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(An abstract of the report expounded from the Author during the 2nd Intensive Meeting of Psychoanalysis held in Fiuggi on the 25th November 2007)

(part 1)


A particular case, but quite common, of predisposition towards failure is that of the family which has made a particular, narcissistic investment on a child, usually the firstborn.
Peluffo has demonstrated in his works (and we psychoanalysts of his schooling have verified it during more than thirty years of clinical experience) that the gestated foetus is for the mother a substitute of the missing phallus: “Penis of the mother-Itself” Peluffo defines it, with an efficacy and synthetic neologism.
If the experience of the mother’s castration is particularly marked, its reactualisation during the pregnancy, will determine a bond towards the child, transitorily expelled, which is then re-introjected as her own phallus, determining a symbiotic bond to it, which will become the means of her own omnipotent phantasies.
The firstborn will be charged with absolutely irrational significances, becoming a sort of omnipotent Idol, who will out shadow the younger siblings, inexistent in the maternal psychism if not as trimmings to the narcissistic project built upon the eldest.
It is the classic example of the firstborn, assumed genius, and of the brothers as accessories.
Here is the exhaustive material of a patient:
I’ve spent all my life having to be different from my brother! I don’t play football because he used to. But I would have liked to! I would have given up living if I hadn’t come here! It’s very sad! I have already worked for them: now that’s enough! I had made myself an artificial brake so as not to exceed my brother! They placed all their bets on him: I couldn’t succeed. It was like building a sand castle! I would get to a certain point and then everything would collapse and I would have to start again from scratch!”.
After a long period of sittings, he adds: “I think that mum only had one son and he was me and my brother put together: I completed the parts that were missing in him. They trained me to give him what was missing! Together we would have made a strong child, but I didn’t exist!”.
And: “I thought that if I were all the things that my mother wanted in my brother but he didn’t have, she would have finally loved me”
In reality this man was so clutched to his mother in a sadomasochist relationship that his sentimental life was a collection of conquests and relinquishments.
He had had a notable feeling for a woman, only once, who he later abandoned. But he still desired her: the desire periodically intensified itself but strangely the prospect of having her back literally terrorised him. The fact is that, as a child, he knew that his parents were unfaithful to each other and for this reason he had unconsciously hated them with all himself.
Now, he could not betray his mother, as his father had done. The ferocious superegoic judgment formulated during his childhood, struck back at him, like a diabolic boomerang.
Another particular case of self-limitation is that of people who, coming from a modest social class (obviously in the word “modest” there is no negative meaning) they find themselves holding a higher social position thanks to their own merit and drive.
I’m referring to young professionals or men of culture who, maybe, in their childhood only used the dignified local dialect at home.
Very often, these people live notable difficulties of adaptation in the social approach of the new environment which they attend.
Obviously they lack nothing to fit into their new social status: what they suffer from is an experience of estrangement from the stock from which they derive and a vicissitude of deep loneliness: they are so different from their relatives that, sometimes, they feel a sense of accomplished betrayal.
The success implies one’s own individualisation, therefore one breaks away from the family stock.
I remain amazed when I hear phrases such as “… a 32 year old boy …” in television or even when I hear 50 year olds naively say: “I don’t know what my dad would think about this!
As we well know this is a mediterranean characteristic and an Italian super-specialisation! I long for a society in which the family is dissolved by law when the children reach their 25th birthday and whoever continues to use the words “dad” and “mum” are seriously sanctioned!
It is clear that I have nothing against the eventual affection which is establish between blood relatives, but we cannot keep quiet about the fact that ours is a society of eternal children where “it is always the father’s fault or that of his substitutes”, a society of eternal mollycoddles who spend their lives in the safeguard of the past.
Here is the the material collected in the psychoanalytic sessions of a 40 year old man with wife and children.
I’m ashamed of doing sod-all, but also of living. There is contradiction: it should be one or the other. At work the day never ends.
(What did you do today? I ask him)
Substantially nothing! I should do some tasks that have been assigned to me. But I can’t because I live in my own world. Because either I’m afraid or I’m ashamed. I’m afraid of drawing attention to myself. I can’t see myself in these protagonist’s clothes. That others have to do things because I tell them to. I have had this difficulty all my life: when it is necessary to do something I get the panics. At a certain point I lost contact with reality…”.
The difficulty of existing derives, obviously, from the childhood period, when the child is terrified of showing himself, in other words of showing his poor genital patrimony, compared to the powerful one of his father or his older brothers.
This person lacks nothing of which is required to appear well in the social life: brilliant intelligence, notable culture, communicative skills, and yet if he has to write a simple formal letter, he begins to have cold sweats and panics.
And here it is absolutely evident how human beings live in a phantasmatic way, defenceless and unaware puppets, pulled by strings that sink into the past of a continuous and unconscious present.
[During this sitting the patient drinks continuously, water that he has brought with him]
I drink all the time because I’m always frightened. [Of what?] of the reality! [What does the reality do to you?] Actually, nothing! The world doesn’t revolve around me! I put off 10.000 things that I should say or do until I abandon them. Because I feel afraid or I get stuck! There is also the aspect that I don’t want to do what my boss tells me.
[The safeguard of the Omnipotence]
The fear of being, of being present. Why must one be afraid of being? Because, if one exists, clearly time passes. Therefore, if one lives he must then die. On my tombstone they’ll write: “He did sod all, he was frozen in time. He never exchanged affection”.
So here we are, even establishing an affectionate and satisfying relationship is a success.
The pressures to establish a relationship, urged by the life drive conflict with the conservative-retrograde pressures charged by the death drive.
The conflict derives from this. The pressure towards the others, conflicts with the conation to the incestuous investment. Since, to complete the discussion of the penis of the mother-Itself, next to a mother who won’t let go, there is always a child-foetus who doesn’t want to be let go. There is a parallel flow of vicissitudes and strategies which meet in such a behaviour. The result is the stasis: Subjects who risk spending their whole existence without ever having lived a single moment in harmony with the world.
To sum up, the only thing remaining to speak about is the problem of money, the god of money, our modern golden calf.
I think it is evident to all how money, nowadays, has been charged with a significance (surely important) which surpasses that of the exchange merchandise to obtain goods and advantages. The fact is, that in the unconscious money doesn’t exist, it doesn’t have meaning. If you show a faded 500 euro banknote or a shining 2 euro coin to a child and you ask him to choose one of them, you can be sure that 9 times out of 10 the choice will be for the shining metal.
This is why credit cards have been invented: to make it even more difficult for people to perceive the entity of the cost. I have seen the same person smiling as he signed a cheque for a thousand euros but have cold sweats when counting tens of euro banknotes for a payment!
Our unconscious forms from the period of the intrauterine life to the latency period, then everything is repetition, more or less camouflaged.
If money has no meaning in the unconscious, it is obvious that it is charged with other meanings in the adult life. Freud, for example, demonstrated that a symbolic equivalence exists between money and faeces. But to understand the existing rapport between faeces and money which is present, for instance, in a manifest way in every compulsive neurosis, it is first necessary to understand the psychological significance of possession. The child learns to differentiate the Ego from the non-Ego and himself from the reality which surrounds him through a long and complicated process.
During the course of this development, the child through that, which Freud defined, the “purified-pleasure-Ego”. Everything that offers pleasure is perceived as if it were included in the Ego, whilst everything which causes pain is excluded from it.
The majority of serious drug-addicts are fixed to this stage of the development: from this point of view, they are psychotics because they have lost the reality principle.
The child builds his classification of what is Ego and of what is not Ego according to this idea: “Everything I like and that is nice I’d like to put into my mouth and swallow it. I spit out whatever I don’t like”.
It is thanks to this psychic process, during a most precise period of infancy, that we must keep a more attentive eye on our children: the objects that children would like to swallow are endless and their dimensions don’t count!
But soon the child understands that there are pleasing things that he can’t put into his mouth, so he takes possession of them saying “They’re mine!”, that is to say “I’d like to swallow them, but unfortunately I can’t. I declare them as if they were in my mouth”. In other words he incorporates them psychologically, he introjects them.
When a child realises that he loses his faeces, which he considers to be extremely precious things, firstly because they seem to be a part of his body and secondly because mummy and daddy want them, so they must be important!, he feels: “This is something that should stay in my body. Now they are out and I can’t put them back inside!”. So he calls them “mine”, in other words he mentally puts them back, he psychically makes them his own. It is for this reason that “potty training” is so long and difficult!
Thus the possession indicates things that do not, in real terms, belong to the Ego but to which we have given the psychic charge of the Ego. The possessions in general are armed with attributes of recognition: “The red one belongs to me!”, something which, on the other hand, is difficult to do with faeces, which all look the same! And likewise with money, all the same! The child learns that money exists, that it has a possessive value but that it isn’t “red”, but is always the same, whoever possesses it. The common denominator of money and faeces is that they are non identifiable possessions. Both substances, in spite of the high value that is attributed to them, are considered with despise because of their non identifiable, non specific nature. From here the actual delusion derives of the personalisation of clothes, of cars, of mobile phones and of any kind of designer label!
They are more “mine” than “mine”! In reality the erotic-anal people who love money, love the money that is not generic: gold, shiny coins, untouched stamps, exclusive jewels, etc.
Therefore, money becomes an object of pleasure or of punishment (the same as the rapport was with the faeces), an anal substitute. So it can be irrationally accumulated or irrationally wasted.
Anal personalities project their rapport with the faeces-money into the rapport with time and with regards to the latter they can be stingy or lavish or live both behaviours in a fluctuating way: punctual in an obsessive way right up to the fraction of a second or notably unreliable. But money also has an even more archaic fixation, the oral one. It is, in other words, symbolically, both nutrition and love: it can be understood from the family feuds that break out for the inheritances.
Even if it were a super-powerful computer, programmed with algorithms characterised by the chrism of equity, that determines the donations, the hatred would spread all the same.
But now we can end with the image of this golden calf which, having no value for the unconscious, it does not feed nor satisfy us: after all it is a little, sadistic consolation to think that even the richest man on earth cannot obtain happiness from all his power and all his endless riches.

Written by: Quirino Zangrilli © Copyright

Translated by Linda De Nardo

(videographics: Luca Zangrilli ©)

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Key words

Sense of guilty


The social affirmation implies a continuous fight with a part of oneself that perceives success as a blame and pushes one to put into act dangerous behaviour of punitive self-castration