Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Siblings and the Psychosocial

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

Siblings and the Psychosocial

Article excerpt

Donald Winnicott (1971) claimed that the toddler suffers a "trauma of separation" when the mother has another baby. This trauma has another dimension: the trauma of the new sibling itself which has taken the toddler's position and its identity (Mitchell, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013a,b,c). The toddler both adores and hates the baby. The mother prohibits the toddler's extreme reactions towards this baby (murder and incest). I call this prohibition "the law of the mother"; it pushes the pre-social infant into social childhood, pushes it out of the family and into the peer-group relations "beyond the family" (Robertson, 1991). Neither in their social effects nor in their psychic mechanisms are the family and the social group the same. The family certainly opens out into a wider social formation. But it is contended here that there is also a construction of the social group that is based not on an extension but on a repudiation of the nuclear family. The mother appears not to want the toddler as her baby anymore, so the toddler decides not to want her! Whether family-extension or repudiation of family is the dominant social mode will be historically and crossculturally various. However, our Western ideologies insist the family is the only source. Instead of this, it is evident that when the toddler separates from the mother it is destined to form a lateral group of peers.

We are all embedded in both the family and the extra-family social group; they are muddled up in each and every one of us; but to understand either of them, they need to be disentangled. The contention here is that where the family leads to a line that goes between normality and neurosis, the social group posits a continuation between the normal and the psychotic. Unlike the family, the social group is using the psychic mechanisms of the traumatised, "crazy" toddler to produce the social. If we let the toddler with one part of its being repudiate the mother and grumpily leave her to the new baby, we can observe it making straight for friends (and foe). The three-year-old can be "in love" with its friend of either gender and gang up against lesser mortals, often the younger sibling of one of the pair. The three-yearold brings to the social group which it is both finding and forming, the psychic mechanisms of toddlerdom.

Psychoanalysis can contribute its understanding of unconscious processes, of primary process thinking to an analysis of the psychosocial. These processes are, of course, extensive and have a marked role to play in every aspect of our lives. They work in different ways from conscious and preconscious processes. Dreams are paradigmatic. They show that our psyches are social. Describing and associating to a dream in a clinical session turns the visual experience into a story or an account of a play or film in which the dreamer acts many parts. This is because a complicated social group is inside one so that the distinction between the individual ego and the social world which the individual internalises is not of huge import-as Freud wrote:

The contrast between individual psychology and social or group psychology, which at a first glance may seem to be full of significance, loses a great deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely. It is true that individual psychology is concerned with the individual man and explores the paths by which he seeks to find satisfaction for his instinctual impulses; but only rarely and under certain exceptional conditions is individual psychology in a position to disregard the relations of this individual to others. In the individual's mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponent; and so from the very first individual psychology, in this extended but entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social psychology as well. (Freud, 1921c, p. 69, my italics)

However, important as Freud's observation obviously is, it is only one way round-this is the group in each of us as individuals; one is also an individual inside the social group. …

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