Monday, September 12, 2016

Acting Out and Passage à l'acte

On Sept 10, 2016 the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society hosted Donna Bentolila at its monthly, all day seminar where she presented two riveting cases. A native of Argentina and a Lacanian by self-report, Bentolila, despite the privileging of left brain (the Symbolic) over right, and despite her reluctance to locate herself squarely in the co-creation of the experience of her patients, nonetheless, worked closely and beautifully in the lives of these two patients and their analytic relationships with her. Due perhaps to the severity of their illnesses and to complicated issues in both cases, Bentolila found herself repeatedly having to bend the frame to fit both the needs of these two very disturbed people and the limits of her capacity to endure their demands. For confidentiality sake, I will give no details, but wish you all had been there to become wholly engrossed in the presentation.

Lacan, like Freud, chose phallocentric terms to explain human experience, and I was pleased to see Bentolila try to soften Lacan’s ideas as metaphor. For example, the ‘name of the father’, Bentolila claimed, is not necessarily the biological father, but the function that transcends him. Still, this function, in addition to “constraints and proscriptions,” is to “break the fusion between mother and child." [But the idea of ‘fusion’ (or merger or symbiosis) has been reassessed since the understanding by Stern (1985) -and Benjamin- of the normal development of a sense of separateness from a very early age.]

Bentolila explained Lacan’s  distinction between acting out and passage à l'acte: Acting out is done by a subject as an attempt to communicate something to the Other which could not be heard, or said, in words. Because it remains as an attempt at communication, it thus retains the Symbolic order. Passage à l'acte (passage to [into] action), on the other hand, exits from the Symbolic Order with behavior which is not meant to communicate to the Other (the Other does not enter into consideration in the act, sometimes because there has been a dissolution of connection to the Other) for even the subject is un-situated from the scene in a desperate and irreversible attempt to resolve some unbearable anxiety (this loss of self as subject sometimes heralds psychosis), such as in the case Bentolila described.

What a wonderful reminder, as her clinical examples depicted, of how being listened to about one’s impulses makes it less likely those impulses will be acted upon. Acting out is a message to the analyst: an appeal or demand for recognition from the analyst; an attempt to communicate what the analyst had heretofore been unable to hear; an unspoken and/or unconscious invitation to dialogue about a subject that could not find a place in their discourse, perhaps because it remained dissociated (or outside the Symbolic order per Lacanians). I suppose that were the analyst to disallow space for validation, or abdicate responsibility for her own location in the fray, the patient might feel so violated and destroyed as to abandon further attempts at communication and enter instead into the real passage à l'acte.

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