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Maenchen, A. (1968). Object Cathexis in a Borderline Twin. Psychoanal. St. Child, 23:438-456.
(1968). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 23:438-456
Object Cathexis in a Borderline Twin
Anna Maenchen, Ph.D.
Analysts have for a long time been interested in identical twins as representing an "experiment in nature." Benjamin (1961), among others, was fascinated by the possibility of studying the interaction between the innate and the experiential. Twins also present material for studying the problems of differentiation, interidentification, and interdependence. But important as twinship is for personalitydevelopment, we should not be carried away. Hartmann warned against attributing too much to it. Psychological twinning, after all, occurs even outside of twinship, as, for instance, in siblings close in age, or even in some old married couples.
One could, I think, compare the role of twinning in Pat's case with the disturbances shown by the six concentration camp victims described by Anna Freud and S. Dann (1951). These six children grew up in a group (like sextuplets, one could say), were interdependent and interidentified, mothered each other, and related to
adults only on the most primitive need-satisfying level. One could even say that they had a "group body ego."
We are usually skeptical when human babies are compared to monkeys. But René Spitz's (1962) use of Harlow's experiment is of special significance. When two rhesus monkeys of the same age were raised by a surrogate mother, they clung to each other, were unable to form any other relationships, and did not engage in play, sexual or other, with monkeys of their own age or older. Spitz asks: "What is missing here? Surely not reciprocity—if anything, there is too much of it" (p. 292). He found that the monkeys were arrested at what in man would be called the primary narcissistic level. Each of these monkeys became an obstacle to the object relation of the other as a result of what Spitz calls "the anaclitic gratification" offered in the together-together relationship. "If object relations proper are to become effective, anaclitic gratifications of a narcissistic nature must be abandoned… There is no frustration [in this relationship] and therefore neither incentive nor push to form different relations" (p. 295). Spitz applies to human babies that the interaction between the Rhesus mother and her baby "opens the road to individuation, to social, and sexual relations."
I think Spitz would agree with my application of his findings to twinship in a specific environment. The mutual overstimulation of the twins did not "open the road to individuation"; it did not produce a social response; rather, it obstructed the process of socialization of the child.
The lack of gratification, the failure to anticipate gratification, and the lack of frustration interfere with the development of object relations and with the evolution of normal personality. The result is archaic anxiety. Furthermore, the first recognition of the mother is more difficult for twins, and so is the "recognition" of the individual child for the mother of twins. Each individual twin has a different environment, of course, even in utero. If a twin symbiosis occurs, however, it plays a decisive role in the origin of a defect in objectcathexis. The twin symbiosis drains or replaces entirely the mother-child symbiosis.
Our case was aggravated by one more adverse condition. The boys were premature twins. Whatever the constitutional determinants of maturation may be—for instance, for the perceptual apparatus—the
need for a more protective environment is greater in premature children. And much more of the exceptional empathic ability is needed to provide two mother-child couples at one time for prematures.
The borderline features in the case presented have psychological as well as organic roots. Twinning played an additional specific and decisive role in the genesis of the disorder: defect in objectcathexis.
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