Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gifted Child Part 3: Roots of Emptiness

What is the source of emptiness inside? The answer, unfortunately, appears to lie with the emotionally insecure mother (primary caregiver) of the child who conditioned her love on certain behavior of the child:

  • There was a mother---the person closer to the child during the first years of life---who at the core was emotionally insecure, and who depended for her narcissistic equilibrium on the child behaving, or acting, in a particular way. This mother was able to hide her insecurity from the child and from everyone else behind a hard, authoritarian, and even totalitarian facade.
  • This child had an amazing ability to perceive and respond intuitively, that is, unconsciously, to this need of the mother, or both parents, for him to take on the role that had unconsciously been assigned to him.
  • This role secured ``love'' for the child---that is, his parents narcissistic cathexis. He could sense that he was needed and this, he felt, guaranteed him a measure of existential security.
This ability is then extended and perfected. Later, these children .. eventually develop a special sensitivity to unconscious signals manifesting the needs of others. ---pp. 8--9, The Drama of Gifted Child
What are the results of this adaptation strategy? Like any defense/adaptation mechanism, this one has some benefits: it secures love and attention of mother/parents. But the main cost is losing an important sense of selfhood, an emptiness within, and an emotional void:

1. One serious consequence of this early adaptation is the impossibility of consciously experiencing certain feelings of his own (such as jealousy, envy, anger, loneliness, impotence, anxiety) either in childhood or later in adulthood. ...
... They have all developed the art of not experiencing feelings, for a child can only experience his feelings when there is somebody there who accepts him fully, understands and supports him. [Reza: At a more fundamental level, our understanding of our own feelings is based on a mirror process, as the new research on the mentalization has revealed, and is lacking for these children in some areas: Dissociation?] ...
Throughout their later life, these people unconsciously create situations in which these rudimentary feelings may awaken but without the original connection ever becoming clear. [Reza: We are getting close to a link to dissociation-enactment paradigm!]
2. Accommodation to parental needs often (but not always) leads to the ``as-if personality'' (Winnicott has described it as the ``false self''). This person develops in such a way that he reveals only what is expected of him, and fuses so completely with what he reveals that---until he comes to analysis---one could scarcely have guessed how much more is to him, ...
3. The difficulties inherent in experiencing and developing one's own emotions lead to bond permanence, which prevents individuation ... The parents have found in their child's ``false self'' the confirmation they were looking for, a substitute for their own missing structures; the child, who has been unable to build up his own structures, is first consciously and then unconsciously (through the introject [Reza: that is, the created internal image of parent(s)]) dependent on his parents. He cannot rely on his own emotions, has not come to experience them through trial and error, has no sense of his real needs, and is alienated from himself to the highest degree. Under these circumstances he cannot separate himself from his parents, and even as an adult he is still dependent on affirmation from his partner, from groups, or especially from his own children. --- pp. 9--14, The Drama of Gifted Child
Point 3 above is particularly important because it establishes a connection between this idea (false self) and some of previous discussions. We clearly see that the form of dependence between child and his parents is detrimental to the individuation process and therefore leads to emotional instability and addictive behaviors as discussed in the previous post [Individuation Process and Optimal Distance]. Moreover, we can see how this process of creating a false self propagates itself across generations as we also saw in a previous post [Conflicts & Mental Rigidities Part 7: Generational Transmission]. More generally, the link to the ideas of dissociation and enactment is not far fetched.

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