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Horowitz, M.H. (1999). On the Difficulty of Analyzing Character. J. Clin. Psychoanal., 8(2):212-218.

(1999). Journal of Clinical Psychoanalysis, 8(2):212-218

On the Difficulty of Analyzing Character Related Papers

Milton H. Horowitz, M.D.


William Hazlitt in essay 21, “On Personal Character(1821-1824), says: “No one ever changes his character from the time he is two years old …” (p. 230). Hazlitt's superscription to the essay is from Montaigne: “Men palliate and conceal their original qualities, but do not extirpate them.”

As the psychoanalytic endeavor is now into its second century, we can look back upon an extensive scientific literature about specifically psychoanalytic views of character, often written with broad therapeutic hopefulness, but countered by a broad clinical therapeutic experience replete with limitations in effecting character change. The scientific papers and the analysts who write them offer multiple theoretical and technical precepts supporting their hopes, but many of our patients are disappointed, occupying the positions staked out by Montaigne and Hazlitt.

In these notes, I will not make any wide references to the literature, but will confine my remarks to the experience of my patients, the significant collaborators in this attempt to understand the seeming fixity and rigidity of character and character traits. I will also, to paraphrase Freud, attempt to understand the “resistance to the uncovering of” character “resistances.”

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