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The Psychology of the Person

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This new title, from a distinguished psychoanalyst, will inspire both those in the psychoanalytic field, and the general reader.'In this book I attempt to sketch out a "psychology of the person". The definition of "person" implies that no two people, even identical twins, are the same. Although this is obvious (and no sensible person would quarrel with such a view), yet many terms are used that imply that there is a sameness between two or more people. For instance, it is often said that one individual is identified with another which, in ordinary language, means that he or she makes him or herself the same as the other, yet this is an impossibility. So, what is a person? How is a person different from someone who is not a person? This book sets out to answer these questions. I try to formulate a "psychology of the person" which I don't think has been done before. I hope that one fruit of this book will be to heighten awareness of those theories and models which implicitly imply the banishment of the person.'- The author, from the Introduction.

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11 Chapters

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Chapter One: Analysis Creating the Person

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Five years ago I spent a day in the acute ward for adolescents in a psychiatric hospital. At the end of the day a woman member of the staff, Jocelyn, came up to me and asked if she could come to see me for a single session. Two days later she arrived. She was in her mid-thirties, had been married for eleven years and had two young children, a boy and a girl of eight and six. She was in despair. Her husband waited upon her for all decision making. Where were they to go on holiday? It was she who had to decide. Which school should our daughter go to?—it was she who had to decide. Should we move house? He did not know, she had to decide. When they were going to visit her parents he asked her what subjects he should talk to them about. In exasperation she told him that she had to leave him; that she could bear it no longer. “Please explain what you mean?” he asked her. Jocelyn tried to explain, so he said, looking at her with pleading eyes, that he would try harder but “Please tell me what to do?” There was something very sad about it; he sounded a good man, he loved his children, loved his wife but where was the I who feels, who desires, who makes decisions, who makes judgments, who yearns, who loves? It must have suited his wife when she married him but she had grown, something was unfolding in her, she had begun to be her own person and now she wanted personhood in the figure of her husband, not a clone of herself. A relating I was bursting out of an enclosed egg. In the interview she looked to me to see whether leaving her husband was the right thing to do. So there was a relic of her cloning husband inside her (needing me to tell her whether she should leave her husband) but the free her had dawned and the “follow-my-leader” side had shrunk.

 

Chapter Two: A Creative Principle

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The proposition is this: that there is in every human being a creative principle. This principle is not known directly but rather indirectly. We infer such a principle therefore from its manifestations. Marion Milner puts this clearly when talking of how artists depict nature:

I began to suspect that they were in fact trying to describe the process of surrendering themselves to the deep spontaneous responses of nature within them, that were stimulated by the contact with nature outside of them. (1987, pp. 222–223)

So what she is saying here is that the “nature outside of them” gave them a picture of what was inside of them. When the function of these manifestations is to point and reveal the invisible inner principles we name them symbols.

The fact that it cannot be known directly is synonymous with saying that it is unconscious—i.e., we are not aware of the thing itself but infer it through things that point to its presence. This is not primarily because the personality defends against it but because the mind is geared to objects but cannot take its own source of activity as an object directly but only indirectly. This ability of the mind to represent one thing by another is the great mutation which took place in the latter part of the process of hominisation.

 

Chapter Three: Manifestations of the Creative Principle

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The percept is a manifestation of the creative principle of which representation is the same element but now embodied within thought. This is when something is produced that has an objective presence but because it is embraced within a thought process it now has a subjective element that suffuses it. This subjective side of representation is captured by the term realisation. So, for instance, I am reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and reach the point where Anna is giving birth to the baby which she conceived out of wedlock with Vronsky. Here is a psychological fact being represented; it is a fact but it arises through Tolstoy's own experience embodied in an act of understanding. Tolstoy represents a personal experience in this statement. The reader might pass over the statement giving it no significance or it might also generate a realisation within the reader. If the reader, in the moment of reading Tolstoy's statement, has a similar realisation then a living communication has occurred between Tolstoy and the reader. Although separated in time and place, Tolstoy and the reader are together in that moment. It is a communication between persons. Physical death does not destroy this if there is a written communication which then evokes the realisation in the reader. Tolstoy's essence lives on; the body is dead but the person is alive. An element in the person then is outside space and time. Realisation is the communication between persons. Language is the signal that points to it.

 

Chapter Four: The Creative Principle Generates the Person

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The creative principle has the function of transforming the “givens” in the personality. These “givens” are the drives, inner elements, and outer stimuli. One needs to think of them as dry seeds which lie inert in the personality, dead and inactive until water and sunlight has penetrated them. Are these inert substances the same as what Bion referred to as beta elements? I think this is what they are when considered as a generalised category but I suspect that there is a difference between them because they become transformed into a series of discrete though connected psychological functions. One needs to examine in minute detail the functions, name the function and then give a name to the inert seed. To think of it in Bion's terminology we need to consider that there are different sorts of beta elements and each sort has the capacity to grow into a different function. Until a transformation has occurred these inner elements and outer stimuli react upon one another in the way in which inanimate pieces of matter react upon each other. Transformed they become functions in the personality. “Function” means that the element serves a purpose within the personality. So one can think that prior to transformation it was there, disconnected to other factors in the personality, but one aspect of the transformation now is a part within a structure. Take a watch to bits and each part lies there inert on the watchmaker's bench but when every part is put together in the correct relation to the others each has a function. So one aspect of transformation is bringing parts in relation to one another and made part of the whole. Its function then can only be understood in relation to the entire structure. The structure's goal will enlighten and define the function.

 

Chapter Five: Person Generates Person

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We have already seen how the person is the outcome of the creative principle embracing the “givens” within the personality. But this creative principle is not confined within the individuality of one personality. Just as one cell generates another through a gene in its nucleus so one person generates another.

It is difficult to grasp the act of creation. It is something that we infer but cannot perceive. When we suddenly understand something, it is a manifestation of an unseen creative act. When we “realise” something for the first time, that is also the fruit of an inner act of creation. Something within has become transformed. Why it is difficult to grasp is that something is created and yet not caused. If it is truly created then it cannot be caused. This is because there is no source outside the creative act. It is the source. This is what creation means—something comes from this that has no antecedent cause. We are trapped within a causal system which is true of the inanimate world but it is not true of life, let alone human life. There is a powerful missionary spirit, which entraps a wider, a deeper vision within a lens, restricted to and appropriate to one portion of reality but not to the whole of the human condition, yet this limited perspective and its mode of functioning has been applied to the whole of reality. The source of a creative act lies in a nothing—nothing; it is a source that is nowhere.

 

Chapter Six: Meaning as the Subjective Experience of Unity

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In Chapter One I mentioned that the creative principle, apart from transforming “givens”, also generates a unity; that those disparate parts are now parts of one whole. This is possible, as stated in Chapter One, because the creative principle is, in its essence, both transcendent and immanent. Its structure is able to “in-form” a series of facts because, being mental, it can penetrate the physical form of existence. This is why I named it the “all-inclusive principle”—in that it is a oneness that is in diversity of inner and outer stimuli. Like volume, weight, or density it permeates all the elements, is in all the elements, without either adding or detracting from them.

Meaning is the subjective experience of this unity. Bion (1962) says that a particular fact illuminates an array of what had before been disjointed facts. He called this unifying principle the “selected fact”. It is a mistake, however, to think of this as a fact such as a sensation which can never be unifying in the way he suggests. Psychological factors that have the same permeable quality as volume, weight, or density are grief, disappointment, longing, hope, despair, shame, goodness, or truth. It is a mental principle which infuses the sensual imagery. Grief, disappointment, hope, goodness, creativity, or truth are realities not ideas. So the “all-inclusive principle” is as real as a stone or a crocodile but without physical characteristics. It is psychic reality rather than material reality. Freud (1940b) refers to psychical reality though does not emphasise it.

 

Chapter Seven: Historical Determination of Problems

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Psychoanalysis is a system of thinking inserted into a particular historical niche. Does this mean that now that this piece of history is over, that psychoanalysis is over also? I think the answer to this question lies along the following lines. Freud was a genius and like all geniuses he was rooted in the emotional problem of his time and also in the thought fashion of his time and yet he transcended it. A genius always transcends his contemporaneous time slot.

What has to be done by the successors of a genius is to isolate the transcendent aspect, detach it from its historical time slot and then insert it into the social customs of our own contemporary period. What is necessary is to reach down to the essence of the process and thus to explore carefully to see what psychoanalysis really is. The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said: “It is a well-founded historical generalization, that the last thing to be discovered in any science is what the science is really about” (1958, p. 167).

 

Chapter Eight: Resistance to becoming a Person

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To the extent to which I am a person I suffer shame, guilt, disappointment, sadness, regret, envy, and jealousy. I also become capable of love, gratitude, generosity, forgiveness, and magnanimity, and am capable of experiencing joy, beauty, and happiness. I also experience tragedy.

Becoming a person puts a demand upon me in two different directions:

Pain and turbulence

I come to know tragedy and this is an agony. I will certainly experience a turbulence, I will go through an inner torture. I emphasise the word feel because these realities are there prior to the individual becoming a person but they are not felt. So how do they exist in the untransformed state? When something is felt it has been embraced within the personality; it has been loved; it is united through the all-inclusive principle to other elements in the personality. So in the untransformed state it is hated, is discharged out of the personality into the body, into sexual behaviour, into social conduct, or into an ideology.

What quite do we mean when we say that it is “discharged out of the personality”? One concurrent phenomenon is that the I is dead. It is wooden; the I is programmed like a robot. It is in reactive mode. So a man asked me, “Neville, tell me, am I happy?” What we are saying is that the element cannot be ejected from the personality but the personality can be deadened or prevented from coming into life. A man's mother abused his girlfriend so he married in reaction to his mother's action. There is a living emotional principle that gives life to the elements in the personality. It is like the heart which pumps blood out through the arteries and from the arteries into the arterioles to every part of the body. It reaches all areas. When something painful has happened it resists the blood coming to it. A resistance can be so great that it prevents the heart pumping at all.

 

Chapter Nine: That which Crushes the Personal

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Organisations, systems, ideologies crush the person if their purpose is forgotten. This is so if they are viewed as idols to be worshipped. When this happens individuals are treated as units within the system that can be sacrificed for it. The cardinal error is that the organisation is made absolute. The organisation whose role is to serve a purpose becomes instead an end in itself. The health of the organisation will be dependent upon whether that is a noble purpose or a base one and, most importantly, whether it serves that purpose which is beyond its own perimeter or makes its own structure an end in itself.

There is an inference here that the worship is being misdirected—it is being directed to the system rather than to a purpose for which it was founded. But what is this purpose? There are noble, ignoble, and impartial purposes. Let me deal first with the ignoble. A drug cartel has an ignoble purpose: it is to make money by ruining the lives of people, especially young persons. An organisation whose goal is to plant cash crops and thereby sacrifice the food supply of the local inhabitants is an ignoble purpose because the service of others is not the goal but profit. Profit is a happy consequence but an organisation whose goal is profit then does not care what it is that brings the profit. There is something though that underlies the profit. When Hitler delegated Himmler to set up an organisation known as the Final Solution to destroy all the Jews within Germany and all territories that he had conquered its purpose was ignoble. When Mao Tse-tung ordered the making of steel to export to Russia in order to curry favour and make money, sacrificing the lives of thirty million people, the organisation set up to implement this had an ignoble purpose. Any organisation whose goal is to make money irrespective of the means serves an ignoble purpose. Examples could be multiplied. Let me turn to an organisation which has a noble purpose but loses sight of its purpose and is served as an end rather than itself serving the purpose for which it was founded.

 

Chapter Ten: All-Inclusive Principle

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In the Introduction I mentioned that if the process existing between the two poles was infused with a certain quality then these two poles become persons. In this chapter I want to examine this quality.

A woman who had many signs that her mother did not love her one day said: “You know it would have been much better for me if my mother had told me that she had not wanted me. I could have dealt with that.”

If her mother had told her that she had not wanted her she would have trusted her because it was contained in her mother's mind, so that mother would have been living it rather than being lived by it which was her daughter's experience. She was a latchkey child and once just before Christmas her mother told her she would give her some lovely presents on Christmas Day but she went out on Christmas Eve, got drunk and the next morning there were no presents for her daughter. In fact what was needed was for her mother to tell herself, in other words to create into her own possession that she had not wanted this child. If she had done this then her daughter's experience would have been different. She would not have needed either to have told her daughter that she was not wanted.

 

Chapter Eleven: When All-Inclusive Principles are Diffuse

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In Chapter Five I wrote of the way an all-inclusive principle permeates a range of elements in the personality. The problem is how to locate this principle when it is very diffuse. Grief is easy to detect when it is hitched to a particular event. At a funeral a wife is weeping as her husband's coffin is lowered into the grave, its final resting place. But say the grief is because Natalie's mother was depressed after giving birth to her. Depression means, in this case, that her mother was physically present but her spirit was absent after Natalie's birth. The loss of her mother's spirit caused grief, like the woman whose husband was being buried. Natalie's grief is intense but it cannot be linked to the event that has stimulated it, so it is diffused through the personality. I say that it cannot be linked but this is not quite right. It is with difficulty that it is linked. The two examples above illustrate the matter. In the case of the wife weeping as her husband's coffin is being lowered into the grave there is an inner connection between her and what is happening. It is possible for an inner connection to occur for Natalie also. It would be necessary for her to feel some feature in her personality and to see in a living way the connection to her absent mother. Let us say she has always had a longing to be loved by her brother but knowing always that this is not so. She has the sense of her brother's absence and of seeing suddenly that this pre-dated her longing for her brother in a longing for her mother's love. A moment of illumination occurs that lights up several pathways in her life. I think it is something like this that Bion was trying to describe in his use of the term the selected fact where he says: “The selected fact is the name of an emotional experience, the emotional experience of a sense of discovery of coherence…” (1984, p. 73). Coherence is the crucial word here. In Natalie's longing for her brother, in a moment a pathway of similar longing is lit up, leading to her mother. It is the longing as a principle which receives its essential colouring from her relation to her mother. At that moment the knowledge that her mother was depressed after her birth ceases to be a practical fact like there is a Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York harbour or the Battle of Waterloo was fought in the year 1815. Instead this disposition known as “longing” becomes shot through with personal significance.

 

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