Donald Kalsched: on …”When the relational environment … fails … to provide “good enough” attunement and empathic responsiveness for the growing baby”

It has been a while since I’ve posted any of my musings! Here is one more source quote with a few very important ideas and conceptualizations. Enjoy.

“Object-relations theory and interpersonal theory provide the best understanding of how trauma develops but, missing a grasp of the self-curative capacities of the psyche’s inner world, they do not adequately envision the healing of trauma that comes about through other than personal resources. The self-care system comes about as a result of acute or chronic failure by the relational environment to provide “good enough” attunement and empathic responsiveness for the growing baby. Trauma occurs when this “failure” falls outside what Winnicott calls the “area of omnipotence,” by which he means experience the baby can make sense of or “metabolize” within its own tolerance-limits or its own nascent symbolic capacity. Events that fall outside this area are “unbearable” or “unspeakable” and constitute nothing short of “madness,” by which Winnicott means literally a “breakdown” of infancy that cannot be remembered and around which the growing child (with the aid of primitive defenses) must erect a false self, like a tree growing around an absent center hollowed out by a lightning strike.

This sobering and compelling story about the effects of early trauma represents a partial truth, but it is not the whole story. There is something essential that Winnicott leaves out of his completely interpersonal metapsychology, namely, the “nonhuman environment” outwardly (Searles, 1960), and the “prehuman environment” inwardly, in other words, the archetypal layer of the psyche (Jung). The child is not just in relationship to the mother, but to the “world” beyond and the “world” within—poised, as it were, between two great, beautiful and terrible mysteries. It is the mother’s job to help mediate these Titanic realities. Without the mother’s “good enough” mediation, the child will be exposed to these inner and outer beauties/terrors and this will inevitably lead to traumatic symptoms in relationship, for example, unresolved omnipotence and grandiosity, insecure/disorganized attachment, and so forth.

But the child will not necessarily be “mad.” The Self Care System (SCS) will come to its rescue, and this system will recruit the archetypal powers of inner and outer Nature in its “effort” to save the child’s spirit – its core of health. The many myths that retell the story of children being abandoned and exposed but rescued by transpersonal powers or wild animals record the “saving” miracle by the SCS (Otto Rank). True, without an adequate human relationship to mediate “psyche and the world” the traumatized child will have life-long difficulties in intimacy with others. Born of broken attachment bonds, its SCS will not allow it to trust a process of reattachment with others for fear of retraumatization. But the self that grows around these limitations will not necessarily be a “false” self and may in fact be more creative than mad, perhaps with a rich inner world, a privileged access to “non-ordinary reality,” a deep cultural life, and a huge passion for a capacity for life. In the language of Jerome Bernstein, these individuals will occupy a “Borderland” between the worlds rather than be “Borderline” personality disorders (Bernstein, 2005).”

“Working with Trauma in Analysis,” by Donald E. Kalsched, PP. 281-295, from Jungian Psychoanalysis: Working In The Spirit of C.G. Jung, Edited by Murray Stein

Explore posts in the same categories: Complexes and More, Connecting the Dots Series, Individuation, Initiation, Learning to Think and Work Symbolically

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