Monday, August 29, 2016

Poem: Human Family by Maya Angelou

What better describes our need for sameness and difference, and for belonging, than this beautiful poem offered as an elaboration of yesterday’s post on Twinship.  

Poem: Human Family by Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
we laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major ways the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type.
But we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Most psychoanalysts are familiar with Kohut’s mirroring and idealizing transferences. Togashi and Kottler (2012) write about the twinship transference and note Kohut’s “transformation from the psychology of the self to the psychology of being human” and from “the disorder of the self to… trauma-centered psychoanalysis.” They enumerate the many faces of twinship:

(1)    between merger and mirroring. Kohut originally conceived of the mirror transference in three forms: merger, twinship, and the narrowed mirror transference, their differences “based on the degree to which an individual” sees others as an extension of themselves or as a separate person.
(2)    as a process of mutual finding. This does not mean “recognizing…the other’s subjectivity” but rather that “two participants…regulate a sense of sameness and difference in their effort to match…their subjectivity” such as when the analyst finds aspects of herself and not-herself in her patient and the patient, likewise, can find aspects of himself and not-himself in his analyst, this mutual finding process, essential to the twinship experience.
(3)    as a sense of belonging. Later (1984), Kohut distinguished twinship from mirroring to a sense of belonging. Here twinship speaks to [authors quoting White and Weiner] ‘a similarity in interests and talents, along with the sense of being understood by someone like yourself” and [quoting Basch] ‘the need to belong and feel accepted by one’s cohort.’ [BTW, in this same volume, VanDerHyde writes a lovely paper on the importance of twinship, stating the need to belong precedes the need for mirroring or idealizing]
(4)    passing talents and skills to the next generation. Togashi and Kottler write: “For Kohut, an individual’s efforts to educate others is often based on her yearning for a person who[m] she can experience as essentially alike, or for a person in whom she can find herself.” The parent sees herself in the child and, reciprocally, the child sees himself in the parent. The child sees himself as the welcomed “successor” as the parent is “creating and finding oneself in the next generation.”
(5)    as silent communication. Twinship allows each “to share the feeling of connection without verbal communication –as with mother and infant; lovers; or analyst and patient—and to share in a “regulatory process to match (and not-match) one another.”
(6)    feeling human among other human beings. Kohut noted the necessity to feel human among other human beings. Narcissistic parents can treat the child as an extension of themselves or as a non-human thing, the latter causing the child to experience himself as non-human among non-humans.
(7)    in trauma. The authors cite Stolorow: “a need for twinship is a reaction to psychological trauma” [IMO, the authors decline to temper this statement by adding that we are hard-wired for a social network (a tribe), as well as that we can find joy in being understood and this not simply as secondary to trauma] and Brothers, noting that trauma destroys certainty and meaning. [and that we need relationship to restore the latter.]

Please see the next post for a poem by Angelou which beautifully illustrates humans’ need for a human family, same and different, but belonging.

Monday, August 22, 2016


Cultural relics have been targeted by ISIS in northern Africa and the Middle East in alarming numbers. The first successful prosecution by the International Criminal Court for only the destruction of cultural heritage took place today at The Hague. Ahmad Al-Fagi Al-Mahdi took part in the destruction by Islamic militants of the 14th century Holy Tombs of Timbuktu in his native Mali in 2012 and today he admitted and apologized, calling for an end to these acts.

The phrase destruction of cultural heritage got me thinking about our individual specific and pointed cultural heritage, that of each of our families, and how psychoanalysts navigate the change in perspective of our unique stories. Some people come to us hoping we will undo what they have had to endure, or hoping that the painful experiences of childhood will be eradicated. But our history is part of who we are, for better or worse, forever embedded in our neuro-circuitry [unless damage occurs, such as by a stroke or traumatic brain injury] and I encourage patients to respect what has transpired, give it its due, its voice, and give it a place beside all that has made them the courageous and resourceful enough person now before me who seeks psychotherapeutic treatment.

Some patients worry, as we empathize with the relational trauma of chronic misrecognition and misattunement or with the Trauma of physical and sexual abuse of their childhoods, that their newly welcomed and understandable anger will be insurmountable to finding their way back to loving and forgiving their families of origin. It does seem remarkable that, if we persevere with recognizing, naming, and accepting anger, we will find it can be more easily lived, lived alongside the more palatable emotions and memories that are human experience.  I don’t know how forgiveness for heinous acts comes about, but it seems partially linked to learning to forgive ourselves. I know I am grateful life-long for those who have forgiven me.

Friday, August 19, 2016

"the pleasures and perils" of technology

Tonight on the PBS NewsHour was aired an interview with German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man; The Cave of Forgotten Dreams) whose latest film, the documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World was released today. He asks “What makes us human? How do we communicate?” Herzog, like myself, does not have a cell phone as a matter of culture. Like me, he wants to be involved with the person across the table with whom he shares a meal and not be available to everyone else all the time.

It is a danger if we teach our children, for example: when preoccupied with our cell phones, that they are uninteresting and unimportant. A parent, chronically disinterested in the experiences of a child, may seriously impede the development of that child’s ‘voice.’ Many years ago, when my younger daughter was in preschool, I observed a sad scene.

Another parent and I drove into the parking lot at the same time. She was on her cell phone. We parked alongside one another. We walked the sidewalk together, into the building together, down the hall, and out the door to the playground area. She was still on her cell phone. I dropped to my knees when I saw my daughter and opened my arms. My daughter ran into them. The other parent did not say ‘hi’ to the little boy she had come for, but took his hand and the four of us retraced our steps. My daughter is telling me of her morning experiences as I buckle her into her car seat. The woman next to me is still on her phone. Her son is silent.

What or who is it that is so compelling on the other end of a cell phone that is worth making the person right beside us feel second best?

One of the salubrious pleasures of the quiet consulting room is the intense attention paid to one another as we struggle to navigate intimacy in the here and now.