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Pederson-Krag, G. (1956). The Use of Metaphor in Analytic Thinking. Psychoanal Q., 25:66-71.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:66-71

The Use of Metaphor in Analytic Thinking

Geraldine Pederson-Krag, M.D.

While workers in the physical sciences use models and diagrams to make plain the entities with which they are dealing, the psychoanalyst wishing to explain what he perceives of psychological structures and relationships can depend only on words. It is therefore of special interest to note how his words are used, and what effect these words have on those who read them.

The earliest psychoanalytic writings illustrate the masterly fashion in which Freud surmounted the difficulties of his task. The least of these difficulties was the fact that his findings were an affront to the conventional morality of his time. Much greater and persistent was the difficulty that besets all who have to invent a terminology of abstractions. Most nouns represent things that have been seen, tasted, touched, or heard. The unseen, savorless, intangible, and silent are hard for the reader to perceive. As words are combined into sentences, they form a visualized relationship with something which perhaps may be comprehended rather than seen; thus the abstract must nearly always be delineated in a figurative rather than in a realistic way. Freud's discoveries were novelties for which there were no terms. He remedied the deficiency by borrowing expressions, some from dead languages, as to cathect—an expression that now bears only an analytic connotation—, others from everyday speech, such as to split and to cling, and some, too pompous for common talk, as to repress and to inhibit.

The processes these describe can be visualized by the reader as they take place in the psyche, but they need individuals to enact them. The subjects of these verbs are implied or revealed by metaphor. There are three distinct ways in which they are shown to us.

First, we think of the ego as something protozoan in character.

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