Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

“Recollection, Repetition, and Working Through,” Freud-1914

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 29, 2012

Teaching technique, my first time, is a wonderfully challenging experience. This week we read Freud’s original technique papers which he wrote before he wrote about the structural model (id, ego and superego). The major premise of this paper is that we use our behavior to prevent us from remembering painful experiences. In essence, we do not change our relationships with our parents, for fear that if we were to examine the relationships then we would have to mourn the parent we wished we had, rather than pretend we have the parent we wished we did. Living in wishes, Freud’s version of neurosis, was postulated on the idea that if we could “remember” then we could “work through,” but our behaviors serve as a barrier to recollection and hence a “resistance”to further emotional growth. For example, some people become very obsessional, or focused on one part of human existence, such as food. This obsessional preoccupation serves as protection from feeling the pain of deprivation, but at the same time, turns other people off in that the obsessional neurotic tends to be a fairly boring individual. By contrast, hysterical folks, those who create a lot of drama in their lives, may be more lively, but they too are acting instead of remembering, so that they are not coping with their disappointments and failures, leading them to live in wishes. The expectation of being treated as if one is stupid, for example, is repeated in the therapeutic relationship as a way not to remember that one was demeaned as a child. One comes to see themselves as one with diminished capacity, rather than see that their family members were cruel to them. These notions of transference as a repetition to prevent memory, was started by Freud in this 1914 paper. Almost one hundred years later, I, as a clinician, still deeply appreciate this notion. Repeating is easier than remembering-simple and elegant.

4 Responses to ““Recollection, Repetition, and Working Through,” Freud-1914”

  1. Jon said

    Repeating is easier than remembering, and remembering is easier than reexamining (keeping with the alliterative theme). It might read more accurately, but scan less well to say that remembering is the first step to examination and exploration.

    Thus, if I understand correctly, “living in wishes” (translate to the modern neurosis) is a way of hiding from reality that can be achieved through a mechanism of repetition. Repetition of a world that we would like, but not the world in which we live, without an understanding how to go from the world in which we live to that world we would like to have, is indeed a recipe for disappointment (at best) or disaster (at worst). As usual, being able to understand a problem is the best first step in solving that problem. Freud’s insights’ into the human mind were indeed seminal.

    • Shirah said

      Thanks, Jon. “A recipe for disappointment” is right on. As usual, the devil is in the details, so the nature of the wish, and thereby the disappointment is what makes human stories so compelling. Thanks again.

  2. Shelly said

    So once we understand the connection between our behaviors today and our parents’ treatment of us as children, what do we then do? How do we bring this to our day-to-day experiences and change our lives for the better? If we cannot change our interactions with our parents and families of origin in any way, how will this bring about change in our lives–simply by understanding the patterns we experienced as children (and perhaps continue to experience as adults)?

    • Shirah said

      This understanding makes us no longer seek out nurturing from parents who, for whatever reason, are not capable of such. We, then, like more thoughtful people, look to a more direct way of getting our emotional needs met, rather than doing the proverbial “head against the wall” experience, that so many of us do, expecting our parents to help us out when we have emotional needs. Thanks, as always.

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