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Sandberg, L. (2017). Shame and the Question of Responsibility. Psychoanal. Dial., 27(3):382-383.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 27(3):382-383

Shame and the Question of Responsibility

Larry S. Sandberg, M.D.

I am in disbelief twice over. The incomprehensibility of a “President Donald Trump” is a waking nightmare. Unlike other times of personal stress in my life when work has been a respite, my consulting room is a cauldron of anger, anxiety, and sadness. There is a dance that emerges—contain the others’ anxiety by acknowledging—as a reality in the room—that I, too, share a degree of anxiety. Otherwise, I become a rigid container risking projecting my own anxiety into the patient. Avoid the premature move to genetic interpretations—it will risk creating a wishful illusion that it is all or only about the transference.

But what about the Trump supporter? As I said, I am in disbelief twice over. A long-standing patient is out of town, and we are having a phone session some days after the election. I had seen him for many years in twice-weekly psychotherapy and then weekly treatment. He presented after his wife made a suicide attempt and his feelings of not feeling—“being like cardboard”—gave rise to feelings of guilt in being “cut off” from his wife, an increased recognition of his anger—and slowly increasing tolerance and pleasure in feeling his feelings and permitting closeness to others. He expresses regret he had not entered treatment before his sixth decade of life—it has made a big difference for him. A neurotic, obsessional man—a “good man”—with a good treatment outcome.

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