On Adam’s Side

Relationships, epiphaneia of the intrapsychic and the intersubjective

International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societies XVI International Forum of Psychoanalysis The Intrapsychic and The Intersubjective in contemporary Psychoanalysis


“On Adam’s Side: relationships, epiphaneia of the intrapsychic and the intersubjective”

Giuseppe Battaglia, didactic analyst, the Erich Fromm Institute, Bologna (Italy)

Abstract: From the moment man first learned how to say “no”, human history and the relational celebration between the intrapsychic and the intersubjective was set in motion. Liberation does not permit any type of regression. When an adult individual goes in search of symbiosis with nature, he reveals his pathology. Intrapsychicity, and with it, intersubjectivity, is broken. Key words: Philistines, idolatry, culture, symbols, relations, story, genetic information, chaos, internal order.

Fromm’s “Man For Himself“ was first published back in 1947. The title of this paper recalls Fromm’s celebrated work and, more than half a century later, proposes to focus attention on the current situation regarding the social formation of character. Fromm encountered Sullivan when he emigrated to the USA in the 1930s; the two scholars both agreed upon the concepts of intersubjectivity and relational conceptions in the formation of the intrapsychic while, at the same time, took a critical view of the centrality of sexual theory. Both had independently come to believe that the character of an infant is formed as a result of the relationships they are exposed to. They went against the grain of the period’s psychoanalytical research by arguing that character is socially acquired and does not derive from an individual, libidinal organisation. Fromm‘s research, which was not carried out exclusively in his private study, was based on his conviction that the intrapsychic is permanently in communication with the intersubjective and that the first derives from the second. Character, for Fromm, is a relatively stable, psychic structure of relational origin which gives birth to feelings, thoughts and behaviours. It is man’s orientation system, a substitute for the instinct that leads neither to symbols nor culture. Man is connected to his environment through his emotions and his capacity to symbolise. Reading emotions supplies the biological system with the ability to attribute meaning, this in turn leads to conscience, as well as all material and spiritual objects. Psychoanalysis is composed of theories and practices, with the first deriving from the second. The “correct execution” of a practice derives from the correct application of technical rules, and although this ought to guarantee the validity of a method, too often, only the membership criteria are defined. The Jewish considered the Philistines to be inferior because, even though they possessed all the skills necessary to work iron, they adored the idols which derived from their labour. Techniques cannot be idolised, the idolater is one who idolises his own handiwork. The term Philistine indicated a person who, even though they had technological know-how, was completely lacking in any spiritual substance whatsoever. The word culture derives from cultivation and presumes the clear explanation of insight and knowledge, instead of the aridity of Philistine techniques. Contemporary ethnology and anthropology have bitterly criticised the narcissistic egocentricity of cultural superiority which was ideologically supported until the end of the 19th century. Herodotus of Alicarnasso (484-425 BC), the father of historic thought and modern ethnographywas once asked by Pericles to hold a public speech in the market of Athens which criticised ethnocentricity. The Greeks considered all that was outside of their cultural sphere of influence to be barbarous. Beliefs and behaviour came about as a result of the flow of emotions experienced. Maybe Pericles knew the influence that emotions could have on the formation of the conscience, and on false beliefs, when he first called Herodotus to Athens to give what is today considered to be the first ever conference on ethnography. The brain, according to Damasio in 1984, is predisposed through the emotions to the activation of body states when faced with whichever situation arises. Needs are satisfied by deciphering emotions and this in turn leads to the creation of objects. Culture is embedded in social life, without this man could not exist and could never have been able to carry out the humanisation process. Biologists, neurologists, anthropologists and psychoanalysts have all looked for connections between biology and culture when trying to explain human behaviour. Even the neurologist, Freud, tried to find this connection, but at the time he was unable to find any link due to the lack of knowledge regarding the physiology of the brain and the influence hormones had on the formation of emotions. As well as limited, neuroendocrinal data, the thoughts of the Viennese scientist were still conditioned by the powerful influence of 19th century, anthropological theories. The only link which Freud could find was that sexual and hedonistic impulses are always in search of satisfaction. At that time it was still believed that the brain and cognitive capacity had evolved together and that social and cultural forms had developed afterwards. In the history of psychoanalysis, like in all scientific disciplines, ideas have emerged which have diverged from the main body of thought. Critical psychoanalysts were not called barbarous, but savages. Erich Fromm took a critical stance by refusing to accept both the sexual theory and the omnipresent oedipal complex, which Groddeck had already put in doubt, and was therefore ostracised by the establishment who disparagingly described him as a culturalist. The 19th century concept of evolution, which was still subjected to the influence of creationism, was then surpassed. Today it has been ascertained that the abilities of the body developed in parallel with those of the brain. Whatever happens in the body, whether in the form of pleasant or unpleasant emotions, is transported to the brain as environmental information which is then recorded, decodified, recodified and transmitted. In 1987 Cohen and Tronik demonstrated that infants were able to modify their affective expressions depending on the behaviour of their mother. In this way, infants develop their own affective styles and behavioural models to satisfy external requests; this allows them to deal with the surrounding world and to develop a vision of themselves and others. In 1985 D.Stern called this self organising model the “proto narrative envelope”. Infants organise predictions through their perceptions of their body states, which later on become intentional and correlated to external requests. The self, which is firmly personified in the body, selects the information, defining and reporting it, while at the same time it recounts events, makes forecasts, produces intentions and organises actions. The self is narrated by emotions and, at the same time, narrates them. Proto humans learned to discern to their advantage, to evaluate the consequences of an immediate pain and a future reward, and of an immediate reward and a serious future pain. They did not follow the exclusive principle of satisfying immediate pleasures. If they had, evolution could never have occurred. By giving their emotions a location, they learned to foresee situations and this gradually gave life to sharing and social exchange. They understood that each member of the group was important for the survival of the group itself, they understood the advantage of having likeminded people around and this led to altruism which produced a reciprocal sensibility or, as we would say today, empathy. The body, the brain and the mind all evolved at the same time inside the group. The mind and body suffer and rejoice together, there is no separation, as Descartes theorised; mental substance separated from corporeal substance does not exist. Freud sought a bridge, but the only link he could find between the biological and the social was sexuality and the hedonistic, libidinal impulses which derived from them. E. Fromm says in “Social Unconscious”, published in Italy in 1992 and edited by Dr Rainer Funk, that “drives: cannot be adequately explained by interpreting them as mere chemical processes of tension and distension, but only by considering them on the basis of human nature”. Fromm also stated in his 1992 work that: the essence of man is a contradiction which we find only in man: being part of nature and obeying all its laws, and together transcending nature itself because only he is knowledgeable about himself and his own existence. Man is the only example in nature of a being acquiring consciousness of itself”. Every problem man encounters concerns his survival. It is possible that the higher parts of the brain, which are devoted to reasoning, evolved in parallel with the lower parts, which are devoted to biological regulation, and in this way one evolved as a result of the other. This ties emotions, cognition and actions together. The brain evolved because it paid attention to everything that was going on around it, gathering modifications through emotions which become a fundamental part of cognition. Infants are intent on protecting their body states by understanding strategies of approachment and avoidance: their relationships begin with somatic perceptions and constitute the narrative base of the mind. Emotions are the modulators of human contact. Motivated behaviour is therefore connected to the elaboration of emotional information. The organism is predisposed to take advantage of the world which surrounds it; it knows, through the predisposition of the fear system, that danger exists, although it does not know what it should be afraid of, this it must grasp through culture. In 1969 Peter Berger, the sociologist of the consciousness, defined culture as the totality of material and immaterial objects, composed of objects and beliefs. For Berger, culture is the outcome of a process of externalising, objectifying and internalising products from the world one lives in. Groups and individuals project the experience they have accumulated in the world, then they independently live all that they have projected in their minds, before then reincorporating it. In the conscience, culture assumes an emotional, autonomous life which is full of passion. All that is internalised becomes the product of a mind which determines thought and influences behaviour. From the mythical, biblical story of Adam and Eve we can deduce that man abandoned his state of savage beatitude, with its lack of knowledge, and that this disobedience humanised him. The need for knowledge is embedded in a transgression which led to them breaking away from divinity and the animal kingdom, something which resulted in the origin of character. “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat ” says God to Adam, who is now ashamed of his nudity. The feeling of shame is maybe one of the first acts with which man starts to understand who he is and begins social and cultural production with work. His emotions differentiate him from the animal kingdom, and the difficulties he experiences in life keep him constantly at a crossroads; move forward and grow or turn back, renounce destiny and move towards pathology. By acquiring the ability to say no, man took his first step towards his true identity, the pleasure of experimentation and freedom. With this act he inaugurated his social history, which, as legend says, is a journey of no return because two angels armed with swords of fire were placed by God at the gates of heaven to stop his return. Adam and Eve, and all of their descendants, set off down a road of no return, they can only move forward, so they must constantly reinvent themselves, and the result of their creativity is society: this is the destiny of man. Culture is a social construction of beliefs expressed in symbols which take shape on two connected plains, the intrapsychic and the intersubjective, through which man expresses joy, pain and consciousness and their attitudes towards life. The anthropologist, Gheertz, understood culture as being a comprehensive way of life centred on the vitality and power of symbols. Cultural objects exist inside our minds as very special things, things of extraordinary value, things which are worth living or dying for. We experiment with this extraordinary attachment to internal, symbolic objects, especially the primary ones, in an analytical context; it constitutes the biggest opposition to change. Through the acquisition of symbols, man participates in the history of his forefathers and is able to identify with them, in this way he too feels like a father and, through identifying with his predecessors, thinks about his own children, projecting himself far into the future. Through symbolic identification, man finds his vital roots and experiences the present with a sense of continuity. When an harmonious, symbolic acquisition is not possible, people become alienated from each other and create an agonising fracture in their consciousness’, or a collapse in character. Symbols have the ability to connect time, to unify the distant past with the future in the now, something which also happens in analytic relations in the here and now. Culture refers to the expressive side of life; the intrapsychic preserves all the significant and all the gestures which flow into intersubjectivity. Through cultural relations, man establishes within himself his emotional models of meaning, his symbols represent feelings and create thoughts and behaviour. Culture defines the sense of orientation and devotion of the character, which can be identified in dreams and therapeutic relationships. Such a sense of orientation indicates the mix which makes up character. A person becomes an individual through shared, cultural objects, which subsequently create many different signs inside a person and these signs then create more, brand new meanings. All significant expressions are audible, visible and tangible. E. Fromm, in “The Forgotten Language (1951)”, considered the body to be a symbol of the mind; he stated that “A deeply felt emotion and even a sincerely felt thought are expressed by our entire organism. In the case of universal symbols, we find the same relationship between the mental experience and the physical experience”. The internal, cultural object tells a story, which can either be spoken, recited, sung, painted or sculpted. Fish, crosses, towers, a dress, a shirt, white or brown bread, bison, cows, lambs, rams, turkeys, walls, minarets, etc… All of these objects tell a particular story to whomever is reading them, a story which evokes particular emotions in the here and now. Each word, each concept, evokes a story which is embodied in the brain and is remembered through memory. A memory, and a current story, is never the same as the one which came before because the emotion being experienced is always specific to the context in which the recollection occurs. This is the principle of change. Each story found inside the analytical context produces a synaptic recollection, a correspondent production of hormones, and a new emotional structure, in other words a biological change. Without symbolisation it is impossible to construct an historic memory, there cannot be constitutions of the mind, emotional recollection and understanding of oneself. All expressive manifestations of the intrapsychic are tests of the mind which the memory recounts continuously, arousing emotions, setting passions of hate or love in motion, and establishing distance or nearness, attraction or repulsion. Objects are human products which contain emotions, and knowledge is the meaning which is incorporated into them and through which the transmission of the sense of self is enacted. Meaning is the capacity an object has to suggest content. Symbols are not only representatives, they evoke a quantity and variety of meanings which connote the individual because they imply and suggest. The individual is not dominated by hedonistic instincts and destructive biological urges which need to be tamed, but is, before all else, a social being who struggles to maintain his ties with others and, at the same time, strongly feels the need to be different; from this comes his existential drama. To understand the individual it is necessary to decodify the network of intrapsychic meanings and analyse the symbolic relationships assimilated from his specific social contexts of origin. The acquisition of meaning is unavoidable because, without meaning, a person does not exist as a human being. While studying Gage, who was the victim of a devastating laceration to the frontal lobe, Damasio and his team looked for the reason for his modified behaviour. After his accident, Gage was unable to respect social rules, make decisions which would have been advantageous for himself or even plan ahead. For Damasio, he had lost the ability to use emotional information to pilot his actions. His prefrontal cortex, which marks and maintains the memory of the body state, had been damaged. Damasio introduced the concept of somatic markers as mechanisms for forecasting and attributing values based on the primary emotions of sadness, anger, happiness and fear. A positive marker works as an incentive, but a negative one behaves like a stop signal. Somatic markers function as sign-attributing devices. The signal system forms in a relational context, this is borne of experience and can be considered to be the body’s response to its environment. Emotions, and the reading of their meanings, historicize man and keep him inside the reality of time, which, in this way, becomes a real, significant time and not one of nature. Human beings, who were banished from Eden for wanting to know more, must learn to live, however, the acculturation process is a long, tiring and difficult one, leaving them constantly exposed to sacrifice and regression, which is the malign illusion of protection. Cultural symbolisation compensates for genetic incompleteness. Gheertz argued that man is in need of symbolic sources of illumination, because those which are not symbolic cast a weaker light. Sources of genetic information are arranged in animals right from the beginning and clearly direct the actions which need to be carried out, even though they are within the limits of restricted variation. Man, when deprived of clear, precise sources of biological illumination, would be ungovernable and left to live a life of chaos far away from himself if he was not culturally orientated by models or organised symbolic systems. His experience would remain shapeless, he would live life in a constant state of psychotic madness. Man is situated inside an environmental system through his emotions, which are the framework of the body and which organise relationships, and inside this system he transcends himself. Emotions can be either productively or unproductively codified and decodified by the self. When the second option presents itself, the individual becomes terrorised and is exposed to emotional trauma. The American sociologist P. Berger argues that man’s real fear is chaos, which is the absence of internal order. An unseen place, a sentence not understood, an unknown object, or an undefined relationship are all disorientating and can be so terrifying that they can disturb the mind, as we see in dreams and, more often, nightmares. Productive relationships, which supply a coherent design and a realistic account of oneself, act as a bastion against disorganised invaders. Medieval walls and fortifications still create an attraction and fascination because, just like the skin, they contain and establish the limits inside which security can be constructed. For E. Fromm in “The Forgotten Language (1951)” there are three types of symbol: conventional, accidental and universal. All those symbols on which everyone agrees belong to the first type: the word table recalls the object table. The second category are accidental symbols and cannot be shared as their meaning is personal. While the third type, the universal, possess an intrinsic relationship with what they represent: fire, water. The symbols of the second and third types do not convey the same meanings everywhere because they recount different social histories. For all of us the mother or father figure means the same thing, but children do not mean the same thing for everybody in the same way, every relationship is the result of a special, emotional history which is exclusively individual and so contains the symbols of the second and third type. Analytical relationships cannot not be unique because symbols and particular emotions are conveyed in them. This is a reason why we cannot do the same thing with everyone and why techniques can never be applied in the same way they were studied or taught; you can never encounter two dreams which are exactly the same, not even in the same person. If, while playing an important match, a tennis player keeps thinking about the techniques he must use to win, he will lose every time he sets foot on the court. Theories direct and their resultant technical advice must remain advice, not Philistine technicalities. Theories and techniques must be learnt and then forgotten, they are the basis of the establishment of an animated participation, in which intuition and creativity spring forth, as happens with the artist and the tennis player. The emotional, symbolic meaning is an incarnation of objects and the emotions which derive from them are a social production. As Fromm states in The Forgotten Language: “We express our moods and feelings by facial expressions and our attitudes and feelings by movements and gestures so precise that others recognise them more accurately from our gestures than from our words”. After this assertion, we could begin a long discussion on the therapeutic factors of psychoanalysis, in particular on the supremacy of verbal interpretation. Relationships are always bi-directional, they are contagious and are created by contact, as is demonstrated by even the most recent research carried out on mirror neurones. In his clinical experiments, S. Ferenczi, after the success of his concept regarding the confusion of languages, argued that analyst-patient emotive bi-directionality, excluding asepticity, promoted conscious participation. Asepticity cannot exist in the field of relationships. Reassessing events, which is at the same time the participant’s emotional re-edition, is not to be excluded, transference and countertransference were Freud’s great discoveries. Edition is, at the same time, re-edition and must come about in an environment where a climate of “maternal kindness” is present, as Freud ironically and teasingly called the clinical behaviour of his brilliant student in 1932. At the International I.P.A Congress in Wiesbaden, Ferenczi, going against the will of Freud, presented his speech “The Passions of Adults and their Influence on the Development of the Character and the Sexuality of the Child”. This was not only the title of a report, but was a real, clinical, theoretical program which distanced itself definitively from the work of his master. Ferenczi concluded his speech in Wiesbaden with a question: “How much of the sadomasochism in the sexuality of our time is due to civilisation, (i.e. originates from the introjected feelings of guilt) and how much develops autochthonously and spontaneously as a proper phase of organisation?”. Freud could not understand relational concepts like “maternal participation” and “proceed in affective harmony” because of the make-up of his character. In 1931 he told Hilde Doolittle that he did not feel comfortable being the mother in transference, but that he was far more comfortable being the male. Ferenczi was convinced of the exogenesis of neurosis; already in 1909 he had described: “the importance of sexuality in the origins of psychic illnesses and argued that it derives from socio–relational causes”. The intrapsychic is formed by way of intersubjectivity, which is determined by the quality of the relationship, and it is always the quality of the relationship which will restore the inadequate emotional history. Therapeutic experience is bi-personal, and it has always been relational, even if it has not been recognised by the Freudian orthodoxy. Many psychoanalysts, as well as sticking by the rules they have learned, have also done things they mever knew how to do. When orthodox psychoanalysts, and not only, have obtained success, it has also been due to unidentified, therapeutic factors; in an hour of analysis an enormous quantity of facts pass through the minds of the couple, and billions of exchanges occur. Clinical cases which have been reported at conventions are frequently constructions which were supposed to report the theories of the founders. Many things happen inside a relationship and many of these can be obtained by reasoning, but many others cannot. The analyst’s constitutional factors weigh heavily in the field and can never be excluded, so it is never possible to ponder all that happens in a psychoanalytical setting. Only inside a non-alienating relationship, free of philistine, idolatrous positions, can a redefinition of the unconscious come about and a new critical construction be presented externally: this was, and is, the revolutionary idea behind psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a countercultural event which creates new settings of the mind. Reconsidering oneself is a symbolic revisitation which reallocates the passions contained in internal objects which contain meaning and drive character. Psychoanalysis cannot be an adaptation technique, it is a plan for understanding. This is the job of therapy, just like Sullivan conceived it when for he first invented and realised containment wards to cure schizophrenics who had previously been considered unreachable and incurable. For Ronald D. Laing, whom Fromm considered to be an authentic humanist, humanity is estranged from its authentic possibilities. The realisation that the alienation in which an individual is constrained is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of modern-day, inter-human life. For D. Laing: “psychotherapy must remain an obstinate attempt by two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them”. The psychoanalytical relationship must not propose itself as having an object to change, but a person to accept and, if it fails to do this, it just perpetuates the same illness it claims to cure. The mind is composed of relational configurations, it is dyadic and interactive and always in search of contact with other minds. D. Stern, who opposed the monadic conception of the mind, sustains that: “all the states of consciousness and activity in an infant are social negotiations”. A psychoanalytical relationship implies input, a shared observation from which the transformation of interior performances derive. Both therapist and patient initially ride the waves of disconnected symbols, which can sometimes be scary and terrifying for both, as they slowly enter into a new, stable order together, then into another, and again into another after that: this is why analysis is interminable. This though can, and must, have an end with the agreed suspension of the relationship. Man, led by his emotions and gifted with a conscience, can never remove himself from reflecting upon himself without running the risk of alienation and the anguished separation from the self. The patient, connecting the separated parts, learns to fearlessly negotiate his emotions with the world, and this dialectic ability presents a new way of staying in contact with others. This new state of the mind is a part of what remains with the patient from the psychoanalytical experience. From this inheritance one could continue self-analysis forever, as was stated at the constructive International OPIFER Convention in Florence in 2009. The duty of each psychoanalytical relationship is to give strength to the biophile tendency in opposition to the necrophile one, something which can only be achieved when the psychoanalyst does not present himself as an idol. A weak person needs to believe, and so looks for an omnipotent figure with whom he can create an intense, emotional relationship and towards whom he can feel the “reverential fear of submission”, or as E. Fromm says, a “magic helper”. The link which is established with the “magic helper” is idolatrous, characterised by passivity and unrealistic expectations. Idols are represented today by many of the stars of cinema, television and politics, as well as narcissistic psychoanalysts. The idol, says E. Fromm, is a figure onto whom ones own strengths and powers are transferred, however, the more this is reinforced, the more the individual is weakened and impoverished. Idolatry can maintain contact with itself only if it remains independent of the idol itself. The paternal idol is a severe patriarch “whose help and kindness” depends on faithfulness and obedience, but if these prerogatives are missing he becomes terrified, turning destructive and all-consuming like Kronos was with his children.

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