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Chapter Eight - The Sibling Experience

Coles, Prophecy Karnac Books ePub

CHAPTER EIGHT

The sibling experience

“The nature and quality of the human child's relations to people of his own and the opposite sex have already been laid down in the first six years of his life…The people to whom he is in this way fixed are his parents and brothers and sisters”

Freud, 1914f, p. 243

In the last chapter, on brotherly love, I suggested that sibling/peer relationships need to be brought into sharper focus in our thinking about the development of the self. In this chapter, I shall be looking at writers who share my view that relationships between siblings and peers are to be distinguished from those between parent and child and that they hold a particular and important place in the inner world.

It may seem that the quotation above, from Freud's short paper, “Some reflections on schoolboy psychology”, is an acknowledgment of the importance of sibling relationships. We have already seen how, in 1900a, he had noted his early relationship with his nephew John was “unalterably fixed” (p. 483) in his unconscious, and that his way of relating to his contemporaries in later life was determined by this experience. However, my argument throughout this book is that Freud's belief in the importance of these early experiences with siblings and peers drops out of his clinical theory and practice and remains at the stage of intuitive insight. I have already suggested, in Chapter Two, that Freud's complicated family background may give some understanding of his emotional conflict surrounding early attachment to siblings and peers. I have also argued that Freud's discovery of the Oedipus complex contributed to the abandonment of the theoretical problem of sibling attachments.

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Chapter Four - “The Wolfman”

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CHAPTER FOUR

“The Wolfman”

I ended the last chapter by suggesting that Freud's neglect of the role of siblings in emotional development might be linked to the centrality he gives to the Oedipus complex. In this chapter, I shall be considering what Freud was to call, “a modification of the Oedipus complex” (1939a, p. 79), that is to say the central importance Freud gives to the trauma of seeing and hearing the primal scene. I think we see the result of Freud's belief in the trauma of witnessing the primal scene, in the way he treated “The Wolfman” (1918b). More importantly, for my argument, the consequence of this belief pushes the effect of sibling relationships to the periphery of the psyche.

“The Wolfman” went into analysis with Freud in 1910, when he was twenty-four, following a long period in a German sanatorium where he had been diagnosed as suffering from “manic depressive insanity” (1918b, p. 8). Freud asserts that this depression had been brought on as a consequence of a gonorrhoeal infection when he was eighteen. At the age of eighty-three, “The Wolfman” gave a different account in his Recollections of My Childhood (1973). He believed that it was the suicide of his sister Anna, four years earlier in 1906, that had precipitated his depression.

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Brain development and trauma

Coles, Prophecy Karnac Books ePub

“In every nursery there are ghosts. They are the visitors from the unremembered past of the parents; the uninvited guests at the christening …”

(Fraiberg, 1987, p. 100)

Fraiberg’s famous paper stretches the imagination back into the nursery of childhood with the uninvited guests of dead siblings, forgotten grandparents, abandoning parents, and unremembered nannies and nurses, and invites them to the adult table of psychoanalytic discourse. Her paper imagines the position of the child within the nursery and believes that the destructive visitors are from “the unremembered past of the parents”. Her therapeutic task with her co-workers, Edna Adelson and Vivian Shapiro, was to try to open up the unremembered past of young mothers who were repeating their childhood trauma of deprivation and abuse upon their own infants. She discovered that however disturbed the mother might seem to be, if she could be helped to remember her own past experience of abuse, she was more able to give up the unconsciously inflicted abuse upon her child. The disturbed mother who had repressed her abuse and cut herself off from her pain by denying any feeling was more likely to identify with the original aggressor and harm her child. The capacity to remember and feel again the original trauma opened up the possibility of changing the abusive legacy of the nursery.

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CHAPTER TWO: Sophocles and the fate of adoption

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“That which is neglected escapes”

(Sophocles, 1962, line 111)

In the last chapter we saw that when Aeschylus depicted the mythological tragedy of the House of Atreus, he brought psychological insight into the way family conflict can rebound across the generations. The myth dramatized the way a blood feud can accumulate in ferocity and it highlighted the idea that an original trauma will be repeated unconsciously in the next generation if it is not remembered and spoken about. However, Aeschylus leaves his audience to put together the past history that Orestes carried and its consequences upon his present action. We know Orestes is relieved of his suffering, but it is left an open question as to whether he was aware that the blood feud began with his grandfather Atreus and his great uncle Thyestes.

It could be said that Sophocles knew that Aeschlyus had left more detailed questions about individual human motivation unex-amined. It was as though Sophocles sensed that it was not a sufficient explanation of human behaviour to point back to ancient feuds. And so, in Oedipus Rex, Sophocles presents a more personal exploration of the impact of ancestral conflict upon individual identity. Little has been made of the fact that Sophocles is suggesting that if we are to account for personal suffering, then the antecedent conditions need to be known. Oedipus’s suffering was the result of the lies that were told him about his parentage. He is denied the knowledge of his true heritage, which is that his father had not wanted him and his mother colluded with his father to get rid of him. Simon (1988) made the important point that these Greek writers were reflecting the war-torn world in which they lived, and in which the abandonment of children and filicide played a part in the cultural trauma. And, as a consequence, we witness Oedipus’s struggle to know himself and rule well while at the same time we see him pitted against the grain of unavoidable self-deception. On this account the tragedy in which Oedipus murders his father and marries his mother is not the enactment of a universal wish within us all, but it is the playing out of a pathological fantasy that is precipitated by the failure to tell Oedipus the truth about his ancestral history. Or, another way of putting it might be to say that he enacted the pathological fantasies of many adopted children.

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CHAPTER THREE: Sibling ghosts

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“An innumerable variety of cases can be thought of in which we should say that someone has pains in another person’s body … or in any empty spot.

(Wittgenstein, 1933–1934, p. 50)

Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Albee seemed to share a common view that it is the hidden and unspoken traumas of loss, violence, and death that inscribe themselves upon the psyche of subsequent generations. In this chapter, the repercussions that a sibling death might have upon the whole family, including any surviving siblings, is explored. In particular, if the loss of a sibling is hidden or never adequately mourned and remembered, its voice can be heard in future generations. Psychoanalytic theory since Freud has neglected the possibility that their presence might be felt across several generations and might be demanding to be acknowledged. Loewald put this idea particularly well when he wrote,

Those who know ghosts tell us that they long to be released from their ghost life and laid to rest as ancestors. As ancestors they live forth in the present generations, while as ghosts they are compelled to haunt the present generation with their shadow life. [Loewald, 1980, p. 249]

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