Psychoanalysis in Conflict: Orthodoxy and Heresy, Part 1, by Elio Frattaroli

Click Here to Read: Psychoanalysis in Conflict: Orthodoxy and Heresy, Part2, by Elio Frattaroli on this website.

By Elio Frattaroli, MD.

Introduction: Nathan Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor
Here, we readers face a challenge and a treat. Since 1985, Elio Frattaroli has been thinking and writing about the conflict inherent in our field. He reads our history as if psychoanalysis were an organism, a being with its own psychodynamics. ( readers know that Arnie Richards has been writing about our community in a similar Fleckian vein.)
In the first half of this article, which you see this week, Frattaroli presents his hypothesis: Freud ‘s intrapsychic conflict was being both heretic (the idol-smasher, the sex unveiler, the dream revealer) and orthodox (the “excommunicator of Adler, Jung and a few others); his followers carried on this conflict, not intrapsychically, but interpersonally. Frattaroli, in a careful dissection, lays out how many of Freud’s heirs became either heretics (such as Reich’s orgonism, Fromm’s Marxism) or slavishly orthodox followers. Few could contain the tension that Freud was able to hold between orthodoxy and heresy. In the first half, he presents the problem in psychoanalysis and how Bettelheim, an outsider to our discipline, first suggested that two truths can be true: man as tragic, man as guilty (in Kohut’s later terms). Then, Frattaroli shows how Freud’s inner unconscious conflict seeded the forest of conflict in our discipline for several decades.
In the second half, next week, Frattaroli articulates Freud’s Weltanschauung as it contributed to our controversy. Then, in a remarkable turn about, Frattaroli offers resolution of the tension between heresy and orthodoxy, ironically, by relying on the physics priniciple of complementarity. This idea was articulated by Waelder in 1930, referring to Neils Bohr’s argument that light is both particle and wave, depending on how we look at it. Both are true. Waelder, Frattaroli states, offered a “self psychology,” but one with inherent conflict.
The challenge? These two pieces by Frattaroli are longer than our usual postings. The treat? We hope you can savor them. We believe you will enjoy the meal. Comments welcomed by the chef.
N. Szajnberg, MD, Managing Editor


By: Elio J. Frattaroli, M.D. (Adapted from Educating the Emotions: Bruno Bettelheim and Psychoanalytic Development. Ed. N. Szajnberg. New York: Plenum, 1991).

1. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Bruno Bettelheim’s Teaching
My first experience of what I later thought of as psychoanalytic orthodoxy was Bruno Bettelheim’s teaching in staff meetings at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School. A staff member would present him with a problem interacting with a child. Bettelheim, with a few well chosen questions, would demonstrate how a conflict or inhibition in the staff member had interfered with the ability to understand the child’s communication. Even the stormiest encounters became problems when our own anxiety prevented us from thinking clearly about what need the child was expressing, however distortedly, or from feeling free to respond in a way appropriate to the child and the current state of the therapeutic relationship. The message was clear: a problem between therapist and patient was caused by the therapist’s intrapsychic conflicts. If we mastered our own inner psychic reality, we would have less difficulty dealing with external patient-realities. This is the traditional analytic approach to countertransference; it also felt like a profoundly moral teaching. Problems were our responsibility. To “love” the children and not mistreat them, we must struggle with our own “sinfulness” and work for “salvation” through psychoanalysis. Bettelheim did not use religious concepts in his teaching, but they capture an important aspect of what his teaching meant to us. While this was inspiring, it could be incorporated too easily into the predominantly Catholic and Jewish guilt-complexes we had brought.
Then Bettelheim retired and teaching responsibilities devolved upon Alfred Flarsheim, who, since he had been a long-time student of Bettelheim (and an analysand of Winnicott), we expected to follow the same approach to teaching. Instead, we got our first taste of what I now respectfully call psychoanalytic heresy. Presented with a problem between patient and staff, and with a staff member prepared to search his own soul for his countertransference sin, Flarsheim posed the following questions: “I wonder why the child needed to evoke such feelings in you. Why did he need to create precisely this kind of problem between you? How might creating such a crisis be seen as his attempt to make his life more bearable?” The message was clear, but different: it wasn’t our fault. It was the average expectable impingement of the child’s illness on someone trying to help him. Whatever conflicts were stirred up in the therapist were best understood by the inner reality of the patient. Our conflicts were in fact caused by the children. This was an inversion of Freud’s seduction theory; the emphasis on interactional trauma rather than intrapsychic conflict. At the time what felt important was that we had not sinned; we were doing our best, but were overwhelmed by our patients. Justification by works was not necessary. Of course we loved the children and wanted what was best for them. This was our justification by faith alone. Our relief and even joy at this liberating outlook was mitigated by Flarsheim’s astonishment at our reaction. He couldn’t believe that his approach was new to us–he had learned it from Bettelheim.
For me this a profound but ill-defined shock of recognition, which I understood years later. I learned two invaluable lessons involving essential but controversial elements in psychoanalysis. First, psychoanalysis is not simply a science of man’s sexual and aggressive drives, but is more broadly a philosophy of human nature, including the moral dimension and its associated problems of love and hate, good and evil, responsibility and blame. Second, more than one frame of reference is necessary to understand and describe human experience. Man contends simultaneously with both internal needs and external influences, integrating them in what we call motivation. Two distinct frames of reference to describe these two motivational axes, one intrapsychic and the other interpersonal.
These two “antithetical” ways of understanding a problem came from the same man. Bettelheim’s ability to integrate the intrapsychic and the interpersonal in his clinical approach is rare in psychoanalytic history, which has been marked by controversy precisely because of a failure to recognize that both points of view are applicable to any human experience, although only one at a time can be applied. Instead, psychoanalysis has struggled with either-or dichotomizing, which has led to polarization and repetitive splits between frames of reference. Analysts emphasizing the interpersonal perspective attack what they perceived as the reductionism of classical analysis; the “Freudian” analysts, feeling threatened with the erosion of their hard-won insights, have counter-attacked by dismissing interpersonal theories as superficial and naive.
Should “heresy” and “orthodoxy” be applied to these conflicting points of view as they have become institutionalized into mainstream and dissident schools of thought? They convey the sometimes incendiary intensity of psychoanalytic controversy. The religious origin and overtones of the terms are not misplaced. The issues at stake in psychoanalytic controversies are ultimately the same as those which inform religious controversy; namely, conflicting philosophies of human nature and of man’s relationship to the Good. Many analysts would object that their disputes are doctrinal rather than scientific; yet, psychoanalytic controversies are based not on discoverable facts but on conflicting philosophical premises.#1
Take Joseph Breuer and Anna O. Breuer precipitously abandoned the patient’s treatment when she fell in love with him. What was his motivation: the external danger of her erotically aggressive assault on him and his marriage, or was it the internal danger posed by his unconscious wish to seduce her? Analysts traditionally answered such questions as “either-or.” Dissident schools stress Breuer fleeing the interpersonal danger; mainstream analysts say he was fleeing the intrapsychic. This cannot be settled by appealing to evidence. Evidence can be found for either position, depending on whether one chooses to look for it in Breuer’s feelings about Anna O. or in his feelings about himself. This choice in turn would depend on heretical and orthodox philosophical premises. The orthodox position: man is fundamentally at war with himself and must strive to achieve inner peace through accepting responsibility for his own contradictions. The heretical position: man is fundamentally loving and at peace with himself, but develops problems due to a traumatic hostile environment; he can achieve inner peace by changing that environment.
Bettelheim integrated these two points of view. In teaching, he emphasized one side or the other depending on the needs of his students. Psychologically naive and emotionally unsettled children of the 60’s, like the staff of which I was a member, needed to develop their sense of responsibility. Experienced, well-analyzed psychiatrists like our School consultant, Alfred Flarsheim, needed new, even unorthodox perspectives on treating their “untreatable” patients. Bettelheim was aware of both perspectives. The “staff’s” Bettelheim would have told Breuer that he was having difficulty with his own sexual feelings for his patient; this prevented him from responding comfortably to her wish for love even though she was expressing it in an uncomfortable sexualized way. “Flarsheim’s” Bettelheim would have told Breuer his patient was trying to force him to reject her, that she felt she deserved a terrible punishment for her sexual feelings toward him, so that getting him to reject her would both provide the needed punishment for her forbidden wish and protect her against the danger of actually achieving that wish. Each explanation involves both orthodox and heretical propositions. According to the staff’s Bettelheim, Breuer is fundamentally conflicted while Anna O is traumatized in her naturally loving disposition. According to Flarsheim’s Bettelheim, Anna O is fundamentally conflicted while Breuer is forcefully turned away from his naturally loving course. According to Bettelheim, both explanations are correct.
Bettelheim has always been an outsider to organized psychoanalysis, which still struggles to achieve such a “both/and” integration out of the either/or struggle between orthodox and heretical schools. An example is the debate between Self Psychology and Classical Analysis. Kohut (1977) suggests that the point of contention involves differing models of human nature, Self Psychology’s Tragic Man and Classical Analysis’s Guilty Man. Guilty Man is in conflict over his innate drives, as in the oedipus complex. Tragic Man is innocent, forced into a state of inner fragmentation by traumatic parenting, as epitomized in pathology of the self. Guilty Man has original sin (drives); Tragic Man is born guiltless. These are the categories, implicit in Bettelheim’s two teaching approaches, which I have described as orthodox and heretical. Kohut recognized that the controversy is philosophic rather than scientific. Yet, he contributed to the continued polarization. Both sides try to resolve the debate by showing their point of view to be right and the other wrong. Self-psychologists argue that Tragic Man is at the core of all psychopathology, reducing Guilty Man to the status of “disintegration products.” Classical analysts dismiss Tragic Man as merely manifest content that disguises the real basis for psychopathology, Guilty Man’s oedipus complex. One perspective may be more useful than the other in a particular situation with a particular person: no situation or person can be fully understood without taking both perspectives into account. There is no oedipal pathology without trauma; no self pathology without guilt.
Niels Bohr’s principle of complementarity (Bohr, 1958; Folse, 1985; Holton, 1970), stipulates that a complete scientific description generally requires using mutually exclusive but equally valid frames of reference. The physicist uses mutually exclusive experimental arrangements to observe the wave or the particle nature of light; the psychoanalyst uses mutually exclusive mind sets to observe the Tragic or the Guilty nature of Man#2. The choice to focus on one precludes our being able (for the moment at least) to observe the other. For Bohr, apparently contradictory phenomena can be equally and simultaneously real. He said “There are the trivial truths and the great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true” (see Waelder, 1963; Hans Bohr, 1967). The lesson for psychoanalysis: Tragic Man and Guilty Man have equal claim to being the “real” human nature. A good psychoanalyst must be able to shift easily from one point of view to the other, appreciating both realities and resisting the reductionistic temptation to dismiss one as an epiphenomenon.
For example, in The Uses of Enchantment (1976) Bettelheim presents the orthodox position on the Oedipus complex:
There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very own natures–the propensity of all men for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety. Instead, we want our children to believe that inherently, all men are good. (p.7)

It is not just since Freud that the myth of Oedipus has become the image by which we understand the ever new but age-old problems posed to us by our complex and ambivalent feelings about our parents. Freud referred to this ancient story to make us aware of the inescapable cauldron of emotions which every child, in his own way, has to manage at a certain age. (p.24)

In Children of the Dream (1969) he presents the other side:
It is….the parent’s power over the very life of his infant that set the tragedy of Oedipus in motion. Had the father of Oedipus not had (and used) the power he held over his son’s existence, his son would never have slain him. We cannot separate the receiving of dependent care from the power relations within which they are given and received. (p.69)

Likewise, in The Empty Fortress (1967):
….all psychotic children suffer from the experience of having been subject to extreme conditions of living, and….the severity of their disturbances is directly related to how early in life these conditions arose, for how long they obtained, and how severe was their impact on the child. (p.63)

Bettelheim does not refer to Bohr in his writings, but does refer to the fundamental insight of complementarity in terms of a much older philosophic tradition. In The Informed Heart (1960), he describes his own ambivalent struggle as a young man trying to come to terms with the nature/nurture controversy in his “quest for a better man in a better society”:
I thought if I could only plumb deep enough, I might find the one right answer. Philosophy seemed to plumb deepest, so it was that discipline I turned to at one period. There I encountered the theory of the concordance of contraries, but since I was still looking for unilateral solutions, it helped me little in my search. I did not then realize how it could be applied to understanding the dynamic interdependence of the organism and its environment, and how life consists of struggles to reach higher stages of integration within a basically irreconcilable conflict. ….[S]elf-realization I could not yet see as existing within a conjunctio oppositorum. (p.8)

Psychoanalysis as a whole has had the same difficulty and has not yet achieved this integration. It remains split today, as it has been split throughout its history, into warring factions, with the flavor and intensity of religious ones; excommunication is the punishment for heresy. In this group repetition compulsion, original psychoanalytic thinkers have been treated as heretics and ostracized by the psychoanalytic establishment. No sooner has one heretic been ostracized than another has arisen. Among the most prominent are Jung, Adler, Klein, Horney, Fromm, Alexander, Bowlby, Fairbairn and Kohut.

2. Origins of the Controversy in Freud’s Unconscious Conflict
Two factors account for the persistence and acrimony of this psychoanalytic controversy. First is an unconscious conflict towards the iconoclast; second is the nature of Weltanschauungen, world views.
The first, is a re-enactment of a conflictual unconscious fantasy that was originally Freud’s. Evidence for this is abundant in Freud’s autobiographical writings, On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement (1914) and An Autobiographical Study (1925), which document that psychoanalysis had its origin in heresy, Freud himself being the first heretic:
When, in 1873, I first joined the University,….I found that I was expected to feel myself inferior and an alien because I was a Jew. I refused absolutely to do the first of these things….at an early age I was made familiar with the fate of being in the Opposition and of being put under the ban of the ‘compact majority’. (1925, p.9)

In classical antiquity great importance was attached to dreams as foretelling the future; but modern science would have nothing to do with them, it handed them over to superstition, declaring them to be purely ‘somatic’ processes–a kind of twitching of a mind that is otherwise asleep….But by disregarding the excommunication that had been pronounced upon dreams….psychoanalysis arrived at a different conclusion. (1925, p.43; emphasis added)

This time I was applauded, but no further interest was taken in me. The impression that the high authorities had rejected my inno-vations remained unshaken;….I found myself forced into the Oppo-sition….I was soon afterwards [1886] excluded from the laboratory of cerebral anatomy. (1925, pp.15-16; emphasis added)

I unhesitatingly sacrificed my growing popularity as a doctor….by making a systematic enquiry into the sexual factors involved in the causation of my patients’ neuroses….I innocently addressed a meeting of the Vienna Society for Psychiatry and Neurology….But the silence which my communications met with, the void which formed itself about me, the hints that were conveyed to me, gradually made me realize that from now onwards I was one of these who have ‘disturbed the sleep of the world’….and that I could not reckon upon objectivity and tolerance. (1914, pp.21-22)

Meanwhile my writings were not reviewed in the medical journals, or, if as an exception they were reviewed, they were dismissed with expressions of scornful or pitying superiority. (1914, pp.22-23)

For more than ten years after my separation from Breuer I had no followers. I was completely isolated. In Vienna I was shunned; abroad no notice was taken of me. (1925, p.48)

I have long recognized that to stir up contradiction and arouse bitterness is the inevitable fate of psycho-analysis. (1914, p.8)

(Breuer) was the first to show the reaction of distaste and repudiation which was later to become so familiar to me, but which at that time I had not yet learnt to recognize as my inevitable fate. (1914, p.12)

Distaste and repudiation — the mark of either/or thinking, and also of unconscious conflict. Breuer had been the first “psychoanalyst” to show this orthodox response to heresy. Freud was the second, when he repudiated the theories of his former disciples, Jung and Adler, describing them as heretics:
The criticism with which the two heretics were met was a mild one; I only insisted that both Adler and Jung should cease to describe their theories as ‘psycho-analysis’….If a community is based on agreement upon a few cardinal points, it is obvious that people who have abandoned that common ground will cease to belong to it. Yet the secession of former pupils has often been brought up against me as a sign of my intolerance or has been regarded as evidence of some special fatality that hangs over me. (1925, p.53)

Psychoanalysis is my creation; for ten years I was the only person who concerned himself with it, and all the dissatisfaction which the new phenomenon aroused in my contemporaries has been poured out in the form of criticisms on my head….no one can know better than I do what…should be called psychoanalysis and what would better be described by some other name. In thus repudiating what seems to me a cool act of usurpation… (1914, p.7)

[I]t has never occurred to me to pour contempt upon the opponents of psycho-analysis merely because they were opponents….I knew very well how to account for the behaviour of these opponents and, moreover, I had learnt that psycho-analysis brings out the worst in everyone…. Experience shows that only very few people are capable of remaining polite, to say nothing of objective, in a scientific dispute, and the impression made on me by scientific squabbles has always been odious. Perhaps this attitude on my part has been misunderstood; perhaps I have been thought so good-natured or so easily intimidated that no further notice need be taken of me. This was a mistake; I can be as abusive and enraged as anyone. (1914, p.39)

It is no easy or enviable task to write the history of these two secessions,…partly because I know that by doing so I shall lay myself open to the invectives of my not too scrupulous opponents and offer the enemies of analysis the spectacle they so heartily desire–of ‘the psycho-analysts tearing one another limb from limb’. After exercising so much self-restraint in not coming to blows with opponents outside analysis, I now see myself compelled to take up arms against its former followers or people who still like to call themselves its followers. I have no choice in the matter, however; only indolence or cowardice could lead one to keep silence….I shall….restrict to a minimum my use of analytic knowledge, and, with it, of indiscretion and aggressiveness towards my opponents; and I may also point out that….I am not concerned with the truth that may be contained in the theories which I am rejecting, nor shall I attempt to refute them….I wish merely to show that these theories controvert the fundamental principles of analysis. (1914, pp.49-50; emphasis added)

I was either compared to Columbus, Darwin and Kepler, or abused as a general paralytic. I wished, therefore, to withdraw into the background….transferring (my) authority to a younger man,… C.G. Jung, [because of] his exceptional talents…his independent position and the impression of assured energy which his personality conveyed. In addition to this, he seemed ready to enter into a friendly relationship with me and for my sake to give up certain racial prejudices which he had previously permitted himself. I had no inkling at that time that….I had lighted upon a person who was incapable of tolerating the authority of another…and whose energies were relentlessly devoted to the furtherance of his own interests. (1914, p.43)

To be sure, I see nothing reprehensible in a younger man freely admitting his ambition, which one would in any case guess was among the incentives for his work. But even though a man is dominated by a motive of this kind he should know how to avoid being what the English, with their fine social tact, call ‘unfair’–which in German can only be expressed by a much cruder word. How little Adler has succeeded in this is shown by the profusion of petty outburst of malice which disfigure his writings and by the indications they contain of an uncontrolled craving for priority.(1914, p.51)

The view of life which is reflected in the Adlerian system is founded exclusively on the aggressive instinct; there is no room in it for love….with Jung, the appeal is made to the historic right of youth to throw off the fetters in which tyrannical age with its hidebound views seeks to bind it. (1914, p.58)

Adler [finally] took a step for which we are thankful; he severed all connection with psycho-analysis….Adler’s ‘Individual Psychology’ is now one of the many schools of psychology which are adverse to psycho-analysis and its further development is no concern of ours. (1914, p.52)

Freud’s ad hominem remarks about Jung’s incapacity to tolerate authority and relentless devotion to his own interests, and Adler’s uncontrolled craving for priority, together with the bitterness and self-righteousness with which he describes his own relentless pursuit and defense of his psychoanalysis, suggest that he was intolerant of qualities in Jung and Adler that were similar to qualities in himself. These autobiographical passages show Freud’s disavowal and projection of his hostile aggression. He is conflicted about his revolutionary, iconoclastic motive, his need to challenge received wisdom and attack its orthodox purveyors. For Adler such a motive was explicit in the “masculine protest”; for Jung in the assertion of “the historic right of youth to throw off the fetters (of) tyrannical age.” Freud denied this motive in himself and in his theory (which at the time of the break with Adler and Jung contained a sexual, but not an aggressive drive), while repudiating it in Jung and Adler and in their theories.#3
Freud is unable to empathize with the iconoclasm of Adler and Jung because it is too openly attacking, and threatens his need to disown hostility. His uneasiness about this motive leads him to describe his own iconoclasm as involuntary, in pointed contrast to Jung’s and Adler’s willfulness. He describes himself not as an aggressor, but as an unsuspecting victim of the “compact majority,” unfairly shunned and attacked for his blamelessly disinterested pursuit of scientific truth. He thinks of himself as “innocently” seeking the approval of the scientific establishment, and as “forced into the Opposition” as if against his will. He views the tendency to provoke bitter controversy as “the inevitable fate of psychoanalysis” rather than the result of his own aggressive provocativeness.
Another example of this disavowal of iconoclastic intent is Freud’s apologia for his radical emphasis on sexuality. He disclaims responsibility for any active wish on his part to shock, scandalize, incite or otherwise “disturb the sleep of the world” by announcing that this emphasis on sexuality wasn’t really his idea in the first place:
There was some consolation for the bad reception accorded to my contention of a sexual aetiology in the neuroses even by my more intimate circle of friends–for a vacuum rapidly formed itself about my person–in the thought that I was taking up the fight for a new and original idea. But, one day, certain memories gathered in my mind which disturbed this pleasing notion, but which gave me in exchange a valuable insight into the processes of human creative activity and the nature of human knowledge. The idea for which I was being made responsible had by no means originated with me. (1914, pp.12-13)

Breuer, Charcot and the gynecologist Chrobak all had unwittingly suggested the idea to him. The Charcot story is striking. Freud recalls the time he heard him animatedly telling a colleague that “in this sort of case it’s always a question of the genitals–always, always, always”:
I know that for a moment I was almost paralysed with amazement and said to myself: ‘Well, but if he knows that, why does he never say so?’ [emphasis added] But the impression was soon forgotten….I have not of course disclosed the illustrious parentage of this scandalous idea in order to saddle other people with the responsibility for it. I am well aware that it is one thing to give utterance to an idea once or twice in the form of a passing apercu, and quite another to mean it seriously–to take it literally and pursue it in the face of every contradictory detail, and to win it a place among accepted truths. It is the difference between a casual flirtation and a legal marriage with all its duties and difficulties. ‘Espouser les idees de…’ is no uncommon figure of speech, at any rate in French. (1914, pp.14-15)

Freud was willing to take responsibility for his very legal impulse to ‘espouse an idea’ but we can guess that in his moment of paralyzed amazement with Charcot he was on the verge of feelings and impulses he was not so ready to take responsibility for, both the excitement of shocking and scandalizing the civilized world and the impulse to steal Charcot’s idea and his thunder precisely in order to do so#4. Freud’s focus on banishment, ostracism, excommunication, isolation, being in a vacuum like a pariah, suggest a need to see himself as punished (though, in keeping with the principle of multiple function, he also seemed to relish the sense of distinction his isolation and ostracism gave him) for the iconoclastic crime he was reluctant to take credit for.#5
The struggle between orthodoxy and heresy, which stirred such strong feelings in Freud and in which he took now one side, now the other, represented for him an important unresolved intrapsychic conflict. Ostracism of the iconoclast-scapegoat is the enactment of a conflictual unconscious fantasy. The iconoclastic-scapegoat is Oedipus. His heresy combines the unconscious oedipal elements of patricide (overthrowing the establishment) and incest (waking the sleep of the world), and his punishment is also Oedipal, banishment from the kingdom (the mainstream of orthodoxy). But the iconoclast-scapegoat is also a hero. In fact he is Joseph Campbell’s (1949) “hero with a thousand faces”. He is Prometheus, and he is Christ, scapegoated and crucified for bringing enlightenment to the world.
This fantasy is intimately bound up with the motive force in Freud’s life work, and I argue that it continues to exert a strong influence on the development of psychoanalysis. We still feel the bitterness of the 25-year long dispute between Melanie Klein and Anna Freud (see Segal, 1979). Many analysts still bristle at the mention of Franz Alexander’s (1946, 1950) corrective emotional experience. The provocative, rebellious need that Freud disavowed but enacted, has lived on in psychoanalysis. So has his intolerant repudiation of that need. The combination of the iconoclastic “drive” of the analytic dissidents (the intrapsychic component) with the oppressive intolerance for new ideas of the analytic “compact majority” (the interpersonal component) has repeatedly driven heretical analysts like Klein and Alexander to a kind of stridency that became self-defeating. They court their own excommunication by their polemical radicalism, while at the same time they were driven to it by the equally polemical conservatism of the “Freudian” establishment. The result: they have been shunned and their theories dismissed out of hand, often without being understood.
Alexander’s case is particularly interesting because he had published a thoughtful critique of the radical polarizing tendencies of Karen Horney only a few years before he would succumb to the same tendencies himself (and in the process become associated with Horney in the minds of the orthodox as a heretical “interpersonal-culturalist”):
Her polemic ardor involves [Horney] in greater difficulties and more serious issues than those of questionable taste and lack of perspective. … When one attacks an enemy, one is likely to adopt the enemy’s worst weaknesses. Horney attacks the libido theory and replaces the idea of a vague and mystical biological substance–the libido–with an equally empty sociological slogan–culture. She tries to expel Satan with Beelzebub. Just as human behavior cannot be explained satisfactorily by a solely biological principle which is immanent in the organism (libido), neither can it be explained by a sociological principle alone (culture). Cultural influences obviously act upon a highly complex biological system which has to an amazing degree a preformed individual structure. Furthermore, culture itself is originated from the dynamic qualities of biological systems. Obviously we deal here with a complex interplay between biological systems (men) which create a society and become modified by their own creation. (1940, pp.140-141)

Alexander had more sense of integrating orthodox and heretical perspectives than he is usually credited today.#6 Ironically, the concept of corrective emotional experience over which he was ostracized, has become integrated into orthodox theory without acknowledgement and (importantly) without polemic, in the writings of Loewald (1960), DeWald (1976) and others. Similarly, many of the ideas of Melanie Klein have become part of orthodox thinking via the non-polemical writings of Winnicott (1958, 1965), Kernberg (1976, 1980), Modell (1968, 1984) and others.
I argue that polarization of orthodoxy and heresy (as Hegelian dialectic or “Kuhnian” paradigm clash) is inevitable and necessary; the seeds of integration are to be found within the fruit of heresy. The etymology and history of “heresy” are consistent with this idea:
The Greek word hairesein originally meant simply “to take,” but its frequent occurrence in discussions of competing philosophical schools…soon gave it the more specific meaning of “choice,” and later the still narrower meaning of a “choice” among different schools and movements of philosophy. In these senses there was nothing pejorative about the word, particularly since there existed no philosophical school that made universal claims to a monopoly of truth ….Among Jews and Christians, however, the term began to acquire an exclusively pejorative sense….via….the powerful Judaeo-Christian conviction that in the realm of certain beliefs there was no option for plurality of opinion,….that those who held beliefs that the community or its leaders found objectionable were not exercising permissible free choice…but attacking God and dividing the indivisible community of believers. (Edward Peter, 1980, pp.14-15)

Thus heresy originally had the positive sense of a free choice, an open-minded assertion of intellectual autonomy, and only later took on the negative sense of hostile assault on the community. Both senses are present in the motivation of every heretic. In the positive sense heresy invites and strives for integration. Truth may be pluralistic. It is motivated by the heroic Promethean meanings of the unconscious fantasy that drives it. Negatively, heresy is motivated by the murderous and incestuous Oedipal aspects of that fantasy. It fights integration, becoming the mirror image of the close-minded dogmatism it opposes, as Alexander pointed out with Horney.
In summary, the first of the two factors accounting for the persistence and acrimony of the controversy between orthodoxy and heresy in psychoanalytic history is fueled by a conflictual unconscious fantasy that was originally Freud’s: ostracism of the iconoclast-scapegoat-hero; an unresolved conflict between attacking authority versus respecting and obeying authority. This conflict is alive and unresolved in the minds of psychoanalysts.(7)
1This does not mean that they are not also scientific disputes. Indeed, we know from Kuhn (1962) that there are conflicting philosophical premises at the root of the most “scientific” controversies.
2Students of Greek and Shakespearian drama will rightly object to this terminology, saying that the tragic nature of man has to do precisely with his guilt (over hubris). On the other hand, it is true that Oedipus and Hamlet were not blessed with the most empathic of parents.
3See Frattaroli (in press) for a discussion of how Freud’s intolerance of this iconoclastic aggression led to what I argue is a misreading of Hamlet’s oedipal conflict.
4This interpretation is entirely consistent with Freud’s own (1900) interpretation of his Irma dream, in which he describes himself as inclined to blame everyone else for any ill effects of his own theory and practice.
5His alliance with Fliess during this period, a much more likely candidate for ostracism than Freud himself, could also be seen as in part representing such a masochistic need for punishment.
6He was one of the first psychoanalysts to refer explicitly (1960) to Bohr’s principle of complementarity in his writing.
7On the other hand, as the years pass since Freud’s death, and the influence of his immediate disciples, also dead, is waning in the analytic institutes they founded, things do seem to be loosening up a bit, and resolution of the conflict now seems attainable.

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2 Comments on “Psychoanalysis in Conflict: Orthodoxy and Heresy, Part 1, by Elio Frattaroli”

  1. Leticia Franieck Says:

    “I particularly wonder whether the psychoanalysis (and most of the Psychoanalysts) would not be more orthodox than heretic … talking about my knowledge (and experiences) from Brazil, Germany and UK (this latter to a certain extent, from some seminars and supervision in London)…
    From my point of view, there is still some resistence from the analyst’s side to face and deal with their counter transference without fears … I guess there are a few people like Bruno Bettelheim, unfortunately.”

  2. Dr. Charles Gardner Says:

    Good historical review.

    Fortunately, today in analytically-informed work, we do not worry about heresy and just try to follow the patient, wherever the path leads.

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