Journal 5; 22nd october 2012

Today; the theories of Ronald Fairbairn, an object relation theorist, who has not had as much written about him as the other theorists we have studied so far, it seems.

We were given a lengthy hand out containing a detailed critique of his views on therapy; his ideas were basically psychodynamic (ie. looking at birth onwards) but also seemed, to me, to bridge the gap towards the more humanistic approaches, by stressing the importance of the therapist entering the client’s inner world. He stated that the interpretation of the transference that occurs in therapy was not enough, alone, to facilitate change for the client. He felt that this transference relationship should be developed between client and counsellor, and gradually replaced by a real relationship that can give the client a model on which they can base future relationships in the outer world. He stated “the distortions of inner reality can be corrected by outer reality” (Fairbairn 1958:381)

Fairbairn was an ‘object relationist’, alongside Klein, Bowlby and Winnicott (whose work we have been studying over the past few weeks), fundamentally believing that all relationships in life are based on blueprints taken from our earliest connections with objects in childhood. I found the paper we were given wordy and confusing, but my basic understanding of his principles (after much searching online and reading around, trying to clarify the ideas in my head) are this;

  • An ego is present from birth.
  • Libido is a function of the ego.
  • There is no death instinct; and aggression is a reaction to frustration or deprivation.
  • Since libido is a function of the ego and aggression is a reaction to frustration or deprivation, there is no such thing as an ‘id’.
  • The ego, and therefore libido, is fundamentally object-seeking.
  • The earliest and original form of anxiety, as experienced by the child, is separation-anxiety.
  • Internalization of the object is a defensive measure originally adopted by the child to deal with his original object (the mother and her breast) in so far as it is unsatisfying.

He came up with a revised structure of the personality, which bears similarities to Freud’s id, ego, superego but has marked differences;

(taken from www. As shown in this diagram of ‘Fairbairn’s endopsychic structure’, the unconscious part of the mind is divided into the object seeking half – the libidinal ego which is driven towards objects, and the antilibidinal ego, which rejects and attacks objects. These filter into our conscious/ everday self – the central ego, which in turn creates our ‘preserved object’ (ie how we actually do behave toward things/people.

Phew! Theory dealt with (I think). I can’t stress enough how hard it has been to write this journal entry – my problems with absorbing this theory have been a huge block to me, and have sent me back to my old pattern of procrastination. Thank goodness for the half term break – it has given me more time to get my head into focus on this.

Brain drain still fresh – we spent some time thinking about how have dealt with pressure at different points in our lives, to help us to understand how our own individual approaches to counselling have evolved, and will evolve further as we go on.

The particular events we were asked to consider included; dealing with a crying baby, someone (teenager or child) having a tantrum, being with someone who has received news of a loss, someone who you care about being hurt, dealing with a family member having a breakdown, and someone close to you being terminally ill.

Heavy situations, all of them situations that I have found myself in, and all of them have provoked quite similar reactions in me; an instinctive need to be there, remain calm, and simply try to hang in through it; contain it and  allow it, creating a safe space where the crisis can happen in  relative sanctuary.

Well, that is all except the last one – the person close to me being terminally ill – this I couldn’t deal with, and I thought I felt ashamed of myself for that. But when looking back  and reflecting objectively on that situation, I was never really required to be there. It was my Aunt that was ill, and she wanted my Mum to support her, and in turn, Mum turned to me for support– which I did, to the fullest of my abilities. More evidence of me automatically being hard on myself, and turning emotions I found too hard to deal with (grief and worry) into an emotion I was more than comfortable with – guilt. Aaargh! Definitely learning to be done there…

Process group in the afternoon was… erm… interesting? Animated? Explosive? Cathartic. As time goes on, and I grow more comfortable with the group, and more determined to use the group  as a learning place, I get braver, and more willing to take chances, raising my opinions much more than I ever felt able to last year. This week, I think my frustration at the way I had struggled to get my head around Fairbairn  in the morning, and my subsequent ‘block’ on the rest of the day (the result of that earlier lack of engagement) got to me. I thought “f*** it” and I voiced that frustration to the class. The relief that I wasn’t the only one feeling it was huge, but in  trying to devise some kind of better approach to the learning that might be beneficial for more of us, other backs seems to be raised. The conversation grew heated, and this felt good to me. Some might describe the exchange that took place as ‘a fight’, but rather than trying to diffuse things between the group members involved, I found myself adding fuel to the fire; putting my gestalt hat on, and pointing out their body language to them, trying to make them aware of their way of being. Why did I do that? It was instinctive, not thought through at all. I felt a need to shake things up – to make changes happen. Internalising, trying to reflect and keep problems as my own no longer seemed like a viable option to me. And the group responded – vociferously – in a good way, in my opinion. I am quite sure that that was one of the most enjoyable and productive process group sessions we, as a class, have ever had afterwards and the general feeling amongst the group did seem much clearer and more positive .

Am I ‘becoming’ the counsellor – is this my natural way of being? I don’t want to ‘make things better’ any more. I want help people deal with things, even if it is uncomfortable…



Journal post 4; 15th October 2012

 Today began  by talking about John Bowlby’s theories. The main principles are;

  • A child has an innate need to attach to one main figure although he didn’t rule out the idea of children having other attachments, he stressed the importance of this primary bond.
  • A child should receive the continuous care of this single most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life. If the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the critical two year period the child will suffer irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation. This risk continues until the age of 5.
  • The long term consequences of maternal deprivation might include the following:  delinquency,  reduced intelligence,  increased aggression,  depression,  affectionless psychopathy  –  where individuals act on impulse with little regard for the consequences of their actions. E.g. showing no guilt for antisocial behaviour.
  • The child’s attachment relationship with their primary caregiver leads to the development of an internal working model. The primary caregiver acts as a prototype for future relationships via this model. There are three main features: (1) a model of others a being trustworthy, (2) a model of the self as valuable, and (3) a model of the self as effective when interacting with others.

In relation to me and my childhood, a lot can be explained; My Mother went back to work when I was very small, giving me to child minders and au pairs until age 4. Whereupon I started  school and from then onwards,  I went home with a friend and stayed at her house through the evenings until Mum got home from work. This arrangement was out of necessity – when I was born, Dad was running his own business, which, sadly, went bankrupt when I was a baby. Mum was the breadwinner for the family (my two older sisters were called on to help with a lot of childcare, I think, but being 10 and 11 years older than me, were probably ‘less than thrilled’ with that idea) and worked very long hours in The City. I can honestly say that I really didn’t know my Mum until I was an adult and a mother myself – realistically, probably not until she retired, a few years ago.

I feel sad about that – I know that it very dramatically influenced my decision to be at home with my children as much as possible whilst they grow up – and in turn, maybe my unconscious resentment towards my ex-husband when I felt ‘forced’ into starting my own business and working full time. It wasn’t something I acknowledged at the time, but looking back, I can see that I did blame work for the disintegration of my adult family life, much as I viewed Mum’s job as been the reason I never felt that I had a ‘real’ family life as a child.

We started to fill in the ‘adult attachment interview’ questions (the completed version is to follow shortly). I started to feel awkward about this when the tutor asked the group if we had nearly finished answering the questions, and I was only beginning question 4. Ok, maybe my childhood wasn’t as happy as I had always believed it must have been – or had been told it was by the other family members (Group denial? Defence from the guilt that seems to engulf most things within our family, and tortures us? Perhaps…)

The natural progression, theory-wise, from John Bowlby, is Donald Winnicott (of course, they follow Melanie Klein and are continuations of object relations theory – last week’s subject) Key principles are;

  • the transition object: For comfort and not-me identification.
  • the ‘good enough’ Mother: Providing the ‘holding environment’ and facilitating transition.
  • true self, false self: Integrity and growth
  • play: Development and learning.
  • The space between: Rather than consider the outer and inner worlds, he was interested in the ‘transition space’ between these domains.

Winnicott suggested that therapy was play; that the therapist was akin to the ‘good enough’ mother, providing the correct holding environment for the client to play and thus learn and develop.

In relation to me; after the end of my ‘previous life’ as a mother, wife, and business owner I acquired a transitional object to comfort me through all those losses that happened in such a short space of time – my knitting. Weird as it may sound, I knitted like a demon! It was about all I could do; it seemed to occupy enough of my brain to stop me thinking too hard; it kept me busy; it made me feel that ‘something’ was being achieved as my world fell down around my ears; it felt comforting – the rhythmic movement, and soft yarns used – I found myself unable to do much else, I was compelled to knit. I bought endless knitting books and magazines, I put wool all around my house – baskets full of it, knitted toys, cushions, even knitted pictures on the wall. And now, I am still aware that this depression is not fully lifted yet, knowing that the days when I feel unable to do much are the days that I reach for the knitting (still pretty much every day, to be honest) I feel angry about it sometimes, and toy with the idea of throwing all my knitting paraphernalia away, but know that I am totally unready for that. I do know that I hate anything that I knit for myself though, often undoing it months later, rarely wearing any of it.

And AAARGH! I have left myself no more space to write about any of the rest of the day – there is so much to fit in and I am already way over my 800 word limit! Another journal entry might be necessary for these thoughts; that and a long discussion with my therapist.

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