Goodwill is not a term commonly used in psychoanalytic discourse. Goodwill has the opposite effect of shame. While shame limits the recognition of positive intent and experience and curbs inquiry, goodwill is open to the positive and to further exploration. Clinically, the absence of goodwill on the part of a patient toward those with whom he associates is a serious failing. Failure to approach others with goodwill leads a reduction of positive experiences, invites others to be wary and oppositional, and results in a deprivation of the sense of self. A major source for the development of goodwill in a person’s approach to his endeavors with others emerges from experiences central to the attachment, affiliative, sensual-sexual, and exploratory motivational systems. Do the parents contain and work out their inevitable frustrations with the child, other children, and with each other? Or is family life characterized by arguments, disrespect, scolding, shaming, and disdain? Do the parents listen with open minds and give each other and their children the benefit of the doubt, or do they jump immediately to assumptions of negative intent?
In analysis, an analyst’s goodwill is more than her technical skill, dedication, emphatic listening, and openness to relate. What more? The analyst seeks and responds to aspects of the analysand’s intentions that can be respected and affirmed. This openness of an analyst to welcome what she can affirm and support must be present when the analyst decides to accept the person as an analysand. Then, expectations based on goodwill can expand as more and more aspects of the analysand’s improvements are recognized. The explicit recognition of adaptive changes brought about by the treatment are reflected by implicit changes in the ambiance between analyst and analysand. Implicitly, the analysand can feel she wants the analyst to see, recognize, and help her with her problems. But even when immersed in conflicts and maladaptive choices, the analysand implicitly wants the assurance of the analyst’s goodwill - the readiness to see him as a worthy, caring human being, a person who exhibits positive intentions and goals even when conflicted and antagonistic. Does an expanding optimistic underlying affect tone lead the patient to expect that her intentions are likely to be accepted by others? Or that the problems that emerge will be approached with efforts to come to an acceptable solution?
In the beginning of his analysis, Mr. G began many of his sessions by saying things such as “You’re not going to like what I did”; “You’ll think I shouldn’t have sent the email to my daughter about her spending.” If I picked up on his uncertainty about an action he had taken, he would begin to berate himself in a fashion that mirrored the exaggerated, hysterical tone of his mother or the finger-wagging put-downs of his father. Although very knowledgeable, he was reluctant to attend social gatherings because he would assume that he had nothing to say that would interest someone until he was greeted with a reassuring, warm welcome. He would find a negative in any of my interventions - wasting his time, his money, failing to see what he had done wrong. He saw his sadness as just a plea for pity that he did not deserve. Stated differently, he had no goodwill for himself, or for my efforts to help him, and for a long time he did not experience goodwill from me. All he could hope for was pity. As we worked with the negative assumptions, Mr. G began to establish a small number of relationships in which the positive regard for his intentions - a manifestation of goodwill - could come to the fore. This shifting pattern was reflected in the ambiance between us, and Mr. G began to openly value the sessions and miss them during absences. A shift in underlying affect tone was reflected in a lessening of desperation and his prior addictive use of alcohol. More situations in his life were approached with an implicit assumption that goodwill would be present.