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Hartocollis, P. (1972). Time as a Dimension of Affects. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 20:92-108.

(1972). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 20:92-108

Time as a Dimension of Affects

Peter Hartocollis, M.D.


Everyday and clinical experience suggest that the sense of time, what is known as psychological or experiential time, is an essential factor in the determination of the quality of affects.

In order to feel either anxiety or depression, one must first perceive a given situation as dangerous, and then assess oneself as inadequate. The result is a painful tension, but not yet anxiety or depression. What determines whether this tension—felt as a decrease in self-esteem or as a state of helplessness—will assume the specific quality of anxiety or depression is the individual's orientation in time. When perceiving the noxious influence—in essence, inadequacy—as something in the future, only potential and therefore avoidable, one experiences anxiety. When perceiving oneself as inadequate in the past, one experiences depression.

Judging oneself as inadequate while being unable to place the inadequacy in a time perspective, future or past, results in a sense of impatience with the present; and the overall experience is that of boredom. On the positive side, affects like joy or elation occur when the person judges himself adequate rather than inadequate with reference to some future or past, real or imaginary, event. An ecstatic, nirvana-like experience, induced by certain

drugs and characterizing the condition of a person who is in love and feels loved, obtains when the individual perceives himself as adequate in the absence of any concern for time, future or past. In general, affects, painful and pleasurable alike, can be placed into a cognitive relationship involving subjective adequacy along the continuum of experiential time.

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