Academic journal article South African Journal of Psychiatry

Real Persons' Experience of Contamination Obsessions: Hypotheses from a Strausian Analysis

Academic journal article South African Journal of Psychiatry

Real Persons' Experience of Contamination Obsessions: Hypotheses from a Strausian Analysis

Article excerpt

The last two decades have witnessed a growing interest in the relation between philosophy, psychiatry and psychology (PP&P), to the extent that their kin ship is now widely recognised. Erwin Straus * was a forerunner in this field. As one of the central scholars of the phenomenological approach to psychology and psychiatry in the 20th century, he acutely confronts the major thinkers of classic philosophy as well as his contemporaries. Through a profound reflection on philosophers (mainly Aristotle, Descartes, Husserl, Freud, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty) and an engaged dialogue with the most important psychiatrists in his time (such as Binswanger and Minkowski), Straus came to elaborate an original theory whose fundamental basis is the phenomenological recognition of the inconsistency of Cartesian philosophy, of 'experimental' psychology (as originally described by Pavlov) and of psychoanalysis.

As Straus says, the undeniable relation between philosophy, psychiatry and psychology must be rendered explicit in order to understand the origin and development of the leading interpretative paradigms in clinical practice. The following analysis of the world of persons affected by contamination obsessions, inspired by Straus's writings, serves the purpose of a reconstruction of the origins and scope of PP&P and may set the agenda of a methodology for present and future research in clinical phenomenology and its link to the neurosciences.

Straus applies the method called 'structural analysis' to contamination obsessions and points out that the basic phenomenon in this psychopathological condition is the emotion of disgust. The basic tenet of structural analysis is that in order to understand a given psychopathological phenomenon one has to find its essential or central element and confront it with the corresponding phenomenon in normal psychology. Disgust is the basic emotion in people with contamination obsessions and it is evoked by the perception of decay--what Straus calls aneidos, i.e. the loss of form of a given thing in the world. Disgust occurs when things lose their integrity, as in the case of putrefaction or when a part is separated from its whole. In obsessions most of the world is perceived along with the physiognomy of decay. For the obsessive person the world is not inhabited by living things that appear as opportunities in the process of life, but by mere matter destined to decompose and die: 'The world in which the obsessives live has such a structure that their behaviour is dominated by horror and dread, not because of fear of death which may hit them in the near future, but because of the presence of death in sensory immediateness, warded off in disgust.' (1)

Obsession and the existentialia: time, space and materiality

In order to trace back the condition of possibility of the metamorphosis of the lived world that occurs in persons with contamination obsessions, we direct our attention, rather than on symptoms or pathogenetic mechanisms, to first-personal experience, and more in detail to the way persons with contamination obsessions live space, time, and the materiality of things to obtain a faithful description of the world they live in. The condition of possibility of a given psychopathological lived world is a metamorphosis of the relation between man and the world, more precisely of the mode consciousness is set up in order to experience things in that given way. Of special relevance for contamination obsessions is lived distance as the key feature of the spatial structure--the relation between man and things in space. In contamination obsessions, the person experiences a lack of distance from anything and feels attacked, surrounded, besieged. This extreme proximity to things is accompanied by a metamorphosis of materiality--the way things appear to the person. The excessive nearness of things to the person with obsessions makes him 'see' on the surface of things what would normally be invisible: contamination substances like microbes and germs. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.