I will discuss the developmental process in terms of Kathy's case history, which may be found in BOL's Clinical Case Conference. I will not limit myself to topics of clinical importance. Neither will I attempt a detailed analysis of her case, since that is evidently impossible based on published information. My intention is merely to use the reported facts of Kathy's life alternately as points of focus and of departure in addressing developmental issues as they come to mind.
Oedipal conflicts. Freudian theory puts the emergence of oedipal strivings at about two years of age, or perhaps a bit earlier, and sees them as being important to issues of individuation and gender identification (On the Way to Self, by Johanna Krout Tabin). I agree with this viewpoint. I see a child's efforts to compete with the parent of the same sex for the other parent's attention and affection as placing healthy boundaries on a child's natural inclination to identify closely with the parent of the same sex. The child is thereby led to distance itself from that parent while learning about its own sexuality more concretely than the parent of the same sex could ever teach by example. The relevance of these observations is that Kathy was "daddy's little girl" right from the start and continued enjoying his attention for about the first seven years of her life.
The innocent victories that a child wrests from the parent of the same sex do not in themselves harm the parent, and therefore should not engender undue guilt or jealousy on the child's part or fears of parental retaliation, either. Unfortunately, because we are creatures who behave on the basis of past experience (i.e., past behaviors), many parents unconsciously compete in return with the same degree of possessiveness they did as a child. As a result, they compete vigorously and often unfairly with the child and retaliate with demeaning comments, withholding attention and interest in the child, and perhaps excessive punishments.
There is no necessity in any of this. A parent with sufficient introspective skills will understand that the child is acting naturally in ways that cause no real harm, and thus will refrain from acting automatically on the basis of behavioral tendencies derived from his or her own childhood.
Unfortunately for Kathy, neither of her parents was very introspective. Her mother saw Kathy as a bitter rival, and would have virtually nothing to do with her as a result. Her father welcomed his daughter with open arms and apparently feuded with her half-brother, Dan, from her mother's previous marriage. To make matters worse, Kathy's father used Kathy as a pawn in his conflicted relationship with his wife. He continually pointed to Kathy as a shining example of what she should be. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Dan--who was seven years older than Kathy--took it upon himself to defend his mother by needling Kathy.
Kathy's oedipal battle scars are not directly addressed in her case history. At the time of her therapy, Kathy was a mother of three--apparently two boys and a girl. Her positive experiences with her father would have made it easy for her to mother the boys, but what of the girl? The natural unconscious mode of operation would be for her to treat her daughter much as she was treated, but there is no evidence that Kathy did so. In fact, there is good reason to believe that she did not treat her daughter badly at all, even though the daughter looked like Kathy's own mother.
How could this be? It was Kathy's perception that her mother hated her. In therapy she remembered when she was five-years-old and didn't have many friends: "I wanted to be near mother, and she used to chase me outside into the cold yelling, 'Get out of here.' I remember her chasing me outside with a wooden spoon in her hand. Mother hated me."
A child reacts to apparently being hated in several ways. One is to try to win favor by identifying with and imitating the parent even more, and there is evidence of this on Kathy's part. Another reaction would be one of guilt, and here again there is evidence of this. The third reaction was one of "rage at mother for not loving or caring for me," Kathy said.
I believe that the third reaction was the most important in motivating Kathy to be a better mother than her own mother was. Kathy was extremely committed to being a good mother, and I believe that was one of the causes of the symptoms that led her to seek therapy. So my guess is that she kept any negative behavioral tendencies under control and treated her daughter quite well.
An interesting sidelight to this situation is that Kathy's mother in all probability did not actually hate her daughter. The oedipal conflict was one impediment to her expressing love for Kathy. Another was the fact that her own mother was harshly critical of her, which caused her to act much the same way toward her daughter. Kathy's mother probably puzzled over her own behavior and her inability to have warm feelings for her daughter, despite her love. Her behavior was transmitted to her small child as hatred, but probably was not real hate at all.
Kathy did mention being troubled by feelings of guilt over robbing her mother of her husband's attention. She indicated that she rationalized this situation by thinking that it was okay for her to occupy father's time because her mother received compensatory attention from Dan.
Whether this conscious rationalization worked to alleviate her of guilt at the unconscious level is an open question. If it did not, the reason could relate to another circumstance.
Kathy spoke with great joy of receiving much love from many people during the first two years of her life. This occurred when her family lived near a large ranch in Texas occupied by Kathy's maternal grandmother and other relatives. As the new baby in the family, Kathy was apparently the center of attention and a continual object of comment and praise. When Kathy and her family moved away due to the needs of her father's business, Kathy missed the larger family and lost the benefit of having many loving caretakers. It should be noted that her mother was also saddened by the separation from her large family.
The egotism of a young child could have led Kathy to see herself as being the cause of the move and consequently her mother's sadness. More about this later.
Career choice. I bring up the possibility because the happiness Kathy experienced as the center of attention was evidently an important orientating influence in her life. Time and again in later years, Kathy sought to be in the spotlight as the center of attention among her peers. These were times she looks back on with fondness and which she wishes to recapture in essence in the future. It would be easy to write off her aspirations in this regard as being merely a consequence of her past, but I would like to suggest another possibility.
There apparently is no such thing as bus driver genes or hair dresser genes or chief financial officer genes. Whatever predispositions our genes give us toward one career choice or another are evidently of a generalized nature. We are innately given a few of the puzzle pieces and sent on a quest to find the others from experience. I am suggesting that perhaps Kathy received an important puzzle piece during the first two years of her life. Subsequently she found she liked writing and as a result of encouragement she received from her therapist came to believe she was good at it. Another puzzle piece? During therapy she expressed an interest in drama. Another puzzle piece? After therapy, she demonstrated artistic talent. Another puzzle piece? Is she gathering up puzzle-piece experiences according to an unconscious plan that will one day lead her to recognize what is right for her as a dream career choice? One thing's for sure, and that's that Kathy wants to do something more with her life than being a mother.
Last time I talked about people pursuing life plans unconsciously because they feel it unsafe for them to commit themselves prematurely in terms of a conscious decision. I would like now to fill out that explanation a bit by saying that one of the reasons a conscious commitment may be considered premature is that the person hasn't sensed closure. There are still some pieces out there to be gathered in before the decision-making process can be taken to the conscious level.
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