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Relocation, Gender and Emotion

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This book has two main aims: firstly, to provide a rare, detailed description of the use of a psychoanalytically informed, reflexive research method to achieve an in-depth understanding of social phenomena; and secondly, to throw some much needed light onto the complex, intrapsychic and interpersonal influences that impact upon "military wives" who accompany members of the British Armed Forces to postings overseas. These arguments are particularly relevant at a time when the military is over-stretched, given that unhappy wives can adversely affect the retention of servicemen. This is an important contribution to the on-going development of psycho-social studies.

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Chapter One: Introduction

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This book discusses the emotional responses of British servicemen’s wives to military relocation, addressing both their deeply personal experience and the impact upon that experience of their social connectedness. It is, therefore, a psycho-social study, which is not what I imagined writing when I first considered embarking upon the research that the book describes. My focus at that time, which was informed by my background as a psychodynamic counsellor, was largely restricted to the internal world and what happens within individual psyches.

As I have discussed elsewhere (Jervis, 2007), my personal experience of relocating with my husband whenever he was required to move by his employer, the Royal Navy, meant that I was aware of the emotional upheavals often experienced by women who accompany servicemen to postings overseas. In the early years of our marriage, however, I knew very little about military mobility. For more than a decade my husband and I lived within the same British civilian community, near to a submarine base, and we became very settled there. Although my husband was required to spend long periods at sea, which meant that we were often separated, my life otherwise was hardly affected by the military. Our residential stability had enabled us to purchase our own house and develop valued friendships in the area. I was also able to pursue my established career.

 

Chapter Two: Military life

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Before introducing this chapter I want to clarify what I mean when I use certain terms. “Military” refers primarily to the British Armed Forces and includes members from any, or all, of its three services; the Army, Royal Air Force, and Royal Navy. However, the word sometimes also refers to other Western militaries and their personnel, when they encounter similar experiences to those of the British military. “Wives” usually means, or includes, women married to servicemen, unless otherwise indicated.

Throughout the chapter I will develop several arguments that I have outlined previously (Jervis, 2007) about the military lifestyle, military communities, and the demands that the military makes of its personnel and their families. Historically, the British military’s distinctive identity set it apart from civilian society but recent social, technological, and political changes have undermined both that differentiation and the military’s traditional identity. Perceived as resistant to adapting to such changes, the military retains many of the all-encompassing characteristics of a “total institution” (Goffman, 1961, p. 16). In the past these characteristics were valuable for military effectiveness and perhaps they remain so today. Unfortunately, though, they also contribute to the perpetuation of an out-dated relationship between the military and servicemen’s wives in which the military’s patriarchal expectations of wives persist. Even though servicemen’s wives have become less willing to adopt the traditional support roles still expected of them, the military’s homogenizing, controlling characteristics continue to incorporate wives so that they serve military needs. Moreover, the military’s influence increases overseas, undermining wives’ personal identities. Its institutional power is exercised through subtle, gender related pressure, with which wives unwittingly collude. This leaves them paradoxically positioned; simultaneously perceived as members of, and external to, the military.

 

Chapter Three: Change, loss, and relocation

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In this chapter I want to continue my exploration of the emotional impact of relocation upon servicemen’s wives by first considering why such a common life-change has the potential to be so disturbing. Change involves loss, so it always demands mourning. For servicemen’s wives, however, this is particularly problematic. Wives often sustain numerous losses when they relocate, especially overseas, but their continuing incorporation into the military institution means that they tend to minimize, rather than mourn, these undermining losses. Unfortunately, this impedes the psychological “working through” that is necessary for wives to recover and to rebuild their fragmented identities.

Women married to servicemen are not alone, of course, in following spouses whose jobs involve frequent relocation. Other women, and increasingly men too, trail their partners to new locations, so I want to consider how valid the notion of “trailing wives” remains today and what it means to be uprooted from everything familiar. My focus will then return to military mobility and the emotional disturbances that it can arouse, which are occasionally serious. Given that repeated relocation can be so disturbing and therefore might adversely affect military efficiency and retention, the Armed Forces would benefit from following civilian employers in addressing their personnel’s wives’ difficulties. However, servicemen’s wives’ on-going incorporation means that their problems are not fully recognized. Moreover, the development of appropriate support to ameliorate those problems is inhibited by collusive denial. Consequently, relocated wives remain likely to experience some degree of culture shock overseas.

 

Chapter Four: The influence of reactivated primitive psychological processes

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In this chapter, I want to discuss some psychoanalytic theories about personality development and the psychological states experienced during infancy, particularly the primitive processes described by Melanie Klein. These concepts are important for understanding similar states of mind commonly experienced by adults, especially following loss. As Freud (1923b, 1933a) argued, successful mourning involves identifying with the lost loved object or person, a process also involved in the formation of the personality. Klein (1946) extends Freud’s thinking by describing two important phases of infantile psychological development, which she calls the “paranoid schizoid” and “depressive” positions, that remain influential throughout life. Of particular relevance to the emotional experiences of relocated servicemen’s wives is Klein’s (1940) notion that mourning always reactivates the depressive position, and the anxieties associated with it, undermining identity and evoking terror of annihilation. This unconscious anxiety, aroused by any significant life-change that involves loss, is so threatening to an individual’s identity that it is often projected, or psychically externalized, into others, including into groups and institutions.

 

Chapter Five: Using psychoanalytic thinking to enhance understanding

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This chapter describes the pros and cons of a psychoanalytically informed reflexive research method (see Clarke, 2000, 2002; Hollway & Jefferson, 2000; Wengraf, 2000, 2001) such as the one that I adopted. Researchers who use these methodologies utilize the receptive attitude and minimal intervention typical of a psychoanalyst in order to elicit free association narratives during qualitative, unstructured interviews. Potentially, this approach facilitates an exploration of the otherwise inaccessible unconscious communications that exist beneath the surface of interviews, enabling researchers to achieve new levels of understanding. However, reflexive psychoanalytic research methods also raise particular ethical issues. I want to discuss how these methodological advantages and disadvantages became apparent in the context of my own research as an “insider” within the military community.

In particular, I want to focus upon how I used an important psychoanalytic concept, countertransference, to inform my interpretation of the data. I hope to show, through vignettes taken from interviews and by reflecting upon my personal experiences, various unconscious processes that can arise in psycho-social research and the value to researchers of really thinking about the feelings and ideas evoked within them during their research. I have highlighted aspects of this material previously (Jervis, 2009) but I am including it again here, together with some additional information, so that throughout the remaining chapters I can further develop several themes that I introduced then.

 

Chapter Six: Making psycho-social sense of emotional experiences

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In this chapter I want to discuss my research findings in detail, considering both the intrapsychic and interpersonal influences upon servicemen’s wives’ emotions, following military relocation. I will discuss how respondents lost familiar environments, emotionally meaningful relationships, children sent to boarding school, and employment that enhanced self-esteem. I want to illustrate how these losses undermined respondents’ personal identities and aroused grief and anxiety, leaving them ambivalent about both the new location and forming new friendships. Respondents frequently minimized or denied the existence of such disturbing emotions, however, probably because they had identified with the stoic military ethos. Evidence of this unwitting collusion with their own incorporation was exemplified by respondents’ frequent adoption of the military’s language and hierarchy as their own. I want to suggest that the concept of the “normative unconscious” (Layton, 2006, p. 107) offers an explanation for this phenomenon.

 

Chapter Seven: Concluding remarks and policy implications

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When I first considered writing about servicemen’s wives, several years ago, I was concerned solely with the emotional impact of the various losses that they sustain because of military mobility. My training in psychodynamic counselling meant that I was inclined to privilege such inner experience. However, that tendency started to change as a direct result of the incident that I mentioned in the introductory chapter, when I attracted criticism from another serviceman’s wife for declining to make floral decorations for a military dinner. That incident aroused my interest in environmental influences on the emotions, propelling me on a journey into psycho-social research and ultimately to the production of this book.

I described this rather personal piece of learning at the outset because it evoked such a significant shift in my thinking from my earlier, almost exclusive, focus upon the psyche to my subsequent realization of the equal importance of social factors. This book has attempted to show that by integrating and addressing both aspects it is possible to enhance understanding about emotional experiences; in this case, those of relocated British servicemen’s wives, whose feelings, it transpires, are strongly influenced by the military institution and community. Indeed, I would now argue that an in-depth understanding of individuals and society becomes possible only through considering both psychological and sociological influences. As Winnicott (1992) said, “at the same time it is neither the one nor the other of these two it is also both” (1992, p. 204). When he wrote that phrase, Winnicott was referring to a paradox that, for him, lay behind much of human experience; namely that certain aspects of life belong neither entirely to the external world nor entirely to the internal world but derive from somewhere in-between, involving both reality and phantasy. While not directly concerned with Winnicott’s closely related notion of “transitional phenomena” (1992, p. 204), I hope that this book nevertheless demonstrates the inextricability of the social and the psyche.

 

Appendix

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“Anne” was the oldest person interviewed. Her husband was an RAF officer approaching retirement. Anne had moved nine times, including several relocations within continental Europe, and she had two children.

“Claire” was in her late thirties, married for twelve years. She had moved with her RAF husband five times; once to a continental European location. She had two children.

“Fiona” was in her fifties and married to an Army officer. They had moved ‘thirteen or fourteen times’ worldwide, and had four children.

“Jane” was in her early fifties and had accompanied her Army officer husband to twenty locations worldwide. She had two children.

“Joanne” was in her mid thirties and had been married for ten years. Her husband served in the RAF and she had moved with him seven times, including twice to continental European locations. Joanne had two children.

“Karen” was in her early fifties, married for almost thirty years to a Naval officer with whom she had relocated twenty three times, including four overseas moves worldwide. She had four children.

 

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