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Trumbull, D.W. (1998). Forbidden Knowing. Contemp. Psychoanal., 34(3):397-412.

(1998). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34(3):397-412

Forbidden Knowing

Dianne W. Trumbull, M.D.

Thy destiny is only that of man, but thy aspirations may be those of a god.

—Ovid, Metamorphoses

The wish to see for oneself: What might fulfillment of this wish entail? A young musician who referred himself for unbearable anxiety reported, “I suppose that this feeling has something to do with parting from the traditional view. I mean that I grew up trying to do the right thing, that is, playing well in sports, doing well in school, following the rules, obeying my parents.”

In the preceding six months, this man had begun to look beyond what he called the “traditional view”; he had had wishes to see for himself. He had abandoned his position in his father's company to pursue a career in jazz; he was, for the first time, composing music that seemed uniquely his own. In consequence of these changes, he had begun to experience intense anxiety. He sensed that his wish to see for himself, unmediated by the traditional view, was linked with hazard. In fact, he told me that he feared his own death.

My patient summoned help when he felt imperiled in his search to see for himself, a quest for unmediated knowing. He soon discovered, however, that his wishes to see for himself were under brutal attack by internalized mediating presences. They threatened his very life, if he strayed from their views.

My patient longed for the knowing in which will and perception unite, bringing essences into new visions and forms. In this knowing, one becomes a creator, a unique composer of images and meanings. Recall that Winnicott (1971) said, “It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living” (p. 65).

This quest for unmediated knowing has aroused the passions and fears of many individuals throughout history.

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