Book: The hygge of psychoanalytic psychotherapy

Some new reflections on medical psychotherapy at this time of year that draws us to comfort and internal spaces …

The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ has captivated the British imagination. Pronounced runner-up word of the year, it seems a fitting counterpoint to the word ‘post-truth’ in first place: an apt response to the seismic political shifts of 2016. Hygge is difficult to translate: it is not a concrete entity, but something akin to a cozy, warm, and homely feeling, a sense of familiarity, a state of mind in which all psychological needs are in balance. The antonym of ‘hygge’ is ‘uhyggelig’, something that unsettles, disturbs, and hints at darker undercurrents that undermine the status quo.

We may think of psychoanalysis as uhyggelig: its exploration of the mind reveal unconscious beliefs, wishes, motivations, and feelings associated with sexual and aggressive impulses that are unacceptable to the conscious mind. Yet, although they disturb, these feelings evoke a strange sense of familiarity, that somehow they have been previously known. Freud captured this paradox in his 1919 essay The Uncanny translated from the German word ‘unheimlich’. Unheimlich is the opposite of ‘heimlich’, which means what is familiar and agreeable – something perhaps similar to hygge. Freud proposes that the uncanny’s power to disturb is precisely because “it is in reality nothing new or foreign, but something familiar and old”. For what is uncanny has in fact been always known: it is the projection of repressed infantile beliefs, fantasies, and impulses that have remained hidden in the unconscious but now come to light.

Read on here.


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