Subject To Change: Jung, Gender And Subjectivity In Psychoanalysis (Interview-Book Review)

Author:  Young-Eisendrath, Polly
Publisher: New York: Brunner-Routledge 2003
Reviewed By: Mel Miller, Winter 2003, Pp. 64-69

An Interview With Polly Young-Eisendrath

Dr. Miller: The occasion for this interview is the imminent publication of your next book Subject to Change: Jung, Gender and Subjectivity in Psychoanalysis, to be published by Routledge in London, right?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Right, it will be out in 2003. It’s still somewhat of a shock for me that this is my fourteenth book. It’s a volume of my own essays, edited by me, that covers a period of about 20 years.

Dr. Miller: As I was reading it I had a sense of seeing the growth of your ideas over time, and also noting how prolific you have been, in getting your ideas out there to the public. This book seems to really touch on all the ideas and subjects you have been passionate about.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: That passion has motivated me from the very beginning. When I started my training in 1979 to be a Jungian psychoanalyst, I already cared a lot about issues that fell outside of what was then the typical psychoanalytic dialogue. I cared about sexism, racism, gender issues – and Buddhism. So from the very beginning there were subjects that I wanted to bring into the dialogue with other psychoanalysts. The topics have changed over the years, but my passion has stayed the same. Right now I care so much about our ability – as psychoanalysts and psychologists – to develop a systematic science of subjective life without becoming mired in biological determinism. I see all this “biobabble” creeping into our field, really bad reasoning about things we aren’t familiar with, such as genetics and brain chemistry. I would like to see us stick to what we know, and become scientific on our own grounds. I have always been very passionate about certain things, and have been willing to go out on a limb and say what I believe to be true, and try to substantiate it by reasoning and empirical and clinical evidence.

Dr. Miller: This book deals with a wide range of subjects from post-modern thinking, constructivism, gender issues, feminism, Jung, object relations, hermeneutics, phenomenology, relational theories, intersubjectivity, and Buddhism -- especially as they apply to clinical work. Could you describe your clinical stance in the atmosphere of the current debates in psychoanalysis?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: I believe there is a clear goal for psychoanalytic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis – to make people aware of, tolerant of, and accountable for emotional habits of mind. “Habits of mind” is a term I use to characterize the driven aspects of our psychic lives – repetition compulsions and complexes. These habits tend to be unconscious, or mostly unconscious, and are the result of our emotional conditioning, especially through our earliest relationships, traumas, and other shaping influences that color our perceptions of reality. The most difficult and distressing habits are those that reduce or eliminate our ability to remain flexible and present in our relationships with others and ourselves. Our emotional habits are also defended by defense mechanisms that range in their functioning from delusional to mature and adaptive. I’ll get back to our defenses later. I found myself, by the way, agreeing with almost everything that Frank Summers said in a recent interview in the Division 39 newsletter when he talked about resistance. The goal of psychoanalysis is to make people more conscious and more tolerant of recognizing these emotional habits in themselves and others. To be mindful of these habits means that we don’t ignore or condemn them, nor do we impulsively act on them or through them. We have the choice of acting within a space of reflection.

Dr. Miller: Sounds like you’re saying that the goal of psychoanalysis is expanded awareness and something more.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Yes, there is more. It’s not just awareness, but a matter-of-fact gentle awareness, what I would call “equanimity” in witnessing the full range of our subjective states, at least as much as possible, so that we know they’re ours and we feel them. The affects that had been intolerable in childhood can now be felt in adulthood, simply as bodily sensations connected to images – sometimes to verbal thoughts. A mindful witnessing of our subjective states brings about a compassion for ourselves because we see and feel how we got trapped into certain emotional and perceptual habits. Without this compassion, psychotherapy is incomplete. I have seen patients, previously analyzed or treated in long-term psychotherapy, who condemn and attack themselves because they believe they should be free of their habitual tendencies. In such self-attacks, they simply reactivate the patterns connected to feeling like a powerless victim. We don’t ever overcome the habits of our minds because they are the structural building blocks of personality. Our only freedom is to become conscious of them and feel the sensations, images and thoughts. It’s like making personal acquaintance with the workings of our limbic system. This opens a reflective space, a new habit if you will, in which we can be present to our own minds and be flexible in the moment, not captured by unconscious fantasies or intentions. Our understanding of why our habits grip us should make us more compassionate. If instead it makes us more annoyed with others, or ourselves then we will certainly suffer “paralysis from analysis.”

Dr. Miller: I notice that you use some unusual words for a psychoanalyst – equanimity and compassion. Maybe this is a good time also to say something about your general background, and about some of the ideas and people who have influenced you, that have laid the philosophical and theoretical roots of your thinking.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Well, you know that by the time I became interested in psychoanalysis, I already had become a student of Zen Buddhism. I became a formal student of Zen Buddhism in 1971. I was very interested in the nature of our subjective experience, like what allows us to experience the world in the ways that we do, as time and space and causality. You know. What gives us that consensus about this world? I had had experiences that were outside of that consensus -- without drugs, hallucinogenic or otherwise, by the way. So my first investigation of subjective life was through Zen Buddhism. And Buddhism has always played a very big role in the background of my thinking, both in my eventual understanding of Buddhist psychology and Buddhist epistemology, and also my practice of meditation and my experiences in meditation, first in Zen and now in Vipassana. It’s another lens through which to view our subjectivity.

Dr. Miller: Why did you enter Jungian psychotherapy/ psychoanalysis rather than some other sort?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: When I was an undergraduate, studying English literature, I eventually focused on medieval English literature. I thought I was going to go for my Ph. D. in medieval studies and in the course of reading some material for my honors thesis, I came across Erich Neumann’s study of the meaning and imagery of the mother goddess. I started reading that, but I didn’t understand it, and I went to my adviser and asked him, and he said, “Oh, stay away from that Jungian stuff, it’s too mystical.” I went right home to my best friend, my roommate, whom I considered to be an expert on anything counter-cultural and asked her “What do you know about this guy Jung?” She said, “Here’s a book that you should read.” It was Memories, Dreams, Reflections and that was 1969. I read that book and found it fascinating; I identified with the portrait of Jung there. Later, in 1973 or so, I realized that I wanted to go into a personal psychotherapy and so, naturally – I mean this facetiously – I needed to go to Zurich; I wouldn’t have considered a psychotherapist in North Carolina where I lived then!

Still later, I read Boundaries of the Soul by June Singer, and I was really very touched by that book, and I wanted eventually to have June Singer as my therapist, which eventually I did. By the time I decided to enter psychoanalytic training in 1979, I was quite interested in Freud’s work as well, but I could not train in clinical psychoanalysis at the Freudian institute in St. Louis at that time. I was a graduate student in psychology at Washington University. So I pursued a Jungian training, thinking it was my only choice if I wanted a clinical practice, which I did.

Dr. Miller: This was after you had spent some time in Zurich?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: I went to Zurich several times. I guess the very first time was 1970. I returned in 1973 for a summer of intensive analysis, and after that, I was in Zurich only for professional conferences. My Jungian training took place in Chicago, which was then a part of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts; now it is a separate institute in Evanston. As for the actual influences on my development, though, I am most influenced by the “developmental school” of analytical psychology that shares a great deal with object relations practice and theory, especially with the psychology of Melanie Klein. Its hub is in London, at the Tavistock, with a group called the Society for Analytical Psychology, originally founded by Michael Fordham.

When I was in graduate school at Washington University, I first encountered structural developmental psychology in the Seminar on Ego Development, taught by Jane Loevinger. I was amazed by her theory and research methodology: here was a complex, nuanced investigation of paradigms of self-other that was systematic and scientific. I became a research assistant to Jane on the Ego Development Project and dived into the study of neo-Piagetian psychologies. This is really the other side of my training and evolution as a psychologist – adolescent and adult development, specifically of the stage theory type.

Dr. Miller: That’s one of the things that you and I have in common, a background in developmental psychology, structural developmental psychology and even using Loevinger’s Sentence Completion Test.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Yes. Working with Jane and scoring thousands of protocols in ego development brought about a complete transformation in my thinking and it fit very well with my Buddhist epistemology, and my understanding of Jungian archetypes as dynamic forms. But Jane Loevinger had a strong animosity towards Carl Jung and his theories. I had such great respect for Jane, much greater than my respect for Jung at that time – she was, after all, a living person and he was pages in books – that I had a kind of identity crisis while I was in my Jungian training. When I was with Jane and in my graduate program, I was a closet Jungian. I just didn’t tell. That whole tension was ultimately very good for me, I believe. I have always remained questioning and skeptical about psychoanalytic theorizing, especially Jungian ideologies. I have no use for dogmas. I am only interested in working models, in theories that help us improve our practice and understanding of subjective life. Jane Loevinger helped me hone my questions and address the important issues. She introduced me to Roy Schafer, Robert Holt, George Valliant and Stuart Hauser while I was her research assistant. Knowing these important theorists personally made a very big impression on me as a young graduate student.

Dr. Miller: Made you an early constructivist.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Absolutely. And in 1980 I took a faculty position at Bryn Mawr College. While there, for almost ten years, I participated in a group called the Committee on Interpretation and Criticism (honestly!). We were a group of philosophers, literary theorists, linguists, sociologists – I think I was the only psychologist – who studied hermeneutics, literary criticism and philosophy of the person. The 1980’s was an exciting and heady period for philosophy and criticism. Among others, I met T. S. Kuhn, Habermas, and Charles Taylor. We actually had a seminar with Habermas. Whoa! Then I also joined a group at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, a psychoanalytic hospital in Philadelphia that no longer exists, that was a teaching seminar. I also held a position there as Research Psychologist. A group of five of us faculty taught residents and young psychiatrists under the rubric “The Seminar on Epistemology, Psychotherapy and Development.” We faculty were one Piagetian, one cyberneticist-family and adolescent psychiatrist, two self psychologists, one classical Freudian and myself, a developmental psychologist who is Jungian. It was the most stimulating and challenging group I have ever been in. We met for ten years for two hours every Wednesday during the academic year. I loved it!

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: At the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, I studied a lot of Freud, British object relations, Winnicott, Loewald, and Modell, and also became acquainted with all of the philosophical critiques that were emerging, everything from Don Spence and Roy Schafer to Gadamer, Ricoeur and Grunebaum. I learned so much, and felt a certain mastery in applying the concepts clinically because we were always discussing case material – discussing is too mild a term. Arguing, debating, impassioned debate.

Finally, I left my faculty position at Bryn Mawr to establish a group psychological practice with my husband, Ed Epstein. We had a group called Clinical Associates West in Radnor, Pennsylvania, where we had outside supervisors come into our group supervisions once or twice a month. We had Freudians, object relations psychologists, self psychologists, feminist therapists, and others. Someone from our group would present a case, often one that we had all become familiar with, and the outside supervisor would comment on it. It was great. And I continued that, plus my position at the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital until I moved up here to Vermont in 1994.

Dr. Miller: Sounds like a fertile environment.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Yes, very fertile. All of these varied themes were blending together in my thinking about subjective life, with Buddhism and meditation always as a backdrop. In my own clinical work, I believe I would call myself an intersubjectivist now, whereas in the past I might have said I was an object relational Jungian. I work from a dissociative model of the personality that is loosely organized by psychological complexes, the most conscious being the ego complex. I think in terms of projective identifications interacting with the “transcendent function” – a Jungian concept that is roughly equivalent to Winnicott’s potential space or Odgen’s dialogical space or Jessica Benjamin’s intersubjective third. I also think in terms of defense mechanisms, even the hierarchy of defenses of the sort that Valliant and his colleagues researched. My background in ego development research has rooted me in a certain way of thinking about self-other formations. I believe that people structure their experience in paradigms of self-other, that we can always re-organize momentarily into less mature formations. To move ahead into more differentiated, complex, and integrated formations requires taking on a whole new world view, so to speak.

Dr. Miller: I want to talk about the clinical implications of your thoughts about projective identification, complexes and individuation. But before we do that, I think it was Andrew Samuels in The Cambridge Companion to Jung, that you edited with Terence Dawson, who talked about a “post-Jungian” perspective. I think he invented the term “post-Jungian.”

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: He did, actually.

Dr. Miller: Do you consider yourself a post-Jungian? And then the other thought that comes to mind is that you’ve talked quite often about some of the struggles that you have had with your identity.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: With my “identity,” yes, a real problem, isn’t it? It’s a mouthful to say post-modern feminist Buddhist constructivist Jungian developmental psychoanalyst! And that contains a lot of contradictions from certain points of view, not mine, of course, because it’s really unified in my thinking. Well, you know, the term “post-Jungian” is a term that Andrew came up with, and it was based on post-modern. It is not a term that I relate to because I don’t really think that anything is really over – like we are “post” anything. Personally I like the prefix “neo” much better. I would prefer to say that I am a neo-Jungian.

Dr. Miller: You don’t have much choice now.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: It’s true and so I am post-Jungian – which means “beyond the classical Jungian stance,” beyond the limitations of the classical model that began with Jung in Zurich. The developmental model, as I said, began in London with Michael Fordham. It is known especially for working in the transference and for emphasizing an object relational approach to analysis. And the third Jungian school, the archetypal is identified with James Hillman, rather than a place. Andrew was saying was that we no longer have one unified classical Jungian perspective, but we have these other perspectives that are different from Jung’s. I think the Freudians have the same thing, but they didn’t call it post-Freudian. Perhaps terms like “intersubjective” and “relational” are more important now for our identities than our root schools. That’s what I think. I believe that I have more in common with those analysts who would call themselves “intersubjective” than those who would just say they are “Jungians.”

Dr. Miller: Right. Different iterations, different generations. But there are also clearly Jungian concepts that inform your work: individuation, complexes, and projective identification – although Jung called it “participation mystique” from the French sociologist Levy-Strauss. Could you say something about these concepts?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Individuation is the process of becoming a “psychological individual,” which means becoming accountable for the multiple subjective centers of one’s personality. Jung mapped the psyche as a loosely connected association of complexes that includes mother, father, child, and other complexes, with the ego complex at the center. By this I mean that we identify with being a particular embodied subject with agency, history, coherence. At the core of each complex is an archetype, or primary imprint, that predisposes certain habit patterns and certain image formations. One of the most charged of these is the embodied image of a separate self. The archetype of the self is the driving force of the ego complex; people everywhere experience themselves as embodied subjects. This is not the same thing as being a psychological individual who is accountable for the multiple centers of subjectivity- ego and otherwise. Individuation, in this sense, is not even possible until adulthood.

Individuation begins with some kind of psychological breakdown in which a person feels or is told, “You are not the person you thought you were.” This is just the door opening to a possible new development. Some people get stuck there and eventually regress. When a breakdown leads to regression, ego functioning is frequently overwhelmed, overtaken by less mature unconscious complexes or alternatively the ego complex rigidifies and is repeatedly defended as the only view of the self. If a person, in this condition, simply takes some psychiatric medication and does not explore the possibilities for individuation, no further development automatically takes place. If development continues, that person must become accountable for the various dissociated complexes (their images and affects) that had previously been unknown. I believe that psychoanalysis deals almost exclusively with individuation.

The outcomes of psychoanalysis are both adaptive and somewhat maladaptive. A person becomes more at ease with the self and hence with others, more flexible in relationships, but also has a perspective on subjective experience which is very much in the minority – shared with less than .01 percent of the population, I am sure! This can feel a little lonely and even alienating.

Dr. Miller: That’s true. You like to think in terms of claiming previously unknown complexes, rather than internal objects?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: To me, complex denotes a dynamic interactive pattern. Internal objects seem –

Dr. Miller: Too static.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Yes, exactly. Complexes include both subjective and objective poles. We enact complexes by identifying with one pole, while projecting the other pole. For example, in the mother complex, the subjective pole is usually the role of powerless child/victim and the objective pole is powerful parent. As adults we can identify with either, and project the other. A complex is fully enacted only through a projective identification in which another is unknowingly invited to play a role in the originator’s inner theater. The other often feels trapped into that role. Since all people have complexes that are archetypally driven, they have enough overlapping imagery and affect to play out unknown roles in others’ inner theaters. We all see this in spousal relationships and in parent-child dynamics. People don’t need psychotherapy to witness this.

In analytic therapy, we witness this in transference enactments, but different from life, we have the opportunity to study the dynamic process of a complex. We unpack the complex in an atmosphere of mindful equanimity. When projective identifications are entrenched or repetitive, we can be sure that a psychological complex is being enacted .We feel stuck in “twoness,” as Jessica Benjamin calls it, and we can’t seem to get to the “third” perspective that contains both people and allows each to explore subjective awareness without fear of losing their bond or connection.

Dr. Miller: How do you think we get to thirdness in psychoanalysis?

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Well, Jungians call it the “transcendent function” and talk about containing the tensions of the opposites or the pull to extremes of enactment and withdrawal. For myself, I feel very strongly that the therapeutic set-up of psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic therapy plays a very important part in helping us. In fact, I would say that psychoanalysis is as much a place as it is a method. We psychoanalysts, as Irwin Hoffman among others has pointed out, set up a ritual space. We have a particular time, fee, place etc. for meeting. We discourage social chatter. And we focus our attention especially on the emotional habit patterns of the patient, not as much on those of the therapist. We commit ourselves to ethical conduct and non-retaliation, as well as relative anonymity and some kind of professional objectivity. All of this is the place in which we meet; both patient and therapist are contained and held in this place.

Dr. Miller: You talk about this in detail in your book. We work to make a space in which individuation is the primary focus of our engagement, especially the individuation of the patient.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: This reflective space is in stark contrast to ordinary life and other relationships. No other relationship specifies the commitment to non-retaliation and the focus on individuation – the opportunity to study and come to know our dynamic intersubjective habits of mind. In many ways, it is the nature of the effective psychotherapeutic relationship to seem more ideal than other relationships. One aspect is that the “expert” participant – the psychotherapist or analyst in this case – is idealized as a result of the set-up, and often behaves more ideally too. I know that I am much less reactive as a psychotherapist than I am as a spouse or parent, for example. I believe that psychoanalytic space, even all therapeutic space, encourages equanimity. I go into this at length in my book. At the core of this endeavor is the hope for renewal and the belief that suffering and symptoms can be transformed.

Dr. Miller: This has the flavor of Freud’s “unobjectionable positive transference,” but it seems to include more.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Yes, much more. I have brought in a lot of my understanding from years of experience in meditating and from studying Jung’s concept of a transcendent function.

Dr. Miller: The way you talk about this, you take issue with those intersubjectivists who take the extreme position of symmetry in the psychoanalytic relationship.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: Of course, it’s not symmetrical! The exemplary model of a symmetrical relationship is friendship – in which the grounds of connection are equality, reciprocity, and mutuality in give-and-take. We don’t pay our friends to meet with us. There are aspects of psychotherapy that are similar to friendship. Psychotherapy includes love, respect, trust. There is a paradoxical quality to the therapeutic relationship in that it is impersonally personal, but it’s not symmetrical. One person’s complexes are studied much more than the other’s and one person hires the other to do a job.

Let me say one more thing about complexes. Here is where I strongly agree with Frank Summers. Our complexes are defended and are not easily brought to our awareness. These defenses make for resistance that must be challenged and confronted repeatedly by the therapist. Our less mature complexes (those formed earliest or through trauma) are defended by mechanisms such as schizoid fantasy, massive projection, and reaction-formation or worse. More mature complexes, like the ego complex, may be defended through anticipation, humor or sublimation. Any personality is a collection of different levels of organization and different types of defense. It’s hard work for both people to map these self-other formations and allow the threatening, negative feeling states and images to emerge in the transference, and then to put them into some words or gestures. Dreams help with this, but what helps most is the protective space of the therapeutic set-up. After all, we are asking our patients to give up their ways of organizing intersubjective reality, to turn the world upside down. People have lived for a long time with the habits of mind that feel as real as the sky above and the ground below. When these are challenged, we are asking for a paradigm shift in self-other perceptions. We need all of the help we can get from the therapeutic set-up and relationship to hold both parties for this intense work.

Dr. Miller: I can certainly see how you have integrated your various backgrounds into your understanding of the therapeutic action. It seems that you envision this as a place of mindful investigation and an opportunity to feel, almost to taste, what has been so long split off from the awareness of the patient.

Dr. Young-Eisendrath: The patient has been suffering from dissociation as a primary defense against agonies and destructive feelings and images that could not be tolerated. One final analogy appeals to me. We become active architects of our personalities by building bigger houses. Instead of condemning parts of ourselves live in the basement, the closet, the back yard – or even worse, in other peoples’ houses – we add on rooms. We know where and how each part lives. When a part jumps out and demands attention, we can find it easily. Then nothing in us is alien to ourselves.

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