Emotional Disturbance, Trauma, and Authenticity: A Phenomenological-Contextualist Psychoanalytic Perspective

In Kevin Aho (ed.), Existential Medicine: Essays on Health and Illness. London, UK: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 17-25 (2018)

Robert D. Stolorow
University of California, Riverside (PhD)
The psychiatric diagnostic system, as exemplified by the DSM, is a pseudo-scientific framework for diagnosing sick Cartesian isolated minds. As such, it completely overlooks the exquisite context sensitivity and radical context dependence of human emotional life and of all forms of emotional disturbance. In Descartes’s vision, the mind is a “thinking thing,” ontologically decontextualized, fundamentally separated from its world. Heidegger’s existential phenomenology mended this Cartesian subject-object split, unveiling our Being as always already contextualized, a Being-in-the-world. Here I offer a critique of studies in “phenomenological psychopathology” that presuppose the validity of the psychiatric diagnostic system and leave it unchallenged. In this vein, I contend that all emotional disturbances are constituted in an indissoluble context of human interrelatedness. Specifically, I claim that all emotional disturbances, including those objectified by the DSM, take form in relational contexts of severe emotional trauma. There are no psychiatric entities, only devastating contexts. Additionally, I show that Heidegger’s analyses of Angst, world-collapse, uncanniness, and thrownness into Being-toward-death provide extraordinary philosophical tools for grasping the existential significance of such contexts of emotional trauma. Applying Heidegger’s concept of authenticity, I suggest that emotional health entails an ease of passage—i.e., an absence of dissociation—between the world of trauma and the world of everydayness.
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