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109 Core Concepts: Conflict and Compromise Formation – 4 seminars

Seminar Leader: E. Hamer and S. Thomson

Course Description

This course, in 4 seminars, focuses on conflict theory as it has evolved from Freud’s original formulations involving his structural/dynamic theories at a neurotic level of functioning to the present usage/understanding involving all levels of intrapsychic formation both conscious and unconscious.

Although initially conceptualized for neurotic/structural/Oedipal conflict, the current thinking/practice is to apply conflict within an object-relational /pre-Oedipal context as well.

With Freud’s first theory of anxiety in mind (libido is transformed into anxiety and discharged), his second theory (signal anxiety) will be introduced as the current platform that is employed at different levels of psychic functioning. The role of defense will be followed from its beginnings as an external, primitive avoidance mechanism to its later functioning as an internal, sophisticated ego-function at various levels of psychic structure and stages of maturity both conscious and unconscious.

Compromise Formation will be conceptualized as a multi-determined, multi-functioning constellation of drive/wish/part-object, affect, defense and symptom.

Overall, how the level of psychic structure determines the nature of conflict will be stressed.

Course Objectives

Candidates will learn:

  1. (1.1) How to interpret important contextual and systemic functions that facilitate or impair human functioning: the course explores the different elements within a conflict configuration and helps candidates to integrate an understanding of those components and how they interact (in opposition or together) so that interventions will lead to an amelioration of symptoms.
  2. (1.2) How to understand and implement a fundamental theory of change: how to facilitate through free association a return to consciousness of wishes/fears and needs that cause anxiety/depression trigger defense and former symptoms.; and how to analyze defenses (of various kinds) so that patients can re-experience and better understand those desires/needs and so render them less bothersome and less in need of avoiding.
  3. (1.3) How to use the knowledge of key concepts in conflict theory: reality, neurosis, psychosis, automatic anxiety, traumatic anxiety, signal anxiety, judgment, reaction formation, isolation of affect, doing-undoing, compromise formation, in order to formulate and to decide the level of treatment intervention.
  4. (1.3) The knowledge of important factors in the patient’s psychopathology; that anxiety and depressive symptoms, social and work inhibitions and separation and identity issues can be traced back to dysphoric affects associated with loss of the mother, loss of mother’s love, castration anxiety and superego anxiety.

Seminar 1

Conflict and Signal Anxiety: The capacity for signal anxiety determines the nature of the conflict.

If the ego has reached a high enough level of sophistication for delay, then this ability to “want” is associated with other equally mature functions e.g. self-reflection, planning, symbolization. As a result the unpleasant feeling can be anticipated by the ego and signalled to bring in ways to bear the unpleasantness either by avoidance or alternative plans. The resulting symptoms will be better modulated, formed and bearable. If the capacity for signal anxiety has not been achieved (or achieved only partially) it reflects a less well-structured psyche with tools that are poorly regulated, more impulsive and more “global”, e.g. rage attacks.

Required Readings

Rangell, L. (1955). On the psychoanalytic theory of anxiety – a statement of unitary theory. The Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 3, 389-414.

Jacobson, J. (1994) Signal affects and our psychoanalytic confusion of tongues. The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 42, 15-42.

Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J.B. (1988). “Neurosis” (pp. 266-269); “Psychosis” (pp. 369-372); “Automatic anxiety” (pp. 48); “Signal anxiety” (p. 922). In The Language of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books.

Moore, B. & Fine, B. (1990). “Reality” (pp.161-163); “Conflict” (pp. 44-45). In Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Brenner, C. (1957). Traumatic anxiety. In An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis (p. 78). Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books.

Seminars 2 and 3

Conflict and Defense

This seminar begins with Freud’s elucidation of the ego’s increasing capacity to decide that certain wishes can become bearable enough to be made conscious. He describes the ego’s use of judgement to determine if a wish/fear can be allowed into consciousness, but only in a negative form. Anna Freud then expands Freud’s conceptualizing from mainly an “id psychology” to an “ego psychology” in her definitive volume. In doing so, she shifts the attention from drives/wishes to the defences against them. She describes clearly and succinctly what are now the commonly understood defense mechanisms used in disorders such as hysterical conversions, obsessive-compulsive disorder and paranoia. Lastly, she focuses on the processes of defense according to the sources of the anxiety and danger: 1) “superego anxiety” in which “the child’s aggressiveness must have an outlet in the outside world, otherwise it’s dammed up and turned inward and endowing the superego with cruel characteristics” (p. 56). 2) “objective anxiety” in which “the infantile ego fears the instincts because it fears the outside world. Its defense against them (instincts) is motivated by dread of the outside world.” (p. 57) and 3) “instinctual anxiety” will occur if “the ego feels itself abandoned by these protective higher powers (superego and outside world) or if the demands of the instinctual impulses become excessive, the ego’s mute hostility to instinct is intensified to the point of anxiety” (p. 59)

The instructor will be presenting examples of defense mechanisms and the processes of defense in dealing with different sources of anxiety and danger.

Required Readings

Freud, S. (1925). Negation. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 19, 235-240.

Freud, A. (1936). The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (pp. 28-41, 42-53, 54-65). New York, NY: International Universities Press.

Modell, A.H. (1961). Denial and the sense of separateness, The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 9, 533-547.

Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J.B. (1988). “Negation” (pp. 261-263); “Defense mechanisms” (pp. 109-111); “Reaction formation” (pp. 376-378); “Isolation” (pp. 232-233). In The Language of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books.

Moore, B. & Fine, B. (1990). Defense. In Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts (pp. 48-49). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Seminar 4

Conflict and Compromise Formation

Compromise formation is a concept that can take many forms e.g. dreams, transference and symptoms. Originally, it was thought to be only possible within the tripartite model (structural theory), but with the widening scope of formulating and treating more disturbed personality disorders, the term now includes earlier conflicts and so earlier psychic formations. One example is separation guilt. Here the conflict and compromise functions are a blend of developmental arrest and guilt. The instructor will provide a case illustrating this current use of the term.

Required Readings

Dorpat, T.L. (1976). Structural conflict and object relations conflict. Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, 24, 855-874.

Rothstein, A. (2005). Compromise formation theory: An intersubjective dimension. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15(3), 415-431.

Laplanche, J. & Pontalis, J.B. (1988). Compromise-formation. In The Language of Psychoanalysis (p. 76). London: Karnac Books.

Moore, B. & Fine, B. (1990). “Compromise formation” (p. 43); “Separation-individuation” (pp. 180-181). In Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Brenner, C. (1955a). Compromise formation. In An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis (pp. 181, 207). New York, NY: International Universities Press.

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