In my last post I attempted to enrich PTB posts that aid our understanding of living healthily in the present by outlining the importance of understanding what ‘infantile sexuality’ is, and its role in development. The stress was on present-living’s requirement of remembering in order not to repeat; awareness of, and then thinking both about, how our past has shaped us and influences our future decisions and actions. Below I sketch how love and aggression plays a role in interrupting ‘infantile sexuality’.
During infantile helplessness, ‘infantile sexuality’ and thereby sexual and even subjective identity, is interrupted by receiving too much love or, not enough; or, by being on the receiving end of psychological or physical aggression and neglect. Knowing as much as possible about how we were treated in these matters matters. I again ignore the role of temperament, physiology and genetics while respecting the large role they also play in development.
1) Too Much Love
Your mother ideally related to you as a child, not as an object of erotic desire nor as an object of her physiological need, but to another person. For example, consider her ‘need’ to empty her painful, milk-swollen-breast vs her wish to nurture you. How she held, touched, perceived and interacted with you during your helplessness was reflected in how she was ‘holding’ you versus taking care of her own needs.
At this same time you were coming to terms with your monosexuality; a severe wound requiring forgoing the attraction to both possess the same-sexed parent and be the opposite-sexed one. Your ability to have let go of the need to be and have both was influenced by your mother’s own differentiation, and later your father’s handling, and led to your integration or painful non integration of sexual identity. To be just one sex was a scandalous affront to your infantile megalomania and coming to terms with homosexual and heterosexual dimensions of your developing mature sexuality. If excessively doted upon there were significant consequences for you such as developing a belief you were a god, or conversely a lowly worm. Your fate was shaped in part by how much you were being a mother to your mother’s needs, or whether you had a father to bend the relationship between you and your mother toward autonomy and healthy separation.
2) Not Enough Love
As you grew you had to mourn, forced by reality to relinquish the desire to possess what is other. You had to come to grips with awareness of others’ sexuality and how your own was transforming areas and functions of your body into erotogenic zones. Conflict around messages of erotic stimulation from your mother’s sexual breasts inseparable from self-preservation, had to be translated as your own sexuality developed. The mourning of your being omnipotent, bisexual and immortal, love indistinguishable from hate was hidden in deep unconscious recesses of your mind. These sexual, love / hate feelings, lost, stored and mourned are the source of much psychosomatic and personality pathology for many of us, aggravated greatly if we were neglected.
At six months, lacking physical co-ordination you were now able to recognize yourself in a mirror. You saw your image contrasting with your body’s lack of co-ordination which was perceived as fragmented. You would have experienced this contrast as a rivalry with and loss of the wholeness that further threatened you with a sense of fragmentation. This gave rise to tension between your developing self and your image; a conflict between your appearance and emotional experience and the difficulty of integrating it into mature self and other love. If you look in a mirror perhaps you’ll see remnants of it; a depressive mourning accompanying initial jubilation leading to deep feelings of inadequacy, basic fault or never having enough.
3) Too Much Aggression
Infantile sexuality was traumatic at birth. You were thrown into an aggressive clash between your primitive drives and external forces that constrained you in your relationship with your mother. You would have great difficulty allowing your mother to hate, or know yet your own hatred.
For your mother to negotiate this process she would have to be aware of and accept not only her love but also her hatred for you. She must have known you are not her own conception; not magically produced; like a growth inside, you were a danger to her body in pregnancy and birth interfering with her private life and challenging her preoccupations. To the degree she felt her own mother demanded a baby you might feel like a placation. You hurt her nipples by biting and sucking, treating her as scum, an unpaid servant, a slave, whose shit and excretions and refusal to feed she had to love until you developed self-doubts. You would have shown disillusionment and the need to dominate her and she would have needed to pay continuous and detailed attention to you, not being anxious ‘holding’ you, while you didn’t know what she did or sacrificed. You would have excited but frustrated, been suspicious, refusing and vomiting. If she failed, you might be caught up in paying her out forever. She and your father must have reconciled the pursuit of excitation and the pursuit of pleasure to aid your development as they managed their own inevitable murderous and sexual impulses, “all the better to eat you with.”
Because of your mother’s concerns about her own changed and changing body she may have readily transmitted to you a body image that was fragile, alienated, devoid of eroticism or even mutilated. You would have felt she had rights over your body and visa versa while your sexual identity required your freedom to internalize the identity of both parents. Father’s complicity in leaving you in the hands of an engulfing mother could have led to your experiencing a nameless dread.
In a following article I will outline the importance of ‘infantile sexuality’ being managed and transcended to transform into ‘mature sexuality’ and healthy development.
Clark Falconer, M.D., is the author of the acclaimed, Three Word Truth about Love and Being Well, and has recently released his best selling, first work of fiction, the psychological thriller: Stepping on Little Ants, The Cumulative Effect.