Hedges, L.E. (2005). Listening Perspectives for Emotional: Relatedness Memories. Psychoanal.
Listening Perspectives for Emotional: Relatedness Memories
Lawrence E. Hedges, Ph.D.
When considering memory, it is as important to relinquish the distinctions of Platonic triadism—
cognition, emotion, and motivation—as it is to abandon Cartesian dualism. Calling on
contemporary infant research and neuroscience, the author asserts there is no memory save
emotional memory. The human mind as given to us to know can be seen as springing from earlylearned patterns of emotional relatedness that are retained in the personality and expressed in
later significant interpersonal relationships, including the therapeutic one.
Influenced by the current relational movement on psychotherapy theory and practice, six trends
in modern psychoanalytic thinking constitute a paradigm shift in the direction of listening for
emotional-relatedness memory patterns brought by both participants into the interpersonal field
of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Four listening perspectives are suggested for
systematically framing different types of relatedness possibility patterns as they emerge in the
course of the therapeutic engagement. Of special interest is the earliest “organizing” relational
experience that manifests in therapy as two participants move toward interpersonal connection,
only to have one or the other break or rupture the developing intimacy. To illustrate how primal patterns of flight, fight, and flee emerge in the transference-countertransference matrix, clinical
examples are given. This paper illustrates how the relational paradigm stands on new
philosophical, epistemological, and interactional ground when relatedness perspectives are used
for listening and responding to (i.e., for framing) various levels of relational complexity
possibility. (p. 455)
Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action.
Without it we are nothing.
WHEN IT COMES TO CONSIDERING MEMORIES IN PSYCHOTHERAPY, it is as
essential that we relinquish our cherished notions of Platonic triadism—that is, that the soul
consists of cognition, emotion, and motivation—as it is to relinquish Cartesian body-mind
dualism. Leading neuroscientists—including LeDoux (1996, 2002), Edelman (1993; Edelman
and Tononi, 2000), Damasio (1994, 1999, 2003), and Pert (1997)—leave no room for doubt that
in our evolving understanding of mind, our entire bodies are implicated in various ways in
complex interactive systems of affectively charged neuronal processing that influence all aspects
of our being, especially memory. The best maxim for the 21st century is, “There is no memory
save emotional memory.”
For nearly 30 years I have enjoyed being an honorary member of a flock of 50 band-tailed
doves that regale me by feeding, flapping, and cooing not 10 feet from my bed every morning.
My job is to bring the seed and not to make any sudden or loud noises or movements. For many
years they viewed me suspiciously from afar. Being city born and bred, I simply assumed they
were dumb creatures—until we slowly made an acquaintance through the establishment of several pacts and I came to realize how closely they attended to me until they gradually came to
trust themselves to roost on my deck and show me who they were. One morning a distressed
dove even approached me in the hot tub with something seriously caught in her throat that, had I
been more knowledgeable about birds, I might have been able to help her with. Over time, the
large, yellow-ringed, red-eyed birds have grown to tolerate a great deal of movement and sound
from me before startling aloft; but at the slightest irregular stimulus (usually completely
unperceived by me), the alarmed flock abruptly rises, flapping noisily in magnificent unison,
then swoops gracefully back and forth across the wide canyon below to recover their wits.
My mother told me that flocking birds have a leader, and that they all carefully watch the
leader so that they can keep in proper formation—a lesson I’m sure she felt I needed. Of course,
we now know that flocking doves, schooling fish, and other exquisite animal and insect
coordinations are the product of genetically programmed (p. 456) mathematical formulas. It’s
not that the dove says (in dove language), “There’s something dangerous coming. I feel afraid.
I’dbest fly away now.” Nor is it (as William James first proposed) that the startle response sets
the bird in flight so that she says, “As I flee, my heart is pounding. I must feel really afraid.”
Rather, the sensory stimulus, the motor response, and the entire affective apparatus—including
the mathematical links to the others—are all part of a single spontaneous automated system, a
coordinated process in which there is no meaningful separation in the cognition-emotionmotivation triad.
Living in the wilderness of Southern California, I have become exquisitely sensitized over
the years to the infinity of such coordinations in the nature that surrounds me (and are so well
captured by Discovery Channel photographers). But in vivo, the coordinations also affect my
sense of smell, my touch, and my taste—as well as my hearing and sight and many other subtle “sixth” senses. When I spend long days in my foothills retreat in reading and contemplation, I,
too, feel completely taken in by the quiet trigonometry of nature. In reverie I watch each year for
the termites and bees to swarm, for the tarantulas to dance, for the orange dragonflies to copulate
over the pool. Enraptured, I keep going back to the east deck to watch the fledgling red-tailed
hawks awkwardly span from tree to tree, the whole time squawking loudly until one of their
parents arrives with a mouse, a lizard, or a freshly hatched rattlesnake.
Enough. You understand my point: that psychotherapy can be none other than an
interpersonally enmeshed, cognitive-emotional-motivational body-mind experience—and that to
believe otherwise is hopelessly naïve. But where can we start our thinking about the process of
therapy? Freud began his scientific formulations following the model of Newtonian science: a
subject (the scientist) observing an object (Mother Earth or the hysterical woman). Feminists like
Benjamin (1988, 1995, 1998) have been quick to point out that the subject-object
complementarity that has characterized the scientific approach leaves the (male) scientist
glorified and the (female) object devalued—if not abused, abased, and exploited. Further, in
recent years, therapists of all persuasions have needed to address the historically based welldoctor, sick-patient mental health model in all psychotherapies that aim to achieve personal
equality and respectful reciprocity of participation in a mutually coconstructed (even if
asymmetrical) therapeutic relational process (Aron, 1996). (p. 457)
During this same time period our attention has been drawn by neuroscientists, infant and
attachment researchers, and social ecologists—as well as interpersonal, intersubjective, and relational theorists—to the necessarily emotional nature of all aspects of our being and our
interactions. It’s not that the wisdom gathered over the past century in a positivist spirit is wrong,
but rather that it must be reformatted in keeping with contemporary epistemological, scientific,
philosophical, and sociopolitical attitudes and approaches.
Something in us wants certainty, demands the best possible fix on reality, experiences
discomfort unless we know for sure, insists on finally knowing the truth of what’s really out
there. Psychoanalytic theorizing, like the theorizing that preceded it in the natural and social
sciences, has followed this unyielding demand for certainty into the pursuit of the true nature of
mind—even though at this point in time it is widely understood that objective certainty, as it has
been sought in science is, in principle, an impossibility. The result is that the psychoanalytic
enterprise, after a century of clinical experience and theoretical elaboration, is an everexpanding,
tangled labyrinth of competing and contradictory truths and myths emanating from any number
of schools of thought—each religiously purporting in its own way to have a corner on the truth
of mental functioning. Lost in the burgeoning body of psychoanalytic work, however, has been
the essential epistemology and philosophy of science informing 20th-century thought that reveals
the basic psychoanalytic approach to knowledge expansion to be anachronistic and untenable.
Hedges (1983) set out to reformulate psychoanalytic psychology along lines that are more
compatible with a contemporary epistemology and philosophy of science—with the hope of
liberating psychoanalytic theory and practice from an obsolete 19th-century scientific paradigm.
My studies reorganize the central concepts of psychoanalytic practice—transference, resistance,
countertransference, and counterresistance—along the lines of progressively complex
internalized self-and-other relationship possibilities. This move makes it possible to
conceptualize an infinite set of individualized patternings of relational possibility that can be reconstellated in an endless variety of ways in the context of every psychoanalytic relationship.
With the potential data pool of psychoanalysis thus expanded to an infinity of relational
possibilities comparable to the expanded data pool of the other 20th-century sciences, questions
can (p. 458) then be entertained as to what perspectives on the forever elusive data of mind one
might choose to define, and for what purposes.
Paralleling the development of the listening perspectives approach has been another vigorous
set of studies aimed at understanding and working with clinical experience spawned by
Greenberg and Mitchell’s (1983) Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory. The relational
psychotherapy and psychoanalysis movement they inaugurated became sufficiently defined by
1999 for Mitchell and Aron to declare the clear emergence of a tradition stretching as far back as
Freud’s early mentors Charcot and Janet. It includes both Ferenczi (1932) and Reich (1945),
early disciples of Freud, and runs through the interpersonal school of Sullivan (1953) developed
chiefly at the William Alanson White Institute in New York and later New York University. By
January 2002 the First International Congress of Relational Psychotherapists and Psychoanalysts
was convened in New York City under the auspices of the Stephen F. Mitchell Center for
Relational Psychoanalysis. While the West Coast work of Ogden (1994, 2002), Stolorow et al.
(1987, 1992, 1994, 2002), Spezzano (1993), Oremland (1991), Renik (1993, 1995), Grotstein
(2000), and their colleagues has all along been integrated into the relational movement, it is only
since the publication of philosopher-psychoanalyst Orange’s (1995) work on the importance of
conceptualizing psychoanalysis in terms of perspectives rather than truths that increased interest
has been shown by relational theorists in the listening perspectives approach.
Listening Perspectives as Frames for Understanding Relational Experience
The listening perspectives approach aids in framing for analysis different qualities of
internalized interpersonal relatedness experience as they arise in the here-and-now cognitiveemotional-motivational matrix of the analytic relationship. Based on the work of Wittgenstein
(1953) and Ryle (1949), this philosophical and epistemological orientation has been elaborated
further in light of quantum and chaos theories (Hedges, 1992) and seeks to mitigate against ever
assuming or proceeding as if we know or understand with certainty anything that’s “really there!”
This approach represents a radical shift in the (p. 459) conception and perception of the
interpersonal relatedness experience itself that is seldom fully appreciated.
The listening perspectives approach abandons entirely the naïve view that we can ever
objectively consider how “things really are” or that the human mind can ever be studied as an
isolated unit separate from the biophysical, sociocultural, and intersubjective fields in which
human beings necessarily live. The perspectival view maintains that all we can ever do with any
degree of certainty is to generate systematically helpful points of view, perceptual angles, and/or
empathic stances from which to listen in order to frame (to experience in the broadest possible
sense) what people have to tell us and to the ways in which two people engage each other in the
analytic relationship. This way of approaching the psychotherapeutic situation encourages us as
professional listeners to experience ourselves as living human participants involved in a full
emotional relationship with someone endeavoring to experience, and to express in one way or
another, his or her life experience.
The listening perspectives approach further encourages us to formulate our work in terms of
theories that enhance listening and speaking possibilities within a living, breathing, here-andnow relationship, rather than theories that seek to reify or personify concepts or to capture the
eternal verities of existence or the true nature of the human mind as objectively defined and viewed in isolation. The four self-and-other relational listening perspectives that have evolved
out of more than 100 years of analytic research bridge across existing theories of the mind and
arise from the relatedness paradigm of psychoanalysis.
The Relatedness Paradigm
The self-and-other relatedness paradigm that has accompanied the widening scope of
psychoanalysis to include what have been called preneurotic or preoedipal relatedness structures
is characterized by six fundamental features formulated in diverse ways by different contributors.
The prioritization on relationship in the self-and-other paradigm marks six shifts in emphasis
from previous thought paradigms: (1) healing as a medical preoccupation gives way to
interpersonal consciousness-raising experiences; (2) purely objective (p. 460) science, long ago
abandoned as a way of thinking and working by “hard” scientists, now gives way in
psychoanalysis to a systematic study of subjectivity and intersubjectivity; (3) the search for
historical truth gives way to formulating interpersonal narrational truths; (4) the search for
empirical truths of the classic and relativistic scientific approaches yields to the quantum, chaos,
and complexity approaches of defining positions and stances from which to make observations
of happenings that interest us for various reasons; (5) defining the mythical nosological beasts of
descriptive psychiatry gives way to the formation of subjectively viable frames of reference (in
psychoanalysis formulated as theoretical perspectives from which to listen to subjective and
interpersonally constructed realities); and (6) a presumptive, a priori frame for studying the
psychoanalytic dialogue gives way to moment-by-moment variable frames and techniques for
focusing, sustaining, and studying the meaningful interactions of that exchange. We can no
longer afford to imagine that our accumulated wisdom is anything other than a series of ways of thinking or a set of ideas to orient us to human listening/relational situations.
The Four Relational Listening Perspectives
The number and ways of defining listening perspectives from which to study the transactions
of the analytic encounter is entirely open-ended and arbitrary. But a century of psychoanalytic
study suggests four distinctly different relational listening perspectives that have served the
purpose of framing self-and-other relatedness patterns that operate in the interpersonal field (or,
differently said, the constructions arising from the transference-countertransference matrix).
Traditional scientific-objective approaches prespecify in various ways the presumed nature of
psyche, what kinds of structures and contents an analytic observer is likely to see, and the ways
in which the analytic search for transference and resistance memories are best framed. A more
intersubjective-relational listening perspective approach simply defines an array of human
relatedness possibilities that could serve to frame, for mutual understanding, whatever
idiosyncratic narratives and narrational interactions emerge for observation in the course of the
relationship development. (p. 461)
Internalized relatedness patterns from the lived past of each participant (as well as novel
configurations emerging from the interpersonal engagement of therapy) will be an expectable
focus of discussion as the therapeutic relationship unfolds (Hedges, 1983, 1992, 1996, 2000b).
Emotional honesty and limited disclosure of affective experience on the part of the analyst will
be an expectable part of the emerging therapeutic relationship (Maroda, 1999). The
development of a personal creative style of relating that integrates, like postmodern art, a variety
of ideas and interventions into the specific therapeutic exchange will be another expectable
aspect of the emergent dialogue (Johnson, 1991). A multiplicity of ways of viewing and working together with the internalized patterns of both people, and the emerging configurations
of interaction characteristic of the couple, can also be expected (Stark, 1994, 1997).
The four listening perspectives that follow are based on developmental metaphors of how a
growing child potentially engages and is engaged by others in interpersonal interactions that
build internal habits, structures, or patterns of relational expectation. Differential framing secures
for psychoanalytic study the structures, patterns, configurations, and/or modes of internalized
interpersonal interaction that have characterized the past interactions of both participants and that
are transferred into and resisted conscious awareness and expression in the current mutually
developing psychoanalytic relationship. Listening perspectives thus formed do not represent a
developmental schema, but rather serve to identify a general array of relatedness possibilities
lived out each day by all people.
Relational psychotherapy and psychoanalysis rightly or wrongly have been repeatedly
criticized on the basis that there is little systematic attention to transference, resistance, and
countertransference in relational work. In contrast, the relational listening perspectives have been
explicitly defined for the purposes of bringing out the unconscious transference/resistance and
countertransference/counterresistance relatedness dimensions perennially at play in the analytic
The four listening perspectives are summarized in Tables 1 and 2 and Figure 1.1
1 The material in Tables 1 and 2 and Figure 1 is elaborated in considerable detail in Hedges
(1983, 1992, 1994a, 1996). (p. 462)
Table 1 summarizes the developmental metaphors used to describe the four distinctly different types of patterns of self-and-other relatedness to be listened for and responded to in the
evolving self-and-other transference-countertransference relatedness matrix of the analytic
Table 2 outlines the comparative features of each listening perspective in terms of the
traditionally held diagnosis, the developmental metaphor employed, the way the affects are
thought to be organized, the varieties of transference which are commonly expected, the ways
resistance and counterresistance are thought to manifest, the mode of listening and responding
believed to be most efficacious, the technical or therapeutic modality generally recommended
for this mode of transference/resistance experiencing, and the ways that countertransference
relatedness dilemmas are often perceived to arise.
Figure 1 shows the relationship between listening perspectives used to define transferencecountertransference-resistance and the features characterizing the intersubjective field, or
It is necessary to study these tables and figure in some detail to grasp the crucial importance
of framing different relatedness possibilities with different thought systems, or listening
Formulating in Terms of Listening Perspectives
The listening perspectives approach considers psychoanalytic concepts viable and valuable
only insofar as they are formulated specifically within a human listening (relational) context.
Psychoanalytic knowledge cannot be about a thing, the human mind, but rather exists as a body
of thought about how people are able to achieve mutually enlivening consciousness-raising
experiences in an emotionally alive and emotionally stressful (Friedman, 1988) relationship.Listening perspective III, for framing self-experience in relation to the psychological use of
selfothers for self-consolidation, has been the focus of Kohut (1971, 1977, 1984) and the self
psychologists, as well as Winnicott (1971). Listening perspective IV, for framing
psychologically independent relatedness in triadic self and other constancy experiences of the
oedipal period, has been the traditional focus for psychoanalytic thinking and so requires no
special attention here. (p. 463)
TABLE 1 Four Relatedness Listening Perspectives
I. The Organizing Experience
Infants require certain forms of connection and interconnection in order to remain
psychologically alert and enlivened to themselves and to others. In their early relatedness they
are busy “organizing” physical and mental channels of connection—first to mother’s body, later
to her mind and to the minds of others—for nurturance, stimulation, evacuation, and soothing.
Framing organizing patterns for analysis entails studying how two people approach to make
connections and then turn away, veer off, rupture, or dissipate the intensity of the connections.
II. The Symbiotic Experience
Toddlers are busy learning how to make emotional relationships (both good and bad) work for
them. They experience a sense of merger and reciprocity with their primary caregivers, thus
establishing many knee-jerk, automatic, characterological, and role-reversible patterns or
scenarios of relatedness. Framing the symbiotic relatedness structures entails noting how each
person characteristically engages the other and how interactive scenarios evolve from two
subjectively formed sets of internalized self-and-other interaction patterns.
III. The Self-Other Experience
Three-year-olds are preoccupied with using the acceptance and approval of others for
developing and enhancing self-definitions, self-skills and self-esteem. Their relatedness strivings
use the admiring, confirming, and idealized responses of significant others to firm up their
budding sense of self. Framing for analysis the self-other patterns used for affirming,
confirming, and inspiring the self entails studying how the internalized mirroring, twinning, and
idealizing patterns used in self-development in the pasts of both participants play out to enhance
and limit the possibilities for mutual self-to-selfother resonance in the emerging interpersonal
IV. The Independence Experience
Four-and five-year-olds are dealing with triangular love-hate relationships and are moving
toward more complex social relationships. In their relatedness, they experience others as
separate centers of initiative and themselves as independent agents in a socially competitive
environment. Framing the internalized patterns of independently interacting selves in both
cooperative and competitive triangulations with real and fantasized third parties entails studying
the emerging interaction patterns for evidence of repressive forces operating within each
participant and between the analytic couple that work to limit or spoil the full interactive
potential. (p. 464)
TABLE 2 Listening Perspectives: Developmental Frames or Modes of Inquiry
I. The Personality in Organization: The Search for RelatednessTraditional diagnosis: organizing personality/psychosis
Developmental metaphor: + or − 4 months—-focused attention versus affective
Affects: connecting or disconnecting, but often appearing as an inconsistent, generalized,
or chaotic clamor to a casual observer
Transference: connection versus disconnection, rupture, discontinuity, and disjunction
Resistance: to connections, to channels that are organizing or promise consistent bonds
Listening mode: connecting, intercepting, linking
Therapeutic modality: a focus on withdrawal, constriction, and/or destruction of links
that results from mutually connecting or from mutual engagement—interception
Countertransference: fear of intensity of psychotic anxieties that arise from
interpersonal and intrapersonal connections; withdrawal and defense
II. Symbiosis and Separation: Mutually Dependent Relatedness
Traditional diagnosis: borderline personality organization/character disorders
Developmental metaphor: 4-24 months—symbiosis and separation-individuation
Affects: split “all good” and “all bad”—ambitendent
Transference: replicated dyadic interactions or scenarios
Resistance: to assume responsibility for differentiating, for renouncing the scenarios
Listening mode: interaction in replicated scenarios, followed by standing against them
Therapeutic modality: replication and differentiation—reverberationCountertransference: participation in reciprocal mother and infant positions—a “royal
road” to understanding merger relatedness
III. The Emergent Self: Unilaterally Dependent Relatedness
Traditional diagnosis: narcissistic personality organization
Developmental metaphor: 24-36 months—rapprochement
Affects: dependent on empathy or optimal responsiveness of selfother
Transference: selfothers (grandiose mirroring, twinship, idealizing)
Resistance: shame and embarrassment over narcissism, narcissistic rage
Listening mode: engagement with ebb and flow of experiences of self-affirmation,
confirmation, and inspiration
Therapeutic modality: empathic attunement to self-experiences—self-to-selfother
Countertransference: boredom, drowsiness, irritation—facilitating
IV. Self-and-Other Constancy: Independent Relatedness
Traditional diagnosis: neurotic personality organization
Developmental metaphor: 36+ months—(oedipal) contingent triangulation’, competitive
Affects: ambivalence; overstimulating affects and repressed drives
Transference: constant, ambivalently held self and others
Resistance: to the return of the repressedListening mode: evenly hovering attention/free association/equidistance
Therapeutic modality: verbal-symbolic interpretation—interpretive reflection
Countertransference: overstimulation—generally an impediment or detraction (p. 465)
Figure 1. Listening perspectives and transformational relationships—the leading paradigm
of psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
In listening to people presenting personality features widely referred to as borderline or
various types of character structures, it is helpful to think in terms of a metaphor of internalized childhood symbiosis (listening perspective II), so that the demands of a tightly intertwined
internalized mother-child attachment or bonding dance can be called to the listener’s mind for
both passive and active (role reversal) transference and countertransference replication and
interpretation. Early mother-child experience has been conceptualized by Mahler (1968) as an
internalized character structuring that she calls symbiosis—not to be misconstrued as a
sociological notion. Over time, the internalized symbiotic experience has been formulated
variously by different theorists. For example, expanding Freud’s (1915) notion of turning passive
trauma into active victory in relationships, Anna Freud (1936) speaks of identification with the
aggressor as a way a child internalizes the parental role in relatedness. Klein (1952, 1957) speaks
of projective identification as a way of making early interpersonal internalizations known to the
analyst and available for study by the analytic couple. I speak of interactive character scenarios
(1983) and of interpreting the countertransference (1992, 1996) in such a way that in listening
perspective II the analytic listener often comes to experience and to speak for the child self of the
analytic speaker (see also Bollas, 1987). That is, not only are early (or preoedipal) self-and-other
interpersonal schemas or character scenarios internally represented in forms as they were
originally experienced, but their characteristic interactions are internalized in role-reversed forms
as well. Both passive (original) and active (role-reversed) representations of early relational
patterns appear in transference-countertransference replications. Replicated interactive forms
(symbiotic or character level) of transferences and countertransferences stand in sharp contrast to
those Kohut (1971) defines as selfother or narcissistic transferences and to those Freud (1924)
defines as oedipal or neurotic triangular transferences (Hedges, 1992, 1996).
Listening to Transference and Resistance Memories of the Organizing Experience
At the core of all personality functioning lies infantile experiences of environmental limitation. Listening perspective I provides a relational (p. 467) way of defining a variety of
transference and countertransference experiences metaphorically conceptualized as arising from
the infant’s relational disappointments and traumas during the earliest months of life. Modes of
organizing experience can also result from cumulative strain trauma (Khan, 1963) or from other
kinds of later focal traumas.
Metaphorically considered, from approximately four months before birth to four months after
birth, the infant is actively searching, reaching out in various sensory/motor/affective ways,
seeking to organize reliable physical and psychological channels to environmental sources of
safety, nurturance, stimulation, comfort, and evacuation. When an infant’s reaching is met in a
timely and pleasurable manner by the environment, that way of reaching is reinforced until it
gradually becomes a reliable channel for the development of mutually regulating symbiotic
scenarios (Hedges, 1983, 1992, 1996), for interpersonal-attachment internal working models, or
for bonding schemas (Bowlby, 1969; Schore, 1994, 2003; Siegel, 1999; Beebe and Lachmann,
But when, for whatever reason, the reaching is not met in a timely, satisfying manner or is
actively thwarted or traumatized, it is as if a sign were posted in the nascent neurological system
saying, “Never go there again. Never expect or reach out for relatedness in that way again.”
Difficulties in organizing experiences are conceptualized as foundational and universal, since no
early environmental situation ever perfectly meets any baby’s complete needs in the sought-after
or desired manner. The fragmenting experiences of reaching, not finding, and withering—or of
reaching, feeling injured, and constricting—are universal, and the impact of failed extensions
leaves a mark on our characters and our bodies in various ways (Johnson, 1991; Stark, 1994,
1997; Shapiro, 1995; Maroda, 1999, Grotstein, 2000).When needful and desirous extensions are not met in a satisfactory or timely manner or are
met with trauma or abuse, we observe what Fraiberg (1982) calls the predefensive reactions of
fight, flight, or freeze common to all mammals. We can observe in any mammal the terrified
frenzy followed by collapse that results when the warmth and nurturance of the maternal body
and mind cannot be found. These predefensive reactions to painful or frightening experiences set
up memory barriers along paths of possible interpersonal connections so that these paths are not
selected again or are employed only with caution and trepidation. Freud, as early as 1895, spoke
of these barriers as countercathexes. Tustin (1984, 1986) describes various kinds of (p. 468)
autistic and psychotic responses that develop when the needed/desired interpersonal (sensual)
connections cannot be established. Infant researchers describe many ways that early interaction
schemas develop or fail to develop that might lead to satisfying and satisfactory bonding,
attachment, or mutually regulated symbiotic interactions (Stern, 1985; Schore 1994, 2003;
Siegel, 1999; Beebe and Lachmann, 2002). Current studies in neuroscience specify the various
ways in which interpersonal relationships condition synapses throughout the neurological system
early in life—so that even central-nervous-system functions traditionally considered genetically
or constitutionally hardwired are increasingly being understood as products of our personal
relational histories (Edelman, 1993; Damasio, 1994, 1999, 2003; LeDoux, 1996, 2002; Pert,
1997; Edelman and Tononi, 2000).
In psychoanalytic situations of later life, these predefensive reactions can be studied as
organizing or psychotic transference and/or countertransference resistance to establishing basic
love, dependency, interdependency, or trust in relationships. Reviving the somatopsychic
memories or blocks to reaching out for love necessarily entails consciously reliving agonizing
primitive experiences in the here-and-now relationship with the analyst (Hedges, 1994a, b, c; Van Sweden, 1995). Contemporary neuroscientists support the notion that psychotherapeutic
relationship experiences actually function to recondition neuronal pathways (Edelman, 1993;
Damasio, 1994, 1999, 2003; LeDoux, 1996, 2002; Pert, 1997; Edelman and Tononi, 2000).
The central feature of Working the Organizing Experience (Hedges, 1994c) revolves around
the contact moment. The analytic listener’s first task is to sort through the often complex and
confusing reflexive and nonhuman content to determine where potential points of real and safe
interpersonal (cognitive-affective-motivational) connection may be possible. Then the analyst
learns to track the person’s movement toward contact moments that seem as inevitable as any
mammal searching for abreast. But somewhere just before, during, or immediately after
interpersonal contact, “something happens” to make contact or sustained connection impossible.
It is the specificity of the contact-rupturing experience that must be coaxed “out” or “forth” and
then framed for analytic study. The person’s internal, idiosyncratic way of rupturing contact is
understood as the organizing or psychotic transference/resistance and can be fruitfully studied in
the (p. 469) interpersonal setting of psychoanalysis. Resistance comes to be understood as the
person’s all-out efforts to avoid dealing with (a) the contact experience itself and/or (b) the
traumatic life-and-death somatopsychic terrifying transferences (Hedges, 2000b) that must be
relived if one is to sustain the connection and move toward growth-producing interpersonal
This listening tool of studying in vivo connections and disconnections during the course of
therapeutic hours is as useful for people living pervasive organizing experiences as it is for
people who may be much better developed in most ways but who need to explore some aspect of
early organizing experience in the course of their analysis.
Early environmental failures and traumas cannot simply fade harmlessly into the past unless something in the present replaces them or fills in the gap left by disruptive, failed, or traumatized
internalized relational experiences. Bromberg (1998) has studied these early developmental
phenomena in terms of the mechanism of dissociation and speaks of the developing capacity to
“stand in the spaces” between various dissociated aspects of one’s personality as the road to
psychological health. Stern (1997) specifies how psychoanalytic therapy permits heretofore
unformulated experiences to emerge into the here-and-now transference-countertransference
matrix, where conscious formulations at last become possible and the person recognizes
previously unknown or unrepresentable choices.
For this kind of work to succeed (i.e., for a cohesive self to develop de novo), Kohut (1984)
believes that the patient has to be willing and able to sustain long periods of prepsychological
chaos alternating with long periods of borrowing heavily from the personality of the analyst. The
terrifying organizing experience that has been internalized can only be fully brought for analytic
scrutiny when there is enough belief established that other ways of surviving the revitalized
internalized infantile trauma are possible within the analytic relationship. It is only within the
context of reliable analytic relational holding that a person dares to reexperience the terror of the
once-perceived life-threatening infantile traumas of the organizing period—which are still
silently and self-destructively alive in the personality. Only as the analyst offers a new and better
way of relating in the here and now can the ancient disconnecting traumas be relived and actively
relinquished in favor of actualizing in the analytic relationship more complex and flexible
relatedness modes (p. 470)
(Johnson, 1991; Hunter 1994; Stark, 1994, 1997; Shapiro, 1995; Van Sweden, 1995; Aron,
1996; Mitchell, 1998; Maroda, 1999; Grotstein, 2000). Elsewhere I have specified various
ways in which the organizing transference affects and gives rise to organizing forms of counter-transference (Hedges, 1994c, 2000b). I have also written extensively on how the organizing
transference often works to endanger therapists, giving rise to malpractice suits as well as ethics
and licensing board complaints (Hedges et al., 1997; Hedges, 2000b).
Three Case Illustrations
1. Fight in the Organizing Transference
The first case example is from a female therapist who has been treating a woman twice a
week for three years. An intense therapeutic relationship has developed. The client is a very
bright and sophisticated professional. She lives very comfortably in the everyday world but
suffers privately from what she refers to as a “multiple personality.” The most troubling switch is
when, without apparent reason, she goes into a rageful self. Her therapist sought a crisis
consultation after she got this telephone call after their last session: “I’m not coming in anymore
because there’s something wrong with our relationship.” The therapist inquired about the nature
of the problem. The patient replied, “I can tell you feel there’s something wrong with my
relationship with Naomi.” Naomi is a lesbian with whom the patient has developed an intimate
relationship. She continued, “You don’t think that it’s right, or you think there’s something wrong
with Naomi. There’s no point in our going any further so long as you think that way.” She was
angry, shouting at her therapist, and then she listed a number of other things, “You don’t listen
this way … and you’re not that way …”—a tirade of complaints and accusations.
Her therapist is in a state of shock, feeling she may never see her client again. She is not even
clear about what might have been said to upset her. She tells the consultant that her client is
basically not lesbian: she had three or four relationships with women, but ones in which she was
looking for soothing contact with a woman, possibly in order to feel mothered. She cannot
develop relationships with men because she does not know how to relate to men. She is confused and (p. 471) frightened by men. She has said various times that, even though she is having a
sexual relationship with a woman, she does not feel she is lesbian—she does not feel like other
lesbians. The client feels certain she is really not a lesbian. At one point the therapist had said, “I
really don’t think you’re a lesbian, either.”
I have reported extensively elsewhere (1994c) on this case and the two that follow, but for
present purposes we can see that the reflective comment the therapist made about her not really
being a lesbian is used by the client in order to accomplish a rageful disconnect. The therapist
reviewed the misunderstanding and learned from the episode that rage becomes the way of
accomplishing relationship ruptures when intimacy of certain types threatens. Of special interest
here is a screen memory in which the patient, who grew up in poverty conditions, witnessed her
mother have an abortion and flush the fetus down the toilet. The mother’s rage at having needy
children appears to have been one of the sources of the rageful disconnecting mechanism. In the
counter-transference, the therapist was able to report the passing fantasy of letting the patient go
because she promised to be so difficult.
This episode represents the patient’s first tentative foray into working the organizing
transference directly with her therapist, though a series of parallel transferences with friends had
been discussed extensively. Now the therapist has a clearer view of the nature of the
disconnecting transference replication. The organizing transference typically is worked through
in a series of waves or episodes. The therapist will be more prepared to act quickly next time to
deal with the disconnecting intent. The interpretation may be accomplished in the nonverbal or
preverbal way; the therapist stays with her in her rageful self and invites her to stay connected
and to live out her terror of being with the therapist together rather than to disconnect or rupture
the connection with rage.2. Flight in the Organizing Transference
The second example of organizing transference involves a female therapist who has been
seeing a client for three or four years. This client has been driving an hour and a half each week
to her appointment (”So there’s a long umbilicus,” the therapist says). The client has presented as
tenuous in her ability to maintain relationships. In the last (p. 472) six months she has talked
frequently about terminating therapy because of money and distance. She canceled her sessions
in bad weather and during the winter holiday rush. On several occasions the therapist has
empathically tried the following, “Well, okay, I can understand how busy you are and how far it
is. You have accomplished a number of things in therapy, so if you want to consider termination,
we can talk about that.” She has even suggested helping the patient find a therapist who was
geographically closer. But that all became taboo. The client was allowed to talk about
termination, but the therapist was forbidden to talk about it.
On the occasion in question, the client called during the Christmas holidays and, without any
warning, canceled all future appointments. Her therapist made several phone calls to contact her.
She sent a Christmas card. She did everything she could to reach out to her. The therapist
thought, “Well, maybe it’s best that she stop—and this is her way of stopping. Maybe I shouldn’t
pursue her.” In my view this laissez-faire attitude may be appropriate for listening to more
differentiated forms of personality organization but is clearly not empathic when working an
organizing transference in which the client cannot initiate or sustain connection and is frequently
compelled to break it through some form of flight. The therapist is an empathic and intuitive
woman who remained persistent in her attempts to restore the connection. They finally did
connect by phone, and the therapist discovered what happened. The client said, “In the last
session I was telling you about my friend Valerie, and you turned away. Then I knew you didn’t care for me, so there wasn’t any point in coming back.”
The consultant says, “She’s found a way to live out the organizing transference of mother
disconnecting and used the Valerie content to accomplish it. This is the window to the organizing
experience we are waiting for. We patiently wait for the moment in which the reenactment of the
turning away, the breaking of contact, the rupture of experience happens in the transference.” As
the case was reviewed, therapist and consultant located a number of such breaches in which the
client needed to flee the developing intimacy of the relationship.
The therapist was fired up with these ideas because they seemed to make sense and to
organize in her mind many past incidents. She is ready to talk to her client about all this right
away. The consultant cautioned her not to rush into verbal interpretations about something that is
perennially lived out nonverbally. The therapist tunes in (p. 473) quickly and says, “I feel like
where we’re at right now is both lying down in a playpen, and I have to wait for her to come to
me.” The consultant reminded her that the baby has to be allowed to find the breast, but it must
be available to be found—not somewhere in flight and not through talk. The transference to the
psychotic mother will be reenacted again and again, so there will be ample time to discuss what
is happening. But the therapist can use her new understanding to simply be with her client in new
ways. She was reminded of what she already knew from her studies of the organizing
experience: that abstract verbal interpretations per se will not touch this very early transference.
Interpretation at the organizing level must be a concrete activity, often manifest in some
token physical gesture, interpretive contact, or touch at the specific moment when the analytic
speaker is actually in the act of pulling away from contact, of (trans ferentially) creating a
rupture. Viable interpretation of the organizing transference often involves some form of actual,
physical, concrete reaching out by one person toward another to communicate, “I know you believe you must break off our personal engagement in this way now. But it is not true. As an
adult, you have the ability to stay here now with me and to experience your long-standing terror
of connectedness. How can you manage not to leave me now? Can we find a way to remain in
contact for just a few more minutes?”2 Clients needing to work on organizing experience terror
often deliberately (and perhaps wisely) conduct the early phases of therapy at quite some
distance from the therapist by spacing appointments far apart or arranging long and difficult
drives. They often sit at a distance from the therapist and talk about seemingly unrelated things.
They know that interpersonal closeness can only be experienced as traumatic. Thus, the
invitation to sustain contact must be cautiously offered and episodes of flight anticipated and
responded to appropriately.
2 All forms of physical contact have been avoided in traditional psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
However, it becomes clear that when the organizing rupture in contact is being actively lived out,
the client is in an extremely concrete state of mind, and adequate empathic contact may involve
token “interpretive touching” in the specific manner just suggested. Elsewhere, I consider the
many and complex issues involved in this concretized form of interpretation (Hedges, 1994a, c).
Kohut’s (1981) deathbed legacy involves just such interpretive touching. (p. 474)
3. Freezing in the Organizing Transference
In the third example of how organizing transference works, an emerging theme of an
otherwise very-well-developed woman has been related to the organizing period. This example is
from a much later working-through period of the analysis (with a male therapist) and occurs in a
personality much more capable of verbal abstractions than the previous two. The woman’s mother, during the baby’s early months of life, was afraid to pick her up for fear of “breaking”
her. The client actually believes she can recall her mother frequently lurking or hovering just out
of sight so she would not beg to be picked up. In transference she would often lie on the couch
absolutely motionless for long periods listening to the quiet sounds of the analyst breathing,
clearing his throat, or stirring in his chair. It has been discovered through several years of
intensive psychotherapy that there were many strengths this mother was able to stimulate in this
child, but at the deepest psychic level there remain connecting difficulties. The emergent theme
over several weeks to be reported was the analytic speaker’s rage that occurs on a fairly regular
basis in social situations when she knows that the person she’s interacting with can indeed do
more for her and be more there for her, but somehow flakes out. In short, her rage is mobilized at
people when they have potentially more to offer than in fact the person is actively living in the
In a key session she develops the theme further. Early in the marriage, she says, her husband
was far more warm, giving, and available than he is now, and she is angry that he is not more
available when she knows he can be. She becomes exasperated to the point of feeling utterly
helpless and frozen. By the same token, she indicates that what attracted her to a close friend was
that this other woman had so much to give. The friend is well-traveled and well-read. She is
alive, active, versatile, a good conversationalist, and much more. But, in a recent example, when
her friend had the flu and could not get out of bed to go to her son’s very first baseball game:
“Then I don’t see her any longer as what she could be or might be for me if she can’t [even] be
there for her own son. I become angry and disillusioned with her and withdraw into myself. Now
I know what has been bothering me so much lately about her in our relationship: too often she
cancels, flakes out, or blobs out when I know she doesn’t have to, when I know she has far (p. 475) more to give but is choosing not to. I become completely immobilized, frozen, in impotent
In the discussion of various examples that have occurred with her husband and her friend, she
said, “Now I’m finding that not only when I’m enraged at the other person for not living up to
their potential do I not get what they have to offer me, but I also see that when I’m enraged I am
totally unable to take in, to get, to make use of that which they can in fact offer me.” She
referenced some examples from previous transference experiences in therapy in which she, in
complaining bitterly about the therapist’s seemingly endless unavailability over the holidays and
weekends, was so preoccupied in her hours leading up to the holidays that she was unable to
make use of whatever good experiences might be possible in the sessions. Her comment is
“Something always happens.” The emphasis here is on the subjective statement of the
disconnecting experience being impersonal. It’s not “I’m disappointed with the other” or “The
other lets me down” or “The other fails to live up to his potential.” It’s “We’re interacting, and
then something happens, and the potential that is there isn’t being lived out, and I fall into a lost
state of sadness and grief, which is usually manifest in instantaneous but frozen rage.”
At this point in the session the client realizes she has lost or repressed a further insight
regarding her husband and friend that she was very excited about only a moment before when
she connected to it. But just as quickly as the insight came, it fled and she was very disturbed for
some time about having lost this insight. After a few thoughtful moments, she said, “It sounds
like a reason to break contact.” The therapist quickly replied, “No, it’s the way you break
contact.” The client then said excitedly, “That’s exactly what I lost. I was trying to formulate the
problem with my husband and my friend in terms of how I break contact, but I couldn’t quite get
there. If I’m always living in what a person could give me but isn’t, then several things happen: One, I have reason not to relate to them; two, I’m not relating to them at all but I’m relating rather
to my fantasy; and three, they do have something to give or I wouldn’t be relating to them, but in
my distress and frozen anger I’m completely missing what they have to give to me. I break the
contact by being sad and enraged, complaining about what I’m not getting.”
At this point she slowed down and indicated that she was emoting very deeply, that she felt
she’d reached a very profound point. “I know (p. 476) somehow that this can change my life if I
can finally get hold of it. If I can find some way of fully knowing about this, I will be able to
change many things.” Her therapist said, “It seems as though you have located the mechanism
regarding how the contact is broken and how it relates to the early experiences of your mother
who, much of the time, was there so that you knew full well what things she could provide. But
when she was preoccupied, or not willing or able to give, or frightened about how she might
harm you, she bowed out, leaving you stuck, knowing that she could give more but that she was
not giving it. No wonder she reports that you were such a good baby and slept a lot! The content
of the transference is ‘You could be giving me more, but you’re not.’”
”Now,” she continued, “I find I’m a little scared about knowing all this. Things keep clicking
in my mind—more and more examples. It’s like my whole life is built on this single mechanism.
No wonder I wasn’t happy when John, my supervisor, failed to tune in to me completely when I
knew he could. If I finally identify this, I may be able to change. I am excited, but I think I’m
mostly very scared. I think the scare is that I won’t remember this, I won’t be able to take hold of
it, I won’t be able to make it my own.” The therapist said, “No, the scare is that you will
remember it. You are in the process of deep change, and as you are changing you are coming
face to face with a terror you have avoided all your life. The terror of having to encounter a real
live person who has some good things to offer but who may not, for a variety of reasons, be willing or able to give fully in all areas. Sooner or later in every relationship you encounter this
situation, and it brings back the agonizingly sad and rageful reactions you had to your mother
during your earliest months of life. So you have been unable to continue relating or you have
given up the relating when the conditions are not met rightly. What you are scared of is actually
allowing yourself to negotiate the uncertainties of relationships and to survive the positive
possibilities as well as the painful disappointments which are bound to be a frightening and
powerful consequence of fully knowing and living out what you are now discovering.”
”I know you’re right,” she says.
Each of these three examples illustrates how the rupture of the organizing experience is
repeated in transference. In each instance, multiple interpretive possibilities exist. The decisive
moment of organizing transference interpretation is not visible in any of these examples—in the
first two because the relationship had not yet arrived (p. 477) there, and in the third because the
in vivo interpretations had already begun and the client was in a later stage of “owning” the
interpretative work (though she expresses fear of losing it). The presence of Fraiberg’s (1982)
three “predefenses” of fighting, fleeing, and freezing is suggested in these three case vignettes
and may be seen as the clients’ ways of achieving a rupture of contact in the relationship that, due
to transference projections, is threatening to become overstimulating.
Framing Cognitive-Emotional-Motivational Memories in Listening Perspective I
What has been shunned for ages as madness can now be understood as a universal human
experience traceable to the earliest internalized psychic experience of becoming terrifyingly
disorganized or traumatized in face of failed connections. The hallmark of the organizing
transference is a somatopsychic terror or horror that appears during experiences of interpersonal
affective linking or contact. The dread of connection relates to one’s personal history of reaching out cognitively-affectively-motivationally as an infant (or at an interpersonally significant later
time) and being received in a way that traumatizes to the point of refusing to reach out in that
way ever again.
The organizing transference is conceptualized here as a memory formation of the experience
of the traumatizing other, an internalized representation of the failure of environmental
responsiveness to be fully attuned to the self s real and immediate need states. Resistance is to
reexperiencing the transferential trauma that results from opening up in here-and-now relating
the long-closed channels of potential relational experience that once proved agonizingly
dangerous and terrifyingly life-threatening. Interpretation is necessarily relational (i.e.,
paraverbal and concrete), usually simply a timely being with an interpretive touch (physical or
emotional) that communicates the analytic listener’s awareness of the present contact and the
terrifying and/or painful urgency to flee, fight, or freeze. Interpretive work includes a coaxing to
stay fully present, to remain open to contact and connection, and the invitation to share the sense
of trauma and physical pain—trembling, twitching, itching, and reactive muscular constrictions
that necessarily accompany the opening of blocked (p. 478) somatopsychic channels in the early
cognitive-emotional-motivational memory structures studied in psychotherapy. The overlearned
or internalized tendency to repeatedly break off contact according to a style once experienced in
the personal primordial past (and often seen as psychotic, dissociative, autistic, or schizoid
symptoms in the present) can best be framed or perceived against a background that promotes
sustained contact between analytic speaker and listener.
The contemporary self-and-other relatedness paradigm in psychotherapy stands on new
philosophical, epistemological, and interactional ground when perspectives are systematically generated for listening and responding to (i.e., framing) various levels of relational complexity
possibility. This is especially evident when psychotherapy seeks to analyze the fundamental
approach to and retreat from cognitive-affective-motivational contact in the transferencecountertransference matrix. Organizing structures can be brought into the light of day and
relinquished by a dedicated speaker who is determined over time to learn not to retreat from
developing cognitive-emotional-motivational contact with the analytic listener—even in the face
of the disorientation, fragmentation, terror, and somatopsychic symptoms and pain that both
must in their own ways endure during the course of the analysis. The analytic listener who has
developed staying power through his or her own analytic work and who is willing to be sustained
by ongoing support from colleagues is in a position to hold steady and to coax connection—and,
in the process, to frame for analysis the transference and resistance structures that emerge to
block and/or rupture the interpersonal cognitive-affective-motivational exchanges that are
limiting psychological development in both participants.
Human bonding requires that two people be free to live a true, spontaneous, and very real life
with each other, despite whatever limitations and emotional stress (Friedman, 1988) the reality
of the analytic situation may place on them. Analyzing the organizing
transference/countertransference/resistance structures as somatopsychic memories clears the way
for human bonding or for what Searles (1979) has called the development of a therapeutic
symbiosis. Only the available internal and external resources of two people (p. 479) determine
whether or not a treatment process can be successfully formed and resolved.
Thanks to Jennifer Harper for reviewing this paper and offering helpful suggestions.
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Article Citation [Who Cited This?]
Hedges, L.E. (2005). Listening Perspectives for Emotional. Psychoanal. Inq., 25:455-483