Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It Takes Two, Baby, Me and You

It Takes Two, Baby, Me and You


Having read 3 books by Jessica Benjamin (The Bonds of Love, 1988; Like Subjects, Love Objects, 1995; and Shadow of the Other, 1998), I wanted to discuss with colleagues philosophical and clinical thoughts gleaned from and engendered by them.

* Humans are in a constant dialectic with self-assertion and recognition.
That is, there is a struggle to sustain the tension of one’s own subjectivity with that of the other’s subjectivity; we keep wanting the other subject to be an object who fulfills our desires as if the other had no independent desires. What’s more, to balance one’s own subjectivity with the other’s is a Herculean task, and doomed to fail. The good news is we can continually renew the task.

Hegel writes that each strives to be recognized as an independent self while, paradoxically, requiring (depending on) an other for recognition.

Benjamin writes that mutual recognition is necessary to fulfill the potential of both our autonomy and our relatedness. This desire for recognition as a separate self , including to have an effect on the world, fuels the therapeutic relationship.
Intersubjectivity posits a place, a third, between two subjects, where there exists the possibility of the sharing of a like experience by two different minds. This moment of recognition that two different minds are sharing the same experience brings joy to mother and toddler, to erotic union, and to the clinical experience. It is where empathy lives.

* The capacity to recognize the other as an independent subject is a developmental achievement. Winnicott writes that a child’s self-assertion includes negation of the (m)other, a destruction (in inner life) that she must survive (in external reality) to aid a child in its ability to differentiate inside and outside, fantasy and reality, self and other.
To live in the dialectic, one must keep negation alive alongside recognition.

For therapists, this can mean recognizing and tolerating the negative views of us by the patient, as well as exploring the therapist's real relationship contribution to these negative views.

* The different other is a threat to self because we are reminded we can’t be everything nor can we have everything. This has an impact on gender development, on the oedipal resolution, and on the grieving process inherent in the clinical situation.

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