Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Unwelcome Child, Notes Part 2

In his 1929 paper, "The Unwelcome Child and His Death Instinct," Sandor Ferenczi (Budapest, originally published in The International Journal of Psycho-analysis) put forward an idea based on observations made during his stint as a doctor in charge of a war hospital.

His observed some patients came into the world as unwelcome guests of the family and that, "All the indications shew that these children had observed the conscious and unconscious signs of the aversion or impatience by the mother, and their desire to live had been broken by this" and that, "Moral and philosophic pessimism, scepticism and mistrust became conspicious character-traits in these patients. One could also note ill-disguised longing for (passive) tenderness, repugnance to work, incapacity for prolonged effort, and thus a certain degree of emotional infantilism, naturally not without attempts at forced character strengthening."

The following is a summary of the rest of his paper:

Ferenczi notes a common theoretical assumption. That the life instinct is strongest at the beginning of life, weakest (to zero) toward the end. He says this may not be quite accurate, pointing out this may be true only under favorable conditions of the infantile protective environment. "The child has to be induced, by means of an immense expenditure of love, tenderness and care, to forgive his parents for having brought him into the world without any intention on his part; otherwise the destructive instincts begin to stir immediately. And this is not really surprising, since the infant is much closer to individual non-being, and not divided from it by so much bitter experience as the adult. Slipping back into this non-being might therefore come much more easily to children. The "life force" which rears itself against the difficulties of life has therefore not really any great innate strength and becomes established only when tactful treatment and upbringing gradually give rise to progressive immunization against physical and psychical injuries."

If I'm reading him right (which I may not, I'm not a psychoanalyst), Ferenczi tries to figure out where to categorize these cases, but proposes they fit into, "the frustration neuroses," and goes on to observe, "there remains of course the task of ascertaining the finer differences in neurotic symptoms between children maltreated from the start, and those who are at first received with enthusiasm, indeed with passionate love, but then dropped."

Ferenczi then talks about he treated such cases. He found he needed to let the patient, "have his way like a child" which would allow him to enjoy the irresponsibility of childhood, "which is the equivalent to the introduction of positive life impulses and motives for his subsequent existence."
I'm not going to bother to summarize the last paragraph because Ferenczi starts talking about Genital Theory and libidinal theory and the "demands of genitality" and suddenly, I have no idea what the hell he's saying. If I had to put my spin on it, Ferenczi was onto something really important and then the shadow of Freud loomed and, well, he found himself on the Oedipus detour.

I'm not going to give my reaction today, mostly because I ran out of time and I don't want to make this post too long. But I did want to share Pt. 2 as I promised to do so last week. But please feel free to leave your reaction.

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13 Comments:

Blogger EnzGrl said...

Hi Nina, sorry it took me so long to comment on this, but I've been digesting it. I think this is fascinating, and like you, I agree that this is highly plausible. I too have struggled with finishing things, with sticking to things, and generally fighting the feeling of "why bother?" I too have gotten creative ideas and then talked myself out of doing anything about them because I felt like no one would care or be interested. What disturbs me most is that I have just begun searching, so I have no idea if these feelings come from having been unwanted in the womb, or having been systematically devalued by my aparents. I suspect it's a combo of the former and the latter, but I guess time will tell. Thanks for posting this! Anne

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