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Bromberg, P.M. (1996). Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanalytic Relationship. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:509-535.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:509-535

Standing in the Spaces: The Multiplicity Of Self And The Psychoanalytic Relationship

Philip M. Bromberg, Ph.D.

Perhaps in some measure due to Freud's fascination with archeology, clinical psychoanalysis has tended to embrace an image of two people on a “quest”—a journey to reach an unknown destination to recover a buried past. Despite the fact that I rather like the image, in my day-to-day work as a practicing therapist, I seem to find my reality shaped more by Gertrude Stein than by Indiana Jones. Stein (1937p. 298), commenting about the nature of life and the pursuit of goals, wrote that when you finally get there, “there is no there there.” My patients frequently make the same comment. The direct experience of “self-change” seems to be gobbled up by the reality of “who you are” at a given moment, and evades the linear experience of beginning, middle, and end. But linear time does indeed have a presence of its own—like the background ticking of a clock that cannot be ignored for too long without great cost—and it is this paradox that seems to make psychoanalysis feel like a relationship between two people, each trying to keep one foot in the here and now and the other in the linear reality of past, present, and future. Described this way, it sounds like a totally impossible process. If, indeed, “everyone knows that every day has no future to it” (Stein, 1937p. 271), then what sustains a person's motivation for analytic treatment? How do we account for the fact that a patient remains in a relationship with another person for the express purpose of dismantling his own self-image for a presumedly “better” version that he cannot even imagine until after it has arrived? The answer, as I see it, touches what may be the essence of human nature—the fact that the human personality possesses the extraordinary capacity to negotiate continuity and change simultaneously, and will do so under the right relational conditions (Bromberg, 1993, 1994). I believe that this attribute is what we rely on to make clinical psychoanalysis, or any form of psychodynamic psychotherapy, possible.

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