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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) someone who enjoys accepting on challenges and dealing with challenging situations unaided

In 1955, the Hungarian psychologist Michael Balint published a landmark paper in the field of psychoanalysis entitled Friendly Expanses, Horrid Empty Spaces.

In it, he introduced two newly-defined character traits or personality types, differentiated by their relationships to the people and objects in their lives, and how they react to situations in which these familiar objects are not around.

On the one hand, Balint theorized, is the kind of person who tends as a rule to avoid difficult or unfamiliar situations, but who clings to and heavily relies upon familiar people, places and objects when these difficult times arise.

The problem this type of character has, however, is that all of these familiar home comforts are isolated in a sea of “horrid empty spaces”, representative of all those situations and instances in which we are forced to act alone, without help or instruction from anyone else. This character—which Balint called the ocnophil (a word literally meaning ‘hesitation lover’ in Greek)—ultimately tries to spend as little time as possible in this empty space, preferring instead to rely upon and surround themselves with comforting, familiar, unchallenging things.

Directly opposed to the ocnophil is the philobat.

To them, these “horrid empty spaces” are actually “friendly expanses”—a world filled with unfamiliar territory and awash with new challenges and opportunities, simply waiting to be discovered and experienced. Just as was the case with the ocnophil, this expanse is peppered with familiar places, faces and things, but the philobat typically prefers to shun these comforts and instead relishes the prospect of facing the challenges of the wide open space on their own.

Indeed, in accounting for how he coined such an unusual word, Balint explained that just as “acrobat means literally ‘one who walks on his toes’, i.e. away from the safe earth … I shall use ‘philobat’ to describe one who enjoys such thrills.”

Taken from The Cabinet of Calm, OUT NOW

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