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Young, B. (2010). Where There's a Will There's a Way, but the Way of the Will May Be Blocked. Int. J. Appl. Psychoanal. Stud., 7(4):281-289.

(2010). International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 7(4):281-289

Where There's a Will There's a Way, but the Way of the Will May Be Blocked

Barbara Young, M.D.

William James, the nineteenth century American psychologist and philosopher, saved himself from suicide during a five-year depression in his late twenties by the power of his will. But no matter how strong his will, it could not cure his depression. A brilliant young man, he had not been able to settle on what he most wanted to do with his life. This sense of being lost at sea undermined his self-esteem - his belief in his own worth. Would he be an artist, a scientist, a lawyer, a doctor? Why was it that he could not find his way? His younger brother Henry, the novelist, had known very early that he was going to be an observer of life; that his own life and his career would be devoted to writing about what he observed in the actions and feelings of the people who surrounded him.

My recent paper on the terrors lurking in the unconscious mind of the James family was an attempt to answer the question of what had impeded the natural unfolding of William's life (Young, in press). As a result of their father's desire to see that his children had a more loving childhood that he had had, he actively took over their educational upbringing. Whenever they got settled in a school and made friends, he would uproot them. When William became fond of his art teacher, the relationship was interrupted. When they were taken to Europe for a more “sensual” education, here too they were shifted from one school, one city and country to another. This repeated transplanting actively interfered with the development of the individual autonomy of all five of the children.

The father had a special relationship with William. His unconscious wish to become a more complete person himself - and to become famous for his religious and philosophical writings - led to his shaping the life of his son to achieve these goals for him. Art, no. Science, no. To follow either would be narrowing his options. And colleges were “hot beds of corruption where it is impossible to learn anything” (Fisher, 2008, p. 145). William loved his father dearly. He wanted to please him, to make him proud. But, increasingly, he could barely conceal his anger at his father for taking over his life. So, after a time - no matter what he settled into - he himself became dissatisfied.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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