What Does It Mean to Feel Like You Have Nothing to Say?
Three meanings of a common refrain.
Posted August 24, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- In the context of psychoanalysis, the patient’s feeling that they have nothing to say is often an indication of transference feelings.
- Sometimes the feeling that you have nothing to say is a defense against something you do not want to say.
- Feeling you have nothing to say is sometimes a sign of projection.
Patients in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis often complain that they have nothing to say.
Feeling you have nothing to say is a feeling. It does not mean you have nothing to say.
Exploring this feeling with patients usually opens up important aspects of transference.
Karen often says she has nothing to say during a therapy session.
“I have nothing to say," she recently told me.
"That’s fine,” I responded, “why don’t we wait and see what comes to mind.”
Karen said, “I’m afraid I’ll just lie here saying nothing all session.”
“When you feel like you have nothing to say,” I asked, “is your mind blank, or are you thinking about things you don’t want to say?”
“I’m thinking about stupid stuff,” she said.
“Can you give me an example?”
“Like the pictures in your office,” she replied.
“What about the pictures?” I asked.
“You’ve got two paintings of young girls, so I wonder if you are gay. But I didn’t want to ask you.”
Sometimes the feeling that you have nothing to say is a defense against something you do not want to say.
Exploring Karen’s feeling that she had nothing to say led us to her fantasy that I was a lesbian and opened an exploration of her sexual feelings toward me.
Theresa also frequently feels she has nothing to say.
“I have nothing to say.”
“That’s fine,” I responded, “why don’t we wait and see what comes to mind.”
“I’m afraid I will just talk about mundane things, and you will not be interested.”
“Do you feel you need to think up interesting things to keep my attention?”
“Yes. My mother was always busy,” he said. “I couldn’t get her attention by telling her about my day at school or some game I was playing.”
"So, how did you get her attention?” I asked.
“If I were sick or had an accident, then she would be upset and concerned,” she said.
Theresa feels she has nothing to say because she thinks I am like her mother and will only be interested in her if she is physically hurt or ill. That insight led to the eventual realization that Theresa’s constant worries about her health were wishes. Unconsciously, she felt that if she were sick, people would care more about her than if she were healthy.
Harry also frequently feels he has nothing to say.
“I’m tired. I have nothing to say,” he said.
“Okay, let’s see if anything comes to mind.”
A few minutes passed.
“You’re not going to like this,” he said.
“I bought some stock that a friend recommended,” he said.
“What would make me not like that?” I asked.
“In Gamblers’ Anonymous, buying stock is gambling. I don’t really agree with that. Stocks can be an investment, but still, that’s the rule. I’ve stayed straight for two years, and now I relapsed.”
“Maybe you’re the one who doesn’t like it?”
“Yes, it was stupid. It makes me feel terrible about myself,” he said.
Feeling you have nothing to say is sometimes a sign of projection. Harry felt guilty about breaking the rules of Gamblers’ Anonymous and projected it on me. He felt that I was the one who thought buying stock was wrong, rather than him. He felt he had nothing to say because he imagined I did not want to hear what he had to say.
In the context of psychoanalysis, the patient’s feeling that he/she has nothing to say is often an indication of transference feelings. It may be a defense against embarrassing feelings toward the analyst; it may indicate expectations of the analyst’s reaction, or it may be a projection. In any case, it always covers some deeper feeling that bears exploration.