Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart (Book Review)

Author:  Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth and Faith Bethelard
Publisher:  New York: The Free Press, 2000
Reviewed By:  Nancy McWilliams, Spring 2002, pp. 52-54

Cherishment is a daunting book to review; it does not fit the usual psychoanalytic mold. It somehow manages to be both a scholarly publication and a trade book, a significant addition to psychoanalytic developmental theory and a personal diary, a travelogue and a love story. With the notion of cherishment, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl and Faith Bethelard are introducing a new word to both the psychoanalytic lexicon and the English language, both of which have lacked a concept for what they describe and explore. Yet unlike many writers who enjoy coining words and phrases, they write simply and fluidly. Cherishment has none of the plodding, obfuscating jargon found in so many psychoanalytic contributions. Although the authors make an argument that deserves to be taken seriously, they develop it in the context of a shared narrative of discovery and in a tone of wonderment that may disconcert psychoanalytic scholars who are not accustomed to having their intellectual provisions served up with so much Winnicottian playfulness.

In a deceptively slim and unpretentious volume, Young-Bruehl and Bethelard appear to have an ambitious agenda. First, they are making an argument about the importance of giving adequate weight in psychoanalytic metapsychology to the presumably universal expectation of young children to be loved. In fact, they posit that without an understanding of that state of mind, psychoanalytic theory is conspicuously incomplete. Second, they are trying reach an audience that includes educated but psychoanalytically unsophisticated readers, whom they acquaint–by explicit instruction, example, and analogy–with the general terrain of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking. These lessons in psychoanalysis address not only the nuances of its theories but also the subtleties of its clinical practice and the power of its therapeutic effects. Third, they are relating their ideas to a motley assortment of intellectual traditions and art forms, including, among others, Greek philosophy and literature, Western modern art and poetry, ancient Chinese spiritual traditions, and Japanese child rearing practices. Finally, they are documenting the relational contexts in which their own appreciation of the phenomenon they call cherishment has germinated, matured, and flourished. Their sources of inspiration include their individual reading, courses in their analytic training, their respective personal experiences as both patient and therapist, and most significantly, their experience of each other during the process of discovery. I will address each of these aspects of the book.

First, let me comment on their argument for the existence of a basic human need for affectionate connection, with its associated wish to feel prized by the caregiver. “Cherishment” is a neologism intended to be roughly synonymous with the concept of amae, as described by the Japanese psychoanalyst Takeo Doi. The territory spanned by amae seems to include another affective stance for which English lacks a single term; namely, agape, the ancient Greek word for a deeply tender, affectionate love that lacks romantic or erotic overtones. A two-person concept rooted in an infantile era before the two persons were entirely distinct psychologically, “cherishment” seems to encompass both the expectation to be cherished and the complementary disposition to do the cherishing. When Freud talked about this area of human psychology, he referred to the “anaclitic” instincts. Although the expectation to be cherished shares some conceptual space with Bowlby’s language of attachment and fits rather snugly with contemporary relational theorizing, cherishment as described by the authors has many attributes of a drive. Indeed, Young-Bruehl (2001) has argued elsewhere that we need to give renewed consideration to Freud’s original concept of a two-track motivational system in which primary affectional strivings coexist with the more urgent libidinal drives.

I agree with Young-Bruehl and Bethelard that we need to learn more about the primal need to be loved, a concept that Freud originally endowed with instinctual status. In addition to sources of information about such a need that one finds both in studies on attachment and in the now-vast research literature on infancy and infant-parent interaction, I would like to see the psychoanalytic community pay more attention to contemporary empirical studies by biologists, neurologists, psychophysiologists and comparative psychologists. For example, there is now a vast literature about thermoregulation in mammals and other animals. The need to be warmed by the mother’s body after childbirth is arguably even more primary than the need to suck; death comes quickly if one is not protected from the cold. Because it is more critical to newborn survival, nurses in neonatal hospital units are given much more exacting training in dealing with heat loss and “cold stress” in babies than in teaching their mothers how to nurse comfortably.

The continuing dependency of human beings on our earliest caregivers to create an optimal thermal environment is so ubiquitous a fact of infancy that, like water to the fish, it may not ever have struck us as interesting. Yet a cursory look at ordinary language–warm people, cold people, warming up an audience, casting a cold eye, basking in the warmth of a smile, offering cold comfort, warming to one’s subject, giving the cold shoulder–suggests there is something very basic about thermoregulation, something vital, sensual, intimate, tender, dyadic, and more clearly connected to the affectional system than to sexuality or aggression. With some notable exceptions (e.g., Slavin & Kriegman, 1992; Schore, 1994), it has been a long time since cutting-edge analysts have tried to integrate psychoanalytic clinical observations with the discoveries of our scientific contemporaries in fields other than clinical and developmental psychology. And it may be particularly important currently that we do so; it is arguable that Freud’s success in getting the larger world to respect the psychoanalytic paradigm had something to do with his penchant for relating his own discoveries to those of his predecessors and contemporaries in physics, biology, and neurology. However compelling the current tendency to define psychoanalysis as a strictly hermeneutic endeavor rather than as a science in the logical-positivist tradition, there is a legitimate place in psychoanalytic theory for consideration of what is biologically required by the human infant and of how the response of the early environment to a biological exigency influences individual psychology and behavior. Young-Bruehl and Bethelard have played a needed role in directing contemporary psychoanalytic thinking toward possible biological imperatives. They have also done a service in connecting psychoanalysis to other scholarly domains; I hope they are setting a trend that will include the “hard sciences.”

In a related vein, let me next consider whether Cherishment succeeds as a popularization of psychoanalytic sensibilities. Readers who care about disseminating psychoanalytic ideas to a larger public will probably admire, as I did, the ingenuity of the authors in bringing the concept of cherishment alive in a number of salient, emotionally vivid metaphors and contexts. It is not easy to make complex and sometimes controversial theoretical concepts understandable to a general audience, and perhaps because it is difficult, psychoanalysts in recent decades have often neglected our obligation to speak to a larger public. Few contemporary analysts write for anyone but each other, in marked contrast to Freud, Theodor Reik, Anna Freud, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Bruno Bettelheim, Erik Erikson, Herbert Marcuse, and other seminal thinkers who evidently did not consider it beneath their professional dignity to “give psychoanalysis away” (to paraphrase a recent APA president).

Notwithstanding its erudite forays into art, poetry, and the spiritual traditions of unfamiliar cultures, Cherishment comes across as commonsensical. The authors never talk down to their readers, and their excitement about their subject matter is contagious. Clinical illustrations, personal observations, and vignettes about such widely salient issues as early child care and adolescent development makes it potentially appealing to a large group of educated readers. Because the voice in which the story is told strikes the popular ear as quintessentially feminine, readership beyond the psychoanalytic community is likely to be limited mostly to women. As always, whether Cherishment succeeds as a trade book will depend heavily on the inclinations of the marketing staff at the Free Press; there is nothing internal to the work that limits its potential appeal. At a time when otherwise sophisticated people know less about psychoanalysis than they have in decades (at least if the knowledge of my incoming graduate students and non-psychoanalytic colleagues is any indication), it is critical that more books like this one get written.

As for the third issue, the integrations that Young-Bruehl and Bethelard have made with an improbable array of other disciplines, the book is a true original, full of quirky but rewarding excursions into all kinds of human meaning-making. The exhilaration that characterizes the authors’ discovery of their respective personal unconscious lives reminds me of the atmosphere I felt when I was teaching in Moscow and St. Petersburg shortly after perestroika had removed the Soviet taboo on psychoanalytic studies. Therapists in Russia were the most mature, erudite group of professionals I had ever addressed, the cream of a crop that had been ruthlessly weeded at every stage of the demanding Russian educational process, who consequently were much more widely educated in the arts, literature, history, and science than I can ever hope to be. At the same time, because they were just discovering psychoanalysis, they had all the giddiness of young graduate students reading Freud for the first time: They teased one another about their “complexes,” jumped with glee on one another’s Freudian slips, and couldn’t wait to get their patients on the couch and talk to them about Oedipus. Not that Young-Bruehl and Bethelard are doing that, exactly, but they breathe a similar kind of youthful enthusiasm into descriptions of their explorations, while simultaneously embedding their ideas in a body of erudition that is dazzling in its sweep.

Finally, I want to say a few things about the relational context of Cherishment. Although Young-Bruehl has done most of the actual writing, the book’s status as a genuinely coauthored work is evident throughout. One of the ways in which I am not sure it succeeds concerns the authors’ effort to convey to readers the quality of their intellectual and emotional synergy as they were discovering cherishment in one context after another. When I began analytic training in the early1970s, my experience was greatly enriched by my close friendship with a colleague who was exploring this revelatory new psychoanalytic world with me. Sometimes, after reading an article or attending a class or case presentation, we would even have similar dreams. The sense I had of falling in love with psychoanalysis was not separable from the sense of immersion in a loving relationship. Around the same time, I was witnessing the nascent collaboration of George Atwood and Robert Stolorow, who had joined the Social and Personality Psychology faculty at Rutgers within a year of each other while I was studying there. Because their mutual passion for psychoanalytic engagement was both infectious and impenetrable, it engendered an emotionally complicated atmosphere among their colleagues and students. Our enjoyment of and admiration for their synergistic connection co-existed with painful individual feelings of exclusion from something precious.

Such intense intellectual-emotional-spiritual teamwork seems to me realistically enviable and rather rare; it may be closely related to both creativity and productivity. One thinks of Freud and Fliess, Tocqueville and Beaumont, Melville and Hawthorne, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Anyone who has experienced the phenomenon that Young-Bruehl and Bethelard are trying to represent understands how the process of learning together is an inextricable part of what is learned. But I am not sure how well the experience lends itself to the written word. And their readers’ transferences to their collaboration may be as conflicted as the emotions generated by Stolorow and Atwood in 1974. There is a kind of falling in love that comes through in their co-authorship that can evoke either a sense of pleasurable co-discovery (as in “Everybody loves a lover”) or an irritated defense against the pain of marginality (as in the disparaging “Love is blind”). Or both. Such reactions may complicate both the popular and scholarly response to their contribution.

Young-Bruehl and Bethelard have subtitled this work “A Psychology of the Heart.” In both form and content they have delivered on the promise. Notwithstanding the inevitable emotional and intellectual complexities it poses by being so personally intimate and at the same time so learned, I encourage my colleagues to read it. And if you want to absorb Cherishment in the spirit in which it was written, curl up with it by a fire and let yourself be warmed.

References

Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: The neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Slavin, M. O., & Kriegman, D. (1992). The adaptive design of the human psyche: Psychoanalysis, evolutionary biology, and the therapeutic process. New York: Guilford Press.
Young-Bruehl, E. (2001). Where do we fall when we fall in love? Paper presented for the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, New York, NY, May 11.

Reviewer Note

Nancy McWilliams teaches at the Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and has a private practice in Flemington, NJ. She is the author of Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality in the Clinical Process (1994) and Psychoanalytic Case Formulation (1991), both published by Guilford Press.

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