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close this bookThe Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)
close this folderDevelopment and the self
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View the documentThe self and the other: A developmental framework
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The self and the other: A developmental framework

Antoine Hani, Washington Psychoanalytic Institute

What type of relationship between the self and the other is most likely to lead to a stable, sustainable outcome? To answer this question we have to define the self and trace its development from birth. The following is a general view of development in the first year and the preschool years; next latency between the ages of six and ten; and then preadolescence, adolescence, and adulthood.

At the 'beginning of life the infant is a biological entity. The dawning awareness of an environment outside the infant marks his or her psychological birth. The appearance of a smile at the age of two-anda-half or three months is the first expression of a pleasant social interaction between the infant and another person, whether it is the mother or someone else.

A crucial developmental milestone is a capacity to combine and integrate aggressive feelings and love feelings - Antoine Hani

In the first seven months of life the infant perceives the mother as two different people, the good mother when she gratifies the infant and the bad mother when she frustrates him or her. At eight months the infant begins to perceive the mother as a whole person and differentiates her from everyone else in the environment. This phase is referred to as eight-month stranger anxiety because being held by a stranger elicits a crying spell or other sign of distress.

Frustration tolerance increases very slowly in the first year of life. At birth it is nonexistent. When the infant is in the throes of hunger, he or she demands instant gratification. The infant reacts with rage toward the mother while waiting to be fed. She is then perceived as the bad mother who keeps the infant waiting. But when the mother gives the infant a bottle or her breast, the infant feels gratified and perceives her as the good mother and, instead of rage, experiences positive feelings.

The reliability and constancy of the mother and the regular repetition of such experiences with her, along with an advancing cognitive development, lead the child to realize that the good mother and the bad mother are the same person. The child therefore understands that the feelings of love and anger are directed at the same person. The child can no longer divide these feelings and is compelled to fuse them if he or she is to continue developing.

This is a crucial developmental milestone indicative of a capacity to combine and integrate aggressive feelings and love feelings. I am convinced that people who are prone to violence and violent outbursts are people who have not achieved the capacity to fuse aggressive feelings with love feelings. The achievement of this capacity depends on the availability of an adequate mother who provides the child with a degree of gratification that is greater than the degree of frustration he or she is inevitably subjected to by reality.

When the individual completes this phase, he or she possesses the basic requirements for the potential to complete his or her development. This phase is referred to as a symbiotic phase that, according to Renpitz, signifies the first love relationship of the child. This symbiosis represents the first psychic foundation of the personality. An adequate symbiotic relationship ensures the promise of the full development of the self. The absence of symbiosis or its interruption by a traumatic situation, such as the birth of a sibling between the ages of one and two, is likely to cause developmental arrest in severe cases or some interference with development in milder instances.

As a keystone in development the fusion of angry feelings with love feelings will constantly be challenged in the subsequent phase, namely, the individuation-separation phase, so called by Margaret Mahler. During this phase the child requires a growing capacity to deal with frustration, anxiety, sadness, and anger. These emotions are triggered whenever there is physical separation from the mother. The mother plays a decisive role at this stage. If she is mature, she can contain these emotions and help the child integrate them. She is so attuned to the child's readiness to begin to separate from her that she can anticipate it. She can sense the emergence of the next developmental step and can relate to the child in such a way as to facilitate it.

But if she has difficulty separating from the child and is fixated on the symbiotic phase, she is unable to facilitate her child's development and, instead, exerts a pull on him or her to remain fused with her. This is frequently the way a specific psychopathology is transmitted from one generation to another. But in normal instances the two-year-old child is pulled both by a strong developmental urge to separate and become autonomous and by the fear of losing the vital dependency that he or she still has on the mother.

During the child's long phase of continuous striving to become autonomous the mother plays a crucial role. A mature mother who has achieved autonomy from her own mother is empathically attuned to both the need of her child to separate and his or her fear of separating. She can accept the child's feelings of anger, distance, and fear. The mother is sensitive enough to let the child move away from her when he or she wants to and to be reliably available to the child when he or she needs to come back to her for refueling.

The child becomes more and more confident that separation is not to be equated with the loss of the love of the mother or the dependency on her. This growing feeling of trust and confidence gradually leads the child to develop in his or her inner life the image of the caring mother, which sustains the child in the mother's absence. The concrete physical presence of the mother is no longer needed for reassurance and security.

In analytic parlance this phase is referred to as the state of object-constancy. In this case the word "object" refers to the attributes of an individual person. The consolidation of the object constancy stage at the age of three represents the second foundation of the self. It stabilizes the feelings of inner security, confidence, hopefulness, determination, sustenance, self-reliance, and sustainability. This foundation will constantly be tested and challenged by the vicissitudes of continued development. Because of it the individual is able to learn how to cope with new situations and, as the experiences with successful coping multiply, the development of the individual continues.

For example, the child's ability at age three to cope with separation from home for the first time to go to nursery school enables him or her to adapt to a new situation, play with new friends, and relate to a new teacher. Such experiences prepare the child gradually for the more complex world of kindergarten, elementary school, high school, and other environments.

When developmental tasks strain the child's coping capabilities, he or she can fall back on the foundation of object constancy to regroup and refuel. Development of the self does not proceed along a continuous ascending curve. It has peaks and valleys. In normal development the valleys provide a safe position to fall back on. Because of this safe position the individual has the capacity to spring forward to the previous level of functioning and, in most instances, then advances to a higher level.

Before age six the child's life is centered in the home and involved primarily with parents and siblings. In this phase, drives, fantasies, and the imagination are dominant: The child is in the midst of a passionate involvement with a parent of the opposite sex and a rivalry with the parent of the same sex. Because of the fear of retaliation by the parent of the same sex and the importance of the affectionate ties with this parent, the child identifies with him or her and internalizes the fear of punishment. This internalization becomes a new structure of the child's personality, referred to as the superego, or conscience. It enables the child to control and repress his or her drives while entering a new phase that Freud named latency, a phase free of turmoil during which the ego can expand.

The superego, or conscience, enables the child to control and repress his or her drives while entering a new phase, free of turmoil, during which the ego can expand. This is the beginning of the individual's life in society - Antoine Hani

A prejudiced individual typically is someone who has not achieved a clear identity and who has internal aspects that he or she hates and cannot acknowledge or integrate - Antoine Hani

This is the beginning of the individual's life in society. He or she is now more focused on the real world and is governed to a greater extent by external reality, rather than the internal world of drives and fantasies. The individual begins to attach importance to authority figures outside the home, who expect him or her to perform specific tasks and follow rules and regulations. The individual begins to cultivate what Erik Erikson calls a sense of industry. He or she also values getting along with classmates, as well as working and playing with them according to mutually accepted rules. The individual begins to realize the importance of making friends and having a particularly close friend.

If the individual's development before age six has been normal, he or she is equipped to adapt successfully to these new requirements, and the individual gains an increasing sense of inner confidence and self-esteem. If the individual fails to adapt to them, he or she suffers from a sense of inferiority that leads to alienation and a weak sense of identity. In this phase the child is still dependent on the parents and needs them to fall back on when met with difficulties and disappointments. This dependency, which is without conflict in latency, begins to be fraught with danger in preadolescence and adolescence because of an upsurge of very intense sexual and aggressive feelings, which tend to break through the repression barrier that held during latency.

The adolescent therefore transfers his or her dependency to the peer group, which begins to occupy the emotional space previously accorded to the parents. Because the adolescent can no longer repress emotional conflicts with the parents, he or she must resolve these conflicts in a different way and, if successful, he or she will be propelled to a higher level of development on the road toward adulthood.

True adulthood is characterized by the crystallization of a stable core identity and a definite character structure. The consolidation of new capacities to love and work in a sustained way leads to a readiness for commitment that represents the highest level of maturity. The adult continues to forge his or her identity and character from his or her own unique self-representations and patterns of relating and coping in all situations.

In analytic terms we might say that the individual has achieved a stable, cohesive self-organization. He or she has the capacity to relate to another person as a separate individual with a unique identity and character, which he or she can perceive, acknowledge, and respect. This capacity to relate to others is particularly challenged, however, when the individual has to deal with a member of a minority group or someone of a different socio-cultural milieu generally considered inferior to that of the individual.

Is the individual's attitude toward such a person going to be influenced by the rampant prejudice in his or her society toward minority or developing nations? The literature on prejudice and my findings on it-which have been presented at the discussion groups on prejudice led by Afaf Mahfouz at the annual meetings of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New York City-indicate that the individual who has attained object constancy and a cohesive self is not likely to be prejudiced. A prejudiced individual typically is someone who has not achieved a clear identity and who has internal aspects that he or she hates and cannot acknowledge or integrate. The individual deals with them by projecting them onto members of a group considered to be inferior.

Prejudice, whether acknowledged or denied, interferes seriously with the aim of sustainable development. The successful promotion of sustainability is based on respect for the capacity or potential of the other to make use of that which we make available to him or her in his or her own special, creative, individual way. This also applies to the relationship between parents and child at all levels of development from birth to adulthood.

It stands to reason that the optimal relationship between giving and receiving is achieved when both giver and receiver are mature individuals. When the situation is less than optimal, the responsibility for ensuring a sustainable outcome must be assumed by the giver. It is up to the giver to assess the characteristics of a situation, to adapt to them sensitively and creatively, and to make available the ingredients deemed useful for that situation. The choice is then left to the receiver, who will take the initiative to select what he or she wants to make use of according to his or her own predilection, style, or aesthetic sense.

In the absence of feelings of intrusion, dominance, or prejudice the receiver feels empowered and free. He or she trusts the giver enough to ask for additional guidance. A state of reliance and mutual cooperation may then exist between the self and the other. The one that commands should always act in such a way as to enhance the identities of both the giver and the receiver.

Gender Inequality: Self-Image and Sustainable Development Susan G. Lazar, Washington Psychoanalytic Institute

How do we empower nations to achieve self-sufficiency and ongoing development? From a psychoanalyst's point of view the moment we begin to look beneath the surface of any human endeavor, we encounter the inner strengths and weaknesses of the individual human beings involved. Considering the underlying psychological issues at work, entrenched discrimination within a society against any of its members has a negative impact on growth and development. Ismail Serageldin spoke earlier today about the damage caused by ideas of exclusivity and an unwillingness to acknowledge the universality of our humanity. The gross and subtle barriers to the full equality of women constitute the most entrenched and widely accepted kind of discrimination within the human family. To illustrate the subtle, pervasive nature of this discrimination, I would like to quote a few examples of statements made today at this seminar, which is explicitly designed to explore and combat prejudice. They were made in the presentations and in one of the videos we saw: "pressed to serve in another man's war," "we need new leaders, a governing father figure," "the father of a nation who requires obedience," "when a wife earns more money than her husband, that difference is, of course, a problem," "the problem of forgotten brotherhood,', "in all people there is a need for a sense of one's paternity," and "for the sake of brevity I may use only the pronoun referring to the masculine gender."

The optimal relationship between giving and receiving is achieved when both giver and receiver are mature individuals -Antoine Hani

At the heart of the way we perpetuate sexism is the fact that a girl's aggression is considered shameful and is inhibited by punishment and withdrawal, while a boy's aggression is not inhibited and may even be actively encouraged - Susan G. Lazar

For children of both genders women are central to the development of self-image, self-esteem, and a sense of the possibilities in one's future. If women are second-class citizens in their own cultures, what impact does this have on the messages concerning dignity and self-sufficiency that they convey to their male and female children? Fathers also convey their ideas about different gender roles to their children, along with their views on whether men have more or less value than women.

From infancy parents raise boys and girls to assume different gender roles. In the first two years of life parents reinforce behavior they consider appropriate to each sex role. Sociocultural norms are mediated by the family and others to the infant and young child, and they become incorporated into the young child's growing sense of self.

There are innate physiological differences between boys and girls. Girls have better organized sensory responsiveness. Mothers handle girl babies more gently, but boys seem to respond better to more vigorous handling. Mothers talk to girls more than they do to boys, and at six months girls have more physical closeness with their mothers than do boy babies, who wander away from their mothers more frequently.

Infant research shows that mothers favor and reward autonomy in a boy but stifle it in a girl, causing girls to value themselves and their autonomy differently and often less. By age two boys distance themselves from a negative mother, while girls remain engaged in the relationship with her. Girls are rewarded for remaining controlled and involved and for their sensitivity and inter-relatedness. Further, they are trained to suppress feelings of protest, as well as pride in their accomplishments, and to attribute their successes to others while blaming themselves for failure and responding to it with shame.

In contrast boys are encouraged to take pride in their successes and to blame others for failure. Boys are encouraged to be dominant and express anger and are rewarded for separateness and assertiveness. At the heart of the way we perpetuate sexism is the fact that a girl's aggression is considered shameful and is inhibited by punishment and withdrawal, while a boy's aggression is not inhibited and may even be actively encouraged. Because of our gender role expectations, these are some of the ways we acculturate men and women and perpetuate the worldwide notion that men are the primary actors and that women serve in supporting roles as the objects or recipients of men's actions rather than being the initiators of action.

What are some of the familiar cultural manifestations of sexism? We are all aware of the reputed killing of female infants in China. Last week a newspaper reported that wife beating in Russia can be considered a crime of hooliganism only if there is a witness or documentable physical injury to the woman. A colleague of mine, a pediatrician, serves as a medical missionary in the Punjab. She told me that most of her hospitalized patients are boys because medical care is expensive and is not wasted on girls. She showed me a slide of an Indian mother and her extremely thin daughter and chubby son. The more valuable male child is fed at the expense of the females. This practice is so ingrained and taken for granted that the mother had no idea why my friend was taking the picture. The woman posed proudly and unselfconsciously with her children.

What are the underlying assumptions behind these practices? We must conclude that female children are often seen as possessions of their families who may be underfed or even disposed of or that women are expected to serve as possessions of their husbands. What kind of thinking underlies the genital mutilation of females in many parts of the world? It is painful and disfiguring, can be life-threatening, and is meant to limit a woman's sexual activity and pleasure in the interest of ensuring her fidelity to her husband. Here, again, women are not viewed as belonging to themselves but are seen primarily in terms of their service to men.

In the United States gender discrimination is less blatant than it is in the rest of the world but nonetheless pervasive. While afforded more educational opportunities in the United States than elsewhere, women hold only a fraction of the leadership positions in academia, business, the professions, and government. There are powerful forces at work to keep the established unequal power relationships between men and women in place. How does a woman feel about herself and her relationship to men- who have potentially greater political, social, and economic power than she does even if men as individuals might be perfectly egalitarian and respectful of her as a person? Discrimination toward women can lead to the distortion of women's attitudes toward men, just as other groups that experience entrenched discrimination can be prejudiced against members of the cultural majority.

Gender inequality stimulates intense unconscious feelings in both sexes, which have a significant impact on the family and on society at large. People react to the way they are treated, even if they are not consciously aware that they are doing so. A woman who has to limit her ambitions, who is assigned second-class citizenship, and who is not allowed to chart her own course as an adult will harbor anger and mistrust toward men and toward her own culture, even if she seems to be accepting, passive, and compliant externally.

Worldwide across cultures women have two to three times as much major depression as men, which many mental health practitioners link to the compromised autonomy and lower socioeconomic status of women. Women suffer even more disproportionately from such eating disorders as anorexia nervosa, which is a desperate attempt to exert power and have control over a life that is controlled by others.

I have observed the effects of sexism on the lives of both my female and male patients in America. One woman, an accomplished scientist, has been denied both support and promotion because of her gender. It has been difficult for her to fight for herself because she was raised to put others first, including a disabled sibling she was expected to mother In addition her parents enabled her older brother to attend college and graduate but did absolutely no planning for her higher education, which she achieved through her own efforts. This patient suffers from chronic depression and low self-esteem, which have seriously compromised her efforts to promote her own career. She is also at a disadvantage because it is a matter of public record that women are discriminated against at the prestigious institution where she works. I view this patient as suffering from the effects of sexism from an external source currently in her life, but she is suffering even more from the effects of sexism internally, which have been ingrained in her sense of self, as a female and therefore as a second class citizen, since infancy. She deeply resents the abuses of male privilege.

Worldwide across cultures women have two to three times as much major depression as men, which many mental health practitioners link to the[ir] compromised autonomy and lower socioeconomic status -Susan G Lazar

If the nuclear family considers some of its members-men- to be superior at the expense of others- women-it is not inconsistent that some cultures, societies, and races consider themselves to be superior and entitled to dominate other supposedly inferior cultures, societies, and races - Susan G Lazar

A second woman patient was born into an educated family, but she was seriously disadvantaged in comparison to her older brother, who was sent to the best private school, college, and graduate school. It was explicit in her family that similar expenditures would not be made on behalf of the daughters. Although she and her accomplished older brother are equally well endowed intellectually, this patient has a very different life from that of her brother. A respected elementary school teacher, she is not well paid, as is true of all predominantly female occupations. This woman considers herself to be intellectually inferior to men and is resentful of their advantages.

Both of these patients are well educated, respected, and well liked and are well-integrated, contributing members of American society. In fact we could describe them as being among the pillars of society and at the upper end of a global scale in terms of their levels of education and functioning. Yet they are also women who have been damaged by pervasive sexism, both in their upbringing and in society, limited in their achievement of their innate potential, and made to feel deeply resentful of the power denied to them.

How do these privileged women compare to other women in this country and throughout the world whose lives have been even more limited by sexism and the dominance of men' How do less fortunate women view themselves and the men in their lives, consciously or unconsciously?

A male patient of mine was the only son and the youngest child of older parents. His uneducated immigrant mother doted on him and lived vicariously through him. She considered him to be special by virtue of his maleness in a way she and her daughters could never hope to be. This mother pushed and supported her son but was also intrusive in her over involvement in everything he did and in her overvaluing of him. This man is now highly accomplished and well regarded. He is also secretly highly ambivalent toward women and is abusive of them. He considers himself superior to women and believes he is entitled to be served by them in the manner he was taught to expect from his mother. Yet, because he has never outgrown his intense dependency on women, he both fears and idealizes them and tries to control these feelings through marital infidelity, promiscuity, abusive dominance, and sadomasochistic sexual perversion. He is in awe of women and experiences love and hatred toward them as a group. If his mother had not been raised in a culture saturated with sexism and if she had viewed herself and her daughters as being as worthy as men, this patient would be less overvalued and less intruded upon. He would therefore have become less dominating, less arrogantly superior and perverse, and more respectful and matter of-fact toward women as his equals.

In social, cultural, and family systems in which women are second-class citizens, how do we regard and measure the waste of female potential, ambition, and self esteem? If tension concerning our inferiority or superiority is incorporated into the conscious and unconscious fate ric of family life along gender lines, how do we teach young people to feel as entitled as other human beings on the planet to the opportunity for full, productive lives, regardless of their nationalities, cultures, religions, races, or genders?

Because a woman's inner sense of entitlement to opportunity is stifled in her earliest years and a man's conflicted, defensive insistence on his superiority is nurtured from infancy, the perpetuation of ideas of human inferiority and superiority are deeply ingrained in even the closest nuclear families. If the nuclear family considers some of its members- men-to be superior in wisdom and entitled to dominate and enjoy greater power and privilege at the expense of others-women-it is not inconsistent that some cultures, societies, and races consider themselves to be superior and entitled to dominate and have more at the expense of other-supposedly inferior-cultures, societies, and races.

Sexism is a ubiquitous cancer in the body of human society. It erodes the self-esteem and empowerment of most of the world's women, wastes most of their potential to contribute to the world's cultures, and breeds resentment and conflict between the sexes. Sexism weakens the vitality and cohesiveness of society and diminishes its capacity for further growth and development.