Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

This essay may contain factual inaccuracies or out of date material. Please refer to an authoritative source if you require up-to-date information on any health or medical issue.

Ghost In The Nursery And Compulsion To Repeat

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3062 words Published: 29th Jul 2021

Reference this

In this essay I will be referring to Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and Selma Fraiberg to explain how psychoanalytic theory views the ghost in the nursery and the compulsion to repeat, and John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth and Peter Fonagy to account for these concepts on behalf of the attachment theory. This essay is organized as follows. First, I define the main concepts in question and relate these to Fraiberg. Then I discuss to what extent affect regulation and mentalization (Fonagy and Ainsworth) can explain these concepts. Secondly, I turn my attention to classical psychoanalysis and how transference helps us understand the compulsion to repeat. From internal conflict I move on to the external environment and how Bowlby views its importance to repetition and ghosts. Finally, I discuss Anna Freud’s defence mechanism of identification with the aggressor. Whilst going through these different explanations I identify how much each theorist is accounting for these concepts and show that neither the attachment theory on its own nor the psychoanalytic theory singly explain the compulsion to repeat and the ghost in the nursery. Moreover, attachment theories also have a psychoanalytic background, [1] so one cannot exclude the psychoanalytic influence from attachment theory. So as we will see studies in attachment theory quantify, backup and build up from the psychoanalytic theory.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

In the paper ‘Ghosts in the nursery’, Fraiberg, Adelson and Shapiro (1975) use the term ‘ghosts’ to represent negative experiences parents had as children which they repressed and excluded all feelings from, in order to deal with the situation. Fraiberg et al. argue that if parents do not allow themselves to feel this pain, they will be pushing the affect associated with these memories into the unconscious (i.e. repression). Consequently, unresolved issues will manifest themselves in dreams and in behaviours with their own infants. Like ghosts, unresolved issues are invisible (unconscious), and like ghosts, they come back to haunt us. Such parents are likely to unconsciously repeat their parents’ behaviour with their own children since they would not be able to empathise with them and understand their feelings.

Fraiberg et al.’s (1975) explanation gives importance to affect regulation of parents to be able to identify with the distressed child in them. Their hypothesis is substantiated by observations in their clinical experience but this methodology is subjective as no measuring tools are identified for this intergenerational link. Moreover, this account may be deterministic and reductionist: no feeling of childhood pains will result in compulsion to repeat pains caused to them on their children. It appears that development does not teach us anything and later experiences are not able to dispel the ghost. As we will see, whereas for Fraiberg et al. there is something extra in the nursery – the ghosts, for Fonagy there is something missing – the mother’s ability to mentalize.

Fonagy, Steele, M., Moran, Steele, H., and Higgitt (1991) use the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) [2] and Ainsworth’s Strange Situation [3] (SS) (Ainsworth, Waters & Wall, 1978) to prove the link between the adult’s type of attachment to their own parent/s to the attachment they build with their own children. They explain that the attachment we build with our parents acts as an internal working model which compels parents to repeat this attachment with their children. Fonagy et al. argue that parents need to be able to attune to the feelings expressed by their infants since they do not yet have the mental capacity to understand their feelings (psychic containment).

However if a parent is not able to observe her own mental function, it is highly unlikely that she [4] is able to reflect the infant’s feelings. [5] This will hinder the child from developing a reflective self, leading to the use of defensive thinking processes ‘which are likely … to distort, disorganize, or limit access to memories, feelings, interactions and recognition of options’ (Main, 1991, p. 146). This lack of meta-cognitive monitoring [6] may lead to a vicious circle as the infant will not be able to provide an appropriate psychic development to his own infant, leading to the compulsion to repeat and to the ghosts to reappear in the nursery. So Fonagy et al. (1991) in their study are proving the intergenerational link in attachment behaviour hypothesised by Fraiberg et al. (1979). For Fonagy et al. what needs to be present in the nursery is the mother’s ability to mentalize and the presence of ghosts is not acknowledged. Fonagy’s theory postulates that the mother should be able to contain the child, but does not account what the mother does with her understanding of her child’s mental state. If the mother understands that the child is frustrated, will she always know what to do to regulate her child’s emotions?

Fonagy and Target (1994) also relate the trauma experienced in early childhood with how feelings are evoked in the people in their adult life to confirm childhood identifications. Since the therapeutic situation is likely to recreate the nursery, I will be giving Fonagy and Target’s example to explain how ghosts may be dispelled from the nursery. Fonagy (in Fonagy and Target, 1994) relates how, as an analyst his patient (Mr. T) had blocked painful feelings in childhood so that he was not in touch with his mental state. According to Fonagy and Target (1994, p. 53-54) what frees us from this state is being mentally involved with someone (e.g. in therapy) that clarifies our sense of identity through their (the therapist’s) mental state. In this way, Fonagy is explaining the role of thinking processes about ourselves (mentalizing) in the compulsion to repeat and reappearance of ghosts. Thus, if the therapeutic situation is reflecting real life, the mother needs to be in able to reflect about why she is doing things so that she is aware not the repeat and invoke the ghosts of her childhood into her child’s nursery.

Freud and Breuer (1893) first refer to people forgetting certain moments in life in their paper on Hysteria. They argue that due to trauma, experiences in a person’s life are not available to conscious thought, and so properly abreacted. This occurred either because these experiences were so painful that their bearer decided to forget them or because they occurred when the person was in an ‘abnormal psychical state’ (p. 11). They argue that during such situations splitting of consciousness occurs, making it difficult for the person to connect to his memories, and so the feeling related to the experience is transformed into a physical symptom. At this time Freud dealt with these forgetful memories by inducing a hypnotic state in his patients whereby they could associate memories to their feelings and release cathartic energy. However, soon Freud realised that through hypnosis he was forcing people to talk about their memories and was not allowing resistance to occur.

It was when Freud (1905) was analysing Dora that he discovered a form of repetition in relationship which he called transference. In the nursery, transference occurs when the mother acts out unconscious wishes with her child. Freud (1909) surmises that these repressed experiences are like ghosts who reappear in our life and will not go away until we face them: ‘like an unlaid ghost, it cannot rest until the mystery has been solved and the spell broken’ (Freud 1909, p. 122). Freud’s first reference to the compulsion to repeat was in 1914 when he postulated that in obsessional neurosis, forgetting is characterized by ‘dissolving thought-connections’ (Freud 1914, p. 149). Although the person does not remember the trauma, he unconsciously re-enacts this event in his life thus inviting ghosts in the nursery. The more resistance there is to repress the memories, the more the person will replace remembering by acting out. The resolution of this resistance lies in how the therapist handles transference. Transference acting as a ‘playground’ (Freud 1914, p. 154) allows repressed material to show the secret of its game in the person’s mind and for the analyst to ‘work through’ what the resistance consists of.

According to Freud’s theory, the compulsion to repeat can only be resolved through transference or the acting out of the compulsion and overcoming resistance – a concept which Fraiberg does not recognise. While Freud gives importance to childhood trauma, he does not dedicate equal importance to how current experiences effect a person’s life. Nor does Freud give any importance to the affects which as we have seen Fraiberg and Fonagy give so much importance to. Freud’s main explanation for the compulsion to repeat is that it is a result internal conflict. He (1920) postulates that the compulsion to repeat is ingrained in our human nature. Freud (1920) states that the function of the pleasure principle is to reduce ‘unpleasure’. Material enacted in the compulsion to repeat was once repressed because it was not pleasurable to one of the systems, so the mental apparatus will struggle to keep these instincts away from consciousness. These instincts are persistently trying to push their way into consciousness, and this is felt as unsatisfying by the ego. Impulses can nonetheless breach the protective shield in traumatic dreams, forms of play and as already explained, in transference.

Freud (1920) attempts to interpret reasons why children in the nursery are compelled to repeat some actions. He recalls boy re-enacting his mother’s disappearance and appearance in games. This ‘repetition of the distressing experience’ (p. 15) causes pleasure to the child. This could be because the mother’s departure is followed by the pleasure of her arrival or during repetition, the child changed from being passive in the real event to playing an active role in the game – by throwing away toys he is revenging against his mother for leaving him, something that he cannot do in real life. This part gives him pleasure and causes him to repeat the act. By repeating what has impressed him during the day, the boy can abreact his feelings. In doing so, his game is also reflecting a ‘wish to be grown-up’ (p. 17) and taking control like adults do. Children can also repeat distressing experiences with peers, causing distress to them and revenging on their playmate who might be representing the real distressing object. Thus, Freud is explaining that a person may use this defence of repeating because it satisfies the pleasure principle but this could also reflect the ‘daemonic’ aspect inside us.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Bowlby criticises Freud for only looking at the person’s internal conflict and for not giving enough attention to the person’s external environment (1979, p. 21), suggesting that ghosts can be dispelled by environmental change. Bowlby (1969) refers to experiments on rhesus monkeys (Griffin and Harlow, 1966) and on puppies (Scott, 1963) to point out to a sensitive period in which attachment can be formed or be forever doomed. In these studies, animals that were kept away from contact for the first six months of their life did not show recovery of social interactions. He postulates that attachment, or the loss of it (deprivation), acts in similar way in infants. Thus, if a baby is not shown sensitivity, it is unlikely that once a grown-up he would be able to do so with his own children, and so the ghosts of his past will reappear giving him no choice other than to repeat. Bowlby emphasises that attachment is an evolutionary process that helps the infant to survive (the survival of our species). Conversely, Fonagy (2001) argues that Bowlby gives too much importance to the biological role of attachment. What is important is the infant’s own survival to distress which could, for instance cause neurodevelopmental abnormalities if he is neglected (Perry, 1997).

So what kind of survival would an infant have if attachment is disrupted or inadequate? Bowlby’s (1944) own research on juvenile thieves sheds light on the link between hostile and neurotic mothers leading to delinquent children and at times even affectionless characters. This view that the relationship with the mother is important is corroborated by Emde (1999) who suggests that social rules are internalised in early infancy. When an infant has repetitive experiences of stressful episodes he will become hyper-vigilant to his environment leading to persistent physiological hyper-arousal if the mother cannot regulate his emotions. In this case, the infant cannot use the mother to regulate himself and reach homeostasis. This often happens in infant’s whose attachment is classified as disorganised [7] (Lyons-Ruth & Block, 1999). According to Hesse and Main (2000) this occurs when the attachment figure frightens or maltreats the toddler. In their study, adults who had a disorganised attachment with their children were classified as unresolved/disorganised adult attachment in the AAI. These observations show the likelihood of perpetuating the attachment style from generation to generation. These studies show that Bowlby’s theory is backed up by an array of research whereas Freud’s theory is only supported by people he came in contact with during their analysis. Bowbly saw it important to ground his work on science rather than Freud’s psychic energy.

Bowlby (1979) suggests that the infant forms an inner working model which acts as a “cognitive map” for future relationships – ‘from the cradle to the grave’ (p. 129). This has been supported by studies such as that of Hazan and Shaver (1987) where attachment styles (Ainsworth et al., 1978) in infancy are applied to love relationships in adulthood. Bowlby explains that when one becomes a parent ‘powerful emotions are evoked’ related to how one felt as a child towards his parents and siblings (p. 17). A parent might not be able to regulate these old feelings because she has not resolved the ambivalent conflict concerning these feelings. When the parent was young, she might have defended herself against these feelings by repressing, displacing or projecting them. With all the changes parenthood brings with it, these conflicts are renewed and come back to haunt us. Such a parent will find herself tormented by these forces and has no option other then resorting to the primitive defences used in childhood to deal with feelings regarding her own child, using her own children as her scapegoats. Unfortunately parents are not aware of these processes or the intentions behind their actions. For Bowlby in order to abolish the ghost, the most important thing is to commit to change in the environment – change in the caregivers’ behaviour and in the defences used. Although different terminology is being used in this explanation, the reasoning behind it is very similar to that postulated by Failberg, mainly that childhood defense hinder the caregiver to feel through her childhood trauma.

Anna Freud suggests that another defence mechanism is at play in the compulsion to repeat. For Anna Freud (1936, p. 117-131) parents undergo the compulsion to repeat because of an ego defense experienced in their childhood which she labels ‘identification with the aggressor’. If a child endures a trauma, he feels helpless and is likely to identify with the aggressor as a normal part of the growth of the superego. This will enable the child to feel stronger and fearless. He will either imitate the actions of the aggressor, take on this features (e.g. wearing high heels to feel tall), or pretend to be the aggressor (1936, p. 121). In this way he does not feel a victim of the aggressor but this leads him to repeat the actions of his aggressor with his toys, peers and later with his own children. Fraiberg et al. (1975) also links the appearance of ghosts in the nursery and the compulsion to repeat with this defense mechanism but affirms that it is not clear why a person chooses this defense (p. 419). For instance, why didn’t the child use the denial in this traumatic situation instead of identification with the aggressor?

In this essay, I argued that both psychoanalysts and attachment theorists give importance to the first years of life by linking personality development to attachment. For the two schools of thought, the compulsion to repeat and ghosts in the nursery are due to problems in the infant’s early environment. Maternal sensitivity is also important to both of them although they interpret the concept in different ways. In attachment theory maternal sensitivity is seen as the behaviour and personality of the caregiver, whilst psychoanalysis is concerned with how the child organises his self development as a result of maternal sensitivity – use of unconscious processes (Fonagy, 2001). Thus, we would need a combination of both theories to understand the importance of the caregiver-infant relationship to the compulsion to repeat and ghosts in the nursery. For whilst psychoanalytic theory analyses internal processes in the infant and the mother, attachment theory try to classify and quantify attachment patterns through an array of research.

They explain that repression of the ‘associated affective experience’ (p. 419) is involved in this defence. So through remembering they are able to identify again with the distressed child in them and the alliance to the aggressor is broken.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: