Brief exposition of existential psychoanalysis

by Sutton
by Sutton

The essential goal of existential psychoanalysis (EPA) is its emphasis on a person’s fundamental project. This project is not to be confused with Sigmund Freud‘s libidinal cathexis, nor is it Martin Heidegger‘s sein zum tode. Nonetheless, the method of EPA is quite similar to Freud’s, where there is an attempt to look past the complementary or secondary aspects of the person’s personality, and towards the primary project. What the EPA differs from Freud is the nature of the project: for Freud, the project is located within a libidinal attachment, which itself is constituted and determined by the person’s past history. The EPA expert increases the framework of explanation to include the future projects of the person as well. The fundamental project (FP) is explained in the context of the person as an temporal being; one that includes the unity of the past, present & future.

The basic nuance of the concept of FP is the “desire to be.” Although it is impossible to advance much further than the concept of existence, but by reaching this far, the person has gotten away from the naive empiricist assumptions of behavior. The goal of FP, this “desire to be,” is to achieve the impermeability, solidity, and infinite density of brute existence. Human consciousness perpetually strives towards an ideal, and this ideal is to be the very foundation of its own existence. To be conscious is always to desire, and the fundamental desire is to strive and become the foundation of the existence of one’s own consciousness. This ideal is also recognized as God. Therefore, the most simple expression of the fundamental project of all human beings is the desire to be God. Since the ontological concept of God is a existential contradiction – to strive after this ideal the self must also destroy itself as a conscious entity – the fundamental desire to give birth to God will always be a failure. The person must resign himself to the fact that his/her fundamental project is doomed to a “useless passion.” As I’ve already said, fundamentally, to be human is the desire to be God, and I think this needs to be expanded in more detail.

The desire to know everything aims at omniscience. The fear of death is conversely the desire for immortality. The desire for power leads to omnipotence. The yearning for romantic love resolves in self-completion or perfection. Therefore, the endpoint of all our desires is to be a perfect being, the figure of God who has no desires because he does not lack anything. This means the ultimate desire is to stop desiring, stop lacking, stop being incomplete.

There are three kinds of desires: the empirical one where you just want to browse the Internet during work. You have a number of different desires that form a unified whole, and that collection makes up a totality: that is your fundamental, overall desire as a person. Your particular desire to read or participate online is a part of your desire to lead a particular life, to be a certain person. In addition, your fundamental desire is one expression of a general desire of existence, and that shows up as a manifestation of a person of your gender, nationality, century, family, background, etc.

Within this hierarchy you can interpret even the most immediate desire, such as your preference to home in on certain websites, as an aspiration for divinity within a specific historical situation. This way a person’s taste are not confused as necessarily irreducible givens. As long as you know how to question them, these desires will reveal the fundamental projects of the person.

The final step in the EPA explanation of human action is to interpret them as choice. Conventionally, most theories of human behavior attempt to derive an act or a symptom from instinct or some fundamental motive (libido or will to power), but for EPA, the ultimate cause of any human act is an individual and concrete choice. All and any other attempt to identify human activity with a general cause is at best suspect. For example, Freudian psychoanalysis, despite its goal to free the patient, only reduces the patient’s behavior to a causal result of earlier environmental influences. Since the explanation behind an instance of behavior cannot be a mechanical account for, say, how erotic energy became identified or attached with an particular object, then the final explanation must view the person as a being who chosen his/her symptoms as a solution to the problem of WHAT TO BE. Sexuality is one of the several ways of how human consciousness strives to realize or recognize itself. If sexuality is seen as only one of the ways we act out what it is to be, then this shifts away from the Freudian emphasis on sexuality as the ultimate ground of explanation. However, despite the existence of several existential psychologists, like Sartre said, EPA has yet to locate its Freud.

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