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Primary and Secondary Processes

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posted on Dec, 27 2014 @ 05:44 PM
The psychoanalyst Hans Loewald described human relations as occurring along two simultaneous but divergent levels of processing, what he called primary process and secondary process, we can call affect and symbolic processing. At the level of affect (emotion) we have a basic undifferentiated emanation of emotion which subsumes subject and object, for any self (you) and any possible orientation towards an other, there is a 'feeling' which rules the dynamics of both parties.

This level is constantly working through everything human beings do. It is the background 'feeling' which shapes and forms ways of human being with other people. This force acts hidden like gravity upon matter; forcing 'thinking' and other symbolic processing into a predefined form, to complete a predefined affective action; as an unconscious enactment of what the primary processes entail.

On the next level human beings begin to 'think': to differentiate, name and associate words with referents, and emotionally to align its increasingly complex "self concepts" with primary emotional habits established at the pre-verbal period of development.

Just as the mind seeks clarity for external things by establishing norms of differentiation, the unconscious 'mind' forces the "ego" - or real-time awareness - to enact relational patterns in self-other relations. This means that early patterns picked up in the primary process stage of development - where affect and emotion established 'ways of being' that served as the background for foreground 'ideas' and 'concepts' which human beings, as they get older, assume to be the primary reality - are focally the most relevant features of human self-other experiences.


I find this interesting because at any moment any of us can be thrown along any particular trajectory by 'taking in', or "internalizing', something encountered in the world 'outside' us. The acuity of the organism in establishing a 'center of attention' - what we call our 'ego' - cleverly hides the background processing of emotion and more basic self-other configurations. The way a ego 'organizes itself', depends upon what we encounter, how we've learned to feel in these encounters, and whether or not we have experienced an ability to be 'taken' out of negative world experiences.

When a child is born, there is little if any cognitive awareness of a world outside itself. The world of the baby is pre-verbal, procedural, and most of all, SENSORY. The 'egoic' awareness, a felt self-other sensibility - is an achievement of development, not a given: it is relationaly established, and wont emerge unless it goes through the same self-other configurations of those it relates with.

The infants prefrontal cortex is limited to being a passive observer, an awareness that 'becomes' its feelings, as the feelings of the body and the emotions connected with them 'take in' and 'absorb' the affective details of its early life milieu. Necessarily, the first trauma of every living human is the trauma of birth; the trauma of coming from one state into a very different state; the inherent fear of a body feeling a changed environment; light, and the sudden need for air: to breathe. The baby's entrance is scary, though the mother does have some latitude in how she tends to herself and her baby during pregnancy and at birth in easing the stress on the baby by easing the stress in her own mind.

We take for granted how much society and culture structures individual human minds. Nobody is free from the system of construction: everyone has been determined and conditioned in how it feels; how it defends itself from feelings too traumatic for mind to reflect upon. And together we add the largest burden of rendering abstract and subtle conversations about affective experience to the dustbin, as what seems 'beyond us' - what confuses us but seems well worded and intellectually persuasive - we "throw" away, outside our minds, so we say something with social-emotional meaning which is 'affectively meaningful' for the others who feel the same distance from understanding the subtle and abstract logic of human behavior at the level of 'primary process'.


Since each of us are to some extent 'embedded' in this matrix of self-experience, each of us unconsciously enacts 'beliefs' of one sort of another to deal with the discomfort of 'not knowing'. We simplify the anxious ambiguity in order to create the illusory sense of 'order': the order of secondary process; of philosophy and the emergent contents which deny mind access to other ways of thinking. Closing off parts of the world by closing off the mind to the arbitrariness of the hidden primary processes of unconscious body-mind-society linkages.

Mindfulness, then, is probably the only thing that can bring the mind "out" of the embeddedness of primary process relating, where ways of being are determined by the "ghosts" of our relational past. A good example is how we learn to deal with negative feedback from other people. What do we specifically do in our minds to keep things out? Defensiveness necessarily involves ideas like "people are doing this to me" or "i am doing this to other people". There's always some relational 'doer, done to' awareness, as well as an ever present dialectical quality to our experiences. We think THIS because of THAT. The "that", being the closed-off, unconsciously dissociated 'phantom' of your last affectively meaningful experience, as well as any other affective associations stemming from your relational history that are relevant to current self-other processing.

Any philosophy of life that doesn't pay attention to the phenomenological logic of emotion on the minds organization is a philosophy that ignores the importance of psychodynamics. Such knowledge can only be known by analyzing your own self-other experience. It is thus first person subjective, not 3rd person objective, as in so much research psychology. It is phenomenological. And, I do not think it is fair or wise to ignore first person experience simply because it cannot be tabulated in the way we do 'objective' facts. We all have access to our inner experiences; and each of us possesses the ability to 'be open' to what occurs and how affects literally 'effect' how we think and feel with 'salient' others.


Humankind has slowly been coming out of it's emotional 'numbness' of just how morally disgusting our behavior over history has been. Just watch one historical movie, such as Exodus: Gods and Kings, and simply take in the fact of how human beings willingly charged straight into a situation where they had a mathematically strong chance of being killed. How could they be so thoughtless as to the value of their life? Part of the problem is human imaginations about an afterlife; but really, the primary problem is not being able to experience those things consigned to the trashbin by society: female attributes like empathy, compassion, attachment. Attributes so present in most mother-baby relationships, but which begin to vanish and slide into 'dissociation' as the child grows up into a patriarchal social construct.

Ignorance. It's amazing how knowledge of emotion is the ultimate fact of intelligence. If you aren't emotionally centered properly, you're thinking may be sophisticated, but sophisticated, too often, in a self destructive and other destructive way.

edit on 27-12-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)

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