Why Bollas


FIRST REASON: Christopher Bollas doesn’t hesitate, throughout his entire work, in referring to meaningful passages in his own life, lived and forgotten memories, which were eventually retrieved as the writing process goes on. He also doesn’t hide himself when describing his way of being in order to vindicate his opinion and look into a certain theme; he puts himself in his writing! Here’s one passage: “…I believe that it happens because, at certain moments, I need to conjure up my own self experience so that I can write about the topic—in order to be “informed from inside”, so to speak, instead of analysing a particular stage in the speech with a patient…” (BOLLAS, 1998)[1].

Bollas behaves as Freud, Jung, and other major authors in the “psy field” did in the past; and that’s something absolutely appealing to me, for, nowadays, we tend to read the psychoanalysts’ works in the same way we read the works of sociologists, doctors, or mathematicians. The scientific atmosphere—including the psychoanalytical one—underlines the fact that the analyst is, so to speak, the grounding of his/her findings, whether by analysing, or by being analyst, or by practicing auto analysis.

The grounding of his/her findings is the analyst and, if anything, psychoanalysis is a field of knowledge that doesn’t get along with neutrality; however, that is not so common. Thus, Bollas gives us back that essential freedom of being our own source of discoveries and experiences. That’s not little!

Andre Green, when presenting Being a Character, also praised this aspect in the book: “Here, we have a psychoanalyst who doesn’t write as a psychoanalyst, rather, we’ve got one who miraculously manages to avoid boredom, dogmatism, pedantry…” Definitely, if we take into account the psychoanalysis field, this is quite a unique happening! (BOLLAS, 1998)[2]

SECOND REASON: Bollas, explicitly, summons us up not to put emphasis on the pathological aspect in the analysand’s personality, instead, he invites us to take into account the creative aspect, and he does so radically. By emphasizing the pathological aspect, in a certain way we are preventing the analysand from his/her own resources. It is surprisingly interesting the manner in which Bollas lead us to understand that, from pathos, from trauma, from suffering, it springs up, quite often, the ability to create new realities, new worlds. The work around the trauma might eventually change itself into genera, into generative and creative structures, leading to new conceptions of reality.

Let me cite a passage in Bollas’s work, which seems pivotal to me: “…a child who’s raised by intrusive parents may, in part, become defensive and, defiantly, keeps a part of herself, being able to take in useful details from her parents, or from their substitutes. She would have, then, her own sense to seek such factors and, on the other hand, to empower intrapsychic areas for the working of the genera. In contrast, a child with facilitating parents might, as the result of sibling’s birth, engage on a lasting situation of unconscious hatred, which might turn the effort made by these facilitating parents into mnemonic vestiges of parental procreativity that, by its turn, will be envied and will become an ongoing source of trauma.” (BOLLAS, 1998: 54).

There are plenty of exceptions to the rules, and the analyst Bollas’s attention is always focused on the many ways the generative and creative structures might come up, and in a pressing manner, how they might pick up the objects from which a personal idiom may be articulated and formulated. In Bollas’s words: “…genera may—and actually spring up—from the playful act dedicated to the transformation of the psychic suffering and traumatic perspectives…” (BOLLAS, 1998: 59).

THIRD REASON: Bollas is unique in his ability to work with the world’s materiality. On his way of thinking, the world of objects gain soul, significance, and that allows us to read the psyche, or else, a person’s mind can be read based on the objects she picks up, on her choices concerning the world’s materiality. Beyond that, Bollas straightforwardly criticizes the “theory of objectal relations” because “it doesn’t consider the specific structure of the object, which generally is seen as a container or a mere depository of the individual’s projections” (BOLLAS, 1998)[3].

Bollas puts special emphasis on the projective identification, on her most positive side: “…the subject needs to have a simplified conscience and still lose touch with herself just for a while, so that she can invest the world of objects with psychic potentiality…” (BOLLAS, 1998:12). Material things are transmuted into psychic objects, providing, in this way, an unconscious matrix for the dreams, fantasies, and deeper reflexive knowledge. When one picks up a book to read, or listens to a certain kind of music, one is making choices of different types of objects, with different “processing potentialities”, which implies and involve distinct subjective transformations. The different objects change us and store different experiences of the self. Each experience with a new object opens the possibility for a new birth, once the subjectivity is reconfigured with the new encounter (BOLLAS, 1998: 44). The work involving “real objects” in order to yield more experiences of the self and, later on, to elicit them, is the basis “for an understanding of how the human subject turns herself into the dreamlike work of her own life…” (BOLLAS, 1998: 4). In the peculiar situation of an analysis, two people—analyst and analysand—choose narrative and mental objects, lifting mutually their inner states, and with time, both of them are transformed, for psychoanalysis will become a collaborative creation. Although the focus is on the analysand’s transformation, the analyst will also transform herself because the patient evokes on the analyst, and vice-versa, different experiences of the unconscious selves, once the conscience only have partial access to that experience.

Despite the fact that he doesn’t claim it, Bollas does have an anthropological feeling: he performs an excellent anthropology of the person by taking into account the world’s materiality and the specificity of the objects. Here and there, such feeling will show up in different perspectives.

FOURTH REASON: This anthropological feeling is also present when Bollas look into the psychoanalysis field itself. On an interview published on Percurso Magazine (1998), he tells his intellectual trajectory: before becoming a psychoanalyst, he went through literature and history, and precisely as an outcome of those previous studies, he may cast a “foreign glance” at psychoanalysis, and he manages, then, to read it and practice it in a rather peculiar fashion.

Psychoanalysis would only have gains with a most intense engagement of other professionals from the humanities, especially from literature. It is also that “foreign glance” what makes possible statements such as the following: “I chose to express myself against the official movements inside psychoanalysis. I’m against any kind of Kleinianism, Lacanianism, Winnicottianism, in exception of Freudianism. I’m against the dismantlement of Freud’s theory of body and spirit and the creation of all these churches with their bishops and popes: I think it is a destructive phenomenon. On the other hand, I’m in favour of the concentration of thinking around texts, such as the texts by Melanie Klein, by Bion, by Lacan, by Kohut”…

This attitude of taking a position, concerning the fundamental texts of each psychoanalytic author, and of their commentators, as well as the appreciation of the personal analysis, it is very different of choosing a certain school, any certain life of psychoanalytical thought and, after such adherence, starting to attack and denigrate the thought of another school, with the intention of obliterating it. Again, I cite Bollas: “…this war among the schools is destroying psychoanalysis, and it is also destroying our belief in the effect of a personal analysis, for, if you belong to a certain movement—that I’m afraid of being a fascist movement, after all—if you take part in it, in the name of Melanie Klein, Lacan, Winnicott, etc., how could you justify your analysis, once such behaviour indicates an actual repudiation to the road you’ve chosen to take for your life, as an analysand and analyst?”

However, if that is so, how to explain the unbounded adherence to one of the totems of psychoanalysis? In his book Being a Character, in the chapter “The state of the fascist mind”, Bollas resumes and denounces as fascist those minds that avoid contamination and preach a “pure theory” and a “pure analysis” (BOLLAS, 1998: 163).

FITH REASON: A human being’s destiny, for Bollas, isn’t a progressive adaptation to reality, what is inherent in the psychology of the Ego! Bollas reads the human being as a walking paradox: as we grow we acquire sophisticated mental structures, and with them we become more complex, more mysterious: the self, by becoming itself a personal idiom, it also becomes more mysterious for itself, and then we gain increasingly less adaptation to the reality! (BOLLAS, 1998: 36).

To mature is to gain uncertainties about the meanings of our self, or the meanings of our life, and that is how Bollas defines wisdom. In his book Being a Character, once again Bollas assigns dignity to the mystery of existence, to spirituality, and to wisdom: possible experiences, which can be reached through analysis itself! That is the way in which the author describes the “living spirits”—the inner presences—and the relations such spirits perform in the intersubjective world, all that worth reading the book.

Here and there, we transfer these inner presences/living spirits to the receptive space of a certain other, and vice-versa; we also provide shelter for the other people’s inner presences/living spirits. It is exactly what Bollas calls spiritual communication. This “spiritual sense”, this revalued “spiritual communication”… “It is the comfort in the human journey towards wisdom, punctuated, as always, with a signal of questioning…” (BOLLAS, 1998:48).

Some people, for instance, have a special hearing ability in order to perceive the living spirits, the other people’s inner presences, and they do not hesitate in welcoming them—by doing so, they behave comparably to those who have a special hearing for music!



BOLLAS. Christopher. Forces of Destiny—Psychoanalysis and Human Idiom. London. Free Association Books, 1991 — originally published in English in 1989.

BOLLAS, Christopher. Being a Character. R.J. Revinter, 1998 — originally published in English in 1992.

BOLLAS, Christopher. Revista Percurso number 20/First semester of 1998. It is a semi-annual psychoanalytic magazine, edited in São Paulo city, by the Sedes Sapientiae institute.

BOLLAS. C. The Shadow of the Object.  Psychoanalysis of the unthought known. R.J. Imago 1992 — originally published in English in 1987.



[1] The passage is in the Introduction (pages not numbered).

[2] Introduction to the Brazilian edition by José Outeiral (pages not numbered).

[3] Introduction (pages not numbered).

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