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
After this first point has been established our psychiatric interest will become even livelier. If a delusion is not to be got rid of by a reference to reality, no doubt it did not originate from reality either. Where else did it originate? There are delusions of the most varied content: why in our case is the content of the delusion jealousy in particular? In what kind of people do delusions, and especially delusions of jealousy, come about? We should like to hear what the psychiatrist has to say about this; but at this point he leaves us in the lurch. He enters into only a single one of our enquiries. He will investigate the woman’s family history and will perhaps give us this reply: ‘Delusions come about in people in whose families similar and other psychical disorders have repeatedly occurred.” In other words, if this woman developed a delusion she was predisposed to it by hereditary transmission. No doubt this is something; but is it all we want to know? Was this the only thing that contributed to the causation of the illness? Must we be content to suppose that it is a matter of indifference or caprice or is inexplicable whether a delusion of jealousy arises rather than any other sort? And ought we to understand the assertions of the predominance of the hereditary influence in a negative sense as well – that no matter what experiences this woman’s mind encountered she was destined some time or other to produce a delusion? You will want to know why it is that scientific psychiatry will give us no further information. But my reply to you is ‘he is a rogue who gives more than he has.’ The psychiatrist knows no way of throwing more light on a case like this one. He must content himself with a diagnosis and a prognosis – uncertain in spite of a wealth of experience – of its future course.
Sigmund Freud – Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis p.310