The Critique of Regression: A Psychoanalytic Model of Irreversible Lifespan Development

This presentation will draw on Rizzolo’s paper, “The Critique of Regression,” which became one of the top ten read papers in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association in 2017, and on its sequel, “The Specter of the Primitive,” which recieved the JAPA prize for the best paper to appear the in Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association in 2018.  It will draw, in addition, on his forthcoming book from Routledge, also titled The Critique of Regression.

When we dream, Freud (1900) argued, we slip backwards from a world of conscious action into an unconscious realm of infantile memory and desire.  The residues of our waking life meet there with repressed primitive wishes capable of animating a dream.  “We may speak of dreams,” he wrote, “as having a ‘regressive’ character.”  Just as the dreamer regresses to childhood wishes, so too does the neurotic regress, in classical psychoanalytic theory, to the pursuit of fixed infantile motives.  The volatile, love-sick hysteric has, according to Freud, regressed to an Oedipal lust for her father.  The rigid obsessional has, by contrast, regressed further to the anal phase.  The mirror hungry narcissist, the demanding borderline, and the shy schizoid character have all returned, in self psychology and British object relations, even further to the earliest ruptures in infant-mother care.

Indeed the literature is peopled with character types dated to early childhood fixations and ruptures.  The characters themselves are easy to find in clinical practice.  The effort to provide an origin story for each of them gives rise, however, to two problems.  First, it sets up hypotheses that cannot be verified beyond the tautological reconstruction of the adult patient’s infancy.  The truth embodied in each character type gets lost in unresolvable speculation about early causality.  The stories tend, secondly, to be reductionist of life beyond childhood.  They miss the importance of later development and, with it, the emotional force of analyzing the here and now.

In this presentation, Gregory Rizzolo presents a selection of his published work on this clinical and theoretical problem.  He argues that, where we think we see returns, or regressions, to past stages of the lifespan, we in fact find the emergence of novel structures in subjective experience.  The work of human development is, from this perspective, a work of mourning in which we lose, internalize and keep re-working the residue of a past to which we never return. The traditional notion of regression, which supports the fantasy of a literal return, operates as an intellectual defense against the mourning process. To critique the concept is to address the defense and to confront the loss of past relationships and of past versions of selfhood inherent in development.


Gregory Rizzolo, LCPC is candidate in psychoanalytic training at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. His writing focuses on the intersection of psychoanalytic theory, epistemology and ethics. He has published recent work in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Psychoanalytic Psychology, and the International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology. He maintains a private practice in in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in Chicago

When & Where

Wednesday, March 06, 2019
6:00 – 8:30 pm

At ICSW: Downtown Chicago
401 S. State St.
Suite 822
Chicago, IL 60605

Registration & CEUs

Registration: $35.00

THIS EVENT IS AVAILABLE VIA LIVE STREAM – to stream this event, please complete registration and then contact Sebastién Beaudet.

Three Continuing Education Credits Available for LSW/LCSWs, LPC/LCPCs, et al.

The Institute for Clinical Social Work, License # 159-0000152, is an Approved Provider of Continuing Education Credits for the Illinois Department of Federal and Professional Regulation (IDFPR)


For questions or more information contact Shawna Jennings or 312-935-4234.