The following ideas will provide clues about my unconscious and conscious internal working model and the nature of my relationship with my mother including my pre-representational experience. A careful assessment of these ideas is important from an attachment model perspective. From a psychoanalytic perspective, I suppose these ideas help define the nature of my orality.
I often think of a line from a poem: “Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread but give us roses.”
I have asked social workers the following question. They have no answer.
This is what I want to know: Psychoanalysis takes a tremendous investment of time and money. Interestingly, most of the people in analysis are more or less socially adjusted. Obviously, there are people in analysis who are struggling with more than loneliness or social isolation. My question is always: “OK, let’s say I have friends. Then what?” Social workers can’t answer that. Isn’t life what happens after you’ve had your fill of bread?
What rationalizations will a glutton use?
Perhaps a glutton would say: “People need food. That’s basic biology. You can’t live without food. If you don’t eat, you’ll die. People will die of starvation if they don’t eat.”
What will a medical doctor say to a patient with anorexia?
“People need food. That’s basic biology. You can’t live without food. If you don’t eat, you’ll die. People will die of starvation if they don’t eat.”
If a therapist says: “You need to have friends.” Or “It’s vitally important that you make an effort to have friends,” what is his unconscious agenda? THAT’S THE QUESTION: Is he rationalizing his pathological attachment to his mother — or is he talking from the perspective of an independent and mature person about legitimate needs.
Interesting point. Attachment theorists point out that there are conscious working models of relationships but also unconscious working models of relationships.
Research has shown there are teenagers who have an active social life with lots of friends who are in reality insecurely attached. Their social relations are defensive: they are kids who have poor unconscious attachment to parents (or disturbed unconscious internal working models) with a lot of attachment anxiety and they pour themselves into a tightly-knit peer group as a defensive reaction to unconscious attachment insecurity.
I have the feeling there are some social workers who come from that cohort, namely, individuals who have an adaptive (but defensive) attachment style with attachment insecurities that can be seen upon assessment of their unconscious internal working model.
Dr. Kernberg’s observations about the psychodynamics of dysfunctional groups raises intriguing questions about the problems of a creative individual in groups: a creative person for whom “sucking at the mother’s breast” is not the be-all and end-all of his existence. “The psychology of the group, then, reflects three sets of shared illusions: (1) that the group is composed of individuals who are all equal [think of a group of undifferentiated infants in a maternity ward], thus denying sexual differences and castration anxiety; (2) that the group is self-engendered — that is, as a powerful mother of itself; and (3) that the group itself can repair all narcissistic lesions because it becomes an “idealized breast mother.” Kernberg, O.F. “Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations.”
To what extent does a social worker’s view of the therapy dyad reflect unconscious notions of a group ideal in which the client’s singular identity is to be expunged and the therapist assumes the role of the “idealized breast mother” who cures through the client’s consumption of her milk? “My technical expertise doesn’t really matter. It’s whether you can form a relationship with me in which you accept what I say.”
QUERY: An adult client internalized sets of trauma-related ideation from his mother, which remain unintegrated in his self-structure and cannot be reflected on or thought about. How can this client be treated without some expertise? See, Fonagy, P. “The transgenerational transmission of holocaust trauma.” Attachment & Human Development, 1(1): 92-114 (April 1999).
I have the impression that the underlying agenda of some social workers is basically: “You want friends. I know you want friends. You need friends. You need to make an effort to have friends.”
What do I hear when a social worker says this?
I hear a mother talking to her infant: “You want the breast. I know you want the breast. You need the breast. You need to make an effort to suck on my breast.”
Life for me is — and perhaps has always been — what happens after I suck on the breast. The breast has never been my be all and end all. Most people live for the breast. I don’t. What I need are friends who don’t live for the breast.
For me life was always what happens when mommy leaves me in my crib !! For me life is and, perhaps was always, what happens when I’ve “had my fill of bread?” I yearn for the roses.
What do attachment theorists say about this? I don’t know. I can tell you what psychoanalysts have said about creative people.
“[Philip Weismann] believed that the future artist, as an infant, had the ability to hallucinate the mother’s breast independently of oral needs. According to him the unusual capacities of the artist ‘may be traced to the infancy and childhood of the artist wherein we find that he is drawn by the nature of his artistic endowment to preserve (or immortalize) his hallucinated response to the mother’s breast independent of his needs gratifications” . . . . One major concept of Weismann is the ‘dissociative function of the ego’ that he substitutes for Kris’s concept of regression in the service of the ego. With the aid of this dissociative function, the creative person ‘may partially decathect the external object (mother’s breast) and hypercathect his imaginative perception of it. He may then further elaborate and synthesize these self-created perceptions as anlagen or precursors of creative activity which must then await full maturation and development of his ego and his talent for true creative expression.’ In simple words, according to Weismann, the child who will become creative has the ability to diverge the energy originally invested in primitive personal objects and to invest it again in creative work.”
For the creative individual life is more than bread, it’s about the roses.
I suppose you can dismiss all this as psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo. Except for one salient fact: The psychoanalytic term “regression in the service of the ego” has been adopted by attachment theorists and is now a mainstream idea in attachment theory. Zimberoff, D. and Hartman, D. “Attachment, Detachment, Nonattachment: Achieving Synthesis.”
The authors write:
Here we will briefly examine the concept of openness to experience, and its association to that of “freedom to explore the external and internal worlds.”
The construct of openness to experience has its roots in the psychoanalytic and humanistic approaches to personality, and represents tolerance for the unfamiliar, interest in ideas and problems, and appreciation of experiences involving actions, fantasy, values, feelings and aesthetics (Tesch & Cameron, 1987). Schachtel (1959) proposed the concept of openness to experience, derived from the concept of regression in service of the ego, to mean a loosening of fixed anticipations so that one approaches the objects of his/her experience in different ways, from different angles.
Openness to experience was first empirically applied by Fitzgerald (1966), who found that college students scoring high in openness were low in repression on the MMPI. He depicted the following aspects as components of openness to experience (derived from the concept of regression in service of the ego):
• Tolerance for regressive experiences (affects, childishness, fantasy,
daydreaming, etc.) [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with this feature.]
• Tolerance for logical inconsistencies (seeming impossibilities or bizarre
implications) [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with this feature.]
• Constructive use of regression (uses fantasies in a creative way) [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with this feature.]
• Altered states (inspirational experiences with relative breakdowns of reality
• Peak experiences (seeks experiences which are overwhelming, enrapturing,
• Capacity for regressive experiences (inquisitive into the unusual, with rich
imagination, and not bound by conventional categories of thought)
• Tolerance for the irrational (acceptance of things which violate common
sense or science) [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with this feature.]
Fitzgerald, based on his research, concluded that openness to experience has a somewhat different meaning for males and females. Males who are open to experience are open to inner (controlled) experience; females who are open to experience are open to outer (expressive) experience. Coan (1972) observed that people vary considerably in the range and types of experience to which they are open, and also that a given individual can be very open in one area of experience while being very closed in another area. He also noted that women tend to be more open in the realm of feeling and thought, while men tend to be more open in the realm of action. Openness to experience is a basic and stable aspect of personality that can be detected and quantified (McCrae & Costa, 1982; Tesch & Cameron, 1987). They operationalized openness to experience as non-defensiveness, willingness to share experiences, openness to the unknown and unknowable, to emotions, ideas and spirituality, and to seeming incompatibilities. [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with this last feature.]
Consider the similarity of the openness traits already stated to these attitudes of secure persons (Mikulincer & Florian, 1998):
• Engagement in information search
[compare a gifted patient’s insatiable search for information]
• High tolerance for unpredictability, disorder, and ambiguity
[note how this may pose a problem for some CBT practitioners]
• Reluctance to endorse rigid beliefs
[Note how this may pose a problem for some CBT practitioners. “You need to have friends. You have a fear of rejection and loneliness. You need to take risks. I will show you how your simple cognitive distortions prevent you from attaining these goals.” But I never said that was my goal!]
• Tendency to integrate new evidence, to revise beliefs in the face of new
• Describe themselves in positive terms yet admit negative self-attributes
• Optimistic attitude toward life and basic trust in the world
• Tendency to assess stressful situations in benign terms
Psychological openness may determine the degree, frequency and duration of identity exploration entered into by an individual. [Note how some CBT practitioners might have a problem with making use of psychological test results and a client’s ability to inquire into identity.] Openness is a central personality “constant” that affects ego development and identity formation (Tesch & Cameron, 1987): The relationship between openness to experience and identity formation observed in the present study supports Rogers’s (1961) theory regarding the importance of openness for positive personality growth. … That is, openness to experience may lead to both exploration of alternative identities and to introspective and expressive behaviors, thus creating indirect associations between identity formation and various behavioral manifestations of openness to experience. . . . a tendency toward psychological openness may facilitate exploration of identity which in turn leads to greater self-awareness and openness to experience. Conversely, a person who is less open to experience may not become aware of identity alternatives, and the premature foreclosure of identity might further depress the level of openness (pp. 627-628). [Note how some CBT practitioners may prematurely foreclose identity exploration.]
Research (Griffin & Bartholomew, 1994; Shaver & Brennan, 1992) has shown that of the “Big Five” dimensions of personality (extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness to experience, and conscientiousness), openness and conscientiousness are least closely related to adult attachment. That conclusion may, indeed, reflect the dichotomy between attachment and exploration. Openness may well prove to be correlated with adult exploration [the “secure base for exploration” is a fundamental concept of secure attachment]. Secure attachment is related to higher cognitive openness (Mikulincer & Arad, 1999). For example, secure people tolerate ambiguities and contradictions well, and, showing no inherent preference for consistency, are relatively free from prior expectations in integrating new information. [Note how the stock in trade of many CBT practitioners is to point out logical inconsistencies in a client’s thinking, mislabeling that as a “cognitive distortion.”] On the contrary, ambivalent-resistant people are preoccupied with the threatening aspects of new information. Avoidant people overemphasize self-reliance, and so habitually reject any new information that might demand a revision of their beliefs.
[Note that I am labeled “avoidant” and yet I had the following exchange with my therapist that suggested her inability to deal with new information:
PATIENT: I have feelings of alienation.
THERAPIST: Let me talk about that from a different perspective. I can show you how what you’re talking about is actually fear of rejection and loneliness. . . . Other people I work with talk about fear of rejection and loneliness.
OK, but what about my feelings of intense alienation and my need for mirroring, twinship, and idealization? In fact, “feelings of alienation” and a “hunger for mirroring” are related conceptually to mainstream attachment theory! See, e.g., Shaver, P.R., Banai, B. and Mikulincer, M. “Selfobject Needs in Kohut’s Self Psychology.” (selfobject needs for mirroring, idealization, and twinship were shown experimentally to be related conceptually to attachment theory). Shaver’s paper indicated to me — probably not to Dr. Shaver, though — that Kohut’s ideas about mirroring, twinship, and idealization contain a depth, subtlety, and specificity that is lacking in the simple attachment categories of rejection and loneliness.
The therapist seemed to say, “You feel different from other people and you feel you need people who mirror you (or you feel alienated from people) because if they are not like you, they will reject you.” The therapist’s interpretation seemed to imply that I had feelings of shame about being different that triggered approach avoidance. That’s not what I feel. I feel frustration, not shame. I feel I need a mirror image object, and when I don’t experience that I feel alien. A coworker once made a keen observation about me: “You only like people who remind you of yourself.”
I would express my feelings in the following analogy. Say I am in China. I don’t speak Chinese. I desperately need directions to a certain location (compare, “How am I going to get home?”). I feel I need to speak with a person who speaks English to fulfill my needs; I need someone who mirrors me to fulfill my needs. I don’t fear that a Chinese person will reject me because I am ashamed that I am an “ugly American,” — I fear that he cannot fill my need that he speak English. He can think I am an ugly American all he wants. (Compare my benign response to Dr. Palombo’s criticisms: “You are a freak.” “You are a buffoon.” I couldn’t care less about those statements.) I see my mirroring needs as fundamentally rooted in a need to cure a narcissistic defect in the self — not in a healthy anaclitic need for kinship with another. I am not looking for a Chinese friend, rather, I have a narcissistic need to use him — or exploit him — to cure a defect in myself. I don’t see attachment theory addressing that specific need. In the therapy situation, I need a therapist who “speaks English.” I don’t need to be loved and comforted by a therapist. I am not looking for a friend.
What I experience consciously is not the need for a friend but a “selfobject” — a need for affirmation, validation, and mirroring from an important, or idealized other, who offers himself for identification for the purpose of enhancing growth. The conscious feeling I experience is not loneliness by “selfobject hunger.” By analogy, when a person with hypoglyecemia asks for a glass of orange juice — it is not to satisfy his alimentary needs (thirst), but to cure a defect in the self. Can attachment theory explain this need?
Dr. Shaver writes that Kohut’s ideas about the origins of selfobject hunger relate to specific attachment anxieties: “When parents fail to satisfy selfobject needs by providing mirroring and opportunities for idealization and twinship, the transmuting internalization process is disrupted and pathological narcissism may appear. The sense of self-cohesion will not develop, and powerful archaic needs for admiration, powerful others, and twinship experiences will remain. In Kohut’s words, “the psyche continues to cling to a vaguely delimited image of absolute perfection.” That is, the person retains a chronic, archaic “hunger” for selfobject experiences, and his or her behavior is characterized by a continuing search for satisfaction of unmet selfobject needs. . . .
Kohut’s broad ideas about hunger for selfobject provisions and avoidance of selfobject needs in adulthood as reactions to the deprivation of selfobject provisions during childhood resemble Fraley and Shaver’s hypothesis about two different psychological reactions to deprivation of attachment provisions.” “‘Selfobject’ Needs in Kohut’s Self Psychology: Links With Attachment, Self-Cohesion, Affect Regulation, and Adjustment.”
NOTE WELL: Dr. Shaver writes elsewhere the following observations that might possibly relate to Self-Selfobject relationships. Is there a possibility that such “couplings” are not even attachment-based?
“[Revised attachment theory] should no longer include the implicit assumption that all romantic, or couple, relationships are attachment relationships. Although the original theory did not explicitly claim that all coupled partners were attached in the technical sense, Hazan and Shaver did not really address the possibility that some partners were attached and some were not, nor did they offer a method for making this distinction empirically. Over the last few years, researchers have tackled the problem and provided preliminary but useful methods that should be included in future studies.”
Do Dr. Shaver’s observations contemplate the possibility that “selfobject hunger” is not attachment based, and that my desires for connection with an idealized other have nothing to do with loneliness and a desire for a friend?]