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McLaughlin, J.T. Johan, M. (1992). Enactments in Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 40:827-841.

(1992). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40:827-841

Enactments in Psychoanalysis

James T. McLaughlin, M.D. and Morton Johan, M.D.

THE CHAIRMAN INTRODUCED HIS OVERVIEW with the promise that the panel would explore and give some definition to what we think we mean when we speak of enactment in the psychoanalytic situation. He noted that enactment is a word we have borrowed from common discourse, just as Freud borrowed words in his time. Yet the word itself seems not to have been addressed in our literature until 1986, by Jacobs. Increasingly, analysts are inclined to use the word enactment in idiosyncratic fashion, and it has not become a part of our official glossary. In ordinary speech and dictionary definition, the word enactment suggests an action whose purpose, force, and intention are raised to high intensity. That intensity gives concreteness and actuality to its impact on the implicit other person in the field of action. It is then an act, the intention of which is to persuade, or to force the other into a reciprocal action. The message is carried in words, silence, actions, and particularly nonverbal communications. All of us, analysts and patients alike, as infants and as children learned to recognize and to react to nonverbal communications long before the words were there to approximate, amplify, or negate those nonverbal ways. All of us have long since learned how to appeal, to coerce, and to force in stating our needs and emotions with posture, gesture, and nonverbal sounds long before mastering the diplomacy of words. Those earliest capacities have only been added to and not relinquished while words became known and dominant. To appreciate the imperatives of this need and the use of a full repertoire of evocative-coercive capabilities, especially as deployed in the analytic relationship, requires the perspective that our concepts of transference afford us. McLaughlin finds especially useful the broad view of transference as an inherent tendency to impose the organizing of prior perceptions of experience upon the present, a powerful shaping of the psychic reality of each of us.

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