Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

Sibling Interaction

Academic journal article The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child

Sibling Interaction

Article excerpt

Sibling interactions traditionally were conceived psychoanalytically in "vertical" and parentified oedipal terms and overlooked in their own right, for complicated reasons (Colonna and Newman 1983). Important work has been done to right this, from the 1980s and onward, with conferences and writings. Juliet Mitchell's 2000 and, in particular, her 2003 books, for example, have brought "lateral" sibling relations forcefully to the forefront of insights, especially about sex and violence, with the added interdisciplinary impact of illuminating upheaval in global community interactions as well as having implications for clinicians.

A clinical example from the analysis of an adult woman with a tenyears-younger sister will show here how we need both concepts to help us understand complex individual psychic life. The newer "lateral" sibling emphasis, including Mitchell's "Law of the Mother" and "seriality, " can be used to inform the older "vertical" take, to enrich the full dimensions of intersubjective oedipal and preoedipal reciprocities that have been foundational in shaping that particular analysand's inner landscape. Some technical recommendations for heightening sensitivity to the import of these dynamics will be offered along the way here, by invoking Hans Loewald 's useful metaphor of the analytic situation as theater.


FROM 1900 ONWARD, FREUD INTRODUCED THE CUTTING-EDGE IDEA that the oedipal situation ruled family psychosexual relations, governed incest taboos, and-if unstable and unreliable-was in place in mental life to protect civilization and the propagation of the species. Parental relations to each child were patterned in that scheme as "vertical." Sibling 'lateral" relations were seen more or less as a displacement of these vertical arrangements. In the new insights to the lateral sibling relations that Juliet Mitchell brings forward, destruction of the species becomes equally marked by these biopsychosocial forces. She says, "Why have we not considered that lateral relations in love and sexuality or in hate and war have needed a theoretical paradigm with which we might analyse, consider, and seek to influence them?" (2003, p. 1).

The historical pendulum of theory in psychoanalysis itself seems to swing between either stressing Eros as an instinct (Freud 1910) or some kind of preservation, or its classic opposer, the death instinct (Freud 1920) or some kind of destruction. Freud's portrait of the mind majestically, of course, calls for both forces of nature in conflict, in terms of the dual instinct theory. But Freud began chronologically with sex and procreation, and added by 1920, through life passages of war, frustration, and violence, the darkly seductive sway of the death instinct. As Elizabeth Young-Bruehl (2011) has noted about his followers:

All Freudians were impressed with the emphasis that Freud put after 1920 on aggression, because everyone who survived the First World War realized that aggression and aggression against the self (masochism) had been underemphasized and undertheorized in psychoanalytic theory. But there agreement ended. And most subsequent psychoanalysts have either followed Klein and Lacan in elaborating the death instinct theory in various ways, or followed Hartman and Fenichel and others among the Ego Psychologists in repudiating the biological theory while accepting the idea that sex and aggression are fundamental drives. (Anna Freud stood diplomatically aside: speaking of sex and aggression as fundamental drives, but neither embracing nor rejecting the biological death instinct theory, which she felt called for confirming or disconfirming by empirical research.) (2011, p. 256)

The theoretical divide between vertical and lateral sibling dynamics could be seen as an echo of these theoretical debates and as a division of loyalties over the death instinct.

It is interesting that the recent emphasis on the lateral dimension has come from those not particularly involved with Freud's ego psychological structural theory, either theoretically or clinically. …

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