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Internet “Feelings”: Are They “Real?”

In my article Time Out of Mind (Toronto, Ellen L. K. (2009).  Time Out of Mind: Dissociation in the Virtual World. Psychoanalytic Psychology.  26 (2) 117-133), I present the treatment of Casey and the “house” people. In her professional work with internet predators, she was able to sequester her feelings of anger and revulsion. Thus she didn’t have to acknowledge her “real” feelings of anxiety toward men in her actual relationships.  I write as follows:

It became apparent however that her associations would frequently travel from a potential meeting with a new online acquaintance to her indignation at the behavior of an accused sexual predator. In the same session, she might express her carefully regulated disgust at the conduct of a perpetrator and then, her anxiety, which she fully acknowledged, at the possibility of a date with a new acquaintance. This pattern appeared often enough that we began to explore the connections. The question of whether the patient had herself been sexually abused came to the fore. The impact of her father’s abandonment of her and her family became relevant. She had never acknowledged its effect, assuming that, since she had been “too young to remember,” it hadn’t been important in her life.

While these questions have yet to be answered it remains clear that her involvement with online predators and perpetrators of sexual solicitation is more than a professional activity for Casey. It is a world populated with males who commit monstrous acts and exploit children for their own purposes and without regrets. In that world, Casey can express justifiable and regulated outrage and can act out her anger in a way that brings the perpetrators to justice and punishment. She may even meet these individuals face to face along with their families as well as the victims and their families. She is invariably able to maintain her composure though she expresses her disgust privately to me.

Although she is under-utilizing her capabilities Casey is functioning successfully in her professional life. She works in a difficult profession and acknowledges that it can be stressful but she is proud of her ability to tolerate the challenging material that she encounters. Indeed when we were talking about the “house people” Casey described her professional self as living outside the house and being dismissive, even scornful, of those inside the “house.” Yet it is within her professional world that she has sequestered her most intense and irretrievable feelings of rage, revulsion, hurt and exploitation. Here she can keep them neatly packaged, carefully regulated and, most importantly, far away from her personal relationships with men, her mother, her father and anyone who has the power to hurt her.

In a recent session, Casey expressed the following:

Well, okay. I was reading 30 pages of blog. There were e-mails from a perpetrator to a cop posing as a 13-year-old girl. I felt nausea. Like not in your mouth. But it was nausea. I couldn’t continue. I was crying. But I had to do it. He said, “Masturbate and rub your fingers in it. Then rub it on paper and draw a heart around it and send it to me.” I’ve read worse. I’ve been disgusted. But it was not at the deep visceral level.

I asked why now?  “I don’t know,” she said.  ” I am meeting a date tonight. Maybe I am anxious about that and don’t have the energy to hold the feelings down.”

I said that the feelings seem to be connected, at least in time. She said that she was not aware of it. She said, “Ellen, I don’t like having feelings. It’s upsetting.”

At the next session, she said that she didn’t have much to say. She had nothing to say about the date. I said, “Follow your thoughts. They may be in disguise.”

She said that she couldn’t get to them. “It’s like a table with things on it that I can’t reach.” I asked what might be on the table. She said that it might be a pepper shaker or a newspaper. I asked her what made it so she couldn’t reach them. She answered that it was like fog but not exactly. It was “swarmy”, like a swarm of gnats. “It’s like a swarm that you bat away. It’s a swarm. It’s a psychological phenomenon. Swarm is no longer a word. Swarm. Swarm. It has lost its meaning. It’s like when you say a word over and over and it is just a bunch of letters with no meaning.”



Internet “Feelings”: Are They “Real?”

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2020). Internet “Feelings”: Are They “Real?”. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2020
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