Psychosocial, Qu’est-ce que c’est

Yes, a reference to a Talking Heads song. I’m just that good.

I figured that rather than blather on about the state of my life, I’d try to give more of an update on the kinds of things I’m reading about and learning, both in and out of my academic setting. In my human behavior class, we’ve been in a psychoanalytical set of topics for the past few weeks. We started out with the basics of Freud’s theory, talking about things like the id, ego, and superego, and their effects of the conscious and subconscious mind, and then moved on to ego psychology – a more in-depth theory studying the id/ego/superego division with Freud’s successors, including his daughter. And this past week we were talking about something called object relations theory – how we learn to distinguish other people from ourselves and create our own distinct identities separate from others.

I found the object relations theory interesting – well, I find them all interesting – but this one was basically new to me; I’ve had some minimal learning in the Freudian and ego psychology theories before, so I was familiar with the basics, but this one was new to me. One of the ideas I found most fascinating was the concept of the “good-enough mother”, an idea put forth by Donald Winnicott. Essentially, it is the concept of a mother who is attentive to her child’s needs, but has the occasional lapse – perhaps she doesn’t respond to her baby’s cries, or forgets to feed the child one or twice. The idea here is that these occasional lapses are not just good, but almost necessary for healthy mental development – it teaches, on a very basic level, that the child can trust a mother (or father), but that absolute, total reliance isn’t something they should be working towards – it essentially is a very basic way of teaching a child that however godlike a parents might seem to a baby, they are fallible, and can’t always be there. It’s the very beginning of teaching a child that the child and the parent(s) are distinct entities, that the parents aren’t just extensions of the child.

It goes on to other theorists who developed different parts of the theory, and the parts I found especially cool to think about were the stages of Separation-Individuation – 4 stages that occur between 5 months and 3 years. The first is Differentiation, which occurs from 5 months to around 1 year – during this time an infant learns to move around, first crawling, then walking, and this ability to move teaches the child, on a very instinctual level, that they can be separate from their parent, and go and do and explore things on their own. The parent should still supervise, ideally, but this stage is valuable in helping a child to develop their own identity. Next is Practicing, and this is the stage at which children start doing things beyond movement – and they start being able to acknowledge the praise they get from their parents, feeling like they are the best, the greatest, when every time they do something new they are told how amazing they are. This is apparently the stage at which something like narcissism can develop – the brain somehow doesn’t move past feeling like they are the best, the brightest, the center of the universe, and so continues to think this even after other children start entering their lives in school and other pursuits. The third stage is called Rapprochement (age 2-3), where the child’s mind struggles to deal with opposing needs – they want to be loved but given space, to cling to a parents but also move out and explore, and they fear both being totally engulfed but also being abandoned. This is the stage at which the first inklings of some personality disorders – like Borderline Personality Disorder, for example – can develop, with the brain having difficulty finding a middle ground between extremes, and thus defaulting towards wild swings of mood and thought. Finally, after age 3, we have object constancy, the stage which we hope to develop and constantly work towards in life – this is where we develop and stabilize our sense of self, distinct from others around us, and start to master the idea of self-soothing – being able to calm ourselves instead of relying on others, like parents, for responsibility of calming us.

Outside of class, I’ve been getting back into reading supplemental things, especially since the last month or so has seen not just a new book by Brene Brown, but also one by Jane McGonigal. That’s what I’m working through now, and it’s called Superbetter – not to be confused with the game and/or app of the same name. The book is about the research behind what makes the game an effective tool for assisting in recovery, and helping to form your own paths towards recovery. I’m only a couple chapters in – it’s dense material to digest, especially while also reading through a lot of material for class – but it’s really good stuff. The introduction is basically covered in one of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talks, which I’ll post here:

Not only can Superbetter, the game she developed for her own recovery, be helpful with the recovery from things like depression – I know, because I have found it helpful in my own work towards recovery – but it can also be helpful for just improving general quality of life. And the book goes into a lot of detail about research on other things games can help with – like the idea that games like Tetris or Candy Crush can help to prevent, or at least mitigate, some of the painful symptoms and flashback of PTSD. Apparently, research (covered in the book) proves that when painful or disturbing memories start to resurface, that playing a game like Tetris for as little as 3-5 minutes – something that is visually stimulating and requires near-total attention to the way the game works – can divert the mind from being stuck in a painful flashback or re-living. The study she notes covers only people dealing with the initial response to traumatic memories, so it’s not clear that something like playing Tetris or Candy Crush can be as useful to people who have been dealing with PTSD for years or decades, but just the idea that something as simple as playing a video game can help with something as serious as PTSD is encouraging. And that’s just one of a number of, frankly, amazing things I’ve learned from reading the part of the book I’ve gotten through  – like, did you know that holding your hands out, palms-up, for as little as 15 seconds can help you to be more open-minded, because of how we subconsciously interpret the gesture?

So there’s a lot going through my head that isn’t my own personal stuff, and I’m hopeful that it will be useful in both my personal life and in my academic endeavors.

So, what’s on your mind? Let me know if there’s some fun research (for certain values of fun) that you think I might find interesting to read through or discuss.I’m always looking to expand my knowledge base.


One comment on “Psychosocial, Qu’est-ce que c’est

  1. Alicia says:

    Really appreciated the useful information about young children. Thanks! Am seeing alot of that with my daughter right now… really clingy but wanting to do her own thing…hates the idea of waking up alone.

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