Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Envy and Failed Mutual Regulation

The final semester at TBIPS for fourth year candidates and students includes an Electives course in which each candidate has the opportunity to teach the rest of the class about an area of interest chosen by the candidate. We are presently learning about the relationship between mothers and daughters and how not ‘good enough’ mothers can affect their daughters, daughters who later come to us for treatment. Those in the class with a Kleinian bent emphasize envy. We were discussing today Charles’ (2001) paper “Stealing Beauty” about how narcissistic mothers envy their children and cannot help them succeed, nor bear to see their children as separate subjects. Sometimes their envy is transformed into self sacrifice (a reaction formation).

I have my personal doubts about whether envy is innate and, instead, see it as a problem arising from failed early relationships. An interesting, more specific thought came up in class today when Bharat Bharat, an aspiring psychology student auditing the class, asked about whether envy is genetic and whether it is somehow linked to children in those delayed gratification studies (don’t eat the marshmallow now and get an extra one later) who may later grow up to want (enviously) what they do not have (and cannot manage to get due to problems with delayed gratification).  Because I see children with poor impulse control as having a problem with self regulation, and problems with self regulation as a product of failed mutual regulation in early attachment relationships, I then wondered whether envy, if a problem with self regulation, stems from failure of early mutual regulation. Is failed mutual regulation (and, thus, insecure attachment) a mechanism for the development of envy?

If the caregiver, -- due to a history of trauma which now leads the caregiver to be preoccupied, dissociated, and unable to be with the child and with the child’s mind-- is unable to help the child feel attuned to and seen (unable to feel important enough), a child might feel deficient and defective, setting up a vulnerability for envy. This mechanism does not require envy of a good breast (but may include it), and, moreover, does not require gymnastic feats of imagination to explain envy, at least, to my mind.

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