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Jacobs, L. (2017). When Avoidance Is Mutual Regulation: Disorganized Attachment and Analytic Attunement. Psychoanal. Dial., 27(5):595-608.

(2017). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 27(5):595-608

When Avoidance Is Mutual Regulation: Disorganized Attachment and Analytic Attunement

Linda Jacobs, Ph.D.

This paper looks at and counters the notion that the analyst’s reluctance to know, to comprehend and interpret, the fuller meaning of a patient’s behavior is a countertransference avoidance. Drawing on attachment theory and infant research that has not yet been fully integrated into the clinical literature, the author believes that the movement from enactment to the expression of dissociated feeling is a process that leads to the creation of previously unknown meaning within an analytic impasse. The infant research literature and the literature on disorganized attachment is referenced to elucidate aspects of the clinical process. The clinical material presented involves the analyst’s failure to engage a patient’s chronic lateness, a failure that represented a mutual avoidance. The meaning of this enactment was locked in the patient’s traumatic past and could not be transmuted into new relational experience until the analyst had emerged from her own dissociative state. The therapeutic space created by their mutual avoidance, contrary to being a stalemate, became a protective space that held the meaning that was hibernating in dissociation. For the patient, the dissociated memory of traumatic abuse was linked, actually and symbolically, to her pervasive lateness. What was represented in the chronic lateness was discovered by analyst and patient together, along with the feelings engendered by “waiting.”

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