Četvrtak23 Novembar 2017

Mentalization – the articulator of the psyche

Mentalization is the term which was introduced into the psychoanalytic literature by Peter Fonagy and Anthony Bateman. It stands for the ability to reflect upon and to understand state of mind of oneself and others, to have insight into what one is feeling, and why.  Mentalization allows us to perceive and interpret human behaviour in terms of intentional mental states (needs, desires, feelings, beliefs, goals, purposes, and reasons).

Mentalization has implications for attachment theory as well as self-development.  Secure attachment refers to a child’s emotional connection with his parent/primary caregiver that begins at birth, develops rapidly in the next two years and continues developing throughout life. Secure attachment bond is a precondition for properly developed mentalization.  It helps children learn how to pay attention to their mental states, and to understand what they are experiencing. 

If early caregivers are unable to reflect on children's state of mind or when a feedback to children is either missing or inaccurate, children are unable to fully develop the capacity to mentalize. 

According to Fonagy, mentalizing is crucial to our well-being.  It gives us a sense of identity as well as a feeling of self-agency.

It is one of the first emotion processing capabilities we should develop on our way to well-balanced life.

When mentalization is fully developed, one could recognize, process and understand their own and other people’s emotions. One the other hand, when underdeveloped, one would have difficulties in understanding their own and other peoples behaviours, stances and global functioning. They could also lack words for emotions, misinterpret them and/or misinterpret the meaning of emotion triggers.

Neutralization – the regulator of the psyche

Neutralization is the process by which libidinal and aggressive impulses lose their instinctual qualities. Viewed this way, neutralization appears synonymous with deinstinctualization. Neutralization leads to neutral energy as opposed to instinctual energy and this energy fuels Ego functions.

According to Hartmann (Hartmann, 1939) "Neutralization actually strips the drives of their sexual and aggressive qualities. Those energies then become conflict free or autonomous and available for use by the ego; they become secondary autonomous functions. Such ego functions become independent from the id and the ego can use the available energies in the service of adaptation and mastery. In the case of secondary autonomous functions, the energy was neutralized, the conflict removed, and the ego function then contributes to adaptation". 

When neutralization is fully developed, one could transform sexual and aggressive energy and use them for rational thinking, problem solving and goals setting.

If neutralization is underdeveloped, people tend to get irrational, paranoid and impulsive. They are likely to see either erotization or aggression in their environment.

Object wholeness – the glue of the psyche

Object wholeness is the term introduced by Melanie Klein.

It is the ability to maintain the wholeness of various aspects of experience (positive and negative) of other people, oneself and reality.

The term „object“ refers to another person as well as a thing or a circumstance which we either love or hate.

The wholeness of object stands for our ability to perceive and accept other people, things and circumstances, goals, work and activities as whole.

It is the ability to maintain the awareness of all aspects of the world around us.

It also represents the capability to accept the reality in its full complexity. Since nothing and no one is ideally good or all bad, one should learn to perceive and accept all the aspects of the inner and outer phenomena.

When object wholeness capability is developed, one could remain calm even in high-stress situations. A person with fully developed object wholeness capability believes in people and is basically optimistic even when under stress and feeling negative emotions. Fully developed object wholeness protects against impulsivity and overwhelming emotions.

When this fundamental emotion processing capability is underdeveloped, a person tends to get impulsive, overwhelmed by euphoria or a whole set of negative emotions (such as anxiety or anger), and they also tend to use splitting -- a form of primitive defence mechanism -- also called black and white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking.

Object Constancy – the stabilizer of the psyche

Object constancy is an emotion processing capability which starts its development in our early years and could be established by the age of three. Object constancy could be described as a capacity to understand that ‘out of sight' doesn't mean ‘out of mind'.

It describes the phase in which a child understands that the mother is a separate individual with her own identity. This insight leads to internalization, which allows the child to make the internal representation of the mother.

Margaret Mahler claimed that the object constancy is the capacity to recognize and tolerate loving and hostile feelings toward the same object; the capacity to keep feelings centered on a specific object; and the capacity to value an object for attributes other than its function of satisfying needs.

The developmental achievement is an individual identity with stable internal representations of self and others. This achievement is a prerequisite for the capacity to form one-to-one relationships where separation is not experienced as abandonment and closeness does not represent engulfment.

When object constancy is developed, an individual could tolerate solitude, as they are never really alone due to their internalized connections with their objects. People with fully developed object constancy have stable inner representations of themselves and others, which means that they can tolerate separateness and achieve and maintain an optimal distance towards other people and goals. They can set long term goals and, regardless of rewards, keep them in mind and work on their realization.

On the other hand, when object constancy is underdeveloped, people are emotionally dependent on others and/or rewards of outer stimuli. They lack the inner connectedness, hence the inability to function in a well-balanced way when alone. Their neediness leads them to many problems, such as paranoia, sadomasochistic relationships, inability to grieve, clinginess, and variety of personality disorders.

Frustration tolerance – the immunity of the psyche

Frustration tolerance is another emotion processing capability which, alongside ambivalence tolerance, helps us best in distinguishing normality from pathology or abnormality.

Frustration tolerance is the ability to endure the tension and remain calm when met with obstacles.

Nowadays (In the era of CBT) it is very popular to connect low frustration tolerance (LFT) with a certain nonresistant and irrational set of thoughts. Nevertheless, LFT is a much deeper state connected to all the other emotion processing capabilities and it represents our mental immune system. As frustrations are inevitable part of life, frustration tolerance is a competence we need to start promoting early in our development, yet continue developing it throughout the life. 

O. L. I. method teaches us how to recognize different types of frustrations, as well as how to manage them. 

Highly developed frustration tolerance helps us cope with stress without developing inadequate modes of response, such as “going to pieces” emotionally (losing the object wholeness). It is a feature of normal cognitive and affective development.

Low frustration tolerance stands for weakened mental immunity, meaning that a person with low frustration tolerance often feels that they cannot stand the pain, discomfort of some other kind of frustration. They literary think they would not bear the stress as they do not believe they are strong enough to fight the stressors. 

Ambivalence tolerance – the orientation of the psyche

As Freud used to define it, “Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity”.  The interpreters of his work know he actually used the term ambiguity as a synonym for ambivalence.

In psychology, ambivalence is defined as the mental disharmony a person may feel when having both positive and negative feelings regarding the same individual/object. Ambivalence was used by Freud to indicate the simultaneous presence of love and hate towards the same object. Ambivalence also refers to situations where mixed feelings are experienced, or where a person experiences uncertainty or indecisiveness. It is easily spotted it everyday communication in sentences such as: “On the other hand…”, “Yes, but…”, “A part of me would like to change, but…”, “This is who I am, I do not think I could change…”.

O. L. I. method described several types of ambivalence and distinguished ambivalent emotions from ambivalent thinking and behaviours, in order to facilitate therapeutic work with this fundamental emotion processing capability. In the same manner like with previous emotion processing capabilities, ambivalence tolerance is described when properly developed and underdeveloped.  

When ambivalence tolerance is underdeveloped, a person is indecisive, incapable to face antagonistic emotions towards someone of something (or their own Self) and equally incapable of decision making, choosing one between two alternatives, is unable to make up their mind and be determined.

Adult decision making encounters cost and benefit analysis and sincere dealing with all the antagonistic emotions one has toward the object (Self or the world).

When ambivalence tolerance is properly developed, one could make up their mind calmly, aware of consequences and ready to take the responsibility for them. This means that individual is capable of creating and maintaining meaningful cohabitation/coexistence with others, without excessive usage of defence mechanisms, as such person can tolerate negative feelings toward their loved ones, for they predominantly are the loved ones.

Will – the engine of the psyche

In O. L. I. method, will stands for the capability to invest mental energy into making plans and acting upon them. It refers to continuous efforts to achieve developmental goals.  The capability of will represents a person's ability to develop into an independent individual. It can be seen as a deep, internal focus (or intentionality) toward goals.

O. L. I. method teaches us how to differentiate between will and desire. While desire originates from Id, willpower is a part of an Ego. Desire is childish and creative, but it remains unfulfilled without the willpower. In order to live a fulfilled life, one needs the will to turn desire into real-life experience.

When properly developed, the capability of will supports developmental objectives, while underdeveloped will can lead to manipulation and parasitism at the expense of others.

Properly developed will goes hand in hand with the process of individuation.

Without the maturity of will people are either lacking energy necessary to continuously support their desires and goals or they could get manipulative and may tend to intrusively force others to obey to their will.

Initiative – the actuator of the psyche

Initiative is the last fundamental emotion processing capability. In O. L. I. method it is called the actuator of the psyche as it represents the ability to start something independently and to take the first step toward an action plan.  Basically, it stands for willingness to get things done and take responsibility. It can be described as the ability to recognize what needs to be done and deliberate action to do that.

As in previous cases, O. L. I. method teaches us how to make a difference between properly developed and mature initiative and underdeveloped or defective one.

Probably the most specific feature of healthy developed initiative is the ability for reciprocity. Defective initiative can either be expressed as a withdrawal from any risk taking situations or as ruthless exploitation of others.

Initiative, when developed, is expressed as proactivity, self-confident risk taking and gentle attitude towards possibility to make mistakes and fail. People with mature initiative tend to cooperate with other in order to get things done. They are prone to make decisions, act upon them and lead others. Such people are full of energy necessary to accomplish their goals. Others are usually happy to follow them as they look like they know what they are doing, they are protective of their ideas, followers and partners and courageous to stand up for they believe in.

On the other hand, defective initiative does not support developmental goals and has no sense for reciprocity. People with defective initiative either tend to use and exploit others in order to achieve their goals, or they lack initiative and energy to set and achieve goals. They might be afraid to independently commit themselves to goals and stand up for them.

Either way, they do not have a healthy sense for reciprocity and healthy feelings of purposefulness.

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