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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Importance of Capacities in Psychoanalysis and the Language of Human Development

The author explores the human capacity to contain or hold experience - for self and other - by analyzing the word capacity itself. Underlying the discussion is the proposition that hidden in the word capacity is a particular perspective on mental mechanisms fundamental to object relations theory and that specific consideration of the word may, therefore, add to an understanding of these mechanisms. The paper suggests that the term may have entered the language of psychoanalysis 'by mistake'. It then looks at its meaning in terms of its etymology, grammatical 'flavour', metaphorical significance, and conceptual use, in particular by Bion and Winnicott. It is argued that psychoanalysis is part of, and makes a significant contribution to, a long tradition of learning from experience, in which development is understood as the progressive emergence or evolution of capacities. The underlying meaning of the word suggests that development is expansive rather than linear, step-by-step or cyclical (unlike, for example, stage, level, phase, position or loop). The article suggests that the notion of capacities may provide a framework for applying insights from the theory and practice of psychoanalysis in other organisational and societal contexts.