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Busch, F. (1998). Self-Disclosure Ain't What It's Cracked Up To Be, At Least Not Yet. Psychoanal. Inq., 18(4):518-529.

(1998). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 18(4):518-529

Self-Disclosure Ain't What It's Cracked Up To Be, At Least Not Yet

Fred Busch, Ph.D.

At a recent national meeting I heard an analyst describe his rationale for answering a question posed by a patient regarding the analyst's forthcoming holiday plans as based on a more open, nonauthoritarian style in the spirit of interactive collaboration. While a spirit of generosity underlies such an assertion, it represents a sophistry of the type it was designed to replace (i.e., the silent analyst as the benign blank screen). Just as the analyst's silence can represent powerful listening or hostile withdrawal, the analyst's self-disclosure is inherently neither better nor worse then silence, and in fact can represent a myriad of attitudes toward the analysand. Its meaning can best be found within the framework of the analytic situation, bound by the context of the multiple motivations within the analytic dyad. What on the surface may seem to be a humane gesture can in fact be a sadistic reenactment, while what seems like sterile listening can be a most humane gesture.

A not uncommon scenario for certain types of patients is to grow up believing that in order to survive, they need to be a narcissistic object for a parent. These patients become experts at reading the unconscious needs of those around them, including their analyst. Unconsciously sensing the analyst's need for attention at certain key times, they strategically ask questions of the analyst's activities. In such a situation, the analyst's answering could be a subtle enactment of a narcissistically enhancing, authoritarian relationship, in which the patient's sense of self is being destroyed.

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