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Grossman, L. (2018). Neurosis as a Way of Thinking: The Syntax of Unconscious Oedipal Mentation. Fort Da, 24(1):57-65.

(2018). Fort Da, 24(1):57-65

Neurosis as a Way of Thinking: The Syntax of Unconscious Oedipal Mentation

Lee Grossman, M.D.

In the years since Bion's (1970)thoughts without a thinker,” psychoanalysis has enjoyed a rapid expansion of thinking about thinking. In an effort to push the boundaries of our grasp of human experience to earlier and earlier points in development, many contributors have enriched our understanding of prelogical and preverbal thought, including such concepts as unmentalized experience (Mitrani, 1995), proto-emotions (Ferro, 2012), a core self (Stern, 1985), and mentalization (Fonagy, 1991). Primitive mental states have been explored to great therapeutic advantage by Alvarez (2006), Williams (2004), Ogden (1989), Roussillon (2010), and many others too numerous to mention.

During these same years, interest in the concept of neurosis seems to have waned, and with that has come an unfortunate neglect of the distinctive form of thinking that characterizes neurotic functioning. By 1980, the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual eliminated the term altogether. Hinshelwood (1991) has no entry for neurosis in his Dictionary of Kleinian Thought; the one time the word “neurotic” is used, it is in quotes, as if to indicate the quaintness of the term (p. 417). The collaborative Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM Task Force, 2006) uses it only adjectivally, as a quantitative measure of seriousness, as “neurotic-level personality disorder” (pp. 23-24).

In what follows, I will revisit the concept of neurosis to place it in the context of the present-day interest in the pathologies of adult mentation. I will identify neurotic thinking with repressed oedipal phase-appropriate thinking and try to sort out some of its consequential attributes. While very little of what I have to say will be new, I hope to reinsert neurosis into our contemporary theorizing about the development of thinking and its contribution to the form of adult psychopathology

Freud's Usage

Freud adopted the term “neurosis” some 30 years before his model of the mind evolved into its final form.

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