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The Emergence of Desire

Response by Morris Nitsun to GENERATIVE IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY OF DESIRE Joan Raphael Leff Joan Raphael Leff Generative Identity and Diversity of Desire. The Emergence of Desire. A valuable paper. Reflects the elusive, mysterious, incohate quality of desire as well as...

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The Emergence of Desire

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  1. Response byMorris Nitsun to GENERATIVE IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY OF DESIRE Joan Raphael Leff Joan Raphael Leff Generative Identity and Diversity of Desire The Emergence of Desire

  2. A valuable paper • Reflects the elusive, mysterious, incohate quality of desire as well as... • the embodied aspects of desire, particularly sexual desire, which is intimately of the body • Generative identity : an important new concept which has many useful applications - a generative concept

  3. Desire Most of JRL’s points relevant to groups – Her description of desire as occurring in a gap which brings the sense of self alive, while being dialogic and interactional in origin, including the need for mutual recognition, is close to the essence of group analysis. Similarly, her emphasis on the inter-generational transmission of desire, is congruent with the social emphasis of group analysis.

  4. Desire in Group Analysis • Marginalized in the literature • Is this a product of the social emphasis of group analysis – “ the individual is an abstraction” (Foulkes)? • What then happens to subjectivity, of which desire is a crucial component? • All our stories are stories of desire and the destiny of our desires • Desire is the “dynamo” of life – it relects our aliveness and the urge to live, survive, thrive • Equally relevant to individuals and groups

  5. Further reasons for the minimization of desire • Desire is hot • Anxiety about intense and potentially uncontrolled reaction to desire in groups? • Transgression of boundaries (which are essential to the safe functioning of the group)? • The affective matrix of desire. Desire does not occur in isolation but arouses intense affects – excitement, fear, jealousy, rivalry, envy, exclusion, rage, disappointment, despair. Can the group deal with this? • Sexual desire usually experienced as private and very personal – difficult to share in groups

  6. Further reasons for minimization of desire in groups • Association with the body • Vulnerability and shame • Risk of exposure and humiliation • Collusion to keep desire safely hidden? (psychoanalysis prone to similar constraints – cf. “de-sexualization” of psychoanalysis) • The loss of a vital aspect of the human narrative and relationships

  7. The Group as an Object of Desire (Nitsun 2006) • Argues for increased emphasis on desire in groups • Fear and hostility to groups often concerns fears of revealing intimate desire and longings – the “unspeakable” desire that JRL refers to • Anti-group is anti-libidinal (Fairbairn) • Skepticism about group psychotherapy - that it deals inadequately with the ‘deeper’ issues of self and intimacy - must be addressed • A double perspective – would greater inclusion of desire in group generate the group as an object of desire? • A counterpoint to the Anti-group

  8. The social construction of desire • We are more used to thinking of desire in an individual or dyadic context but what about the social construction of desire? • Would this, alongside more ‘familiar’ notions of desire, facilitate a group analytic approach to desire? • “Social groups prone to fostering a restrictive sense of conventional morality” (Kernberg) • Foulkes’ basic law of group dynamics – in my view, restrictive • Therapy group as challenging redundant orthodoxies of desire • The group as witness – in Britton’s sense of ‘triangulation’, observing and reflecting on the expression of desire

  9. Gender and generativity JRL’ s useful categorization of gender attributes – • Embodiment – core gender identity • Representation – gender role • Erotic desire – sexual orientation • Generative identity – an important addition

  10. Generative identity Two aspects – • Sense of biological generativity - producing an actual child • Sense of symbolic generativity or creativity of a non-biological kind – producing a symbolic child ( art, work etc.) Biological generativity significantly extended through massive developments in reproductive technology Changes in reproductive technology part of a ‘revolution’ in biotechnologies that dramatically extend life choice and possibilities

  11. Psychosocial and cultural implications • Altered epistemology of sex, gender and procreation – what we know and understand about gender and sexuality • New nuclear family units and parenting relationships paralleled by recognition and legalization of same-sex partnerships • Impact on wider social and friendship networks in terms of absorption of new procreative developments • Impact on the social construction of desire – cf. “Eros changes in couples contemplating reproduction” (JRL)

  12. Challenges to psychoanalysis / psychotherapy • Challenges the “Discourse of Nature” (Dimen) of reproductive survival as the basis for theories of sexual and gender development • Challenges conventional definitions of masculinity and femininity, positioning both on a more fluid and unstable continuum than previously • Requires adaptation on part of psychotherapists to a changed and changing landscape of gender and sexuality • Challenges psychotherapists’ areas of personal conflict and prejudice concerning these changes • Requires careful consideration of the complexities of motivation that influence reproductive and life-style choice (JRL’s concept of ‘shadows’)

  13. Two caveats • The changes in reproductive technology are confined to a small segment of the population and the issues about male-female identity and relationships unaffected in most parts of the world • The new opportunities for procreation are subject to complex motivational dynamics and dysfunctional enactments

  14. Marian – a clinical illustration Example describes two contrasting experiences in psychotherapy. • Individual psychotherapy Marian was 24 when she sought individual therapy. A professional woman from a conservative family, she was struggling to come to terms with being homosexual. Her attempt to share this with her family was met with shock and disappointment. The psychotherapist was female and analytically trained. Therapist’s main approach was to interpret the patient’s rivalry towards her, particularly around relationships with men, the implication being that Marian’s homosexuality was a defence against anxieties associated with heterosexuality. Marian found this invalidating of what she considered to be a deep-rooted and integral part of her. Her discomfort was exacerbated by her feeling attracted to the therapist physically and sexually. She wanted to be touched, held, stroked by the therapist. She was unable to tell the therapist about this for fear of rejection. The therapy reached an impasse. Marian felt in a double bind. She left therapy after approx. three years.

  15. Marian • Group psychotherapy 8 years later Marian sought treatment again. She had been living with a female partner for 2 years. She found herself in crisis over her partner’s decision to have a child through IVF. Although she had agreed initially to this, she reacted with anxiety and anger to her partner being pregnant. The problem stirred up some of her underlying difficulties about being lesbian. This time she joined a long-term analytic group. The analyst, also female, although married, had had a homosexual relationship in her early adulthood. The group (6) was diverse in terms of the representation of sexualities. There was a gay man, a woman with a gay adolescent son, and a heterosexual man struggling with intense homosexual fantasies: the rest were predominantly heterosexual.

  16. Marian • Group psychotherapy(continued) Marian felt at home in the group. She was able to talk openly about her sexuality and the current problem with her partner. The group was supportive but not in an unchallenging way. There were differing views about IVF and its effect on the child in the context of same-sex parenting. There was also feedback to Marian about needy-selfish aspects of her relationship with her partner. Through exploration in the group, she got in touch with feelings of exclusion and envy in relation to child-bearing and gradually was able to integrate these feelings into the relationship with her partner. The baby was born 7 months after Marian joined the group. She felt overwhelmed by the event but also excited and grew to love the child. She remained in the group for 4 years.

  17. The generative group • Generativity also applies to the group • When a group is well-functioning, there is a sense of generativity compared to stagnation and deadness • The generativity of the group in Marian’s case, probably facilitated by the sexual diversity of the group, paralleled the issue of generativity she faced in her own life • The generative outcome of the group for Marian can be compared with the impasse of her individual therapy where the therapist’s ‘resistance’ to the authenticity of the patient’s needs appeared to be unmodified by the questioning and ‘witness’ of a group

  18. Conclusion – the generativity of our ideas • In taking responsibility for the influence of our theories and practice on the people we work with – and those outside the consulting room - we may consider how generative vs. restrictive our thinking is. • At a time of change in cultural aspects of gender and sexuality, there are opportunities to replace aspects of unnecessary pathologizing with creative views about development and choice. • JRL’s concept of generative identity is itself an example of a generative idea.

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