Can we leave the past behind?
Within this essay I will be looking at whether we can truly leave our pasts behind or whether they remain a part of us within our present and future. My own belief is that our past is what makes us who we are today. Our experiences from childhood through to adulthood make up our coping mechanisms for future situations and even if we have dealt with issues that may arise they will still remain in our conscious and unconscious minds.
Looking at the theories of Melanie Klein in Object Relations and the theory of Erik Erikson and the developmental stages we go through within our lives I aim to evaluate with my answer based on what I have learnt and understood. Looking at the theories relating to this I will look at The Psychoanalytic approach of Sigmund Freud which is still very much used to date. However some of his followers went on to further expand his beliefs and came up with their own.
One such person was Melanie Klein, who came up with Object Relations Theory. She removed the emphasis of the biological drives such as the sexual and aggressive tendencies and stressed the importance of interpersonal relationships one has with another. Melanie Klein also looked at the mother and child relationship and the early relationships the child has, primarily being family members, as the importance of the mother/child relationship and the way the child was parented would affect the adult in later life.
Object Relations Theory holds the belief that we are relationship seeking individuals rather than pleasure seeking as Freud suggested, and this can be useful for exploring the clients past and any issues they have with intimacy or dependency and identity. The “object” being a person or an actual object that is significant to the individual and is where they target their feelings and intentions. The “relations” is the relationship and residues of the individuals past.
Objects can be associated with good and bad, good objects fulfilling our needs and bad do not, they can also be an actual object and not another human being, and our basic instinct within adult life will be to seek out others who will reaffirm these early self-object relationships. The main significant facts from Melanie Klein’s work are the belief that the infant has, even before birth, knowledge of their mother unconsciously. The belief that there is an innerdestructive force or death instinct that Klein suggested the infant is caught up in a struggle between the forces of life and death. (2)Melanie Klein agreed with Sigmund Freud in the concept of developmental stages in early life such as the oral, anal and genital stages but said that movement from one to another was less rigid and not definite and also concluded the paranoid-schizoid and depression stages. The paranoid-schizoid stage is when the infant is between three and four months of age and when the infant has its first experiences of the outside world.
paranoid-schizoid is both good and bad experiences split completely with no grey areas. the paranoid is the fear that the infant may feel and the schizoid being the defence the infant uses. Consistent good experiences in this stage will lead to self-acceptance and bad experiences within this stage can lead to low self-esteem within the adult life. The depressive position follows and goes into the infants second year. This is where the child may have negative emotions towards the object, such as the mother, and can cause anxiety.
This can be seen in adults in later life, if they have been through this stage they may have difficulties seeing people as whole people. Unlike Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein worked directly with children using her own technique of play therapy. This enabled Klein to evaluate the children by directly communicating with them. The child is seen for a set time in the same room every week which is kept the same and unrelated items are not left in the room. The child has their own box of toys and art materials and for those younger, a sink of water is available.
After the session the items are locked away ready for use the following session. There is a reliable background for the therapist to observe the child at play but this must only be done with experienced therapists as it is very hard to desist the child and there needs to be a fine balance between interaction and behaviour by the the analyst. Using Object Relations Theory in the therapy setting we are looking at building that relationship between therapist and client, which in all concepts is required.
We see the needs from the Object relations of context, and focus so, the context being the nurture and security of the mother, which the client requires from us as a therapist, they require the security to feel safe and able to share their problems in a confidential environment and the nurture and care to show understanding. The client and therapist join together in a professional relationship in a way in which they can work together looking at the clients past and enabling the client to move forwards.
The therapist offers themselves in a way in which is suitable for the professional relationship but enables the client to place their feelings of the ‘object’ upon them, and their therapist is able to see directly how the client relates, or where the problems lie. Working this way is called transference. The therapist is then able to analyze these feelings and relate them back to the client using countertransference but in a way which is not harmful to the client nor their working relationship. In order to work like this the therapist must make sure they have no issues themselves which could counter product the relationship.
Looking at Objects Relation Theory against the title of “Can we leave the past behind? ” I can see that the experiences of the child will be brought forward into later life and thus causing conflict in future situations, also the same can be said for good experiences as we hold onto these and self-actualise as an adult. Based on this theory I would say no, we can not leave the past behind, However I can only see how using this within a relationship context would be useful, I can not see how it would work within other areas of therapists work.
Also the theories of Object Relations differ widely with others who have looked into this with the respect of key concepts, assumptions and principles, but does suggest that the idea signifies the systematic effort to account for personality development and pathology on the basis of internalization of relationships with others(1). Looking at another theorist, I move onto Erik Erikson. Erikson was a Freudian Ego-Psychologist who believed more in the society and cultural orientation.
He accepted the works of Sigmund Freud but also stated that the developmental stages do not stop at adolescence, they continue throughout life until death, and that there is a great emphasis on the adolescence ages as he felt his stage was critical in developing a persons identity. The belief is that our personality builds on previous stages and in a predetermined order, also known as epigenetic stages. Erickson said that each stage has completion tasks and our success in one stage depends on the level of success in previous stages, if we do not have our needs met in previous stages this may hold us back for the future.
If we have a bad experience within one stage this can also case maladaptive behaviours relating to it and rushing through the stages can have a huge effect on our personal growth, but completion of the tasks and success in the stages would give us a wide and integrated set of life skills and abilities that function together within the individual. Within the first stage of birth to eighteen months we learn the concepts of trust and mistrust. Having our needs met through the Freudian oral stage from feeding and meeting our basic survival needs will lead to trust but failure of this will lead to mistrust.looking at this within our lives, we needs a balance of both in order to survive. We can not completely trust the stranger who approaches us and asks for our help but we need to follow them. Our instinct would be to be cautious and whether this is putting ourselves in danger, to look at this in the ages stated, if a baby is in a situation they are fearful of, they normally cry, the parent would then console them and support them. When in this situation again the baby would have hope of that support again, if this is not offered the fear will remain.
In this stage if we learn the right skills we would have a sense of hope to continue to the next stage. The second following on until the infant reaches three years of age, where the child learns physical skills such as toilet training. The parenting in these stages are detrimental to the success. Having rules put in place but removing the controlling part of parenting enables the child to grow and encourages self-esteem, if this is lacking , or if a bad experience occurs here then at adult stages we could see clients attending for self-esteem issues and perhaps even dependency issues.
If there is success in this stage the child learns the skill of ‘will’ but failure may lead them to feel inadequate. The third stage follows until the child reaches six years of age and the importance of independence is learnt along with the consequences of their behaviour. Children will seek approval from their parents increasing their confidence and will explore more interpersonal skills through their own initiative. A healthy balance of gaining independence but also realising what could happen if something went wrong would give the child a sense of purpose.
In the latency stage that follows until the child reaches twelve, then education comes into play. Learning the social skills that the world requires from them. Completion of this stages enables the child to feel accomplished but failure can lead to feelings of inadequacy. the key is to keep the child balanced. There may be other problems that arise at this stage such as bullying, or child labelling which should be looked into as this can have a detrimental impact of later stages. The peer group of the child plays a major part in their self-esteem.
Success here and the child would learn competence, but in order to remain humble they need a balance of this and modesty. Within adolescence self awareness rarely exists. This is the time of relationships, sexuality, and fitting in with peers. The teenager must accomplish a sense of identity in this stage and be aware of where they fit in within their society and environment. Erikson believed there were two areas to gain an identity in one being the occupational and one being the sexual. Within this stage the individual is learning to adjust to their changing body and this ,may bring up issues of confidence within themselves.
They must also learn to accept others and their differences and would learn the life skill of fidelity. From the age of nineteen to forty, being successful within these years would provide love. Growing through relationships with others and exploring these and this is where intimacy would start to be in play. We then move on to parenting ourselves. , however, we do not have to have children of our own to be successful at this stage, providing for future generativity through our work will give the person the capacity to care.
There is an event which may occur at this stage, being the ‘mid life crisis’. The change from caring for I to caring for others can be frightning for some. The final stage is a time for reflection on our lives and until death, however, death can occur at any stage. This stage is about coming to terms with our lives and accepting our experiences. Erik Erikson provided us with a strong understanding of the human development within the psychology aspects, however, he was rather vague about the causes of development and what kinds of experiences we must have to succeed.
There is also no explanation of how the outcome of one psychosocial stage affects personality at a later stage. Using Erik Eriksons theory we are able to determine and identify the stages that we develop certain skills and if a client approaches us with a certain issue we are able to look at this timeline and go back to those areas in the individuals life where the self esteem is in play and see what events occurred at that time.
Thus really answering the question of ‘can we leave our past behind’ as doing this would state we can not if we are going back in the clients life. To summarise both Erik Erikson and Melanie Klein are looking at the clients past within their theories in order to resolve the clients presenting issues so leaving the past behind here is not an option. Through Erik Erikson we are able to locate the clients issue in the present to a certain stage in their past and take the client back to that tie in their lives to see what happened which may cause the conflict now.
With Melanie Klein we are going right back to the infant and mother bonds but here we are only really looking at relationships and how the client would relate to people now. There is no option for using this on other issues the client may present with. Both of these theorists are also pointing towards the great nature versus nurture debate and stating that our behaviours are learnt through how we grow as individuals therefore being within the nurture category.
Whereas other theories may look entirely at the clients presenting issue and how we can move them forward now and do not look in the past, my belief is that integrating the two as a therapist would have more beneficial outcome for the client than looking at just one or the other. For instance, if a client approaches with a maladaptive behaviour we could go back in the clients life to find where this started and what happened, using Erikson theory and then integrate it with humanistic theories and look at the here and now and how we can move the client forward.
Can we leave the past behind? my answer, no. Our past is what makes us who we are in our present and who we will be in our future. Accepting our genetics and our traits inherited from our parents and the influences of our external environment will allow us to recognise ourselves and gain self-awareness. Our learnt behaviours from our childhood will make up our coping mechanisms for situations we may face and whether we have accomplished the stages of Erik Erikson or had the relationships we require through Object Relations theory we will still have the memories and thoughts from our past. in order to reconcile these we have to accept the decisions made for us by our parents and those we made ourselves were right for us at the time even if we begin to question them at a later date. In our futures we are not able to wipe the slate clean, so to speak and begin our lives again and any events that may arise will inevitably remind us of our past experiences.
This may be difficult if we have had a harsh childhood as it can reopen old wounds, but this is where the therapist can help, such as anxiety issues and alcohol or drug misuse and maladaptive behaviors can all be changed in order for us to grow as an individual and make our future a better one. Our past has given us a valuable set of life goals, regardless of them being good, or bad, they make us the person we are today and valuing ourselves as well as valuing others will continue our success in the future.