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Demythologizing Psychoanalytic Explanations

Psychoanalytic theory is readily misused to fabricate truths about patients, since the task of inferring the significance of observed data is exceedingly complex and continuously runs the risk of mismatching data with inference, resulting in the invention of pseudo-insights. The validity of a theory cannot be derived from how persuasive or comprehensive it appears. Rather, the implications of the theory must be necessary and preclude other competing or contradictory implications. Psychoanalytic theory does contain a necessary implication, that psychic health is ultimately synonymous with a mature moral consciousness, defined as the capacity to use the principle of justice in human transactions. Other transactional principles are simultaneously unjust, pathological and symptomatic in that they contain arbitrary rules on the part of the ego that mislocate the place of the self within the world of human objects. The structural tqeory and the oedipal paradigm do, in fact, equate humanness with the capacity to use the principle of justice, though this equation has rarely been acknowledged. Psychoanalytic theory escapes the charge of mythological thinking because it reflects a sophisticated, valid moral argument.

During his last visit to America, Piaget predicted that psychoanalytic theory would eventually be revealed entirely as myth. He may have meant that the theory captures profound truths through metaphor and allegory, or perhaps that psychoanalytic explanations would eventually seem like yesteryear’s quaint fabrications. Dynamic psychotherapy would seem to be hoist by the following paradox: its therapists probably would not contend that metapsychology reports facts about the psyche in the same way that, say, cytology reports facts about cells; yet therapists would understandably object to the alternate notion that their theories are mostly speculations with no particularly valid insights into mental life. Piaget’s ambiguous prediction reflects the ambiguous position of psychoanalytic theory when it comes to assessing the validity of its claims. One illustration of this ambiguity and its consequences appears in the theoretical assertion that there is for women a “normal introjection of the father’s penis, which takes place toward the end of the anal period” (Oliner, 1982, p. 50). Such a claim is difficult to place precisely within the spectrum of conceptual discourse, therefore difficult to evaluate. If not meant to report a historical episode, does this theoretical assertion stand as an allegory of childhood thoughts, an elaborate metaphor for the developmental process of learning to manipulate external objects, an aesthetic or poetic image? One is reluctant to settle on any of these alternatives, without which the evaluation process can hardly begin. Consequently the implications of this “normal introjection” are as unsettled as they were when Jones (1927) suggested that penis envy reflected a developmental struggle to separate from the early mother, not the girl’s apperception of a defect as argued by Freud (1925). The continuing debate, summarized and updated by Oliner, permits female patients to be heard differently by therapists with different theoretical views. Such a position is a potential embarrassment while the field searches for an agreed. upon criterion for distinguishing truth from myth in psychoanalytic thinking.

Philosophical efforts to address this problem of ambiguity (cf. MacIntyre, 1976) have not been complete, since therapists understandably maintain that even the best efforts ignore the complex clinical data to which theory ultimately refers. Certainly the language of psychoanalytic theory is not the same as the language in which a psychoanalytic treatment is carried out. It is tempting, then, to suppose that the theory can be validated by clinical experience and that clinical interactions with patients can be validated according to their congruence with theory. Unfortunately, this approach actually circumvents the problem of validation, since error in either domain does not become more easily detectable. In fact, to construct a theory that purports to explain human experiences, and to then believe that the recurrence of these experiences supports the explanation is to engage in the particular type of mythological thinking that is a subject for disentanglement in this paper. Here the terms myth and mythological thinking do not refer to time-honored tales of compelling interest, such as the myth of Prometheus or the Garden of Eden. Rather, they refer to a subtle process of persuasion during which the aesthetic appeal of an explanation surreptitiously engenders belief in its accuracy.

The clinical implications of failure to acknowledge and resolve mythological claims within psychoanalytic theory are much more severe than the philosophical ones. Spence (1982) has shown that the therapist’s freedom to listen with evenly hovering attention is inversely proportional to the patient’s ability to free associate; and that, therefore, most psychoanalytic treatment requires the therapist continuously to construct narrative context(s) within which to comprehend the patient’s communications. Many contexts are possible. Of concern here is the context prompted by the therapist’s understanding of theory, a context that sustains a number of rather superstitious rules for making the patient’s associations coherent to the therapist. Among such rules are “pattern matching” (p, 151) in the search for “formal similarity” (p. 148), which amounts to constructing explanations as if those thoughts, feelings, memories and fantasies that sound in some way similar to the therapist actually are (were) of similar psychic meaning for the patient. Thus the therapist is vulnerable to constructing what Spence terms “unwitting interpretations” (Chapter IV), that is, pseudoclarity invented out of the need for narrative coherency between patient and therapist, which coherency need not have anything to do with discovering underlying psychic truths. For both parties these ingenious inventions are highly persuasive, just as the reasoning pattern of the medieval alchemist was, for a time, persuasive in specifying diagnosis and treatment (cf. Spence, p. 159), Neither Spence nor the present discussion implies that clinical interpretations consist of theoretical explanations. Nevertheless, theory is one significant context within which patients will be heard and from which interpretations will be constructed; therefore, a valid use of’ theory in formulating this context must be differentiated from a magical, superstitious or mythological use.

What Spence terms an unwitting interpretation is often the outcome of a subtle misappropriation of theory, termed mythological thinking in this paper and explored in Part 1. In Part II the mistake of mythologically derived explanations, whether in psychoanalysis or other seemingly scientific psychologies, is explained as a failure to generate necessary implications. Part III attempts to resolve the problem of mythological thinking in psychoanalysis by showing that at least two key components of the theory, the structural paradigm and the oedipal paradigm, do indeed generate implications, the validity of which can be demonstrated through moral logic. This possibly unexpected conclusion requires that simplistic notions of morality be ignored, for example, the notion that morality reflects only the superego’s preservation of social values. When morality is defined as the ego’s composite set of operational principles that serve both to locate the selfs place in the world and to generate uniquely human behavior, then a just treatment of self and object is the virtual equivalent of ego autonomy. Jaques (1981) argued that a neo-Kantian commitment to will personal and racial (object?) survival is a necessary result of a complete analysis of psychotic anxiety and that it prescribes termination of the analysis. A full exploration of how and why such a grounding principle must and does operate in psychoanalytic thinking is the purpose of the present discussion.

Mythological thinking, broadly conceived, is any form of reasoning that persuades one to believe that what is in fact an optional inference should be considered a required inference instead. Mythological thinking, more narrowly defined, contains three component parts noted by Ludwig Wittgenstein as early as 1938 during his inquiries into psychoanalytic logic: 1) that what appears to be a problem in need of greater explanation must first be redefined as some other problem underneath; 2) that opposition to this redefining illustrates and perpetuates the problem; and 3) that repetition of both problem and opposition constitutes evidence that the first two claims are so. Wittgenstein considered himself a “disciple” and “follower” of Freud, but he eventually warned against the psychoanalytic thinking of the day on the grounds that the human drama in its mysteriously contingent complexities was receiving shorter and shorter shrift in the face of a new psychoanalytic mythology.

A theory that subtly invokes the premise, “This is really this” or “This really means this” (Wittgenstein, 1938, p. 27) subtly limits attention to selected aspects of a problem or situation. For example, psychoanalytic theory contends that the aspect in need of attention when seeking to understand a constellation of hysterical symptoms is inhibited sexuality; that the aspect in need of attention when seeking to understand inhibited sexuality is repudiated perversion; and that the aspect in need of attention when seeking to understand repudiated perversion is infantile trauma. Three somewhat inadvertent types of persuasion have occurred here. Selective (in)attention seems to make the original problem more manageable, since competing or contradictory aspects are ignored. An inclination or disinclination to want to pursue these aspective categories instead of others is provoked. Those inclined assume that these aspects reveal issues more basic or fundamental than the original problem, not issues of lesser, equal or separate importance. Thus, to discover the previously unnoticed sexual aspect of one’s motives in several cases inclines one to believe that the sexual motive “is really at the bottom of everything” (Wittgenstein, 1938, p. 26). When examining several graphs of response rate change across schedules of reinforcement, one becomes inclined to accept the conditioning hypothesis beneath everything. This same inclination would be predicted from pointing several times over to any component within the psychoanalytic schema, such as aspects of symbiosis and differentiation, aspects of self-cohesiveness, or aspects of a patient’s response to the therapist that were like previous responses to significant others. The overall correctness or incorrectness of an explanation is not at issue here. What is mythological about aspect selection is the persuasive presumption that selective attention is tantamount to increased understanding. The person thus persuaded is unlikely to be able to acknowledge or evaluate how this pseudoclarity came about.

The second characteristic of mythological thinking is that it traces the source of human problems to a failure to accept its own premises. Individuals are said to have differing abilities to persevere toward this acceptance, where the abilities themselves are said to reflect deeper forces in unseen conflict. Historically popular unseen forces would include the devil, failures of will, assorted incorrigibilities as in astrological systems, and more recently unconscious impulse and defense. The category shift promotes myth. If there are problems in human life, some unhappiness, some confusion, then a theory to the effect that such difficulties are the result of forces operating at a different, formerly unnoticed level is persuasive because the longing to discover definitive depths (or heights) is very strong. To suppose, for example, that one’s interpersonal conflicts are traceable to earlier interactions with one’s parents, and to further suppose that core themes in these interactions are yet unconscious, provides a seemingly complete, fundamental sort of explanation that people are inclined to hold on to. Therapists often observe that a patient’s resistance to uncovering lost material is accompanied by a reciprocal propensity to believe that recovered material must reveal definitive answers to their problems. The therapist may rightly hear this new belief as a new resistance and eventually interpret it as such. This procedure, complex as it may become, subtly engenders propensities to accept as well as the well-known propensities to avoid.

Wittgenstein was concerned that the category shift introducing unconscious motivation would permit psychoanalytic theory to flourish more on the basis of charm than accuracy. Ancient and eternally charming thoughts for him included the idea that people have subconscious purposes, the idea that the ordinary foibles of life are knowably motivated, and the idea that simple objects have symbolic value. The mistake as he saw it would come in anyone’s attempt to explain these charming hypotheses, since further explanations would be deceptively easy. One could expect, for example, that a person disposed to finding the symbolic function of a table would conclude that it stood for a woman (Wittgenstein, 1938, p. 44), since the number of things deemed worthy of being symbolized has been eternally small. To conclude that a mountain symbolizes phallus or breast gives the traditionally expected answer to queries regarding this mountain’s likely referents, but only after one has decided that the mountain is a symbol. To conclude that this mountain symbolizes a Type A corporate structure sounds peculiar or unfinished, not because there are no such associations in the human imagination, but because this association does not yet fit the kind of answer that is wanted when symbolic referents are sought. Most people are easily persuaded that movement from the latter to the former associative referents is tantamount to going deeper into psychic realities. This hypothesis works by mistakenly equating the chronological or biological primacy of some objects or experiences with their supposedly primary impact on human lives. Where some religions lament how the most important matters are accorded the least important role in guiding human beings, psychoanalysis reverses this claim at the level of the unconscious and thereby inherits some of religion’s former charm.

The third characteristic of mythological thinking is that it deems events in human lives explained to the extent that they can be identified as a repetition of something that happened before (cf. Wittgenstein, 1938, p. 51). The thought, “It is only that again,” contains an inherent comfort that promises a measure of solubility to the present problem. What is specifically mythological about this comfort is that it intimates without actually demonstrating that repetition is the genuinely relevant explanation. The same subliminal persuasion is contained in the inverse notion that conflict indicates a failure to grasp which aspect of the current state of affairs is being repeated. Psychoanalytic explanations may invoke the concept of repetition persuasively to refer to the residual effects of trauma, to the ego’s defensive options, or to regressions along a developmental continuum. Wittgenstein was concerned that many such references to repetition were tantamount to creating a more scientifically flavored totem in which the present is explained as “the outcome of something that happened long ago” (p. 51).

The difficulty in determining whether a psychoanalytic explanation has used the concept of repetition relevantly or mythologically is due to the fact that the material repeated usually falls within those aspects of the patient’s life that were already difficult or painful to see clearly. Misusing the repetition concept, that is, invoking it in a technically accurate but irrelevant context, may still create a sense of worthwhile discovery as two previously disconnected aspects of the patient’s life are seen as having something in common. This sense of commonality, newly noticed, is similar to the sense of having found a new explanation, though it often becomes obvious upon closer inspection that a complete and relevant explanation is a much more rigorous undertaking than the matching of psychic or historical patterns. There are themes woven into these patterns, themes that psychoanalytic theory points out with dexterity in its emphasis on psychosexual development, identity, object relations, and so forth. Nevertheless, this noticing, discovering or pointing to correlative and repetitive patterns in the patient’s life or associations does not completely explain their significance, or lack of it. One may inadvertently be persuaded to believe that an explanation has been found anyway, simply because associations once made and noticed always seem to be inwardly logical. At issue is whether this sense of logic as the patient provides associations constitutes evidence for any specific insights about psychic conflict, for example, insight into conflict as unconscious compulsion to repeat an oedipal rivalry. Such insight must remain in the realm of speculation or mythology, since psychic effects (repetitive associations) cannot double as evidence for their own explanation. After the patient has provided repetitive and correlative associations, subsequent inferences about what this means, signifies or implies have yet to be validated. “One thinks of certain results of psychoanalysis as a discovery Freud made, as apart from something persuaded to you by a psycho-analyst, and I wish to say this is not the case” (Wittgenstein, 1938, p. 27).

In clinical practice the influx of mythological thinking can turn the theory’s finest contributions into liabilities. The realization that adult life nan contain hidden unresolved childhood themes may inadvertently turn into the undemonstrated belief that all psychic issues in adulthood are traceable and explainable according to the psyche of the child. For example, a mature adult heterosexual relationship is a complicated achievement. The term incompatibility suggests major dissonance surrounding a couple’s extent of sexual satisfaction, frequency of satisfaction, management of time, division of labor, or congruity of priorities. Of course, such dissonance may sometimes involve residual unconscious memories and fantasies from childhood that influence feelings and actions on the part of one or both partners. However, this theoretical orientation may blind the therapist to another equally valid observation, namely that no childhood provided all the components of mature adult heterosexuality. The boychild had a mother not a wife, and his relationship to mother and father was boundaried by rules that will not apply to the mature adult dyad he will later attempt to create. The theoretical assertion that an appropriate childhood would have provided all tools necessary to successfully create this dyad would have to be considered a mythology, that is, a belief that there are no bona fide psychic problems of adult heterosexuality, that what appear to be adult problems are really residual problems from thechiId’s psyche. Since it is impossible to demonstrate that this is so, this theoretical claim may properly be called a belief. The fact that patients provide repetitive and correlative associations between childhood and adult life neither supports nor refutes this belief. In the treatment room the belief that what may sometimes be so must always be so makes it impossible for the mythologically oriented therapist to comprehend fully complexities in the adult psyche that do not reveal or sound like a childhood theme.

Perhaps classically oriented therapists would find no objection here. They might contend that the therapeutic task is strictly limited to identifying, if present, infantile themes in accord with the view that the primary relevant factor in understanding adult problems is the repetition of (unconscious) aspects of childhood. Such an approach illustrates the mythological method of deriving clarity from a persuasive recasting of the framework for describing problems and their resolutions. This theoretical approach is neither right nor wrong. Rather, it presents a belief that is not accessable to validation or correction. By no means does this imply that all psychoanalytic psychotherapists actually work within such a simple mythological orientation. Nevertheless, many therapists have wondered whether they may have inadvertently misinterpreted a patient’s concerns out of a mutual fascination with theoretical myths.

A theory becomes vulnerable to the charge of mythmaking whenever its inferences can be shown to be possible but not necessary. Then what once seemed like a genuine increment of knowledge is revealed to be only a way of speaking. Comprehensive descriptions of human problems mayor may not lead to valid inferences. In the example above, the observation that a troubled adult presents associations interlaced with infantile themes amounts to a description awaiting some more substantive inference or implication. Neither the method of obtaining observations nor the frequency with which they appear guarantees that subsequent inferences are necessary, meaning that certain inferences must be made and alternate inferences must be precluded. The mistake of the mythological paradigm is that its description of human problems fails to generate necessary implications.

Popular assumptions aside, knowledge about human beings cannot be differentiated from mythological speculation solely on the basis of congruity with observed facts. All correlative and repetitive associations regarding the world as observed seem like discoveries, whether one is associating the speed of a falling body to the length of its fall or associating sex to the moon. Over time, necessary associations may be called knowledge; unnecessary associations would be called myths. The difficulty lies in determining when and where a necessary association has been formed. Clarity will not emerge from the strength of the association nor from the repetitiveness with which it is made. There is no way to establish, ahead of time as it were, that some correlative associations are genuine while others, identically perceived and formulated, are not. The argument is put forth here that psychoanalytic theory, like other psychological theories, could be considered knowledge or myth depending on whether or not the theory generates necessary implications about the nature of experience.

The task of demonstrating necessary implications is frequently misconstrued in academic psychology as a statistical and empirical task. While the methodologies used in psychology to test the accuracy of theories have a place in the research domain, they can occasionally contribute to mythological thinking. The misuse of empirical methodologies based on an Analysis of Variance was convincingly demonstrated by Meehl (1967), who showed that powerful statistical tests inadvertently become so sensitive to variation that there arises, because of the methodology itself, a 50-50 chance that any two variables, including variables deliberately selected at random, will lend statistically significant support to a rejection of the null hypothesis. This high probability of relatedness neither confirms nor refutes the particular theory under study. Yet we are invariably persuaded to believe that measured results constitute evidence that our theorizing is on the right track, in effect, mythologically persuaded by methodology to accept a claim that some repetition or correlation has the meaning attributed to it by the theory. Recently, academic psychology has more openly acknowledged that some of its experimental paradigms succeed only in showing the possibility that two variables interact, a conclusion that carries no more weight than the observation that originally sparked interest in the research (cf. Adair, 1982; Mitchell & McKillip, 1982; Secord, 1982; Simonton, 1982).

Therapists routinely reject the methods of research psychology on the grounds that a clinical investigation is different from a statistical one. Nevertheless, both share one dilemma in common, known in the philosophy of science as the Problem of the Observational Hurdle (Meehl, 1967). This “hurdle” refers to the fact that differing theories rarely disagree about the data available for human observation, yet the inferences drawn may be vastly dissimilar. Whether one chooses to observe 50 subjects for one minute or one subject for 50 minutes, the information obtainable is not likely to be in dispute. However, this information is likely to be given different assessments, interpretations, and implications by psychoanalysts, parents, priests and politicians. Obviously none may claim validation for a particular interpretation simply by pointing to correlations and repetitions that emerge from data observed. The role of theory, then, is to transform correlative and repetitive observations into implications; the test of a theory lies in how well the implications generated by the theory withstand the tests for their necessity.

Some psychological theorizing avoids implications entirely and, therefore, remains mythological by default. Such theorizing appears in radical behaviorism, where all possible implications regarding the animate or inanimate worlds are still said to be responses conditioned by prior configurations of those worlds. Likewise, a conservative definition of psychoanalysis as an exercise in deep information retrieval would default to the charge of myth making due to a self-limiting parameter, associations without implications. This is a matter over which various classical and neoclassical therapists may disagree. Suppose the therapist observes that deficient mothering during the earth months of life has left N. protecting marginal gains in secondary narcissism by means of a projective split between fantasies of omnipotence and a malicious object world. This observation would reflect merely a way of speaking, alongside others, if the therapist permits no testable implications to enter the descriptive schema. The observation would reflect a psychoanalytic myth if potential implications are eventually revealed as unnecessary, thus permitting alternate implications the same credence.

Two models are used to test whether a theory’s implications are necessary or not: the prediction model and the criterion validity model. The prediction model assumes that a valid psychological explanation consists of correctly identifying the causers) of human behavior, i.e., those that can be relied upon to predict future outcomes. Thus far the predictive powers demonstrated by psychology or psychoanalysis are modest to marginal, possibly because more research is needed, or because the human psyche does not conform well to law-like propositions borrowed from studies of the inanimate world. The prediction model stands ready for use in demythologizing psychoanalytic theory,but it is not recommended here as the most promising.

The criterion validity model will be incorporated into the test in Part III for the necessity of psychoanalytic implications. According to this model, a theory transforms observations into the implication that the data contained within the observational set have matched or achieved parity with an acknowledged standard to some degree and proportion. This standard (criterion) must be defensible in its Own right according to a separate rational premise. A theory’s implications are validated, then, when achievement of the criterion is equivalent to, instituted by, or follows from adherence to the theory’s claims. Where psychoanalysis is concerned, clinical descriptions and treatment prescriptions would have known validity when they successfully contain, institute or achieve an endorsable criterion for psychic health. Such criteria are not absent within psychoanalytic thinking. Ego autonomy and pleasure without danger could be possible criterion referents. However, since a theory may not state claims and simultaneously justify the criterion validity referent(s) by which those claims are to be evaluated, the task remains of specifying a criterion by which the implications of psychoanalytic theory can be tested.

Assuming that psychoanalysis accurately observes and describes the patient’s psychodynamic life, the patient’s genetic, economic, psychosexual, defensive and transference positions, it becomes necessary to derive some implication from these observations lest they remain by default in the category of mythologically persuasive correlations and repetitions. This implication, reflected in the concept of psychoanalytic psychopathology, is that a meaningful distinction can be made between healthy and unhealthy, endorsable and unendorsable psychic processes. Psychoanalytic theory does not create the distinction between pathology and health; it attempts to elucidate the dynamics of this distinction in a useful way. Demythologizing psychoanalytic theory consists of demonstrating that this elucidation is necessary according to some independently valid criterion for humanness, read mature psychic functioning and behavior. An attempt will be made here to show that key components in psychoanalysis-the structural theory and the oedipal paradigm-elucidate at the clinical level the principle of justice, or the principle of intrapsychic fairness, as a necessary criterion for humanness and health.

A distinction must be made between values and principles. Therapists have understandably dissociated their work from allegiance to specific social values, where values are defined as events or states of affairs that are deemed good in and of themselves. In distinction to values, a principle is defined as a prescriptive method regarding the process by which human transactions are to be carried out, whether in the interpersonal or intrapsychic domains. A principle is justified by its recognizable, endorsable rationality, not its goodness. A principle takes precedence over values and is used, in fact, to resolve competing claims of value. A more thorough discussion of this distinction and its application to developmental psychology has been presented by Kohlberg (1971).

The principle of justice as the method for proceeding in the human world may be roughly defined as the prescription, “Give equal consideration to all claims or rights.” This does not mean that all claims or rights are equal, but rather that decision regarding conflicting claims or rights is to be achieved by giving the same consideration to each. An arbitrary or prior weighting of claims leads to decisions based on what would ordinarily be called prejudice, not justice. Prejudice is a nonclinical term that nevertheless encapsulates the way unacknowledged prior configurations of feeling, fantasy, or experience influence present behavior. Prior configurations provide a reason for present behavior, as emphasized in the psychoanalytic approach. They do not provide sanction for the present, since the method of prejudice fails numerous tests for mature humanness. To replace the method of prejudice with the method of justice is essentially to replace the tyranny of prior configurations with what has been termed ego autonomy in psychoanalytic thinking. Ego autonomy is not a psychoanalytic value; it refers to the method of giving due consideration, equal and reciprocal consideration, to the claims, needs and impulses that impinge upon the self, without the need to invoke archaic, arbitrary, and therefore pathological rules for proceeding in the human world.

Psychoanalytic theory continues to provide fuller descriptions of humanness as well as conflicts that interfere with that humanness, without having succumbed to misleading romanticisms or naive moralisms. “Where id was .shall ego be” is not a neutrally scientific prediction but rather a prescription for psychic health. During recent years attention has focused on the ordered pathways for reaching this goal, including such processes as the neutralization of energy, negotiation of the phases of separation and individuation, achievement of stable object cathexes, and many more. Psychoanalytic interventions in the clinical setting, insofar as they aim to remove the impoverishing effects of infantile fixations on the patient’s self and object representations, aim to restore or promote a differentially valid recathexis of self and object world referred to as the triumph of the Reality Principle. The theory’s emphases on negotiating developmental tasks, resolving conflict in a stable and integrated way, and sustaining the capacity for pleasure without danger or debilitating anxiety contain a prescription for human psychic functioning. This prescription is not always in agreement with those of other therapies, which range all the way from hedonism to social conformity. The task of validating the psychoanalytic approach consists of demonstrating that its prescriptions are necessary, not casual, transitory or idiosyncratic to a particular patient or therapist. The psychoanalytic prescription for healthy psychic functioning, or ego autonomy, contains and institutes the method of justice as the criterion for mature humanness.

When Freud noted that “in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego” (1923, p. 7), he was preparing to discuss how this coherent organization could yet contain peculiar intrapsychic rules governing the treatment of self, objects and representations. That instincts, defenses, anxiety and compromise formations interact within the psyche is the claim of the structural theory. Whether these interactions are pathological or not depends on the capacity of the ego to institute and sustain a specific type of coherency, namely coherency based on the method of intrapsychic fairness. The ego’s task is not only to ward off impulse or anxiety, lest an imbalance between pleasure and pain persist in the patient’s life; it is also to locate the self amid numerous internal and external forces according to an inner psychic method that permits negotiation of the patient’s life towards survival and humanness. In the presence of the desires for sex, mastery, nurturance or safety; in the presence of threats of castration, loss or annihilation; the ego is vulnerable to instituting procedural rules that endanger survival, a complete failure in reciprocal valuation, or endanger humanness due to a disparity in the cathexes and representations that identify the self with respect to object world, personal history, need, fantasy and impulse. This disparity, which compromises humanness, reflects psychic processes that treat the self as too good or too bad, too powerful or too weak; processes that misweight need and capacity to satisfy need; processes that permit all prohibitions and no impulses; processes that permit all impulses and no prohibitions; processes that discount the present (past) and overvalue the past (present); processes that endow the self (object) with qualities or capacities denied the object (self). It may not be possible to complete this list because the psyche’s capacity to arbitrarily misweight can appear in combinations and recombinations only roughly summarized by theoretical coding such as conflict between id and superego, ego splits, part-object transferences, and so forth. These conditions may correctly be termed pathological because they reflect procedural methods incongruent with the method of justice and, therefore, incongruent with the method for being human in the human world.

The test for the difference between healthy and pathological processes is the test for the method of justice. It must be possible to employ the ego’s rules reciprocally without creating contradictions. For example, a rule that institutes masochistic treatment of the self is pathological because such a rule cannot possibly serve without contradiction as the rule for objects or introjects. A rule that institutes an omnipotence pretense cannot hold for alien objects as well. Depression and narcissism contain misvaluation of self, object and/or imago, such that reciprocal valuation is impossible. Psychosis contains an extreme failure of reciprocity, in which self-cathexis defers to hypercathexis of id derivatives, partial imagos, and restitutional representations. The classic paradigm for psychic conflict has traditionally referred to some imbalance in the influence of id or superego over ego organization and, more recently, unbalanced influence within the ego where introjects or representations are concerned. This imbalance consists of those executive, synthetic and defensive functions which, however necessary on a temporary basis, break the rule of reciprocity and so foster a pathological coherency that is perpetuated and yet hidden by means of symptoms. The prior configurations addressed during psychoanalytic treatment consist of prejudicial, arbitrary takeovers within the ego of impulse, history, parental imago, archaic prohibition, and the like; takeovers that preclude the ego from functioning according to the method of justice, that is, according to procedural rules that give equal consideration to all claims, needs and restrictions that impinge upon the self across multiple circumstances. This explain,s why the therapist resonates, not to the content of a patient’s life, but to toe psychic methods through which thought and feeling, past and present, are processed. The analysis of psychic conflict is essentially an analysis of the need for arbitrary, unfair psychic processes.

A prototypic example of the quest for fairness as the underlying principle of psychic organization that is maturely human appears in the oedipal paradigm. A thumbnail sketch of its major themes would include each person’s encounter with the early wish to mislocate the self within the human world, to locate the self at the center of parental interactions in such a way that the selfs sexual and aggressive impulses seem for a time like a complete picture of reality. Interference with this early picture, such as that provided by the threat of castration, ushers in the resolution of the complex and simultaneously provides a more mature humanness in a civilized world. The capacity to restrain sexual and aggressive impulses according to the rule of fairness is, indeed, what makes human beings human. Simultaneously, the capacity to satisfy impulses according to the rule of fairness is, indeed, what makes human beings human. These two statements are identical where a mature psyche is concerned, since restraint and satisfaction are instituted according to the same procedural method called justice. The method that requires sons to respect fathers in order to be respected as father’s distinguishes the human tribe from tribes of wolves or ducks. The father may not be slain in the name of infantile impulse, nor may the father (object, introject or representation) rule tyranically over the needs and claims of the emerging self. Freud (1930) and his descendants were well aware that anxiety, guilt, retaliatory rage, and virtually all compromise formations instituting neuroses may be traced to unsuccessful negotiation of this relocating of the self. Here it must be emphasized that neuroses do not result from the fact that civilized human life requires the achievement of the principle of justice, but rather from the person’s failure to successfully cathect or achieve this method of functioning. Neuroses and the symptoms they entail perpetuate and hide more primitive psychic methods for negotiating human transactions.

In its demythologized form, psychoanalytic theory would not contend that neuroses are caused by triangular conflicts at about the fourth year of life. Neuroses would be explained as failure or interference in maintaining the method of intrapsychic justice as the most fully human method of psychic functioning. During the first five years of life, the task of achieving this principle of psychic organization will be handed to the child as a difficult but necessary initiation to full humanness in the human world. Overvaluation and undervaluation of self and objects, impulses and introjects, need and prohibitions may well be tempting but eventually pathological solutions to this task. To observe in the treatment room a failure to have successfully instituted the method of intrapsychic justice necessarily implies a psychological problem that compromises humanness, a problem that may very well have troubled the patient since preschool years.

In summary, this paper has proposed that a criterion referent that validates the psychoanalytic method of explaining psychic conflict is the principle of intrapsychic justice. This term was used to refer to a method of processing psychic stimulation that permits the same (equal) consideration to be given to all psychic factors in the patient’s life without the need to invoke arbitrary, archaic valuations and procedural rules. Psychopathology, restricted ego functioning, and neurosis are the consequences of this arbitrariness. Such consequences compromise full humanness because they mislocate the place of the self in a world that defines humanness as the capacity for fairness in the pursuit of satisfaction and self-congruency. Psychoanalytic theory did not create this definition, but its careful attention to the nuances of the individual’s psychic methods in their propensity to disguise and perpetuate arbitrariness makes psychoanalysis the guardian of a specific, necessary vision of human psychic maturity.

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