Advanced Psychopathology

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Jenni's Rxn Paper: Freud, Bowlby, McWilliams

Both Bowlby and Freud believed that the yearning involved with object loss is highly significant and may or may not be intensified by guilty feelings or a fear of retaliation. Both men also maintained that anxiety is related to a belief that the loved figure is temporarily absent, while mourning parallels a belief that the loved one is permanently absent.

Bowlby, however, differentiated his concept of mourning from traditional psychoanalytic theory with two main observations. First, he pointed to evidence suggesting that identification is not the only, nor even the primary method involved in mourning. In fact, Bowlby believed that identification with the lost object occurs only sporadically in mourning and, when present, denotes pathology. Second, he separated identification as a separate process from orality.

Bowlby also disagreed with Freud’s view that ambivalence is not present in normal morning. Instead, he maintained that ambivalence can be a part of healthy mourning and more intense and persistent in pathological cases. Furthermore, Bowlby disagreed with Freud in his belief that hatred for the lost object occurs in unhealthy mourning and not in healthy mourning. Bowlby believed that hatred for the lost loved one can occur in both types of mourning.

Finally, Bowlby summarized the psychoanalytic literature on object loss by highlighting the fact that little attention has been given to the processes of mourning that take place in infancy and childhood. He emphasized the importance (and lack) of understanding for: (1) the type of loss, (2) age at which the loss occurred, (3) nature and source of anxiety and anger, and (4) current and subsequent environmental factors, contributing to the way a child deals with loss.

Similar to Bowlby, McWilliams believes that depression stems from unmourned losses of varying types. She also writes that depressed persons suffer from a self-belief that they “drove away” their loved one. Through projection and suppression, feelings of abandonment are transformed into an unconscious belief that the frustration was provoked, deserved, and likely to be repeated by anyone who gets close to the depressed individual.

Also similar to Bowlby, McWilliams acknowledges a child’s capacity to mourn and grieve. In fact, she states that families who: model denial of grief; encourage the child to believe that he/she is better off without the lost object; or require the child to reassure his/her caregiver(s) that he/she is not suffering, suppress the normal mourning process. The smothering of normal grief reactions in a child can eventually lead to a belief that there is something wrong in the self. Additionally, the child is given the message that grief is dangerous and normal needs for reassurance are destructive.

In describing types of loss, McWilliams draws attention to the separation-individuation process that occurs between a parent and child, highlighting the idea that loss during this phase almost guarantees depressive dynamics. Mothers who cling to their children and provoke guilt with separation leave their offspring believing that normal desires to be aggressive or independent are hurtful. In contrast, mothers who push their children away in reaction to their own fear of abandonment leave their children with hatred for normal dependency needs. In both cases, children are left experiencing an important part of themselves as bad.

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