Advanced Psychopathology

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Reaction #5

The Freudian notion of id gratification shaping infants is abandoned by the British school, namely Fairbairn and Winnicott. For Fairbairn, the infant is not seeking pleasure. It seeks an object for relatedness. Anxiety and displeasure are not soothed by the discharge of energy, but by the quality of relatedness to an external object. Fairbairn talks not about repression and the unconscious, but about deprivation of intimacy leading to potential pathology. If needs with the primary object are not met, “splitting” of the ego can arise. Ultimately, ideas will lack integration and Fairbairn posits that this is precisely how pathology develops.

Ideal developmental circumstances between Freud and Winnicott seem quite similar. For Freud, parenting is a balancing act where the parent should not be overly harsh and dominating, but should also not be too indulgent. For instance, in toilet training the parent should not constantly scold a child for making mistakes. Yet, the parent should also avoid being overly praising for a job well done. In either situation, an unrealistic ideal can be internalized by the child and negatively impact personal development. Winnicott’s idea of ‘good enough mothering’ seems to compliment Freud’s idea of optimal parental involvement. Winnicott assumes that shortcomings are inevitable in parenting. These shortcomings should be embraced, as they become the primary motivator for growth. For Winnicott, development is primarily concerned with achieving autonomy. The infant’s idea of the caretaker being ‘magically omnipotent’ gets challenged and selfobject differentiation ensues. Like Freud, this process should not be too abrupt and should follow a series of steps: holding-integration, handling-personalization, and object relating. The struggle in parenting, according to Winnicott, is a balance between privation and deprivation. With privation, the infant is too overwhelmed to recognize an external object. While severe deprivation can lead to mistrust in the caretaker and early object loss.

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