The article is based on a presentation at the 7th Conference of the Hellenic Child Psychiatry Association, Athens 27-29 May 2011.
In this paper the author presents certain indications of a breakdown. A breakdown of meaning. Humans are by nature cultural animals. Their place of origin and their place of residence are their way of life, which is expressed within a culture. Humans are not the genes contained in a cell but rather the expression of their genes which depends on the life they live with others. Their way of life is vulnerable. It may break down. Without an adequately good environment, humans become isolated and then many pathological solutions become necessary. Their ego becomes extremely weak; it is negativized, with primitive defenses which organize repetitions of behaviors, perpetuating violence against psychic and social links.
Key words: history, resistance to process, bureaucracy, perverse games of power, breakdown of meaning
By examining the questions we pose, we clarify the demand and the process of knowledge initiated every time we meet another person. Before the enigmas of life, children invent their own sexual theories (where babies come from, etc). By researching questions, they learn how to research. They find/create the world of objects. And they tell stories about these adventures, assuming the role of the narrator.
On the Internet we can access all available data of knowledge. However, data are meaningless if we do not place them in a context. In order for data to develop into information, we must first link them in a mesh of previous experiences and meanings. History gives truth a meaning. History makes truth qualified and convincing. That is how we open up the perspective for new research.
Psychoanalysis is a process of transformations which one lives with an analyst, following threads of investments, emotions, fantasies and repetitions as they unfold within a relationship: transference. Transference makes the demand specificand clear. In addition to resistance to knowledge, there is also resistance to process (Parsons, 2000). In psychoanalysis, clinical phenοmena (conflicts and traumas) are the result of transformation processes which include their relationship with the participating observer.
Today, we say that this is the outcome, the result of a process which unfolds in a relationship of participation and observation. Tomorrow, this clinical picture may change. Diagnosis is a research process. It is open-ended. Its result in every step is a symbolic representation which opens the psyche to the future, it opens new perspectives.
When we do not want to think in terms of a process,we do not want the dimension of history and the concept of time passing. We then defensively resort to questionnaires in order to have the illusion of certainty.
An event occurs as it is interpreted, according to anthropologist Sahlins (1985). It only acquires historical significance as we appropriate it within a culture and through a culture. Each society determines history in a culturally different way, within a very meaningful pattern of things.
History, then, is an inherent component of psychic life. The process is as significant as the outcome. Man is born with an inherent need to construct meanings. He is born as a therapist. He works day and night to transform reality and heal the ruptures that reality causes on the psychic tissue. Dreaming, mourning, playing, and the negative are examples of psychic work with which we transform reality, we represent reality, we restore and treat the inevitable rifts.
From the beginning of our life we try to comprehend and make ourselves comprehensible to others. Our psyche works with metaphors, signs, images, indices, and symbols where something means something else. Meanings render a relationship competent, they satisfy it. Without them, we would be irrelevant and unconnected with one another, the relationship would be inadequate, our link would be weak.
Every child grows up when he internalizes three fundamental facts of life. First, the separation from his mother. Second, the dependence on a good and reliable person. Third, the recognition that he comes from a fertile parental couple in a sexual relationship that excludes him (Britton, 1998).
The child relies on the love of others for his development, their desire, interest and curiosity about how his psyche lives, moves and grows. He relies on the devoted wish, the passionate attention, the effort…. the Conatus (Spinoza), an inherent force that every creature has in order to preserve his existence. The inherent force in all relationships is transference. It forces man to transform reality through the intervention of another person.
A child needs the support of a reliable adult whose stable presence and availability will provide him with a context of reference and linking with reality. The psychiatrist with genuine love for development (differentiation) provides this setting. Love for human development means investing in waiting, the passage of time, change, the future and differentiation. Many incidents of child abuse are caused by an adult who identifies the child with the “new”, which has a future and will bring about change, a fact that creates envy. Violence erupts when the parent cannot put the child’s tension into words. This means that the child does not have a meaning (representation) in the adult’s psychic life.
In order to meet the psyche of another person, you must first be deeply touched in the core of your own existence. It is difficult to allow the pain and terror of a patient to touch us. Psychoanalysts show to psychiatrists that, apart from love, they also feel hatred towards their patients because they broach the core of their own unelaborated experiences. Psychoanalysis is unwanted and hated because it affects something sacred, the hidden and private nucleus of existence that should not be exposed to communication (Winnicott, 1965).
Patients we treat in our days often use a concrete non-symbolic communication, because they hate and destroy meanings. They pressure psychiatrists to repeat the narcissistic needs of parents to be liked by their children, to make their children love them.
In fact, no one can spare (protect) a child from going through the depression and traumas that his growing up entails. Those who attempted to do so, made children anorectic, bulimic, addicted to the evacuation and consumption of emotions and of the primitive contents of narcissism. However, we often consider children as victims. We have to calm them down in order to prevent them from getting angry with us and disturbing the universe of our narcissism. We avoid their pain which reminds us of the hell that our childhood has been. In order to not experience this pain again, we deprive children of the possibility to complete the experience of the loss of omnipotence, to introduce reality.
The analytic work with children has opened new paths to the understanding of the capacity of the psyche to create images from the sensory, kinetic elements through playing (choreography, music, painting). A girl lived with her alcoholic mother until the moment she died and continued to sleep beside her mother’s body, refusing to be detached from it. She is now 14 years old and she is looking for a safe corner within herself. These were the words of her analyst that touched her deeply. She then feels a terrifying threat. She fears that she will get close to her analyst and will again be imprisoned inside a hostile horrible mother. After the session she does not go home to her foster family, she wanders around, gets lost in the city and is finally found by the police (Bodin, 2010). This session and drifting is a choreography that illustrates a nightmare which she lives in her waking life… The girl tried to get away from a meaning that had been internalized. However, inspite of the dreadful repetitions of traumas, the girl continued her effort to internalize new meanings and renounce her omnipotence.
To the extent that the psyche does not transform reality, reality is traumatic and overthrows our sense of omnipotence. In this case, the issue is whether we have transitional objects that can mediate and make reality tolerable. If we do not have transitional objects, we use various bureaucratic and other perverse games of power. When thinking is not adequate to advance the psychic elaboration of current experiences, we avoid the pain by seeking refuge in acts of despair.
1. The exercise of administration. The problem, of course, does not lie in administration. Power and authority are values which can be shared. Omnipotence cannot be shared: you are either everything or nothing. The problem begins when relationships become bureaucratic, instrumental, and fill up the voids (the representations of others have been exterminated, leaving no trace behind) with actions-reactions. Our encounters resemble assemblies of political party organizations. Dead, without real antithesis and differentiation, where we do not want to fall in love in order to not be fooled. In conditions of conformity and suppression, we work without love and desire to know, without understanding each other. We do not meet. No one identifies with no one.
2. Professionalism. We may entrench the despair experiences of a helpless child with an omnipotent fantasy of phallic autarky and omniscience. With cynicism we believe that every perspective of development has been destroyed. We exhibit an attitude of ‘pessimism’, which is a luxury we cannot afford when we treat children.
3. Lack of respect for the framework, the role of the third-party, the boundaries –the narcissism and the defenses– of others (patients, colleagues). With acts of violence we harass, violate and exploit younger colleagues. With the incapacity to wait, to withstand frustration and to think, we resort to repetitive compulsory behaviors which expose us to danger. With an inability to mourn, with manic defenses against the deadness of depression, with blackmails, bribes, corruption from drug companies, intrigues.
4. Positions of power attract individuals who yearn for risky situations in order to put themselves in a vulnerable position to be discovered, to become victims of blackmail. They live between “fame” and “shame” (Weldon, 2011). While they continue to function within reality (above suspicion), they preserve encysted (in the psyche, in the institutions) their perverse practices with which they defend themselves against the black hole of the death of the representations of the object. They do not care, they feel indifferent, they do not take measures to cover their traces. This is exactly what they want. To leave traces and be found! They are after the danger that excites them. Their excitement is their antidepressant. It saves them from psychic death. At the same time, they attack themselves by not caring for their satisfaction and safety and through these attacks they express their hatred against their parents who had been experienced as abandoning themselves and their children in danger.
The examples that I briefly mentioned above are indicative of a breakdown. The breakdown of meaning. Humans are by nature cultural animals. Our place of origin and our living space are a way of life that is expressed within a culture. However, our way of life is vulnerable. It may collapse. The Indians of the Crow tribe were confined and kept by the government in a reservation. The buffalos had left. The Indians stopped being buffalo hunters. When “THIS” happened, their way of life broke down. Chief Plenty Coups told the story to a hunter who lived nearby…. He told the story up to the point when “THIS” happened. “After THIS, he said, nothing happened.” We live, said another, a life that we do not understand (Lear, 2008). Nothing happens in life if there is not a way of life, a community of reference, to give it meaning.
In our days, more and more often, forces of destructivity are liberated. The violence against the links of meaning and the destruction of thinking prevail. The result is that we function with archaic ways of behavior that evacuate tension. We constantly increase the deficits of symbolization. We do not assume the debt which, according to Winnicott(1958, 1965 and 1971), is our duty throughout life, from the moment of our separation from our primary mother. The debt is the constant work that links –with transitional objects– internal with external reality.
The unmetabolized actuality of experiences –“a grain of sand” that we find in the heart of a pearl– creates a holearound which the psyche weaves formations of meaning (Freud 1916-17, 1920). We pay our debt when we weave meanings, we write articles…
Antonio Tambucchi compared literature writing (and any creative work, I would say) with the playing of children: it is possibly a playing similar to that of children. It is a terribly serious playing. Because when a child plays he gives everything to playing. He takes a pebble and, sitting on the doorstep of his house as it gets dark, holding it in his palm, he says that this pebble is the whole world. I underline: he does not only think it, but he also says it, for only when he actually says it is the magic confirmed and only then does the pebble become the world. The child knows that, if this pebble fell, the world would be shattered, the universe in which the world revolves would be disturbed, the stars would go mad and chaos would prevail. The child knows that, as long as the play lasts, he will hold the fortunes of the world in his hands.
Each of us adds his own little pebble in constructing the world of meanings.
Making ourselves useful, we live a life we understand, we resist so as to not become superfluous, without history, without place of origin; wandering undead ghosts.
Bodin, G. (2010). Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The pain of growingwiser. Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review. 33: 96-105.
Britton, R. (1998). Subjectivity, objectivity and triangular space. In Belief and Imagination. London: Routledge.
Freud S. (1916-1917). Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis, SE 16 and 17.
Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the Pleasure Principle. SE 18.
Lear, J. (2008). Radical Hope. Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Parsons, M. (2000). The Dove that Returns, The Dove that Vanishes. Paradox and Creativity in Psychoanalysis. London and Philadelphia: Routledge.
Sahlims, M. (1985). Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weldon, V. E. (2011). Playing With Dynamite. A Personal Approach to the Psychoanalytic Understanding of Perversions, Violence, and Criminality. London: Karnac.
Winnicott, DW (1958). The capacity to be alone. In: Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Karnac.
Winnicott, DW (1965). Communicating and not communicating leading to a study of certain opposites. In: Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment. London: Karnac
Winnicott, DW. (1971). Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.