Neurons contain representation the way a poem contains alphabets – Freud
What do Saddam Hussain, Jeffery Dahmer, Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, Jack the Ripper and Bin Ladin have in common? They were all raised in households where the father was either absent, or was castrated. The father had little influence.
In this day and age, a large number of children are rendered fatherless through easy dissolution of marital commitments. An absent father is not inexistent – he still leaves a mark. How do such father’s effect affect the psyche of the child thru their absence?
The paper is divided into five distinct sections. In the first section I will present a few case histories and dreams of my clients. These dreams will form the backbone of the therapeutic aspect of this session. The second section uses the work of Marco Blanco to explore how the two hemispheres of the brain function. The third section explores Carl Jung’s work on the symbolic significance of the father. The fourth section explores Jacques Lacan and Andre Green’s psychoanalytic work on the mechanism through which the symbols that were referred to in Jung’s work, are created in the realm of the personal consciousness and then transmitted intergenerationally. The fifth section integrates these theories into a coherent framework which illuminates the problems that we encounter in our everyday work – what is the effect of the absence of a masculine container on our clients ? What are the symptoms our clients reveal in therapeutic sessions ? We also discuss the implications for treatment and the process of therapy and the role of the therapist in addressing these deficits. We have only an hour, and so this is a very brief exploration of this subject. I would be happy to answer any questions at the end, or after the session.
Section III : Jungian Approach
Archetypes, Complexes and Symbols
When we study physics, we have to hypothize a working model for the atomic structure, because we cannot observe electrons and because the reality of the materials defies comprehension. Similarly, the totality of the psyche defies any direct observation. We are confronted with a pattern of wholeness that can only be described symbolically.
Jung defines a symbol as “the best description, or formula, of a relatively unknown fact; a fact which is nonetheless recognized or postulated as existing. . .expressing something suprahuman and only partly conceivable. It embarks us on the search for significance, for meaning.” The symbolic represents the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown thing which cannot be more clearly represented. In contrast, a sign is an expression that stands for a known thing. A symbolic mode of comprehension uses metaphors.
Psychological functioning used to be taken as an activity of the ego. The Freudian unconscious was acknowledged, but was labeled as irrational, chaotic and senseless. Jung redrew the map of the psyche and called Freudian unconscious as personal, subjective unconscious, a small part of the total psyche. He created a concept of an a priori part of the psyche and called it the collective unconscious or the objective psyche, a psychic dna that is passed onto us intergenerationally. In this part of the psyche, information is stored in the form of images or symbols that correspond to the images found in the mythology of the culture that the person belongs to. Each of these images contains an energy field that is powerful enough to compel us to act in a certain way. These pre-ordained ways of acting, the blueprints of are called archetypes. There are various archetypes like that of The Great Mother, The dragon slaying Hero, and the Father. We are instinctually drawn to these ways of behaving.
Jung also created a concept of “complex” – which resides in the personal or subjective conscious and is the consequence of a wound that we may have developed somewhere in own lifetime. It is also a magnetic black hole that sucks all energy and action towards itself, leaving the libido impoverished, affecting rational thinking abilities. So a person who has had a unique relationship with his father will have a positive or a negative father complex.
The Father Archetype
The archetype of the great father pertains to the realm of light and spirit. It is the personification of the masculine principle of consciousness symbolized by the upper solar region of heaven. From this region comes the wind, a symbol of spirit. Sun and rain likewise represent the masculine principle as fertilizing forces, which impregnate the receptive earth. Images of piercing and penetration such as phallus, knife, spear, arrow and ray all pertain to the spiritual father. All imagery involving flying, light, or illumination, king, eagle pertains to the masculine principle, as opposed to the dark earthiness of the great mother.
Spirit is the active principle, standing in opposition to matter and materiality, an immaterial substance that can, at its purest level, be also called God. Spirit represents the sum total of all phenomenon of rational thought, intellect, will, memory, imagination, creative power, aspirations motivated by ideals. The objective spirit is the intellectual and religious achievements of culture. The spirit is always an active, wind natured, winged, swift moving being as well as that which vivifies, stimulates, incites, fires and inspires. It is the dynamic principle forming the classical antithesis of the stasis and inertia that represents matter, mother and the soul. The contrast between nature and spirit is such that nature appears to be dead when contrasted with the spirit.
The hallmarks of spirit are :
1) principle of spontaneous movement and activity;
2) the ability to produce images independent of sense perception,
3) the autonomous and sovereign manipulation of these images.
The spirit appears in dreams, meditation and creative work as a father from whom the decisive convictions, prohibitions and wise counsel emanates, with a certain spiritual essence. Often it may simply be an authoritative voice which passes final judgments, or it may be a wise old man, or even a real spirit, the ghost of a dead person.
As we move futher along this discussion, I would ask you to ponder on the question – If the relationship with the father is associated with the spirit – what all might happen when this relationship is impoverished ? What would such a person be like? How might he defend, compensate for or accept this deficit in the external world? What would happen if the relationship has been overstimulating? What might such a person look like? What problems may he encounter in the world?
Symbolic Function of Father
Every child is born pure, and exists in blissful union with the mother. The two exist in a Participation Mystique, where though the bodies are separated, the child’s self still resides in the mother, and is only gradually extracted from her. The infant lives thru the mother on the psychic plane. In this symbiotic union, the duo is absolute and requires no “other” for completion.
However, the mother cannot continue this merger for long, and the symbiotic unity fails sooner or later fails. The paternal presence creates a division – the happy incestuous duo is forced to separate. Unity gives way to duality, and thru this duality the child becomes aware of itself as being separate from the mother, of being an “other.” It acquires an ability to become rather than just be. The active agency allows for the ego/self to emerge.
In symbolic terms, the archetype of the father is responsible for the child’s activity and dynamic movement. The father becomes associated with duality, separation, individuality, consciousness/self awareness and the process of individuation, with action, activity and the ability to be independent, to be autonomous and to break away from the symbiotic collective of the mother-child duo, and later the collective of the society. Metaphorically, the sun penetrates the darkness and ushers in the dawn, and the light of consciousness illuminates that which was unconscious. An active doing world takes over from the beingness of the passive, inactive symbiotic relationship.
In terms of brain structures discussed above, the father represents the left brain processes, while the uroborotic relationship with the mother is representative of the right brain functioning.
Since Father’s presence serves as a boundary that enforces taboos on the symbiotic and incestuous mother-child relationship, therefore all boundaries, virtues of morality and ethics, are associated with the father. The father’s obligation to protect and provide for the family are absorbed by the psyche and hence duty, responsibility and autonomy are associated with the father. Whereas the feminine/mother represents the beginnings, and the process of birthing, unity and unifying, loving, forgiving, eros, nurturing and regenerative aspect of existence, the masculine represents law, order, justice, religion, god, consciousness, discipline, political and social authority, war, strife, death and destruction, and all endings and terminations. A healthy balance of the mother and the father, and their representations, is needed to maintain the continuity of life. All aspects turn negative when this balance is lost.
We usually introject the feminine aspects of our existence through our relationship with the mothers, and the masculine aspects of our personality through our relationship with our fathers. However, in unnatural circumstances, both the feminine and the masculine aspects may be provided by a single caregiver. To delve deeper into the personal subjective psyche, the following section explores the psychoanalytic approach towards the role of the father thru the lens of Jacques Lacan and Andre Green. But again, as we are moving into the deeper realms of the psyche, I ask you to ponder on the question – If the relationship with the father engenders these associations as we just discussed – how would the person be affected by the lack of a proper fathering-container ? What would his personality and character look like?
Section IV : Psychoanalytical Approach
Lacan contends that during the first few years of its life, the child desires the mom, and the mom desires the child. The child devotes itself to trying to understand what it is that the mother desires of him, and tries to make itself a fully satisfying love-object for the mother. At around the fifth or sixth birthday the father intervenes and thwarts this Oedipal aspiration. This situation is frightening because the child’s fantasy is nothing but what he is supposed to think at the command of the mother and he sincerely believes that the mother wants to remain fused with him and will retailiate if he turns towards the father.
The father gives himself as a compensation, as another being to love and being loved, thus creating a template for the child’s later compensatory relationships. The interposition of the body between the mother and the child, by offering his own person as a compensation for the loss of another, by tolerating the aggression that such act exacts from the child, by allowing himself to be hated because he has disallowed for something to be continued indefinitely creates necessary points of reference for establishment of a conflictual situation. Thus the father introduces the idea of negation. A violent rejection of this intervening third occurs with a fierce desire to maintain earlier situation, to keep the fusional relationship going, because in the child’s mind, the mother desires him as much as he desires the mother, is afraid that the mother may retaliate if the child abandons the mother by accepting the father. He forces himself to admit that outside the mother no relationship can be helpful if openly manifested.
This renunciation of the aspiration to be everything for the mother is called castration. It is not any physical event or its threat – as it felt for Freud – but a symbolic function to which children are normally submitted.
Even though the child’s acceptance of its castration marks the resolution of the Oedipal complex, the Oedipal child tries to remain committed to the mother. It accordingly perceives the father as a rival and threat to its dearest aspirations – a “struggle to the death for pure recognition”. In this struggle the child invariably loses, but the child’s adult life will depend on whether this loss constitutes a violent humiliation for the child or whether its resolution involves the founding of a pact between the parties, bound by the solemnification of mutually recognised Law.
The castration complex normalizes the child ensuing a relationship with the father if the child can perceive that what satisfies or orders the desire of the mother is not any physical attributes of the father, but that the desire of the mother is itself tamed by a Law that exceeds both of them. This law is what Lacan famously dubs the Name of the Father, father’s verbalization of the incest taboo – NO!
Father thus stands for the prohibition, and protection, and the child’s ability to accept boundaries. The later relationship between male and females is built on a prohibition and boundaries which is the Lacanian law. If this law, which represents the symbolic, is removed from the scene, all symbolic meaning collapses. Nothing means anything at all, including language. Let us explore how that may be so.
Rewards of Prohibition : Language, Thoughts, Moral Consciousness, Society and Culture
In Michaelgelo’s creation of Adam we see man and God lying facing each other, both pointing their index fingers at one another. A very small but visible space separates both fingers. This space is of extreme importance, forbidding any fusion between god and man, and compelling us to think of discontinuities between the deity and humanity, but also between people – especially our fathers.
Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (1995) envisioned the role of the father as being the witness to the relationship between the mother and the child, fostering in the child the capacity to reflect on his position in the relationship.
Hence the desire for the mother is an essence of all wanting, and all sacrifice, of language, thoughts, culture and civilization. This wanting is kept at bay thru the prohibition brought about by the father. Moral consciousness and ethical codes are facilitated thru our symbolic relationship with the father. The symbolic father intervenes as the delegate and spokesperson of a body of social Law and convention that is also recognized by the mother, as being decisive. Although the child accedes to the impossibility of directly satisfying its incestous wish, but knows that when the time comes – and if it plays by the rules – it can at least have a satisfying substitute for its first lost love-object. Lacanian desire is structured as a metonymy. In metonymy, one designates a whole object (for example, a car) by naming one part of it (for example: “a set of wheels”). Lacan argues that since castration denies us full access to our first love object, our choice of subsequent love objects is the choice of a series of objects that each resemble in part the lost object, the mother. Perhaps they have the same hair, or look at him/her the same way the mother did.
The father’s law forbids identification with the mother and promotes identification with the object of the mother’s desire. A chain of identifications with the objects of others’ desires begins when the child becomes rational. Hence a rational culture is built on and through the Name of the Father. The father’s law is thus law of the culture.
Thru prohibition, the child’s ideal ego is transformed to a symbolic identification with an “ego ideal” – something within that cannot be seen, touched, devoured, or mastered: namely, the words, norms and directives of its given cultural collective. Just as we desire through the Other, for this reason Lacanian theory also maintains that belief is always belief through an Other. (For example, in the Christian religion, priests would be the designated Others supposed to know the meaning of the Christian mystery vouchsafing believers’ faith.)
So again, in light of the insights into the role of the father, the underlying question remains – what is the consequence of the dead (unavailable) father? What kind of symptoms do our clients exhibit and what can we do to provide a developmental corrective?
Section V – Treatment Issues
“The symptom arises where the world failed, where the circuit of symbolic communication was broken: it is a kind of “prolongation of communication by other means’”
The symptom bears upon the subject’s past relations to others and can be dissolved by an interpretation because it is formed for this reason – it is formed so that it may be interpreted. The symptom wants to be known. It is addressed to anOther who is supposed to know its truth, as an appeal to him to deliver its hidden message. The meaning of transference is this supposition that there is an Other supposed to know the truth of my communicative acts. Transference thus is the condition that creates possibility of meaning. In therapy the unformed, failed, repressed word-symbol articulates itself in a coded, ciphered form.
In a symptom, an unconscious desire seeks to make itself manifest. The symptom is either told, or repeated in the session. An interpretation by the analyst recognizes or symbolizes the force of the desire that works thru the symptom, and the symptom disappears. The recognition of a desire at the same time satisfies the desire. The unconscious desire given voice in the symptom is simply a desire for recognition.
The Dead Father
It is the symbolic that structures our experience and language. Everything gets to have a meaning beyond the concrete. The child is inserted into the ‘symbolic order’ through an Oedipal crisis, facilitated by the father, with the symbolic rules being represented as the ‘Name of the Father’ or ‘Law of the Father’. In this pattern, the father may have no relation whatever to the physical fact of any individual father. He may well be involved, but the principle is that the child gets introduced, through language, to cultural codes. This phase breaks the early relationship with the mother as language and social codes take over as the major source of meaning for the child. And just as a religion denies consideration of things outside its belief system, so language excludes thoughts which are not named. Hence Lacan’s belief that language even structures the unconscious, or that the psyche is structured in the image of language. If the child doesn’t obey the father’s law, the child cannot move forward developmentally, cannot distinguish itself from the others; in the absence of the rules imposed by the symbolic, the language does not develop any meaningful constructs, hence thoughts can not cohere. The process leads of psychosis. To learn a language is to learn a set of rules or laws for the use and combination of words. There is a lasting link between the capacity of subjects to perceive the world as a set of discrete identifiable objects, and their acceptance of the unconditional authority of a body of convention.
The dead father does not necessarily mean that the father is dead, but that the father is symbolically dead. Such a father is unavailable to the psyche – dead because he is unable to fulfil the role that the psyche demands of him.
We already discussed the areas that are affected by the absence of the father so I will only briefly recount these. The dead father creates a hole in the psyche and the child’s inner core may become devoid of all the qualities the qualities associated with the masculine. The unconscious is well aware of this deficit, and gravitates the child towards an ideal image, or symbol, to overcomes this deficit in an effort to transform the ideal ego into an ego ideal.
Language and thoughts are not developed as well, and the ability to articulate and verbalize is underdeveloped. Hence cognition is underdeveloped as well. Since the father stands for the spirit, such people will be weighed down by the earthiness of the mother. They lack in the active, doing aspect, lack of drive, ambition, inspiration, creativity, knowledge, self and other consciousness.
A powerful external object – religion, god, ideology, politics, education, gang, cult or an authority figure – may be used to provide a surrogate paternal symbol whom the person will idealize like a child idealizes the father at a certain stage of life. Such idealization has a developmental goal of building internal psychological structures that enable virtues.
Since the father enables the child to maintain boundaries, a fatherless person would also lack the abilities to either set boundaries or to adhere to most boundaries – be it personal boundaries, or boundaries with anger, hostility, ethics, morality and the like. The submission to the desire of the desired has not been achieved, hence in such an adult we see a reluctance to submit to the law, order, societal norms and conventions. As a consequence, the concepts of loyalty, commitment and responsibilities may be affected. Symbols of death, destruction that are associated with the masculine, may become over-compensated for, causing aggression, hostility, narcissism and even psychosis in some cases.
Association with god or authority figures also becomes another way of filling this perceived deficit, and a sense of morality, duty, ethics can be created thru this intervention. The extreme humility and compassion of a religious and/or spiritual person is as much a compensatory behavior as the extreme hostility and aggression of a gang member. At both these extremes are fatherless children attempting to find in the external environment a role model who they can emulate, and who will help them assimilate internal structures that would have been enabled by the father.
Where father is ineffective, the child does have a core, but the core usually takes up a position that is in opposition to every paternal symbolic association. Such a person may project his derision for his father on god, or political entities, authority figures, idealogies, etc.
Lacan argues that desire is structured as a metonymy. In metonymy, one designates a whole object (for example, a car) by naming one part of it (for example: “a set of wheels”). So what Lacan says is that when a girl or a woman desires in later life, her choice unconsciously is the choice of a series of objects that each resemble in part the lost object (perhaps they have the same hair, or look at him/her the same way the mother did …).
If the father is missing, there is no symbol – in language or thought, that can verbalize the metonymy. An idealized image of a partner derived from the media may be used instead, which leaves her vulnerable to an ideal ego rather than an ego ideal.
Girls with an ineffective father may be pushed into early parentification, and learn to mother such fathers, rendering their own psyche vulnerable to being exploited. This may may cause disconnection with sex, and with their own sexuality. A deep rooted melancholic depressive isolation may set in as they become the metaphorical surrogate mothers.
If the mother is nurturing and available, the ineffective father may create an internal denigration of the paternal symbol, and push daughters towards an early onset of menarche, leading to early sexual relationships, and in some cases, promiscuity.
Unlike daughters, boys acquire their identity from their fathers. They experience themselves as being “different” from their mothers, and “same” as their fathers. A weak father poses a threat to the masculine identity of the male offspring who will inherit his mother’s identity and personality, no matter how unstable and irrational that may be, because there appears to be no evolutionary or survival oriented advantage from emulating a weak father.
Their psycho-sexual development may be compromised if they remain cathected to their mothers thru adolescence. The only way they can remain connected and escape the unconscious sexual aggression of their mothers is by sacrificing their masculinity. In cases where relationship with mother is also compromised, they – like fatherless daughters – do not have a template for their own masculinity, not do they have a template for relating with the contrasexual parent. Relationship problems, lack of connection with men and women may bring such people into therapy. An ideal may arise to fill this gap, and life may be lived by cognitively understood ego-ideals and goals. The fullness of life is never experienced, nor explored.
These above, are thus symptoms of a deeper malaise eventhough many times they are mistaken for causes themselves and treated.
Treatment Implications : The Analytical Frame
Although the therapist may interpret in the here and now, but he and patient returns to a remote and lost time where the therapist as father can listen and be heard. The analytical frame, or the setting, represents the father. Verbalising interpretations is equivalent to introducing the father into the material, literal references to father are not necessary, the analytical frame itself is experienced as symbolic system that stands for the father because the analyst introduces differentiation, ad separations into a psychic territory that was previously experienced as being chaotic and undifferentiated. Thus the therapist is creating a paternal function and breaking the symbiotic fusion with the mother.
Since it is law that produces the unlawful, since it is repression that forms the unconscious, it follows that for a symbolic order to exist, there must be fantasies supporting it. When these fantasies are explored in therapy to fully appreciate the symbolic and the law, when the law is experienced and understood, the ability to symbolize, to create abstractions increases, and with it the language begins to evolve, and change because words themselves are symbols. With the ability use word symbols, comes the ability to think rationally. Turning from mother thus points to a victory of intellectuality over sensuality, which is an advance in civilization. This “omnipotence of thoughts,” linked to speech, and is a precursor of Kohlberg moral development.
The relationship with father, his presence, is felt more like a return of the repressed, a reaction carrying the forbidden wish to get rid of him as an obstacle. All symbolism linked with his power – the fear, respect, love and awe is linked to the distance that exists between a child and the father. Distance is necessary to worship him. He is the keeper of the sacred order. Father figure is more subject to unconscious fantasy than the mother is. Father’s are not pals. Even playing games with children emphasizes rules, and the necessity to adhere to rules.
What about fathers that have a closer relationship to the child’s body? They becomes doubles of the mother rather than provide what is expected of them as a father.