Monday, October 28, 2013

Yes to aggression

For Winnicott, aggression is the infant’s natural exuberance and assertion, its motor activity, a ruthlessness without the intention of destruction, and it fuels creativity and the self’s coming into being (becoming alive, having a sense of self).  Aggressiveness, as such, is part of who the infant is, a necessary part—and by implication, should be a welcomed part if the infant is to come into being without dissociating or distorting part of himself as a Not-me [Bromberg’s dissociated not-me]. Freud and Klein saw aggression as innate, as part and parcel of the death instinct. Winnicott sees destruction, infant ruthlessness, not as essentially hostile, but rather as a necessary part of the developmental struggle, much like Phyllis Greenacre’s analogy of a chick ‘hatching’ -breaking out of its shell. Winnicott disagreed with Klein (and Freud) about the innateness of aggression (the kind with hostility) , seeing hostile aggression instead as a natural consequence of frustration, and, as such, its intensity and fate dependent on the environment’s ability to adapt to the infant’s needs without creating undue frustration. With this understanding of the consequence and interplay of the infant’s aggression with the environment of objects, Winnicott provides us with the relational aspect. He recognizes that an infant’s development is always in relation to its mother (there is no such thing as a baby)  and that a reliable relationship is essential to healthy development. Afterall, it was the mother’s reliable response to the needs of the infant which allowed him in the first place the illusion of a sense of omnipotence.

The sense of self coming into being is central to Winnicott. Because the infant’s sense of self comes into being in relation to its mother, and because her attitude –including the contents of her mind—toward her infant and his aggression greatly impact his sense of self, it is imperative that the mother [and the analyst] accept and allow for expression of his aggression, and survive it, so that aggression can be integrated into his whole self, the Me, so he can become, so he can become whole. The mental health and contents of the mother’s mind are as important, maybe more so, to the infant’s development as is the intrapsychic life of the baby that Klein and Freud so privileged. 

The analyst’s attitude, likewise, becomes important in her interactions with her patient and his aggression.  Aggression, for Winnicott, is what facilitates a creative life, a life lived by a spontaneous and authentic self. If the mother grossly impinges on the baby’s sense of self and his becoming, she disrupts his continuity of being, his going on being. If the analyst derails the patient, she too impinges. Because I include Winnicott’s theory of aggression as aiding the creative potential in becoming the self, as well as in separating the self (Me) from the other (Not-me), I do not theoretically want to dispense with the patient's aggression, even though in reality at times it is very difficult to both bear and survive.

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