The Child’s Dilemma

Uncategorized Oct 24, 2019

Fairbairn is one of my heroes  – as a child we have no choice but to greedily eat what our parents put in our mouths. But often we felt poisoned, but because we needed them so badly, it was easier to believe there was something wrong with us, and they must really be perfect.  It can take a long time to understand this situation, to feel our hunger, and dare to STAND our need and not just blindly swallow down what others offer. Fairbairn writes about this in the following excerpt from ‘Repression and the Return of bad Objects’:

One of my male patients had a dream which illustrates to perfection the central dilemma of the child. In this dream he was standing besides his mother with a bowl of chocolate pudding on a table before him. He was ravenously hungry: and he knew that the pudding contained deadly poison. He felt that, if he ate the pudding, he would die of poisoning and, if he did not eat the pudding, he would die of starvation. There is the problem stated. What was the denouement? He ate the pudding. He incorporated the contents of the poisonous breast because his hunger was so great. In the light of this dream the reader will hardly be surprised to learn that among the symptoms from which the patient suffered when he came to me was a fear that his system was being poisoned by intestinal toxins which had so affected his heart that he was threatened with heart failure. What was really wrong with his heart was, however, eloquently revealed in another dream-a dream in which he saw his heart lying upon a plate and his mother lifting it with a spoon
(i.e. in the act of eating it). Thus it was because he had internalized his mother as a bad object that he felt his heart to be affected by a fatal disease: and he had internalized her, bad object though she was for him, because as a child he needed her. It is above all the need of the child for his parents, however bad they may appear to him, that compels him to internalize bad objects: and it is because this need remains attached to them in the unconscious that he cannot bring himself to part with them. It is also his need for them that confers upon them their actual power over him.