Gerhardt’s rich paper on the intersubjective contribution of envy elucidates the part played by the mother’s (and analyst’s) failure to identify with the infant (later, analysand). Unlike Klein who saw envy as primary and related to aggression and the death instinct, Gerhardt frames envy in terms of refused desire. She sees envy as secondary to thwarting of this wish to be at one with the object, to both have and be the object, to matter to the object, as when the mother refuses to accept desire from the child as well as fails to help the child feel desired by her. The failure of the mother to adapt to the needs of the infant and her failure to see the infant’s demands for recognition as legitimate, renders her unable as well to experience maternal identification with the infant’s (secondary) envy. When the analyst (or mother) dissociates her own disavowed envy, dependence, and shame, she cannot identify with the patient’s split off self-states, and is less able to contain and transform them for the patient’s use. Gerhardt’s patient felt contained when Gerhardt invites and sustains a kind of one-ness, in part, through the analyst’s mutual identification with her patient, rendering horrible affects less terrifying.
Gerhardt writes that envy results when the “normal identificatory processes have gone awry,” and quotes Benjamin: “when desire to identify goes unanswered, envy takes its place.” [I think of penis envy and father’s rejection –or mother’s prohibition— of the female child’s identification with the father.] Envy, for Gerhardt, is an attempt at “denial of difference” and “repudiation of dependency” in response to the mother’s failure to identify with and manage the infant’s expelled and intolerable states, in particular those in which the infant (later, analysand) feels abject and defective, full of shame. Envy, then, is also secondary to shame. Gerhardt also invokes Bion’s “protesting the separation between knower-known” [which calls to mind the humiliation engendered in the patient when the analyst insists on being the only ‘knower’ in the dyad]. [As an aside, she reminds us that Bion had noted that the mother’s failure to contain the infant’s fear evokes in the infant “nameless dread.”]
Oelsner takes the classic object relations approach, taking umbrage with Gerhardt seeing aggression and envy as secondary, and recommends the repeated analysis of aggression. He reminds us that Bion conceived of envy as an attack on linking. Envy destroys otherness by denying, through projective identification, recognition of separateness. Ornstein, on the other hand, as a self psychologist, agrees with Gerhardt that envy is secondary (this time, to empathic failure of participation of the analyst’s subjectivity and rejection of patient’s efforts) and sees Gerhardt’s eventual capacity to empathize with her patient— by giving up her “decoding interpretations” (experienced by the patient as “counter-attacks”) and by recognizing her part in thwarting the patient’s desires. Ornstein recommends seeing what transpired between them not as an attack by patient on analyst, but as a forward edge in terms of being able to make a demand of the analyst that the patient could not make as a child on her mother.
Gerhardt, J. (2009). The Roots of Envy: The Unaesthetic Experience of the Tantalized/ Dispossessed Self. Psa. Dial., 19:267-293
Oelsner, R. (2009). One Envy or Many?: Commentary on Paper by Julie Gerhardt. Psa. Dial., 19:297-308.
Ornstein, P.H. (2009). A Comparative Assessment of an Analysis of Envy: Commentary on Paper by Julie Gerhardt. Psa. Dial., 19:309-317