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Anthony, E.J. (1961). A Study of "Screen Sensations". Psychoanal. St. Child, 16:211-245.

(1961). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 16:211-245

Clinical Contributions

A Study of "Screen Sensations"

E. James Anthony, M.D.


In summing up what I consider to be the "conditions" that trigger off these "screen sensations," one would include, first and foremost, the state of regression induced by the analytic process in the analytic situation. The depth to which regression attains has a close bearing on the reappearance of early sensations and is related in part to the quality of the transference development and in part to certain inherent characteristics in the patient.

As already mentioned, the analytic situation and the technique of analysis are designed to facilitate the regressive process. Analytic transactions are carried on with as little verbalism as possible so that the patient's perceptual environment becomes his foremost concern. No contact is made between the analyst and the patient, because this would flood the patient with too much feeling and interfere with the autonomous developments within him. Moreover, contact also creates problems of countertransference which interfere with the analyst's full appreciation of his own role in this delicate world of "suspended transference."

I pass next to the qualities that seem characteristic of these patients and which single them out from among a group of other patients. They have an infantile-primitive aspect that makes them appear "childlike" but not childish. Lily's ego ideal, for instance, took the form of St. Francis of Assisi functioning as a young boy or young girl. She had a special feeling for prepubescent children of both sexes who were "fresh and natural" before the biological occurrences contaminated them. These patients are never psychotic in any clinical sense. Their contact with reality remains persistently adequate, but, at the same time, they live on peculiarly familiar terms with the unreal and irrational features of the primary process. (According to Greenacre [1949], creative people such as artists and writers also have this propensity.) Under certain conditions of provocation and pressure, such as are obtained in the analytic situation, they are capable of sudden, swift, and deep, but transient regressions to very primitive levels of feeling and functioning. In their analytic communications, they frequently express unsatisfied yearnings for incorporation. Speech represents "psychological distance" to them,

and they are inclined to feel "dead" unless they can move into very close physical contact, allowing them to "melt" and "mold" themselves to another's body. Through such "contact regressions" or through "sensory regressions" such as I have described in this paper, a feeling of "union" is established in which the various ingredients add up to a quasi-mystical state. Frequently, and especially at moments of loneliness which recur often, an intense orality usually manifests itself in a blatant form. Lily had a long sucking history and would frequently suck at her own tongue during her sessions. She never showed any urge to bite.

The earliest maternal image remains brightest and most alluring for these patients. Each subsequent imago betrays more and more the effects of separation and the replacement of blissful symbiosis with ambivalent dependence. The supreme trauma is the birth of a sibling which brings about the rupture of the symbiosis and an intensification of the basic conflict over separation. Outside the symbiotic cocoon, the world is hard and cold and lonely, and the complexities of social intercourse are difficult to initiate and maintain. What can one do with people who live outside oneself? In the symbiotic union, on the other hand, relations are largely governed by sensations stemming from the mouth, the nose, and the skin. One lives in and through another and not merely by the side of another, and if one is not joined indissolubly to another, one is alone and desolate.

There are, however, contrary and more progressive factors also at work. The desire for symbiosis is matched by a fear of submergence implying loss of individuality and identity. The mother here becomes the great threat to the self. In the analytic situation, the two processes are both allowed full expression so that the basic conflict is clearly exposed. With the move toward submergence, the fear of death disappears, and the individual achieves "timelessness" and "spacelessness." With the move toward separation and individuation, the fear of death reappears. The analyst is able to watch this life and death struggle from the vantage point of the transference. Sometimes he appears to be on the side of separation and emerges into the consciousness of the patient as the great separator, the divider of the umbilical bond, the weaner. At other times, he transforms the analytic situation into a great dark cave into which the patient can

retreat. He may see himself with increasing predominance as the separator, but, in true analytic fashion, he accepts and works with the image thrust upon him by the patient at any particular time. With sometimes anxious eyes, he watches the movement of regression into the primordial past, acting as the sheet anchor to reality. The surge backwards is more hazardous in these cases than in the normal therapeutic regressions.

I cannot end without expressing sympathy for my second "patient," Marcel Proust. How often, in his self-analysis, did he bemoan the fact that the great moments of re-experiencing the past were so few and far between and that the coming together of the past and the present in the present had to be left largely to chance. This was indeed true for him, but it soon ceased to be true for others like him. Freud was already making his revolutionary discoveries on the use of transference in treatment, so that the bringing together of the past and the present in the present was soon to become the normal experience of every patient in analysis. Proust knew nothing of this, and this was unfortunate for Proust, the patient, but fortunate for the rest of us. With adequate analysis, he could at last have descended into the unconscious toward which he was striving all his life, but in the process we would have lost seven of the most entrancing, autobiographical statements of our time.

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