Back to contents
Number 12: Summer 2016

Transference Anxiety and the Failure of Our Fathers

Paul Verhaeghe

Anxiety in Relation to the Desire of the Other 

Anxiety then, is the affect that we may experience during these processes. In neurosis, the most well known anxiety is that of not being able to answer the desire of the Other, of not being good enough to fill in his or her lack. The consequence is that the Other leaves us, the dreaded Veut-il me perdre, does he want to get rid of me? (Lacan, 1994 [1964]): 214). For Lacan, this is central, both in the becoming of the subject and accordingly in transference. Less well-known is the anxiety of being the perfect fit to answer the lack of the Other. The dreaded consequence here is that we disappear into the Other. The first version is typically hysteric; the second one is typically obsessional-neurotic; both of them determine the transference in a particular way. For a neurotic subject, the start of an analysis implies a confrontation with the desire of the Other; the analysis is experienced as a test with a predictable result. The prediction derives from the basic fantasy of the subject, meaning his or her basic anxiety concerning his or her ability to meet the desire of the Other. In the well-known case of hysteria, that result is failure; whatever the hysterical subject brings to the analysis, she will consider it not good enough. If the analysis fails to produce the expected results, the hysterical subject (be it the analyst or the analysand) takes the blame; it is yet another illustration of personal impotence. In the less well-known case of obsessional neurosis, the predictable result is failure as well, but this time for the other (again, be it the analyst or the analysand). The obsessional subject produces exactly what is demanded but does not involve herself, thus demonstrating the impossibility of satisfaction.

For both the hysterical and the obsessional neurotic, the transferential affect at work is anxiety, either the hysterical anxiety of being not good enough resulting in rejection and separation, or the obsessional-neurotic anxiety of being far too good resulting in incorporation and alienation.

My transferential anxiety of three decades ago is the same anxiety as the one experienced by my neurotic patients today. The anxiety that I experience today is different – at least that is what I think – and is caused by the ultimate impossibility of analysis as such, because of the position that is ascribed to me, as an analyst.

The first transferential anxiety is easy to explain, it is the bread and butter of our clinical practice. The second one is a lot harder to understand. Today, this is all the more the case, because something has changed in the position that is ascribed to us. This change is not an isolated one, on the contrary, it is taking place at the level of the society as such, and it has to do with the contemporary Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the Gods – to be more specific, the twilight of the fathers and the disappearance of patriarchy. Before going into that, I will present a description of the first transferential anxiety, the neurotic one. At the same time, this will be an evaluation of Freudian analysis.