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Josephs, L. (2001). Psychoanalysis as Forbidden Pleasure. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(2):265-281.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(2):265-281

Psychoanalysis as Forbidden Pleasure

Lawrence Josephs, Ph.D.

One Aspect of the unconscious relational matrix (Mitchell, 1988) of the analytic situation centers on the mutual provision of forbidden pleasure, followed by mutual punishment for engaging in that pleasure. This unconscious dynamic may be enacted when the analytic couple becomes stuck in a rigid pattern of relating. From a theoretical perspective, my point is to take some old ideas about forbidden pleasure and the unconscious need for punishment (Freud, 1916) and see how those psychodynamic issues play out from the perspective of a more contemporary relational view of the analytic situation (Mitchell, 1988; Aron, 1996).

Forbidden Pleasure, Character Resistance, and the Unconscious Need for Punishment

In “Some Character-Types Met with in Psychoanalytic Work,” Freud (1916) suggested that the gratification of a forbidden wish may elicit an unconscious need for punishment. He illustrated how those “wrecked by success” unconsciously registered their success as the gratification of a forbidden wish and, as a consequence, unconsciously arranged their own undoing as a punishment. Freud (1923) believed that certain character resistances, as well as the negative therapeutic reaction, derived from this unconscious dynamic.

For example, an obsessional patient may spend countless analytic hours nonproductively “spinning her wheels” despite the analyst's best efforts to facilitate more imaginative and emotionally meaningful discourse. The patient then becomes self-critical for wasting time and money and assumes the analyst thinks the same way. Unconsciously, the patient may derive forbidden sadistic pleasure from treating the analyst in an emotionally withholding and controlling manner. The patient's forbidden sadistic pleasure elicits unconscious guilt that manifests itself as self-reproach for being wasteful and dreading the analyst's criticism for being wasteful.

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