Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Tactics and Empathy: Defences against Projective Identification

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Tactics and Empathy: Defences against Projective Identification

Article excerpt

In this paper the author argues that interpretations made when the analyst has not done the emotional work of recognising and bearing what kind of object she has become in the patient's psychic reality will be experienced as empty tactics - even lies - rather than interpretations of integrity. However, interpreting from a position of bearing the truth of the patient's perception will be technically difficult and indicate turmoil as the analyst struggles to take in the patient's view of her. If the analyst avoids integrating her own picture of herself with the patient's picture (despite giving voice to the patient's picture) the split inside the analyst will be felt and intensify the patient's need to split. Vignettes demonstrate how the analyst, believing she is trying to understand, may become a projective-identification-refusing object and the issue of the analyst's disclosure of her countertransference is examined. Ultimately, the author argues, a capacity to receive and bear projective identification requires empathy with both patient and analyst-as-patient's object, engaged in a process about which both are ambivalent.

Keywords: Containment/Reverie, Countertransference, Enactment, Psychic Pain, Splitting

In this paper I wish to try to address some problems I have struggled with in the approach I use, within the British tradition, that emphasizes work in the here and now with the patient's projections and phantasy relationship with the analyst. Strachey's work (1934) was a turning point in focusing attention on the here and now of the analytic session: he showed that the patient's severe superego could only be modified if 'caught in the act' in the present moment when projected into the analyst and his 'mutative transference interpretation' became a template for psychic change for future generations of all schools of analysis (see Arundale, 2011).

Since then work by Klein (1946), Bion (1959), Rosenfeld (1971) and others on the theory of projective identification has developed Strachey's vision that the analyst becomes the patient's 'external phantasy object' (Caper, 1992). As the patient, in phantasy, projects parts of himself into the analyst and then feels these parts to reside in the analyst, not himself, so, these authors show, the analyst correspondingly feels provoked to identify with the projected attributes.

My way of working is influenced by all the above as well as by presentday analysts (Feldman, 1997; Joseph, 1981; O'Shaughnessy, 1992; Roth, 2001; Steiner, 1993) who in different ways show how the analyst working in the here and now can be drawn into impasse or collusion, re-enacting the patient's maladaptive object relations. All these authors emphasize the need for the analyst's personal honesty and countertransference introspection as the patient's defensive projective system often overwhelms the analyst's capacity to see and think. They also describe the importance, when the analyst does catch this process in the act, of interpreting at the right level to try to help the patient bear painful insight.

What these authors also show is that being projected into can be such a painful experience for the analyst that it can feel unbearable to suffer it - and yet this is what is required if we are to bear to know and feel what the patient cannot bear.

In his paper, The emotional experience of K, James V. Fisher (2006) writes:

...We should note that in 'On Arrogance' (1958) Bion casts Oedipus in a role similar to that of the analyst who conveys to a patient a determination to lay bare the truth no matter what the cost and yet cannot or will not take in the emotional experiences that can be the truth of that quest.

(pp. 1228-9)

What Bion describes as arrogance on his own part, in Fisher's view, is:

...those periods in the analytic encounter when he could not take in a patient's projections, arrogantly assuming that the projections were simply an attack on verbal communication. …

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