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Alexander, J.M. Isaacs, K.S. (1963). Seriousness and Preconscious Affective Attitudes. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 44:23-30.

(1963). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 44:23-30

Seriousness and Preconscious Affective Attitudes

James M. Alexander and Kenneth S. Isaacs


This paper describes the preconscious affective attitude of seriousness as an example of the development of secondarily autonomous functions. Such functions have similarities to both primarily autonomous functions and resolved-conflict characterological formations in several ways. They differ, however, both in the process of their creation and in their amenability to analytic procedures. The primarily autonomous functions, together with the characterological patterns, serve as the basis for decisions and determine tendencies for the preponderance of activities in normal daily life. The psychology of normal functioning must therefore lean heavily on an understanding of the preconscious.

The secondarily autonomous functions are, in this paper, exemplified by the affective attitude of seriousness. The development of seriousness begins in the anlage of self-preservative instincts. Through defusion and elaboration, and either by identification with parent figures and/or through patterns developed in interaction with others, one becomes capable of seriousness. Failure in such development creates a severe pathology, which by its very nature may at worst preclude analysis and at best become a requisite first development in treatment. Maldevelopment of seriousness may occur in several ways. The non-serious may be a result of inability to cathect, a result of defence against seriousness, or one of the forms of pseudo-seriousness outlined earlier.

The development of seriousness begins in the earliest neonatal experiences with the mother, and continues through the successive phases of psychosexual development and optimally may continue development until senescence. In short, the full maturation of seriousness is reached late. It is successively better formed through adolescence, young adulthood, and later maturity.

The relevance of seriousness to interpersonal relations and communication, ego attitudes, and psychopathologies is briefly described. In treatment, the pathology of seriousness requires special attention by the analyst.

The implicit hierarchy of amenability to therapeutic efforts places the ego-alien conflict formations as most easily treated, followed by the resolved-conflict formations which must first be made ego-alien; these are followed by the secondarily autonomous functions which require additional tasks: deneutralization, a shift from ego-syntonic to ego-alien, and usually some disidentification from superego and ego-ideal objects. These additional tasks, while formidable, are necessary aspects of the analysis of secondarily autonomous functions such as affective attitudes, e.g. seriousness.

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