- Several Ways of Denying Reality
A very short article by Sigmund Freud titled The Negation (1925) is a true gem of the psychoanalytical thinking. It was recently released by Cosac Naify, with translation, introduction and notes by Marilene Carone, and texts by Vladimir Safatle, Newton da Costa and Andrés R. Raggio.
With just a few pages, this Freudian article works the negation—translated by some as refusal—neurotically-based, that which has to do with the repressed: by denying something during the analytic process, the patient tells the truth! I quote Freud: “In this way, the content of the representation, or of the repressed thought may clear the way to the conscience, with the condition of being denied. The negation is a way of taking note of the repressed; actually, it already is a suspension of repression, but naturally it isn’t the acceptance of the repressed. Here one can see how the intellectual function dissociates itself from the affective process” (FREUD, 2014, p.21).
This sort of denegation is the Verneinung—different from the hegemonic Verleugnung in the perverse structures, and also different from the hegemonic Verwerfung in the psychotic structures (SAFATLE apud FREUD, 2014, p.38). The proper negation to the Verneinung is marked by a peremptory character—a repressed content turns into its opposite as an affirmation. The perceptions may also be altered in the representations, either by omission or by other elements (FREUD, 2014, p.25). Nevertheless, in the same article Freud states: “the pleasure in denying in general, the negativism of many psychotics, must likely be understood as a signal of pulsional desfusion, with the retraction of libidinal components (FREUD, 2014, p.29).
- The Violent Innocent and the Mute Object.
Violent Innocent is the title of one of the chapters in Being a Character (BOLLAS, 1998). I found the title so suggestive that I decided to borrow it to compose this text. Bollas works with the concept of violent innocent in the psychoanalytic clinic, and the denial of reality with which it operates. The Brazilian translator, José Outeiral, translates denial—word used by Bollas—as refusal of reality: a widened translation to the Freudian term Verneinung that, by the way, Freud starts to use from 1921 on. Bollas’s goal is to discuss what happens in the analyst’s mind when she has to deal with a sort of patient who denies reality in multiple ways.
One of the features of innocence is the simplification of the conscience, since it finds itself forced to deny the unsettling aspects of reality. The denial “affects the apprehension of external reality by the subject” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.135). What ideas and painful affections has that denial spawned? Here’s what interests the analyst. Moreover, Bollas is going to insert this discussion in the landmark of the Theory of Objectal Relations. It isn’t commonplace in the discussion of denial or refusal of reality. To my thinking, with that contribution, Bollas makes even more complex the concept of denial, by reading it not as the subject’s refusal of the external perception, but as a subject’s “refusal” of perceiving the other” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.145).
Someone who resorts to denial, does it because something disturbs her, and she—who refuses—“doesn’t want to care”, “doesn’t want to see!”
In the experiences I’ve had with Violent Innocents, I’ve noticed that they arrive humbly, in an easygoing way, true Franciscans. Usually they announce their humility, even disability: they’re unable, fragile, they’re not going to succeed, it’s very hard for them, they shouldn’t have dared so much… However, quite often these Violent Innocents assail the people with whom they relate.
How to explain this paradox? Freud helps us think about the question, in the above-mentioned article, when he asserts that a systematic denial implies a pulsional disfusion, with the withdrawal of the libidinal elements. None the less, I should add that the violent innocent has another defense which accounts for the assaults, once the main means of relation she establishes is through fusion—in the terms of Michel Balint, the Innocent Violent is a classic ocnophilic (FIGUEIREDO, et al. 2012). So, behind that defense of fusion there is a lot of envy and hatred.
Someone who undertakes her life by means of fusion feels much envy and hatred for the person with whom she fuses, and then, at the moment of peremptory inversion, that envy and that hatred overflow through the assaults.
Besides, Bollas insists on the thesis that the violent innocent transfers what we can call “her crime” to the other, whom now becomes the accused person. Put differently, the violent innocent doesn’t set herself against the other, and she also doesn’t take responsibility for her own acts, is unable to endure the tensions resulting from the confrontation, and also feels incapable of any reparation. The transition from the denial to the violent innocence is very striking for its speed. It’s just a step. A step that is taken when someone, who is now blamed for the crime committed by the violent innocent, starts to speak desperately, meanwhile the violent innocent accuses and silences. I quote Bollas: “With his innocence, the subject stimulates the other to speak the truth and, sometimes, sustains his innocence just to keep some contact with the content that is “refused”. By teasing the other, the violent innocent pours grief, ideational density, and emotional turbulence over the other” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.136). I’ve also noticed, in the experiences I’ve had, that the violent innocent is able to keeps herself utterly alienated from the other’s anguish, as well.
In the clinic, the psychoanalyst is protected by the setting and by the transference, or else, the Violent Innocent is transferring to someone else other than the analyst herself, and the patient denies the reality for this other someone, not necessarily for the analyst.
The analyst can, consequently, interpret the transference and help the patient. Jessica’s analysis, discussed by Bollas, is one fine example: the analyst figured out by means of his countertransference the type of transference that was made by Jessica, and he tells us what happened to his mind while the patient systematically refused to interpret her feelings. The analyst, with the patient’s systematic refusal, began to experience a sort of mind weakness, and hesitated with faltering communication, her perceptions starting to collapse. Jessica bolstered that weakening by saying that the analyst’s perceptions were mere hallucinations about her. Bollas grew weaker and weaker and couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. In his amusing expression, she became the “manager of the doors of perception”—she was the one who seemed to be in contact with reality! After all, by interpreting the transference and the countertransference, it dawned on Bollas that Jessica was “playing/emulating his mother” and imposing on him her child experience of the self, which was systematically deprived from the perceptions of reality by her mother, turning confused, upset, isolated in the presence of the motherly “denial” to contact. Bollas carry about the experience of Jessica’s messy child-self.
Bollas’s grasping of the Violent Innocent is simply flawless. He writes: “The violent innocent puts forward an ideational and affective confusion over the other, who is then deprived of any knowledge—that leads to the true violation. The “receptor” is invited to dive into an intense loneliness, where feelings and thoughts, and potential visualizations don’t have reception” (BOLLAS, 1998, p.146).
To a mind that thinks emotionally, that sort of suffering imposed by the violent innocent is something painful, very painful.
In the contemporary world, we come across Violent Innocent in the institutions and in the everyday life, I mean, I run into them on open field, without the protection of a psychoanalytic setting, and everything I’m going to tell below can be seen as a degeneration of social bonds—here I borrow Rousseau’s expression—in the modernity, and in the high late modernity.
Institutions, including universities—more and more competitive and cruel—have staged multiple encounters, and there’s no shortage of encounters with violent innocents.
- The Omission and Breach of Trust
Now, I want to describe a kind of reality denial that is anchored on the omission of one of the crucial pieces in an interactive game. The individual doesn’t lie straightaway; she just omits a part of the game that would drive you to suggest another way for the interaction.
I’ve carried out this experience with three people in recent years. The first person held me back for four long years: she used to accuse and silence, as Bollas stated. She omitted the “crime” that she said I had committed, and the mute object in me used to speak and complain recurrently. But it couldn’t be thought of! My active mind had been rendered useless—still using another Bollas’s expression. The experience I had with the second person was shorter: it lasted eight months of mental torture. The third case even shorter, but it was a fast, intense and painful experience—it took me just one month to figure out the missing piece, the piece of the game that was omitted. I’m not going to name those people, of course; I’m just going to minutely stick to what happened to the mind when someone lives such encounter, and, in it, the omission.
What happens to the mind of someone who trust very much in her partner and he omits the main piece in the interactive game, and starts to assault on her unrelentingly? He starts to assault on her by using the premises which were until yesterday the source of praise, engaging, henceforth, in a peremptory inversion. If she was “liberating”, overnight she becomes “restrictive”; if she fostered him intellectually, suddenly she becomes unsuitable, even an illiterate company; if she helped him flourish as a person, now she’s seen as a selfish partner. Let me tell what happened to my mind.
It’s necessary to remark that, in relation to those three people, it was a matter of trustworthiness, that is, I believed very much on what they used to tell me, even though I could see the twists and turns in the game—precisely these ones I’ve just brought up: I was accused of being the opposite of what we had experienced until then. I tried to understand those people, but I felt that the game wasn’t complete: a piece was missing! Put differently: my ego was able to understand and, at the same time, refuse what they were saying, while my perception device was searching for the missing piece!
Those three experiences were quite harsh, however, the comprehension I’ve earned through them is essential for me to avoid a fourth one! Something was hidden, very well hidden: a true puzzle, a kind of charade. Omission doesn’t confuse itself with lying. The liar is aware of the reality and chooses to hide it under the cover of a lie. Someone who omits may provide an information very real, but it’s going to be an information that lacks a vital detail. We could call it a vrainsemblance.
Freud doesn’t identify a necessary coincidence between ego and perception apparatus. The perception apparatus might be understood in a much ample manner, and it might have roots in the unconscious which spread its “sensor by means of the Pcpt-Cs system towards the outer world” (FREUD, 2014, p.26) compile them right away.
We don’t have any control over the perception apparatus and it can be much or little enriched in relation to the ego. My perception apparatus has been, then, searching for the piece that was lacking and was systematically in those experiences.
Indeed, those experiences have brought on my mind an extraordinary tension between my ego and my perception apparatus; a painful tension was the condition for the search. Or rather, resorting once more to Bollas, that missing and omitted piece has become a mute object which couldn’t be thought of, but something that was present somewhere and, as a silenced object, it poked me with a paradoxical shout.
With that tension between my ego and my perception apparatus, and without my noticing, a lot of psychic work began. In somebody who has a rich perception apparatus, a switch in the tone of somebody else’s voice, a word which wasn’t uttered so far, an accusation no matter if it is only a veiled one, anything can trigger a constellation (a Jungian’s notion), a sea of interior presences, of experiences of the self in the other’s mind.
I started to look for the missing piece with my perception apparatus and my unconscious thought. I began to seek something that didn’t have a name, something that I didn’t know what exactly was. The fact is that the internal presences, or else, the “experiences of the self”, they never fail. On them we can surely trust. For instance, when a patient tells me that the previous day he has been to a football game, my experiences of the self that are related to a football game promptly start to constellate. If someone tells me of an experience of love, or anything else, I’m instantly referred to the experiences of my self which are connected to that kind of psychic content. And so on and so forth. We keep an intense dialogue through our internal objects, through interior presences, through the experiences of the self, much more than through words or by means of explicit, egoic and conscious communication.
I came closer and closer to that missing piece because my perception apparatus constellated experiences of the self which were lived with the same substance, an array of experiences of the self somehow linked to the omission, even though I was able to name or unveil what I was looking for. My perception apparatus gained a maximum of excitation, and I saw what was going on through the darkness on which I was thrown. Then, there was light: the picture became clear as a summer day. Taking into account the experiences of the self that load the memory, and through the perception apparatus, whose roots are unconscious, without words and without conscious thinking, we can, indeed, disassemble the puzzle.
In two of those experiences I interacted with people who claimed to be spiritualized, and, precisely because of that, they end up teaching me that spirituality cannot precede the psychic work, the mental work, for in spirituality must prevail the Good, the Pity, the Justice, and such priority hinders the psychic and mental work, which demands the coupling of opposites, and, in between, provide room for the evil, the hatred, the shadows, as the Jungian say.
Conversely, if we stimulate enough mental work—or, as some prefer, the psychic and/or the soul—we can expand it toward the O: unnamable, infinite, and the formless, and then live the spirituality as proposed by Bion. Definitely that was the most relevant learning!
What was broken as an outcome of that interaction was the confidence, the thread of confidence woven together was cut, leading to a consequential suffering. To confide [from Latin confidare] means to deliver, to have faith in someone, to communicate under moral warranty. And confidence means intimacy, to have faith in somebody (BUENO, 2010).
The violent innocent’s attack doesn’t aim at any part of someone’s psych or mind! No. It has to do with an extremely distressing experience, once the attack focus on a converging point, a point where one finds such elements as the faith in somebody, the intimacy, the commitment, the communication under moral guaranties, the affection and the sense—the sense of life, of the other, of each one of us, of the words. Confidence is a con-affection—not a conception.
Definitely, however, I’ve learnt that it isn’t a good idea to rely on Violent Innocents, because they don’t have psychic condition to behave in a better or different fashion: they betray, and when they deny the reality, or when they omit the main piece in an interactive game, they reverse the issue, and they’ll invariably blame someone else for their own fault. I also understood that knowledge has been decreed sacred in the campus, and the university doesn’t have any safe and reliable space anymore. Nowadays, the university is just another assembly line, a company as any other, where forgiveness and gratitude have been in blunt disuse.
In time: I have just retired, so my problem with the violent innocents in university is over!
BOLLAS. Christopher. “Violent Innocence”. In: Being a Character. Translated to Portuguese by José Outeiral. Rio de Janeiro. Revinter, 1998.
BUENO Silveira. Scholar Mini-dictionary of the Portuguese Language. S.P. DCL, 2010.
FIGUEIREDO, L. C.; TAMBURRINO, Gina; RIBEIRO, Marina. “The two primordial attitudes in the history of the objectal relations: ocnophily and philobatism”. In: Balint in seven lessons. São Paulo: Escuta, 2012.
FREUD. Sigmund. The Negation. S.P. Cosac Naify, 2014.
SAFATLE. W. “Pós-fascio”. In: FREUD. S. The Negation.
 José Outeiral, by picking up this translation of Verleugnem—instead of negation—, follows other Freud’s commentators, among them Laplanche & Pontalis who, in their Vocabulary of Psychoanalysis (Martins Fontes, Rio de Janeiro, 1992) write: “The word used by Freud in a specific sense—a kind of defense that consists in a refusal, on the subject’s part, to acknowledge the reality of a traumatizing perception, essentially the absence of penis in the woman. This mechanism is evoked by Freud, in particular, to explain the fetishism and the psychoses”. BOLLAS, C. “Violent Innocence” In: Being a Character. op. cit. p. 134.
Visit the website for Christopher Bollas: http://christopherbollas.com.