Can Western psychology have a notion of Man as the summation of all his many parts – physical, mental, emotional, social, relational, cultural, etc? To demonstrate that it can, I have looked into research by several scholars and embarked on a journey within the microcosm of Man as a whole of body and mind.
As we shall see in this article, what I found out resonates with both EnneaMediChina and its core ancient symbols.
Several psychological studies are focused on infancy, which is regarded as the structuring core of the universe of man. They show that the relationship with the mother and/or other role models plays a paramount role in the activation of temperament traits which appear as early as the first year of life. Such traits constitute the biological blueprint which, as it interacts with the environment, results in personality traits. The latter are defined as the individual characteristics that tend to remain consistent over time and that determine observable behaviour.
The dispositional theory, for example, states that each of us is endowed with specific attributes which are biological in nature. They predispose us to automatically adopt given behaviours, regardless of the circumstances under which we interact with other individuals. Traits have a biological substrate. However, the environmental context – physical, family-related, social and cultural conditions – is no less important and it can dramatically affect an individual’s behavioural characteristics.
Allport (1937) stated that temperament refers to the characteristic phenomena of an individual’s emotional nature, including his susceptibility to emotional stimulation, his customary strength and speed of response, the quality of his prevailing mood, these phenomena being regarded as dependent upon constitutional make-up and therefore largely hereditary in origin.
Lisa di Blas wrote that ‘the word temperament refers to a group of individual characteristics which can be observed in behaviour. They have a genetic and physiological substrate; they broadly affect emotionality, appear within the first year of life and are relatively stable over time’.
Eysenck argued that although temperament traits are genetically determined, this does not mean that behaviour is inherited. Rather, individuals inherit biological structures which originate behaviours that are adopted more frequently. He goes on to say that some biological intermediaries, such as hormones and neurotransmitters, translate this genetic potential into behavioural constants (aka, personality traits). Through interaction with the environment, such inherited physiological characteristics produce both behaviours which can be observed in a lab setting (such as memory retention and sensory threshold) and behaviours which are observed in natural contexts (such as sociability, sexuality, aggression).
It is thought that the period from 6 to 12 years of age is paramount in the development of personality traits resulting from the interaction between temperament traits and the environment. Eisenck identified three traits in his theoretical model: Psychoticism, Extroversion, and Neuroticism.
Psychoticism is characterized by aggression, selfishness, impulsiveness, antisocial behaviour and lack of empathy.
Extroversion is, in any given individual, a unique mix of sociability, activity, vitality, assertiveness, search for sensation and dominance. The third trait – Neuroticism – includes characteristics such as anxiety, tension, depression, emotionality, shyness, moodiness, low self-esteem and feelings of shame.
Although a univocal and convincing conceptualization of the word ‘personality’ is still lacking, it may be useful to describe personality as the ‘outcome of the reciprocal articulation of the cognitive, emotional, volitional and motivational aspects of an individual in their interaction with the environment’ (Giannelli, 1993). ‘Hence, a thorough analysis cannot refrain from taking into consideration cultural, ethical and social aspects as factors which are poignant for the personological structure of each individual’.
Thus, personality should be understood as a summation of temperament traits, emotions and motivations of an individual moving in space and time.
Affective communication is the first source of stimulation of a child’s behaviour and it is subsequently internalized to become the foundation of his inner world.
The ability to do this appears to be deeply affected by the kind of emotional response a child was given during his early childhood experience.
From this standpoint, the intrapsychic world of a child is the outcome of a dialectical construction process involving the child’s original emotional, communicative, responsive and temperament competencies and those of his attachment figures. Attachment figures, in turn, have their own attachment modes, temperament traits and emotional regulation patterns.
A study by Haft and Slade showed that there is a close connection between the mother’s inner working models of attachment and her affective concordance patterns towards her child. They went on to precisely outline that this latter becomes a powerful tool in the intergenerational transmission of internal attachment models.
The intergenerational transmission of secure attachment styles provides infants with a basis to control emotions, resulting in a sense of security and a more stable basis for the development of his mentalizing function, which in turn favours his propensity to establish secure relationships with others.
A parent who has an insecure attachment model would also transmit to the child the defences against his/her own emotions, thus encouraging the child to avoid expressing emotions in order to maintain his relationship with the parent. In so doing, the child would both feel secure and maintain his parent’s state of mind (Main, 1995).
“The child cannot find himself in the other”, Fonagy writes (1998).
Moreover, studies by Grossman and Grossman (1991) have highlighted that ‘mothers of insecure avoidant children, unlike mothers of secure ones, do not prove capable – in the play situations they studied – to connect with the negative emotions of their children. They keep away from them when they express such emotions and only approach them when they communicate positive emotions …’
In 1988, Cassidy and Kobak “…analysed affective communication by three and six-year old insecure avoidant children towards their mothers and showed that they consolidate strategies of masking and falsification of negative affects which could be found as early as at 12-18 months … and succeed in only communicating positive emotions to their mother…’
Winnicott (1965) argued that a mother’s inability to adequately respond to her child’s emotional needs might elicit in the latter ‘unthinkable anxieties, going to pieces, loss of orientation, falling forever which affects his processes of constitution and integration into an original sense of Self’.
According to Bowlby (1991) the ability to recognize emotions, which are increasingly articulated by the child without resorting to defensive acts of deformation and limitation of emotional information, is paramount for his development because it enables him to establish adequate intrapsychic communication with his affectional world. On the other hand, this ability seems to be deeply affected by the type of affective communication he has been able to use with his attachment figures during the history of his Self-constitution. (to be continued)
Che cos’è la Personalità ” Lisa di Blas – Ed. Carocci – 2002
Le interazioni madre bambino nello sviluppo e nella crescita – D. N.Stern . –ed. Cortina 1998
La comunicazione affettiva tra il bambino e i suoi partner” a cura di C. Riva Crugnola – R. Cortina ed. – 1999
Manuale di psichiatria e psicologia clinica – G. Invernizzi – Mc Graw-Hill