Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society Hosts Nancy Goodman, Ph.D.

On April 26, 2008, Nancy Goodman, Ph.D. spoke to the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society about "Love that Hurts: When Sadomasochism Organizes the Psyche." What was clear is that Goodman experienced the analysand's detachment and silences as sadistic; she felt "tortured." What was not clear was why this was theorized as an anal fixation or even as an intent to treat the analyst sadistically. It is true that the analysand had early childhood experiences that centered around the alimentary canal (power struggles: 'forced' feedings and enemas), but the connection between these early experiences, the material, and the theory was not made clear.

What was truly refreshing was the subsequent discussion, and the presentor's graciousness regarding genuine openness to other perspectives. The attendees seemed to emphasize the early misattunement between mother and child. Mother's controlling and intrusive behavior may have led the small child, who later appears "autistic" as an adult analysand, to detach, not as a sadistic manuever to control the object, but as a self-preservation to contain unbearable affect (Lewis Aron, who, by the way, will visit Tampa October 17, 2008). Goodman herself recognized that a fetish (she proposed that the object-relationship was itself a fetish in this case) was an attempt to "keep away disorganizing terror." [I do acknowledge the defense of 'turning the tables,' (or as a colleague once cogently slipped, "What comes around, goes around"), that this analysand's behavior could communicate to and engender in the analyst the feelings he had felt as a child vis a vis his mother. But I wondered, as did others, what participation by the analyst helped entrench for so long this dynamic between them?]

The audience also noted that when a mother treats a baby not as a baby, but as an object, this may be indicative of the mother's inability to participate in reverie and to hold the baby in her mind (Thomas Ogden), a problem noted in the analysis: it was as if the analyst did not feel held in the analysand's mind and felt objectified. Detachment was also considered by some attendees, not as anally sadistic, but instead as anaclitic, a reaction of depression from an infant whose needs are so ignored, or misunderstood.

Goodman repeatedly evoked disavowal ("a desire to disavow difference") but did not explore that this disavowal may have been a co-creation, e.g. when an analyst can not allow certain topics or affects to be explored because of her own discomfort, a discomfort which the analysand implicitly perceives through tone, facial expression, body language, etc. (Goodman did evoke Wilfred Bion's concept ("alpha" function), but did not connect it to the material presented, nor to recent research on right brain communication and implicit knowing.)

Christopher Bollas, referring to Freud's early cases, speculated that the erotic transference may have been an attempt to enliven the analyst (out of the stance of abstinence). If indeed sadistic, could there not also have been in this presented case the additional possibility that an analysand uses sadistic behavior as an attempt to search for the surviving other (D.W.Winnicott; Jessica Benjamin), an attempt to break through to the other (analyst)? The turning point in the analysis was seen to be when the analyst spontaneously expressed "shock" that the analysand was quitting treatment. Could this have been pivotal, in part, because the analysand could now perceive an (affective) effect on the analyst?

On a more personal note: When a presentation allows for such lively, interesting, and fun discussion, I applaud the group's ability to sustain the tension between differing ideas. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society possesses within it, after all, the ability to refrain from privileging one theoretical perspective as more refreshing than other equally evocative and useful ones. I also applaud Goodman's ability to be open to do so.

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