Category Archives: Mind

Because It’s There

cocktail lemon twistWhy do I drink?

Because I want to.

Why do I want to?

Because it’s there.

Sometimes some people try to understand things by creating models of things and seeing how well the models reproduce the behavior of the things. The models can be theories, mental models, concept maps, or computer simulations. The things can be people, or people in groups, or just about anything, really. But I’m thinking of people.

One way to model people drinking is using a social contagion model. Social contagion models have been used to model all sorts of things. Like juvenile delinquency, adoption of a new product, spread of fads, even obesity. Social contagion models are a kind of social network models. They can be represented graphically using nodes and links, which are circles and lines. The people are the circles. The structure of the network impacts the changes in people. Who you’re connected to affects who you become more like. In an agent-based model, the people are agents. Usually, agents do stuff. In an agent-based social contagion model, the agents might only do simple stuff, like copy their neighbor. The agent represents a person, but they might be just a little black box inside a circle, not much like an actual person. A real person would have a past, a mind, and a lot of mental processes. There might be quite a lot of stuff inside the black box, all kinds of rules and variables, but maybe not a person. Social network models made out of simple agents can go a long ways. They demonstrate the role of structure and interaction in the emergence of group level properties and behaviors, and are one way to study those things.

If someone wants their models to be a lot more complicated, but more realistic, they can rip the lid off the black box and try to stick something more like a person in the circle. This might be a learning agent, a cognitive agent, an emotional agent, a cognitive-emotional agent. All sorts of things are possible. This gets into computational modeling of mental processes and personal behavior. The scope expands. It’s like moving from the level of the proton to the level of a complex protein. There’s no comparison. Like the difference between my little finger and infinity, between today and eternity. Well, almost. But depending on what someone wants to understand, it might be desirable to go there. Cautiously, cognizant of scope and scale, boldly, go there. Because it’s there.

Psychological science, and other branches of social science, have studied people. That’s people in general, people together, and the individual person. This work can help us stick a person in a circle in a model. There are seven facets of a person studied in psychological science. All are involved in observable behavior. All are necessary to construct a good model of a real person.  These seven are: learning, motivation, cognition, emotion, personality, sociality, and culture. Learning includes behavior in the sense that it was studied by behaviorists. Personality includes identity and the self. Lots of theories and experiments have produced insight into the seven facets in the last hundred years. Literature and philosophy have played a part. Sociology and social psychology have made primary contributions to the understanding of sociality and social behavior. Anthropology and sociology have dug into the cultural inheritance, which is the symbolic content, that shapes every lives.

Recently, neuroscience has produced other useful findings that are being integrated into the psychological literature. Part of the integration involves computational modeling. Neuroscience is revolutionizing our understanding of the seven facets of psychology. The neuroscientific investigations and their integration are not complete. This is happening today. We are on the threshold of something whole and useful. The outlines have emerged from the mist.

One of the results of this integration has been the discovery that the seven facets of psychology are not independent. They’re not really even separate. More like seven lines of sight into one thing. This is complex. Unbelievably complex. Luckily, there’s a thing called complexity science. Complexity science was sorta, not really, invented at the Santa Fe Institute. It can help.

A popular, older, but still productive, way to simulate a person, is by using the belief-desire-intention (BDI) model. This has a variety of implementations, as it has evolved with twists and turns and various psychological and computational influences (Bratman, 1987; Rao and Georgeff, 1998). BDI architectures are an advance over belief-desire theories of animal behavior (de Wit & Dickinson, 2009) because, by including intentions, they incorporate the function of anticipation, or prediction, which has been established as a foundational component of evolved cognition (Butz & Pezzulo, 2008; Castelfranchi, 2005; Clark, 2013; Pezzulo & Castelfranchi, 2009). By bringing in beliefs, BDI has made a place for symbolic thought, which ushers in language and culture as a recognized psychological facet. Anticipation, prediction, or forward modeling gives rise to expectations, which are a key component needed to explain human behavior. Anticipation is an interesting functional capacity whose depth and breadth are still being explored. It means that behavior can be selected not only by remembering consequences, as in trial and error and operant conditioning, but also by mentally simulating the results of hypothetical actions (Pezzulo, Candidi, Dindo & Barca, 2013).

One of the weaknesses of some BDI architectures is their treatment of emotion. It gets in there sideways, because of its relation to desire, but as an explicit component it is most often left out. There is, however, a belief-desire theory of emotion, and recent efforts have incorporated it in computational modeling of intentional agents. The belief-desire (aka belief-goal) theory of emotions rests on the contention that human emotion cannot be understand without its cognitive components. In this respect it is akin to the ideas of such researchers as Richard Lazarus (1991), Klaus Scherer (2001), and Nico Frijda (1986, 2004).

Early proponents of a belief-desire theory of emotions were Gerald Clore and Andrew Ortony (Ortony, Clore, & Collins, 1987; Clore & Ortony, 2013). Their version is also referred to as the OCC (Ortony-Clore-Collins) model. A nice NetLogo implementation of this theory was done by two Jordanian modelers (Abu Maria & Abu Zitar, 2007). Abu Maria & Abu Zitar include a nice discussion of several previous models. Another model was built by a graduate student at USC (Jiang, 2007), using an architecture referred to as EBDI, or Emotional BDI. The EMA model of Stacy Marsella and Jonathan Gratch (2009, 2014), also originated at USC, is another model integrating BDI principles with appraisal theories of emotion. Ema is a large model with a complex architecture incorporating a lot of psychological theory. Ema is our friend.

A more recent theoretical computational model of the belief-desire theory of emotion was developed by Rainier Reisenzein (2012). Reisenzein has a lot of good stuff to say about emotion, cognition, neuroscience, and computational models. He has coauthored an interesting article about modeling with a group of prominent computer scientists (Reisenzein, Hudlicka, Dastani, Gratch, Hindriks, Lorini & Meyer, 2013). The article discusses emotion theory, BDI models, and recent OCC-based models such as FAtiMA. FAtiMA was developed by modelers in Portugal and has been redeployed in a modular version (Dias, Mascarenhas, & Paiva, 2014). Another recent model, “EMO” was developed by the animal ecologist Ellen Evers at Utrecht (Evers, de Vries, Spruijt & Sterck, 2014). This model doesn’t seem to be OCC or EBDI based, but builds on a simplified neuroanatomy and emotion theory. Another emotional agent model has been developed by Salichs & Malfaz in Madrid (2012). This model has a decision process based on wellbeing, happiness, sadness, and fear. Their article includes a brief discussion of similar earlier models by other modelers. Some Malaysian modelers have published a nice review of norms in multiagent systems (Mahmoud, Ahmad, Yusoff & Mustapha, 2014).

Reisenzein, as well as Ortony and Clore, have influenced Cristiano Castelfranchi and Maria Marceli, the iconic grandparents of the psychology of emotion in Italy. Located in Rome, they have very thoroughly investigated every conceivable aspect of emotion over a very long period and recently published a book-length treatment of the role of anticipation and prediction in human emotion (Miceli & Castelfranchi, 2015).  Miceli and Castelfranchi acknowledge Ortony and Clore’s “belief-goal” perspective as the foundation of their work, and Ortony wrote a foreward to the book. Castelfranchi has an apparent ability to stay on the cutting edge of things and has written on computational modeling as a generative method for social science (2014), has shown an interest in neuroscience, and has co-authored with another insightful Roman researcher called Giovanni Pezzulo (Pezzulo & Castelfranchi, 2009).

Giovanni Pezzulo, another busy Italian living in Rome, has written some nice things. Pezzulo’s basic area of study is action selection and decision theory. Among his specific topics of interest have been behavioral control models (Verschure, Pennartz, & Pezzulo, 2014; Pezzulo & Cisek, 2016), and the more cutting edge active inference models (Pezzulo, Rigoli & Friston, 2015). These look like theoretical computational models of brain processes, not agent-based models or full-scale computer simulations, although some of the work does involve simulation.


The article Pezzulo publish with Paul Cisek in 2016 is interesting for a number of a reasons. First, because it was written with Cisek. Cisek was born in Poland but is professor at University of Montreal. Cisek has his name on a bunch of cool papers about neuroscience, decision making and action control (Cisek, 2007; Cisek & Kalaska, 2010, Cisek & Pastor-Berrier, 2014). And, this article takes a control system perspective emphasizing the importance of feedback, which places it in the tradition of both systems science and systems biology. And, they talk about intentional action. Not to mention, active inference. What’s more, the article focuses on affordances. Accordingy to their hypothesis of “hierarchical affordance competition”:

“. . . intentional action can be conceptualized as a “purposive” navigation in an ‘affordance landscape’: a temporally extended space of possible affrodance, which changes over time due to events in the environment but also – importantly – due to the agent’s own actions. The key for extending the simple competition among affordances toward intentional action is to recognize that brains are continuously engaged in generating predictions (e.g., about future opportunities) rather than just reacting to already available affordances.”

Pezzulo & Cisek, 2016

So yes, my beverage is there, and I drink because it’s there. But I am there too, and being me, I might not necessarily drink this time, or ever.

Clearly, not all brilliant minds are Italian or Dutch. The chief champion for active inference models of brain function is Karl Friston of University College London (Friston, Schwartenbeck, FitzGerald, Moutoussis, Behrens & Dolan, 2013). Active inference, I think, grows out of neuroscience findings, philsophy of biology, and connects with such things as embodiment and enactivism. There is an acknowledgment of both goal-directed (voluntary, intentional) and habitual action. Active inference theory also connects with decision theory and expected utility theory (Friston, et al., 2013). Generally speaking, active inference supercedes RL (reinforcement learning), but there has been an attempt at integration with work on reward and associative learning (Friston, FitzGerald, Rigoli, Schwartenbeck, O’Doherty & Pezzulo, 2016). It seems to be the hot new thing and is beginning to percolate down to psychology. It should also be showing up in computational agents within agent-based models.

Active inference theory has been applied to the emotional brain (Seth & Friston, 2016). There is also an interesting article describing how it applies to social interaction (Gallagher & Allen, 2016). This article takes exception to the prevailing Theory of Mind paradigm in psychology that grounds social behavior in mental representations of other people’s thoughts, wishes, and feelings. Gallagher and Allen have followed the lead of Karl Friston (Friston & Frith, 2015), in applying the new paradigm of active inference to social cognition and the social context.

Not too long ago, I had a plan to get a Masters in Systems Science and apply to the PhD program in Mechanisms of Behavior at Indiana University. This is an interdisciplinary program beween psychology, neuroscience, and the animal behavior people over in biology. I started thinking along those lines and doing background reading. An idea that makes sense to me is that associative learning, emotion, and voluntary cognitive control are three among several mechanisms of behavior control, represented by linked but somewhat independent control systems that activate and sometimes compete in the brain, depending on events and situations. It is one way to conceptualize behavior that might overcome some of the backbiting among psychologists, a neural peaceful coexistence model. Simple and inviting, but possibly not very realistic. A key peice in this line of thinking, as I understand it, is the research within neuroscience that has explained the central role of the centrally located brain region called the striatum as a gathering place for alternative potential actions. There are interconnections between striatum, prefrontal cortex control, anterior cingulate conflict resolution, and amygdala emotional valencing. Potential actions arrive at the striatum, constrained by threshold requirements, and hang out there in an inhibited state until they fade or are released for implementation. Presumably they can arrive from a variety of sources. Mere valencing is a different role for emotion than the action readiness function championed by some (of my favorites) in the psychology of emotion, which gives it a broader role in proposing and weighting potential actions. We are thus faced with the possibility that all actions are inhibited unless released, but that they generally get released, because they are presented for implementation in the absense of conflict or competition. Conflict, however, does not have to be with other ready actions sitting in striatum. It can be conflict with goals and values, or self image. In this model the brain has the responsibility to monitor the contents of striatum and do lookups to determine these things. This goes above and beyond any emotional valencing already attached to potential actions and their contexts. Voluntary or consicous participation of prefrontal cortex is not necessarily involved.

Luiz Pessoa, a native of Brazil with a PhD from Boston University, worked at Indiana for a while, although he has since moved to the University of Maryland. Pessoa is an advocate of the strong version of cognitive-emotional interaction and an integrative holistic perspective on brain function, as opposed to more modular, dualistic, or parallel processing models. He wrote a nice chapter for The Wiley Hanbook of Cogntive Control (2017), and also has a recent theory piece in Trends in Cognitive Sciences (2017), that describes his views about brain mechanisms of emotion within the whole brain.

An approach to computational modeling of intelligent agents with a long track record is the Reinforcement Learning (RL) tradition. Although this sounds like an umbrella term for operant conditioning or behaviorism in general, RL lives in both computer science and psychology. RL might have something to offer computational modeling of agents who drink, to that extent that other models ignore associative learning or the reward systems in the brain. Some of this territory has been explored from the standpoint of psychology by Sanne de Wit and his colleagues in the Netherlands and across the channel at Cambridge (Watson, Hommel, de Wit, & Wiers, 2012; Robbins, Gillan, Smith, de Wit, & Ersche, 2012). They have looked, in particular, at the role of habit and impulsivity in problem drinking and in addiction. De Wit also has a nice chapter in the new Wiley Handbook on cognitive control (De Wit, 2017).

Two neuroscientists working in the RL domain have independently described an expansion of the search for neural correlates of classical and operant conditioning toward full scale integrative theories of learning, motivation, and behavior. They are Bernard Balleine and Mathew Botvinick. They talk about cognitive control, but it feels like cognition is somewhat of a black box in this approach. Since these efforts have roots in the behaviorist tradition, it would not surprise me if the target of investigation is often animal behavior rather than human behavior. Nothing wrong with that, psychologists nowadays seem to forget that human are animals, or to believe that symbolic thought, language, self awareness and imagining the future make us so different that we can leave animal learning out and explain all human behavior in terms of thoughts, plans, and rational choice. This is as absurd as the the old school view that we can explain all human behavior in terms of conditioning. Balleine, along with Anthony Dickinson, was a central figure in translation of classical learning theory into neuroscience (Balleine & Dickinson, 1998). Balleine has continued to write about the distinction between goal-directed and habitual action (Balleine & O’Doherty, 2010; Dezfouli & Balleine, 2012), and interactions between the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia, which includes the striatum (Balleine, Dezfouli, Ito, & Doya, 2015; Hart, Leung & Balleine, 2014). Botvinick has a similar focus, has written about planning as inference with a computer scientist (Botvinick & Toussaint, 2012), and has published a recent 30-page review of integrative theories of learning, motivation and cogntion, under the rubric of motivation and cognitive control (Botvinick & Braver, 2015).

BDI, BDIE, and RL are abstractions, that may be only loosely correlated with neuroanatomy. They are computational models that attempt to produce intelligent behavior in artificial agents. They meagerly simulate the cognitive architectures and  behavioral repertoires of actual human persons. With the incredible advances coming out of neuroscience, however, psychological and computational scholars are making efforts to get closer to comprehensive, integrated models that encompass most of the seven facets of psychological science, and could soon produce simulations of mental processes and human behavior that will be remarkably consistent with the real thing. A lot of this work is in the nature of theoretical synthesis, and is not necessarily reflected in computational models that are implemented in software. Possibly noone has the resources or wherewithal at this moment to tackle a modeling job that would involve the level of complexity that presents itself in current theory. But it can inspire those who seek to review and improve on the abstract models commonly in use today.

There is some recent work building on neuroscience findings to amplify the role of emotion in action readiness and selection, and it is presented in the publications of two Dutch researchers who built on Nico Frijda’s theory of emotion (1986, 2004). Ridderinkhof and Rietveld coauthored an article with Frijda on human action and emotional impulses (Frijda, Ridderinkhof, & Rietveld, 2014). They carefully describe, category by category, human action and only arrive at top-down, conscious, voluntary control in the last paragraph, where it warrants only a few sentences. This is clearly a different view than the usual rational choice and intentional action theories in which voluntary control takes the top role. This paper is short and sweet, but shouldn’t be overlooked. Ridderinkhof has written another beautiful paper outlining a comprehensive theory of action (2014), which he labels IMPPACT, for Impetus, Motivation, and Prediction in Perception-Action Coordination theory. He also coauthored two recent papers on the role of intention in behavior inhibition (Ridderinkhof, van den Wildenberg & Brass, 2014; Schel, Ridderinkhof, & Crone, 2014).

Ridderinkhof’s 2014 paper includes an extensive history review of the ideomotor principle, which captures the contention that mental representations become key at some point in evolution, as at some point in human development (early childhood), to action selection and control. Ideomotor processes succeed, but coexist with, sensorimotor processes. A key figure in the elaboration of this line of thinking has been Bernard Hommel (2009, 2017), with his theory of event coding (TEC). The 2017 chapter, “Conscisouness and Action Control,” has some interesting things to say about voluntary control and intentional action.

Eric Rietveld’s work is situated in the world of ecological psychology, which attempts to explain behavior by reference to environmental context, and the evolution of our capabilities in response to the environment, with a heavy emphasis on the concept of affordances. This is not a bad place to be, since the entire brain – perception, memory, attention, cognition, emotion, the whole gamut – is extremely sensitive to context, both to place and to time, whether time of day, time of year, or time of life. The world is richly filled with affordances, which present possibilities for action (Rietveld, 2012). This same perspective can be applied to the social world, as it is filled with social affordances (van Dijk & Rietveld, 2017). Rietveld has also written on norms, and their role in nonreflective action (2008).

We don’t respond to affordances randomly, though, and our responses are not preprogrammed at birth. Our “concerns” are involved, and our personal histories and characteristics, as well as our current state. But the power of the opportunties presented by the situation are not to be underestimated.

” . . . both humans and animals are selectively responsive to one affordance rather than another, in a way that is related to the individual’s dynamically changing needs. This phenomenon of adequate responsiveness to relevant affordances in context is crucial and can even be seen as a paradigmatic form of unreflective action. Relevant affordances are alluring and bodily activating possibilities for action. This responsiveness has a basic normative aspect that cannot be reduced to mechanistic causal explanation.

“Unreflective actions are performed without mediation of explicit deliberation or reflection. Of course not all of our life is spent in a state of unreflective action. Sometimes we lack the relevant skills, things go very wrong, or situations are too complex, thus forcing us to reflect or deliberate explicity. However, here I will restrict myself as much as possible to investigating those episodes where the activities of a skillful individual unfold without reflection on his or her part. Discussion of the many interesting issues related to the interactions between reflective action and unreflective action will have to be postponed to another occasion.”

Rietveld, 2012

I drink, in short, because it’s there.



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Pezzulo, G., & Cisek, P. (2016). Navigating the affordance landscape: Feedback control as a process model of behavior and cognition. Trends in cognitive sciences 20(6), 414-424.

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Reisenzein, R. (2012). What is an emotion in the belief-desire theory of emotion? In: F. Paglieri, L. Tummolini, R. Falcone, and M. Miceli (eds), The goals of cognition: essays in honour of Cristiano Castelfranchi, pp. 193-223. London: College Publications.

Reisenzein, R., Hudlicka, E, Dastani, M., Gratch, J., Hendriks, K., Lorini, E., & Meyer, J. (2013). Computational modeling of emotion: Toward improving the inter- and intradisciplinary exchange. IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, 4, 246-266

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Reitveld, E. (2012). Bodily intentionality and social affordances in context. In: F. Paglieri (ed.), Consciousness in interaction. The role of the natural and social context in shaping consciousness.

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Watson, P., de Wit, S., Hommel, B., & Wiers, R. W. (2012). Motivational mechanisms and outcome expectancies underlying the approach bias toward addictive substances. Frontiers in Psychology 3, 440.



On On On Narcissism

20080721-sigmund-freud1-224x300What am I trying to stay here? Narcissists go on and on in their self-absorption and self-glorification. The discussion of narcissism goes on and on over decades of contentious psychoanalytical and academic writing. What’s more, here are some words I wrote, on a book, that contains some chapters, on an essay, that grandfather Freud called, “On Narcissism.”

Freud’s “On Narcissism”: An Introduction, 1991. Joseph Sandler, Ethel Spector Person and Peter Fonagy (Eds.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

This book contains the text of Freud’s 1914 paper, and commentary by 10 authors. I had seen it cited as a reference somewhere, and was interested because I have done a lot of reading about narcissism. I have narcissism paranoia. I see it all around me. So coincidentally (or NOT!), I have a narcissistic character trait of my own. I had the call number written on a post-it and carried it around in my wallet until it became well worn. When I read Gregory Rochlin’s (1972) Man’s Aggression, and found him talking about narcissistic injury and threats to narcissism (normal or pathological) as a cause of aggression, I decided to go ahead and check the book out. The essay by Freud and the 10 commentaries are very Freudian, talking endlessly about ego, libido, primary narcissism and internal and external “objects” (people). But the book was published in 1991, relatively recently in the history of psychoanalysis. It is dry in stretches, but overall I enjoyed reading it. I really appreciated the Kernberg and Ornstein contributions, integrating the Freudian view with the self psychology of Kohut.

The concept of narcissism as we know it today encompasses several different things. It can be self-love, which sounds like high self esteem, and can be a good thing. It the opposite extreme it can mean self-absorption and self-obsession, which is usually a bad thing. It can be healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal, pleasant or annoying. Unhealthy, pathological narcissism is especially annoying when we encounter it in other people. By covering some of the early history of narcissism and many later developments, this book has helped me unravel some of this complexity. Yes, it’s psychoanalytical stuff, which can be highly speculative and abstract, self-indulgently terminological, even though confidently stated. But psychoanalysis is based on observation, and the truth is in there somewhere, sometimes truth that empirical psychology doesn’t get to.
Freud’s paper includes an expansion of libido theory separating ego-libido and object-libido and presents a “normal” developmental sequence from autoeroticism through primary narcisisim then secondary narcissism. The paper distinguishes two types of object choice, one anaclitic and one narcissistic, being drawn towards objects that are opposite are similar to the self. Freud also makes a significant movement towards his three part structural theory of the mind, exploring ego ideal and conscience and foreshadowing his later presentation of the superego. Freud tries to provide insight into the cause of psychoses. The paper was partially a response to Jung’s and Adler’s criticism of Freud’s libido theory.

What appears hear is more “raw data” than an actual review. These are notes and quotes. Some of my commentary and “asides” appear in brackets.

Clifford Yorke (Anna Freud Centre; British Psychoanalytical Society), “Freud’s “On Narcissism”: A Teaching Text.”

Sigmund Freud doesn’t mention the ‘ego.’ He talked about ‘das ich’, the ‘me’. The English translator, Strachey translates ‘das Ich’ as ‘the ego.’ In the early papers das Ich usually stands for the self. From 1923 (The Ego and the Id ) onward it has a restricted meaning and refers to a “mental agency with its own attributes and functions.” We can think of it as “the executive apparatus of the mind, holding the balance among the often conflicting demands of the instinctual dries, the superego, and external reality.” In the 1914 paper the concept of das Ich was in a transitional phase.

R. Horacio Etchegoyen (Buenos Aires Psychoanalytic Association), “ ‘On Narcissism: An Introduction’: Text and Context.”

Rank (1911) thought narcissistic allocations of libido could be part of normal development. Freud(1914) went further and said narcissism could be “the libidinal complement to the egoism of the instinct of self-preservation.” The 1914 paper introduces a major change in libido theory: “between autoerotism and alloerotism, he has interpolated a stage in which the libido is applied to the ego, which is thereby constituted.” The paper for the first time distinguishes between object-libido and ego-libido.

Anaclitic object choice (we marry our parent) vs. narcissistic object choice (we marry ourselves). People may exhibit both tendencies.

“Freud tells us that the development of the ego consists in a departure from primary narcissism, which at the same time gives rise to a vigorous attempt to recover it. Primary narcissism is abandoned by displacement of libido onto an ego ideal imposed from without; at the same time the ego has sent out libidinal object cathexes. If the ego has become impoverished in this way, it enriches itself once more from its satisfactions in respect of the object and by fulfilling its ideal. Self-regard thus has three sources: the residue of infantile narcissism, fulfillment of the ideal, and satisfaction of object-libido. All analysts will agree with this summing up, although some (including myself) believe that megalomania and self-regard do not belong to the same class of psychological facts.” pp. 68-69.

Nikolaas Treurniet (Dutch Psychoanalytical Society), “Introduction to “On Narcissism.”

“Elements of caretaking functions, implicit in the narcissistic tie of the patient to the analyst, are by now part of ordinary psychoanalytic technique. This implies that a not inconsiderable share of the analytic works consists of confronting the patient with the needs of his narcissistic transference and the defensive function of his narcissism vis-à-vis his rage. This includes, however, integrating failure with success through pointing out the constructive aspects of the patient’s failure, discovering the strengths lying behind his weakness as a negative image of a growth-need, sometimes to be seen as a quest for cohesion, instead of envy or desire for affection. As far as the patient is concerned, this validation has been compared to the function of a mirror. It is central to the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis, in the sense that the analyst communicates to the patient an image of the person he can become instead of the drive-catheter monster he fears he is (Loewald, 1960). Interpretation “upward” is often necessary to correct the results of the parents’ misnaming of affects. If the need for growth, initiative, and individuality and the wish to be “different” are interpreted as oedipal rivalry, the analyst degrades the quest for a healthy self-experience into a destructive part-impulse, thus attacking the patient’s sense of the value of his self. This is often a repetition of the narcissistic rage of a parent who could not bear the child’s individuality and thus promoted the child’s development of a rigid, false self.” (pp. 84-85).

[How did we get this way (shame-based, low self-esteem, critical inner voices)? How did our parents treat us and why (narcissistic injury, competition, anger, scape-goating).]

“The discovery that man was not master in his own mind was added to the realization that the earth was not the center of the universe and that man was descended from animals. There is, however, a fourth narcissistic mortification that is undeniably connected with the discoveries made both in and outside analysis in recent decades: not only is man not master of his own mind; he is also far less “autonomous” in his social reality than he would like to believe. Man’s social anxiety (and with it his corruptibility) is much greater than Freud thought–perhaps because he himself had such an immense reservoir of social courage.” p. 86.

[We are all pretty worried about what other people think and this makes us susceptible to undue or unseen influence.]

Otto F. Kernberg (Professor of psychiatry, Cornell University Medical College; training analyst at Columbia), “A Contemporary Reading of “On Narcissism”.”

“[Freud] explores narcissism as a phase of psychic development, as a crucial aspect of normal love life, as a central dynamic of several types of psychopathology (schizophrenia, perversion, homosexuality, hypochondriasis), in terms of the regulation of self-esteem, as the origin of the ego-ideal, and–by way of the ego-ideal–as an aspect of mass psychology.”

Does not look at pathological narcissism as a character pathology or narcissistic resistances.  New outpouring of contributions on the psychology of love, particularly French: Braunschweig and Fain (1971), David (1971), Aulagnier (1979), Gantheret (1984), Chasseguet-Smirgel (1985), etc. “Narcissism” refers both “to the libidinal investment of the self (Hartmann, 1950) and to the clinical process of (normal or abnormal) self-esteem regulation.” p 141. Kernberg sees “self” as self images and self representations developed through real or fantasied interactions with others (objects). He sees “object-libido and self-libido as intimately related to each other and also intimately related to the parallel investments of self and object representations by aggression.”  Pathological, grandiose self “implies a failure or incapacity for [such] an integration of aggressively invested self representations and a corresponding failure to integrate libidinal and aggressively invested object representations as well.” p.l41. Freud believed that self-regard suffers with investment of libido in the object, which must be replaced by love returned by the object (idea questioned by Chasseguet-Smirgel 1985). Kernberg believes love of another raises self-esteem when  mature ego-ideal is projected onto loved and idealized object. Neurotic love involves primitive idealization and other sources of feeling of inferiority. Normally unrequited dissolves without lowering self-esteem as it “enriches the experience of the self and opens new channels of sublimation.” Neurotic love when unrequited lowers self-esteem. Freud discusses who inability to love lowers self-esteem.  Kernberg believes “that loved objects are normally internalized in the ego,” and the love received increases self-esteem. P 142.

“Elaborating on Freud’s thinking in the light of the contributions to this subject by later generations of psychoanalysts, we might say that self-esteem fluctuates according to gratifying or frustrating experiences in relationships with others and a person’s sense of being appreciated or rejected by others, as well as according to the evaluation by the ego-ideal of the distance between goals and aspirations, on the one hand, and achievements and success, on the other.

“Self-esteem also depends on the pressures that the superego exerts on the ego: the stricter the superego, the more self-esteem is lowered, and at bottom, such lowering of self-esteem would reflected a predominance of self-directed aggression (stemming from the superego) over the libidinal investment of the self. Self-esteem may also be lowered by lack of gratification of instinctual needs of both a libidinal and an aggressive nature, so that unconscious ego defenses that repress awareness and expression of such instinctual libidinal needs will impoverish the ego of gratifying experiences and thus “deplete” libidinal self-investment and diminish self-esteem. Finally, the internalization of libidinal invested objects in the form of libidinal invested object representations greatly reinforces the libidinal investment of the self; in other words, the images in our mind of those we love and by whom we feel loved strengthen our self-love. In contrast, when excessive conflicts around aggression override libidinal investment of others and, secondarily, their corresponding object representations, the libidinal investments of the self and self-love also suffer.”

“These observations regarding self-esteem regulation point once more to the intimate and complex relation between narcissistic and object-libido, and between libido and aggression.”

[Frustration of wants and desires for pleasure can be a problem leading to lowered self-esteem. But what happens when wants and desires are out of synch with reality and lead us down the garden path to self destruction. Can this only occur when a self-destructive urge leads to selective attention and cognitive distortions? What about impulse control and emotional self-regulation?]

Selected references:
Aulagnier, P. (1979). Les destins du plaisir. Paris; Presses Universitaires De France.
Braunschweig, D., and Fain, M (1971). Eros et Anteros: Feflexions psychanalytiques sur la sexualite. Paris: Payot.
Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. (1985). The Ego Ideal: A Psychoanalytic Essay on the Malady of the Ideal. New York: W.W. Norton.
David, C. (1971) L’Etat amoureux: Essais psychanalytiques. Paris: Payot.
Gantheret, F. (1984). Incertitude d’Eros. Paris: Gallimard.

Hanna Segal & David Bell(British Psychoanalytical Society). “The theory of narcissism in the work of Freud and Klein.”

“On Narcissism” needs to be considered in the context of the progression of Freud’s development of his ideas. When written (1914), he was beginning to turn from libido to the functioning of the ego and the internal world. He had already written about “self-preservative instincts” (1910). In 1915 he would write “Papers on Metapsychology,” with “Mourning and Melancholia.” In 1916 he wrote “Some character types met within psycho-analytic work.” But in 1914 he had not yet developed a theory of internalization or identification to explain the internal world. The theory of identification is in “Mourning and Melancholia.” Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) contains the second and final revision of instinct theory. The Ego and the Id (1923) contains the three part structural model.

These authors find problems with Freud’s theory of primary narcissism.
Melanie Klein did not believe there is a stage preceding object relations (neither autoeroticism or primary narcissism). “Klein emphasized the constant interplay of projection and introjection in the building up of an internal world of objects to which the ego relates . . .” p. 160. Klein’s concept of “positions” refers to “states of the ego,” with specific anxieties, defenses, and internal object relations. These include the paranoid/schizoid position and the depressive position. The child moves through these in the course of development. Paranoid/schizoid position includes narcissistic object relations, paranoid anxiets, and defenses of denial, splitting, and projection. “The basic developmental task is the building up of a secure enough good object in order for further integration to occur.” pp. 160-161. Klein’s view of narcissism is in “Notes on some schizoid mechanisms” (1946). This paper contains a description of projective identification, which involves splitting and projection of the good aspects of the self onto the object, which is idealized. Destructive aggressive impulses are projected elsewhere. Schizoid objects relations involves either remoteness or clinging compulsive ties.  The ego is depleted and the individual complains of emptiness. There can be flip from idealization to denigration, and this involves envy.  In Envy and Gratitude (1957), Klein describes envy as a manifestation of destructive impulses.  She quotes Chaucer. “It is certain that envy is the worst sin that is; for all the other sins are sins only against one virtue, whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness.” p. 165. Segal and Bell believe narcissistic rage may be an expression of envy, rather than as in Freud, the discovery of the goodness of the external object. Klein associates envy with the destructiveness of the death instinct.

“Some writers have suggested that self-esteem is a healthy remnant of primary narcissism. To our way of thinking, however, healthy feelings of self-esteem have more to do with an internal situation in which there is a secure relation to a good internal object rather than an ideal one.” p. 172.

Kleinians have elaborated on Freud’s idea of the destructiveness of narcissism.

“From this perspective, stable narcissistic object relations can be achieved only when the depressive position has been negotiated, for it is in this process that there is a differentiation of the self from object.” p. 172.

Narcissistic personality trait denies the reality of dependence on the external object in favor of a state of narcissistic self-sufficiency.

Paul H. Ornstein ( Professor of Psychiatry at  University of  Cincinnati, MD from Heidelberg University, holocaust survivor). “From Narcissism to Ego Psychology to Self Psychology.”

The concept of narcissism challenges the conflict theory of psychoanalysis and its role in treatment. This was followed by the replacement of the topographic model by the tripartite structural model, and the eclipsing of id psychology by ego psychology, with associated changes in psychoanalytic technique. A single-axis theory of narcissism (1914) was too narrow and could not accommodate the observational data. Hartmann conceptually separated the ego from the self (1950, 1956). In the 1960s narcisissim became a central piece not only in ego psychology, but in object-relations theory (Jacobson, Lichenstein, Kernberg) and self psychology (Kohut). Joffee and Sandler (1968) challenged psychoeconomic theory of the ego and shifted focus to affect states rather than drive discharge.

Symptoms were explained as effort to deal with painful affect.

[This is a good example of strikingly different conceptual systems of discource (conceptual discourse systems CDS) being applied to explain the same situation.]

Kohut found narcisstic patients used analyst as an echo and affirmation and also put him on a pedestal as all-knowing and perfect. Both types of transference lead to inevitable disappointment, triggering narcissistic rage. Kohut assumed two separate lines of development for narcissism and object-love. It was not a tradeoff. Kohut believed that “infantile and childhood traumas … left the psyche with insufficient structure or with excessive defensive structures–those characteristic manifestation of “narcissistic pathology” that he observed and described in depth.” p. 189. Mirror transference results from infantile “grandiose self” and idealizing transference from “idealized parent imago.” These result from repressed and/or disavowed infantile needs and wishes.

“Kohut considered narcissism per se as the normal ‘fuel’ for structure building. Pathology in this context is not a pathology of narcissism but a pathology of the structures of the self (deficiencies, defects, or defensive structures), owing to inadequate narcissistic cathexis, not to excessive amounts or pathological forms of narcissism.” p. 190.

The “grandiose self” and the “omnipotent, idealized object,” are both archaic structures in reponse to normal early disturbances to primary narcissism. “The archaic idealizations will later be transformed into the narcissistic dimension of the superego, ensuring the power of its values and ideals–a different way of conceiving what Freud called the ego-ideal. In describing the developmental and clinical vicissitudes of these archaic structures, Kohut offered a new view of health and illness in which self-esteem regulation plays a dominant role.” p. 191

Heinz Henseler (University of Tubingen; German Psychoanalytical Association), “Narcissism as a Form of Relationship.”

Henseler thinks narcissism springs not from a cathexis of libido in the ego, but from the relationship with the parents. Parents idealize the baby and idealize their relationship with the baby. Primary narcisissim was seen as oriented toward the self and toward the mother in the primary relationships; see Lou Andreas-Salome (1921), Balint (1937, 1960 The Basic Fault). Henseler describes Balint’s view, “The ultimate goal of all libidinal striving is to recover the original harmony.” p. 200.

[This is not bliss before differentiation, but harmonic fusion within the primary relationship.]

Freud later distinguishes (1921, 1923) “between object choice and identification and between the wish to have the object and the wish to be like the object.” p. 201. This leads to a distinction between two types of pleasure, “the orgiastic pleasure of  instinctual satisfaction and the pleasure of fusion with the object of identification–a pleasure characterized by security and contentment. J. Sandler has repeatedly drawn attention to this point.” p. 202.

[There is no archaic state  without relationship to others, and there is no such thing as complete withdrawal from others people, no matter how strong the individual‘s social anxiety or schizoid tendency. There are always some external relationships with people and always many relationships with people internally. Narcissism does not  represent a withdrawal from relationship to others, but rather particular forms of relationship, which may involve “disconnection”.]

Henseler says the ideal ego or ideal self is not the same as Freud’s ego-ideal. “The ego-ideal holds before us objectives of perfection to be reached, whereas the ideal self represents an ideal state that we have (or think we have) already reached.” p. 204.

Freud’s idea of group psychology involves a share identification with a shared grandiose ideal. Freud got snarled up trying to describe the relationship between narcissism and love of another.  The answer has something to do with idealization and identification. Kohut emphasized role of self love in narcissistic object. For Henseler the relation with the narcissitic object involves reality testing. The primary frustrating object experience leads to the construction of narcissism. There is no primary narcissism, only secondary narcissism.

“Paradise did not originally exist in this form but was only later constructed, composed out of memory traces of a psycho physiological state, satisfying experiences with objects, and wishful fantasies of happiness and harmony–which can be understood as reaction formations to frustrating reality.” p. 210.

The real object has a “third dimension,” involving setting of boundaries.“The otherness of the other, which is experienced as threatening, the impossibility of incorporating him either by identification or by idealization, gives rise to hatred or envy.” p. 211. Narcissism as a withdrawal from the otherness of the other, is free of agression.  Coping by withdrawal into a dual union signifies devaluation of the third party. The alternative to withdrawal is to use otherness and boundaries constructively and replace hate with respect and envy with admiration of the other. “Reality-based libidinal and aggressive (rather than destructive) sensual relationships can now come into being. Requires favorable conditions in early childhood. Access to the third dimension through the presence of a third party (father, siblings) allows for healthy  not pathological narcissism.

Henseler studied suicidal patients and believe suicide results when disappointment in a narcissistic object is eliminated by a blissful fantasy of death. Suicide is aggression turned inward. Hatred becomes unconscious and self-destructed is disguised as “narcissistic apotheosis.” p. 212. Suicidal patients have narcissistically disturbed personalities, but also “different kinds of conflicts and personality traits.”

“We regularly encounter in these patients the avoidance of hatred and envy, felt to be destructive, in favor of narcissistic object relations, high-flown ideal formations, and a tendency to regress to primary narcissistic forms of experience.” p, 213.

“The tendency of narcissistic patients to form a fantasized harmonious dual union in the transference is cut off by brutal honesty, making the analyst’s third dimension clear.  “If you are absolutely intent on killing yourself, I cannot stoop you. I do not offer to save your life. I can only offer you a chance to consider with me why you persist in thinking that you cannot continue to live.” p. 213.

“The narcissistic disturbance is also mitigated by the more anxiety-free handling of aggression.” p. 214.

Bela Grunberger, “Narcissism and the Analytic Situation.”
(Paris Psychoanalytical Society)

“[In Freud’s paper] Conscience–prefiguring the superego–observes the ego and measures it by the ideal.” This mixes “object components with components of pure narcissism.” “The incapacity and impotence affecting the subject constitute a narcissistic wound–an attack on his ideal. It may be convenient to substitute a sense of guilt for the feeling of incapacity. ‘I am the greatest sinner on earth’ may conceal the unbearable idea of being nothing at all. Conscience, which lays down boundaries and prohibitions, may save narcissism and the feeling of self-regard. The melancholic dies not of an ‘escess’ of superego but of an ‘excess’ of ideal–and the megalomaniac ideal may disguise itself as a pitiless supergo, as a last resort against a feeling of annihilating inadequacy.” p. 218.

Narcissism and its vicissitudes and instinctual conflicts can be studied separately.  In analysis, object-related and instinctual transference components can be distinguished from narcissistic transference components.  Narcissistic regression is promoted by the analytic session and the ego-ideal is projected onto the analyst.

Grunberger believes narcissism has a prenatal origin. The memory of this intrauterine state reappears as God, mystical systems, contemplation of art, immersion in music, and belief in a golden age. Analysis offers a return of fetal omnipotence to repair a “fundamental traumatic situation” (life characterized by the powerlessness/helplessness the infant eventually confronts).  At the same time the analyst is a target of object relations. Analysis can overcome the opposition between narcissism and the instincts. This integration facilitates Freud’s 1914 three sources of self-regard. “One part of self-regard is primary–the residue of infantile narcissism; another part arises out of the omnipotence which is corroborated by experience (the fulfilment of the ego ideal) [competence], whilst a third part proceeds from the satisfaction of object-libido.

Melancholia demonstrates lack of coordination between narcissism and instinctual maturation.

“. . . melancholia involves a withdrawal of narcissism from the overall ego of the subject, from his body, and from his instinctual life. The overall ego undergoes idealization with the sign reversed [devaluation]. It is focalized and identified with filth that has to be swept away.”  p. 223.

If narcissism is not carried over into instinctual life, the instinct might be “violently rejected.”

There is a difference between the narcissism  of the transference (idealization and identification) and narcissistic personality disorders, which is aggressive and blocks a therapeutic form of transference in analysis. The second kind is described by Kernberg, and results from the baby’s repeated failure to recover his lost feeling of completeness.

The highest form of love, Freud‘s “complete object-love,” conforms to the anaclitic type, represents the “lost fetal self-sufficiency recovered by fusion with the mother,” and “contains the balm . . . capable of healing the wound with which we are “plunged into the world.” p. 227.


An Idea that Came and Went

0471183431 This is a shitty book. I really don’t like this book.  What a relief it is to say that. I fall in love with so many of the books I read. I have a tendency to become infatuated with authors.That did not happen this time. Why write notes on a book I hate and barely read? Well, at least it gives me the opportunity to explore my prejudices.

Susan Greenfield (2000). The Private Life of the Brain: Emotions, Consciousness, and the Secret of the Self.

Neuroscience, emotions, consciousness, the self, sounds juicy. No. Not juicy. It started out ok. In the preface Greenfield tells us the book started life as “a neuroscientist’s exploration of pleasure.” She wanted to know what motivated her friends and colleagues to work so hard. Great topic.

Chapter one, ‘The Idea’. What is consciousness, where is it located in the brain?  Emotions, reward centers, I’m listening. A recognition that brain functions are explained best by interconnectivity and relationships, not by modules devoted to specific functions. Aversion, aversive stimuli, active avoidance, passive avoidance. Oh yeah! Please continue.

It was all downhill from there. I went from reading every word, to speed reading, to skimming the pages, to jumping to the next chapter. I didn’t like her discussion of the ‘mind’ versus the brain. Despite her efforts to describe integration of brain circuits and functions, she seems trapped in rational imperialism, the description of a tug of war between reason and the emotions. She seems to equate the prefrontal cortex and consciousness with reason. She seems unaware of the way our emotions can enslave our reason, of how concepts, objects and events are stamped with valuations arising from our appetitive and defensive systems, of how reason and emotion complement each other in a ‘self-regulating partnership’.

The following chapters go through a bit of history, discuss childhood, schizophrenia, addiction,  nightmares, depression. More and more interesting tidbits from psychology, philosophy, neuropharmacology. I especially enjoyed the description of neurotransmitters, which function both locally, in transmission of signals across the synapse, and in a broader way. I recently discovered ‘spritzing’. Serotonin from the brainstem and Dopamine from the midbrain are trucked upwards and, under certain circumstances, spritzed into brain tissue, creating changes in brain state. Greenfield tells us that Serotonin is spritzed widely, but the spritzing of Dopamine is more localized. I am very curious about the role of Dopamine spritzing in mania and in our attraction to narcissistic objects.

Chapter seven, ‘The Human Condition’. My all time favorite topic. Greenfield tries to pinpoint her view by describing its similarities and differences with Freud. Her discussion of Freud’s view on pleasure does not ring true. Her statement that “Freud saw pleasure as combating the demand of an Id, a subconscious driven to unity with others,” stuck in my craw. I haven’t read much Freud and know his theories mostly second hand. But I do know that his 1920 essay was titled “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The Id is all about pleasure. And it was the Reality Principle, not the Pleasure Principle, that battles the Id as we mature. But I admit that in evaluating Greenfield’s ideas, Freud is really neither here nor there.

So. Finally. Chapter 8, ‘The Answer.’ More discussion of neural correlates of consciousness and patterns of neuronal connectivity. Then, the piece de resistance, hormones. The pituitary gland. Peptides. Ok. Very good. And? Maybe the book is just dated. Written almost 15 years ago, it suffers heavily from the ravages of time. Greenfield is onto something, but I didn’t really think she got there.

This book is not related to the PBS special, The Secret Life of the Brain (check YouTube) or to David Eagelman’s delicious, enticing 2011 bestseller, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

Neuroscience in a Can

mza_6820758399004426348.255x255-75I have learned a lot from the audio lectures of Professor Gerald Schneider through MIT Open CourseWare. He talks plainly about some very complicated material. I love his evolutionary and ethological perspective. The audios of his three courses are on the web:   9.01 Introduction to Neuroscience, 9.14 Brain Structure and Its Origins, 9.20 Animal Behavior.

Schneider bookSchneider’s book is coming out in March 2014. This is the textbook for the class 9.14, which he has been using in prepublication form for several years. 

Examining the Examined

cat scan“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” -Karen Blixen.

A psychoanalyst spends a lot of time talking to people and thinking about what makes them tick. According to the liner notes, Stephen Grosz has spent over 50,000 hours talking to patients. Even considering that “patients” are not necessarily representative of “people,” I’m thinking he has some insight into the human condition. Grosz practices in London, but he is an American, and before attending Oxford, he studied at UC Berkeley.

Stephen Grosz (2013). The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. NY: W.W. Norton.examined life

I found this book on a “best books” list and it sounded interesting. The cover quotes Andrew Solomon as dubbing it “impossible to put down.” I found that to be the case. At slightly over 200 pages, it is a quick and enjoyable read. Not as meaty as I had hoped, but there is still a lot in there. Some of the deep insight is not very deeply explored, so it goes almost unnoticed. Grosz fills his book with examples from cases. He sometimes explains how they illustrate a point, but he often lets these stories speak for themselves. Clues to their meaning are found in some of the chapter titles, like: “How paranoia can relieve suffering and prevent a catastrophe,” “On wanting the impossible,” “How a fear of loss can cause us to lose everything,” “Why we lurch from crisis to crisis,” or “How anger can keep us from sadness.” This book contains some juicy nuggets.

Psychoanalysis spends a lot of time looking for answers in the past, retracing a developmental history that might unlock the mysteries of an individual mind. Not all schools of therapy consider it fruitful to scrutinize the story of a life. But stories seem to be part of the way people think. In psychology, the humanities, and in linguistics, the “narrative function” has been getting a lot of attention. We apparently construct ourselves through personal stories that we tell ourselves, we organize our experience using story-telling, especially in dreams, and we tell ourselves stories to avoid painful truths, and to envision a bright tomorrow.   Grosz quotes Karen Blixen, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” So stories are powerful. But painful childhood episodes can resist our attempts to weave them into ordinary stores. Our stories may be distorted or blocked entirely from awareness, but the episodes are still there. Presumably a therapist can help people tell their stories, stop telling old (untrue) stories, or write a new story.

“When we cannot find a way of telling our story, our story tells us–we dream these stories, we develop symptoms, or we find ourselves acting in ways we don’t understand.” – p. 10

There’s a simplistic view of behavior that says it can all be explained by the pleasure principle; we seek pleasure and avoid pain. Which is true enough, but only part of the story. There is another view that says “Pain Is Good.” Which is also true enough, but only part of the story. Our pain is there for a reason. It’s trying to tell us something. We can learn from our pain.  But only if we allow ourselves to feel it. We have all sorts of ways to avoid emotional pain. We can block memories. We can block our feelings or deaden them with drugs and alcohol. We can distort our perspective. We can selectively ignore threatening thoughts and events. Grosz uses examples from his cases to describe some of the ways we avoid pain by telling ourselves lies.

“At one time or another, we all try to silence painful emotions. But when we succeed in feeling nothing we lose the only means we have of knowing what hurts us, and why.” – p. 27

I have this idea that a lot of people spend their time in therapy talking about their love lives. Seems like a lot of money to pay someone to fill a role that might otherwise belong to a trusted friend. Since my love life is barren as the Sahara, I was afraid I would spend my therapy hours talking about squabbles with my friends. But sometimes relationships, whether with lovers or friends, can be the place we need to focus. Relating honestly and openly with people can be difficult. Some of us have a problem with intimacy. Some of us are drawn to situations that don’t work. Sometimes some of us are even drawn to situations because they don’t work. When I was very young and first discovering love, I had some setbacks. I came to know the meaning of unrequited love. When I wasn’t hung up on someone in particular, I yearned for imaginary bliss through a hypothetical love of my life. I grew familiar with lovesickness. Grosz uses case histories to talk about love. He talks about substituting sex for love. He talks about the fantastic fantasies of infatuation, and the potential difficulty of embracing the real thing, of moving into a deeper and more permanent form of love. He reminds us that the longing for intense closeness that comes with being lovesick can be a regression to childhood craving for a mother’s affection. He says we are susceptible when we experience loss or despair. Our longing may have nothing to do with our current love object. Our fantasies are not being compared with reality. Maybe that particular relationship is not there to fill a need or desire in the way we have envisioned it. I can tell from my own experience that it is not good to get stuck in lovesickness.

“And while loneliness can be useful–motivating us to meet someone new, for example–a fear of loneliness can work like a trap, ensnaring us in heartsick feelings for a very long time. At its worst, lovesickness becomes a habit of mind, a way of thinking about ther world that is not altogether dissimilar to paranoia.” p. 111.

Can people ever really change?  Not everyone who tries to change does. But some do. Psychoanalysis uses a premise that we can move toward change by becoming aware of what we are actually doing, and why we do it. The examples in this book illustrate this premise. If we want to change, we might need to shake things up a bit.

“Psychoanalysts are fond of pointing out that the past is alive in the present. But the future is alive in the present too. The future is not some place we’re going to, but an idea in our mind now. It is something we’re creating, that in turn creates us. The future is a fantasy that shapes our present.”- p. 157

psychoanalysis grosz

Griefs and Discontents

Mutual DiscontentGregory Rochlin is amazing. Rochlin was Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard medical school. His book Griefs and Discontents: The Forces of Change, was published in 1965. Like most of his generation of psychiatrists he was heavily influenced by Freudian ideas. In spite of some antiquated constructs, his ideas are still relevant. Rochlin had a practical understanding of the human condition and an ability to put things into perspective using accessible language. Though his wording is a bit stiff, he is a pleasure to read. Rochlin is all but forgotten today. I could find no photos or bios of him on the internet.

Through our use of words, concepts, causal explanations, methodology and theoretical premises change, there are universal themes in human experience which people have grappled with since the dawn of history. How do we overcome disappointment and learn to be at least as realistic as is necessary to achieve some serenity in life? I suppose the first step is stop using unreasonable expectations to set ourselves up for disappointment. Beyond that, Rochlin’s ideas are inspiring. He also recognizes the primacy of sociality in understanding the human condition, an idea which I cherish and am pursuing with all deliberate speed.

I read the book twice and the pages are aflutter with post-it notes of a few of the memorable passages.  I’ve been holding onto it for months, because I want to write a post on “Failure,” and he has a chapter, “The Psychology of Failure.” But now I’m busy with a thousand other things, and I need to get some books back to the library so I can work on a paper I need to write  for a class I’m taking. So before pulling the post-its and dumping the little treasure in the return slot, I read through the passages I had marked. I don’t have time to do a proper set of notes on the whole book, so here are some memorable quotes. Keep in mind that Rochlin uses the word “ego”  in the Freudian sense of “the me,” or “self,” not in the current colloquial sense which implies arrogance or self-centeredness.

From chapter 1, “The Dread of Abandonment:”

“In man, therefore, the principle of homeostasis includes an object without which its aims cannot be achieved. The tendency toward constancy, the achievement of the pleasure principle, and the adherence to the reality principle, man cannot gain alone. He can succeed in these aims only through the society of another person.” (p.15)

“Depression is the psychology of disappointment. A common and naively proposed assertion is that depression is a reaction to frustration, simple aggression or deprivation. Psychoanalytic studies of children who have experienced object loss, in fact or fantasy, through separation of deprivation, or in whom an adequate object relationship has failed to develop, have shown that the clinical picture is ruled by the infantile vicissitudes of aggression which are associated with unfulfilled expectations. When these governing elements include a severely self-critical faculty, depression ensues.” (p. 16)

One of Rochlin’s primary themes is that we never actually accept loss, and will suffer until we have substituted something for the place previously held by what has been lost. From chapter 4, “Loss and Restitution:”

“The denial of reality, the negation of a loss, fantasies of loss without recompense, or the turning from despair to elation are common signs which signify that an anxious process to settle accounts with oneself is in full operation. Such reactions find their most important expression in the alteration of reality. On countless occasions, many of which in themselves may seem trivial, they indicate that escape from the burden of a sense of loss is imperative. It appears, therefore, that acceptance of a loss in emotional life is  but a philosophic and academic concept. It is probably neither a clinical fact nor a human characteristic.” (p. 131)

“A consideration of the problems involved in loss and restitution rests substantially on the psychodynamics of self-esteem. Self-esteem, unlike many other qualities, is perishable. It is easily lost and difficult to recapture. It is indispensable but unstable, readily affected by a variety of influences; care must be taken to insure its preservation. Its loss must be redeemed. A forfeited, damaged, or decreased self-esteem is an unacceptable condition. Whatever lowers it needs to be worked off. To preserve it also requires effort. Thus the condition of self-esteem is not permanently achieved; it requires constant attention for its maintenance.” (p. 132-133)

“Guilt is an oppressive conflict. It compels relief.” (p. 162)

From chapter 5, “Creativity:”

“The most intolerable condition that seems to confront man is that of his own limitations, if one is to judge from the variety of his attempts to overcome them. A curtailment of his freedom or of himself as a physical being does not fail to mobilize him for a struggle to assert his liberty or to contrive compensations for whatever restrictions he may suffer. When his grasp is not equal to his reach he devises implements. And when he fears his life is going to be too short, which it always seems to be, he finds a way to extend it beyond death into immortality. Whatever view he may hold of the limitations that are man’s lot, he never finds them acceptable, nor is he resigned to them.” (p. 184-185)

“Constant fear and dread of loss is not acceptable to man and forces restitution, the route to which is creativity.” . . . “Viewed in this light, creativity is a means through which the oppressive grind of daily life may be mitigated and from which compensation for it is fashioned.” (p. 196)

From chapter 6, “The Psychology of Failure:”

“. . . whatever evokes the awareness of limitations creates a condition that is not acceptable and needs to be remedied. Thus the common experience of failure in realizing an enterprise, or even a wish, will produce a reaction to offset it, which may be a fantasy or an act or both. Thus in most important areas of his life the child succeeds in overcoming his inevitable failures. From these experiences the child may see that failure is not irrevocable. In this and other beliefs that the child evolves, nothing is irrevocable, neither failure nor the end of life itself.” (p. 232)

“The vicissitudes of narcissism and self-esteem appear to be a unifying thread which is woven throughout the entire fabric of human development. As a consequence the fate of narcissism in all stages of development has a determinative influence and bearing on the outcome and dynamics of any one of them.” (p. 251)

“The drive to acquire skills and to achieve mastery is often accompanied by grandiose wishes that are coupled with magical beliefs in the power of such wishes. These are some of the principal means employed to transcend a life that is intimately dependent upon others. Daily experience, the realities of which enforce the truth that limitations exist, perpetuates a conflict throughout life that only under the extraordinary conditions of psychosis appears to be resolved by relinquishing reality. These mental mechanisms, devices, and efforts, indicating magical thinking, childish in their origins, are but slowly given up. They are never abandoned altogether.” (p. 285)

“The reaction to failure of ego functions is experienced in the same way as is the loss of any valued function: the individual feels humiliated and demeaned. Self-devaluation begins and ushers in the typical symptoms of self-denigration and depression. Relief may then be sought in the satisfaction derived from regressive behavior.” (p. 295)

From chapter 7, “The Loss of Function:”

“Life is not conducted alone, nor for that matter is death. Life after death is not conceived of as a lonely existence, except as a punishment. Otherwise life after death is conceived to be a joining with others either in heaven or hell, or if one returns to roam the earth in a reincarnation, such an existence is not thought to be a lonely one. These persistent beliefs are brought up not to argue that Heaven and Hell are crowded but to show that the solutions that man finds are in terms of his relations with other people and especially with those who are personally important to him, whether these solutions are addressed to problems that exist when he is alive or to those that he believes arise when he has died.” (p. 359)

Also from “The Psychology of Failure,” but more explicitly Freudian:

“Narcissism is no mere fact of life or a simple characteristic of it. Narcissism is a part of the process of self-preservation; and whenever that is threatened, narcissism protects it. Regardless of what transitions take place in respect to narcissism in the course of development of object relations, narcissism is indispensable to offset the dangers to self-esteem. Nor is self-esteen a mere aspect of the human condition. It too is a complex process held in precarious balance that relies in great measure on narcissism to right it. The excesses to which narcissism may be developed are always related to the fragility of self-esteem. Moreover, careful study of narcissism has shown that the restoration of a lowered or lost self-esteem requires, in addition to vanity, an object relationship for libidinal gratification even if it must be gained in a pathological fashion. Narcissism is the libidinal component of the instinct of self-preservation, and self-esteem is its ego manifestation. The executant functions of the ego, by skill, mastery, achievement, by controlling and manipulating and thus affecting the environment so as to provide a better adaptation to reality, sustain self-esteem. Conversely, when the executant functions do not develop sufficiently to make such aims possible, self-esteem suffers and a sense of one’s precarious position or failure prevails.” (p. 315)



800px-Descente_de_croix_du_retable_Stauffenberg_(_détail_),_oeuvre_du_Maître_du_retable_de_Stauffenberg,_actif_au_15ème_siècle_(Musée_d'Unterlinden,_Colmar)Now that I’ve been ordered to Santiago de Compestela to do 2,013 Hail Mary’s for swearing on my blog, I’m starting to contemplate more seriously my relationship with the holy mother. Not that I was raised Catholic, or really even know much about it.  I just like Mary because she looks so sad and is compassionate. I guess that’s why they call her Our Lady of Sorrow. People turn to her in times of grief and sadness, to be consoled. And who doesn’t need to be consoled now and then?

Sorrow, or sadness, and the closely related emotion, grief, are painful. Like a lot of feelings. I wish they would go away, or be under control, or yield to reason. But I don’t think of my feelings as the unfortunate result of a failed attempt to rise above the animal level. I think our emotions are there for a reason. Frank Herbert in Dune said, “Fear is the mind killer.” Fear apparently does slow down our thinking, but for a reason. It’s so we can be ready to act to protect ourselves from danger, and not get gobbled up while we’re deciding what to do. So what does sadness do for us, besides make us mope and pout?

I got interested in sadness because it is similar to depression. I got interested in depression because I wanted to know how to get rid of it! Depression feels kind of like sadness, only worse. There seems to be an overlap. I suppose I could say they co-occur, or one leads to the other. But they are not the same thing. An important book has been written about this, The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder (Allan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakefield, 2007). We don’t need a pill every time we feel sad. There are ways to deal with it. And it serves a function. But sadness can get out of control.

One way to deal with sadness is by crying. Charles Darwin, after shaking things up with evolution, published The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Darwin thought that crying expresses suffering, “both bodily pain and mental distress.” So is sadness also a response to suffering, or is sadness actually a form of suffering, provoked by some event or situation?

Silvan Tomkins, one of the early researchers in the mid-twentieth century revival of interest in the study of emotion, wrote an entire book on the negative emotions, but there is no chapter on sadness (Affect, Imagery and Consciousness, volume 2, The Negative Affects, 1962). There is a chapter, though, titled “Distress-Anguish and the Crying Response.” Tomkins lists several functions of crying. First and foremost it indicates to the one crying and communicates to others that all is not well. Seems simple. Something is wrong. Something bad happened.  Something is not how I want it. I am unhappy, probably sad. If I experience distress, then I likely feel that I need help. I might even cry, especially if I am very young, don’t understand what’s going on, and can’t take care of myself. Crying also motivates. We look for ways to alleviate the bad situation. We want the crying to stop.

Fear is also an emotional response to something that’s not okay. But it is something dangerous or threatening, and something that might happen, like getting attacked. Tomkins speculates that distress evolved in connection with higher thinking power because fear would be too toxic a response to suffering. We would be quickly worn out and used up if we became terrified every time something was not right.

“There are three general sources of human suffering – the ills of the body, the frustrations of interpersonal relationships and the recalcitrance of nature to human striving and achievement.”

– Silvan Tomkins

Jack Panksepp, a researcher and prolific writer on animal emotion, emphasizes the parallels between human and animal emotion. He believe that there are several separate basic emotion systems in our brain. Sadness is not on the list. He does however describe a “Separation Distress Panic System,” which is similar to Tompkins description of Distress-Anguish, and seems to incorporate somewhat the emotional experiences we label as sadness. Like Tomkins, he emphasizes the communication function in alerting caregivers to tend the needs of the young. This promotes attachment and social responsiveness, and it is easy to imagine how this system might continue to 0perate in a more grownup form throughout life. But it seems narrower in scope than Tomkins’  motivating emotional force that produces internal suffering when something is going wrong and needs tending to.

It seems that serious recent research into sadness is sadly lacking. The best discussion of sadness I have found is a chapter called “The Psychobiology of Sadness,” in Severe and Mild Depression: The Psychotherapeutic Approach, published in 1978 by Silvano Arieti and Jules Bemporod. They describe sadness as a “special pain” which is not physical but mental. These authors were psychoanalysts in the Freudian tradition, although they were familiar with the early work of Aaron Beck and other cognitive therapists. They asserted that in humans all emotions have at least some cognitive component.

“Normal sadness is the emotional effect on a human being when he apprehends a situation that he would have preferred not to occur, and which he considers adverse to his well-being.”

– Silvano Arieti

Sadness motivates us to engage in what these authors call “sorrow work.” This is the normal and healthy processing of our sadness. It is a cognitive restructuring that results in a change of expectations, assumptions about the future, interpretations of the past, our plans, or goals and ambitions. Sorrow work can take time, as when it becomes necessary to accept that the dearly departed will not be with us today, or tomorrow, or the day after. When sorrow work doesn’t happen, or doesn’t “work,” depression can result. Arieti and Bemporod also thought sadness is a “specifically human phenomenon,” although simple forms of it may be present in other animals.

What is the difference between distress and sadness? Sadness might be a broader category. Perhaps distress is sadness combined with an urge to shout about it. Where does grief come in? I think grief is a response to loss. Some authors seem to interpret all sadness as a response to loss of some kind, but I think that might be stretching things. Do human emotions of sadness and grief differ significantly from what occurs in other mammals, because of our higher cognitive functioning, more developed prefrontal cortex and expansion of symbolic representation into the use of language? Some caution us not to read too much into what appear to be emotional responses in animals, evidenced in facial expressions or behavior. But more and more research seems to be pointing in the direction of a marked similarity in emotion between humans and most other mammals. Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy explored this questions in When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (1996). Myself, I think cats and dogs, for example, experience sadness which is indistinguishable from that of their human masters. I also think their cognitive abilities, including the ability to engage in symbolic thought, with or without the use of language, may far exceed what has been so far suspected by most scientific researchers.

sad leopard