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Meltzer, D. (1976). The Delusion of Clarity of Insight. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 57:141-146.

(1976). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 57:141-146

The Delusion of Clarity of Insight

Donald Meltzer


This short paper on the psychopathology of insight and judgement has set out to demonstrate one type of disturbance which can be seen to arise from the operation of the unconscious infantile phantasy of projective identification with the internal objects, especially the mother's breast and head, experienced as the font of knowledge and wisdom. Fragments of material have been brought to illustrate the operation of the mechanism and then a more extensive description of an analysis was attempted. This latter sought to trace the relation of the patient's character pathology to a defensive structure which had been mounted in the second year of life under the pressure of disappointment and jealousy of the new baby sister. While in many ways the harshness and judgemental quality of the character was in the nature of a revenge against the parents for expelling her from a blissful confusion of identity with them, it was also a defence against ever being caught so unawares again. Thus her epistemophilic instinct and high intelligence were reenforced by defensive as well as aggressive motives. In the transference it was necessary to work through the dissolution of the narcissistic organization illustrated best in the 'bird-woman' dream. In order to do this a difficult countertransference problem of tolerating hopelessness and humiliation had to be faced, throwing light on the magnitude of the difficulties from which Mrs D.'s parents had retreated. It is difficult to see how parents, no matter how stirling, could have done otherwise.

The internal experience of these two mental acts, delusion-of-clarity-of-insight and sitting-in-judgement, seems to shade so subtly into their healthy counterparts, insight and judgement, that it is difficult to see how anything other than a widening of the field of introspection could distinguish them. Respect for the laws of evidence, attention to the quality of reasoning, soliciting the opinion of others in crucial matters and other safeguards may help. But such intellectual and social safety-measures also pay a price by throwing away the possible moment of inspiration that seems to have no evidential links, to which the laws of logic find no application and which may seem unintelligible when communicated to others for advice. And since all nascent creativity may be based on the seizing of such moments, Kierkegaard's (1941) 'leap in the dark', there comes a time when reliance on one's own introspection, forlornly, must be attempted.

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