18 December 2015

For No One

How do we learn to be kind and caring and how do we learn to be cruel? The front page of today’s (or any day’s) New York Times offers a remarkable sample of the latter and even some evidence of the former.
     “Concern,” says Winnicott, “refers to the fact that the individual cares, or minds, and both feels and accepts responsibility” towards an other, or an Other. How this capacity for concern develops is the thrust of Winnicott’s essay, “The Development of the Capacity for Concern.” Winnicott says that a sense of destructiveness (hate and aggression) appears before an experience of constructiveness (a foundation of responsibility) even as in an earlier essay, “Hate in the Countertransference,” he claims that the mother hates (destructiveness) the baby before she loves (constructiveness) the baby. In the latter essay he offers a surprisingly long list rationalizing the precedence of hate before love. (I intend to use that essay for class this semester: I think that teachers hate their students before they love them!) In the essay, Winnicott says that in the fulfillment of instinctual needs/drives, the infant “attacks” the object-mother and intends to consume her seeking satisfaction of those needs. This aggressiveneness is perceived by the child as destructiveness, and as as result of this awareness of destructiveness, the child experiences anxiety, a sense of guilt felt by the child that she will actually ‘consumes’ the object-mother: the child senses that if she “attacks” the mother, then the mother will disappear. Of course, it is important that the mother be known as a subject who can survive the destructiveness of the child: hence the importance of the good-enough mother.
     Along with the object mother, she who can be attacked and consumed, the child learns that there exists as well what Winnicott calls “the environmental mother,’ a caregiver “who wards off the unpredictable and who actively provides care in handling and in general management.” The child comes to understand that s/he can use the environmental mother with “affection and sensuous co-existence,” and can ‘contribute’ to the environmental mother. In his relations with this mother the child experiences constructiveness and can offer to this caregiver reparation for the destructiveness and attack s/he has practiced and yet practices upon this caregiver. Without that environmental care-giver, and without the opportunity for reparation for the destructiveness the child exhibits to the the object-caregiver, the child experiences merely guilt. Guilt is the negative side of concern, and is characterized by anxiety linked with the concept of ambivalence, the latter term, says Winnicott, expressing the existence of eroticism and aggressiveness combined, the experience of a desire for, and a hatred of the object-imago. But I suppose the child will also come to experience from the reliability of the environment mother (or caregiver) the opportunity for reparation, since s/he will manage the child’s freer expressions of even the child’s id-drives and instinctual life. Winnicott says that in health the child’s guilt lies dormant or as mere potential—and will appear as depression or sadness when the opportunity for reparation does not exist.  For Winnicott this ambivalence assumes a degree of ego integration (an earlier development) that allows the child to understand that the same object (mother) is both object and subject. The child must know that just as the child has an outside and an inside, so must the mother possess an outside and an inside.
     Over time, this cycle of instinctual drives and the desire for reparation (of destructiveness and constructiveness) becomes modified and turns to what we can now call concern. Concern, the positive side of guilt, develops when the child accepts responsibility for her instinctual drives. And to take responsibility seems to mean to be able (and willing) to offer reparation. What starts as guilt in this regard transforms into concern.


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