“…the idea of a model in the brain is that it constitutes a toy that is yet a tool, an imitation world, which we can manipulate in the way that will suit us best, and so find out how to manipulate the real world, which it is supposed to represent.” ~J.Z. Young (quoted by David Wallin in Attachment in Psychotherapy)
In reading Attachment in Psychotherapy by David J. Wallin, I came across this statement which helped me to further understand the manifestation of hysteria as I experienced it following a tragic life event, the untimely death of my very young nephew. The quote reads:
“The avoidant infant…..actively snubs or ignores [his mother], restricting his attention to the toys – as if to distract himself from the anxiety provoked by the Strange Situation and the distress of wanting from mother the comfort he has learned not to expect. We can infer that he is hyper activating his exploratory system so as to inhibit an attachment system whose output has not been welcomed.”
This brief excerpt is discussing childhood attachment of a young child to his primary caregiver, usually a mother. But, it relates to my earlier personal experience with loss and separation during the formative years of development. Let me elaborate further. Because I needed to feel connected with, that is to say, I needed to feel wanted and loved by family during this tragic separation, it resulted in promoting my “active exploration of the real world through excessive exercise.” This is the dissociation we see in the “pretend mode” of modes of experience which I will outline further in this discussion.
Since feelings of inter-connectedness, that is to say, feelings of intimacy that are associated when one feels they are loved (securely attached), these moments arise when one spends intimate family moments with loved ones, it is also the intimate moments that harken back to our early childhood experiences with our primary caregiver/s. Since these feelings where not forth coming for me at this particular time it provoked my psychotic break from reality. It started with my dissociation from having to process the feelings that I was “not wanted“. So feelings of loss/separation/castration became even more amplified then they already were in my psychic mind because I felt separated by family, cut-off, castrated, not wanted. And the result was the manifestation of hysterical symptoms which was a defensive move (strategy) to ward off the metaphorical onslaught of the “furies,“ those symbolic figures we see in literary plays that are described in psychoanalytic terms as a decent into the mourning process which facilitates processing the loss/separation/castration we are experiencing. For me it was the very real loss of losing a loving family. Every child’s greatest fear.
“Mary Ainsworth identified, in a preliminary way, the kinds of parent-child interactions most likely to produce secure attachment, on the one hand, or the varieties of insecure attachment, on the other. The key to security or insecurity, she realized, was to be found in the patterns of communication between infant and caregiver.
In differentiating between security and the varieties of insecurity, Ainswoth discovered that in the attachment relationships it was the quality of communication between infant and caregiver that was of paramount importance. It isn’t so much in the actual words we use, as it is in the way we use words to evoke feelings in others. This is what Mary Ainsworth had discovered through her research with children. Please remember though, attachment is malleable.”
For a child there can be no greater anguish than to endure the knowledge that one has been cast aside by their primary caregiver/s. It is for this reason that avoidantly attached babies, although pleasures to care for when their parents are away, grow up to be most likely to victimize others. It is the knowledge that they were not wanted or loved that facilitates there disassociation. The most crucial part in understanding this topic in psychoanalysis is that the way we communicate our words through the symbolic meaning of our actions become representational phrases that will endure in a child‘s mind for life. For example, you can shun a person by ignoring them. You can shun a person by avoiding them or you can blankly stare at them, void of emotional content. Even though no words were spoken the active phrase implies, “You are not wanted.” or “You are not interesting.” A person may interpret this as “I am not loved” or “I am unlovable.”
In psychology, people can experience psychotic breaks from reality when that reality becomes too painful to process. We see manifestations such as this all the time in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When the physical and/or emotional assaults of the real world we live in becomes so overwhelming the mind develops defensive strategies to cope with new painful realities. Likewise, an adult can be a fully functioning adult but after having gone through a tragic loss or separation can manifest symptoms of psychosis. This is what happened when Andrew Cunanan, the serial killer who killed Johnny Versace, killed Jeff Trail. When there close friendship began to unravel there began a collapse in mutual recognition or reflective functioning on the part of Andrew Cunanan. Cunanan’s solution to the loss of mutual association was sought with a claw hammer to the head of Jeff Trail. It is believed that Andrew Cunanan went through periodic breaks in reality (ie: psychotic breaks otherwise known as psychosis) and was posthumously diagnosed as a Borderline Personality Disorder.
“Much of the psychopathology we encounter in our patients can be seen to reflect either an inhibition of mentalizing or a failure to develop it in the first place. Correspondingly, psychotherapy can be understood as an effort to restore or kindle the patient’s capacity to mentalize.”
In the theory of mind refers to the ways in which all of us, to varying degrees, make sense of our own and others’ behavior on the basis of underlying mental states – including beliefs, emotions, and desires. The idea here is that, beginning in childhood, we develop a “theory” that enables us to understand and, to some extent, predict what others will do in light of what we think is going on in their mind.
Peter Fonagy is a Hungarian-born British psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist whose clinical interests center on issues of borderline psychopathology, violence and early attachment relationships. Peter Fonagy describes three such subjective modes of psychic experience: psychic equivalence, pretense, and mentalizing.
In the mode of psychic equivalence, the internal world and external reality are simply equated. There is no differentiating here between beliefs and facts. What we think and feel seems tomorrow what occurs to us in the physical world, and vice versa. In this frame of mind, when we are treated badly, for example, we are likely to feel that we are bad – and feeling that we’re bad, we “know” that we will be treated badly. In such a closed system, the self as psychological agent tends to be submerged: there is no “I” that interprets or creates experience but only a “me” to whom experience happens.
In the “pretend” mode, the internal world is decoupled from the external one. Here we are unfettered by actualities: Whatever we imagine is felt to be real and whatever we ignore is rendered immaterial. Dissociation, denial, and extreme narcissistic grandiosity are all examples of the “pretend” mode. In this mode, like the one above, the self as interpreter or creator of experiences is constrained, because taking reality into account threatens what has been imagined and opens the door to what has been ignored.
In the mentalizing (or reflective) mode, we are able to recognize that the internal world is separate from, but also related to, external reality. Here we can reflect on the ways in which our thoughts, feelings, and fantasies both affect, and are affected by, what actually happens to us. In this mode, our subjective experience is felt to have interpretive depth and thus – because we can grasp the difference between events ad our reactions to them – we can enjoy a measure of internal freedom. Mentalizing reveals a world of self and others that is rich, complex, and ambiguous – and one in which we have the potential to revise our mental representations of external reality as our actual realities change.
According to Fonagy, these modes of experience unfold sequentially in the course of development. At first, infants and small children live inescapably in a world of psychic equivalence in which subjective experience is compellingly, and sometimes terrifyingly, real. Then, they find a kind of liberation through the mode of pretense in which subjective experience is decoupled from reality: In play, they can pretend that the constraints of reality simply do not exist. Finally, in normal development, beginning at age four or so, there comes about an integration of these two earlier modes. Now the internal world is neither equated with, nor completely severed from, the external one. With the emergence of the reflective mode comes a growing ability to consider, implicitly and explicitly, the relationship between internal and external reality (Fonagy, 2001; Allen & Fonagy, 2002; Fonagy et al., 2002).
Regarding my experience with the onslaught of electro-magnetic frequency (signals/waves), it is my belief the reason this technology is being used is because someone is trying to victimize me. Even though my later adult behavior was “avoidant” in terms of dealing with my external reality, I do not personally believe I was an avoidantly attached baby. There were simply far too many family members involved in caring for me (mother, father, two older brothers, and an older sister) and they all pitched in to help raise me. If anything I was probably disassociated or ambivalently attached. In any event, attachment is malleable. And as such, one can be “re-programmed.” Beneficial “re-programming” happens during the course of psychoanalysis, but “malevolent re-programming” can happen when we are victimized by others with malign purpose, such as when a religious leader of a cult, re-programs his followers by indoctrinating them into his own personal ideology. An ideology that facilitates his own personal agenda. This is what happened when David Koresh, the religious cult leader of the Branch Davidian, did when he mislead many of his followers in Waco, TX. His questionable moral ethics regarding sexual practices among the women and young girls, sparked community outrage and resulted in a deadly 51 day siege.
The patients seen in psychotherapy often have trouble extricating themselves from the modes of psychic equivalence and/or pretense. In the first case, they are bullied by feelings and thoughts that demand to be acted on because they are equated with facts. In the second, they are kept aloft by wishful thoughts, but isolated in the process form their feelings and from the people who might matter to them.
For psychotherapists, parents and teachers, as well as researchers, the key question must be: What fosters the transition out of the experiential modes of psychic equivalence and pretense into a mentalizing mode? The Answer: An intersubjective relationship of attachment that provides first a full measure of affect regulation and then, not unimportantly, a modicum of play in the presence of a reflective other.
Wallin, David J. Attachment In Psychotherapy. New York. The Guilford Press. (2007).
Other Sources To Consider:
Fonagy, P. (1991). Thinking about thinking: Some clinical and theoretical considerations in the treatment of a boderline patient. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 72, 639-656.
Fonagy, P. (2000). Attachment and borderline personality disorder. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48(4), 1129-1147.
Fonagy, P. (2001). Attachment theory and psychoanalysis. New York: Other Press.
Fonagy, P., Gergeley, G., Jurist, E.J., & Target, M.I. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization, and the development of the self. New York: Other Press.
Fonagy, P., Leigh, T., Steele, M., Steele, H., Kennedy, R., Mattoon, G., Target, M., & Gerber, A. (1996). The relation of attachment status, psychiatric classification, and response to psychotherapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64, 22-31.
Fonagy, P., Steele, H., & Steele, M. (1991a). Maternal representations of attachment during pregnancy predict the organization of infant-mother attachment at one year of age. Child Development, 62, 891-905.
Fonagy, P., Steele, M., Steele, H., Moran, G.S., & Higgitt, A.C. (1991b). The capacity for understanding mental states: The reflective self in parent and child and its significance for security of attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 12, 201-218.
Fonagy, P., Steele, M., Steele, H., Leigh, T., Kennedy, R., Mattoon, G., et al. (1995). Attachment, the reflective self, and borderline states: The predictive specificity of the Adult Attachment Interview and pathological emotional development. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir, & J. Kerr (Eds.), Attachment theory: Social, developmental and clinical perspectives (pp. 233-278). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
Fonagy, P., & Target, M. (1996). Playing with reality: I. Theory of mind and the normal development of psychic reality. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 77, 217-233.
Fonagy, P., & Target, M. (2006). The mentalization focused approach of self pathology. Journal of Personality Disorders, 20(6), 544-576.
Fonagy, P., Target, M., Steele, H., & Steele, M. (1998). Reflective-functioning manual, version 5.0, for application to adult attachment interviews. London: University College London.