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Fenton, R. (1982). ‘Ordinariness’ Fear of it and Contempt for it. J. Anal. Psychol., 27(3):263-272.

(1982). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 27(3):263-272

‘Ordinariness’ Fear of it and Contempt for it

R. Fenton, B.A


In This Paper I am seeking to illustrate and explore the paradoxical idea that the capacity to tolerate the perception of oneself as ordinary rests upon the actual experience of having been acknowledged and responded to as the special person that one is, an individual.

I was stimulated to think about this by the impact of two patients who made a point of telling me how ghastly it would be if anyone thought of them as ordinary, and they poured a withering contempt on the notion of any value in ‘ordinariness’. Each closely guarded and elaborately fostered an inflated idea of herself as ‘special’, but manifested a thinly disguised envy of people they saw as relating in a more simple, straightforward and everyday manner. In a different sense of the word, neither believed that she could be special.

Both of these women were lacking in the experience of having been treated as persons in their own right, and similar features in their history and psychopathology gradually became apparent. I shall describe these features and aim to show something of the process whereby each became more able to work through the anxieties behind her attitude to ‘ordinariness’. These anxieties centred on underlying feelings of weakness, helplessness and abandonment to needs that would not be met, and a despairing conviction that their rage, envy and eroding characteristics could not be survived by any person in a relationship with them.

Clinical Material

Mrs A.

Mrs A. is in her early forties, a divorcee. At the beginning of her seven-year analysis, she was living in London with her three adolescent children and a nine-year-old daughter.

One of her initial complaints was that she ‘had no personal authority’ and that she found immense difficulty in containing or controlling her children. She would swing from screaming at the children to pleading for their support, bribing, weeping, retiring to bed or just running away.

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