Obsessionality is a complex disorder; its cardinal features are doubt and ambivalence, doing and undoing, isolation of affect, and intellectualization. Magical thinking is also frequently present but does not constitute an invariable component of the syndrome. Reversing one’s actions is, of course, the-all-but-inevitable consequence of pervasive doubting, and compensatory intellectualization naturally follows the lack of availability of one’s affectivity as a guide for behavior. Doubt, moreover, is also likely to occur if one cannot determine how one feels about the available choices. Thus isolation of affect may well be the central feature of obsessions – a necessary but insufficient condition of their genesis, for it does not always lead to this syndrome.
Lack of complete access to one’s subjectivity dictates using external criteria for one’s choices, for instance, the opinions of prestigious authorities, public fashion, and so on. The difficulty of such a Rube-Goldberg apparatus is that there are so many competing authorities with differing opinions – obsessionals need external guidance to make a choice. They fall into an infinite regress of ambivalence about the very process of making a decision, and the matters these unfortunates tend overly to obsess about are usually quite trivial. (Do I need to buy black shoes or brown? Shall I go to the shoe store on Friday or Saturday?)
The isolation of affect in these cases need not be absolute: they can certainly experience humiliation, envy, and contempt. Obsessionals are barred access to certain affectively charged aspects of the presymbolic self-organization that constitute vital components of their being. In all probability, this access did not get barred through regression but was never established in the first place – in circumstances Freud labeled “primary repression.” Although the obsessional personality remains unable to apprehend these matters, the primitive affectivity in question continues in active operation and may be registered by reliable observers.
John E. Gedo – Psychoanalysis as Biological Science: A Comprehensive Theory p.118
An entirely different class of psychopathology, wherein development as such is not directly implicated, is the occurrence of compulsively repetitive behaviors with no apparent motive. Freud rightly classified these phenomena to be “beyond the pleasure principle,” for they are not performed for pleasure or profit – in fact, they persist even if they produce pain or loss. Freud postulated that such behaviors must satisfy some biological need, but the need he proposed (a form of inborn entropy or primary masochism) turned out not to be biologically valid. The problem was neglected for many years – as were most matters that pertain to the presymbolic universe.
It was only when theoreticians tackled the issue of “primary identity” that a better hypothesis emerged: certain behaviors have to be continually repeated to maintain the continuity of a sense of self. In my judgment, the latter is the subjective component of a map of “self-in-the-world” encoded in the brain. Such a map is best conceptualized as a structured, unconscious “self-organization.” This consists of a system of memories that continues to guide behavior: whenever some action fails to echo anything in the self-system, the disjunction between present and past becomes conscious as a “not me” signal. The self-organization as a unitary structure that encomapsses all organismic goals is generally complete before verbal competence is achieved. Thereafter, novel experiences may slowly alter the system – witness the effectiveness of many analytic efforts as well as their usual lengthy duration.
John E. Gedo – Psychoanalysis as Biological Science: A Comprehensive Theory p.57
The popular imagination was captured by Freud’s reports of the conflictual mental contents he typically encountered in his clinical work. Because he was ever trying to find human universals, Freud’s necessarily limited clinical experience was seldom sufficient to yield universally applicable conclusions about intrapsychic conflicts; thus most of his hermeneutic claims have subsequently proved to be of limited applicability. In other words, in the infinitely variable territory of mental contents Freud’s overly ambitious efforts to generalize turned out to be based on sampling errors.
John E. Gedo – Psychoanalysis as Biological Science: A Comprehensive Theory p.10
The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud still deserves careful study, for it contains important observational data and sophisticated thinking about them, but it is not a currently acceptable exposition of the valid knowledge that constitutes psychoanalysis.
Readers unfamiliar with contemporary psychoanalysis – the current consensus as well as the ongoing controversies within the field – may have difficulty evaluating which of Freud’s propositions continue to have scientific validity, which have been invalidated although they attempted to answer important questions (and therefore possessed great heuristic value), and which of them turned out to be useless because the problems they were supposed to address were misconceived. In this respect, however, Freud’s contributions are no different from those of other authors in the biological sciences who wrote sixty to a hundred years ago.
John E. Gedo – Psychoanalysis as Biological Science: A Comprehensive Theory p.4
A similar line of reasoning applies to infantile amnesia. The hippocampus is not fully functional in the first two years of life. This suggests that it is not possible for someone to encode episodic memories during this time period. Naturally, this does not imply that these early years are unimportant, or that we have no memory of the first two years of life. It implies only that the memories that we do encode during the very early years will take the form of habits and beliefs (procedural and semantic knowledge) rather than explicit, episodic memories. Infantile knowledge is stored as “bodily memory” and implicit knowledge about how the world works. We therefore have every reason to expect that early experience has a decisive impact on personality development (considering the evidence of “neuronal pruning” and the like).
Mark Solms – The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience p.168
A famous case of Claparede’s is often cited in this connection. Claparede concealed a pin in his hand when he greeted the patient, pricking her hand as he shook it. When he next attempted to greet the patient, she withdrew her hand, even though she had no conscious recollection of ever having met Claparede before. The event of the meeting had disappeared from her memory, but its effect remained. This is an example of the dissociation between episodic and procedural memory. When asked why she refused to take Claparede’s hand, the patient explained that “one has the right to withdraw one’s hand” thereby demonstrating the dissociation between episodic and semantic memory. She know what to do (procedural memory), and she recalled relevant abstract facts (semantic memory), but she was unable to bring the appropriate actual experience (episodic memory) back to mind.
Mark Solms – The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience p.164
There are also interesting clinical implications relating to modifications of this system in some children. This opioid system has been found to be overactive in some cases of autism. Consequently, such children experience far less “pain” on separation than their peers, and as a result they bond less well with caregivers and other people. Consistent with this, drugs that block the operation of opiate channels produce more positive social interactions in some cases of autism. But, importantly, the drug only appears to work (to the extent that it can) if it is combined with renewed, facilitating encouragement from the social environment. It is as if the drug opens a window, but by itself it cannot change the nature of the child’s object relationships (Panksepp, 1998).
Mark Solms – The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of the Subjective Experience p.132