Source: Brian Feldman on The Relational Archetype at Work

Dr. Feldman offers a beautiful glimpse into the early life/conditions of human infants and a quite accessible framing up of the origins of the coniunctio. Tales of shared reverie and undulation….

“As the baby evolves physically and psychologically there is an increased capacity for physical motility and greater capacity for psychological separation. An interior symbolic world is constructed through experiences of optimal connection and separation; the baby is able functionally to take care of himself in increasing increments. According to Fordham (1985) the first symbol to take shape inside of the infant is the mother’s breast. The image of the breast takes shape within as the infant attempts to grapple with its physical absence. In my own observation I have noticed that the baby’s capacity for connection also plays a significant role in symbolic development. I have observed babies, in a state of reverie, hold onto the nipple with their mouths, and it appears to me that they are attempting to form a sensory image of the breast/nipple that they will be able to store in memory. Slowly through these experiences of connection and separation a symbolic space is created within that can be utilized for thinking and reflection.

I believe that there is a relational archetype that emerges at birth (and perhaps in utero). This relational archetype mediates object relations (both the internally and externally ones) from birth, and continues to have an influence throughout the life cycle. At birth the relational archetype forms the basis for early bonding and attachment experiences. Bowlby’s (1969) attachment research offers ample evidence that the infant is genetically wired to form emotional bonds with attachment figures from birth. In Jungian terms this could be seen as an archetypal configuration occurring at the infrared pole or instinctual pole of the archetype. At the ultra violet end of the archetypal spectrum exists imagery of the coniunctio: the relational couple. Jung explored the adult form of the coniunctio in the ‘Psychology of the transference’ (Jung 1946), and postulated that this archetypal configuration is at the core of the analytic process. I would agree with Jung that the coniunctio or the relational couple is central to analytic work. My research is an attempt to understand the developmental sequence of the coniunctio, starting from intrauterine life and infancy. Infant observation research has made me aware of the pivotal significance of the coniunctio or relational couple from birth. The mother-infant coniunctio forms the foundation of the later coniunctios that develop through the life cycle, and as we know from our clinical work, difficulties in the early mother/infant couple can lead to later developmental problems. It is helpful clinically to have an understanding of the early mother/infant coniunctio, as this often emerges first in the individuation process.

In regard to the early mother/infant couple I would like to make the following points that also are derived from my ongoing research of observing babies:

  1. The infant’s sense of agency, his capacity to create his universe in relationship with and in interaction with the significant figures in his environment is fundamental to understanding his development. This principle can also be related to analytic work and our need to support our analysand’s emerging agency in the analytic arena.
  2. The infant’s mental, emotional and spiritual development evolves in the context of the early coniunctio. Mental, emotional, and spiritual developments do not evolve in isolation from the significant relationships in the baby’s life. The contextual component of the infant’s experience is fundamental to understanding his development.
  3. The early mother/infant relationship is quite fluid in nature. There is an ongoing oscillation between states of connection and states of separateness. There are a rhythm and a tempo to these fluctuating states. The baby and mother undulate with each other in their particular dance. These observations are in contrast to Fordham’s (1985) conceptualizations that the infant is separate from birth, and are also divergent from Winnicott’s (1960) concept that the mother and infant are in a state of fusion during the earliest period of life.
  4. The infant’s capacity for symbolization evolves from birth onward. The skin, as the first experience of a container, is fundamental in this regard. Through the experience of the skin the infant develops a concept of inside and outside spaces, with a boundary which separates the two distinct areas. The skin is the envelope in which the body is contained, and it is the skin that provides the points of contact with the external world. The skin acts as a delineator of boundaries between what is experienced to be outside and what is experienced as inside the self. This primary skin function involves the evolution of a psychic container within which thought, affect and symbolic experience can be held and reflected upon. This experience of the skin later evolves into a concept of an internal and external world. Difficulties in the evolution of the psychic skin, the mental representation of the sensory skin, can be seen in the analysis of primitive mental states where boundary difficulties are prominent. In these cases a secondary skin function can develop. The secondary skin function is a defensive manoeuver that helps to contain unbearable affects through the use of bodily and mental processes such as can emerge in eating disorders, sexual addictions as well as in other psychosomatic conditions (Feldman forthcoming).
  5. In my observations of babies I have been struck by the infant’s need to give shape to his bodily self by pushing his body up against hard and soft surfaces, and by the mouthing of and grasping hold of animate and inanimate objects. The experience of the infant being securely held in the arms of the mother or other significant caregiver, and the exploration of the body of the other, especially the touching of the skin of the breast during breast feeding as well as the touching of the mother’s face by the infant are fundamental in the development of a coherent body image.
  6. The infant has a capacity for reverie as well as the mother. The infant’s reverie can be seen as the infant plays with the nipple and breast – the first play object. I would hypothesize that during these states of reverie the infant’s capacity for introjection develops and gradually the breast/nipple is introjected and forms the basis of a primal good internal object. The nipple in the mouth is at the core of the development of the coniunctio. It is the first interpenetration of subject and object, and this forms the basis for later schemes of object relations. This thesis is different from that developed by Bion (1962) and later Fordham (1985) where the mother’s capacity for reverie is seen as primary. I would place equal emphasis on the infant’s capacity for reverie and I would postulate that the first symbolizations are sensory and unfold in relationship and in connection with the mother and are not a result of separation and absence from her.

Two + paragraphs excerpted from an 8 page paper from Brian Feldman, Ph.D.:The Lost Steps of Infancy: Symbolization, Analytic Process and the Growth of the Self,” Journal of Analytical Psychology, 47:397-406 (2002).

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