Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Monkey love and hate

Harlow's cloth and wire "mothers"

“Primates love early, or they probably hate forever.”  I discussed this quote, attributed to Harry Harlow,* with a client as we scoured the complexity and peculiarity of human feeling.  A rhesus monkey may “hate” forever because of maternal deprivation – something Harlow was Mengelean about producing in his lab – but it does not declare an oath or philosophy of hatred.  It does not determine this is who it is.  It does not get up in the morning with a detailed projective defense that sees the cause of all ills in others.  It has feelings whose direct substrate is the physical changes caused by emotional and sensual starvation.  At this level of physiological feeling, can it be called hatred?  Pain can be “interpreted” by brain and experience in any number of ways.  An infant in distress may beg or cry or rage; she will tantrum – direct outward – or condemn herself in head banging.  Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation”** children are despondent at mother’s leaving, but turn their back when she returns.  “Do haters hate or do they love?” is, I think, a valid question: A bond that feels too late to mend seems to be the cause, the meaning, of this emotion.

This was an important discussion with my homicidal client.  Wouldn’t it be both poignant and dangerous to have him or any sociopath realize he was the fire of need – that is, of love – but is now a mummy wrapped in burn scars?  As need never dies – it’s an eternal flame – he is always dangerously able to hug in bleeding hope or to kill in stanched despair.  Or, because his is a human dilemma not a monkey’s, he may own both in a compromise as blinding and petrified as Medusa and her victim.  But these are valid questions: Which way will the scale tip?  Will therapy be a good polluter of things?

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* This quotation used to be more populous on the Internet, but now I only see a third-party reference.

** Mary Ainsworth’s “strange situation” -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_situation.  Link includes a decent discussion of forms of mother-child attachment.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.