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Melanie Klein Can Help Us Understand Hypomanic Americans

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 9, 2014: Ken Burns orchestrated "The Roosevelts" series shown on PBS recently.

Poor Theodore Roosevelt. On the same day, both his wife and his mother died. A high energy guy as a young man, the bereaved Theodore went west, where he communed with nature and learned ranching. In time, he emerged as the hyperactive guy who later became the president of the United States.

Using him as a focal point, I want to discuss Melanie Klein's account of healthy mourning of bereavement and unhealthy mourning of bereavement, which she refers to as melancholia. Sigmund Freud famously published an essay titled "Mourning and Melancholia" (1915). As a Freudian psychoanalyst, she is in dialogue with Freud's famous essay.

In American culture today, one well-known Kleinian psychoanalyst is Justin A. Frank, M.D. author of the books BUSH ON THE COUCH: INSIDE THE MIND OF THE PRESIDENT (rev. ed. 2007) and OBAMA ON THE COUCH: INSIDE THE MIND OF THE PRESIDENT (2011). In his fine book about President George W. Bush, Dr. Frank explicitly concludes that "Bush is incapable of [serious mourning]" (page 255).

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Evidently, Theodore Roosevelt also was incapable of serious mourning.

Count yourself blessed if you are capable of mourning in a healthy way.

Melanie Klein claims that adult-onset bereavement always somehow evokes the unconscious memory of what she terms the depressive state in infancy. According to her way of thinking, the depressive state in infancy emerges from the infant's disappointment and frustration when the mother's breast is taken away -- or is not immediately available on demand. The infant's disappointment and frustration engenders anger and aggression.

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Hopefully, over time, the infant forms a secure attachment bond with the mother. This secure attachment bond will be the life-long source of inner security.

However, at times, small children do not succeed in forming a secure attachment bond with their mothers. This failure to form a secure attachment bond with the mother in early childhood will be the life-long source of a lack of inner security, because of the ambivalence involved in the early non-secure attachment bond with the mother.

In adult-onset of bereavement, those adults who formed secure attachment bonds with their mothers in early childhood should be able to experience healthy mourning processes.

But those adults who did not form secure attachment bonds with their mothers in early childhood will not be able to experience healthy mourning of adult-onset bereavement. Instead, they will probably experience melancholia.

Actually, I'm paraphrasing a bit here. Melanie Klein actually refers to normal mourning and abnormal mourning (also known as melancholia).

After Theodore Roosevelt's wife and mother died on the same day, he appears not to have been able to experience healthy mourning.

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However, he appears not to have experienced melancholia either -- or at least not for a protracted period of time.

Instead, he appears to have experienced what Melanie Klein refers to as manic defenses. In addition, it appears that manic defenses dominated the rest of his hyperactive life.

Surprise, surprise, Theodore Roosevelt many not have been the only hyperactive American in the history of American culture.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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