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resistance (rÈsistance) Freud first used the term 'resistance' to desig-

nate the unwillingness to recall repressed memories to consciousness. Since

psychoanalytic treatment involves precisely such recollection, the term soon

 came to denote all those obstacles that arise during the treatment and interrupt

its progress: 'Whatever disturbs the progress of the work is a resistance'

(Freud, 1900a: SE V, 517). Resistance manifests itself in all the ways in

which the subject breaks the 'fundamental rule' of saying everything that

 comes into his mind.
     Though present in Freud's work from the beginning, the concept of resis-

tance began to play an increasingly important part in psychoanalytic theory as

 a result of the decreasing efficacy of analytic treatment in the decade 1910-20

(see [NTERPRETATION). As a consequence of this, ego-psychology placed increas-

ing importance on overcoming the patient's resistances. Lacan is very critical

of this shift in emphasis, arguing that it easily leads to an 'inquisitorial' style of

psychoanalysis which sees resistance as based on the 'fundamental ill will'

(Sl, 30) of the patient. Lacan argues that this overlooks the structural nature of

resistatice and reduces analysis to an Imaginary dual relation (see E, 78; Ec,

333ff). Lacan does accept that psychoanalytic treatment involves 'analysis of

resistances', but only on condition that this phrase is understood correctly, in

the sense of 'knowing at what level the answer should be pitched' (S2, 43). In

other words, the crucial thing is that the analyst should be able to distinguish

between interventions that are primarily orientated towards the Imaginary and

those that are orientated towards the Symbolic, and know which are appro-

priate at each moment of the treatment.

     In Lacan's view, resistance is not a question of the ill will of the analysand;

resistance is structural, and it is inherent in the analytic process. This is due,

ultimately, to a structural 'incompatibility between desire and speech' (E,

275). Therefore there is a certain irreducible level of resistance which can

  never be 'overcome'; 'after the reduction of the resistances, there is a residue

which may be what is essential' (S2, 321). This irreducible 'residue' of

resistance is 'essential' because it is the respect for this residue that distin-

guishes psychoanalysis from SUGGESTION. Psychoanalysis respects the right of

the patient to resist suggestion and indeed values that resistance; 'When the

subject's resistance opposes suggestion, it is only a desire to maintain the

subject's desire. As such it would have to be placed in the ranks of positive

transference' (E, 271).

     However, Lacan points out that while the analyst cannot, and should not try

to, overcome all resistance (S2, 228), he can minimise it, or at least avoid

exacerbating it. He can do this by recognising his own part in the analysand's

resistance, for 'there is no other resistance to analysis than that of the analyst

himself' (E, 235). This is to be understood in two ways:

      1. The resistance of the analysand       can only succeed in obstructing the
  treatment when it responds to and/or evokes a resistance on the part of the

analyst, i.e. when the analyst is drawn into the lure of resistance (as Freud was

drawn into the lure of Dora's resistance). 'The patient's resistance is always your

 own, and when a resistance succeeds it is because you [the analyst] are in it up to

your neck, because you understand' (S3, 48). Thus the analyst must follow the

rule of neutrality and not be drawn into the lures set for him by the patient.

     2. It is the analyst who provokes resistance by pushing the analysand: 'There

is no resistance on the part of the subject' (S2 228). '[R]esistance is the present

  state of an interpretation of the subject. It is the manner in which, at the same

time, the subject interprets the point he's got to. . . . It simply means that he

[the patient] cannot move any faster' (S2 228). Psychoanalytic treatment

works on the principle that by not forcing the patient, resistance is reduced to

the irreducible minimum. Thus the analyst must avoid all forms of suggestion.

     The source of resistance lies in the ego: 'In the strict sense, the subject's resistance is linked to the register of the ego, it is an effect of the ego' (S2, 127). Thus resistance belongs to the Imaginary order, not to the level of the subject; 'on the side of what is repressed, on the unconscious side of things, there is no resistance, there is only a tendency to repeat' (S2, 321). This is illustrated in SCHEMA L; resistance is the Imaginary axis a-a' which impedes the insistant speech of the Other (which is the axis A-S). The resistances of the ego are Imaginary lures, which the analyst must be wary of being deceived by (see E, 168). Thus it can never be the aim of analysis to 'strengthen the ego', as ego-psychology claims, since this would only serve to increase resistance.

Lacan also criticises ego-psychology for confusing the concept of resistance with that of DEFENCE. However, the distinction which Lacan draws between these two concepts is rather different from the way in which they are distinguished in Anglo-American psychoanalysis. Lacan argues that defence is on the side of the subject, whereas resistance is on the side of the object. That is, whereas defences are relatively stable Symbolic structures of subjectivity, resistances are more transitory forces which prevent the object from being absorbed in the signifying chain.


Psychoanalysis understands resistance as something that stands in the way of the progress of analytic work during treatment. The term appeared for the first time in Sigmund Freud's writings in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), where he reported—in connection with the case of Lucy R.—how he had given up testing the degree of hypnosis of his patients because "this roused the patients' resistances and shook their confidence in me, which I needed for carrying out the more important psychical work" (p. 108). During his treatment of...