In working psychoanalytically with toddlers and children, the child analyst encounters behaviours, anxiety states, and syndromes that may be said to result from a failure of the early symbolization process. For example, a child may panic and feel distressed when his mother leaves the room, may be unable to sleep, may be terrified of any noise, or may run around the room randomly, unable to focus on an age-appropriate task. Such behaviours may reflect a weakened or absent ability to represent, and so the child may seek to discharge tension via action and behaviour rather than deal with it more productively by playing and dreaming.
The child who lacks the ability to represent the mother in his mind when she is not physically present has no way of organizing his distress and anxieties in her absence. It may then fall to the analyst to foster the process of representation in the child by offering the child his/her own capacity for representation through the use of language, especially metaphor, play, and creative activity.
In his article “Negation” (1925h), Freud explores three important areas: “no” as a linguistic phenomenon; the concept of judgement and its double function (judgement of attribution and judgement of existence); and the relationship between the subject and reality. Although he considers that negation is linked to the linguistic expression and puts forward the hypothesis that “we never discover a ‘no’ in the unconscious” (p. 239), Green (1993) maintains that this does not imply an absence of negativity in the unconscious. Green’s conceptualization takes into account phenomena that go beyond language. Negation is situated within a broader set of notions, together with repression, foreclosure and disavowal, all of which constitute “the work of the negative”.
Despite the impossibility of observing a “no” in the unconscious, the final structuring of the unconscious, which happens as a result of the effects of the Oedipus complex and which culminates in its dissolution, is a consequence of a prohibition that carries an implicit “no”. This is the “no” which prevents the consummation of incest, when the subject is faced with the threat of castration, and which generates the desire for parricide. The effect of the “no” contained within this prohibition is seen not only indirectly through symptoms and unconscious derivatives but also, and essentially, in the expression of anxiety.