Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Leonard Shengold - The Vicissitudes of the Holiday Season

Editors Note: The following passage from Leonard Shengold does not contain glad tidings, instead it underscores the emotional salience of the current holiday season for many of our patients and those who work within the psychoanalytic realm.

Abstract: "For many patients, mixed feelings of promise and dread that can accompany the holiday season appear in consciousness faintly and fleetingly, usually in the form of bad expectations. But the “dreaded promise” (an oxymoron) of change can come to full life and is always potentially present, especially at separations, and is usually perceptible by the analyst. The dread can be accompanied by expectations full of wonderful promise. The promise of Christmas is followed by the promise of New Year's Day—a time for new beginnings and resolutions aimed at changes for the better. But, for some, happy expectations evoking change have in the past been succeeded by bad ones, and the revival of predominant dread can be cruel and repetitive." p. 1351

Conclusion: "The early psychic dangers of overstimulation, murderous rage, castration, and especially of separation from and loss of the internalized, godlike early parents, who promised eternal life and care in the Garden of Eden, are evoked by repetitious occasions, especially those that involve change. The Christmas/New Year's holidays can provide the psychoanalytic observer with specific, evocative instances of changes that always involve (and sometimes predominantly involve) catastrophic losses from the past. The resulting bad expectations, if not brought to responsible consciousness where they can become subject to the sufferer's will, possess considerable motivational power and can result in vicissitudes of rage directed toward the self or toward others, which can compromise maturational achievements in the present and can dim promising prospects for the future." (p. 1359)

Leonard Shengold (2007). The Dreaded Promise of Christmas and the New Year. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. 76, pp. 1351-1359.  

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