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Miller, I. (1977). On Sadness. Ann. Psychoanal., 5:121-140.

(1977). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 5:121-140

On Sadness

Ira Miller, M.D.

I can suck Melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.

—Shakespeare, As You Like It [2, 5, 12].

During psychoanalytic therapy, a patient's associations may be dominated by a particular mood. When they are decidedly pathological, such mood states are blatantly evident. In other cases, however, the mood may be a subtle one that imparts a certain tint or overtone to the patient's free associations. The purpose of this paper is to call attention to the psychological importance of such mood colorations. The need for more precise definition and exploration of the “tone” of a patient's associations will be stressed. In particular, the mood of sadness, as it appears within the analytic situation, will be described with an emphasis on its defensive aspects. It will be shown that this mood represents the longing for and revival of an earlier ego state, and an attempt will be made toward an understanding of its genetic origin.

As analysts we rely, for the most part, on the spoken word to provide us with the derivatives that lead us to an understanding of the unconscious fantasies. As a cognitive counterpart of what is being discussed here, we are accustomed to encourage in our analysands a certain precision in their descriptions of events, conversations, and actions. This is not nearly so difficult as is the attempt to be precise in the verbalization of affective states. Certainly, among today's young people, who employ a blurring economy of language, this presents an important problem. For example, a late-adolescent analysand used the term “freaked out” to encompass a variety of meanings.

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