she had responded to his emotional needs by shaming him.  He went on to describe his later compulsive sexual re-enactments after he had been able to let them go as his ‘false comforters’.  His adult sexual needs were masking his infantile clinging ones and a rapacious need for body contact, to maintain the partial satisfactions that he had known.

For Fairbairn, the eroticisation of need is consequent on frustration and the resulting ambivalence arising in the original relation with the mother.  And ‘the more satisfactory [are the child’s] emotional relations with his parents, the less urgent are his physical needs for their genitals’ (1944, p.122).

I would like to present a case which combines the features I have been discussing.  One young man sought therapy because he had had a psychotic break lasting three hours when he was delusionally convinced that there were voices on the radio accusing him of killing a prostitute.  Occasionally, compulsively and with a great shame, he did frequent prostitutes.  When he had looked in the mirror during his temporary psychotic episodes he had also hallucinated the face of his girlfriend.

On exploration, the current regression appeared to have been precipitated by his girlfriend announcing that their sexual relationship had ended because she had decided that she was a lesbian.  But she wanted him to share the same bed on a non-sexual basis.  She was alluring, frustrating and rejecting.

His mother had intermittently had him in her bed until he was twelve, while his father was away on business.  At the same time he had memories of his pre-school days of being isolated and alone in the house when his mother used to lock herself in her bedroom.  His father, orphaned in early childhood, as in the present, spent his time in isolation in the kitchen.  His mother had used her son collusively to air her contempt for his father as well as expressing her sexual discontents.  His father was emotionally unavailable to help him out of this collusive relationship with his mother.

He was an extremely gifted achiever in the field that his mother said she had sacrificed for him.  She encouraged him to succeed, apart from phone calls when she would talk about how suicidal she felt and express the wish that he would take a job in the provinces where they could live together.  This would precipitate bouts of suicidal despair in him but he did not make any emotional connection between these feelings and the phone calls.

The symptom of the furtive, shamed use of prostitutes disappeared quite early in the therapy when interpreted in terms of a perverse excitement used to mask despair and desolation.  Again it related to breaches in the empathic communication with either his mother or his girlfriend.  His mother, though emotionally insensitive to his emotional needs, had used him physically to relieve her own desolation.  She had also provided him with some satisfactions.  She seemingly had a genuine capacity for humorous play.  Externally he was capable of being ‘the life and soul of the party’ no matter how desperate he felt.  He had snug for his emotional supper.  He had bought his mother’s love.

There was one later near-psychotic episode when his mother telephoned him alleging that his father was a pederast.  This reinstated her as a persecutory object and I saw him as an emergency on a Sunday.  In the session he focused on his feelings about his mother’s lack of concern for him.  This was a few weeks before he was due to marry.  He was also anxious about a new career.  He perceived the phone call as a destructive attack on both himself and his relationship with his father.  The therapy obviously entailed working through ambivalence, murderous rage and despair.  I tended to be kept as a good object, the one place where he could be himself.

Some years later, after changing his career, and after realizing that he had compliantly lived out the aspirations of his mother, he wondered if he genuinely loved the woman he later went on to marry.  Though he desired her and felt genuine warmth for her, she was not an idealized object.  He was aware of her neurotic anxieties and could behave assertively with her.  But she did not obsess him like the girlfriend of his youth, who had wanted him in her bed but without sexual contact.  She did not combine allure with rejection.  She thus did not evoke his mother and thus was not totally fulfilling.  His mother had been both exciting and rejecting, while blocking access to his father.  He had related to a woman who was like his mother.

In the therapy, he later come to feel loving feelings for his father and to establish a relationship with him when he came to perceive that underneath all his father’s blocks there was a capacity for love and affection.

I have argued that the obsessive love for the exciting object is not a random choice but a refinding of the bad object.  The object has aspects that are similar to the frustrating and rejecting aspects of the original whole object.  It has features related to the alluring but frustrating aspects of the original parents that led to the construction of the basic endopsychic situation.

The current interaction and reality mirror the initial trauma.  As so often happens, the present gives us a clue to the past.  By paying careful attention to features of the relationship with frustrating objects we can perhaps begin to reconstruct the consolidations of failure that led to the basic splitting of the self.

This externalization cannot be dismissed simply in terms of projection in as much as there is a denial of the aspects of the object that are both frustrating and rejecting.  Some of the men I have worked with were the children not of depressed mothers but of hysterics who had been genuinely idealizing and rejecting with their sons.  They had gone on to relate to a hysteric, but a hysteric with features similar to their mothers.  Also, their mothers were hysterics who would not have satisfied E. Zetzel’s criteria for the ‘good enough hysteric’ who would be amenable to treatment.  They were beyond repair.

There is a need for understanding so that the person can individuate and begin to distinguish what belongs to the self and what belongs to the other.  There is a need for this to be felt and to be worked through.  The ambivalence must be acknowledged and worked through so that the person can begin to dissolve the cathexis to the exciting object and accept that their wish for the loving acceptance of the object is hopeless.  They have to feel that this no longer means that there is no hope for the self.  They have to feel that they can survive the trauma of loss with sadness and be able to mourn for that which they did not receive and acknowledge the good in what they had.  As Freud writes, ‘A thing which has not been understood inevitably reappears; like an unlaid ghost, it cannot rest until the mystery has been solved and the spell broken’ (Freud, 1909, p. 122).

"Obsession With The Rejecting Beloved"

Elizabeth E. Mintz

Psychoanalytic Review 67 (4): 479-492, 1980

Every practicing analyst, as well as every novelist and poet, is familiar with the phenomenon of unrequited love, yet this condition has been more often described than psychoanalytically explored.  This chapter presents five cases from the writer’s recent or current practice in which unrequited love reached the proportions of an obsession, so intense and so prolonged as to be a primary reason for entering treatment.  Among these women there exist certain common denominators that may justify us in regarding this condition as a specific pathological syndrome and in speculating as to its etiology.

All the women described here were seen in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, one to three sessions a week, for periods ranging from several months to two or more years.  Other cases from practice have exhibited a similar syndrome.  Several additional cases were men, whose obsession with a rejecting woman was equally persistent, painful, and unrealistic.  It seems probable that, inasmuch as the etiological factors here hypothesized go back to preoedipal and even preverbal stages, at which there is little or no conscious awareness of sexual identity, the dynamics of the syndrome are similar in men and in women.  However, as this paper offers only a preliminary exploration of the topic, the cases to be described are limited to women for the sake of simplicity.

All the women were above average in intelligence; all were professionally successful; all were attractive and possessed considerable social skill, with other social and sexual relationship available in their lives; none had a previous history of hospitalization, “breakdowns,” or inability to function socially and professionally.  All of them were able to form stable friendships, had been involved in previous love relationships, and were capable of sexual enjoyment.

Eugenia is a 34-year-old divorced woman who is the dean of women at a small college.  Her mother was immature and dependant; her father cold and domineering.  She has no previous history of treatment.

For the last three years, Eugenia has maintained an intermittent sexual relationship with a colleague who makes it clear that he will never marry her, although he states that he is looking for the “the right kind of women” whom he will eventually marry.

Because she thinks of him continually, Eugenia meets her professional responsibilities only with difficulty.  She would like to be “another kind of woman, the right kind,” because then he could love her.  When she feels rejected by him, she frequently becomes desperate, clamorous, tearful, and pleading, although she recognizes that he is further alienated by this behavior.  After two years of treatment, Eugenia is able to recognize that at these times she does not feel like herself but like a very young child, with the same sense of panic and desolation she felt when her father would take her out for walks and leave her briefly, even if only to enter the men’s room.

Eugenia is not interested in other men, although she wishes that she could be.  Despite the explicit statements of her lover, whom she now sees very rarely, she still believes that in his deepest heart he loves her.  In two years of treatment, Eugenia has gained some ego strength and has been partly relieved of a slight chronic depression and a sense of selflessness, but the obsession has begun to diminish only slightly.

Susan is a 37-year-old divorced woman with two children.  She is a successful business executive who has had five years of previous treatment with a male analyst for complaints other than her subsequent obsession.  Her mother was withdrawn and her father sometimes warm but inconsistent.

Six years before consulting me, Susan had an affair with a man whose interest in her lasted only a few weeks.  Afterwards he married and divorced another woman and made it consistently clear that he was not interested in further contact with Susan.  Nevertheless, she continued to write and telephone him, and at one time actually traveled to his home in another city and sat on his doorstep until he summoned the police.  She then formed a well-worked-out delusional system, taking material primarily from numerology and astrology, and spent 24 sleepless hours in a “vigil,” expecting momentarily that he would join her.  When he did not appear, she became overtly psychotic and was voluntarily hospitalized for six weeks, making a good recovery which has now lasted for over a year; but she continues to think of her former lover.  Here are questions form several of Susan’s sessions:

I still believe we’re somehow mystically linked together…Yes, I can hear you when you say he obviously isn’t interested, but I just can’t believe it.  Someday we’ll be together, it’s just meant to be.  One funny thing, our sex life wasn’t ever that great, but I just know it could be.

Paradoxically, Susan, the only one of the five women who required hospitalization at any time, also showed a degree of spontaneous insight consistent with the hypotheses advanced in this chapter.  Here is an excerpt form a letter written to her former lover:

I have been trying to determine what my absorption with you has meant to me… so much energy has gone into it… I want to salvage that energy supply and integrate it with the rest of life… I think what I have been trying to salvage has been my own intuition and impulsivity.  Somewhere, back in the dark ages of my childhood, I rejected these aspects of myself and chose to go with the more rational, controlled, “adult” aspects of my psyche and push aside the irrational parts of myself…

After recovering from her breakdown, and although she expressed warm feeling toward me, Susan decided to continue with a male analyst, partly for practical reasons and partly because she hoped that a man might be better able to help work out the obsession.

Annette is 24-year-old television actress with three years of previous treatment with a male analyst.  Her mother was warm but immature and self-centered; her father deserted the family when Annette was four.

Annette’s love affair began with an intense, whirlwind sexual relationship.  After three weeks, her lover let her know that he was dating other women and began to seek her out at longer and longer intervals.  After a few months of misery, Annette succeeded in breaking off with him, but remained obsessed.

When I see a TV show and an actor has the same name as him, I go bananas.  I look for him on the street.  I shake when I pick up the phone.  I think all the time about the first time we made it together… we were sitting on the floor listening to records, and he said, “Did you know we’re going to make love?”  Did you say obsession?  Yes, that’s my word too.  I love him and I hate him.  I never hated any man so much except my father…

    

Aside from the obsession, Annette’s chief symptom was a phobia that someone might introduce poison into her food in a restaurant, or even into uncovered food left in her own home.  She clearly recognized this phobia as unrealistic, but was almost totally unable to eat in restaurants or at the homes friends.  In other respects Annette was not paranoid.  The phobia was greatly relieved after a year of treatment, but the love obsession remained.

The outcome in this case, however, was different from the others.  Annette’s former lover, concomitantly in treatment with a therapist who urged him to form a committed relationship, sought her out, and they began spending all their time together.  At first Annette was ecstatic, but within a few weeks she was disappointed.  She found him detached, uncaring, unable to communicate.  (My impression is that Annette’s appraisal of her lover is objectively correct, but naturally one cannot be certain of this.  Given the intensity of the preoedipal longing that hypothetically form the basis of the obsession, perhaps few lovers could satisfy them.  It is, however, a measure of Annette’s increasing ego strength that she is able to consider moving away from her lover as a possible solution, rather than striving in vain to turn him into the more gratifying love object who would meet her needs.)  As their relationship draws to a close, principally by Annette’s decision, she is with great difficulty beginning to reinvest her libido in her profession and in other interests.

Louisa is a 41-year-old, strikingly beautiful woman—a choreographer and former dancer.  Her mother appears to have been an ambulatory schizophrenic; her father was stable but withdrawn.  Louisa is divorced and has had previous treatment intermittently over ten years with a male therapist before working with the therapist who became the object of her obsession.

Of the women in this sample, Louisa’s sense of self (as Kohut uses the term) was the most ill-developed.  She suffered greatly from feelings of shame, inadequacy, and personal unreality.  She had difficulty in meeting the demands of her profession and feared that she could function only under the protection of a strong man who would care for her and meet her needs.  These symptoms had taken her into long-term intermittent therapy, which did not seem to have been psychoanalytic but consisted primarily of advice and mild medication.

Some time before consulting the writer, Louisa had been in treatment for almost a year with a male therapist toward whom she developed intense sexual feelings and who was unable to resist her beauty and adoration.  He spent many sessions holding her in his arms, often bringing her manually to orgasm, and finally came to her apartment, where they had every intimacy short of intercourse.  Although she had hitherto seen nothing inappropriate in the relationship, Louisa was deeply hurt by what she experienced as a sexual rejection and by her therapist’s explanation that he “felt she needed affection, but the final sex act was not proper in a therapeutic relationship.”  With great difficulty, Louisa then broke off with him.  Subsequently she telephoned several times, but he avoided confrontation.

A year later, the obsession had scarcely diminished.  Louisa swung between fantasies of suing him for malpractice and fantasies of resuming the affair.

He was so warm and sweet to me, he was so tender!  He gave me all the love I always wanted.  Nobody else was ever so nice to me.  It’s not as if he was that gorgeous—he’s older and he’s got four children.  I don’t suppose he’d ever leave his wife for me?  If only I could exorcise him!

Of the five women here described, Louisa seemed to profit least by treatment, though there were some signs of increased self-esteem.  She left me after a year, seeking another analyst, for the given reason that she did not find me sufficiently warm and supportive.  In this she was subjectively correct.  Since I had been unable to form a stable working therapeutic alliance, she did not experience in treatment the satisfaction of personal growth, and therefore she naturally wished instead for more personal warmth than I was able or willing to offer.

Margaret, a 53-year-old widow with two grown children, is a professor of humanities at a prestigious college.  Her mother was stable but cold; her father warm but undependable.  Following the death of her husband when she was 40, she was in treatment for two years with a male analyst.  Margaret describes her treatment as “moderately successful’ my depression lifted considerably and my self-confidence increased.”  She raised two children, enjoyed a normal social life including several long-term relationships with men, and did not wish to remarry.

Margaret’s obsession began with a brief, idyllic love affair with a graduate student 25 years her junior, who after a few weeks was driven away by her intensity and her inappropriate demands.  “I couldn’t believe I was acting like that—I’d call him in the middle of the night.”  After he refused to see her again, she understood a deliberate plan for recovering from the extreme anguish she experienced.  She took up gold, learned to play the recorder, and tried to form a relationship with a man who was socially appropriate for her but whose interest she was unable to return.  A year later, she sought treatment because she continued to be obsessed.

In one of her sessions, Margaret quoted Racine’s beautiful line,C’est Venus tout entieré a proie attachée,” which she felt precisely described her situation.  She said:

I’m haunted.  I suppose the whole affair was adolescent, but I still think he’s the most sensitive, brilliant, charismatic man I’ve ever met.  Every place I’ve ever been with him is still haunted.  If I see someone in a restaurant with a red beard like his, it’s like a physical blow.  Certain words trigger off the longing.  If I see the word lovely in a book I’m reading, it’s triggered off, because once when he liked my outfit, he said, “Don’t you look just lovely!”.  I really don’t believe in telepathy, but I have the feeling, the emotional conviction, that we’re still in touch.

Margaret’s self-esteem and her ability to function were impaired only slightly and temporarily by the loss of her lover, even before she entered treatment, and after a few months of analytic work she began to regain her zest for life.  However, a year and a half now since she last saw him, she still thinks of him frequently, though without the pain which formerly accompanied the obsession.

Among all these women (and also with similar cases seen by myself and various colleagues), the obsession shows several striking common denominators.  It’s most outstanding feature, in view of the generally good ability to test reality shown by these women, it its complete irrationality.  On a rational level, all the women (except Susan) could see that there was no hope for a resumption of the relationship, yet all of them displayed a childlike inability to accept the ending of the affair.  In various ways, all of them said, “How could he leave me, when we were so happy?  How could he possibly stop loving me, when I loved him so much?”  They said, “Somehow I know we’ll be together again, somehow.”

The recalcitrance of the obsession in treatment was noteworthy.  They gave the impression of actively clinging to the obsession, despite a stated wish to give it up.  If there were acquaintance in common with the rejecting lover, they sought information about him in direct or indirect ways.  They looked for him at social events and in public places, regardless of whether or not he was likely to be present.  In sessions, they found it difficult to speak of other topics.

All the women had felt during the love relationship, and continued to feel after its ending, that there was a mystical bond between themselves and the beloved and that he must eventually return, mystically drawn by their great longing.  They made statements such as “He haunts me, and I think that I must haunt him too.”  “He really loves me, though he doesn’t realize it.”  “When I think of him, I somehow know that he is thinking of me also.”  The naivete of these statements is particularly remarkable in view of the general high level of intelligence and sophistication in our sample.

Moreover, in describing the quality of the relationship while it was still ongoing, the women used phrases that suggested symbiotic longing.  Annette said, “When he goes to sleep first, I get lonely for him.” Eugenia said, “I’m only happy when he’s making love to me, because that is the time I get his whole attention.”  Margaret said, “When he walked in the door, I already began to hurt because I knew he’d leave eventually.”

Certain obvious explanations for the intensity and persistence of the obsession do not seem applicable.  Freud’s famous though questionable dictum that a woman experiences “sexual thralldom” to her first lover is not relevant here; all of the women had experienced several other significant sexual relationships.  Oedipal longing for a powerful and protective father figure was certainly present in Louisa’s case, but seemed unimportant with the other women.  Margaret’s obsession with a much younger man could perhaps be seen as a wish to relieve the fantasized sexual raptures of adolescence, but again this conjecture would not apply to the other women.  Self reproach and deep depression did not occur in any of the women, despite their extreme pain; hence we cannot assume that this syndrome is akin to Freud’s description of melancholia,3 in which he states that the victim of melancholia lavishes upon himself the reproaches which in fact he feels unconsciously toward the love-object by whom he has been deserted.

They hypothesis here advanced is that the irrationality, the intensity, and the intensity, and the persistence of these obsessions can be explained by: (1) the emergence of early libidinal longings for the mother, on a preoedipal or even preverbal level, and (2) partial regression to the developmental stage in which the perception of the love object may be split, or in which the objects are not clearly differentiated from the self.  These two aspects of the obsession are, of course, closely interrelated, but may be considered separately for the sake of clarity.

If certain features of the obsession are considered, there are clear resemblances to certain aspects of the infant-mother relationship.  Belief in a mystical bond with the lover suggests a partial regression to the developmental period in which mother and baby communicate without words.  Hope that the lover will return, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, suggests a regression to the magic thinking of infants and young children.  The remarkable intensity of the obsessional longing does not have the quality of normal grief and regret when an adult love relationship must be given up, but rather suggests the infant’s overwhelming need for emotional and physical nourishment, without which neither emotional nor physical survival is possible.  The tenacity with which these women clung to their obsession becomes more understandable if we assume an unconscious belief that its relinquishment means the relinquishment of hope for life itself.

In light of this aspect of our hypothesis, two fragments of clinical data become especially interesting.  The phrase “I can’t live without him,” occurred frequently in the sessions of these women, even though realistically every one of them was fully capable of impendent survival; the phrase was not uttered as a metaphor, but as a statement of actual feeling.  Also, several of the women described special delight in offering fellatio to their lovers, a sexual activity which on a mature level combines pleasure in intimacy with pleasure in giving sensual enjoyment to the beloved, but which on an unconscious level undoubtedly represents an infantile equation of breast and penis.

It must be emphasized, however, that these women did not consciously experience their love relationships as having parent-child or mother-infant qualities, either while they were ongoing or during the subsequent obsessional phase.  Only with Louisa was there a fantasy of being cared for and protected; the other women were aware only of unusual intensity and passion.  Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to assume that the love relationships were based solely, or even primarily, on oral-libidinal drives.  Even during the obsessional phase of these relationships, indications of mature adult relatedness frequently appeared alongside of the more primitive manifestations.

For example, Eugenia and Margaret (who were also the two women who could see most clearly how they had alienated their lovers by their neediness and their demand) consistently showed respect for the good qualities of the men who had rejected them, and expressed genuine concern for their well-being.  Susan, also, expressed good will toward her former lover.  On the other hand, Annette and Louisa swung back and forth between obsessional longing and an equally obsessional desire for revenge.  These differences among the women may in part reflect differences in the extent to which oral-receptive and oral-sadistic drives had been adequately integrated.

If we now pass to our second point and consider the obsession from the viewpoint to object relationships, we may obtain further understanding.  Two formulations of contemporary ego psychology are especially relevant:  (1) the concept that, up to perhaps the sixth months of life, the infant does not integrate the “good” nourishing mother and the “bad” depriving mother into a single object, and (2) the concept that a split-off part of the personality may remain invested with narcissistic libido even though, as Blanck and Blanck state, “the remainder of the personality has continued to develop, separated from the split-off part.”2a

As Freud himself originally pointed out, the infant perceives the good and the bad mother as separate entities until well into the first year.  On the basis of data given by the women in our sample, it is reasonable to speculate that an analogous split may have occurred in the perception of the lover, either at the time when they were actually together or as a consequence of the rejection.  Annette, for example, complained that her lover was always totally inconsistent in his affection toward her and would suddenly withdraw even at moments of great intimacy.  For Margaret and Louisa, the split seemed to occur as a consequence of the rejection, as expressed in such statements as, “He seemed to care for me so much, how could he be so indifferent now?”  If the adoring lover was unconsciously perceived as the good life-giving mother, and the rejecting lover as the bad mother who abandons the infant to the threat of annihilation, certainly no amount of psychic energy could be too great to expend in order to regain good mother’s love.  This, then, may have been one of the deep roots of the obsession, and would also account for he childlike incredulity with which these intelligent women regarded their rejection.

It should also be noted that all women in the sample had one parent who was cold, absent or rejecting and one parent who was warm although undependable or immature.  Perhaps the early infantile split between the good and bad aspects of the mother may be reinforced in later childhood if the two parents differ sharply in the degree of parenting they are able to offer the child.  Because of the parents, these women must have received inconsistent care in childhood, in several cases amply corroborated by conscious memories.  Thus we may conjecture that unconsciously these women were not only seeking to regain the good mother by means of magic thinking and by the investment of tremendous psychic energy in the obsession, but may also have been trying on a somewhat less regressed level to be reunited with the more nourishment parent, or even trying to elicit belated affection from the more rejecting parent as symbolized by the lover.

The concept of the narcissistic selfobject offers a somewhat different perceptive in understanding the obsession, though it by no means contradicts the aspects of out hypothesis discussed previously.  Because of early developmental vicissitudes, especially due to inconsistencies in parental care, a portion of the infant’s total libidinal energy remains bound up in a narcissistic cathexis of split-off parts of the self, and may in adult life be invested in objects which “are either used in the service of the self and of the maintenance of its instinctual investment, or objects which are themselves experienced as part of the self.”5  This split by no means precludes the development of a mature personality in many areas, nor does it prevents the possibility of forming object relationships that in many respects may include the recognition and appreciation of the love object as a separate being.  It does, however, render the individual vulnerable to forming intense and unrealistic attachment in which severe narcissistic injuries may be sustained.

If such a split in the psyche is postulated, it would help to account for the remarkable ability of the women in our sample to continue functioning (except for Susan, whose functional ability was also regained after her brief psychotic episode).  They functioned on the basis of adequately developed ego capacities, and with the portion of the total libido which was left free for cathexis of the healthy aspects of the total self.

Indeed, every woman in the group showed some features of narcissisistic personality disorder as described by Kohut: occasional feelings of emptiness and unreality; transient loss of interest in daily activities, which were nevertheless dutifully performed; over-sensitivity to minor episodes which could be experienced as slights or failure; and a sporadic sense of loneliness not necessarily justified by the objective life situation.

Kohut finds that, in the course of psychoanalysis, patients with narcissistic personality disorder may form either of two special types of transference.  In the mirror transference, the patient is partially fixated on an archaic, grandiose, infantile representation of the self (not to be confused with conceit or self-glorification in the layman’s sense), and depends on the analyst’s continued attention and implicit approval for the reinforcement of narcissistic supplies.  In the idealizing transference, the central mechanism is, “You are perfect, but I am part of you,”5b and the analyst becomes the idealized parent imago which is them cathected, not with realistic appreciation, but with narcissistic personality disturbance may unconsciously except from a lover the adoration necessary for the maintenance of the grandiose self image; or may view the beloved as a magnificent parent imago in whose power and beauty the lover may participate.  Either type of narcissistic attachment “generally leads to the result that the object of such narcissistic ‘love’ feels oppressed and enslaved by the subject’s expectations and demands.”5c

Features of either type of narcissistic attachment, or of both, appeared with every woman in our sample.  They made such statements “Nobody ever seemed to understand me like that before” (error transference), or “He was such a wonderful person, I felt that I be wonderful too if he cared about me” (idealizing transference).  Indeed, most of the statements made about their former lovers could upon scrutiny be subsumed under one of these two categories.

Although the foregoing considerations make the dynamics of these remarkable obsessions more understandable, several mysteries remain.  Why, at this particular time in their adult lives, were these capable and experience women so vulnerable to the obsession?  Did they choose men from whom they sensed and inevitable rejection, or did they drive the men away by their neediness and dependency?

A fully adequate answer to these questions could only be provided by a detailed scrutiny of the total analytic material, individual by individual, including both early developmental history and contemporary life events.  In taking histories, the writer did not find any consistent pattern of immediately preceding traumatization or overt loss which could explain the vulnerability was determined by endopsychic shifts of libidinal energy, or perhaps by incidents that were outwardly trivial but carried a special symbolic impact.  Such events might have served either to mobilize infantile libidinal yearnings or to threaten the narcissistic cathexis of the cohesive self.

It is probably important, however, that there did appear to be common personality traits among the lovers.  All of them, even making allowances for possible misperceptions of the rejected women, seemed themselves to be highly narcissistic, self-centered, and self-involved, in this way resembling the mother who is unable to care adequately for her baby.  Here we may think of Bergmann’s contention 1 that an adult’s choice of a love object is consciously or unconsciously made on the basis of certain characteristics, either superficial or characterological, reminiscent of the earliest love objects.  The attempt is then made to take up the unfinished and unresolved elements in the original relationship and rework them into a more satisfying outcome.  Furthermore, the rejecting lovers appeared to have in common or fear of being intruded upon, dominated or manipulated, which presumably expressed a fear of losing their own ego boundaries, and which may have been an important determinant in their rejection of the needful women.

With the three women who remained in treatment for substantial periods of time (Eugenia, Annette, and Margaret) the overall therapeutic management depended upon various individual factors, including not only differences in psychic structure, but also on the amount of time available weekly.  In general, it was found that efforts to confront the woman directly with evidence of the realistic hopelessness of her longing was useless, and I quickly gave up such attempts as I reached a better understanding of the primitive dynamics involved in the obsession.  It proved more helpful to draw dynamics involved in the obsession.  It proved more helpful to draw analogies, carefully timed and gently worded, between the persistence of the love yearning and a child’s inability to believe that the parent is really unavailable or even unloving.  The interpretation which seemed most useful, when warmly and tactfully presented, was “You seem to feel that, if you suffer enough, that will somehow draw him back to you.”  Also, an effort was made to pay special interest and attention, though without overt judgmental approval, to every effort made by the patient to divert energy into any kind of work or play.

Two general lines of inquiry, based upon Kohut’s concepts, were also found useful, aside from their value in understanding and dealing with the transference.  The analyst can ask, in wherever words are appropriate to the patient’s mode of communicating, “Did you perhaps feel that he understood and appreciated you as nobody else ever did, and therefore you could appreciate yourself more?”  If there are signs of affirmation, the analyst can then selective listen for instances when the patient craved appreciation which was not forthcoming from the parents, and can attempt to heal the narcissistic would by recognizing the deep hurt which was then experienced.  Obversely, the analyst can ask, “Did you perhaps feel that since he was so wonderful, you became a more worthwhile person because he cared for you?”  If there are signs of affirmation, the analyst can then selectively listen for instances when the patient felt delight in the real or fantasized qualities of an admired parent, and can point out that this admiration may have served to prevent the patient as a child from recognizing and accepting his own independent abilities.  Often, of course, the patient will give affirmative responses to both questions, and even if childhood material is not easily recovered, an enhanced understanding of the dynamics of the obsession is often gained by the patient.

Extreme examples of obsessional love have been presented and discussed.  It seems probable, however, that love relationships that outwardly appear fully mature and normal may contain libidinal and narcissistic elements resembling those of the women in this sample, and that similar factors may operate when there are lesser difficulties in giving up an ill-fated relationship.  It must be emphasized once more that, in the writer’s practice and in the practice of several colleagues, men as well as women are vulnerable to this painful obsession.  In the seventeenth century, love itself was classified among the psychoses.  It may be that the primitive yearnings described in this paper, when they are successfully integrated with the mature and healthy aspects of the total self, are the ultimate source of the genuine beauty, romance and poetry of successful love relationships.

"Cupid’s Misses: Relational Vicissitudes in the Analysis of Single Women"

Naomi Rucker, PhD

Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic Psychology, 1993, 10(3), 377-391

This article addresses the interface between adult needs for intimacy and the psychoanalytic process between certain population of single female patients and their male analysts.  Relational vicissitudes of this patients-analyst pairing are discussed from a perspective that is both psychoanalytic and psychosocial.  Influences of gender differences, sociological factors, and the existential nature of prolonged unchosen singlehood on the female analysand’s subjective experience comprise the early sections of the article.  This discussion is followed by an exploration of the ramifications of singlehood for the analytic process and for the analytic relationship.  The concepts of primary intimacy and a primary relational void are introduced, and clinical illustrations are incorporated.

The wish or expectation to be loved is expressed in Japanese by the concept of amaeru (Doi, 1952).  Amaeru connotes a feeling of receiving sweet benevolence, reminiscent of small child’s loving, dependent feelings toward her or his mother, but it does not confine these wishes to childhood.  It is acknowledged by the Japanese that a loving, primary bond is an essential part of one’s well-being throughout life.  By contrast, in American culture, lifelong needs for primary attachment have been little noted, and psychoanalytic commentary on the topic of primary love is sparse.  Awareness of the connections between early relationships to parents and psychic growth has not evolved into a rich understanding of ongoing primary intimacy as integral to adult psychological functioning.  Consequently, the correspondence between mature needs for intimacy heterosexual female analysands, approximately 30 to 45 years of age, this has had deleterious effects.

I intend to address needs to intimacy in adulthood as they interface with the therapeutic process between a specific population of single women and their male analysts.  Relational vicissitudes within this patient-analyst pairing are approached from a perspective that incorporates a psychosocial dimension.  The initial sections of this article discusses experiential and psychosocial factors associated with long-standing singlehood.  The latter sections focus on repercussions of these issues for the analytic relationship.  The clinical material presented is derived from my own experience as an analyst and supervisor and from the work of a number of colleagues, male and female, with whom I have had lengthy discussions of this topic.

Unmarried women in their 30s and 40s constitute a diverse population.  Some women are single by choice and some as a consequence of psychological conflict, whereas many others remain unmarried despite developed capacities and desires for mature intimacy and commitment.  It is the last group of women with whom this article is concerned.  These women can be described as intelligent, psychologically well-integrated, and functioning well in major areas of their lives. They give histories of mature, satisfying relationships at points in their lives, and they have current intimacies with friends, siblings, and/or children.  The analytic alliance that develops with these women is consistent without serious acting-out.  They evidence in the analysis the ability to form and maintain an intimate but differentiated, therapeutic relatedness based on an integrated sense of feminine self.  These women may not be free of all ambivalence in relational arenas, but they have established the basic psychic processes that promote healthy attachment and cohesiveness of self, and they deeply desire a primary relationship.

It is often presumed that these women who I have described are not in committed relationships with men or have not married principally because of their psychopathology.  Typically, the absence of such a relationship in these women’s lives is diagnosed by the analyst as a symptomatic manifestation of conflicts over sexuality, aggression, or intimacy or as a developmental arrest (Lieberman, 1991).  Analysts have assumed too readily a direct casual connection between internal conflict and singlehood.  They have been fully sensitive neither to the sociological/demographic obstacles that these women face nor to their dysphoria as a natural response to living without a primary adult attachment.  Even Lieberman, whose thoughtful discussion of this issue is one of very few, concluded that the analytic “…task is to convey to the patient that she is suffering in the present mostly, but not totally, because of the past and that when the past is dealt with, the present will not be so very painful” (p. 187).  The dearth of opportunities for primary affiliation in middle adulthood is not appreciated as the serious environmental failure that is.  The experimental trauma of prolonged singlehood and the sociodemographic factors that can engender it often are subordinated to an emphasis on psychic dynamics that, for many single women, is skewed.

Primary Intimacy and the Primary Relational Void

Early theory and research on the vicissitudes of childhood attachments (e.g., Bowlby, 1969; Spitz, 1945) and contemporary developmental research (e.g., Stern, 1985) have documented the primacy of needs and capacities for relatedness in infants.  Other psychoanalytic theorists (e.g., Balint, 1952; Ericson, 1959; Sullivan, 1953; Winnicott, 1965) have noted the importance of interpersonal relationships in development.  Yet, despite such contributions, adult relationships tend to be given attention by analytic scholars when their pathological aspects dominate.  The nurturing and self-sustaining functions of ongoing intimacy are neglected.

I posit the continuing importance of primarily intimate bond throughout one’s life span for maximally integrated identity and for a maximally stable sense of psychological well-being.  This attachment is characterized by exclusivity, loving mutuality, and continuity over time.  It encompasses remnants of childhood attachment longings as well as adult heterosexual needs.  It provides companionship, physical intimacy, and—ideally—empathic understanding.  A bounded relationship, shared experience, and stung affective ties aid the creation of an interpersonal framework that serves a natural therapeutic function.  This framework corresponds to the “holding environment” (Winnicott, 1965) of infancy and is a natural container for the processing of needs and feelings in adult life.  It offers a combination of compensation for childhood deprivations, a vehicle for the reworking of dyadic anxieties, and opportunities provides a nurturing, protective surround for the evolution of self in adulthood.

This kind of intimacy most typically evolves within a marital relationship, although many marriages do not embody these characteristics and alliances apart from marriage occasionally may.  Although individuals in difficult marriages may experience ruptures in primary attachment or some degree of relational deprivation, they seldom present the same psychological residue of lengthy deprivation of primary bond that is felt by single women living alone.  It is virtually impossible for the qualities of primary relatedness to be experienced in isolation from a mutually desired, continuous, physically intimate relationship with another adult.  The need for primary intimacy is either met by the presence of a suitable other or left unfulfilled; it cannot be resolved, and its gratification cannot be self-generated.  The absence of primary intimacy forms a primary relational void.

Sullivan (1953) and Fromm-Reichmann (1959) are among the few analytic theorists who have addressed loneliness and the need for intimate relatedness in adulthood.  Sullivan placed needs for intimacy among basic human needs for food and sleep.  Fromm-Reichmann described loneliness as a dreadful inner state that is not communicable via words and that constricts capacities for empathy.  In its extreme form, it threatens the security of one’s boundaries and can usher in loss of reality testing and overt psychosis.  The yearning for intimacy, the avoidance of the lonely experience, the vulnerability of one’s sense of self, and the erosive impact on one’s sense of physical boundaries by a chronic absence of close physical contact with another—these have all been described by Fromm-Reichmann based on her clinical experience with psychotic patients and by the much healthier female analysands that suffer long-term deprivation of a primary relationship.

INFLUENCES OF GENDER AND SOCIAL STATUS ON UNCHOSEN SINGLEHOOD

Both clinical experience and quantitative research suggest that needs for attachment in general and needs for intimate ties in specific are expressed more overtly and perhaps are more salient in women than in men.  The nature of relationships, rather that instrumentality in the world, tends to structure feminine identity (Gilligan, 1982).  Both a woman’s childhood experiences with others and her current relational context impact her gender identity.  Her sense of herself evolves; it is strengthened, refined, and assimilated through the experience of emotional and physical intimacy.  In a review of studies on early gender differences, Lewis (1976) concluded that female infants bring to the mother-child interchange more and earlier attachment-seeking behaviors.  Offerman-Zuckerberk (1988) described the female’s sense of self as deeply embedded in interpersonal interactions associated with complex projective identifications with the mother, which originates in infancy.  In evolving a self-experience with more fluid boundaries between self and other, little girls develop greater tolerance for a less differentiated sense of identity that do little boys (Chodorow, 1989; Fliegel, 1982; Greenson, 1968).  They are also thought to suffer a less circumscribed oedipal failure and are exposed more wholly to oedipal rejection (Barnett, 1968).

Marriage and children, thee oedipal covenant that characterizes a classical analytic paradigm, is simultaneously a promise and requirement.  A husband and children are envisioned as inevitable, prized rewards for maturation and womanliness, but they are also prerequisites for full participation in mainstream society.  For a single woman approaching middle age, the promise has been betrayed, and the woman has failed to meet the requirement.  Girlhood expectations of having someone to call her own have not been realized.  The promised family has not been forthcoming, and marriage, or at least sustained intimate relatedness, is touted by society and often by the analyst as requisite for full female development.  Many women view marriage and children unconsciously, if not consciously, as the crowning definition of womanhood, and their failure to marry evokes feelings of humiliation and inferiority.

Perpetual singlehood can be a life tragedy.  “Prolonged single status can be internally experienced as a chronic traumatic state that is emotionally depriving, narcissistically wounding, and an impediment to the further psychological growth of the adult” (Lieberman, 1991, p.178).  Nonetheless, it is not a form of psychopathology.  In proposing that prolonged singlehood can stimulate psychic regression, Lieberman described an array of symptoms, including depression, shame, alienation, psychosomatic complaints, and various behavioral inconsistencies, that often remit once a woman is in a satisfying relationship with a man.  Appignanesi and Forrester (1992) discussed Freud’s belief that marriage can be straightforward treatment for the neurotic symptoms of unmarried or widowed women.

Many women who have spent years without a primary attachment experience profound feelings of isolation and defeat and are plagued by deep loneliness and longing.  Friendship, children, work alliances, and professional achievements can provide only partial respite from these painful states.  Paradoxically, by highlighting the absence of intimacy, success in other life arenas can aggravate subjective awareness of the primary relational void.  Professional development, in particular, affirms autonomy and self-assertion, but also can be felt as a phallic, masculine activity at odds with more feminine strivings.  Single women have described this state as inducing a sense of self in which masculinity and femininity clash with rather that complement each other.  For them, this inner friction detracts from the pleasure and sense of accomplishment that professional achievements might otherwise bring.

Moreover, in the absence of a life partner, major life events must be managed alone.  Many decisions about daily living have traditionally been the domain of men and continue to be the primary responsibility of husbands among many married couples.  Single women are forced by their circumstances to develop knowledge and facility in areas for which they frequently are unprepared, that tax their capacities for adaptation, and that are associated psychically with a masculine role.  The lack of built-in support and companionship and the relentless demand for versatility strain psychological integration, stretch the parameters of a feminine identity, and exacerbate distress and loneliness.

One life event that is particularly poignant for single women is the bearing and rearing of children.  Motherhood, a peak life experience that enriches maturation, conventionally had been the province of married women and not attainable without a husband.  Single women who elect to have children alone frequently are judged harshly and without the recognition that they may be attempting to create intimacy and to affirm a sense of womanliness in a sphere where thy can exercise some control.  Infertile single women, who generally delay childbearing efforts in the expectation of an eventual marriage, face a social and medical environment that has established few support services for them.  Attention has been centered on the impact of infertility on married couples without acknowledging that infertile single women are far more isolated in the process of achieving a pregnancy (E. Slater, personal communication, June 1991).

Veiled social prejudices toward single women also make covert contributions to their suffering.  The assimilation of unwed women into general society is superficial.  Whereas healthy, mature single men are prized, comparable single women are considered a liability and not truly accepted.  Many forms of social intercourse are more accessible and more comfortable when one is part of a couple.  Threesomes tend to be awkward, and single women alone often are segregated subtly from social activities that married couples find routine.  It is not unusual for women to discover that more social invitations are forthcoming, even from good friends, once they marry.  Unmarried women have been, and continue to be, receptacles for societal projections.

In bygone eras, “spinsters” and “old maids” were pitied, infantilized, and deprived of social status, but often they were given some protection by the extended family or community.  In contemporary times, single women still are pitied and infantilized, but the protective shelters are gone.  One 36-year-old unmarried analysand described being expected to sit at the children’s table at family dinners because her lack of a mate made the dinner seating uneven.  There is little place for her as an adult in her family, despite her maturity and personal accomplishments.  It is safer and more comfortable for her family to hold her at a distance by unconsciously categorizing her as childlike.

The single lifestyle and the single woman’s hard-earned self-sufficiency often are trivialized in an unconscious attempt to minimize the fears of loneliness and to deny the dependency that may keep someone in a troubled marriage.  One patient in a 20-year marriage said to her 43-year-old sister, “If Bill died, I’d be just fine.  I’d go out and have a good time just like you.  It wouldn’t be hard for me to be alone at all.”  In contrast to widows, unmarried women often receive much less empathy, although the pain of their deprivation may be no less severe than the pain of losing a spouse.  Their singlehood often is misconstrued as volitional and thus is considered less worthy of compassion.

Contemporary single women pose a great unconscious threat to the illusion of the sanctity of marriage.  Unconsciously, they represent the loneliness and desperation from which marriage is supposed to save us and the freedom and autonomy of which marriage supposedly deprives.  They are used to absorb desperation from which marriage is supposed to save us and the freedom and autonomy of which marriage supposedly deprives us.  They are used to absorb dissociated feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, and envy, and thus simultaneously are pitied and resented.  As the targets of such projective identifications, single women can become containers for affects that diminish their self-esteem and accentuate their loneliness.

In a psychoanalytic situation, loneliness often is obscured by other expressed concerns and is not considered a viable reason to enter psychotherapy.  Lonely feelings are often disguised as depression or anxiety (Seligson, 1983), as in the “singles syndrome” that Lieberman (1991) described, or are masked by a counterdependent façade.  People often are frightened and ashamed of their loneliness, and therapists who avoid their own lonely feelings collude in masking the depth and pervasiveness of the patient’s fear and isolation.

THE PSYCHOSOCIAL CRISIS

Because traditional psychoanalysis often ignores psychosocial contexts, the sociological and demographic factors of singlehood frequently are minimized or dismissed as extraneous to the psychoanalytic endeavor.  Yet, the demographic disadvantages that women face in finding mates after a certain age are both cultural truisms and the subject of some scholarly examination.  A commonly quoted study by Bennett and Bloom (1986) reported that college-educated women have only a 30% chance of marrying after age 30 and a 5% chance after age 35 due to multiple psychosocial factors.  Person (1988) granted that the scarcity of men for women in this age group is a major social problem that “contributes to the transformation of a perfectly healthy longing for love into a kind of deadly preoccupation” (p. 284).  Courtship patterns, Vietnam War casualties, make incarceration rates, and the drastic changes in traditional feminine role expectations that marked the emergence of female baby boomers into adulthood all seem to have contributed to the plight of unmarried women.

Under such social conditions, psychoanalysis can become an added disadvantage.  Women analysands often develop a certain comprehension of human relatedness that many men do not share.  It can become quite difficult for women to find mates with compatible degrees of emotional reflectiveness or to feel content with less introspective men.  It also becomes more difficult for these women to tolerate the narcissistic imbalances that characterizes many male-female relationships.

Kernberg (1976) described the adult woman as having “a potentially greater courage and capacity for heterosexual commitment than the adult man” (p. 92).  Over the course of analysis, the level of healthy integration attained by some single women does seem, clinically, to exceed that most of their male cohorts.  In conjunction with gender differences in attachment needs, this phenomenon can make mature mutuality in a primary relationship very difficult to achieve.  In the most extreme examples of this situation, women want and are able to offer more intimacy to men who want less intimacy and are less capable of reciprocating intimacy.  In one woman’s words, “the worst combination of credentials [for a woman to have] in finding a desirable husband is an education above college plus an analysis.”

Female analysts—as well as male analysts—who have not spent many years being single adults seldom have the experiential perspective to conceive of the barriers that single women in their 30s and 40s must overcome to find compatible partners. Married analysts are not personally concerned with these demographics, and single men face a much more optimistic sociological picture.  The possibility of living a lifetime without a stable intimate companion, and perhaps without children, is one that very few men ever have to consider unless they are inhibited by inner conflict.  Such differences do not prohibit empathy, but they do present pitfalls that need to be addressed.  In tandem with the patient’s predicament, the analyst’s difficulties in this regard often reside in the psychosocial interface and only partially in internal conflict per se.  An understanding of this interface requires an awareness of the positions of patient and analyst within a larger societal context and an acknowledgment of the relevance of these positions to analytic dialectics.

THE REPETITION OF ENVIRONMENTAL FAILURE

Ironically, Freud, more than most of his followers, evinced an awareness of the pathogenic impact of the absence of intimacy.  In determining the origins of anxiety neurosis and in accounting for the failure of his treatment of the young widow, Irma, Freud (1895, 1900) noted the etiological roles of sexual abstinence and widowhood.  As Appignanesi and Forrester (1992) pointed out, Freud’s writings demonstrate a compassionate sensitivity to the life contexts of women without intimate partners.  Later psychoanalytic theorists have disregarded the complexities of the confluence between the internal and external worlds of single women.  The magnitude of ambivalence or inner conflict, which would color the nature of single women’s relationships, is seen as a determining factor in the absence of a relationship.  The conflict and ambivalence that these women present may be no greater than that expressed by many married women or married men, but it is given heightened salience because of the patient’s life circumstances.

One danger in adopting an analytic posture that recognizes only internal conflict resides in the potential to exacerbate narcissistic vulnerabilities and to impair the evolution of therapeutic empathy.  Often a single woman will enter analysis harboring the fantasy that “if I can be better, someone will love me” and desperately hoping to discover and correct “what is wrong with me” so that she can find a primary bond.  For some women, the uncovering of unconscious conflict does bring to light emotional obstacles that can be overcome, and internal change is reflected in relational fulfillment.  Yet for many others psychic conflict is not of a degree sufficient to warrant their aloneness.  Moreover, conflict resolution does not automatically bring direct interpersonal reward.  The roots of a woman’s vulnerabilities can be traced, but their magnitude often is a reaction to long-standing relational deprivation and to the persisting failure of the environment to provide relational solace.  Patients have likened the relational void to a chronic illness that waxes and wanes in severity but is ever-present and to the phantom pain that accompanies an amputation—“nothing is there, but it always hurts.”

If a patient’s life context and artifacts of analytic technique are not duly considered, the relentless pursuit of unconscious conflict can perpetuate narcissistic damage.  One analytic patient came to establish unfulfilling relationship with men unconsciously to prove to her skeptical male analyst that she was capable of forming heterosexual relationships.  She wanted these relationships to provide a measure of her feminine adequacy that he would acknowledge and validate.  Repeatedly, she received interpretations citing the unsatisfactory nature of her liaisons as evidence of her internal conflicts rather than as an iatrogenic response to a troublesome misalliance.  Her feelings of failure were affirmed by her analysis.  Eventually, in desperation, she abruptly left treatment.

Magical thinking, disguised by the attitude that when the patient is “really ready” for an intimate relationship one will occur, also prevails.  This attitude obscures the fact that many marriages are not intimate and that many married people are deeply conflicted.  It also equates the absence of intimacy in the interpersonal world with the absence of capacities for intimacy in the inner world; it collapses distinctions between the interpersonal and intrapsychic domains by assuming that our external lives are full reflections of our inner selves.  A converse assumption sometimes made by analysts is that women can and should strive to be content in their aloneness.  This conviction ignores or dismisses the need for adult intimacy, minimized the existential/experiential impact of unremitting singlehood, and generates feelings of inadequacy for not being content with one’s lot in life.  Such views are consistent with the current cultural press for autonomy, cognitive control of one’s feelings, and omnipotence over one’s environment and inner state.

When a patient’s distress is instigated by analytic interaction and then used to justify the search for deeper core neurotic issues, an analytic stalemate ensues.  Often, the clinical impasse is understood as a manifestation of the patient’s resistance and construed as evidence that the patient’s aloneness represents conflicts that now have become manifest in the transference.  The patient is left feeling unable to please the analyst, to meet expectations of society, or to satisfy her own longings for closeness.  She feels that she has failed to be good enough to be loved, to meet her needs for primary attachment, or to heal that which is wrong with her that leaves her alone and unhappy.  Now, her anguish in the outer world is paralleled by isolation and defeat with the analyst; the relational void now extends to the analytic relationship, and the environmental failure is repeated by the analysis.  The patient’s fantasy that being good enough will bring love is upheld; only womanly perfection is ever elusive.

It is critical in the analyses of single women, as in other analyses, for the psychoanalytic process to represent the realm of the potential—to illuminate what is possible, not only to mirror what is present.  For single women, the cultivation of such an analytic milieu presents certain complexities.  It is of foremost importance for the analyst to recognize that the unhappiness that that many single women express is, in significant part, an existential distress, occurring in the context of sociological circumstances akin to environmental failure.  That the cumulative trauma of continual singlehood can render symptomatic preexisting faults that might otherwise have remained dormant is a crucial awareness.  It is true, of course, that married women may also feel lonely and defeated, but the structure of a marriage and the experience of having been married protect a wife against full immersion in a primary relational void.  One divorced woman contrasted her experience of being in an ungratifying marriage with being single as feeling “out in the rain, but when you’re married, you have a raincoat.”

TRANSFERENTIAL-COUNTERTRANSFERENTIAL DIMENSIONS

The heavy cross of unchosen aloneness is borne in various ways.  Some single women sustain heterosexual romantic relatedness by engaging in less-than-satisfying relationships, whereas others remain celibate and more isolated.  Some women do not wish to settle for a relationship without certain qualities that are hard to find, and thus they wait for an optimally promising involvement.  None of these options inherently is more pathological, and none of these styles of living necessarily indicates that the woman would be unable to form a heterosexual partnership to her liking if the opportunity became available.  A woman may not be as asexual or as unstable as her life seems, but she may need a safe analytic haven to allow her relational capacities fuller expression.

In turning a deaf ear to the reverberations of singlehood within the analytic process, psychoanalysis has failed to discern the tranferential and counter-transferential ramifications of a primary relational void.  In the analyses of single women with male analysts, sexual dynamics and wounded feminine patient and analyst gender to analytic work (Lukton, 1992; Person, 1985) provide a foundation for exploring these issues.

The relationship with a male analyst captures more keenly a woman’s romanticized/sexualized childhood fantasies and feelings and her current longings for heterosexual intimacy than does a relationship with a female analyst.  It also may embody the more asexual dyadic longings of early childhood, although these are generally more pronounced when the analyst is a woman.  Inevitably, the relationship with the male analyst becomes a microcosm of potential relatedness with a man.  In one female patient’s dream, this process was depicted as a walk with her analyst through a hotel in which erotic activity was taking place that was arousing to her.  Metaphorically, the analytic relationship had become a “walk-thorough” for heterosexual intimacy in the world.  The development of sexual and romantic feelings toward the analyst is rendered particularly arduous for women when primary intimacy in the world is absent.

The historical antecedents of the patient’s feelings about experiencing or expressing sexual or romantic emotions toward the male analyst are important to understand.  However, at times, childhood residuals are overshadowed by her current deprivation and her fear of longing for a relationship she inevitably cannot have.  Although this dynamic occurs with married women in analysis as well, it is particularly acute when there is little or no intimacy in the patient’s extra-analytic life and when the prospects of primary relational fulfillment are slim.  Envy, anger, and jealousy regarding the analyst’s relationships or his greater range of relational options also are difficult to express in the context of hopelessness and deprivation.

One single woman struggling with this issue dreamt of having dinner with her analyst in an especially nice restaurant.  Affectionate, warm feelings abounded between them, and she reached over to kiss him.  To her horror, when she looked up at him, there was only a set of clothes in the form of his figure—her analyst’s face, body, and person had disappeared.  In another nightmare, her analysis was symbolized by a topiary tree that loomed in her bedroom.  A topiary, in her associations, was “something alive and growing, but always being cut back… something that looks like something it is not.”  She awoke in a panic.

It is important to realize that the majority of male analysts have not had women as analysts, in particular female age-cohorts, and have experienced a full-sexualized transference, largely through the psyches of their patients.  Male patients’ transference to a female analyst tend to be characterized by themes of deprivation and attach by women, fears of engulfment by mother, and envy of the female procreative capacity.  Often, these motifs are handled defensively through devaluation, contempt, and striving for power over woman and are associated with the need to avoid vulnerability and the admission of neediness (Lukton, 1992).  Person (1985) contended that erotic transferences are stronger, longer lasting, and more common among female patients with male analysts than among male patients with female analysts.  Whereas sexual transference in women conventionally is considered a resistance, sexual transference in men is resisted (Person, 1985).

Empathizing with the experience of a sexualized transference thus demands tact and sensitivity to a painful experience that lies outside of the ken of most male analysts.  Yet, even when tact, sensitivity, and empathy are present and the patient-analyst match is a good one, the single female patient enters a double-bind situation.  For the analysis to progress, analytic intimacy must deepen.  Analytic intimacy stimulates and intensifies sexual and romantic longings, bringing to the fore anxieties about intimacy.  These intensified longings underscore the loneliness imposed by the relational void in the world.  The relational void, in turn, exacerbates both wishes for and apprehension about closeness with the male analyst.  Furthermore, the skill of a talented and seasoned analyst fosters perceptions that can make him desirable.  Ironically, the better-matched the patient-analyst duo and the more proficient the analyst, the more stimulating is the intimacy and the more painful are the longings.

The physical abstinence of the analytic setting magnifies yearnings for physical contact that rarely may be met in the woman’s outside life.  When there is no other vehicle for the expression of her physical needs, the patient’s urgency may need to be shared verbally with her analyst.  Sometimes the anxiety that is generated at this juncture is interpreted erroneously as resistance to sexual content.  It may be more dominantly a fear of unleashing cravings that have gone unmet for long periods of time and may well remain unmet.  Without the balance of intimacy in the world, excitation in the face certain deprivation is daunting.  It is virtually impossible to discharge sexual tension without opportunities for sexual behavior.  Talking about most feelings provides relief, but verbalizing erotic fantasies and feelings tend to amplify arousal.  One female analysand likened her experience of this dilemma to her analyst “delivering food to starving people who are told they can see it and smell it, but they can’t eat any.”

Lieberman (1991) mentioned a few detrimental countertransference postures that foster a misalliance between male therapists and single female patients.  Her examples, as well as those I have gleaned, lead me to the following inferences.  Analytic alliances between male analysts and single women often go awry when an analyst becomes threatened and judgmental about the patient’s singlehood or her attachment needs, or when he becomes invested narcissistically in her sexuality.  The analyst attempts to control his feelings for the patient by unconsciously manipulating her so as to guarantee himself a personally needed response.  A narcissistic disharmony within the analyst is externalized onto the analytic alliance, and the patient is exploited to sustain the analyst’s narcissistic equilibrium.

In some instances, erotic feelings for a patient are averted by devaluing the patient unwittingly.  As the patient is then rendered less appealing to the analyst, rejection by a woman perceived as desirable is forestalled.  In other instances, male analysts unconsciously inhibit patients from establishing relationships with other men to secure their own feelings of masculinity.  Herein, the analyst interprets the patient’s outside relationships as enactments of feelings for the analyst that should be curtailed in the interest of the analysis.  Genetic interpretations (e.g., “You must have had these same longings for your mother”) often are chosen over interventions that attend to the analyst-patient relationship when an analyst needs to keep distant from the sexuality within the analytic matrix.  When used for the analyst’s self-protection, genetic interpretations infantilize and pathologize the patient’s experience and can inculcate feelings of rejection.  Such dynamics can characterize an analysis from the outset, or they can emerge or gain momentum as the analytic relationship deepens.

The analytic milieu created with a single female analysand should allow for the safe unfolding of her frustrated needs for heterosexual intimacy.  Form an aphallocentric viewpoint, these needs may seem unreasonable strong.  However, the expression of such feelings needs to be welcomed but not induced to affirm the analyst’s prowess as an analyst or as a man.  The patient’s misgivings about a romanticized analytic involvement also need to be understood and accepted without critical confrontation and without detracting from the analyst’s security.  The goodness of the analytic relationship and personal qualities of the analyst himself do contribute to the development of a sexualized transference, but the capacities for a loving, eroticized relatedness originate in the woman.  This kind of relatedness becomes available as analytic material, not in direct response to the accuracy of the analyst’s interpretations or to his masculine appeal but instead as analytic empathy deepens.

For single women, it is critical that their analyses permit them to experience themselves as desirable and capable of intimacy but not as a narcissistic extension of another.  Given the current sociological limitations, single women especially need to feel that their desirability does not depend on the availability of a loving male partner.  The male analyst must be accepting of and responsive to the patient’s romantic and sexual longings.  He must enjoy her as a woman without exploiting her physically or psychologically.  He must adhere to analytic boundaries but permit himself a wide range of emotional responsiveness.  This entails an ability and willingness to tolerate sexual feelings for and from the patient and to allow the patient an experience of mutuality and reciprocity within the analytic confines.

Whether expressed overtly or concealed privately, the female analysand’s erotic and romantic fantasies and whishes concerning a compassionate and well-related male analyst are healthy and natural.  They may be displaced from the extraanalytic life sphere, but they are not necessarily neurotic. The single woman patient psychologically may be involved deeply with her analyst, who comes to function as a source of intimacy and affirmation.  As she is stymied in her attempts to create empathic relatedness with a man apart from her analysis, she may seek intimacy and understanding in the forms that are appropriately available.  Contrary to conventional psychoanalytic thought, “eroticized transferences” need not be manifestations of resistance or attempts to find gratification with the analyst in lieu of establishing relationships with men in the world.  “Sexualized transference” can represent the healthy heterosexual strivings of mature women, not just a recapitulation of girlhood wishes.  The press for closeness with a benign, empathic analyst confirms a woman’s capacity to be intimate when healthy heterosexual relatedness is available.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

If a male analyst can be attentive to an unmarried woman’s life context, both transferential and genetic material can unfold readily and analytic movements can be dramatic.  Understanding and empathy for the woman’s history can lend meanings to facets of there current experience and can soften her frustration in being caught between thwarted desires in her external life and the limits of the analytic relationship.

The analyst who can tolerate the threat and/or the narcissistic enticements of dynamics with a single woman without judging, exploiting, or distancing the patient and who can offer sensitive, authentic responsiveness is in the best position to be helpful.  Perhaps with single women more than with many other patients, the gray areas between affect and action, between psychic experience and external world, between fantasy and reality, and between analytic love and love outside and consulting room mold the analytic space.

They analyst must sustain hope that the patient will find a primary intimacy but not be invested narcissistically in her doing so.  He must help her keep her despair at bay but not invite his own disappointment in her.  He must respond to her womanliness but not be seductive.  He must move beyond his experience as a man in his psychosocial surround to perceive the exigencies of hers.  At times these are formidable tasks.  Nevertheless, in the context of analytic intimacy and balance, the relational void can encourage deep analytic work.  It can lend the analysis great importance in the patient’s life and can restrict opportunities for acting out.  The analytic venture can become unusually rich and mutually fulfilling if its relational vicissitudes allow genuine affective interchange and a cognizant sensitivity to the meaning of amaeru.


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