A symptom can generally be understood as an indication of the existence of something; a warning sign of a disturbance of some sort. The psychoanalytic symptom has a very different translation than that observed in other modalities such as medical or psychiatric. Within these modalities symptoms are usually met with an intent to eliminate via a diagnosis and treatment. A symptom/symptoms are usually identified by the patient, brought to the doctor or practitioner and then are addressed by finding a ‘cure’ with a view to removing the symptom.  So how does this differ to the psychoanalytic handling of the symptom? Psychoanalysis discovered that symptoms which cause an individual to suffer go beyond being the result of something medical. Furthermore, even when there is a medical or physical symptom present, there will always be an unconscious component being expressed via this symptom.

Symptoms then can be understood as revealing an unconscious meaning for the subject, and each specific form the symptom takes occupies a specific function for the individual. This can be experienced as confusing because often symptoms bring suffering. They cannot be made sense of by the individual and so they might begin to experience them as “foreign” to themselves. This is because the individual is not conscious of what their symptom means for them; it is hidden. This hidden, unconscious meaning is the subject’s unique ‘truth’. This symptom is created by the subject as a way to give expression to the unconscious meaning that is itching to get out. Their symptom then acts as a vessel in which the suffering of the individual is expressed through. On a conscious level, the individual will want the suffering to end and so will seek its disappearance as soon as possible. Yet on an unconscious level, there is a knowledge that has not been accepted by the subject which ultimately has found other means to make itself known.  That is why simply treating the symptom as something that needs to be eliminated will ultimately fail because although the symptom itself may go away, the unconscious meaning that caused it will find other symptom/s to manifest itself upon.

Maybe it is worth questioning whether your symptom/s are trying to tell you something. Perhaps there could be more to it than you think.

Nadia Paruk