The quest for Wholeness
Of all the wonderful ideas from the glorious array of psychoanalysts and intellectuals covered in Freud and Beyond, none resonate with me quite as much as those put forward by Melanie Klein. Her work in developmental psychology is quite extraordinary, and it is my pleasure to flesh out some of her ideas with you (with a Being & Niceness twist, naturally) in this post. Let’s dive straight into one of the key themes that defines psychoanalysis itself – this quest for some kind of Wholeness that we all seem to experience from infancy onwards. I make reference to the term Wholeness in regards to the analytical psychology of Carl Jung at this juncture. Jung believed that by going through the Individuation process we move closer to uniting the conscious and unconscious elements of our psyches.
For Jung, Individuation is a lifelong process of psychological development – where one aims to become a unified and unique personality; an integrated person. When ego and Persona development are complete, another task emerges – the attempt to integrate our Shadow side. This isn’t something many people find particularly easy to do, but Jung believed that it was the gateway to achieving a sense of Wholeness. And the value of integrating these different sides of the psyche has strong correlations with Klein’s position. She suggests that we are built on an infantile dualism of good and bad experience – which we get from loving/hating objects.
Experiences like those with the good and bad breast have a telling impact on an infant – baby is hungry and needs breast; breast provides food, nourishment and love and, ultimately, gratification. If the breast delivers what the baby wants/needs in time, the infant’s experience of the good breast and good mother is solidified. But, if the opposite occurs, and the baby is let down, left unsatisfied or feeling unloved, a whole world of opposite tensions and feelings arises. Klein realised that these impulses affect our future relationships, and that the infant was fused by polarised mental states. The good breast feeds and nourishes – the bad breast leaves one hungry and is filled with destructive fantasies.
These infantile fantasies have a powerful impact on the object in question – in this case the good breast that protects and restores compared to the bad breast with its annihilating destructiveness. The child needs to keep these two worlds separate – or they’re at risk of annihilating one another. This is where Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position comes from. The paranoia develops from a persecutory anxiety – or fear of invasion from an external agency. The schizoid part is related to the splitting that occurs as an element of this central defence. And, as Mitchell and Black tell us, this split of good and bad thus becomes “the fundamental form for patterning experience”.
Klein was one of the few major theorists who strongly supported Freud’s theory of the death instinct – Thanatos. She believed that our persecutory anxieties were generated by the death drive – and that the paranoid-schizoid position was a defence against this; our anxiety about potential annihilation. There is only so much of this self-directed, destructive aggression that the psyche can take – and so it is also directed externally. The ego offers some protection, but one still fears the bad breast which threatens to destroy us. And yet a completely bad outside world is intolerable – so the good breast is also created. The loving force (Freud’s Eros) sees the libidinal instinct serve as a counterpoint and refuge from the bad object.
The paranoid-schizoid position thus entails duelling destructive and reparative thoughts and feelings for the human being. In a developed, integrated mind the force of our inherent human destructiveness brings with it the dread of the impact of the child’s own rage on those it loves. The love object might be destroyed and this leads to the child experiencing restorative fantasies – the infant is desperate to make the mother whole again. The child needs to feel it can remain related to whole objects – to feel it has the reparative qualities to balance and compensate for its destructive capacities.
It seems that an inner integration is clearly something that many thinkers believe we need to nail to achieve psychic progress. I certainly feel those loving and hateful dualisms all the time – to the point where I often wonder what’s wrong with me. I purposely wind up and push the buttons of my friends and family. Sometimes I wish for them to not have as much success as me. I feel envious, jealous and resentful sometimes – as well as proud and happy for them. Yet when I really think about it, I don’t wish harm upon anyone I care about – I don’t actually want others to fail. I really do care about them. But I have this instinctual competitive nature – and hateful side – that I really struggle to come to terms with sometimes. Perhaps what Klein has shown us, is that it’s entirely natural (and human) to have these ambivalent feelings, and that we should just do our best to let the love win as much as possible.
The bumpy road
So now that we’ve covered the Kleinian paranoid-schizoid position and those duelling tensions of good and bad at the very core of our being, it’s perhaps easier to understand why mental health is something of a bumpy road! Mitchell and Black explain how Klein saw the relative state of mental health as a series of ups and downs – it’s never a developmental plateau, but rather a “position continually lost and regained”. Love and hate are perpetually generated and depressive anxiety is a constant and central feature of our human existence.
The founder of existentialism, the great Dane Soren Kierkegaard, originally brought that to the world’s attention back in the early 19th century with his beautiful philosophy. He was the first person to write about anxiety and its relation to the terrifying realisation of our freedom as beings with choice and responsibility for our actions. The existentialist angst that comes with living authentically is picked up by Klein when she considers times of loss, rejection and frustration – we fall into the inevitable retreat towards the security provided by the splitting of the paranoid-schizoid position – this manic defence.
The bumpy road of mental health is difficult enough to traverse without these conflicting thoughts to cope with. Klein demonstrates our need to integrate these internal loving and hateful feelings towards significant objects. If you put too much energy or stock into one or the other, you’re in for trouble – a wife who can do no wrong in your eyes or a husband who does nothing but continually frustrate and disappoint: these are not healthy positions to assume. We need balance in our relationships – and the way we perceive/experience others. Just like the infant in relation to its mother, we need to be able to accept that others will make us happy AND disappoint us sometimes. And that’s okay. I do feel like I’ve finally managed to come to terms with this in my adult life – but it doesn’t stop me constantly having these conflicting, ambivalent feelings.
I still seem to demonstrate the paranoid-schizoid position all the time – often feeling happy and envious of people concurrently; as previously mentioned, wishing them both joy and failure. And I do hate that about myself – but perhaps it’s just something you need to overcome; the realisation that human beings are built this way. I have my rationality and reason (and Genuinity) – I know that I want to be good and kind and I truly do want the best for those people I care about. I do feel like my retreats to the paranoid-schizoid position have ramped up in recent years – perhaps that’s just something that comes with age, as we move further and further away from our more carefree childish days when we have less pressure and responsibility.
But I do feel like I’m more anxious, aggressive and prone to negative thoughts than ever before. Whether it’s assuming that my football team will always let me down, the house we’ll never sell or the job I won’t get, I definitely feel like an increasing awareness, or maybe consciousness, has led to worse paranoid-schizoid sentiments on my part. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m actually aware of them now? Let’s face it – you don’t get much more aggressive and unforgiving people than kids, right? Either way, I don’t feel like my road to ideal mental health is getting any less bumpy any time soon. Maybe it’s time to think more about how I can work towards integrating those loving and hateful feelings towards others more often – and get a bit more balance in my life.
And so onto, or maybe back onto, love and annihilation. It sounds like such a powerful term to me – but I guess that’s why Klein linked those feelings to Freud’s death drive. Throughout my history of romantic relationships (actually, any loving relationships) I have often felt anxiety about annihilating/destroying love. Whether it was through drinking too much or just my general tendency towards Dionysian behaviour sometimes, I have certainly felt my fair share of paranoid feelings about the damage I might be doing to others through my destructive actions.
Perhaps my intimacy issues stem from a similar place? A feeling that I might not be enough for others? Mitchell and Black explain how Klein sees the mind as continually shifting – “a stream of primitive, phantasmagoric images, fantasies and terrors”. The psyche is always fending off psychotic anxieties and Klein notes our struggle with deep terrors of annihilation and abandonment. And we often feel those rage-filled, destructive thoughts about those we love, too. Then comes those old familiar feelings of guilt and depressive anxiety – and finally an unending need to make reparation of some kind.
The other might become a bad object – but the healthy psyche will rest assured that there are still other good objects out there. What we need to fend against is the marked separation of love and hate that I spoke about earlier. We need an integration – we need to believe that we have these reparative capacities, and that our love can survive our destructiveness. Love and hate need to be integrated into a more “complex relatedness”, according to Mitchell and Black. They discuss these Kleinian ideas through a case study where a husband who simply couldn’t see any bad side to his wife. He refused to accept she was anything but perfect and everyone else in his life, particularly those he worked with, suffered as a result. He subjected his bosses to all his ire and fury because he was ultimately terrified of what those feelings might do this his loved one.
Eventually through treatment he came to see the unbalanced way he perceived his wife – and realised it was actually unhealthy for their relationship as well as others. He finally came to realise his wife as a delicate, fragile, vulnerable love object – and one who was not Godlike. The experience brought him face to face with the terror of his capacity to sustain and nurture love – and his fear that his inner destructiveness might one day annihilate his love object. He always feared whether or not he would indeed have the capacity to repair the damage he might do.
So I guess the lesson that I’ll try to take from this passage is that we must try to view others with a balanced perspective. If we love them too much, put them on a pedestal and refuse to ever attribute any ‘bad’ feelings towards them, it will ultimately lead to an unhealthy dyad. The reverse almost goes without saying – unrelenting hatred for anyone is never going to end well for anyone. Balance is key if we are to fend off those fears of annihilation and the power of our inherent destructiveness. It’s okay to vacillate between ends of the love and hate spectrum – just try not to go too far down either track.
The case study I just referred to includes a belter of a Freudian slip at one point – the man in question, who struggles to integrate his loving and hateful feelings towards his wife, is speaking about losing his temper when he actually says the word ‘temple’ instead. This might seem innocuous enough on the surface, but after some skilful illumination the analyst realises that the image of a temple in this association refers to the way he sees his wife – as a beautiful temple to be protected, preserved, admired and honoured. If you read the previous post in this series, you’ll have seen my reference to an excellent episode of Fraiser which is again relevant here.
If not, it’s the one where Niles cannot see the excessive weight that his obsessive love object Daphne has put on because he places her on such a pedestal that he sees a projected image from the past every time he thinks of her – slim, sexy and irresistible in a red dress. Like the case study I’ve been referring to, Niles also struggles to integrate his loving and hateful feelings towards Daphne – and this one-sided perspective is ultimately doomed; because instead of seeing the significant other as someone who we both love and adore AND get annoyed and frustrated with, we make them into temples. But these temples are unstable.
This is at least one area of my psyche where I feel like I’ve got things in check. As mentioned, I demonstrate this inner struggle between love and hate on a daily basis. My wife and son, Pru and Sammy, annoy the hell out of me sometimes. And I them! But I really do love them so much. The same goes for my family and close friends, too. It makes me realise that it’s okay to be pissed off with your loved ones – just don’t get too pissed off. Be flexible, reflective and malleable – like the Taoist Wu Wei informs us. Be like water – so strong that it cannot be pulled apart, yet flexible enough to traverse any obstacle. Is it possible to love anyone (or thing?) a lot and NOT be caused pain and frustration by them (it)? I don’t think so. I think that just goes with the territory of the bumpy terrain of mental health. Without integration, we risk giving people Godlike status or putting them on a pedestal. When the truth is, nobody’s perfect – and that’s both a good – and bad – thing.
Envy and the bad breast
I’m a sucker for envy – no pun intended! But where has my perpetual tendency towards envy (and jealousy for that matter) come from? Did I struggle to cope with the denial of enough good breast as a kid? Why I am always so prone to spoiling its contents? Why I am often envious? I try to use Taoism to help me. But it’s always gnawing away. Klein compared envy to greed – in terms of the infant’s relationship to the breast. The breast provides nourishment, safety and pleasure – but, as far as the infant is concerned, it is also capable of hoarding its wonderful substances for itself.
The infant endeavours to posses and control the breast through oral greed. This wonderful outside object is the cause of both joy and pain for the infant – it encourages this awful ‘helpless dependence’ in them. And so envy is a case of not necessarily wanting the goods, but an intent on spoiling them. It is a reaction to gratification and pleasure – an attack on the good breast. “Envy undoes splitting and destroys hope,” write Mitchell and Black. This is where some severe psychopathological reactions come from – “I’m not worthy of help”. Klein views the destruction of the good breast as an obliteration of any goodness that might help the infant.
Mitchel and Black describe the way this “envious helplessness” is characteristic of infants whose parents perpetually stimulated love yet often cruelly disappointed. I’m pretty sure my mother never denied me of anything (within reason). I don’t feel like I was psychologically neglected as a child. But the notion of taking umbrage with the helplessness caused by one’s capitulation to the all-conquering good breast is intriguing. Perhaps I still struggle with the notion that I can’t have everything I want and I act up as a result. Now, more than ever, I need to take those Taoist teachings and try to aim for a life of balance. Accept that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. And appreciate all that I have – because what I DO have is actually pretty great. Love, friends, family and beer.
Klein and the fragmented, fractured, kaleidoscopic postmodern self
And so, our Kleinian journey is almost at its end – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of her ideas as much as I did. I’d like to finish by briefly going back over something I covered in the previous blog – the notion of the self as fragmented and fractured. Klein saw the human psyche as something comprised of various segments – as her ideas on the paranoid-schizoid position would suggest. And, as Mitchell and Black show us, these notions of decentring the singular self, dispersing one’s subjectivity and placing greater emphasis on contextualisation of experience lead to a more postmodern appreciation of identity. The Kleinian mind is a fluid, fractured and kaleidoscopic mind. Klein took the Freudian symbols – inspired by Darwinian themes of sexuality and aggression and based on literature, history and anthropology – and updated them for a more contemporary audience.
Whether it be life and death, blossoming and depletion or the internal and external, Klein’s work has helped us come to terms with the fact that we are not just conflicted singular beings, but a multiplicity of thoughts, feelings, ideas, identities, personalities, good sides, bad sides, strong parts, weak parts, feminine parts, masculine parts, and all sorts of orientations. We are in a constant state of flux – and yet, somehow, perhaps always embedded with the same Jungian archetypal code; the coin stamp of our true identity.
I don’t believe that I am just the Kleinian kaleidoscopic self, or the Jungian archetypal self, or the human being influenced by its Genuinity (for more on that, read this) – I believe we are a fragmented and fractured version of all these things. And, as with Jung’s notion of the lifelong Individuation process, I believe that this shift is ongoing. Be who you are, what you want to be, and accept that you will become something else entirely later on down the the road. Just try your best to integrate those loving and hateful feelings as much as you can and achieve balance wherever possible.