Friday, April 8, 2011

Is Mutual Recognition a Foil to Empathy?

I have long struggled with attempts to integrate theories from Self Psychology with those of the varying ideas about Intersubjectivity. Self Psychology emphasizes the receiving of empathy (by patient from analyst, or, developmentally, by child from caregiver) and not the development, as Klein noted and Winnicott elaborated, of the capacity for concern, or empathy, for the other. Benjamin writes about intersubjectivity (in part, the capacity to relate subject to subject) as a developmental achievement. She also notes that it is the “mother’s recognition [that] is the basis for the baby’s sense of agency.”

Orange expands on the idea of recognition: “What we acknowledge, in relation to the other, is not primarily the other’s identity or status, but rather our own intersubjective vulnerability.” Using language (semantics) and taking literally the etymological roots of re-cognition (‘to know again’), Orange refers to Benjamin’s use of Hegel’s anerkennung, which Orange says lacks the ‘again’ and, therefore, refers to acknowledgement or appreciation and acceptance. While Benjamin emphasizes the joy of mutual recognition, Orange, expanding again, quotes the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer “The joy of recognition is rather the joy of knowing more than is already familiar.” Since recognition is “profoundly lopsided for a long time” Orange advocates that we do not “underestimate…trauma” [the noting by Orange of Winnicott’s being-with the patient in the co-created space (a transitional, or third, space) reminds me of the emphasis placed by relational theorist Bruce Reis on being with a patient whose traumatic experiences might be without words] of our patients, and that we not impose our own “agenda” (to be recognized as subjects) on patients. Orange “place[s] the primary responsibility for attunement and responsiveness on the analyst”.

Orange writes, “Perhaps we should give up the search for the Hegelian self-conscious subject, with the implied demand for the other to re-cognize and create it.” Orange intimates that other (not Self psychology) theorists expect the patient to meet equally the needs of the therapist. This mischaracterizes, I think, relational intersubjective emphasis. Orange is coming to Tampa Bay tomorrow (April 9) and I am eager to hear more about her foils (other theories of intersubjectivity) and how one might enter into dialogue with them.

Benjamin, J. (1990). An Outline of Intersubjectivity: The Development of Recognition. Psychoanal. Psychol., 7S:33-46.

Orange, D. (2008). Recognition As: Intersubjective Vulnerability in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue. Inter.J.of Psychoanal.Self Psychol., 3: 178-194.

1 comment:

Tim said...

From a laypersons point of view (have a grain of salt handy), common sense (maybe I mean intuition) tells me that feeling empathy is a form of (re-)learning. If someone has been an in unempathic environment their whole life, they unlearn empathy, which, I assert, is a natural instinct. So if a patient is able to feel the empathy of another, "re-cognizes" that empathy, they are re-learning it. Thus it might follow that the patient may begin at some point to practice this new skill, possibly on their therapist. To me, an example of the patient mirroring something healthy in the therapist.