Discussion Group Standing in the Spaces Barry Magid April 28th 2018

Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanalytic Relationship Philip M. Bromberg, Ph.D. Standing in the Spaces

As an enactment begins, an analyst will inevitably shift his self-state when the patient shifts his, but the phenomenon is always a two-way street. An enactment can just as easily begin with the analyst. Dissociation is a hypnoid process, and inasmuch as analyst and patient are sharing an event that belongs equally to both of them—the interpersonal field that shapes the immediate reality of each and the way each is experiencing himself and the other—any unsignalled withdrawal from that field by either person will disrupt the other's state of mind. Thus, when an enactment begins (no matter by whom it is initiated), no analyst can be immediately attuned to the shift in here-and-now reality, and he inevitably becomes part of the dissociative process, at least for a period of time. He is often in a hypnoid state qualitatively similar to that which his patient is in, and sometimes becomes fixated, concretely, upon the verbal content of the session; the words begin to take on an “unreal” quality, and this is frequently what “wakes the analyst up” to the fact that something is “going on.” He has been hypnoidally dissociated from that part of himself that was participating in the enactment, but once he regains access to it, he will no longer be “asleep” to the fact that the patient, although using words, is equally “asleep” to the here-and-now experience between them. A dissociated self-state of the patient holding another reality—one that sometimes is fiercely opposing the one being talked “about”—may then start to gain a voice.

The analyst's dissociation is not a “mistake” on his part; it is intrinsic to the normal process of human communication, unless it becomes a genuine countertransferential issue that prevents him from “waking up” regardless of how often and in how many different ways the dissociated voice cries for attention. One might even choose to extend Winnicott's concept of “object usage” (Winnicott, 1969), and suggest that the analyst is always “deaf” to the patient and “wrong” in his interpretations, at least with regard to certain dissociated aspects of the patient's self, thus allowing the patient to “re-create” the analyst as part of the evolving process of self-re-creation that constitutes the core of the patient's growth. In other words, the patient is provided with a chance for unsymbolized aspects of self to protest the analyst's “wrongness” and become known relationally by the analyst through the enactment.

Kate, a female patient just back from a vacation, was marvelling at how free she felt to do things that she couldn't do freely here, because in New York she has to tell me about them and she's afraid of what I will feel. She said that she didn't know why this should be so, because she knew I liked her, and wondered whether that fact could actually be the reason—that she was afraid to let herself fully experience my liking her, because then she would want too much of it. She compared this possibility with how her allergy to chocolate seemed also not to be in effect when she was on vacation, and she ate chocolate for every dessert without feeling guilty and without getting pimples. “So,” said Kate, “maybe the truth is that you are like chocolate to me. No matter what you say about me I can't take it in without getting pimples, because when I start to realize how attached I am to you, the pimples remind me not to trust you too much—to be careful of how much of me I show you—you could suddenly hurt me if I'm not who you expect me to be.”

“And yet,” I replied earnestly, “you seem to be trusting me enough right now to at least let me in on the fact that there's more to you than meets the eye.”

“I think you're saying that,” Kate retorted, “because you are trying to get me to trust you more than I do. But I don't know if what I'm feeling right now is trust, or just a new feeling of ‘I don't care what you think.’ Right now, I really don't trust why you just said what you said. If I trust you instead of trusting me, I get pimples, and that's zit.”

“Come on now,” you might well protest, “how can you be so sure that's what she said. After all, ‘that's it!’ and ‘that's zit!’ are pretty much in the ear of the beholder.” And you may well be right, particularly because I love unconscious plays on words. I seem to hear them with what I suspect is unusual frequency, and I think it is entirely plausible that in a marginal case such as this I heard what I wished to hear. The fact is that I don't know for certain. What I do know is that when I began to laugh, she caught on immediately to what I was laughing at, and even though she clearly had no conscious awareness of an intended pun, she was ready to enter into the spirit of play. I think I would be on more solid ground (an uncustomary location for me) if I settled for the probability that what my ear did indeed pick up was her readiness to enter the area of potential space (Winnicott, 1971a, 1971b)—to play with an aspect of our relationship that before had been concretized and held in separate and discontinuous states of consciousness. My wish for her to trust me, which she so accurately perceived as part of my response to her, was then acknowledged by me. I also acknowledged her accuracy in her perception that I liked her, and my concern that in the acknowledgment I might be making it more rather than less difficult for her to feel free to be herself. She then told me that I worry too much (which I do). She said she was glad that I said it, but that at this point she didn't really need the verification because she really did feel free to be herself with me in a way she hadn't before, and that my input didn't make her feel she had to “jump ship” in order to protect herself.

The point of this vignette is that I didn't know what to expect from moment to moment; I was as much in potential space as she was, and I would put it that if I were not, the concept has no meaning. I had to find my own place to stand without wedding myself to my own subjectivity as “truth,” while still being able to be myself—a concept I've described metaphorically in previous writing (Bromberg, 1991, pp. 410-411) as the ability of the analyst to “maintain dual citizenship in two domains of reality with passports to the multiple self-states of the patient.”

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