On foreclosure

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:07



Foreclosure may be regarded as a repeating fractal pattern found at many different levels. The reader is invited to consider how foreclosure has shaped and formed the subject that is you – and what has been left out of you.


The issue of psychological foreclosure, first introduced by Jacques Lacan, takes us deeply into the structure of certain mental health problems that cannot be understood merely in terms of trauma.

Lacan used the term ‘foreclosure’ to refer to a fundamental problem that he perceived in the structure of the mind of people he considered psychotic. He observed that in some people, there is a space in their mind where a father should be. The father is absent from the mind. An extensive paternal function, of boundary setting and limits, and of social and linguistic rules, is missing. The foreclosure of the paternal function can leave a person without clear internal coordinates and a compromised relationship with truth. A child who grows up under conditions where there is no-one occupying the role of fathering one is in danger of being trapped in a dyad with the mother, a relationship lacking adequate separation and boundaries – a claustrum from which there is no escape. This psychological catastrophe can be exacerbated if the mother actively repels or undermines anyone who could be in that fathering role and who might undermine her control of her child. Of course, the fathering one does not have to be the actual biological father but can be any consistently available person who can function as a third party between child and mother.


We can also think in terms of what is foreclosed from language – so that experiences cannot be spoken of or even thought about. It is important to distinguish foreclosure from repression. In the case of repression, the avoided material is there in the unconscious mind and makes indirect intrusions into language and dreams. By contrast, in the case of foreclosure, the material is not in the mind at all. It may instead be channelled into the physical body. From our perspectives in energy psychology, we might also hypothesise that foreclosed experiences may also appear in the body of a partner or in some other part of the social or physical environment.

Foreclosure can also be distinguished from dissociation – although it may occur alongside processes of both repression and dissociation. In dissociative states, particularly DID, information exists within the mind, but the mind is split into compartments with amnesic barriers between them.

For Lacan, a definition of trauma is an experience that cannot be captured and processed within the realm of language (the symbolic register). Many of the most disturbing experiences are of this kind. For example, sexual abuse of a child makes no sense to the child. It is a confusing experience for which the child has no words.

Experiences that are foreclosed from the symbolic register tend to reappear in the ‘real’ or as hallucinations (the register of images). Sometimes a traumatised child is forbidden to speak of what has happened. The event is barred from discourse. No-one in the family is allowed to speak of it, or think about it, or know anything about it. The disturbance will appear in the body or in seemingly incomprehensible behaviour.


A good example of foreclosure is found in the court system. In many instances a judge will determine what is admissible and what must be excluded from the discourse of the court. Often material that might otherwise be regarded as highly important is barred in this way. Such foreclosure can seriously affect the court and its jury's subsequent assessment of reality.


Two of the key tasks of early childhood are forming some kind of self-image and finding one’s place in the symbolic register – the latter being the capacity to situate oneself in answer to verbal questions regarding name, place of origin, parents, gender, age, religious and cultural identity, etc. This achievement of social ‘form’ means that whatever does not fit is discarded – rather in the manner that in bringing out an image from stone, a sculptor creates waste material. Thus, there is a cost to becoming socially human. Something is cut away from us. Whole groups and societies engage is this kind of foreclosure – the discarded material then reappearing in social disturbance. Note that foreclosure in this way is somewhat different from projection. In the latter, something unwanted or repellent is in the mind, but is in phantasy attributed to someone else – whilst in foreclosure certain qualities are fundamentally barred access. All human identities tend to be restrictive and illusory – and yet necessary for social functioning.


This concerns what people consider to be the nature of reality. We all form paradigms of reality, sets of rules concerning how reality operates and what we believe to be possible. As with other forms of foreclosure, this involves exclusion and discarding. If you try to describe an event to a person whose internal paradigm of reality cannot accommodate this event, he or she will look blank, or bemused, may mishear, or conclude you are confused. Similarly, a scientist may be inclined to view events outside his or her paradigm as ‘anomalous’ or based on false observations or imagination. What is foreclosed from paradigms of reality is essentially not seen.


Foreclosure may be regarded as a repeating fractal at every level of the universe. We may speculate it was a feature of the very formation of our universe. As the plasma and subatomic matter began to ‘form’, other material would be excluded from our realm. This would also apply at the level of life forms. The misshapen and discarded life forms are in certain ancient traditions called the Qliphoth. All these foreclosed forms may in certain scarcely comprehensible ways intrude and impinge on our realm.

Phil Mollon

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist