Knox gives us a neurobiological explanation for the origins of shame. Should the mother register disgust for her infant or her infant’s agency, the infant’s sense of self and of agency is linked –through the insula (where mirror neurons may activate disgust) and the midline structures (where the sense of self is thought to be encoded) –with shame. A mother who cannot tolerate her infant’s distress may cause the infant to procedurally learn to hide pain in order to protect the attachment. This may result in a fear of love or Fairbairn’s schizoid personality, where shame has been linked to relationship.
A sensitively attuned mother is less likely to be disgusted by her infant and his needs. Winnicott speaks of the primary maternal preoccupation as a necessary requisite to allow for development of sufficient attunement of mother for baby. In doing so, we can infer that, he advocates for safeguarding the necessary space for the pregnant woman and new mother to acquire the necessary sensitivity to the needs of her infant. Should there be a failure to attune to the infant’s needs, the infant is in danger of a disruption of going on being, and of annihilation anxiety. Winnicott notes that in the early days of life, it is the mother who must identify with the baby, and not vive versa.
“…the need for the therapist to facilitate a process of disruption and repair (Beebe & Lachman 2002) in which the patient has an opportunity to correct the therapist's misattunements (Benjamin 2009)”
I give an example from today’s session.
The client, in 8th year of therapy with me, tried to correct my misattunement saying that I had to listen [to]her need more, that is, she did not need my mirroring, but rather my opinion different [from] hers. While explaining that to me I asked her what she was experiencing my mind focused on. She replied, “I know you listen to me [with] so [much] concentration that I get love and affection.” Then gradually she started crying. After a little [while], I asked, ‘What was the correlation with your tears?’ She told me, “I asked for your opinion different [from] mine [and] you give me a different focus on me, compared to the not being focused [on by] my parents. How can I be so arrogant?”
I think that was an example of disruption and repair where a part of herself was correcting me, paying attention to a self state I was ignoring, while another self state of hers was being repaired but was partially ignored by her!
“What the mother does well is not in any way apprehended by the infant at this stage. This is a fact according to my thesis. Her failures are not felt as maternal failures, but they act as threats to personal self-existence”
I am not sure I agree with such a thesis. Although there is limited consciousness or self to perceive the mother as good enough, or bad enough, I think there is sufficient attachment-based relational need that is encoded preverbally via the body. If the mother attunes well or not well with the baby’s attachment needs, regulation/dysregulation is experienced via the body.
Knox, J. (2011). Dissociation and shame: shadow aspects of multiplicity. J. Anal. Psychol., 56:341-347.
Winnicott, D. (1956). Primary maternal preoccupation. In: Collected Papers, Through Pediatrics to Psychoanalysis. NY:Basic Books.