Elements Of Unresolved Mutual Recognition; Some Notes On Theories In Personality Formation & Fear Of ‘Other’

The usage of the phrase “she is” is an important key to the whole matter… “She is . . ..” – that intensify the fear of the other’s omnipotence as well as the need to retaliate by asserting one’s own omnipotence. She is a whore. She is a nigger. She is white trash. These are all statements of hate, and of fear of that which we have failed to understand as an unresolved unrecognized element of the differences that separate us and that failure to come to terms with both good and bad aspects of character.

The origins of the notion of matricide of course reside in Freud’s first postulating that religion is the earliest wish to be rescued by the father from primary helplessness. What we discern from this idea of “primary helplessness” is that there must existence a fear of the omnipotent maternal depths. Karen Horney (1932) began her classic essay “The Dread of Woman” with Schiller’s poem about “The Diver.” In this poem the man’s search for a woman doomed him to the perils of the engulfing deep. Horney suggests that man’s longing for woman is always coupled with “the dread that through her he might die and be undone.” In my opinion, a poem that hints at the male’s narcissism or unresolved  mutual recognition in mother-other. “This fear may be either concealed by contempt or by adoration: contempt repairs the injury to masculine self-esteem, where as adoration covers dread with awe and mystery, in whom is a secret he cannot divine, this feeling of his can only relate ultimately to one thing in her: the mystery of motherhood.” The structure and formation of many religious belief systems reflects this projection of an all-powerful father figure which emerges from the fear of the oceanic oneness, an antidote to helplessness at the hands of a dreaded maternal power.

One theory of psychoanalysis (Chasseguet-Smirgel 1976) contends that the oedipal boy’s conscious image of the little girl as inferior and lacking is because the vagina is unknown to children. The theory contends that the children only know of the penis. This position is actually an effort to repair a narcissistic wound, the sense of helplessness and dependency on the omnipotent mother, whose vagina is too large and this “primary helplessness” later takes the form of the oedipal realization that one is too small to satisfy or complete the mother. Thus, the boy is left in perpetual mourning for the vagina he could never have, the mother. This position could be compared to the psychic position of a stranded relic. Eric L. Santner in his 1990 work “Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory and Film in Postwar Germany” compares the mass psychic wound left behind on the German population following the fall of the Third Reich after Adolf Hitler. This psychic relic wound of the mother he could never have (conquer), helps facilitate the boys heterosexuality and object selection later in life as he grows into maturity. It is adhesively fixed like glass glued to the table. During early childhood following the oedipal period, this theory contends the child accepts the transfer of power to the father as the only means by which the child can free him- or herself from helpless subjection to the omnipotent mother and enter the reality of the wider world.

Some psychoanalysts (Dinnerstein) see the escape from unfreedom by the maternal power by embracing paternal authority as problematic and asserts that it is part of a constellation that constitutes our cultural sickness. If the infant projects omnipotence upon the first person who cares for her or him, this projection can be defused only by giving men an equal role in nurturing children in infancy. Were men also to embody the dangerous, enchanting thrall of early intimacy, we could no longer split off all the envy, greed, dread, and rage and apply it to women.

Another theory which has been postulated (Benjamin 1995) suggests that mental omnipotence is a complex intrapsychic condition, not an immediate, originary state. It probably begins in the first crisis of recognizing the other, the first conscious encounter with the mother’s independence, during the separation-individuation phase in the second year of life. The infant’s grandiose aspirations now conflict with the perceived reality of her limitation and dependency. When the child becomes aware that reality will not always bend to her will, “a struggle to the death for recognition” may ensue. This period of rapprochement (Mahler) focused on mother’s leaving as confronting the child of mother’s independent aims, a point that has usually been ignored.

Winnicott gave us a paradigm for the ongoing oscillations between omnipotence and recognition throughout life rather than as a strictly sequential notion, in which the infant begins in omnipotence and moves out toward reality in a unilinear fashion. The problem that often occurs in the process of differentiation is that if the other retaliates or caves in and withdraws, we don’t really experience the other as outside us; instead of surviving and becoming real, she or he is subsumed by (seems to be) our persecutory fantasy. A power struggle is inaugurated, and the outcome is a reversible cycle of doer and done to. If the mother does not survive, a pattern is established in which there is no real other subject, no real feeling for the other. Let us imagine a mother who gives in to the child and never leaves. The child feels she or he has succeeded in controlling Mother, and this means, “Now Mommy is still my fantasy, Mommy is also afraid, and I can never leave Mommy without great anxiety, either.” Thus, even as the child loses contact with the real independent mother, the omnipotent fantasy mother fills the space. Now the child is no longer able to encompass the feeling “I am full of anxiety” but rather feels Mother must remain literally there to solve his problem. Otherwise, he experiences his fear and anger as if in reaction to a real, outside danger. Fantasy and reality are not distinct. Alternately, if Mother leaves and returns, followed by a happy reunion, the child feels that the danger – the projection of his own anger onto Mother – was not real.

Winnicott contends that when aggression is not worked through in this way, it continues to fuel fantasies of revenge and retaliation, attributed to both self and other. The whole experience is removed from the domain of intersubjective reality and becomes the exclusive domain of unconscious fantasy, positioned not as a feeling we can own but as a projection onto the frightening, dreaded object. All intersubjective experience is elaborated in fantasy, but when the other does not survive the aggression is not dissipated, experience becomes almost exclusively fantastic.

This experience was elaborated on in Amber Jacob’s book “On Matricide.” During the childhood phase described above, the child split’s the mother into two parts; one bad and one good. The bad mother is the mother who doesn’t acquiesce to the child’s demands or needs. Thus the child remains stranded in a place in which he or she fails to come to the realization that all people, including Mother, have good and bad qualities. These qualities will inevitably sometimes hurt others. These injuries are not absolute, there are possibilities to repair the damage we have caused to another through reconciliation. The worst form of this psychic structure is the position of the paranoid schizoid. The serial killer. Amber Jacobs has postulated, that this position is at the heart of mental illness, and that from working out from this position we could potentially describe the various other mental diseases like; anorexia, narcissistic personality disorders, cases of cutting, rape, and murder.

Going back to Karen Horney and her remarks from the literary poem “The Diver” and the unresolved tension, breakdown of an effective resolution between subjects that create this notion of “dreaded woman.” “It is not, ‘He says, ’that I dread her; it is that she herself is malignant, capable of any crime, a beast of prey, a vampire, a witch, insatiable in her desires. She is the very personification of what is sinister.’” The usage of the phrase “she is” is an important key to the whole matter. The symbolic equation signifies a collapse of reality and fantasy, as when analysand says to analyst, “I know this feeling I have about you has to do with my mother, but unfortunately I’ve ended up with you, who really are just like her.” All that is bad and dreaded is projected onto the other, and all the anxiety is seen as the product of external attack rather than ones’ own subjective state. The problem, then, is not simply that the male children misidentify with and the then repudiated the mother. It is also that this repudiation involves the psyche in those projective processes – “She is . . ..” – that intensify the fear of the other’s omnipotence as well as the need to retaliate by asserting one’s own omnipotence. “She is a whore.”  “She is a nigger.”  “She is white trash.”  These are all statements of hate, and of fear of that which we have failed to understand as an unresolved unrecognized element of the differences that separate us and that failure to come to terms with both good and bad aspects of character.

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