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Winarick, K. (1994). Discussion of “Empathic Character Analysis”. Am. J. Psychoanal., 54(1):55-60.

(1994). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 54(1):55-60

Discussion of “Empathic Character Analysis”

Kenneth Winarick, Ph.D.

In this paper, Josephs takes up the theoretical and technical problem of incorporating empathy in the analysis of character. He takes as his starting point the seminal work of Wilhelm Reich (1928), which still informs our conceptions of character today. Reich constructed a model in which character was understood primarily in terms of its defensive function, as a hardened and rigidified armor that defended against imagined and real external and internal threats. As such, Reich greatly expanded the psychoanalytic vision of defense from a relatively short list of specific mechanisims to an all-encompassing, internally coherent, personality organization. This personality organization, in Dr. Joseph's words, included “attitudes, beliefs, values, ideals, wishes, affects, fantasies, ambitions, or any other conceivable component of personality.” In short, for Reich the person's entire personality could now take on a defensive function and serve as an armoring against danger. Reich also emphasized the narcissistic aspects of character armor, pride, and the need to maintain a narcissistically invested image of self at almost an cost. It is the defensive and narcissistic aspects of character that make character analysis seem to the patient so inherently self-injurious and create the problem Dr. Josephs is addressing in this paper: how to maximize empathy and minimize narcissistic injury in the analysis of character.

Dr. Josephs believes that the adoption of Reich's point of view all but precludes the possibility of empathic character analysis, and indeed Reich did stress a confrontational approach that attempted to make pathological character traits dystonic, with little concern for the impact on the patient's narcissism. The analyst aggressively attacked the patient's character resistances in an attempt to “shatter” the armor and break through to the underlying sexual and aggressive impulses.


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