Inhabiting the Body: a relational endeavour
In this interview, Susie Orbach explains how her focus on the bodily-self arose from her project of theorising the body as a developmental, relational phenomenon. She has reformulated Winnicott’s maxim, “There’s no such thing as a baby,” to “There’s no such thing as a body”. The body, as much as the self, is the outcome of relationship.
Furthermore, she argues that the parental/child relationship is one that occurs within a particular cultural moment which has impacted upon the parental body, which itself has been marked by geography, class, religion, gender and so on. This will be bequeathed to the developing child’s sense of her or his own body.The complexity of messages we receive from culture about what a body should be is leading to increasing confusion of identity in people’s search an integrated and stable bodily-self. Orbach talks about cosmetic surgery in all its forms as part of the search for safety rather than an act of self destruction. Whether it’s the person with anorectic behaviours or person who has had many cosmetic procedures, the search is for safety.
To illustrate her understanding of bodies in relationship, Orbach describes an adult patient with chronic colitis. This woman had experienced early disturbance as a baby who was unable to manage her feed, with a mother unable to receive her most basic bodily needs. In the countertransference, she describes how she came into a great contentment in her own body. The patient was able to use her as an external body for herself, and begin the process of deconstructing the defensive false body with which she was struggling. The goal of therapy, she suggests, is to develop a body, just as would aim to develop a psyche, and that the relationship is the means of doing so.