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Fromm-Reichmann, F. (1990). Loneliness. Contemp. Psychoanal., 26:305-329.

(1990). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 26:305-329


Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, M.D.

I AM NOT SURE WHAT INNER forces have made me, during the last years, ponder about and struggle with the psychiatric problems of loneliness. I have found a strange fascination in thinking about it—and subsequently in attempting to break through the aloneness of thinking about loneliness by trying to communicate what I believe I have learned.

Perhaps my interest began with the young catatonic woman who broke through a period of completely blocked communication and obvious anxiety by responding when I asked her a question about her feeling miserable: She raised her hand with her thumb lifted, the other four fingers bent toward her palm, so that I could see only the thumb, isolated from the four hidden fingers. I interpreted the signal with, "That lonely?, " in a sympathetic tone of voice. At this, her facial expression loosened up as though in great relief and gratitude, and her fingers opened. Then she began to tell me about herself by means of her fingers, and she asked me by gestures to respond in kind. We continued with this finger conversation for one or two weeks, and as we did so, her anxious tension began to decrease and she began to break through her noncommunicative isolation; and subsequently she emerged altogether from her loneliness.

I have had somewhat similar experiences with other patients; and so I have finally been prompted to write down what I have learned about loneliness from my work with these patients and from other experiences of my own.

The writer who wishes to elaborate on the problems of loneliness is faced with a serious terminological handicap.

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