A symbolic world is roughly equivalent to a perspective, “a particular manner of construing the world” (Geertz, 1973, p. 110). Religion, politics, and psychoanalysis can operate as symbolic worlds. Psychoanalysis, for example, as a lifenarrative, has its own version of the human condition and its own idea of what the “good life” (or flourishing one) is and how to achieve it (and different theories of psychoanalysis have divergent versions of the human condition, what constitutes psychopathology and treatment). Perhaps most important, psychoanalysis has its own notions about how to effectively assimilate the emotionally dissonant experiences of life, including suffering and death, “into a comprehensive explanation of reality and human destiny” (Berger & Berger, 1972, p. 352). In a certain sense, those who seek out psychoanalysis are attracted to its “vision of reality,” to the system of meaning and metaphor that it promulgates (Schafer, 1976, p. 22). Sounding somewhat like an Evangelical Christian who has “seen Jesus,” Michael Eigen declared in his book Faith, “For me, psychoanalysis breathes. I am a psychoanalytic person ... [Regarding Guntrip’s work] I felt a positive sense of shared values and vision enabled enough to happen to make it more than worthwhile—a gift to us” (2014, p. 40, 39).
In an extreme situation, especially as it applies to concentration camp inmates, an individual feels deprived of any close, affirming, and need-gratifying personal relationships. Deprived of hope, he feels utterly powerless in relation to those in authority, and fears that the extreme situation is inescapable and interminable (Bettelheim, 1979, pp. 112—126). In other words, the extreme situation can be equated with the radical subversion of a person as a consequence of the loss of his world. For Buber, suffering is also equated with the loss of one’s world, that is, it can be an agonizing, insoluble riddle of life for the believer in a living God: “When God seems to withdraw himself utterly from the earth and no longer participates in existence,” when “the space of history is full of noise but empty of divine breath,” this “eclipse of God,” this sustained hiddenness, makes living nearly impossible (Friedman, 1986, p. 150). What is impossible, says Buber, is the feeling of “radical forlornness” rooted in a felt “distance from God, a void of God, this being the “anthropomorphic image” only “granted to us” (speaking about rather than to God) (Lawritson, 1996,pp. 302,305). Marcel, too, viewed suffering as a radical subversion of one’s world: “In all suffering, I risk becoming self-centered and thus locking myself up in despair” (1984, p. 201). Moreover, “suffering and evil” “resists all attempts at integration or absorption into an intelligible system,” thus leaving the person feeling the utter thrownness of existence (ibid. p. 368). It is this “impossibility of retreat” and “being cut off from every living spring” that characterizes suffering, especially physical suffering, says Levinas (1969, p. 238).7 Many analysands frequently feel as if they are in something of an extreme situation, real or imagined.