“Mental life is seen from an intersubjective perspective.” This means, “where objects were, subjects must be.”
The term intersubjectivity means the intersection of two subjects, the interplay between them in their two distinct and separate worlds, and the mirroring of the mother’s gaze to the achieved critical thinking during rapprochement crisis. Hence, the rapprochement crisis begins the stage of reorganization of “other,” and relinquishing “absolute identity” which is characteristic of infantile narcissism.
“In absolute identity, the self says, “I want to affect you, but I want nothing you do or say to affect me: I am who I am.”
In philosophy we are given the idea that the very notion of a ‘subject’ implies that within this ‘subject’ is a preserved self, an original object in place in and of its own right, and that this ‘subject’ is a unique being even before the process of subjugation begins. This theory implies, that perhaps, maybe, some individuals lack the biological capacity to creatively problem solve during the rapprochement crisis. However, psychoanalysis is solely concerned with the incapacity or failure of the infant to achieve mutual recognition with the mother. The rapprochement crisis, which has encompassed in it the concept of mutual recognition should include the notion of breakdown, of failure to sustain the tension, as well as account for the possibility of repair after failure. In short, “I have edges. I am distinct and separate from you. And you have edges. You are distinct and separate from me. Sometimes our edges intersect and hurt others. But all is not lost. We can repair the hurt by making up for our grievances.” This is the achieved state of mutual recognition.
“Mother’s recognition is the basis for the baby’s sense of agency.”
Attunement, which begins at eight or nine months of age, is only one of the earliest forms in which “knowing the other” is found, and it is only a part of a long development in the capacity for recognition. To begin, we start off in mother’s arms. In the earliest formation of the mother-infant dyad there is this mirroring of the child’s gaze as reflected back with a smile, which serves as a form of symbiotic reflection. The child does not yet recognize that he is separate and apart from the mother, and so to him, this dyad is not really a dyad, but rather a type of monad. Housed within this early phase is the Ideal Mother and Ideal Infant. But the struggle for recognition, between both mother and child, inevitably breaks up this Ideal, which ultimately expresses and brings forth aggression and separation. This is the symbolic space found in the early maternal dyad between mother and child. This process was conceptualized in Freudian psychology in terms of the oedipal period, father-son rivalry.
This phase is a highly erotic phase of development and so the tensions between the fantasy of the ‘ideal object’ and the actual reality creates an intrapsychic relationship. The outcome of fantasy – the dualities of sex and aggression, “heaven or hell” – follows according to this symbolic space and determines whether or not this space of intersubjectivity is retained or closed. Therefore, erotic transference occurs in this symbolic space during psychoanalysis. And so, the primal aggression of an infant can be retained if mutual recognition between the mother and infant is not achieved. Clinical cases of anorexia, bulimia, sexual sadomasochism, and paranoid schizoid personality positions attest to a type of failure of this capacity to recognize crucial elements of this relationship phase. Concepts like: I am separate and different from you. You are separate and different from me. I am deserving of love. You are deserving of love. But we both are similar and we both have needs, even though these needs may be different.
“One of the joys of intersubjective attunement is the capacity to recognize,
This other can share my feelings.”
Tracking into the second year of life, we can see tensions developing between assertion self and recognition of other. According to one theory, this is the period of rapprochement crisis, an which, if circumvented correctly, can translate into intersubjective readiness making the beginnings of the realization that other is distinct and apart from the self with it’s own wishes and feelings (Mahler). During this period the tensions between asserting self and recognizing the other breaks down and is manifested as a conflict between the self and other. It is during this phase we should begin to see signs of the relinquishing of infantile narcissism and the ‘absolute identity.’ This does not mean that conflicts end with the manifestation of the conflicts. By no means will they ever end, as life is full of a constant clash of the wills. Rather it marks an individuals ability to achieve social recognition, moving towards furthering her independence and autonomy.
The infant, up until this point, still takes herself for granted, and her mother as well. She does not make a sharp discrimination between doing things with mother’s help and doing without it. At about fourteen months of age conflict starts to emerge between her grandiose aspirations and the perceived reality of her limitations and dependency. Walking by now she is able to do more. She also comes aware of what she can’t make mommy do.
“Many of the power struggles that begin here can be summed up as a demand: “Recognize my intent!” She will insist that the mother share everything, participate in all her deeds, acquiesce to all her demands.”
Can you hear the renumerations of Adolf Hitler? This is the place and seat of Infantile Narcissism, many forms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, including the paranoid schizoid position. The toddler is also up against the increased awareness of separateness, and, consequently, of vulnerability: she can move away from mother – but mother can also move away from her.
“Rapprochement is the crisis of recognizing the other.”
At this stage the mother may experience conflict at this point: the child’s demands are now threatening, no longer simply needs but expressions of the child’s independent (tyrannical) will. The child is different from the mother’s own mental fantasy, no longer her object. The child may switch places with the mother, from passive to active. The omnipotence once attributed to the “good” all-giving mother now resides instead in the child. How the mother responds to her child’s and her own aggression depends on her ability to mitigate such fantasies with a sense of real agency and separate self-hood, on the confidence in her child’s ability to survive conflict, loss, imperfection. The mother has to be able both to set clear boundaries for her child and to recognize the child’s will, both to insist on her own independence and to respect that of the child – in short, to balance assertion and recognition. If she cannot do this, omnipotence continues, attributed either to the mother or the self; in neither case can we say that the development of mutual recognition has been furthered.
The Ideal “resolution” of the paradox of recognition is that it continues as a constant tension. Rapprochement conflict appears to be resolved through internalization, the achievement of object constancy – when the child can separate from the mother and recognize that she will return, or he can be angry with her and still be able to come in contact with her presence or goodness. It is therefore sufficient enough for the child to accomplish the realistic integration of good and bad object representation. This picture ends when the child has accepted the mother can disappoint her, and she does not change her center of gravity in order to recognize that mother does this because she has her own center.
“But gradually the child begins to identify with the mother’s subjective experience and realizes, “I could miss you as you miss me,” and, therefore, “I know that you could wish to have your own life as I wish to have mine.”
Destruction makes possible the transition from relating (intrapsychic) to using the object, to carrying on a relationship with an other who is objectively perceived as existing outside the self, an entity of her own right. That is, in the mental act of negating or obliterating the object, we find out whether the real other survives. If she survives without retaliating or withdrawing under the attack, then we know her to exist outside ourselves, not just as our mental product. It is important to note that when we say “negating or obliterating the object” we are referring to the ego of the object as in a castrating complex.
Another way to understand the conflicts that occur in rapprochement is through the concepts of destruction and survival: the wish to assert the self absolutely and deny everything outside one’s own mental omnipotence must sometimes crash against the implacable reality of the other. In the collision Winnicott has in mind, however, aggression does not occur “reactive to the encounter with the reality principle” but rather “creates the quality of externality.” When the destructiveness damages neither the parent nor the self, external reality comes into view as a sharp, distinct contrast to the inner fantasy world. The outcome of this process is not simply reparation or restoration of the good object but love, the sense of discovering the other. (“I destroyed you!” “I love you!”) It is important to note here as well that what is being spoken of in terms of “destruction and survival” in which aggression is used to “create the quality of externality” we are referring to theories of subjection and power in forming a ‘subject’s’ conscience; or more concisely in the forming of a person‘s conscience through discipline and through castrating the ego. This state is a constant intrapsychic dynamic state throughout one’s life and is referred to as the clashing of the individual “wills” in human communication.
Human aggression is a distinct part of human communication. Delineating between physical aggression and positive forms of passive-aggression is important. To say that we use aggression in the ‘obliteration of an object’ can seem a lot like we are saying, “It’s okay to injure, maim, or kill.” Rather what we are saying is the use of aggression, and I mean forms of passive aggression, in establishing our wishes as separate and apart from physical violence with the use of logic, reason, and intellect, is how we are expected, as a civilized species, to respond to threats to our autonomy.
Brute physical force is sometimes used to “form a subject” when trying to form a conscience state of awareness. These theories pertain to the philosophical thought of bringing under control a ‘subject’ to be formed . Some of these punitive theories in discipline can be found in the subjugation of canines. It is not recommended for children.
The flip side of Winnicott’s analysis could be stated as follows: when destruction is not countered with survival, when the other’s reality doe not come into view, a defensive process of internalization takes place. Aggression becomes a problem – how to dispose of the bad feeling. (“What about waste-disposal?”):
“What cannot be worked through and dissolved with the outside other is transposed into a drama of internal objects, shifting from the domain of the intersubjective into the domain of the intrapsychic. In real life, even when the other’s response dissipates aggression, there is no perfect process of destruction and survival; there is always also internalization. All experience is elaborated intrapsychically, we might venture to say, but when the other does not survive and aggression is not dissipated, experience becomes almost exclusively intrapsychic. It therefore seems fallacious to regard internalization processes only as breakdown products or as defenses; rather, we could see them as kind of underlying substratum of mental activity – a constant symbolic digestion process that constitutes an important part of the cycle of exchange between the individual and the outside. It is the loss of balance between the intrapsychic and the intersubjective, between fantasy and reality, that is the problem.”