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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Journal 3; 8th October 2012

Today began with a recap on Jung and his ideas (one of my favourite theorists), and so I began positively.

We mentioned his beginnings, as the ‘heir apparent’ to Freud, and his break with that association – leading to his ‘psychotic breakdown’, and the ideas that followed thereafter; the innate potential of the psyche to heal itself; his influence by eastern philosophies leading to his ideas on the creative unconscious and archetypes; personality types, and the idea that the psyche is made up of opposites – the shadow being made up of our negative, unwanted ideas, the anima/animus representing our gender opposite characteristics and the persona being the public face assumed, and the concept that the focus of therapy should be in recognising these opposites within ourselves in order to achieve a unified self. Individuation is the name Jung gave to the process of achieving wholeness, and he strived to achieve that in therapy through the use of active imagination – using dreams, visualisations, art and other creative techniques to bring the client into contact with their unconscious – the transcendent function.

Towards the end of our discussion we were asked to consider which archetypes we most relate to, and many of us admitted to relating to the healer largely. Although I may have felt that in the past, these days I find that I am further away from that image internally than I have ever been. If anything, I have felt more like the patient in recent years – and I haven’t enjoyed that one bit. It has been disempowering, and I have resented the idea of allowing my inner world to match my outer world when I am so unhappy with both! Part of me (quite egotistically really) related to Jung himself – this idea of being the rebellious child who takes the ideas of the father and makes his own sense of them; rejecting some notions and choosing to do it his own way, facing the consequences of a complete mental breakdown in search of the ‘truth’ rather than towing the line and never feeling real, fulfilled, ‘actualised’. I relate to the freedom of thought that comes with hitting the very bottom, losing what seems like the last touch on ‘reality’, and admire the way he turned this to his (our) long term benefit, forcing himself to stay in the scary place in order to understand it better. When I hit that place I was terrified, and forced myself back to the ‘real world’ as a drowning man would hit the sea bed and strive to bounce back to the surface, taking huge gulps of both air and water. Sometimes I still wonder if I still have water in my lungs…

This reflection connected well with the next chunk of theory we tackled – the work of Melanie Klein, best known for her Object Relations theory. When we initially learnt about this last year it took me a long time to get my head around these ideas, but in discussing it in class, I realised how much of it I had really absorbed. During the Jung part of the morning, when relating to the favoured son rebelling against the authoritarian archetype, I automatically began to question the attachment between me and my mother – a Kleinian concept. She felt that difficulties in our relationships with our early caregivers affect our relationships in later life, our relationships with all objects, including food, and even relationships with ourselves. Although, I am fundamentally insecure in my attachment style (my mother returned to work when I was very young, and I hated being given to childminders), I have always been in denial about that (as has my mother, constantly reminding me that I was the most spoilt, well-loved child there ever was), and have chosen to ignore obvious signs that relationships aren’t what they appear to be (refusing to admit to myself that my ex husband was having affairs, even when he obviously was)

Klein called our mental constructs of the world around us our phantasies. These fluctuate and change with us as we grow and form our new opinions and perceptions of the world. Often we use the defence mechanism splitting to guard ourselves from emotional pain – separating good feelings from bad feelings, dealing in opposites, understanding the world by placing situations/objects into   opposing places. This is an immature, primitive defence – as we grow older, or work through issues in therapy, and our phantasies are understood and deconstructed we see the world as a less black and white place, containing elements of both good and bad. The clearest example of this for me would be when my ex-husband left me, and I found it impossible to deal with our relationship ending unless I began to hate him (or hate myself, resorting back to the anorexia – impossible, being the sole carer for my two young children; I had to remain functioning). Until I could start to do that, it was unreal to me. Luckily/unluckily – not sure which – he did actually give me very good reasons to hate him, once I deconstructed the phantasy that nobody who loved me could consciously hurt me, and accepted his part in things!

Another defence mechanism Kleinians call projective identification is where our phantasies get rid of our unbearable feelings by pushing them into someone else. My example of this is also from the time shortly after my husband left me. My best friend at the time had, in retrospect, had a slightly -inappropriate relationship with my ex-husband, and I think that when he finally left me, she couldn’t cope with the guilt she felt about the part she may have played in our break up. Unable to face me, she made excuse after excuse as to why she couldn’t be there for me in the months that followed, until I eventually felt hurt and angry by her lack of support, and started to properly question her part in our relationship’s demise. Her negative feelings were projected into me because she couldn’t cope with them.

Hefty stuff! Even though, this was theory I already thought I knew and understood, being asked to apply that theory directly to my own experiences was hard. It is the way to learn though, and although it isn’t always nice to revisit those places, it is necessary if one really wants to absorb these ideas – otherwise they are abstract. This gives them form, even if it is an ugly one.

I consciously chose to lighten things for myself in the afternoon session; choosing a dream to discuss in the practical part of the day, trying to engage with the therapy as ‘play’ (Winnicott’s instructions!) through my ‘speaking’ session. I am not afraid to embrace my ‘shadow’ (as Jung would call it), but I  learned from last week that the exchange of energy within the group can be so powerful that I have to engage an element of self- protection at a certain point – definitely a lesson being learnt for the future. It is possible to engage honestly and directly without giving to the point of exhaustion, and I am beginning to do that. Well, I have to, really…