White, J: Ressentiment: Its Phenomenology and Clinical Significance


John White


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One of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most important contributions to philosophy and, I would suggest, to psychology is his description of the nature and creative potential of ressentiment. By ressentiment, Nietzsche refers to a specific psychological and emotional phenomenon: an intense, partially unconscious, and, in a sense, “structural” resentment, one which can become so potent and definitive an emotional force in the human psyche that it produces substantial deceptions in the person experiencing it, deceptions both about oneself and about the world. Indeed, according to Nietzsche, ressentiment is “creative,” in that it can both produce false moralities by means of an inversion of values, but simultaneously deform one’s experiences to the point that that value inversion is experienced as authentic and valid.

In this paper, I will argue that ressentiment, in Nietzsche’s sense, is an important and widespread clinical phenomenon. Indeed, I will suggest that what clinicians often describe simply as “anger” or “rage” is actually better understood as ressementiment and that this fact is important from a technical standpoint, since ressentiment has a definite essential structure, implying a definite approach to treatment. I will begin by offering a phenomenological description of ressentiment, with the help of phenomenologist Max Scheler. Though Nietzsche’s descriptions of ressentiment are helpful in certain ways, Scheler better articulates the nature of ressentiment phenomenologically and his analyses are far more useful clinically. Second, I will relate Scheler’s phenomenological descriptions specifically to Carl Jung’s understanding of the “feeling function.” The feeling function, according to Jung, is the locus of value experience; hence it is the primary locus also of ressentiment, as suggested by Nietzsche’s thesis that ressentiment creates deceptive and false value experiences. Finally, I will suggest some implications for treatment and some clinical examples.

Presenter Bio:

John R. White, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and licensed professional counselor in private practice in Pittsburgh PA as well as Scholar-in-Residence at the Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center in the Gumberg Library, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh PA. Dr. White was a philosophy professor for twenty-plus years prior to becoming a Jungian psychoanalyst, specializing in phenomenology, environmental philosophy, philosophy of history, and ethics. His forthcoming book examines the clinical concept of adaptation in Robert Langs and Carl Jung and is entitled Adaptation and Psychotherapy. Langs and Analytical Psychology.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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