Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“Mirror in the sky, what is love?”*

In discussing an analytic attitude with beginning trainees, I find analytic love and hate must be included. Analytic love is not to be confused with romantic love or parent-child love. As part of analytic love, I advocate for a welcoming attitude. Natterson elaborates 'what is love.' While not  having repeatedly made explicit throughout his paper -- to remind the reader what he means by love -- Natterson nonetheless defines it early on (p.510), relying on Hegel and Honneth: “love is a relationship of mutual recognition.” [I love that definition!] Another excellent ‘definition’ appears towards the end of the paper (p.520), this time from his patient: taking in and honoring the patient’s experience. [welcoming, if you will]

Recognition of our subjectivity, by a parent able to hold us in mind (Bion/Winnicott) and able to survive (Winnicott) our attacks, begins in infancy. Intersubjectivity, an always precariously held position, will inevitably fall to the side of treating the other as an object (called ‘negation’ by Benjamin), and we must continually right ourselves back to subject-to-subject relating. Doing so is an act of love. Despite love, there will be moments [or days] when intersubjectivity will fail and will cause the parent, lover, friend, or analyst to treat the other subject as an object: ‘You must do what I say, must meet my needs, you must sacrifice your Self in order to stay in relationship to me.’ What gives analytic love the edge is the analyst’s continued striving to be attuned to the patient’s response to us, be self-reflective, admit our contribution to ruptures, and make timely repair, that is, to re-establish intersubjectivity.

I must add that Natterson’s paper fell short for me on two counts. One was his continued use of terms like ‘individuation’ or ‘fusion.’ Dan Stern and later infant research tell us we are born individuated, not fused, not symbiotic. It is when our early subjectivity goes unrecognized (and we are treated like an object instead of a subject) that we have the experience of being usurped by the other. I doubt anyone wishes for fusion except as a way to maintain a threatened relational tie (or, momentarily, in love-making). Merger, fusion, lack of individuation are indicators of failure of recognition of subjectivity.

The other way this paper fell short for me was Natterson’s mention of the “Oedipal guilt” in his patient without including the reality of her childhood sexual abuse and its complications to the Oedipal configuration. I do not disagree that children often have a wish to marry the opposite sex parent, especially heterosexual children. It  seems to me that children who endure childhood sexual abuse require reconciliation and restitution to find a way back, as his patient did, to a loving relationship to her abusive father.

I am grateful to Natterson for providing a paper on analytic love and recognition of subjectivity.

Natterson, J.M. (2003). Love in Psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Psychol., 20(3):509-521.

*Landslide-Stevie Nicks

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