Working with Repetition Compulsion: The re-enactment of unconscious childhood trauma
Saturday 14 September 2019 - London
A one-day seminar with Dr David Celani
The superordinate need of the child is not for pleasure or need gratification, but for an intense relationship with another person… If only painful experiences are provided, the child does not give up looking for pleasurable experiences elsewhere, but seeks pain as a vehicle for interaction with the significant other. It is the contact, not the pleasure which is primary… Painful feelings, self destructive relationships, self-sabotaging situations, are re-created throughout life as vehicles for the perpetuation of early ties to significant others. Mitchell, 1988 (p:27).READ MORE...
One of the most perplexing psychological problems faced by psychotherapists is the apparently normal patient who seeks out one abusive partner after another.
This common phenomenon, an attachment to “bad objects”, is at the very core of the analytic model developed by W.R.D. Fairbairn (1889-1964). Fairbairn recognised that the child is absolutely dependent on their parents for all of their physical and psychological needs.
The child raised in an uncaring family cannot tolerate “knowing” that they are being neglected or abused as this would endanger their emotional attachment to the desperately needed parents. One psychological solution that they have is to dissociate memories of abuse or neglect, thus preserving the attachments and creating a sense of security. Unfortunately, as we will see, such early dissociated interpersonal experiences – quite unknown to the conscious ego – lie dormant, often to resurface with sexual partners in adulthood in the form of dysfunctional relationships.
Fairbairn also noticed that abused children often create unrealistic fantasies about the possibility of future love from their neglectful parents. These imaginings may create a soothing, temporary reality for the child. However, such hopes inevitably co-exist with repressed memories of abuse – memories that can suddenly emerge from the unconscious. We will see how such children may develop two separate centres of agency in their personality, quite unknown to each other: one hurt and enraged and the other full of hope. Painfully, these sub-egos seek out partners who simultaneously hurt and offer the illusion of love. We will consider how psychodynamic psychotherapy can help someone with the deeply challenging task of integrating a full awareness of their childhood reality in order to, at last, become free from repeating it.
SPEAKERSDr David Celani,
Registration and coffee
The Origins and the Development of Pathological Ego Structures in the Unconscious
Fairbairn’s focus on human development was on the child’s absolute dependency on the parent(s) for all of his psychological and physical needs. He recognized that the child’s emotional development required a consistent sense of security for it to continue. Those children that experienced repeated parental failures in empathy and compassion became “fixated” on their parent, waiting until support for continued development was given. The child protects himself from insecurity by not “knowing” that he is unloved by dissociating memories of parental failures into an unconscious structure (the Rejecting Object) as well as memories of himself as a frightened, shamed and humiliated child (the Antilibidinal Ego). This psychological self-deception creates a secure environment in which to live.
Fairbairn’s Structural Model and the Clinical Skills Needed to Respond to the Split Off Selves When they Emerge in the Clinical Interview
This session will further discuss Fairbairn’s structural model, specifically, the second pair of dissociated self and objects, called the Libidinal Ego and the Exciting Object. Fairbairn observed that the lonely and desperate children in the orphanage where he worked created hope for themselves by focusing on imagined loving/promising aspects of their abandoning parents which he called the Exciting Object. This hope protects the child from seeing or accepting that his/her attachment to the parent is one-sided. Participants will learn how to identify, and respond appropriately to the libidinal ego when it emerges either in relation to the therapist or toward an exciting object in the patient’s external world. We will see how Fairbairn’s model of the inner world allows the clinician to understand patient dynamics, and thus protect him/her from becoming entangled in patient’s projections.
Fairbairn’s Model of Change and Becoming a Good Object for the Patient
Fairbairn emphasised the role of the good object in the treatment of patients as a pathway that would give them a healthy alternative to the bad objects that have held them in their thrall. He assumed that the attachment to a good object would allow their stalled development to resume. He did not account for patient resistance to the “goodness” of the object (which may seem foreign to them) nor did he factor in the patient’s loyalty to his bad objects. The technique of developing a clinical narrative with the patient that focuses on repeated developmental failures that he/she suffered during childhood will be illustrated. The dangers of increasing resistance with this type of narrative will also be discussed.
Specific Treatment Strategies
The workshop will conclude with a description of the specific dynamics and treatment strategies useful when working with patients who seek out rejecting/exciting bad objects, particularly where there is partner violence. Several examples will be described, including how to interpret the patient’s shifting ego states in ways that are understandable to them and do not increase their resistance to the work.