Talk:Helplessness

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The state of helplessness is linked to the infant's initial powerlessness in the face of its needs.

This causes distress, as the protective shield is overwhelmed; only the intervention of another person can relieve this suffering.

The neurophysiological model of Sigmund Freud's "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c [1895]) posits the baby's original helplessness as the prototype of all traumatic situations.

Helplessness and satisfaction structure the two modes of mental functioning.

In the primary mode, the desired object and desired satisfaction are hallucinated immediately through recathexis of the memory traces left by the real experience.

In the secondary mode, a lasting discharge forms the basis for the relationship to the real object, lost and rediscovered thanks to "indications of reality," and invested with the meaning "mutual understanding."

Helplessness and the theory of anxiety are closely linked.

The helpless baby, powerless to fulfill its needs and without any adequate means of discharging internal excitation, experiences "automatic anxiety."

Anticipation of helplessness triggers "signal anxiety," the ego's appeal to the ego (1926d [1925]).

In a state of helplessness owing to its prematurity, the preverbal human infant cries, experiences and recognizes its powerlessness, and urgently alerts the succoring object.

The ability to apprehend its helplessness depends on the protective shield against stimuli, whose action is thus the basis of relationships, the precondition of effective communication.

For Melanie Klein (1952/1975), the distress associated with the death instinct, a source of tremendous persecution, precipitates projection.

This is the foundation of what she calls the schizoid-paranoid position.

When a human being is reduced to a state of helplessness, subjected to a primal kind of passivity by the impositions of others, he or she may seek to regain mastery through repetition of the experience.

For Kreisler et al. (1966), too much distress of this kind may cause psychosomatic disorders; for Tustin (1972), the result may be recourse to autistic defenses.

The term 'helplessness' (French: détresse; German: Hilflosigkeit) is used in psychoanalysis to denote the state of the newborn infant who is incapable of carrying out the specific actions required to satisfy its own needs, and so is completely dependent on other people (especially the mother).


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The helplessness of the human infant is grounded in its 'prematurity' of birth, a fact which was pointed out by Freud and which Lacan takes up in his early writings.

Compared to other animals such as apes, the human infant is relatively unformed when it is born, especially with respect to motor coordination.

This means that it is more dependent than other animals, and for a longer time, on its parents.


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Lacan follows Freud in highlighting the importance of the initial dependence of the human infant on the mother.

Lacan's originality lies in the way he draws attention to "the fact that this dependence is maintained by a world of language.[1]

The mother interprets the infant's cries as hunger, tiredness, loneliness, etc. and retroactively determines their meaning (see [[punctuation).

The child's helplessness contrasts with the omnipotence of the mother, who can decide whether or not to satisfy the child's needs.[2]

(The recognition of this contrast engenders a depressive effect in the child.[3])

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Lacan also uses the concept of helplessness to illustrate the sense of abandonment and subjective destitution that the analysand feels at the end of analysis.

"At the end of a training analysis the subject should reach and know the domain and level of the experience of absolute disarray."[4]

The end of analysis is not conceived of by Lacan as the realization of some blissful plenitude, but quite the contrary, as a moment when the subject comes to terms with his utter solitude.

However, whereas the infant can rely on its mother's help, the analysand at the end of analysis "can expect help from no one."[5]

If this seems to present a particularly ascetic view of psychoanalytic treatment, this is exactly how Lacan wishes it to be seen; psychoanalysis is, in Lacan's words, a "long subjective acesis."[6]


See Also

References

  1. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.309
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.69, 185
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.186
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.304
  5. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-60. Trans. Dennis Porter. London: Routledge, 1992. p.304
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.105
  1. Freud, Sigmund. (1925). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 87-172.
  2. ——. (1950c [1895]). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.