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Davidson, L. (1980). Ethnic Roots, Transcultural Methodology and Psychoanalysis. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 8(2):273-278.

(1980). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 8(2):273-278

Ethnic Roots, Transcultural Methodology and Psychoanalysis

Leah Davidson, M.D.

Patients in psychoanalysis frequently present themselves as seekers of a new identity. This is especially true in the middle phase after crippling symptomology has been alleviated. Paramount in this search seems to me to be a working through of attitudes toward parents, siblings, and extended family, especially where the parents or grandparents were of a different ethnic origin and very important in the patient's development.

Since our attitudes to foreigners are frequently ethnocentric ones of mistrust and suspicion, it becomes very difficult for a growing child to account for a different and often frightening member of the family. The more culturally stereotyped and pejorative the environment, the more does the child contrast and puzzle over this difference in someone who is frequently beloved and also needed, yet of whom he or she feels ashamed. By the time adulthood is achieved, it is as if part of what has been called “one's roots” is rotten or defective. Unless some working through of acceptance of this identity is achieved, the self will rest on a tenous, fragmented basis and this will affect the self-esteem.

Such identifications with a significant other from another ethnic group or race are frequently perceived also as less than ideally human, peasant- or animal-like. This creates a constant core of confusion in the personality with feelings of an “imperfect” self in the background. It seems to me, therefore, most important that in patients where a significant other was an immigrant, this feeling of distaste for the cultural difference be not only discussed and analyzed but also made more human through comment by the analyst wherever he or she may have knowledge of that culture. The culturally likely social antecedents and motivations for the strange behavior should be clarified.

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