Despite the enormous criticism toward Freud on the idea that sexuality is at the bottom of all the mental and personality disorders, the truth is that errors or the interruption of the normal sexual development are indeed the cause of some of the personality disorders such as Narcissism. In this group of personality disorders Freud also included Oedipus effect, and Homosexuality. In fact homosexuality was the very first reason that encouraged Freud to study human personality. The truth is that Freud was not too far from the truth, yet not everything could be explained as the cause of the interruption in the normal development of the sexuality. As Jung posited in his theory of personality, there are other factors that need to be taken in consideration, and all these factors are intertwined together. But let’s take one step at a time. Why did Freud think that sexuality had anything to do with personality development especially when we are talking about infant that has no clue what sex or sexual pleasure is. How can Freud mention such thing that seems so absurd and so far beyond our normal understanding of how things run in life? Was he right about the link between sexuality and infant? From my understanding, Freud was right and let me explain this in the following.
When an infant feels hungry and cries because needs to be fed, then it is normal to assume that this infant’s mind is only focused on the need to survive. Therefore, the very first person who would provide food for the infant is also providing means for the continuance of his/her existence. This person, mother, father, sister, or any other caregiver would now become an object of attachment for that infant. Hence, the mother or the father or any other care giver not only will satisfy infant’s physiological needs by providing food, the very basic need in the hierarchy of needs according to Maslow, but the caregiver will also satisfy infant’s psychological need of being loved and the need for attachment, also known as basic needs for humans. However, there is nothing sexual in this attachment. The only thing that is being developed at this stage of individual’s development is the bond between the infant and the caregiver that will become an ideal image for this individual in the future.
The question is, why would such attachment of an infant with the caregiver figure become so strong that sometimes can overcome all other new attachment that this individual will form in life. The truth is that such attachment can overcome all other new attachments only if the individual is prevented from experiencing a normal sexual development or somehow this development was interrupted. Even if it seems a bit strange as how an infant can create a bond with the caregiver that provides such pleasure that can even overcome sex pleasures later in life, that is not so far fetch. Imagine the satisfaction one feels when eating after a period of starving, or drinking water after a long period of feeling thirsty. How strong is that pleasure? Infant indeed knows nothing about sexual pleasure, but infant experiences the very first physical pleasure while drinking the milk, the pleasure of surviving. Hence, if such pleasure was very often denied to an infant, then the moments the infant is fed those moments become the most memorable and the most important moments of his human existence, and that person providing them becomes the most important person. As such this infant creates a strong bond with the caregiver. It is the same need, the need to survive and the pleasure of given the opportunity to survive that makes the bond between the victim and his/her abuser one of the strangest, sinister, yet strongest attachments ever known, making it impossible for the victim to escape such abuse.
When the individual is provided with a safe environment in which he or she grows up without experiencing any trauma or interruption in the stages of personality development, then the pleasure from being fed and being taken care of will soon be substituted by other pleasures such as satisfying the curiosity about nature and other aspects of life in general, depending on individual’s talents. Pleasure will also derive from physical activities, and playing with friends that can stimulate either intellectual curiosity and/or physical pleasure. Later on in life pleasure from sexual activities as a normal part of human life is also something that will indeed overcome all other physical and intellectual pleasures. Yet, if the individual is prevented from experiencing such pleasure, even though that is a normal part of human life and human functioning, then we must expect all sorts of mental and personality disorders to start developing in a certain individual as result of this. It is therefore natural and a necessity for a child that at some point to want to break those ties that he or she formed earlier in the infancy with the mother or the father that took care of this child. As the attachment between the infant and the mother or the father breaks, new attachment must form, in form of friendships, and later on as love relationships. However, if the individual for some reasons that need to be explained further, perhaps in another post, is deprived of other pleasures in life, and the normal break from such ties is prevented or experienced as a traumatized event, then you can imagine now how the first attachment formed earlier in life becomes very important for this individual. As Freud pointed out, the individual will idealize the image of the mother or the father, by turning them into love objects.
If an individual’s sexual development was anomalous, for certain reasons that Freud discussed, and let’s not forget the archetypes that Jung added into the pot, then the individual will find the best ways to cope with his or her reality, which may very well lead to Oedipus phenomenon or homosexuality when the object that individual idealized during infancy was of the same gender. But, what Freud’s theory could not explain was the fact that sometimes the love object may also be someone who is not even present in individual’s life, yet the image of this missing figure (mother figure, or father figure, or sister and brother figure) becomes the very important role model, an attachment bond that can even turn into a love object for the child in the future. How is that possible? It is not so hard to explain this, indeed. Let suppose the father figure is missing from a little boy’s life. Then the first love object (not sexually) would be his mother. The mother is providing food, therefore she provides the means of surviving for the boy; she provides physical satisfaction, but NOT sexual satisfaction. This bond is not sexual in any form, not yet. The mother is also the first person who satisfies the psychological needs of being loved that this little boy, like every other human beings, needs the most in life. However, as the boy grows up the attachment between the mother and the boy must naturally break in order to experience new attachments, and other physical satisfactions in life, but in some cases breaking this attachment becomes harder especially when mothers treat their boy with too much affection that would smother him. In such cases the attachment becomes hard to break and as a result a conflict between the mother and the son must develop in order to allow this separation to occur. If this conflict or separation becomes too traumatic, in the process, then the young boy (or the girl depending on the situation) will create some sort of fantasies in his mind about that missing father figure, a male figure, by imagining that things would have been better if such person would have been present in his life. It is during these times of crises that archetypes are supposed to jump in to help the human individual to make the right choices by inducing the right script for the little boy or girl, to prevent any further trauma or any further inappropriate fantasies in such particular situations. However, some of these archetypes seem to have been missing the point and therefore messing up with people’s lives, lots of times. As such, if the boy’s fantasies of a non-existent male figure will be allowed to go beyond the normal son-father relationship, just because the boy will naturally seek more and more pleasure by this fictional relationship in order to overcome the pain he is experiencing from the detachment with his mother, the very first love object, then it is not hard to imagine now that abnormal love relationships for the wrong gender or family member will develop as a form of survival, preventing the boy from experiencing a mental break down. Nevertheless, such situation is an extreme case where breaking bonds with the first love object becomes traumatic, and will not occur if the child will experience a normal life otherwise, or the child becomes an adult that will experience other pleasures in life. In such cases this adult does not need the love attachment to bring the maximum pleasure anymore, because pleasure and satisfaction are experienced in other forms.
As we can clearly see, all comes down to the fact that an interruption during the normal stages of personality development in the early stages of life and/or traumas during the normal sexual development of a child will inevitably lead to mental or personality disorders. Yet, when individual’s life is full of other positive experiences these traumas will be easily overcome, the sooner the better. I can mention my case, just for illustration of the first attachment I created in my life. Obviously, that first attachment should have been my mother or my father, but after birth and the trauma I experienced during birth, I remained hospitalized for a month and I rarely saw my mother during that time, only at certain feeding times. Obviously I may have been confused about such bond. Was it with the nurse or with my mother? As such, I could have developed a bond with my father, but my parents were constantly arguing with one another and as such I distanced myself from both of them. Then around the age of three and four my brother came along, and I created the strongest bond with my brother as if I had the duty to protect him from any harm. Then my brother died at the age of one, and I was now left with the fantasies of a missing brother who I loved so much and protected him from a mother and a father that were so selfish and did not took care of us. For years I imagined as if my brother did not die, and people made a mistake. I imagined he was asleep and other people in the village nearby found him and rescued him. And so, it was now my duty to find him and love him and buy him toys to play with and tell him that I will be his mother and his father. But, I was forgetting that as I was growing, he would have been growing too. I kept imagining him always as a little boy, like the Peter pan sort of, until one day I realized that if I was 20 or something years old at that time and if my fantasy was really true, that my brother really was alive, then he must be a grown up boy. That ruined all the fun because I could not imagine what would I do when I meet a grown up brother. I could not buy him toys anymore. I could not be his protector anymore. As such, I left all these fantasies behind and when my son was born, I started to believe that maybe my son is the reincarnation of my brother and I felt the need to protect my son from any harm. Soon I realized that even though my son needed me, yet protection is not what I needed to offer him, but rather guidance is what he needs. And that’s how I broke the ties with my old, old attachment bond of a non-existing love object.
A typical case of Oedipus effect can be the love story that I heard in the news lately, between a mother and the son. These two were separated from the moment that the boy was born, and as such the separation trauma must have played a role in the love feelings and sexual desires that later on flared up when they meet again as two adults. The boy, now a grown up, started living in the house with his mom and her other children. It is natural for sexual desires, which are proper for that age, to develop as a need to overcome the previous trauma from their earlier separation. The stronger the feelings of connections between these two the better it makes them feel as it heals the trauma of separation faster that way. Nevertheless, if these two would have meet as adults, and were both successfully living their lives as adults and started a love relationship without being aware of who they were and not knowing anything about their previous bonds, then it would be quite normal to accept that this love relationship developed as naturally as any other type of love relationships that has nothing to do with mental or personality disorders. This is the reason why Athena forgave Oedipus, because his love for his mother did not come as a need to take the father’s place, as many wrong assumed. If you read this ancient story more carefully, Oedipus was not aware of such relationships. Hence Freud should have been more careful when he choose these labels for the Narcissistic and Oedipus mental disorders. I intend to discuss this matter further in another post, soon.
However, nothing so far explains narcissism, the love for oneself. How can a human being that is so dependent and so much in need of others’ love to fall in love with oneself? Oneself is not someone else therefore is absurd to think that this attachment with oneself will satisfy the individual’s need in any way. So how is that possible? Indeed, narcissism is developed not as a need for attachment with one love object (outside oneself), but in contrary. Narcissism is developed as a need to hide the incapacity of attachment. Such individuals have a tremendous fear of attachment with other love objects for the simple reason that these individuals are unable to reach climax during sex. As such, the narcissistic personality will be the only escape for this individual to keep others at a distance so that others will not discover the real person, the person that thinks that his incapability to climax during sex is a flaw that that flaw needs to be hidden from others at any cost, in order to avoid criticism. Narcissism develops as a need to oppose the self-criticism in regards to this incapability to climax, without realizing that such abnormality was not the individual’s fault, but it was as a result of the trauma during the stages of personality development during the infancy. Stay tuned for final part of this essay where I will discuss the self-evaluation process and the role of archetypes in this self-evaluation process, where errors can be induced or prevented.