Psychic health

In colloquial terms, integration is a mental procedure that people use to make sense of their past and present emotional reactions to experiences in the external world. Beyond identifying the nature and causes of these emotions, this process is also used to organize and rationalize these responses in accordance with a pre-created hierarchy of ends. In other words, through integration, people seek to harmonise their instinctual drives and emotions with courses of action that enable the fulfilment of rationally determined ends. Although fairly general, this definition encounters some problems when trying to account for rationally chosen courses of action that go against predetermined goals.

This point, as explored by Jay Wallace, helps in highlighting the ways in which effective integration does not guarantee full psychic health or continuous normative action and will be examined later. In contemporary psychoanalysis, integration is predominantly explained in terms of ego mentation and thus will be the focus of this paper. To fully understand this mental process and the integral role it plays in determining psychic health, an account of important stepping-stones in ego development must be given. Subsequently, the way in which healthy ego development is intrinsically linked with effective integration of the id (with ego and superego) will be addressed and quantified by problems that can arise in this process.

A brief section will be dedicated to ways in which these problems can be overcome through psychoanalysis that will, in turn, assist in elucidating the essence of integration itself. Conclusively, a thorough evaluation of the limitations of integration will result in a definitive answer to the question of whether integration can in fact ensure mental health. Here begins the quest for understanding, as Hans Loewald concisely said, “[the way one] comes to terms with and takes responsibility for one’s unconscious history.”

Integrative processes begin at a very early age and are facilitated, as with so many developments, through the care and attention of the mother. Through introjection, identification and projection, the mother is able to assist the child in differentiating between its internal drives or needs and external satisfaction of those drives. This first crucial step of individuation acts as a foundation for the formation of the ego.

“In one and the same direction and organization of environment into shapes or configuration begin, and they are continued into ego-organization and object-organization, by methods such as identification, introjection and projection. The higher organizational stage of the environment [in this case the mother’s higher developed ego] is indispensable for the development of the psychic apparatus..Without such a differential between organism and environment no development takes place.” (Buckley 401)

In fact, the ego’s (or rationalizing part of the brain’s) first task is to differentiate between internal drives and external objects. Once having mastered this skill, it becomes more adept at ordering a whole range of raw experiences (often times even unconsciously). Loewald explains the route to full ego development and subsequent dominant ego mentation in three concise temporal stages consisting of unconscious, pre-conscious and conscious levels of mental organization. Loewald describes the id as an “unconscious history of experience” with a natural capacity to process external experiences, albeit in a more rudimentary way than the ego.

It can produce desires, needs and urges in response to external stimuli. However, if processed through the id, the agent does not actually consciously acknowledge these desires. Through “mirroring” and other techniques inherent in active motherly attention, the child develops a “conscire” or self-reflective ability learnt through the mother’s recognition of the child and the responses she gives in reaction to the child’s actions. This slowly makes the child aware of having individual needs that are satisfied only through expression of those needs to the external environment. Once conscient thinking of this kind takes place, the beginning of differentiation has begun and ego development becomes possible.

Since the id and the conscire are the first forms of existing mentation, the eventual analytic processing of these thoughts through the ego is in its very nature historically reflective. Essentially, the ego is the rationalizing part of the brain, capable of recognizing emotions, desires and drives as well as ordering them into the existing structure of emotions that have already been analysed. Therefore, it has the dual function of acknowledging new desires and reactions to the present environment as well as reviewing desires that have been previously processed by the id. It is important here, to note the distinction between repeating and remembering memories.

The act of repeating a memory requires no recollection in thought and can therefore be described more accurately in terms of unconscious action and consists merely in acting out memories. Often times, such repetitious behaviour can be seen in relationships, or trends in partner choosing. A woman may select a man with whom she relates to similarly as she would relate to or interact with her father. Not only does she unconsciously choose this man because of attributes that remind her of her father, but, in many ways, she will also behave or view herself in a way that corresponds to her self-image and action when with her father.

(This process is called transference and, if actively acknowledged by therapists, can aid a patient in properly integrating his/her id with his/her ego. A point that will be looked at more closely when confronting problems and possible solutions in proper integration.) The reason this pattern may continue in the woman’s choice of future partners is because her ego has not been able to recognize these desires. In many ways, because she is not able to remember these feelings she had when with her father through mentation of her ego, her trend in men choosing is essentially involuntary.

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