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Unmasking Race, Culture, and Attachment in the Psychoanalytic Space

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Drawn from the John Bowlby Memorial Conference, the theme of this book addresses the often hidden and ignored subject of attachment, race and culture. Can our individual narratives in relation to race, culture and attachment be unmasked in the therapeutic dyad to reveal our human connectedness? The contributors explore how the conscious and unconscious meanings of therapists' and clients' racial and cultural identities shape the dialogue between them. How this emerges for both therapist and client in their work together is illustrated in clinical accounts.Contributors: Kimberlyn Leary; Farhad Dalal; Barbara Ashton; Cascia Davis; Zack Eleftheriadou; Irris Singer; and Kate White

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INTRODUCTION TO THE MONOGRAPH OF THE 12th JOHN BOWLBY MEMORIAL CONFERENCE 2005

ePub

Kate White

This collection of papers addresses the often hidden and ignored subject of the relationship between attachment, race and culture. There is a significant gap in the development of attachment theory, and that is the issue of racism and its impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Since people and their sense of self develops within differing cultural contexts and inequalities of power relations (Park, 2004, p. 134), the complex constellation of power dynamics, as lived out in people’s lives, is a major factor to be considered in any account of our psychological development.

Bernice Laschinger reminds us that, despite this gap, attachment theorists have frequently engaged with the impact of culture and have undertaken cross-cultural research studies. She goes on to say that:

There is a penetrating “moral and social vision” which runs through Bowlby’s work. Core to his work was the overriding force of the social world on the structuring of relationship. His early work (Bowlby, 1952) reflected his passionate concern with the “impact of war, social disruption and emotional poverty” on the rights of children to love and care. In recent centuries, however, racism, in its underpinning of power inequality in relationships, has been primary in the distortion, denial and destruction of attachment bonds. This implies that no proper understanding of relationships can avoid engagement with the issues of racism unless one is determined to disregard questions of power. [Laschinger, 2006, p. 5]

 

ATTACHMENT THEORY AND THE JOHN BOWLBY MEMORIAL LECTURE: A short history

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A short history Bernice Laschinger

The theme of the John Bowlby Memorial Conference 2005 addresses a notable gap in how attachment theory has developed: racism. Its absence from the literature contrasts markedly with the theory’s engagement with culture. From its early beginnings in the work of Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory has undertaken cross-cultural research in countries as diverse as Kenya, Israel, Japan and Germany.

There is a penetrating “moral and social vision” which runs through Bowlby’s work. Core to his work was the overriding force of the social world on the structuring of relationship. His early work reflected his passionate concern with the impact of “war, social disruption and emotional poverty” on the rights of children to love and care. In recent centuries, however, racism, in its underpinning of power inequality in relationships, has been primary in the distortion, denial and destruction of attachment bonds. This implies that no proper understanding of relationships can avoid engagement with the issues of racism unless one is determined to disregard questions of power.

 

RACISM: Processes of detachment, dehumanization and hatred

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Farhad Dalai

Acolleague described an experience whilst travelling on a train during a visit to London. She became aware that she was the only white person in the carriage and this made her feel frightened and completely alone. This was a remarkable experience because patently she was not alone; she was in a carriage full of people.

What is going on? How is it that she feels alone when patently she is not? Is this kind of experience “racist”? And if so, why?

I do not stand in judgement of my colleague, because I can recognize myself having such experiences continually. Sometimes these differentiations are innocuous or humorous, at other times critical and deadly. The triggers vary hugely: sometimes colour, at other times beliefs, attitudes, behaviours or something else altogether.

This is a way of saying that in focussing on race and racism, I am not suggesting that this is the primary difference, or the only meaningful difference that needs to be attended to. In fact what I am going to put forward is part of a general theory of difference—in which the fiction called “race” is but one element.

 

REVISITING THE CONCEPTS OF RACISM AND CULTURE: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS A response to Fahad Dalal's paper

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Zack Eleftheriadou

Introduction

The primary aim of this paper is to revisit the concepts of “race” and “culture” and expand current thinking using research findings from the fields of child psychology and social psychology. I argue that in order to understand the cross-cultural relationship, we need to incorporate a psychosocial framework. A clinical case study of work with a child will be used to discuss the clinical implications.

Revisiting the concepts of “race” and “culture”

This paper will begin with the premise that the concept “race” is invalid; it is not a biological reality and in Vannoy-Adams’ (1996) terms, we can view it as a “psychical reality”. It is worth examining the extensive study by the cross-cultural psychologist, Professor Marshall Segal, entitled: “All of Us are Related, Each of Us is Unique”. He states:

This exhibition is designed to contribute to contemporary discourse on human diversity. It is a graphic presentation of biological findings rooted in genetics research, and it includes striking displays of phenotypical variations, conventionally thought to be categorical. In fact, they are continuous.

 

DIFFERENCE

ePub

Cascia Davis

When I was invited to take part in the conference I was both nervous and excited. In thinking about what I would present, nothing came—no thoughts or ideas. Some weeks later, not consciously flunking about what I might write these words came to mind:

I woke up this morning and I was me,
I went downstairs, ate breakfast and I was me.
I went through the front door and I was different.
What is the difference?
What caused the difference?
Is it just me who is different?
Or are we all different?
Whatever my difference, I do not need for it to be tolerated, I need my difference to be appreciated and valued.

Our identity is shaped by the culture we are born into, this also influences our internal world and our view of and responses to the external world. We incessantly make judgements and classify others using labels such as gender, class, race, culture, ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, and words such as bigger than and more important than, all used as a way to position ourselves in relation to others. Not only are labels value laden, but they denote difference, power and influence. Labelling is such an intrinsic part of our language, that we are not conscious of its underlying dynamic interaction. In a society where being White colonises the space of “normal” how conscious are you of being White? If being White is the “norm”, what does it make those who are not White? How conscious are you of being White and its impact on your choices and opportunities? How does being White influence your thoughts and behaviour towards others who are not White?

 

INVISIBILITY

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Barbara Ashton

When asked to participate in this conference I wondered why me? I read the list of the other speakers and I could see why them but why me, born and bred here in England and lived the majority of my life here? Then, I read the opening paragraph of the flyer.

Too often issues of race, culture and ethnicity are seen as relevant only to black and ethnic minority psychotherapists and clients. But all psychotherapists and their clients bring a rich diversity of ethnic and cultural narratives to the clinical encounter. Each of us will have a unique and complex sense of who we feel ourselves to be, as well as who others expect us to be, in the ever-shifting contexts of our individual families, societies and cultures. Each of us is likely to grapple with feelings of inclusion and exclusion, belonging and alienation, visibility and invisibility, power and powerlessness.

And the word invisibility leapt out at me. I remembered the second John Bowlby Memorial Conference I attended when Renos Papa-dopoulos (1999) presented his paper “Storied Community as Secure Base” in response to Nancy Hollander’s (1998) paper on “Exile, Paradoxes of Loss and Creativity”. He talked of how people adapt in differing ways to exile and emigration, often within the same family. One person looking forward, seeing only the good, the progress, the cutting off of the past; the other person there in the present but always looking back with a sense of longing. Somehow this felt familiar to me. Later my therapist remarked on the fact that sometimes my responses and feelings around situations were those of an immigrant—she, herself, was not English.

 

UNMASKING DIFFERENCE, CULTURE, AND ATTACHMENT IN THE PSYCHOANALYTIC SPACE: "Don't you make my blue eyes brown"

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Irris Singer

Myself

I would like to set the scene by saying something about my family background and how it relates to my own sense of difference. I have a photograph of two of my grandchildren, one so fair, and one so dark, which reflects my core experience of difference. These two beautiful little boys are an embodiment of my parents’ (their great-grandparents) colour differences and how they were in the world. And of course, my parents’ colour codedness deeply impacted on my sense of self and how I am in the world. Even so, my parents’ individual difference was in fact only one component of difference in my childhood; they were part of my extended Yiddish speaking immigrant family which located itself in a very small, very English village during World War 2. The women folk, our grandmother, mothers and aunts, protected themselves and the children from the safety of our cottage, and were no doubt conspicuous by their absence in village life, while the men folk, our grandfather, fathers and uncles stayed in London visiting us in their long coats and trilby hats late Saturday night and leaving before the first light on Monday morning. I remember the adult sense of foreboding, conveyed in hushed Yiddish, which lurked beneath our childhood fun of shared tin baths, shared beds, storytelling, all submerged in the clouds of steam and smells of our mothers’ endless washing and cooking. Sometimes we children played with the village children on the ruins of a house which a stray German bomb had destroyed, but we were not allowed to visit the children in their homes. One kind neighbour “Uncle Frank” brought us a small Christmas tree each year, which our bewildered mothers did not like to refuse, even though the word itself, Christmas, was forbidden in our family. The tree stood forlornly unadorned in a corner of the living room, avoided by the adult eyes, while we children secretly longed to decorate it. Some years later, after the war when I was eight years old, my father came to my bed late at night to tell me that the United Nations had voted in favour of a homeland for the Jews, the State of Israel. Poland was no longer de haeme (the “homeland”) and apparently neither was England. It appeared that Israel was now our home and we would be going there as soon as possible. We were no longer to be strangers in a strange land.

 

THE JOHN BOWLBY MEMORIAL LECTURE 2005: How race is lived in the consulting room

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Kimberlyn Leary

Introduction

Whenever one writes a paper—and however long it remains in circulation—it belongs, in some sense, to the time and place of its origin. This paper is no exception. Written during the summer of 2001, it is essentially a reflection on race and racial reasoning before the cataclysm of September 11th. For many Americans, especially those culturally accustomed to thinking of themselves as individuals alone, one of the continuing legacies of September 11th is the frightening awareness that one could be targeted simply because one is a member of a group. For many other Americans, immigrants and others, such awareness is a self-conscious fact they have lived with for a very long time.

In the intervening years since September 11th, the face of race in America has almost literally been transformed. Racial reasoning continues to include the familiar declension into “us vs. them” even as those accepted as “us” reflect new alliances. We need look no further than one headline from New York Times: “9/11 Bridged the Racial Divide, New Yorkers say gingerly” (New York Times, June 16, 2002). In the article, Dean Murphy and David Halbfinger suggest that a growing number of New Yorkers say that they are witnessing a change in race relations since the terrorist attacks. The shift in racial attitudes, noticed in the days and weeks following September 11th but enduring since then, has been manifest in an increased rapprochement between blacks and whites and a lessened tendency to “overreact” [sic] to perceived injustices. By contrast, the dynamics of prejudice and defensive exclusion now extend most openly to South Asians, to people from Middle Eastern backgrounds, to those who are Muslim. This, sadly, has become the psychology of the “new normal”.

 

RESPONSE TO KIMBERLYN LEARY

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Kate White

Thank you Kim for a rich and interesting paper that has helped me, and I hope you as the audience listening to Kim’s presentation, to engage more deeply with questions that are both challenging and difficult to reflect on because they take us to places where power has been brutally exploited and where these differences have such a traumatic history. Our own personal stories are also activated in this discussion as was mine and thus so often we can become frozen, paralysed and drenched with shame and avoid the encounter. In my case I bring a history of growing up in South Africa in the early years of my life and then coming to the UK at secondary school age. The resonances of the conference theme are both deeply personal and also political as I face my own rarialized thinking and behaviour and try to stay open in the conversation without “running for cover” (Straker, 2004a). I remember vividly as a child as well as now, when owning my South African roots and seeing the questioning look on peoples’ faces (which I read as “well which side were you on?”), wanting to add very quickly—”and of course we had to leave because of the apartheid politics”—full of fear that I would be seen as a racist like the Nationalist Party Afrikaners. But also perhaps feeling satisfied that I was from a good “liberal thinking—anti apartheid family”.

 

INTRODUCTION TO THE CENTRE FOR ATTACHMENT-BASED PSYCHOANALYTIC PSYCHOTHERAPY

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The Centre for Attachment-based Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (CAPP) is an organization committed to the development of this particular approach to psychotherapy. It provides a four-year training for psychotherapists and a consultation and referral service.

Attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy has developed on the basis of the growing understanding of the importance of attachment relationship to human growth and development throughout life. This approach to psychotherapy, developing from the relational tradition of psychoanalysis, draws upon psychoanalytic insights and the rapidly growing field of attachment theory.

Understanding psychotherapy within the context of attachment relationships leads to an approach to psychotherapy as a co-operative venture between therapist and client. The aim is to develop a sufficiently secure base to enable the exploration of loss and trauma in the course of development. The therapy is designed to create a safe space in which the client can reflect upon their lived experience, their experience of relationships in the present, and their experience of their relationship with the therapist.

 

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