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Sodré, I. (1994). Obsessional Certainty Versus Obsessional Doubt: From Two to Three. Psychoanal. Inq., 14(3):379-392.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 14(3):379-392

Obsessional Certainty Versus Obsessional Doubt: From Two to Three

Ignês Sodré, BSc

In all obsessional states of mind there is a predominance of a tormenting, compulsive quality of thinking; but the obsessional need to hold on to certainty and the torments of obsessional doubt are extremely different, in fact diametrically opposed, states. One is dominated by inflexibility, rigidity, and immobility, as if one tyrannical thought is constantly keeping out all other points of view: doubt is forbidden. In the other, dominated by constant oscillations, it is as if the mind is constantly thrown from side to side by opposing thoughts: no certainty can be achieved.

In this article, I suggest that obsessional defenses that involve rigid adherence to sameness, with the need for rituals against contamination and disorder, belong to a schizoid way of functioning, in which splitting mechanisms are used not only against the experience of ambivalence, but also for the preservation of an exclusively two-person relationship with the object. Triangularity represents the major threat; new ideas, different points of view, anything that disturbs the equilibrium of this fixed, mutually interdependent couple is experienced as a “third” intruder, that must be immediately eliminated.

When tormenting obsessional doubt predominates, on the other hand, the underlying conflict is due not only to ambivalence and to the difficulty of making a choice between objects, but also to the presence in the patient's mind of the parental couple with whom the patient is, unconsciously, excessively involved. The triangular situation is not


Ignês Sodré, BSc. (Hons) is a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst, British PsychoAnalytical Society.

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