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Eigen, M. (2001). Mysticism And Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Rev., 88(3):455-481.

(2001). Psychoanalytic Review, 88(3):455-481

Mysticism And Psychoanalysis

Michael Eigen, Ph.D.

Psychoanalysis is officially nonmystical or antimystical. It sticks pins in mystical bubbles. It understands mystical states as remnants of infantile experience, expressions of primitive drives and structures. Yet—as with so much in life—there are complexities and countertendencies. There seem to be mystical aspects to psychoanalysis and there seem to be mystical psychoanalysts, or analysts tinged with spiritual interests. Freud would have viewed this as regressive. He saw religion as a last great hurdle in freeing man's mind for scientific inquiry. Men resort to religion to assuage a sense of helplessness, a heritage of infantile dependency. One wishes for a good outcome of what is a very fragile and rocky existence. Beatific promises soothe our fears.

On the one hand, mystical states may be related to what Freud (1930) terms “primary ego-feeling,” a sense of all-embracing, limitless I-feeling, including an “intimate bond between the ego and the world around it” (p. 68). Here there is expanded boundary, sense of infinite inclusion, “oceanic feeling.” On the other hand, Freud (1941) notes, “Mysticism is the obscure self-perception of the realm outside the ego, of the id” (p. 300). Here the ego is more contracted, separate, “shrunken,” taken aback by what is outside it.

Federn (1957), working with psychosis, picked up on boundary issues in Freud's thought. He was fascinated with the observation that the I contracts and expands, including more or less of the world, body, and mind in its movements and identifications. The I and not-I keep shifting. Even the I and me-feeling can drop away as consciousness ticks on.


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