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Regression

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French: régression

Sigmund Freud

Freud introduced the concept of regression in longing for a protective father,[1] and described The Interpretation of Dreams in order to explain the visual nature of dreams.

Basing himself on a topographical model in which the psyche is conceived of as a series of distinct systems, Freud argued that during sleep progressive access to motor activity is blocked, thus forcing thoughts to travel regressively through these systems towards the system of perception.[2]

He later added a passage to this section distinguishing between this topographical kind of regression and what he called temporal regression (when the subject reverts to previous phases of development) and formal regression. (the use of modes of expression which are less complex than others).[3]

Jacques Lacan

Lacan argues that the concept of regression has been one of the most misunderstood concepts in psychoanalytic theory.

In particular, he criticises the 'magical' view of regression, according to which regression is seen as a real phenomenon, in which adults "actually regress, return to the state of a small child, and start wailing."

In this sense of the term, "regression does exist."[4]

In place of this misconception, Lacan argues that regression must be understood first and foremost in a topographical sense, which is the way Freud understood the term when he introduced it in 1900, and not in a temporal sense.

In other words, "there is regression on the plane of [[signification and not on the plane of reality."[5]

Thus regression is to be understood "not in the instinctual sense, nor in the sense of the resurgence of something anterior," but in the sense of "the reduction of the symbolic to the imaginary."[6]

Temporal Regression

Insofar as regression can be said to have a temporal sense, it does not involve the subject "going back in time," but rather a rearticulation of certain demands:

"Regression shows nothing other than a return to the present of signifiers used in demands for which there is a prescription."[7]

Regression to the oral stage, for example, is to be understood in terms of the articulation of oral demands (the demand to be fed, evident in the demand for the analyst to supply interpretations).

When understood in this sense, Lacan reaffirms the importance of regression in psychoanalytic treatment, arguing that regression to the anal stage, for example, is so important that no analysis which has not encountered this can be called complete.[8]

References

  1. Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion, 1927c: SE XXI, 22-4
  2. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a: SE V, 538-55
  3. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a: SE V, 548
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 103
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 103
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 242
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.255
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 242