Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Birth of Reality: Psychoanalytic Developmental Considerations

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

The Birth of Reality: Psychoanalytic Developmental Considerations

Article excerpt

In this article, utilizing an emended version of Winnicott's notion of transitional objects and recent parent-infant research, the author offers a perspective on the development of individuals' experience of being alive and real in relation to objects and persons. Primary transitional objects, which represent parent-infant interactions, facilitate the infant's transition from early undifferentiated, bodily, and global experiences of being real and alive to the infant's yoking and extending these subjective organizations to recognized not-me objects. Secondary transitional objects make their appearance when the child begins to acquire the capacities for self reflexivity, symbolization, and language. These objects provide the child with opportunities to gain confidence and courage in extending, yoking, and making use of his/her subjective experiences of being alive and real in relation to cultural symbols and rituals. More importantly secondary transitional objects are paths toward mutual recognition, acceptance, and sharing experiences of being alive and real.

I have become increasingly aware over the past several years that the sense of aliveness and deadness of the transference-countertransference is, for me, perhaps the single most important measure of the moment-to-moment status of the analytic process. ( 1, p. 23 ) It is tempting for those of us interested in clinical work and theoretical aspects of psychoanalysis and philosophy to become enamored with, if not lost among, questions regarding what is true or false, real or fantasy. Is what the patient is saying a transference distortion or is it true? Are the patient's memories accurate portrayals of what really happened? Is the patient's story one relatively distorted version among many stories? Are the patient's beliefs about God illusory, mere endopsychic representations? Are his/her religious beliefs socially constructed illusions, omnipotent fantasies, or delusions? On occasion these questions result in vicious circles of seemingly endless and unresolvable debates (2-). This perspective of "reality," which emerges from questions concerning objectivity and truth, tends to eclipse the patient's experience of being and feeling alive and real in relation to objects and persons. Winnicott (5), perhaps recognizing the power of objectivists, remarked that

Somehow the word people tend to claim sanity, and those who see visions do not know how to defend their position when accused of insanity. Logical argument really belongs to the verbalisers. Feeling or a feeling of certainty or truth or "real" belongs to the others. (p. 155)

Perhaps, we need to begin with different questions, queries that change, as Wittgenstein (6) put it, "the method of answering [them]" (p. 36). I believe two questions, manifested in recent psychoanalytic literature (l, 7, 8), shift our attention from fact vs. fantasy, objectivity vs. subjectivity, and true vs. false, without necessarily denying the importance of these apparently dichotomous issues. In relation to what and whom does the patient achieve an experience of being and feeling alive and real? What contributes to or obstructs the patient's (and therapist's) capacity to be and feel vital and real in this moment?

Reality and truth, as used in this article, are understood as representing and presenting subjective and intersubjective organizations of feeling alive and real, which are clearly developmental achievements that are contingent upon the person's constitutional capacities and parent-child interactions. These organizations, which ideally become more diverse and differentiated with maturity, include persons' reflective and nonreflective sense of agency, purpose, meaning, competence, and self-esteem as well as a sense of spontaneity and freedom. This means, then, that the social context and developmental position determine the shape and content of individuals' experiences of being alive as well as their understandings of truth. …

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