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Poland, W.S. (1975). Tact as a Psychoanalytic Function. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 56:155-162.

(1975). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 56:155-162

Tact as a Psychoanalytic Function

Warren S. Poland


Tact has been presented as a specific psychoanalytic function of the analyst's work ego. It refers to a mode of activity which is mutative by virtue of its integrative nature, binding both narcissism and aggression through underlying maintenance of object relatedness and acceptance. It refers to a mode of utilization of knowledge gained both by cognitive understanding and by empathy; it is directly related to the timing and dosage of interpretations.

Tact represents the technical derivative of the therapeutic intention of the analyst to facilitate growth. The primary model of tact is that of good mothering at the time of the child's separation from the original symbiosis. A secondary model of tact is the parent's handling of the child's sexual exhibitionism with combined acceptance and limit setting.

Tact is distinguished from pseudo-tact, the latter involving the protection of the analyst's own narcissism. Reinstinctualized into seductiveness, this may be used to win the patient's love rather than to analyse.

Through the use of tact the analyst attempts a reinforcement of mature narcissism implicit in a working analytic alliance so that immature narcissism may be made dystonic and be observed.

The goal of tact is to protect the other's self-esteem. Tact and analytic progress are mutually interdependent. Interpretations can never be successful if they violate the fundamental integrity of the patient's sense of himself, i.e. they must not be disintegrative. Nonetheless, the need for tact cannot serve as a rationalization for avoiding difficult interpretations.

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