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Layton, L. (2009). Who's Responsible? Our Mutual Implication in Each Other's Suffering. Psychoanal. Dial., 19(2):105-120.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 19(2):105-120

Who's Responsible? Our Mutual Implication in Each Other's Suffering

Lynne Layton, Ph.D.

In this paper, I examine the social and psychological roots of what I call neoliberal subjectivity, a version of contemporary subjectivity marked by a repudiation of vulnerability that has arisen from the social, economic, and political milieu of the past 30 years. The defense mechanisms involved in such a repudiation cause a decline in empathic capacities and in the capacity to experience ourselves as responsible and accountable for the suffering of others. I look at the way conflicts in the area of accountability and responsibility are lived both within our patients and within the interaction between patient and analyst. I argue that contemporary definitions of empathy normalize the repudiation of vulnerability and thereby foster an experience of empathy in which one can sustain a safe distance from the suffering other and not hold oneself accountable. A two-way version of empathy that counters neoliberal trends requires that we examine the ways we seek refuge in identifications that distance us from vulnerability, and it requires us to recognize the harm we inflict when we do so.

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