Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Boredom: A Close Encounter with Encapsulated Parts of the Psyche

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Boredom: A Close Encounter with Encapsulated Parts of the Psyche

Article excerpt

The psychoanalytical literature has numerous scattered references to the analyst's experience of boredom, especially amongst writers working with primitive mental states. In the present paper, the author tries to gather some of these references in an attempt to integrate the various facets of this widespread phenomenon, and reflect on some clinical issues and dilemmas it raises. It is suggested that the experience of boredom in analysis may be a reaction to an encounter with a hidden, encapsulated part of the psyche, a bidimensional area of experience in which mental activity has been suspended, and experience remains meaningless. This is a barren area of lack, an encounter with the autistic core of the psyche. However, boredom may also be an experiential expression of despair, a re-living of primitive object relations with an emotionally non-existent primary object. Through bringing the emptiness and desolation into analysis, the individual makes room for the empty, blunt, dead inner object which resides within him, and that needs to be integrated into the psyche. This inner object is a vital part of the patient's inner world, part of his history, and can neither be erased nor filled in order to eradicate the emptiness. This is illustrated by clinical material from patients along the spectrum of autism, autistic reaction following trauma and autistic barriers in neurotic patients.

Keywords: adhesive identification, autism, autistic states, bidimensionality, boredom, primitive mental states, psychic death

In his introduction to Winnicott's Holding and Interpretation, Khan (1986) mentions an incident in which, some six months before Winnicott's death, a group of young priests invited him to give a talk. They asked him how they might differentiate between a person whom they could help by talking to him and someone in need of professional psychiatric help. Winnicott, taken aback by the simplicity of their question, paused a long time and then answered:

If a person comes and talks to you and, listening to him, you feel he is boring you, then he is sick, and needs psychiatric treatment. But if he sustains your attention, no matter how grave his distress or conflict, then you can help him.

(Khan, 1986, p. 1)

On this note, Winnicott seems to signify boredom as the area which we analyse, the underlying reason why many patients come to analysis, even if unable to pinpoint their unease. Boredom is therefore inherent to all analyses, and will manifest itself sooner or later, if the analyst enables it.

The analyst's experience of boredom

The analyst's subjective experience of boredom can be seen as ranging between lazy, affable daydreaming, empty limpness, and free-floating mentation on the one hand, and troublesome states of emptiness in the face of lifeless silence, or monotonous, intellectual droning, on the other. I would like to refer specifically to these states in analysis, in which the patient seems immersed in circular mental activity, going over and over the same stories, sometimes in a begrudging, embittered tone. One patient, at a stage when he could already observe this, aptly called it 'dribbling'. The analyst feels time is standing still. He is weary and his thoughts wander, often feeling guilty. Frequently, he feels he is losing his mind. At times he feels so emotionally numb that the boredom no longer bothers him; he simply feels nothing, lifeless.

Khan (1986) regarded boredom as a form of character defence, an attempt at petrifying mental space that strives to nullify any effort to make something happen, out of fear of a catastrophe or a regression which the patient deems to be irreparable and from which he fears he might never recover. Furthermore, he saw boredom as an experience of inauthenticity. By this I take him to have meant situations in which patient and analyst sink into the comfort of pseudo-psychoanalytical associations and interpretations, but do not touch upon primitive anxieties. …

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