Hans Loewald’s Perspective
The Core of Being
The core of our being needs to be articulated and integrated in order to emerge. And for that to happen, said psychoanalyst Hans Loewald, you need the right kind of environment. The right environment for our development, said Loewald, is one that represents a higher stage of organization than the stage of organization of our mind. The right environment, Loewald goes on, consists of parents who are empathic, who understand the level of development of their child, yet who can also anticipate what the next level their child has the potential to achieve is, and who interact with their child in such a way that the child identifies with their parents’ vision of who they can be.
Our relationships with others, Loewald said, play a vital role in the formation of our minds. We grow by identifying with our parents, by internalizing aspects of our parents personality, including their image of us which they communicate to us in the myriad ways they interact with us. It’s through our interaction with others, Loewald said, that our psychic structure evolves. Our id, ego, and superego arise, Loewald said, through our interaction with our environment which we internalize. In this way, Loewald said, what was external becomes internal.
The process begins at the very start of our lives. We begin life, Loewald said, with minds that possess little organization. In the beginning, he said, we experience no outside or inside, no sense of time, of past, of present, of future. Self and other are not perceived as separate or separable. In the first weeks of life, there is no difference between I and not-I, said Loewald. The infant exists in what Loewald calls primary narcissistic identity with the mother. He dwells in an undifferentiated feeling of oneness, a part of an infant-mother psychic unity.
Psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell gives an example of how mother and child make up a singular undifferentiated experience. He tells about the case of a new mother who found herself holding her baby “with her arms outstretched, literally at arm’s length.” Even though she could hold her baby in the customary ways, Mitchell tells us, she preferred to hold the baby with arms outstretched. The mother later learned that when she was a baby, her mother had been in a car accident and broken both her arms. Because her mother’s arms were in casts, she held her for several months after she was born with arms outstretched. Mitchell cites research to illustrate the point - we mother as we have been mothered. What was external becomes internal. We do to others what was done to us. Mitchell supporting Loewald’s contention of a unified mother-infant psychological field, hypothesizes early experiences are stored as kinesthetic memories in which self and other are undifferentiated. He concludes, “It seems likely to me that what is recorded and stored is a global sense of ‘mothering’ in which the mother and infant are merged into a singular event that envelopes both of them.”
The infant begins to differentiate himself from others in his environment, Loewald said, by about his second month. Through perceiving that some stimulation is always available while other stimulation is not, he begins to become aware of inside and outside, himself and other. Slowly, through his mother’s ministrations, this bundle of “incoherent urges, thrashings, and reflex activities,” said Loewald, through his mother’s recognizing his needs and fulfilling them, giving his experiences meaning, becomes more organized. His mother organizes her baby’s vital processes, Loewald said, in such a way as to give rise to his instinctual life.
Thus the infant organizes stimuli through internalization. The concept of internalization is very important, said Loewald, in understanding how our mind’s evolve. Loewald makes a distinction between identification and internalization. We can identify with aspects of another’s personality or we can have a more primitive total identification with someone significant to us in our environment. Identification plays a crucial part in the formation of our personality. It erases differences between people when we identify with a person or an aspect of a person, said Loewald. Whereas, in internalization, Loewald said, our identity with the other is renounced. It frees us from the other. In internalization, Loewald said, our identity with the other is given up. What we internalize is the function the other provides for us, the image the other has of us. What we internalize, Loewald said, becomes an integral part of the self. If the environmental circumstance we grew up in was unfavorable, Loewald said, or because of biological factors, or when the relationship between the two is unfavorable, internalization suffers.
In addition to the concept of internalization, the concept of organization is also pivotal in Loewald’s thought. The different systems of our mind, Loewald said, exist at different kinds or levels of organization and integration. The Id, he contended is the mental organzation we are born with. The Ego is that which organizes the present. The Superego is that part of us which tells us how we should be in the future. Time is the principle of arrangement, Loewald said, which structures our minds. There needs to be some pathway of communication, Loewald said, between the different parts of our personality. For this Loewald thought the distinction between unconscious and preconscious mental processes was very important. It’s only when we have one foot in our unconscious inner world, Loewald said, and the other in our preconscious that we are continually growing and changing and reaching higher and higher levels of mental organization. Our consciousness needs to be constantly renewed by what is unconscious in us, Loewald said. Our instinctual life, he believed, can lead us to higher levels of differentiation, to developing our individuality.
Psychic health for Loewald consists of fluid boundries between the unconscious and the preconscious. When there is no communication between the unconscious and the preconscious, he said, you have pathology. Either the person cuts themselves off from their past, from their more primitive mental life, or they are totally enveloped in it. When there is an optimal degree of communication between the unconscious and the preconscious, Loewald said, unconscious activity is led to preconscious organization.
Our conscious processes - our thoughts and deeds - can often be understood as motivated by instinctual-unconscious forces. Our unconscious processes are often the result of personal motivation. When we understand our motivations for what was unconscious in us, we “move the organization of our mental processes in the direction of consciousness.” When we understand the unconscious-instinctual motivation of our conscious thoughts and deeds, Loewald said, we move the organization of our mental processes in the direction of our unconscious-instinctual life. Thus, what is important, Loewald contended, is balance. We must recognize and acknowledge what is unconscious in us. We must concern ourselves with our needs, our wishes, our fantasies, our conflicts, the events in our lives that were very traumatic, the things we defend ourselves against. Thus we transform id into ego.
To sever developmentally earlier from later forms of experience and psychic organization is how Loewald defined repression. Repression, he said, “maintains psychic processes and structures on lower organization levels.” It keeps our relationships on an infantile level. Loewald said, it keeps, “a share of psychic processes in a less organized, more primitive state or returning them to such a state, the state of id.” Loewald talked of the “dedifferentiating impact” of the unconscious, about its unorganized power.
For Loewald, the formation of psychic structure of id, of ego, of superego, leads to individuation. The beginnings of individuation are found in our relationships with our mothers. The good enough mother, Loewald said, helps to raise her child’s level of organization. Individuation begins with conscire or knowing together with her child, as the child internalizes his mother’s mirroring of him, as the mother reflects more than he presents. Disturbances in individuation are the result, Loewald said, of deficiencies in attunement of the child with his human environment. Loewald defines individuation as psychic processes or activities in which the person and the other have distinct psychic organizations. He quotes Margaret Mahler who defines identity as awareness of being, not of who I am, Mahler says, but that I am. Loewald quotes Mahler as saying, “it is not a sense of who I am but that I am; as such, this is the earliest step in the process of unfolding individuality.”
Loewald said the problems people present with who came to him for analysis often have to do with separateness and union and of identity. He saw these issues as some of the most basic problems of human existence. We cannot assume, he said, that people automatically develop their individuality, develop a cohesive self that is separate, yet can relate to others in a spirit of mutuality. Loewald saw a relationship between our own individuation and our ability to see others as separate, different people. We are individuated, he said, to the extent we see others as separate and different from us. Individuality of the human psyche was an accomplishment, Loewald said, that psychoanalysis aims to achieve.
In analysis, as in original development, our environment becomes increasingly internalized, Loewald said. Since the formation of psychic structure and individuation depend on our relations with others, in analysis, ego-development can be set in motion again through integration experiences with the analyst. To promote ego-reorganization, the analyst must have a higher stage of organization than the client, possess objectivity, and like the good mother, Loewald said, the analyst must be able to maintain free-floating ego boundries. The analyst, he said, must possess a facility for partial regression, have access to his own more archaic mentation.
Before people can begin to view themselves or others in a new light, Loewald felt, they often must go through a period of ego-disorganization and regression. The patient must relive his infantile fantasies and memories, Loewald felt, with the analyst, say what was unspeakable because his experiences lacked language. In analysis rather than continuing to act out his fantasies, memories, feelings, wishes, and conflicts in the course of his life, the patient learns to verbalize them. By doing so he comes to truly know himself, and “to know oneself,” Loewald said, “makes it impossible to remain the same.” By linking what’s happening in the present analytic situation with his past, the patient integrates the past with the present, meaning comes into being, and his fantasies and memories can be reinserted into his mental life, Loewald said. By articulating our experience, Loewald said, we organize what was less organized and both us and our environment take on a higher stage of organization. It was that richer self-organization,
Loewald said, that allowed us to relate to our environment in novel ways. Thus, Loewald conceived of our psyche as “an emerging organization which evolves through an active and ever more complex interchange with developed organizations of the same kind.” “Disorganization and higher organization,” Loewald said, “often go hand in hand.” One had to go through a period of disorganization and regression, he said, in order to make reorganization possible. When patients achieved inner reorganization, they improved.
It is in the very essence of our ego, Loewald said, to unify, to integrate. It strives for unification and synthesis because loss of reality means annihilation of the ego, he said, and its sinking back into undifferentiated unity that was the case before its origin. To avoid primary identity, the deepest fear of the ego, Loewald said, the ego differentiates and structures reality.
As the mother and infant psychologically separate, Loewald explained, an urge which he calls “a libidinal flow” arises which seeks to re-establish the unity that existed between the two. Thus the separation between mother and infant gives rise to a tension system between mother and infant of libidinal forces of mother toward the infant and of libidinal forces of infant toward the mother. “To maintain, or constantly re-establish, this unity, in the face of a growing separation from what becomes the outside world for the growing human being, by integrating and synthesizing what seems to move further and further away from it and fall into more and more unconnected parts - this is part of the activity of the ego which constitutes it as an organization, in the sense of an agency that organizes,” said Loewald.
Loewald believed we strive to reestablish the lost unity with our environment at ever higher levels of organization. For him the aim of human development was reunification. Thus we keep reworking on a higher stage of development the same old basic issues of psychic development. Loewald said “psychic events repeat themselves on different levels of development throughout life.” The two basic instinctual drives that organize our environment and are organized by them, Loewald said, are the life instinct, Eros, and the death instinct, Thanatos. Eros and Thanatos are the two basic forces, two basic tendencies operating in our being. Eros was the tendency “which promotes higher or more complex organization of psychic structures resulting from, and transforming in their turn, psychic processes.” Eros was responsible for human development. Thanatos, the death instinct, is the wish for tension reduction, regression, a return to the original unity. Unconsciously, we strive for separation and stimulation. Unconsciously, we strive for unity and reduction of stimulation, too. Maturity for Loewald is becoming one’s own authority, while still retaining access to our archaic feelings of primordial oneness. Primitive mentations persist, Loewald said, at the deepest unconscious layers of our mental life. Earlier modes of organization coexist with later. Thus we both interact with others on more primitive or advanced levels - “people shift considerably,” Loewald said,
“from day to day, at different periods in their lives, in different moods and situations, from one such level to other levels.” Doing so can make us feel more alive, Loewald said, “though not necessarily more stable.” “Perhaps the so-called fully developed, the mature ego is not one that has become fixated at the presumably highest or latest stage of development having left the others behind it,” said Loewald, “but is an ego that integrates its reality in such a way that the earlier and deeper levels of ego-reality integration remain alive as dynamic sources of higher organization.” For Loewald, reality can be experienced and organized by the mind in different ways. Our traditional way of organizing experience which sees the internal and subjective as distinct and separate from the external and objective could keep us, he said, from feeling fully alive.
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