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Dean, E.S. (1964-65). A Psychotherapeutic Investigation of Nagging. Psychoanal. Rev., 51D(4):15-21.

(1964-65). Psychoanalytic Review, 51D(4):15-21

A Psychotherapeutic Investigation of Nagging

Edward S. Dean, M.D.

Nagging individuals are often found to be weak, insecure, and fearful. Their nagging disguises a basic feeling of weakness and provides an illusion of power and superiority. Such are the conclusions that one draws when seeing nagging persons in psychotherapy.

For these individuals sometimes do seek psychiatric treatment. They often complain of anxiety, depression, nervousness, and instability. Rarely do they speak of themselves as given to nagging. This problem only gradually becomes apparent to a therapist. One should refrain from using this term in speaking with patients—unless it has become acceptable to the patient—because its invidious implications have a harmful effect on the therapeutic relationship.

Nagging is a word derived from the Scandinavian nagga, meaning to gnaw. From the Latin we have captiousness, of which Dr. Samuel Johnson1 has said, “…Captiousness is commonly the resentment of negative injuries, or offences of omission, of which the ill intention cannot be proved, and should therefore very rarely be supposed …”

This “resentment of negative injuries” is prominent in nagging. For nagging has a tone of complaint, sometimes mounting to anger. And the nagging person usually attributes his resentment to some failure by another to live up to principles of good conduct. These negligences call forth a resentment that is justified logically by an appeal to general principles. “But it is the principle of the thing” is the exclamation one so often hears from nagging persons.

One is inclined to suspect the sincerity of this resentment.

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