Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Third: Moving from Complementarity to Triangular Space

Aron enumerates various ways we conceive of "something beyond the dyad” called the [analytic] third:  “a context within which we emerge, … an emergent property of dyadic interaction and … a dyadic achievement that creates the psychic space necessary for reflexive self-awareness and mentalization" (the understanding that the other has contents of mind, as well, and different from one’s own—an important and necessary component for mutual recognition of relational intersubjectivity). What a recognition of paradox regarding the third: that we emerge from it, as well as it from us, and it is something we create and utilize.

What makes the analytic third so useful? Aron, and Benjamin, state that “thirdness…allows the analyst to restore a process of identification with the patient’s position without losing her own perspective.” This is a refreshing experience of learning negotiation procedurally for a patient raised in an environment of negation (“where the acceptance of one person’s subjectivity meant an obliteration of the other’s”).  Learned complementarity— your way or my way, no in between— can ensue, and play out in the transference-countertransference dialectic, and  an analytic impasse may result. Aron tells us that this impasse can sometimes be averted by opening the intersubjective space to create an analytic third where the analyst is open to the patient’s multiple and contradictory identifications.

Benjamin delineates two types of the third: The ‘one-in-the-third’ (the rhythmic third) — where oneness is experienced in a rhythmic pattern between two such as reciprocal speech or eye gaze, is dyadic and exists early (pre-oedipal) in relationship— and the ‘third-in-the-one’ – where the conflict within the mind of one can act as a third position.  For some, like Britton, where the ‘triangular’ space is created in the analyst’s mind, the mother's mind creates the third position. For Benjamin, the rhythmic third emerges, not from one mind, but from within the dyad. Her third-in-the-one (the intentional third), on the other hand, says Aron, "creates a space for differentiation" [from oneness], much like 'marking' (described by Gergely when the mother gives her version of the infant's response, differentiating her response as a reflective mirroring rather than one generated from within her. The infant has the capacity to see the mother's response as separate from its own.) Marking, then, is not a perfect match, but a reflection, as well, of otherness, a kind of mirroring that "is a dyadic phenomenon, functioning as a differentiating third point emerging between" two people and, as such, does not require a third person to separate the infant from the mother. Marking creates the third-in-the-one [in the one dyad]. We can have both the connection, in the one-in-the-third, and difference, in the third-in-the-one.

Aron notes that the Lousanne group’s investigation of triangularity in infancy shows the capacity at an early age to have triadic interactions between two people (e.g., from the mother’s mind emerges a third position) indicating that triangularity can no longer be conceived as the hallmark of the oedipal phase. The child no longer needs the primal scene (relationship of parents which excludes the child) to have experience with the third. Rather, the child is privy to the emerging third position within the mother’s mind. A third point of reference can emerge from the dyad within the mind of one and, when shared, can facilitate self-reflection and mentalization.  

Aron points out how certain self disclosures by the analyst can create thirdness in the analytic dyad. When the analyst lets her  mind be known (when , e.g., she disagrees with herself or is of two minds [e.g. I want to respond to your request for advice, but concerned that, if I do, I would be too much like your controlling, know-it-all father”]— that is, where analysts disclose "aspects of their inner processes"—a thirdness is introduced in the dyad, where the disclosure itself can serve as the strange attractor (from chaos theory, which allows the possibility to shake up linear thinking and have a reconfiguration of elements). Aron writes, “[T]he analyst’s reflexive self-awareness, a dialogue with one’s self, creates a third point.” When made explicit, the patient becomes privy to the analyst’s mind, both its contents and its way of  working. It is this third point of view which allows for the third space, and in this space, both analyst and patient can think together about connection and difference.

See also on this same paper the post of Jan 27, 2013. Compare and contrast it to ideas in Aron’s 1995 paper (in the post of Jun 8, 2014.)

Aron, L. (2006). Analytic Impasse and the Third: Clinical implications of intersubjectivity theory. Int. J. PsychoAnal., 87:349-368

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