How can we understand transference and countertransference?
Psychoanalyst Don Carveth explains the concepts in these videos.
How can we understand transference and countertransference?
Psychoanalyst Don Carveth explains the concepts in these videos.
Thought and speech are constituted by language. The medium of our consciousness, also known as our psyche, can be understood from verbal thought, as Lacan says, “the unconscious is structured like a language.”
In this blog, I re-post an interesting lecture “Introduction to Theory of Literature ” by Fry (2009). Fry talks about the essay of Peter Brook, “Freud’s Masterplot: a Model for Narrative”, a chapter in his book, “Reading for Plot, Design and Intention in Narrative“. From this essay the psychological meaning of discourse is developed and discussed.
Metaphor and Metonymy:
Metaphor unifies, brings together different ideas, situations.
Metonymy brings things together “by a recognizable gesture toward contiguity but which nevertheless does not make any claim or pretension to unify or establish identity” — without unifying. Metonymy is a figure of speech which a thing or concept is called not by its own name but rather the name of something associated in meaning with that thing or concept.
Reading Jakobson and de Man, Brooks helps us understand the terms described to us above. In Brooks’ essay, “Freud’s Masterplot,” the that the framework for argument is psychoanalytic and that the author is draws primarily from the text of Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
In this essay Brooks takes from Freud is the idea of structure. The idea that the unconscious is structured like a language. Hence in psychoanalysis is considered a “talking cure”, in which the unconscious is revealed via narrating and free association. “Talking cure” was first coined in the case of Anna O.
In terms of creating fictional plots, in terms of the nature of fiction, which is what interests Brooks–well, what does this mean?
Aristotle tells us that a plot has a beginning, a middle and an end. It seems almost logical, but we should consider this … A beginning, of course–well, it has to have a beginning and it has to have an end… but why does it have a middle? What is the function of the middle with respect to a beginning and an end? Why does Aristotle say, that a plot should have a certain magnitude? Why shouldn’t it be shorter? Why shouldn’t it be longer?
What does the middle have to do with the necessary connection with the beginning and the end, in such a way that resolves a kind of logic that makes the story worth being? How does all this work? Brooks believes that he can understand it in psychoanalytic terms.
From Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, Brook finds the methodological idea that text can be “mechanized”.
The central two mechanisms of the dream work are simultaneously:
Displacement is a detour of understanding. Condensation is a distillation of understanding. SIMULTANEOUSLY.
Jacques Lacan probably noticed that the work in every day discourse, and also in our dreams, and our narratives, can be understood as operating through these two mechanisms, condensation and displacement.
Condensation is metaphorical in nature, and displacement metonymic in nature. Metonymy is delaying, and a “différance of signification”– or deferring to a later time. Metaphor is in trying to bring together meaning “in a statement of identity of the discourse that’s attempting to articulate itself”, bringing together identity, “affirmation of resemblance”.
So we can see how Brooks combines Freud’s structure in the interpretation of dreams, showing its correlation with Jakobson and de Man’s structure of literature. Brooks is not interested in the psychogenesis of the author, nor the characters.
The text is not there to tell us about the author or the character. The text is alive, to express desire, put in motion. The structure of the text is there to manifest desire. Freud has a particular desire to fulfill a desire for reduced excitation. can be associate the death wish as the reduction of excitation.
Brook is taking a different angle with his essay by not getting involved in freudian criticism nor does he talk about how freudian ideas are used in literature.
“I would remind you in passing that although we don’t pause over traditional Freudian criticism in this course, it can indeed be extremely interesting: just for example, Freud’s disciple, Ernest Jones, wrote an influential study of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which he showed famously that Hamlet has an Oedipus complex. Think about the play. You’ll see that there’s a good deal in what Jones is saying; and in fact, famously in the history of the staging and filming of Shakespeare–as you probably know, Sir Laurence Olivier took the role of Hamlet under the influence of Ernest Jones. In the Olivier production of Hamlet, let’s just say made it painfully clear in his relations with Gertrude that he had an Oedipus complex. Again, there were actual sort of literary texts written directly under the influence of Freud. One thinks of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, for example, in which the central character, Paul Morel, is crippled by an Oedipus complex that he can’t master and the difficulties and complications of the plot are of this kind.”
“Moving closer to the present, an important figure in literary theory, Harold Bloom, can be understood to be developing in his theories of theoretical text, beginning with The Anxiety of Influence, a theory of the author–that is to say, a theory that is based on the relationship between belated poets and their precursors, which is to say a relationship between sons and fathers. So there is a certain pattern in–and of course, I invoke this pattern in arguing that Levi-Strauss‘ version of the Oedipus myth betrays his Oedipus complex in relation to Freud. Plainly, Freudian criticism with these sorts of preoccupations is widespread, continues sometimes to appear, and cannot simply be discounted or ignored as an influence in the development of thinking about literature or of the possibilities of thinking about literature.”
The text is there to express desire, to put in motion, and to make manifest desire or a desire. Brooks says that he has a particular desire in mind.
The structure of the text, or the way in which the text functions is to fulfill a desire for reduced excitation. This means that the desire which can be associated with the pleasure principle in sexual terms and can be associated with the idea of the death wish that Freud develops in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
In these ways Brooks understands the structure, the delay, the arabesque, or postponement of the end.
Within the text there involves a kind of coexistence between the possibility through “desire of reducing excitation, being excited, and reducing excitation.”
Dreams and stories don’t just express this desire; they also delay it.
Many of the dreams we have are neither exciting, and are tedious. Fiction, as art, has structure, and is thus precisely designed to create delay to a desired degree but not unduly beyond that degree.
Middle of fiction involve this process of delay, they seem also to revisit un-pleasurable things. The experiences that constitute the middles have a tendency to un-pleasurable. The middles are not un-interesting, but they are page turners because they reflect un-pleasant episodes… which we seem to be fascinated with.
Why, in other words, return to what isn’t fun, to where it isn’t pleasure, and what can this possibly have to do with the pleasure principle?
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud considers the phenomena experienced with trauma victims. Written at the end of the First World War, many of the contemporary books written in that time dealt with the subject of war experiences: Virginia’s Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, that her treatment of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway is a treatment of a traumatized war victim and Rebecca West, wrote one in particular called The Return of the Soldier, the protagonist of which is also a traumatized war victim. It seemed to be the theme of the period and Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle contributes to this theme.
Brooks himself likes to refer to the text of Beyond the Pleasure Principle as itself a master plot–in other words as having a certain fictive character, like The Return of the Soldier or Mrs. Dalloway.
Freud begins by saying, “The weird thing about these trauma victims whom I have had in my office is that in describing their dreams and even in their various forms of neurotic repetitive behavior, they seem compulsively to repeat the traumatic experience that has put them in the very predicament that brought them to me. In other words, they don’t shy away from it. They don’t in any strict sense repress it. They keep compulsively going back to it. Why is that? How can that possibly be a manifestation of the only kind of drives I had ever thought existed up until the year 1919, namely drives that we can associate in one way or another with pleasure–with the pleasure principle, obviously; with a sort of implicit sociobiological understanding that the protraction of life is all about sexual reproduction and that the displacement or inhibition of the direct drives associated with that take the form of the desire to succeed, the desire to improve oneself, and the desire to become more complex emotionally and all the rest of it? All of this we can associate with the pleasure principle. How does this compulsion to return to the traumatic event in any way correspond to or submit itself to explanation in terms of the pleasure principle?”
The compulsion to repeat, manifests itself in adults in various forms of neurotic behavior. We can think of it in terms of effort at mastery of something, like a rehearsal of the inevitability of death. The trauma of death which awaits and which has been heralded by traumatic events in one’s life, a near escape: for example, in a train accident or whatever the case may be. So Freud in developing his argument eventually comes to think that the compulsion to repeat has something to do with a kind of repeating forward of an event which is in itself unnarratable: the event of death, which is of course that which ultimately looms.
Freud’s argument is that there is somehow in us a compulsion or a desire, a drive, to return–like going home again or going back to the womb to return to that inanimate state. “The aim of all life,” he then says, “is death.”
We need at present to follow Freud into his closer inquiry concerning the relation between the compulsion to repeat and the instinctual. The answer lies in “a universal attribute of instinct and perhaps of organic life in general,” that “an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things.“…
This function [of the drives] is concerned “with the most universal endeavor of all living substance–namely to return to the quiescence of the inorganic world.”
But there’s a reason as to why novels are long: “not too long, not too short, but of a certain length–of a certain magnitude, as Aristotle puts it.”
The organism doesn’t just want to die. The organism is not suicidal. That’s a crucial mistake that we make when we first try to come to terms with what Freud means by “the death wish.” The organism wants to die on its own terms, which is why it has an elaborate mechanism of defenses–“the outer cortex,” as Freud is always calling it–attempting to withstand, to process, and to keep at arm’s length the possibility of trauma. You blame yourself as a victim of trauma for not having the sufficient vigilance in your outer cortex to ward it off. Part of the compulsion to repeat is, in a certain sense–part of the hope of mastery in the compulsion to repeat is to keep up the kind of vigilance which you failed to have in the past and therefore fail to ward it off.
According to Freud, the organism wants to evolve toward its dissolution.
So there is this tension in the organism between evolving to its end and being modified prematurely toward an end, a modification which in terms of fiction would mean you wouldn’t have a plot, right? You might have a beginning, but you would have a sudden cutting off that prevented the arabesque of the plot from developing and arising.
Now what Brooks argues following Freud is that to this end, the creating of an atmosphere in which with dignity and integrity… this is where the pleasure principle and the death wish cooperate.
Hence Freud is able to proffer, with a certain bravado, the formulation: “the aim of all life is death.” We are given an evolutionary image of the organism in which the tension created by external influences has forced living substance to “diverge ever more widely from its original course of life and to make ever more complicated détours before reaching its aim of death.” In this view, the self-preservative instincts function to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death, to ward off any ways of returning to the inorganic which are not imminent to the organism itself. In other words, “the organism wishes to die only in its own fashion.” It must struggle against events (dangers) which would help to achieve its goal too rapidly–by a kind of short-circuit.
… [W]e could say that the repetition compulsion and the death instinct serve the pleasure principle; in a larger sense [though], the pleasure principle, keeping watch on the invasion of stimuli from without and especially from within, seeking their discharge, serves the death instinct, making sure that the organism is permitted to return to quiescence.
Two differing drives coexist in the developing and enriching of the good plot.
The problem in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, is that it’s awfully hard to keep death and sex separate. The reduction of excitation is obviously something that the pleasure principle is all about. The purpose of sex is to reduce excitation, to annul desire. The purpose of death, Freud argues, is to do the same thing.
For example, the compulsion to repeat nasty episodes, to revisit trauma, and to repeat the un-pleasurable. It could be called something which is a kind of pleasure and which therefore could be subsumed under the pleasure principle and would obviate the need for a theory of the death drive as Freud develops it in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.
As with the plot: desire emerges or begins as the narratable.
What is the unnarratable? The unnarratable is that immersion in our lives such that there is no sense of form or order or structure. Anything is unnarratable if we don’t have a sense of a beginning, a middle, and an end to bring to bear on it. The narratable, in other words, must enter into a structure. So the beginning, which is meditated on by Sartre’s Roquentin in La Nausee and quoted to that effect by Brooks. The narratable begins in this moment of entry into that pattern of desire that launches a fiction. We have speculated on what that desire consists in, and so the narratable becomes a plot and the plot operates through metaphor, which unifies the plot, which shows the remarkable coherence of all of its parts.
In narrative theory there’s no such thing in fiction as irrelevant detail. Nothing is there by accident. The nature of the underlying desire that’s driving the plot forward; but on the other hand, metonymy functions as the principle of delay, the detour, the arabesque, the refusal of closure; the settling upon bad object choice and other unfortunate outcomes, the return of the unpleasurable–all the things that happen in the structure of “middles” in literary plots. The plot finally binds material together, and both metaphor and metonymy are arguably forms of binding. Brooks says:
To speak of “binding” in a literary text is thus to speak of any of the formalizations (which, like binding, may be painful, retarding) that force us to recognize sameness within difference, or the very emergence of a sjužetfrom the material of fabula.
Tony the Tow Truck. I would suggest that in the context of Beyond the Pleasure Principle we could re-title Tony the Tow Truck as The Bumpy Road to Maturity. It certainly has the qualities of a picaresque fiction. It’s on the road, as it were, and the linearity of its plot–the way in which the plot is like beads on a string, which tends to be the case with picaresque fiction, and which by the way is also a metonymic aspect of the fiction–lends the feeling of picturesque to the narrative. Quickly to reread it–I know that you all have it glued to your wrists, but in case you don’t, I’ll reread it:
I am Tony the Tow Truck. I live in a little yellow garage. I help cars that are stuck. I tow them to my garage. I like my job. One day I am stuck. Who will help Tony the Tow Truck? “I cannot help you,” says Neato the Car. “I don’t want to get dirty.” “I cannot help you [see, these are bad object choices, right?],” says Speedy the Car. “I am too busy.” I am very sad. Then a little car pulls up. It is my friend, Bumpy. Bumpy gives me a push. He pushes and pushes [by the way, this text, I think, is very close to its surface a kind of anal-phase parable. In that parable, the hero is not Tony in fact but a character with whom you are familiar if you’re familiar with South Park, and that character is of course the one who says, “He pushes and pushes…”] and I am on my way.” [In any case that is part of the narrative, and then:] “Thank you, Bumpy,” I call back. “You’re welcome,” says Bumpy. Now that’s what I call a friend.
So that’s the text of Tony the Tow Truck. Now we’ve said that it’s picaresque. We can think in terms of repetition, obviously, as the delay that sets in between an origin and an end. We’ve spoken of this in this case as–well, it’s the triadic form of the folk tale that Brooks actually mentions in his essay; but it is, in its dilation of the relationship of beginning and end, a way of reminding us precisely of that relation. He comes from a little yellow garage. The question is, and a question which is perhaps part of the unnarratable, is he going back there? We know he’s on his way, but we don’t know, if we read it in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, whether he’s on his way back to the little yellow garage or whether–and there’s a premonition of this in being stuck, in other words in having broken down–whether he’s on his way to the junkyard.
In either case, the only point is that he will go to either place because the little yellow garage is that from which he came; in either case–little yellow garage or junkyard–he’s going to get there on his own terms, but not as a narcissist and not as the person who begins every sentence in the first part of the story with the word “I,” because you can’t just be an autonomous hero. On your journey, and this is also true of the study of folklore, you need a helper. That’s part of fiction. You need another hero. You need a hero to help you, and having that hero, encountering the other mind as helper, is what obviates the tendency, even in a nice guy like Tony, toward narcissism which is manifest in the “I,” “I,” “I” at the beginning of the story. Notice that then the “I” disappears, not completely but wherever it reappears it’s embedded rather than initial. It is no longer, in other words, that which drives the line in the story. So the arabesque of the plot, as I say, is a matter of encountering bad object choices and overcoming them: neatness, busyness–choices which, by the way, are on the surface temptations. We all want to be neat and busy, don’t we? But somehow or another it’s not enough because the otherness, the mutuality of regard that this story wants to enforce as life–as life properly lived–is not entailed in and of itself in neatness and busyness. Resolution and closure, then, is mature object choice and in a certain sense there, too, it’s a push forward, but we don’t quite know toward what. We have to assume, though, in the context of a reading of this kind that it’s a push toward a state in which the little yellow garage and the unnarratable junkyard are manifest as one and the same thing.
Now as metonymy, the delays we have been talking about, the paratactic structure of the way in which the story is told–all of those, and the elements of repetition, are forms that we recognize as metonymic, but there’s something beyond that at the level of theme. This is a story about cars. This is a story about mechanical objects, some of which move–remember those smiling houses in the background–and some of which are stationary, but they’re all mechanical objects. They’re all structures. In other words, they’re not organic. This is a world understood from a metonymic point of view as that which lacks organicity, and yet at the same time the whole point of the story is thematically metaphoric. It is to assert the common humanity of us all: “That’s what I call a friend.” The whole point of so many children’s stories, animal stories, other stories like this, The Little Engine that Could, and so on is to humanize the world: to render friendly and warm and inviting to the child the entire world, so that Tony is not a tow truck–Tony’s a human being, and he realizes humanity in recognizing the existence of a friend. The unity of the story, in other words, as opposed to its metonymic displacements through the mechanistic, is the triumphant humanization of the mechanistic and the fact that as we read the story, we feel that we are, after all, not in mechanical company but in human company.
That’s the effect of the story and the way it works. In terms of the pleasure principle then, life is best in a human universe and in terms of–well, in terms of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the whole point of returning to an earlier state, the little yellow garage or junkyard, is to avert the threat that one being stuck will return to that junkyard prematurely or along the wrong path.
Narratives are interesting. We compulsively repeat the unpleasant, return to the un-pleasurable… why? In order to gain mastery of what might otherwise be a moment of helplessness in the face of traumatic experiences. I am not sure if it is a death-wish as much as a defying of death. It is as if repeating the event is a means of making “banal” that which has caused so much “excitement” in the form of anxiety.
As in psychotherapy, patients with psychological issues talk away their suffering. How does the talk do this? Talking or narrating, is a form of repeating unpleasant events. It is not the mere talking about something, but talking to someone who is listening. If there are more people listening, the healing effect gets better.
There is also an effect of hearing another person’s narrative on the listener. The listener is touched by the unpleasant narrative of the other. There is a vicarious effect (something to do with our mirror neurons) and our sense for empathy. Hearing another’s narrative, has a spiritual effect on the listener. This is the reason why we are drawn to such stories and narratives, of plots in literature. NIk
Brooks, P. (1992). Reading for the plot: Design and intention in narrative. Harvard University Press. p. 90.
Fry, P. (2009). Introduction to Theory of Literature. Lecture retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnnWbVvnYIs.
Diagnostic definitions for Narcissistic Personality Disorders (NPDs) are important to clinicians for communicating and understanding the symptoms laid out before them through the phenomenon of the patients. Diagnostic criteria recorded in the DSM IV which is used as provisional criteria in the ICD 10 are qualitative in nature, describing 9 traits and behaviors of which 5 have to be observable in the individual in order for the individual to be diagnosed positively for the personality disorder.
When accessing the severity of the consequence of the dysfunctional behavior of the individual, the use of this criteria in the DSM falls short. This is due to the fact that the same weightage seems to be implied for all criteria while some criteria e.g. “interpersonally exploitative; takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends” are more destructive to society as a whole as “requires excessive admiration”. From the 2 criteria mentioned one can also see that they are interrelated.
The psychodynamic theory of personality of which a the contribution and influence of Kernberg –whose own roots are in Kleinian theory (Klein, 1957)— is well understood and cited in contemporary literature (Carveth, 2016).
Kernberg’s dimensional model for personality disorders provides a means for us to differentiate the concept of different disorders in relation to the other (Fig.1). In that diagram we can se how NPD belongs to a triad, also called the dark triad, which is continuum of severity in disruption of social function associated with the disorder. Kernberg, in his publications (Kernberg, 2008), also provides us with useful information for differentiating people/adolescents who show antisocial behaviors, if these behaviors are the result of the NPD spectrum, or if it is the result of neurotic defenses and/or social pressures of growing up – of which the latter has better prognosis.
Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), being the most pathological in the NPD spectrum, constitutes marked distortion, deterioration, or absence of the superego system. These patients have a syndrome of “identification with the aggressor”, and live in an internal world of violence. There is a lack of any good, reliable object relations since these individuals tend to consider the good as weak and unreliable. They respond to disappointment with rage and hatred, which is born out painful state of envy. The paranoid orientation of the APD individual makes it impossible for empathic contact with others (ibid. p. 132).
Patients with syndrome of Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder (MNPD) display also antisocial behaviors, paranoid traits and egosyntonic aggression directed at self and others, but without total destruction of the superego functions. The patient has and violent, grandiose self, that has the capacity to idealize significant powerful people, and can themselves depend on sadistic and powerful but reliable parental images. They therefore do have a capacity for loyalty. “Justified indignation” is the justified violence against self and others (ibid. p. 133).
Patients with NPD have the least severe form of pathological narcissism in the triad. There is a certain degree of superego evolution. There is the grandiose self, and the predominating need to protect its integrity. The patient is however able to recognize good aspects of others that they envy and want to incorporate. Antisocial behavior in these individuals reflect the egosyntonic, rationalized entitlement and greed of the grandiose self (ibid. p. 134).
NPD is something we cannot escape from, since the prevalence of the condition is not getting smaller. Societies in the industrialized world support and reward the narcissists. Those who do not meet the standards of society, ironically, end up on the antisocial end of the same spectrum. NPDs are there with us in the homes, schools and at work. Coming from Asia, I can see the development of the narcissistic character being generated in school children. There is a lot of competition for grades, and this incites envy, paranoia and distrust. In the business world, there exists bullying of executives to rake in sales at all costs—disregarding ethics or consideration for the environment. These kind of stressors wipe out an individual’s ability to empathize. Even those who do not have the personality configuration, end up having to pick up the narcissistic traits.
With this knowledge of what NPD is about, and its underlying affects of shame, guilt, greed and envy it is possible to wean sectors of society out of this trend. With the knowledge of the responsibility of the psychotherapeutic profession to facilitate change, it would be almost unethical to be ignorant on this topic.
In her book, Reaching Your Goal, Korber (2017), interview social entrepreneurs, or people whose “prime aim is to find a solution to a social problem by applying entrepreneurial tools” and who understand “the ability to act entrepreneurially and charitably at the same time, to bundle activities, create synergies or open up new knowledge, to recognize societal inequalities and reduce them efficiently (p. 16-17).” I think this describes well what ultimately society can do to reduce the prevalence of NPD.
Carveth, D. (2016). Freud & Beyond 2016 #8: Narcissism Lacan, Aichhorn, Kohut, Spotnitz, Kernberg. Abgerufen am 2017 von YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGxS_5A46_4
Interdisciplinary Counsel on Developmental and Learning Disorders. (2017). Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual PDM 2 (2nd Ausg.). (V. L. McWilliams, Hrsg.) NY: The Guilford Press.
Kernberg, O. (2008). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Rela: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.
Klein, M. (1957). Envy and Gratitude.
Korber, M. (2017). Reaching Your Goal. (J. Baer-Pasztory, Übers.) Vienna: BoD.
These are excerpts on the subjects from notes taken from Carveth’s lecture “Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5”.
Manic defenses are manifested to protect the ego from despair. It is a means of being omnipotent, and is very much belongs to the paranoid-schizoid position as defined by Melanie Klein.
Inability to deal with loss, leads to symptoms, like depression, and behaviors, like rage. This is a sign of a regression into an existence of black-white thinking, in which there are projections made towards the outside world to ward off unbearable feeling. It is attack on psychic reality, in an effort to control the external objects.
These acts defend the self against realization of dependency. It defends against loss. Triumph is needed so that the person defeats the object, so that there is that “I do not have to care for the object”– which is an aggressive and dangerous condition.
This kind of thinking also serves to ward off envy. Hence it is better to come to terms with one’s feelings of envy, so that on can use it constructively, like for self improvement, than to avoid feelings of envy by trying to dominate and destroy the other.
Contempt is there to deny the object’s value …the object is rendered not worthy of guilt. Contempt justifies the abuse and annihilation of the other.
There is also “manic” in the culture we live in. Our culture as we know it, is one that seems to put taboo on tenderness.
Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) in Social Contract 1762:
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.”
Interesting points (at the last 5 mins of the video) on guilt, control and being omnipotent.
Strategies for dealing with the object related
From Britton’s Sex Death Superego:
From Carveth‘s The Still Small Voice :
Carveth, D. (2016) Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5. YouTube Video. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/VxdWHU1wrBY on 12.2017.
Melanie Klein (1997/1924-1963) writes that in the first 3-4 months of life the infant experiences anxiety, which is driven by the fear of annihilation. This is a primary cause of persecutory anxiety.
It would appear that the pain and discomfort he has suffered, as well as the loss of the intra-uterine state, are felt by him as an attack by hostile forces, i.e. as persecution. Persecutory anxiety, therefore, enters from the beginning into his relation to objects in so far as he is exposed to privations.
The infant’s first feeding experiences are perceived by the child as closely related to the its experiences to its mother’s breast. At this early stage of infancy, the child has yet to grasp the mother as an individual i.e. a whole and separate being.
At this point we may consider the relevance of Bollas’ Transformational Object.
When the child is neither hungry nor full, one can imagine that the child is experiencing a balance in its libidinal and aggressive impulses. These impulses are made stronger when it is reinforced through, e.g. frustration. Klein suggests that the aggressive impulses give rise to emotions of greed. An increase in feelings of greed leads to more frustration and aggression.
Children whose feelings of frustration are reinforced (due to deprivation and/or due to temperament) experience growing persecutory anxiety, and have problems tolerating deprivation and dealing with anxiety.
Persecutory anxiety, however, can in some other children, lead to feeding inhibitions.
This swing between gratification and frustration are powerful stimuli for feelings of love and hatred.
As a result, the breast, inasmuch as it is gratifying, is loved and felt to be ‘good’; in so far as it is a source of frustration, it is hated and felt to be ‘bad’. This strong antithesis between the good breast and the bad breast is largely due to lack of integration of the ego, as well as to splitting processes within the ego and in relation to the object. There are, however, grounds for assuming that even during the first three or four months of life the good and the bad object are not wholly distinct from one another in the infant’s mind.
This is where we can perceive the concept of splitting. The infant experiences the positive and negative feelings toward the same object. It is at this position in the development of the child’s ego, that it is able to differentiate its experiences as good or bad. It in turn has love or hate emotions towards that same object. This split in feelings is experienced in the paranoid-schizoid position.
These experiences of gratification and frustration, which happen due to external stimuli ultimately become internalized. The infant projects its love impulses to the good attributes of the mother’s breast, and destructive impulses towards the frustrating breast. The infant introjects by building a picture of the good breast and bad breast. This gets developed and distorted by phantasies.
This good-object and bad-object picture becomes a prototype for all external and internal persecutory objects, which the infant takes with it to adulthood.
Emotions in infants are extreme and powerful in nature. Persecutory anxiety deem the “bad object” as terrifying and, as a means of allaying the fears, the infant creates an internal picture of the good object as a powerful, all gratifying object. This is how idealization of the good object comes about. It is a means being omnipotent : creating characteristics of good object to protect one from the bad object.
How Infants Adjust
Even during the earliest stage, however, persecutory anxiety is to some extent counteracted by the infant’s relation to the good breast. I have indicated above that although his feelings focus on the feeding relationship with the mother, represented by her breast, other aspects of the mother enter already into the earliest relation to her; for even the very young infant responds to his mother’s smile, her hands, her voice, her holding him and attending to his needs. The gratification and love which the infant experiences in these situations all help to counteract persecutory anxiety, even the feelings of loss and persecution aroused by the experience of birth. His physical nearness to his mother during feeding—essentially his relation to the good breast—recurrently helps him to overcome the longing for a former lost state, alleviates persecutory anxiety and increases the trust in the good object. p.63
The infant eventually realizes that the good and bad object belong to the same organism, which is, in the infant’s perception the mother. When this happens, the infant develops into the depressive position ( the term has nothing to do with depression).
The desire for unlimited gratification, as well as persecutory anxiety, contribute to the infant’s feeling that both an ideal breast and a dangerous devouring breast exist, which are largely kept apart from each other in the infant’s mind. These two aspects of the mother’s breast are introjected and form the core of the super-ego. p.70
What Klein explains here is the phenomenon of splitting, omnipotence, idealization, denial and control. — These are aspects of the personality that, in adults are associated with dysfunction if it predominates, controls the life to the individual; and if the individual has no capacity towards ambivalence (seeing in shades of grey instead of black and white).
In the infant, this is stage is a necessary part of ego development. The infant has to temporarily rely on his phantasy to cope with such acute anxiety. The experience of the good and bad alternate swiftly. The mother’s continued loving behavior towards the infant helps the infant develop towards an understanding that good and bad experiences belong to the same person.
If the infant gets enough good experiences it can integrate the good and bad experience. It would have less need to project his hate externally. He can see in wholeness, it’s mother and later, father etc. It moves forward to the depressive position.
Out of the alternating processes of disintegration and integration develops gradually a more integrated ego, with an increased capacity to deal with persecutory anxiety. The infant’s relation to parts of his mother’s body, focusing on her breast, gradually changes into a relation to her as a person.
If, for example, the infant experiences overwhelming frustrations and is not able to have a sense of goodness from the mother, its psyche is kept in the paranoid-schizoid position, unable to develop further. The individual develops a persecutory complex that does not enable him/her to see beyond black and white. This is the precursor to personality disorders (PDs) like schizotypal PD, paranoid PD, borderline PD, narcissistic PD and antisocial PD.
Low functioning personality disorder states indicate the inability of the individual to move dynamically to and from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position. The person in this case remains unable to see both good and bad in the same person. Instead there is projections persecution, and paranoid anxiety.
As the child develops, and if it is given the necessary love, it moves into the depressive position (this has nothing to do with being depressed, but rather an ability to be ambivalent). This is a development. The child recognizes the mother as an individual separate from it. He learns that he is dependent and learns to accept temporary frustrations. He also learns to love, mourn and pine. He is more able to take responsibility for his impulses. He feels guilt, and is able to care. He lessens his hallucination of being omnipotent.
The depressive position is capable of ambivalence : seeing good and bad in the same object. This is also a position of the neurotic.
Klein, M. (1997). Envy and Gratitude: And Other Works, 1946-1963. Random House.
Reparation allows us to live out loud. When I can apologize, I have less inhibition. According to Melanie Klein, Reparation is a basis of creativity… to restore the loss. Capable of recovery.
We make reparation for our miss-doings. We are humans and we make mistakes. Sometimes it is our negligence that hurt others. Sometimes we are just too weak, too young, too old, too ill, too afraid to do the right thing at a particular time.
Mourning is involved in also other aspects of losses, which does not involve the death of another, but rather the death of one’s sense of self. An example of how this can happen is when one is being diagnosed with a debilitating illness or has become disabled in some way, or has a child/family that is diagnosed as such. Mourning is also “the reaction related to painful experiences that entail an experience of loss — such as loss of the quality of life, loss of health, loss of previous self-identity, loss of hope, or loss of the container function of the parents. (Barone 2005)”
Owning up to our mistakes/shortfall/incompetencies and taking responsibility for hurt caused is a means of making reparation.
In so doing we also mourn the losses (a broken relationship, a lost trust, a lost opportunity, a metaphorical or real death) as a result of our incapacity to do what was necessary to avoid the unfortunate situation.
Being able to face with the loss / to accept responsibility is the path towards inner-strength. We are able to move on from our human failing. We know that we have the resources in us to get on with life because we are able to overcome a mistake that caused us guilt.
Facing up to one’s role in such losses is not the same as blaming oneself. It is to acknowledge what actually happened, and how one was part of it. To blame oneself is to accuse oneself of something one doesn’t believe one has responsibility for.
Mr. K, a young man of 23, comes to therapy with impulsive anger issues. He has been incarcerated for assault and battery. Each time he regresses into violent behavior, he regrets it, and feels guilt. However, at the slightest provocation, he bursts into uncontrolled rage.
He has been to behavioral therapy to control his impulses. The treatment did not work and he was sorely frustrated. In jail, he was offered gestalt therapy counseling from an intern– what looked like fighting fire with paper.
The therapist realized after 4 sessions a pattern in this client. Each session, he earnestly repeated the same story to her. Each time he did so, he revved himself into anger. It was a story of his childhood. His father had a violent nature and would beat his mother. As a child, from his early childhood, he remembers his mother in tears of fear and frustration as she served the family their meals. His older brothers were also later violent towards her and Mr. K.
The work for Mr. K turned out to be one of reparation. This was only possible because he was able to feel sadness and guilt (in the case of violent patients who do not feel this kind of remorse, it might not be possible).
Mr. K. was supported to revisit this childhood scene, and as he was retelling the story, the therapist asked him to hold back his anger and breathe by saying comforting words. She asked him what he experienced watching his mother’s sadness. He said he felt hopeless. He said he was too small and afraid to save her.
The therapist supported the client with helping him formulate these statements: “mother, I am 6 years old, and I am too small and too weak to save you.” and to himself “K, I am sorry, I am 6 years old and I am too small and too afraid to save your mother.”
Both K and the therapist were very touched by the phenomenon in the therapy room. This is the taking of responsibility. It is not self blame, but the recognition that one was simply not humanly able to save the mother.
The next steps came naturally. The therapist guided the client in a mourning process. The loss of a mother that could protect the son. Weeks of therapy was devoted to this process. It included creating art, writing poems.
There are individuals who have difficulty or have not capacity to accept responsibility. This is a mental state for some people and is part of their personality. In psychoanalytic term, it is a condition of being stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position and not being able to move forward to the more ambivalent depressive (nothing to do with depression) position.
When one is stuck in the paranoid-schizoid position, one suffers deep depression and paranoid anxiety. One’s state of mind is that on seeing the world in black and white and nothing in between. Everything is either very good or very bad. This was Mr. K’s life before his sessions with the therapist. He was had paranoid rage, and was very depressed.
Being so paranoid also leads one to have a need for omnipotence, which one displays through grandiosity or threatening (manic) behavior.
Taking responsibility for one’s own deeds is a lessening of omnipotence. Discovery of the resilience of the good object. Less fear of destroying it.
Say for example a man who strikes his wife then brings her flowers. Avoidance of acknowledging damage done, his aims to repair the hurt is in such a way that his own feelings of guilt and loss is never experienced. Not acknowledged. His wife is felt as inferior, dependent and contemptible. She is confused by his behavior. He then considers her ungrateful. He blames her for his anger towards her.
In this case his unconscious guilt is not reprieved. The good object, the wife, is “magically repaired”. Instant repair. It is like the instant cure of swallowing pills instead of going through therapy. Of going to sleep so that you do not see.
Emotional tantrum is used also as a quick way of handling problem
How do, for example, some people reveal their contempt? By raising emotionality. This is also see among people who do good deeds, like some social workers and activists?
Freud (1922), in Mourning and Melancholia, writes about the ability to mourn as a means of overcoming loss. The inability to mourn or the absence of the mourning process leads to melancholia, which we understand today as major depression.
Genuine reparation is slow, there is no quick fix. It takes consideration of the other person. It takes mourning the damage. It takes getting to experience the guilt, the fear of damaging the good object, the relationship. It also takes creativity.
Renunciation of magic and omnipotence. Allows the object to be free. To accept the separateness of the object. This is how we overcome guilt.
Un-recognized guilt, leads to aggression turned towards the self, which is a condition we know as major depression.
Hence the recognition of a loss and the process going through the mourning process, is essential to recovery and prevention of major depression. Much of the therapeutic process involves in one way or another accompanied mourning of loss.
Barone, K. C. (2005). On the processes of working through loss caused by severe illnesses in childhood: a psychoanalytic approach. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 19(1), 17-34.
Klein, M. (2002). Love, guilt and reparation: and other works 1921-1945 (Vol. 1). Simon and Schuster.
Freud, S. (1922). Mourning and melancholia. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 56(5), 543-545.
From a development standpoint, this ability to mourn a loss develops in the infant that has moved on from the paranoid-schizoid position onto the depressive position (remembering that the word depressive here has nothing to do with depression). It is a healthy development.
The more integrated infant who can remember and retain love for the good object even while hating it, will be exposed to new feelings little known in the paranoid-schizoid position : the mourning and pining for the good object felt as lost and destroyed, and guilt, a characteristic depressive experience which arises from the sense that he has lost the good object through his own destructiveness. (p.70)
Together with the ability to mourn is also the ability for feeling loss and guilt. This means also that there is a capacity for love that overcomes hate, and there is less projection of destructiveness on to another. In a infant this ability is a milestone in ego integration. He loses his hallucinations of being omnipotent, and can accept dependency.
The pain of mourning is experienced, leading to drive toward reparation. These, Segal adds, are the basis of creativity and sublimation (turning negative experiences into creative objects). In other words, creating art in various forms is a means of symbolic reparation of loss. These reparative activities are done because the individual is able to feel concern and guilt towards the other and the wish “to restore, preserve and give it eternal life”. This is in the interest of the self preservation, “to put together what has been torn asunder”, to reconstruct what has been destroyed, to recreate and to create.
“After his hospitalization in the asylum in Saint Remy Van Gogh felt like a “broken pitcher” that could never be mended. Even so, in between bouts of mental illness, he worked on steadily and courageously to become an even better artist. Painting and drawing, moreover, gave structure to his days and ensured that he did not fall prey to the loneliness plaguing the other patients.”
Sublimation helps the individual put his destructive impulses into creative work. At this point the genesis of symbol formation can be seen. The ability to symbolize is a very important development in human ego development. It is also a means for us to communicate metaphorically, thus allowing us to create and maintain contact with another person/or with society in an empathic way. Religions, for example, are founded on symbols. The healthy individual can also differentiate the symbol he/she has created from the reality from which the symbols are derived.
The depressive position is never fully worked through. The anxieties pertaining to ambivalence and guilt, as well as situations of loss, which reawaken depressive experiences, are always with us. Good external objects in adult life always symbolize and contain aspects of the primary good object, internal and external, so that any loss in later life re-awakens the anxiety of losing the good internal object and, with this anxiety, all the anxieties experienced originally in the depressive position. If the infant has been able to establish a good internal object relatively securely in the depressive position, situations of depressive anxiety will not lead to illness, but to a fruitful working through, leading to further enrichment and creativity. (p. 80)
Neuroscience explains brain activity difference between non-schizophrenic and schizophrenic patients in their ability to symbolize.
The above diagram shows a the gamma oscillation image from the brain of a non-schizophrenic person (left) and that of a schizophrenic person (right) when they are showed the black-white image of a face. The gamma oscillation on the right shows more brain activity, which is interpreted as the individual being able to derive a picture of a human face from the black-and-white shapes. The schizophrenic brain shows little activity, implying that the individual does not recognize the image as a face.
Reading this chapter by Segal on the depressive position has inspired me to thing about this subject in relation to gestalt therapy. Mourning brings with it lots of sadness and underlying guilt. In the text above, this guilt is attributed to the imagined destruction of the integrated love object.
If we observe people in mourning, there is always this element of regret. There is also a need to make reparation. This is often symbolic and aesthetic in nature. The whole process of the funeral services is in a way a symbolic way of bidding farewell to the dead. This helps the living to heal psychically.
In patients that have problems with the mourning process (e.g. those who cannot move on, those who could not feel sadness, but rage instead, or those who get chronically depressed) are usually stuck in a situation where they aren’t able to fully experience the loss. This could be because of their personality structure, from which the defense is against painful experiences. There is tremendous fear to go to those dark emotions.
The work of mourning in therapy is the work of reality testing. For the client to come to terms with loss. This reawakens deeper feelings of loss experienced in infancy. It requires reworking of loss in the internal object. This process is needed to regain the ability of the patient to come back to reality, learn to love again and build up confidence again.
In therapy, these are worked through. For this to happen, there needs to be a lot of trust in the psychotherapeutic alliance. The therapist and client would spend hours together uncovering the defenses that hold back the client from mourning. The technique of therapy is client centered, with a lot of focus on the phenomenology (non verbal experiences) in the therapy session.
From this article I also see the link between creativity and mourning. Using art in therapy (not to synonymous with art therapy) is also common practice among Gestalt therapists. Creating art is a reparative measure, and together with therapeutic contact and communication, it facilitates openness to emotions and ultimately the freeing from depression and despair. This is a reinforcement of the technique.
In Sagentini’s Art of the mother, the artist uses his art to sublimate the mourning of the loss of his “good mother”.
Segal, H. (2012). Introduction to the work of Melanie Klein. Karnac Books.
Carveth, D. (2016). Introduction to Kleinian Theory 5. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxdWHU1wrBY&t
Notes of this paper by Christopher Bollas on the transformational object.
The human infant is born totally dependent on its mother. In this article, the concept of the transformational object will be briefly explained, and it’s significance to the psychotherapeutic process. Bollas also provided a case study which is featured here. At the end of the article I shall link this concept of the transformational object relation to Gestalt therapy.
There is a constant active exchange between mother and child.
Quote by Edith Johnson:
To the infant, the mother is not yet recognizable as another, but a transformational object. The infant is related to the process which is the mother, which is the object that transform his self.
As the infant develops, it identifies this ego development with the present of the object. When the mother fails to provide due to absence or neglect, the infant suffers psychic pain.
The use of the transitional object is the infant’s first creative act.
We continue to search for this transformational object in adult life. Religions, and advertising cater to our search for the trace of this object– to change our environment to modify our internal mood.
(Sorry for the cut and paste!)
Reading the article, I get a sense that what Bollas was getting at, is the idea that since the earliest relational object of an individual is a transformational object, and that this transformational object is not a material object but actually a process. In therapy it is the process (of transformation) that the patient yearns towards. Therefore in the transference relationship, the client picks up on the process (in this example the murmur of the therapist’s voice) and not on the analysis itself.
It is also understandable that since the transformational object precludes language learning in the infant, as adults, the individual yearns for a trace of it throughout life, but doesn’t recognize it.
Reading this material, I am able to connect the principle of Bollas’ treatment technique to Gestalt Therapy method. What touched the patient Peter was a non-verbal interpersonal communication between therapist and patient. The content of the analysis is superfluous (at least most of it) in this case.
In Gestalt therapy, there is focus on the process. This is the process of transformations, i.e. the process of relating between therapist and client, and not the words alone, nor the therapist alone, transforms the client (and the therapist as well).
Bollas, C. (1979). The transformational object. The International journal of psycho-analysis, 60, 97.
There are the structural features of what we understand to be healthy functional normal personality in contrast to personality disorders.
The normal personality is characterized by:
1. An integrated concept of the self and an integrated concept of significant others.
“An integrated view of one’s self assures the capacity for a realization of one’s desires, capacities, and long-range commitments. An integrated view of significant others guarantees the capacity for an appropriate evaluation of others, empathy, and an emotional investment in others that implies a capacity for mature dependency while maintaining a consistent sense of autonomy (p. 8).”
2. The capacity for affect and impulse control, and capacity for sublimation in work and values.
“Consistency, persistence, and creativity in work as well as in interpersonal relations are also largely derived from normal ego identity, as are the capacity for trust, reciprocity, and commitment to others, also codetermined in significant ways by superego functions (p.8).”
3. Being able to internalize value systems that is stable, de-personified, abstract, individualized, and not excessively dependent on unconscious infantile prohibitions.
“Such a superego structure is reflected in a sense of personal responsibility, a capacity for realistic self-criticism, integrity as well as flexibility in dealing with the ethical aspects of decisionmaking, and a commitment to standards, values, and ideals, and it contributes to such aforementioned ego functions as reciprocity, trust, and investment in depth in relationships with others (p.8).”
4. Ability to manage appropriately libidinal (all of the instinctual energies and desires that are derived from the id) aggressive impulses. Having the capacity to fully express sensual and sexual desires with tenderness to the other, while being able to be emotional connected to the other in a relationship.
“(F)reedom of sexual expression is integrated with ego identity and the ego ideal. A normal personality structure includes the capacity for sublimation of aggressive impulses in the form of self-assertion, for withstanding attacks without excessive reaction, and for reacting protectively and without turning aggression against the self. Again, ego and superego functions contribute to such an equilibrium. (p.9)”
Kernberg, O. (2008). Aggressivity, Narcissism, and Self-Destructiveness in the Psychotherapeutic Relationship: New Developments in the Psychopathology and Psychotherapy of Severe Personality Disorders. Yale University Press.