Attachment and Howard Skeels

In the 1940s or thereabouts, Robert Emde told the audience at the Melbourne Freud conference, when eugenics was all the rage, a young psychologist by the name of Howard Skeels took a job in an orphanage somewhere in America. Eugenics was based on the belief that poor behaviour was based on inferior genes. To weed out the inferior genes, the children in the orphanage were assessed for IQ at an early age. If they were found to have a low IQ they were shipped off to a home for retarded children, where presumably they’d languish for the rest of their days. Otherwise they could stay in the ordinary orphanage and eventually be fostered out or adopted, melded back into society. When the young psychologist was working at the orphanage there were two little girls assesses and deemed to have sufficiently low IQs to be sent off to the home for the retarded. Two years later when these same little girls were about four, the young psychologist was promoted as superintendent of the home for retarded children. He came across the two young girls again and was surprised to find them apparently cheerful and bright and by no means intellectually retarded. When he looked into the situation, he saw that two of the retarded women in the home had taken the two small girls under their wing. Despite their own intellectual difficulties they had effectively mothered these two little girls such that the girls developed normally.
The girls were then assessed and found to have IQ’s greater than those children of the same age who had stayed back in the orphanage. Skeels used this experience to begin a more controlled experiment on 1049 children from the orphanage who had been deemed low IQ therefore retarded, therefore shipped off to the home for retarded. He followed this with a longitudinal study. The children all had good experiences of one to one care at the home and were able eventually to be fostered or adopted. All but one was able to marry, all reached their twelfth year pf high school compared to the children from the orphanage who did not fare so well. Skeels used this experiment to demonstrate the importance of one to one care and attachment in early childhood.

creativity, life writing and the desire for revenge

I have left my profile a blank, not that I’m reluctant to share, more that I’m fearful of what will happen to my words, will they be misconstrued? It is rare for me to delete my words, not on a first draft but today I am deleting and deleting again. Nothing satisfies, nothing quite reaches my core.
Tomorrow I will go to the Freud conference in Melbourne and spend the day listening to eminent psychoanalysts talking about matters analytic.
One of my writing teachers once told us that it is best to read writers who nurture your creativity. If there is a particular writer who leaves you feeling inadequate after you have finished reading from them, do not visit that writer immediately before you start to write. Instead visit a writer whose writing thrills and inspires you. Drusilla Modjeska has that affect on me. The first time I read her book, Poppy, the biography of her mother, I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I too could write like this. I, too, could tell my story in this way. Of course I could not. I am no Modjeska but there is something about her thoughtful analysis and her honesty about her experience, an honesty that never feels self-indulgent or cloying, that has inspired me, along with other Australian women writers like Helen Garner. And of course they do not have to be Australian. I have been similarly inspired by writers such as the American Siri Hustvedt and Ursula le Guin and Virginia Woolf. The list is endless.
At the moment I am struggling to write a paper on revenge and life writing for a conference in Germany in July.
I wrote the paper, too many words, and have needed to cut it down. My supervisor vetted it. I’ve practised going through it. I’ve agonised on how I might present, words alone, words and pictures. I’ll probably settle for words alone because the thought of struggling with pictures, computers and technology, sets my heart racing. I need to minimise my anxiety.
That’s why the analysts dismissed me from the analytic training, or at least it’s the one concrete reason offered to me about my dismissal, that I was too anxious.
But I digress.
This paper explores the notion that feelings of revenge can lead to creativity. This morning I began to consider the issue of creativity, how does it happen? The Cartoonist, writer and philosopher, Michael Leunig once gave a talk to a small group of therapists and counsellors in Melbourne. During the talk he began to tell us about the process of art. He told us about the way in which the artist conceives an idea in his mind about what he’d like to paint. The idea is thrilling, exciting. He sets up his canvas, collects his paints. He’s ready. The idea and its execution are foremost in his mind. He begins to paint lashes of colour on the canvas. It flows on smoothly, effortlessly, but as he proceeds, something happens. The idea he first conceived begins to change. It does not translate so readily onto the canvas. It fractures in his mind. He can’t hold into it. He’s disappointed in his work. He might struggle on, but only in a state of despair, of deep disappointment and sadness.
He’s faced with a choice. The whole idea has lost its lustre. Might as well throw it in. Leave it behind. Go have a cup of tea. A glass of wine. Go out shopping. Collect the kids from school, anything but stay here in front of this failed canvas. He doesn’t care anymore. He spatters more paint onto the page, a dab here, a stroke there. Listless, lifeless without energy or hope. He has given up on his original idea.
If he can persevere something might happen, something new might emerge on the canvas, something he had no idea of, no conscious conception of, like a bud unfurling, some new life. Then the energy returns, new hope, the possibility of some new creation. Leunig urges us to consider the importance of the second try.
But how can I link this idea up with the idea of revenge?
If I think about the analytic training, the training could be seen as something like my canvas, my idea in my mind. I had been so pleased to be accepted into the training, so pleased that one day I would emerge as a competent therapist, a bit like the wonderful painting imagined by Leunig’s artist, but for me the disillusionment that came with time when the dream was taken from me. I could not continue with the training, not because I gave up but because others gave up.
Herein, rests the source of the desire for revenge. It is born of that sense of unfairness, the sense of outrage, that my dream was taken from me at a time when I might have begun to see it differently.
I have needed to change course. I have needed to refocus my energies.
My thesis is my attempt to do this. Yet every time I go to a gathering of those analysts whom I might once have joined, the ancient feelings of being the outcast, the spurned one, return.

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