Transformations of Emotional Experience


  • This is a pre-published paper for the Prague IPA Congress.
  • The clinical material has previously been published in Lia Pistiner (2009), The Aesthetic Dimension of the Mind.


In this paper the author approaches mental pain and the problems in a psychoanalytic treatment of patients with difficulties in the psychic transformation of their emotional experiences. The author is interested in the symbolic failure related to the obstruction of development of phantasies, dreams, dream-thoughts, etc. She differentiates symbolization disturbances related to hypertrophic projective identification from a detention of these primitive communications and emotional isolation. She puts forward the conjecture that one factor in the arrest of this development is the detention of projective identifications and that, when this primitive means of communication is re-established in a container–contained relationship of mutual benefit, this initiates the development of a symbolization process that can replace the pathological ‘protection’. Another hypothesis she develops is that of inaccessible caesuras that, associated with the detention of projective identification, obstruct any integrative or interactive movement. This caesura and the detention of projective identifications affect mental functions needed for dealing with mental pain. The personality is left with precarious mental equipment for transforming emotional experiences. How can a psychoanalytical process stimulate the development of creative symbolization, transforming the emotional experiences and leading towards mental growth? The author approaches the clinical problem with the metaphor of the psychic birth of emotional experience. The modulation of mental pain in a container–contained relationship is a central problem for the development of the human mind. For discovering and giving a meaning to emotional experience, the infant depends on reverie, a function necessary in order to develop an evolved consciousness capable of being aware, which is different from the rudimentary consciousness that perceives but does not understand. The development of mature mental equipment is associated with the personality's attitude towards mental pain. The differentiation between psychotic, neurotic or autistic functioning depends on what defences are erected to avoid mental pain. The primary link between infant and mother is where the building of mental equipment takes place, through communicational forms that, to begin with, are not verbal. The author suggests the need for the development of an ideo-grammar (in gestures, paralinguistic forms, etc.) in primary relations, as the precursor forms that will become the matrix for the mental tools for dealing with emotional experiences in a mature way. The paper stresses the significance of the parental containing function for the development of symbolization of prenatal emotional experiences. This containment develops ideograms, transformations of sense impressions into proto-symbols, instruments that attenuate the traumatic experiences of helplessness. The author takes Bion's ideas about extending the notion of dream-work to an alpha function that goes on continually, day and night, transforming raw emotional experiences in a ‘dream’. In order to acquire a meaning, facts need to be ‘dreamed’ in this extended sense. Meaning and truth are the nurture of the mind. Mental growth, the development of adequate tools – including reverie – for dealing with mental pain, seen from a psychoanalytic perspective including reverie, implies that the object becomes a provider of meanings. Analysis begins to aim primarily at the generation or expansion of the mental container, instead of predominantly working on unconscious contents as such.