Our meeting on March 23rd looked at several papers on self harm, with particular emphasis on self harm in adolescents. We learned something about the on line presence of websites and chat rooms dedicated to self harm and frequented by young people. The positive side being a source of support for young people in unbearable pain. The negative being a peer group which might encourage self harm and could even promote it.
Chapter 3 of Antonia Murphy’s book ‘Out of This World’ discussed the relationship between self harm and suicide. She sees a difference in intentionality though they are both acts of self aggression. People harming themselves generally want to feel more alive whilst those who are suicidal wish to die. We quickly saw a blurred area where the two acts overlap where long term self harm can lead to ‘acquired capability’ of suicide. Both behaviours come, of course, from psychic pain and we discussed the importance of investigating the pain and its origins by empathic atunement in therapy. Barent Walsh’s paper on Clinical Assessment of Self Injury concentrates on extracting the details of the client’s harmful behaviour in what he calls ‘respectful curiosity’ , a term which did not sit well with all of us as it implies therapist distance rather than involvement. We were however agreed that seeking detail might make the behaviour feel more real for the client and conveys a willingness to bear this reality collaboratively. The client’s prior experience of other people is likely to have been avoidant or squeamish.
We came up with a very interesting new idea (for most of us) that morbid jealousy is itself a form of self harm stemming from early inadequate attachment – the pain of feeling unloved at the same time as feeling unworthy to be loved and re creating this distress in the self inflicted pain of jealousy.
For our May meeting of Fells and Dales counsellors, we explored the relationship between twins, and in particular to what extent the twin bond is “special”. We read a research article by Tancredy and Fraley on ” The nature of Adult Twin relationships: an attachment-theoretical perspective” from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,2006, vol.90,no1,78-93.
The article defined the main characteristic of attachment relationships as comprising proximity seeking, separation distress, and the use of one another as a secure haven and safe base. Twins were then measured against non-twins to assess whether twins used each other as attachment figures rather than mother in the first instance and then siblings or other key figures.
An interesting finding was that twins do not fully acknowledge the presence of their co-twin until the end of the separation-individuation process at around 36 months so until then are more focused on the mother to meet their needs. However, for identical twins who share the womb space, there can be ” an embodied sense of the other” which creates a lasting attachment greater than that between fraternal twins or non-twins.
We then discussed the relevance of these findings for the therapeutic relationship and the extent of sibling rivalry between twins.