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Harris, W.W. Lieberman, A.F. (2014). Preface to “Angels in the Nursery: The Intergenerational Transmission of Benevolent Parental Influences” by Alicia F. Lieberman, Elena Padrón, Patricia Van Horn, William W. Harris. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(6): 504-520 (2005). Att: New Dir. in Psychother. Relat. Psychoanal., 8(2):117-119.
(2014). Attachment: New Directions in Psychotherapy and Relational Psychoanalysis, 8(2):117-119
Preface to “Angels in the Nursery: The Intergenerational Transmission of Benevolent Parental Influences” by Alicia F. Lieberman, Elena Padrón, Patricia Van Horn, William W. Harris. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(6): 504-520 (2005)
William W. Harris, B.A and Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D.
Dedicated with love to Patricia Van Horn (1945-2014)
When we first wrote about “Angels”, we thought that expanding a person's recollection of a painful past to include profound experiences of feeling loved and protected could serve as a useful counterbalance to the emotionally dysregulating and depleting impact of traumatic memories, providing a window of opportunity for the creation of more helpful personal narratives. It was like saying,
In the course of frightening and lonely growing up years, something good must have happened—something—some memory or experience—that could be brought forth and re-experienced and described while in the difficult process of constructing a way forward—in treatment or in life—with a new narrative that contained some hope, some pleasure, some reason to continue trying.
The image of angels became the concrete embodiment of the possibility for improved psychological mobility as we encouraged our patients to search their memories and identify “beneficial cues” that could sustain them as they did battle with the debilitating effects of traumatic histories and the triggers they evoked.
Since then, much to our satisfaction, we have come upon two quotes from much-admired giants in the field of infant mental health whose influence continues to suffuse our work. Fittingly, the first quote is from Selma Fraiberg, whose image of “ghosts in the nursery” served as the catalyst for the concept of “angels”. In the seminal “Ghosts in the nursery: a psychoanalytic approach to the problem of impaired infant-mother relationships”, she and her colleagues describe Annie, a sixteen-year-old mother who seldom touched or held her baby, Greg, for fear of her aggressive impulses towards him but who also played dangerously aggressive “games” with him and during a therapeutic session told him, “When you grow up, I might kill you”.
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