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Haunted by Parents

Haunted by Parents

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Haunted by Parents
    Book Description:

    In this book the eminent psychoanalyst Leonard Shengold looks at why some people are resistant to change, even when it seems to promise a change for the better. Drawing on a lifetime of clinical experience as well as wide readings of world literature, Shengold shows how early childhood relationships with parents can lead to a powerful conviction that change means loss.Dr. Shengold, who is well known for his work on the lasting effects of childhood trauma and child abuse in such seminal books asSoul MurderandSoul Murder Revisited, continues his exploration into the consequences of early psychological injury and loss. In the examples of his patients and in the lives and work of such figures as Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Wordsworth, and Henrik Ibsen, Shengold looks at the different ways in which unconscious impressions connected with early experiences and fantasies about parents are integrated into individual lives. He shows the difficulties he's encountered with his patients in raising these memories to the conscious level where they can be known and owned; and he also shows, in his survey of literary figures, how these memories can become part of the creative process.Haunted by Parentsoffers a deeply humane reflection on the values and limitations of therapy, on memory and the lingering effects of the past, and on the possibility of recognizing the promise of the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13468-1
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. I A Literary Example of Haunting: Dr. Benjamin Spock
    (pp. 1-19)

    In his “Letter to the Reader of This New Edition” ofBaby and Child Care, Dr. Benjamin Spock (1957) writes, “When I was writing the first edition [of this book] between 1943 and 1946, the attitude of a majority of people toward infant feeding, toilet training, and general child management was still fairly strict and inflexible. However, the need for greater understanding of children and for flexibility in their care had been made clear by educators, psychoanalysts, and pediatricians, and I was trying to encourage this. Since then a great change in attitude has occurred, andnowadays there seems to...

  5. II A Clinical Illustration of Some of My Main Themes
    (pp. 20-27)

    Patient X came to see me for his second attempt at psychoanalysis because several years after completing the first with another analyst he still felt “saddled with” fantasies of beating and being beaten. Sadomasochistic practices had been considerably reduced during his first analysis. But anal arousal, beating fantasies, and masturbation associated with them persisted. He realized he both wanted and did not want to give them up. The ambivalence (involving “evil” impulses) troubled this formerly deeply religious man. He seemed to have learned what his conflicts were, but his knowing, in my view, was largely intellectual and not responsible for...

  6. III Knowing, Change, and Good and Bad Expectations
    (pp. 28-37)

    My book requires a kind ofapologia, defined by Webster’s as “a written defense of a writer’s principles or conduct; a work written as a justification for one’s motives, convictions or acts” (1989, 70). One of its epigraphs and a chapter title is a well-known quotation, “Que sçais-je?” (What do I know?) from Michel de Montaigne (1580), the great sixteenth-century French writer whoseEssayshave been bedside reading for a good part of my life. He is, to use psychoanalytic jargon, an ego ideal.¹ My meandering style, fondness for quotations, and tendency toward personal references are in large part derived...

  7. IV Beginnings and Wordsworth’s “Immortality Ode”
    (pp. 38-49)

    Freud taught us, according to the (often didactic) poet W. H. Auden, “To remember / Like the old and be honest like children” (1940, 1048). But psychoanalysts inevitably have to cope with that which cannot be remembered—with the dark, psychic developmental mysteries of the early years of life—especially of the first year. We catch fleeting glimpses of those mysteries of the unrememberable when attempting empathic observation of infants and when, in psychoanalytic treatment, we study subsequent patterns of actions and words—patterns motivated partly by what is present in the mind from birth and earliest development.

    William Wordsworth,...

  8. V Change Means Loss: Spring and Summer Must Become Winter
    (pp. 50-64)

    Most of what I am stressing stems from the genetic point of view in psychoanalysis that emphasizes the significant influence of the beginnings of phenomena. Clinging to beginnings leads to my emphasizing one of the psychological truths or half-truths I have become so aware of in my resistant patients: the inherent human (conservative) tendency to resist change.¹

    Some but not all of the kind of resistant patients I am referring to were victims of soul murder, abused and deprived as children.² Others for different reasons were terrified of the losses their aggressive-laden impulses made them anticipate. Rage, no matter if...

  9. VI The Myth of Demeter and Persephone
    (pp. 65-70)

    The promise of spring and summer is of course of much deeper significance and of more ancient origin than the cultural events involved in customs and holidays currently associated with the prospect of the warm seasons. Harvest festivals and sacrifices marking the end of summer and the approach of autumn come from ancient times and are part of the stuff of myths. The well-known Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone alludes to the change of seasons; it also exemplifies the link between change and expectation of loss and emphasizes the myth’s psychological origin in the developmental separation from mother.¹ Demeter...

  10. VII Another Dream of Death in a Garden
    (pp. 71-76)

    A woman,Y, in her early forties, who had a successful career and had achieved a fairly satisfactory marriage after years of psychoanalysis in another part of the country, returned to analysis shortly after moving to New York. She felt conflicted about her husband’s wish to have a child and depressed about the stalemate in her professional role in a very competitive field. Y still felt the need to provoke failure.

    After years of her second analysis with me, there had been very little change. She had given up on her attempt to get pregnant, which she had described as “halfhearted...

  11. VIII A Clinical and a Literary Example—Edna St. Vincent Millay
    (pp. 77-100)

    Spring and summer give way to fall and winter; life ends in death: change is loss.

    Patient Z, seen many years ago, had been psychologically tied to a cruel, paranoid father. He seemed bogged down in a long analysis after an early surge of progress. Z was finally again beginning to feel responsible and to deal with his rage against, and his longing for, me. Just before going away on an arbitrarily timed vacation (a bit of acting out in the analysis), he had a dream. He was a child in a garden, and his father was beating him on...

  12. IX A Second Literary Example—Leonard Woolf
    (pp. 101-130)

    Leonard Woolf (husband of Virginia) inSowing, the first volume of his autobiography (1960), cites his conviction that there is “an apparently innate and profound unhappiness of the human infant, who will go into loud paroxysms of misery without provocation [that] is unknown in the young of other animals” (26). His evidence for “this primeval pessimism of man” (26) comes from his fifth year. He was at that age in his family garden when he was “suddenlystricken with an acute pang of cosmic rather than with personal unhappiness” (26; emphasis added). The memory has intimations of the expulsion from...

  13. X A Third Literary Example—Sergei Timofeevich Aksakov
    (pp. 131-176)

    Sergei Timofeevich Aksakov, a Russian author much admired and popular in his own country but not widely read outside Russia these days, was born in 1791, in Ufa, near the Siberian border. He died in 1859. His father, Timofei Stepanovich Aksakov, was a minor legal official whose ancestors were from the lesser nobility. His mother, Maria Nicolaevna, had a lower-class background; her father achieved a self-made success and became a wealthy, important civic official in Ufa.

    Aksakov is the oldest of the great nineteenth-century Russian writers, eight years older than Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837) and eighteen years older than Aksakov’s...

  14. XI On Listening, Knowing, and Owning
    (pp. 177-190)

    The English novelist E. M. Forster is here (1927, 147) expressing a typical two (not three) cheers for eclecticism—and distrust for the certain, the perfect, the absolute.¹ Yet we need to feel that we know what is occurring and what has occurred. It helps to know that there is a paradox about the ability to know.

    V, who complained of feeling haunted, came to see me years ago after reading mySoul Murderbook because he was obsessed with the idea that he had been seduced as a child by his father. He made a valiant attempt at analysis...

  15. XII Gardens, Unweeded Gardens, and the Garden of Eden—Death and Transience
    (pp. 191-196)

    In this soliloquy, Hamlet, in mourning for his father, disgusted with his mother’s marriage with his uncle, is full of mostly hostile ambivalence and of conflict that involves guilt over parricidal and incestuous wishes. In his suicidal mood, he uses the “unweeded garden” image as symbol of “this world” and its corruption, of Denmark (“something is rotten in . . .”Hamlet, I,iv,90), of his incestuous mother and uncle, and of himself: body (“too too solid flesh”) and mind.¹ Both the outer and the inner worlds are bad, dirty, anal (compare the unweeded garden of Leonard Woolf ’s childhood memories)....

  16. XIII “THE PROMISE” and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler
    (pp. 197-220)

    Mysteries obscure the earliest time of psychic development—of human initial and subsequent early narcissism. Some generalities about beginning development and maturation can be firmly believed in, but details are not, and perhaps can never be, known with certainty. Observers of infant behavior do the (often impressive) best they can; with older children and adults one can try to reconstruct the actualities of the first years of life and, speculatively, to construct theoretical formulations. Narcissism is a multifaceted and dynamic collection of phenomena. I feel we can know, with conviction, that each person has an individual variety of these. One...

  17. XIV What Do I Know?
    (pp. 221-231)

    This final chapter should perhaps be titled, as a variation on Montaigne, “What doweknow?” I am not speaking personally but rather trying to do my inadequate best to express something about the limitations of human knowing. So much about our minds, about human nature, and about the nature of the universe seems inherently unknowable. How can we grasp infinity? How can we get beyond the limitations of our senses, of our minds, of human nature itself? Is there a God? Why is there evil in the world? Does life have a purpose? What is death? Can individual identity...

  18. Postscript: Two Relevant Quotations
    (pp. 232-234)

    My penultimate quotation is from William Faulkner’sLight in August. It needs an introductory explanation.

    Joe Christmas, a foundling, black but light enough to pass for white, has been brought up in an orphanage for white children where he is shunned and stigmatized as a “nigger” by the other children. He is emotionally neglected and traumatized by the adult caretakers and persecuted specifically by a psychotic woman dietitian.¹ When adopted, at five, he is and continues to be beaten regularly by his cruel, stern, religiously obsessed foster father. His adoptive mother loves and pities him but is too weak and...

  19. Appendix: Hartmann on the Genetic Point of View and Object Constancy
    (pp. 235-242)
  20. References
    (pp. 243-248)
  21. Index
    (pp. 249-257)