Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Curiosity: Reflections on Its Nature and Functions

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Curiosity: Reflections on Its Nature and Functions

Article excerpt

This paper attempts to clarify the nature, function and centrality of curiosity in the development of object relations and the consolidation of the self It demonstrates how the primary relationship between the infant and the caregiver influences the development of curiosity, the ability to use it productively for thinking and for building the internal world. Curiosity, in its schizoparanoid forms, is an attempt at freezing states of primary undifferentiatedness. In its more mature forms, it serves as an integrative agent and signifies both the possibility and the need to know, as well as the boundaries of knowledge. It is an essential element in the individual's psychic fabric and counterbalances splitting and projective identification. Hence, in analysis, it is vital to be constantly attentive to all the diverse expressions of curiosity or, conversely, to its absence. In the transference, the analyst, as well as the analytic setting, often become the aims of that curiosity and its containers. By allowing curiosity and surviving it, curiosity is transformed from an expression of destructiveness and disintegrating intrusiveness to a necessary prerequisite for psychological growth, self-discovery and creativity. Several vignettes illustrate the impact of curiosity during therapy.

In this paper, we focus on the phenomenon of curiosity and attempt to examine its importance in human development and within the psychoanalytic process. We try to examine the nature and function of curiosity as a universal human phenomenon, and discuss its many faces and functions. We draw from theoretical and clinical material which place curiosity as a major force in the process of linking the self with others and in establishing intrapsychic, external and transitional spaces.

Freud (1) viewed curiosity as a derivative of the sexual drive, and its various forms as related to the ego's sublimational activity. We believe that curiosity may also be closely linked with the primary anxieties described by Melanie Klein (2,3), within the concept of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions and by Winnicott (4) as "unthinkable anxieties." According to this approach, curiosity is an active interest in one's own internal environment and in that of the other. On the one hand, it may be motivated by attempts to annihilate the differences between self and other and, as a consequence, become invested with persecutory, invasive and paralyzing meanings. On the other, it can assume an organizing and calming function by making an attempt to learn about one's self and about the other through a process of identifying and locating the source of early anxieties and the manner in which both the environment, as well as internal objects, may help the individual to cope with them. Simultaneously, curiosity can be a powerful means to counteract splitting and fragmentation, as it binds internal experience with reality testing. Thus, curiosity is linked with more primitive forms of being where a desperate attempt is often made to annihilate separation between self and object, and to use accumulated knowledge as a means to possess and control the object. In its more mature form, it may facilitate communication, learning from experience, and contribute to the process of anchoring the other in oneself and anchoring the self in the other. The analyst is faced with the difficult task of assessing the nature and function of the patient's various manifestations of curiosity, or its absence. For wherever curiosity, sexual or otherwise, is encountered, we will often pinpoint anxieties linked to annihilation and disintegration side by side with a complementary process of creativity, in which private theories about the self and the other are generated. An examination of curiosity, within transference and outside it, frequently provides essential information about self-development, object relations, symbolization, and creativity.

THE ORIGINS OF CURIOSITY

In spite of the fact that all patients are curious about their analysts, either manifestly or in secret, surprisingly, little has been written specifically on this subject (5). …

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