Psychoanalysing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan: On and Off the Couch, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Psychoanalysing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan

On and Off the Couch, 1st Edition

By Stephanie Swales, Carol Owens


148 pages

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Taking a deep dive into contemporary Western culture, this book suggests we are all fundamentally ambivalent beings. A great deal has been written about how to love - to be kinder, more empathic, a better person, and so on. But trying to love without dealing with our ambivalence, with our hatred, is often a recipe for failure. Any attempt, therefore, to love our neighbour as ourselves - or even, for that matter, to love ourselves - must recognise that we love where we hate and we hate where we love.

Psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud, has claimed that to be in two minds about something or someone is characteristic of human subjectivity. Owens and Swales trace the concept of ambivalence through its various iterations in Freud and Lacan psychoanalysis in order to question how the contemporary subject deals with its ambivalence. They argue that experiences of ambivalence are, in present-day cultural life, increasingly excised or foreclosed, and that this foreclosure has symptomatic effects at the individual as well as social levels. Owens and Swales examine ambivalence as it is at work in mourning, in matters of sexuality, and in our enjoyment under neo-liberalism and capitalism. Above all, the authors consider how today’s ambivalent subject relates to the racially, religiously, culturally, or sexually different neighbour as a result of the current societal dictate of complete tolerance of the other. In this vein, Owens and Swales argue that ambivalence about one’s own jouissance is at the very roots of xenophobia.

Peppered with relevant and stimulating examples from clinical work, film, television, politics, and everyday life, Psychoanalysing Ambivalence breathes new life into an old concept and will appeal to any reader, academic or clinician with an interest in psychoanalytic ideas.


"Covering everything from Aristotle to zombies to Breaking Bad, Carol Owens and Stephanie Swales have written a masterpiece unlocking the secrets of ambivalence. In Psychoanalysing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan, they demonstrate that ambivalence is perhaps the central category in social relations. The need for this book is especially urgent today, in an era characterised by its various ways of refusing ambivalence, which are, Owens and Swales make clear, ways of refusing the price of interacting with others altogether. Psychoanalysing Ambivalence with Freud and Lacan speaks to the contemporary political catastrophe better than any book I’ve read." –Todd McGowan, Professor, University of Vermont, USA

"Exceptionally wide-ranging, deeply learned and laugh-out-loud funny, this book demonstrates how much psychoanalysis still has to offer when it comes to destabilising our contemporary glorification of strong, stable, and unequivocal rationalities. Yet for all its insistence on the inexorability of ambivalence, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to feel ambivalent about what Swales and Owens have done. Feel confident, stand firm and commit yourself wholeheartedly to this book. You shall be rewarded with countless redemptive questions about all that is dear to you." --Dany Nobus, Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology, Brunel University London

Table of Contents


About the authors


  1. The tensions of ambivalence
  2. Why the zombies ate my neighbours
  3. Raising the dead: mourning and ambivalence
  4. On letting the right one in: Heisenberg and vampires
  5. Guilty secrets (Walter White, Walter Mitty, and the manosphere)
  6. Guilt, shame, and jouissance (and by the way, why your superego is not really your amigo…)
  7. Extimacy, ambivalence, xenophobia
  8. The jouissance of ambivalence: we are not racists, but…



About the Authors

Carol Owens, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and clinical supervisor in private practice in North Dublin, Ireland. She is the founder of the Dublin Lacan study group. She was editor of The Letter: Perspectives on Lacanian Psychoanalysis from 2003-2007. She is co-editor of Lacanian Psychoanalysis with Babies, Children and Adolescents (with Stephanie Farrelly-Quinn), published by Routledge in 2017. She is co-editor of Studying Seminars IV and V: From Lack to Desire (with Nadezhda Almqvist), published by Routledge in 2018. She is the series editor at Routledge for the series, Studying Lacan’s Seminars. She has published articles and book chapters in the field of Lacanian psychoanalysis, and at its junctures with critical psychology, queer theory, film theory, cultural studies and critical management theory.

Stephanie Swales, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Dallas, USA, a practicing psychoanalyst, a licensed clinical psychologist, and a clinical supervisor located in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder of the Dallas/Fort Worth area Lacan Study Group, recently served as the president of the Dallas Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology and is on the executive board of the Dallas Postgraduate Program in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Her first book, Perversion: A Lacanian Psychoanalytic Approach to the Subject, was published by Routledge in 2012. She is also the author of numerous articles and book chapters on the theory and practice of Lacanian psychoanalysis - in some cases as it intersects with critical psychology and cultural studies.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health