Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Relationship of the Inner and the Outer in Psychoanalysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

The Relationship of the Inner and the Outer in Psychoanalysis

Article excerpt

What is internal and what is external according to psychoanalytic theory? This is a surprisingly complicated question. The terminology is often ambiguous and inconsistent as, for instance, in the use of terms like 'object' and 'other'. The relationship between internal and external in psychoanalysis is analysed from a philosophical, concept analytical, developmental psychological, methodological and trauma versus internal dynamics point of view. It is argued that psychoanalytical writing is influenced by the authors' need to create their personal psychoanalytic theory and language. This is seen as one of the main reasons for the terminological variety and ambiguity in psychoanalytic writing. It is also argued that one particular reason for difficulties concerning the internal-external terminology is the existential anxiety awakened by the threat of the essential aloneness of man. The consciousness of this has a tendency to fade and lead to unclear terminology. The importance of the transitional world as a resting place from the hard reality of this essential aloneness is emphasized. The transitional world is also seen as a necessary part of psychoanalytical practice, as an aid in striving for the truth and reality, important goals of psychoanalysis.

Keywords: external, inner world, internal, object, the other

It is assumed here that the task of reality acceptance is never completed, that no human being is free from the strain of relating inner and outer reality.

(D.W. Winnicott, 1953, p. 95)

What is inner and what is outer in psychoanalytic thinking? You may wonder if the question I am posing is a trivial one - isn't the answer selfevident? I have, however, succeeded in making it a complex and difficult one for myself. How is this possible? This is something we can ponder within the framework of the following presentation.

I will begin with two personal experiences. The first takes place at a time when, at the age of 5, in a state of oedipal death anxiety around the time of the birth of my little brother, I found relief in the idea that I was the one experiencing all of this - if I died then nothing else would exist either. That, in turn, seemed impossible so, my mind at ease, I could consider myself immortal. This conviction did not however (fortunately) last; I was forced to realize that my inner world was only one of millions of similar ones, distinct from each other, and thus in no way guaranteed my immortality - the outer world would continue to exist even if I died and my own inner world ceased to exist. Through this observation, I was forced to face the existential questions of ultimate aloneness.

The second experience has occurred frequently to me when reading psychoanalytic texts or listening to presentations. I have been repeatedly baffled that, when speaking about the relationship between the inner and outer world, the boundary between the external world - the commonly agreed upon time-space world - and the individual's perception-memory experience of the external world feels conceptually blurred. You hear people speak of projections onto the external world as if something from the inner world were automatically transported there, although a precise expression in this case would be projection of the unconscious onto a representation of the external world in one's own internal world (see, for example, Freud [1892, p. 208]: "The purpose of paranoia is thus to fend off an idea that is incompatible with the ego, by projecting its substance into the external world"). The same kind of imprecision is related to the concept of projective identification, where an individual is often said to experience another's feelings or to become a part of another's internal world.

These experiences have inspired me to examine psychoanalytic literature more systematically from this angle, whereupon I noticed that, although the phenomenon is common, little attention is paid to it, apart from a few exceptions (Novey, 1958; Strachey, 1941; Tähkä, 1988). …

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