Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Problems of Collegial Learning in Psychoanalysis: Narcissism and Curiosity1

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Problems of Collegial Learning in Psychoanalysis: Narcissism and Curiosity1

Article excerpt

Despite clinical sensitivity when listening to patients, analysts have not fared well in hearing and talking to each other with respectful open-mindedness. Underlying factors are considered with particular focus on the interplay between self-aimed forces of narcissism and outward-aimed forces of curiosity. Included in examination of problems of collegial communication are limitations structurally inherent to the human mind (such as the need to abstract aspects of experience in order to focus attention plus the mind's tendency to categorical thinking), those derived from individual psychology (such as vulnerability of self-esteem), and those related to group dynamics (such as the problems attendant to new ideas and the allegiances they stir, parochialism and the development of radical schools, the competitiveness between schools). The contribution of cultural influences and the multiply determined uses of language are also highlighted. The core sense of smallness in the strangeness of the universe and in the presence of others is seen as a common thread.

Keywords: collegial communication, curiosity, dualistic thinking, insularity, narcissism, reciprocal learning, open-minded, parochialism, problems of language, radical schools, scientific competition, strangeness of otherness

Nothing creative should be excluded for the sake of any other conviction.

(Clive James, 2007)

Once more we gather from the wide reaches of the psychoanalytic world to meet in biennial congress and share what we have learned since last we met, to compare notes on our experiences and to see what together we can discover. It is a fitting task but it is also fitting to ask ourselves how well we actually proceed with that task. After a century of such convening, how well do we learn from each other, how well talk, and how well listen? We may have limited cause for pride of success in this collegial task. Too often, like characters in an Edward Hopper painting, we occupy the same space but do not connect.

As clinicians we spend our lives struggling to hear our patients as they reluctantly open themselves. Clinically we learn to listen ever better, yet the contrast in our hearing one another is shocking. The task set for this Congress is to observe the patterns of our convergences and divergences and then, as is our introspective custom, also to explore and try to master those inner forces that interfere with growth.

Happily, despite our difficulties, analytic thinking flourishes. New ideas bloom; our journals grow. However, even as some cross-fertilization takes place among us, we see diversity bring with it Balkanization, division into smaller and even hostile sects.

New learning demands full discussion, a genuinely open debate we wish to both guard and facilitate. That we argue with passion is good, for our passion comes not merely from the vanity of vested interests but crucially from our caring deeply. Also we know that caution in approaching new contributions is particularly prudent because of a problem unique to our field, that is, that our central focus is on unconscious forces, forces that stir unremitting resistance. Aware of the subtlety with which defenses can mask themselves and knowing the sophisticated skill of our minds, we appreciate the extra care called for when new ideas challenge prior analytic knowledge.

But caution and care are not the same as defensive distrust and dismissal of what is different, unfamiliar, or new. When we look at ourselves with candor, we see something beyond benevolent skepticism. Too often we see polemics and partisanship crowd out mutual respect, with ridicule even at times rearing its malignant specter.

Tension is inevitable for the growth of a science, just as it is for that of an individual, and such growing pains are to be welcomed. Open-minded controversy does not require endings in which everyone agrees. Premature closure hides what is still unknown, while respectful acceptance of continuing differences protects the path to further knowledge. …

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