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Stein, R. (1998). Two Principles of Functioning of the Affects. Am. J. Psychoanal., 58(2):211-230.

(1998). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 58(2):211-230

Two Principles of Functioning of the Affects

Ruth Stein, Ph.D.

Let me describe a situation that is quite familiar. A patient says something, stops, withdraws into himself, turns inwardly, concentrating on what he feels, and then says, “No, what I've said is not exact; it isn't quite like this. I can't say yet what I feel, but I feel now it's different from what I've just said.” In these moments it is clear that the patient is involved with something that amounts to more than thoughts or words, something as yet unarticulated, that he is nevertheless comparing his feelings against, in order to conclude—as he does—that a statement that seemed right and true is, after all, not right. The statement might still be correct and describe some happening, but the patient already has something else in mind, something that is more directly felt but cannot yet be said. Even though he still does not know what it is, this “something” is nevertheless sufficiently defined to signal with certainty that it is not the thing he had said it was. This experience is analogous to the forgetting of someone's name, a forgetting where we nevertheless still retain the “feel of” the name. We know which name it is not, and we can also sense the inherent though as yet inexpressible specificity of the precise name we are looking for. This specificity that we search for maddeningly is within the “feel” of the name we have. If we touch the “feel” of the name again and again, contacting it with our attention, then it may suddenly “open up” and the actual name will appear, accompanied by the sense of one's having found the right thing. There is no doubt now that this is the name we had forgotten, and there is a clear continuity between the earlier “feel” and the present name. As each step modifies and corrects the preceding step in a series of successive approximations, the content changes throughout this articulation. By consulting the affect, the “feel” one thereby gets between each step and the next, justifies, challenges, or modifies the affect and changes its direction in a way that could not have been foreseen.

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