Feeling, Relating, Existing

On emotion and the human dimension

Whatever You Want

Behavioral compliance and perceptual accommodation are often intermingled.

In his groundbreaking work, Toward an Emancipatory Psychoanalysis (Routledge, 2010), Bernard Brandchaft distinguished sharply between behavioral compliance and perceptual accommodation. Whereas the former is conscious, the latter is an unconscious process in which one’s perceptual reality is altered to conform to that of a needed other. In perceptual accommodation, I see myself (and you) the way you see me (and yourself), in order to secure a needed bond with you. My subjective reality is unconsciously surrendered and is usurped by yours.

In lived experience, behavioral compliance and perceptual accommodation are often complexly intermingled, such that unconscious accommodation underwrites conscious compliance. This intermingling is illustrated beautifully in a song, Whatever You Want, written and performed by Vienna Teng (link to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUCAANqWxRE&feature=kp). The lyric, “Whatever you want, whatever you want, what ever you want is fine by me,” recurs throughout the song. “Whatever you want,” of course, indicates conscious behavioral compliance. “Is fine by me,” however, suggests that the protagonist is unconsciously altering her perception of her feelings about complying in accordance with what is required by the other. An even more chilling instance of perceptual accommodation appears in the song’s characterization of the protagonist as  “a dress wearing a face in the doorway.” The fire-setting at the end of the song illustrates Brandchaft’s contention that manic states and enactments can represent temporary liberation from the depressive shackles of unconscious accommodation.

Copyright Robert Stolorow 

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D. is one of the original members of the International Council for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, which stems from the work of Heinz Kohut.

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