Tuesday 4/16 | Crocodiles & Fathers

Top of Mind:

At The Clinical Study Days last week, one of the case presentations involved working with children. The particulars of the case involved a mother who strongly desired for her child to go to a therapist who would somehow "teach" the child how to act in a way the mother believed would be less problematic.

When the case was commented on, someone said,

All mother's are crocodiles and all fathers are weak. This is why psychoanalysis exists.

Since I heard this comment, I've been thinking about it a lot; today, those thoughts are top of mind.

The Crocodile Reference:

In Seminar XVII: The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, (Amazon) Lacan states,

Psychoanalysts are becoming increasingly involved in something which is, in effect, excessively important, namely the mother's role [...] The mother's role is the mother's desire. That's fundamental. The mother's desire is not something that is bearable. (p. 112 of the English edition)

Thinking this through developmentally – A child comes from a mother, and for some time, the child would die if someone does not mother it. So, in the first months of life, the mother and the child must satisfy one another! This is necessary, but for the sake of both the mother and the child, the intensity of this satisfaction must diminish. If it does not diminish, the resulting dependency on the mother leads to the child wanting to be what the mother desires more than anything. It also prevents the child from discovering and creating other forms of satisfaction ("self-soothing" in commonplace parlance).

Psychoanalytic theory suggests that if something does not intervene in the mutually satisfying bond between the mother and the child if something does not intervene in the mother's desire for the child and the child's desire to be desired, the consequences will not be good because...

  • The mother will not go back to living a life that involves more than caring for a child.
  • The child won't find other sources of satisfaction that don't come from the mother.

What comes between the mother and the child, prohibiting (saying "No!" to) them from being overly involved in satisfying one another's desires? This prohibition is what Freud called the Oedipus complex and what Lacan called the paternal metaphor.

I find that the Oedipus complex is so often misrepresented as "The kid wants to have sex with their mom!" This is not what the Oedipus complex is about! The Oedipus complex is a metaphor about a child and a mother being overly enmeshed with one another and about the importance of something steeping in and preventing the child and the mother from being overly involved in satisfying one another's desires; it is what prevents them from being one another's love object. This is the start of the long process of helping both the mother and child find satisfaction outside of their roles of mother and child and eventually outside the family system.

This "No!" is the Name-the-Father (the name of the father in French is le nom du père, which sounds the same as le non du père, which is the name of the father). It is the "No!" that is issued to both the mother and child. This "No!" comes from someone who is in the position of the father (i.e., someone who is not the mother).

I say the position of the father because this person does not need to be biologically male, nor do they need to be the child's biological father. This "No!" has to come from someone who is not the mother, someone who has the capacity to issue a demand/request to the mother that she feels compelled to comply with.

This brings me back to the statement.

All mother's are crocodiles and all fathers are weak. This is why psychoanalysis exists.

What I think this is getting at is how easy it is to become overly invested in the dynamic of wanting to love/satisfy and be loved/satisfied by one's love object and how difficult but essential it is to effectively intervene in this kind of over libidinal (i.e., emotional) investment.

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