How can psychoanalysis respond to the pandemic?

Berjanet Jazani

The COVID-19 pandemic was felt as a moment of interruption. Interruption of the continuation of enjoyment. The pandemic brought a variety of responses in each of us, all based on a subjective reality supported by an unconscious fantasy. Our everyday reality suddenly changed. The feelings we heard of in the psychoanalytic clinic ranged from fear to guilt to anguish. The fear of deprivation, of not having enough food and other essentials (toilet paper!), which corresponds to the Freudian oral drive; the fear of being restricted, limited or infantilised (the anal drive); the guilt of contaminating loved ones and others (which may point to an underlying desire to contaminate them), entailing avoidance and phobia of public places and people; or the anguish of not knowing what lay ahead for the subject. One analysand spoke to me of the unbearable shame she felt in her work place at being diagnosed with COVID-19. Many looked for an agent (the Other) who could be held accountable for the situation. Laying blame on certain groups of people was used as a way of tackling the guilt, and this even went as far as racist attacks, such as that on a Singaporean student in the West End of London in February 2020. The anxiety of not knowing what the future held or when the pandemic would go away was very present in the clinic, particularly in the first few weeks of the lockdown, and also as public places began to reopen a few months later.

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