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