Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for January 17th, 2012

Adolescence: Anna Freud Style

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 17, 2012


Thinking about adolescence from a psychoanalytic point of view, brings us to Sigmund’s Freud’s paper on the “Three Essays on Sexuality.” Essentially, infantile sexuality which is focused on the erotogenic zones (oral, anal and phallic) become transferred to new sexual aims, meaning that in adolescence, the emerging adult begins to focus on “objects” or love interests outside of his/her family. Sigmund Freud wrote about what every mother talks about on the playground. That is that the behavior moms look at in their toddlers between the ages of two and five, are likely predictors of adolescent behavior. The stubborn toddler is thought of as “oh, my goodness, he is going to be a difficult adolescent,” the mother fears as she takes his toys away. There is a notion, perhaps started by Sigmund Freud in 1905, that after age six, there will be a quiet period until puberty, but then the difficulties will re-emerge, only this time, with the force and power of an adult-sized being.

   Anna Freud, the youngest child of Sigmund Freud, added on to our understanding of adolescence in that she focused on the ego’s job in adolescence to master the inner drive tensions. In other words, she helped us to understand that adolescent turmoil was normal and necessary for adult development. The inner tensions of the drives (push forward in development) which seem to quiet down in latency (ages six to ten), resurge in adolescence. To put it another way, adolescence represents a time when depth of thought is born. The young adult must contend with sexual pressures which drive him towards love relationships and professional development to support his independence from his familial bonds. Failure of adolescence causes persistent immaturity which can take the form of sociopathy, poor relationships, or a psychological merging with the family of origin, thereby preventing a psychological separation and the development of a more sophisticated being.

    I like thinking about adolescence because not only do I teach about it, I also live with the struggles every day, both through my adolescent patients, and through my older clients who have gotten stuck in adolescence, giving them tremendous anxiety about moving forward in their lives. For example, an increase in narcissism is inevitable and helpful in the beginning of adolescence, but one hopes that as time goes on, the person begins to have deeper empathy for others. This cannot always happen because for some, the security necessary to leave oneself behind as he/she begins to deeply care for another is simply too scary. The person feels too emotionally deprived to intensely care for others.

  Lee, age forty-one, never married is a good example. He is lonely, on the one hand, but the thought of thinking about someone else gives him anxiety to the point of panic. He is “sure” that if he lived with a woman, his life would be ruined. She might expect him to make more money, keep a cleaner house, go out to social events, and those expectations, according to Lee, might “ruin” his life, such that he is too scared to even date women. At the same time, Lee is deeply caring for his parents, to the point where he vacations with them, and he spends every Sunday night at their house having dinner. I would say that Lee is stuck in latency. He cannot seem to move beyond his childlike life of having his parents as his primary love objects. The thought of psychological separation gives him panic. My more biologically minded colleagues might suggest that Lee has Panic Disorder, or some sort of Anxiety Disorder, and although I can see that point of view, I also see that Lee needs to work on his inner tensions of struggling with his ego. That is, he needs to take care of his ego such that he can manage his own needs and the needs of another, outside of his family of origin, in a way that is both satisfying and fulfilling. As he learns to do that, he will no longer experience anxiety at the thought of going out on a date. I am in favor of Lee taking medication to help him with his anxiety, as long as he also understands that as he masters his internal world, the expectation is that he will no longer need his medication. Anna Freud helped us to understand Lee. Thanks, Anna.


Posted in Adolescence, Psychoanalysis | 3 Comments »

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