Friday, October 2, 2009

Sullivan: Empathy and the Significant Other

The "significant other" is a term which Sullivan (1947) uses to denote the most influential person in the child's world, usualy the mother. We have already described in the section on ego formation how the infant first receives an impression of the "mothering one" which gradually differentiates into a `Good Mother" and a "Bad Mother." Sullivan treats another concept in the area of infantile relationships—the concept of empathy.

Empathy refers to a "peculiar emotional linkage" between the infant and significant other. Long before he can understand what is happening to him, this "emotional contagion or communion" exists. Its greatest importance is said to be from six months to twenty-seven months, but it endures through life in some people. An example of empathy is a feeding situa¬tion in which a fright experienced by the mother results in eating disturbances on the part of the child. A vicious circle is set up, since the mother's anxiety decreases the infant's feeling of euphoria, which concequently makes the mother more anxious.

The basis for this unclear mode of emotional communication is thought to be biological, since animals exhibit a similiar phenomenon. However, the process is felt to be very portant for understanding acculturation.

Source: Sullivan, H, S., 1947. Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry. William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, Washington.


Post a Comment