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"Love Supreme": on spiritual experience and change in personality structure.

This article attempts to address the crucial question of how an experience of God might lead to changes in personality. Important concepts are drawn from psychoanalytic theory Psychoanalytic theory is a general term for approaches to psychoanalysis which attempt to provide a conceptual framework more-or-less independent of clinical practice rather than based on empirical analysis of clinical cases.  emphasising relational perspectives which have developed in recent decades. While somewhat under developed, there were relational aspects in Freud's thinking, both clinically in the transference TRANSFERENCE, Scotch law. The name of an action by which a suit, which was pending at the time the parties died, is transferred from the deceased to his representatives, in the same condition in which it stood formerly.  and theoretically with oedipal oed·i·pal or Oed·i·pal
Of or characteristic of the Oedipus complex.
 dynamics and the formation of the superego superego: see psychoanalysis.

In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, one of the three aspects of the human personality, along with the id and the ego.
. There is a brief mention of other psychoanalytic theorists and an outline of the work of Hans Loewald in regard to internalization Internalization

A decision by a brokerage to fill an order with the firm's own inventory of stock.

When a brokerage receives an order they have numerous choices as to how it should be filled.
 of relationship patterns. There is an examination of some relevant results from infant observation and developmental research. And finally the article presents a view about how experiences of God are internalized in terms of relational patterns, adding structure to personality in a maturing and possibly healing way. This thesis is illustrated with a case drawn from the author's practice.


In 1964 tenor sax player John Coltrane “Coltrane” redirects here. For other uses, see Coltrane (disambiguation).

John William Coltrane (September 23 1926 – July 17 1967), nicknamed Trane, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer.
 recorded his masterpiece A Love Supreme. Like many in his generation of jazz musicians This is a list of jazz musicians on whom Wikipedia has articles. Some of the most notable jazz musicians
  • Louis Armstrong (1901–1971)
  • Ornette Coleman (born 1930)
  • John Coltrane (1926–1967)
  • Count Basie (1904–1984)
, he struggled with heroin addiction but he discovered something new in a relationship with God. In A Love Supreme, with its remarkable "sustained intensity", he gave thanks "Let us sing all songs to God, to whom all praise is due ... praise God." Coltrane experienced the divine love and made a lasting tribute in his music.

The experience of John Coltrane raises a fundamental question for all Christian psychologists regardless of theoretical orientation. How does an experience of God impact the structure of personality? And what is it about our work that facilitates personal growth and ultimately greater spiritual maturity? I will offer a relational perspective from psychoanalytic theory and infant research, with the hope that this will add something to our understanding of such crucial issues.

1. About Freud and the Origins of a Relational Perspective

Psychoanalysis, rich in theory and practice, can potentially provide something of value to a consideration of the psychological aspects of religious experience. This might surprise some Christian psychologists, since Freud was a renowned sceptic in religious matters (cf. Freud, 1928), but there have been leading analysts over the last century, beginning with Pastor Oscar Pfister, who have been committed Christians. I value the psychoanalytic perspective because it provides a sophisticated theory of personality which is constantly being revised by advances in various areas such as neuropsychology neuropsychology

Science concerned with the integration of psychological observations on behaviour with neurological observations on the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain.
, neuroanatomy neuroanatomy /neu·ro·anat·o·my/ (-ah-nat´ah-me) anatomy of the nervous system.

1. The branch of anatomy that deals with the nervous system.

, psychopathology psychopathology /psy·cho·pa·thol·o·gy/ (-pah-thol´ah-je)
1. the branch of medicine dealing with the causes and processes of mental disorders.

2. abnormal, maladaptive behavior or mental activity.
 and developmental research. In recent decades there has been an increasing emphasis on relational aspects of theory and treatment. I will first explore the relational dimension in Freud's theory and then briefly outline this development in psychoanalytic circles, which will be informed by developmental research and finally a consideration of the relational dimension of the believer's experience of God in Christ.

Freud's writings abound with seminal insights, sometimes as asides or in footnotes that remain embryonic and never mature in his writings. He recognized the importance of what was potentially a relational perspective. He told a story, "I once heard a three-year-old boy calling out of a dark room 'Auntie, speak to me! I'm frightened because it is so dark.' His aunt answered him: 'What good would that do? You can't see me.' 'That doesn't matter,' replied the child, 'if anyone speaks, it gets light'. Thus what he was afraid of what not the dark, but the absence of someone he loved; he could feel sure of being soothed as soon as he had evidence of that person's presence" (1905, p. 224).

The link between Freud and Oedipal dynamics has become part of popular culture. It should be noted that he understood it within the theoretical context of his drive theory (1900), but it was also potentially a theory of object-relations (how internal representations of important figures relate to each other). His concepts of transference, resistance and counter-transference, central in the clinical context, imply at least two persons present-extending the boundary from the intra-psychic to the interpersonal realm (Bacal & Newman, 1990).

A relational dimension can be seen in Freud's understanding of mental attachment to objects. In the second decade of the 20th Century he started to stress not just the infantile infantile /in·fan·tile/ (in´fin-til) pertaining to an infant or to infancy.

1. Of or relating to infants or infancy.

 wish for objects, but the way these objects become internalized. In a series of papers including "On Narcissism narcissism (närsĭs`ĭzəm), Freudian term, drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, indicating an exclusive self-absorption. In psychoanalysis, narcissism is considered a normal stage in the development of children. " (1914) and "The Unconscious" (1915) Freud argued that there is a flow of libido libido (lĭbē`dō, –bī`–) [Lat.,=lust], psychoanalytic term used by Sigmund Freud to identify instinctive energy with the sex instinct.  from the ego to objects. He distinguished different kinds of attachment to objects with the more primitive being of the "narcissistic nar·cis·sism   also nar·cism
1. Excessive love or admiration of oneself. See Synonyms at conceit.

2. A psychological condition characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in

In his important paper "Mourning and Melancholia MELANCHOLIA, med. jur. A name given by the ancients to a species of partial intellectual mania, now more generally known by the name of monomania. (q.v.) It bore this name because it was supposed to be always attended by dejection of mind and gloomy ideas. Vide Mania., " (1917) Freud sought to explain internalization as the result of an abandoned object cathexis cathexis /ca·thex·is/ (kah-thek´sis) conscious or unconscious investment of psychic energy in a person, idea, or any other object.cathec´tic

n. pl.
. The object is internalized to keep the object alive, which is no longer possible in the real world and hence it is still preserved as a channel for drive gratification and regulation. In "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego" (1921) Freud talked about early identifications as the "earliest expression of an emotional tie with another person" (p. 105). The implication is that the tie is not pathological but a general phenomenon of human development (Mitchell, 1988).

I have been interested in developing a model of internalized relational patterns based on Freud's structural theory. This model might be considered in terms of the superego and the related ego ideal ego ideal
In psychoanalytic theory, the part of one's ego that contains an idealized self based on those people, especially parents and peers, one admires and wishes to emulate.
. The classic statement of structural theory is The Ego and the Id (1923). Freud discussed "a differentiation in the ego" as the ego ideal or superego, thus introducing the now familiar term but not as yet clearly distinguished from the ego ideal. He discussed origins of the superego in terms of identification, "For behind it there lies hidden an individual's first and most important identification, his identification with his father" (p. 31).

The superego forms out of the resolution of the oedipal crisis, "Indeed by giving permanent expression to the influence of the parents it perpetuates the existence of the factors to which it owes its existence" (Freud, 1923, p. 35). The importance of identification is repeatedly emphasised. While this process is more complex than a simple modelling of 'real parents', an abiding presence of early relationship patterns can be found in the organization of the superego.

In the New Introductory Lectures (Freud, 1933) the internalization of relationship patterns is more clearly articulated. Freud thought that the superego was more selective about the harsh side of parental injunction and had to account for the aggressive tendency in the "metamorphosis metamorphosis (mĕt'əmôr`fəsĭs) [Gr.,=transformation], in zoology, term used to describe a form of development from egg to adult in which there is a series of distinct stages.  of the parental relationship into the superego" (p. 62). In these lectures Freud gave further attention to the role of identification which is defined as "the assimilation of one ego into another one, as a result of which the first ego behaves like the second in certain respects, imitates it and in a sense takes it up into itself" (p. 63). It is 'to be like' whereas object choice is 'to have' (Sandler, 1963). However, identification that contributes to the superego is more with the parental superego rather than with 'real parents' (Freud, 1933, p. 67). The process of identification continues through development. What begins with parents later includes: educators, pastors and people chosen as ideal models. As the identification process continues it tends to become more "impersonal" and better integrated into the "formation of character". But this takes place in the ego because the superego was "determined by the earliest parental imagos" (p. 64)

In Freud's last statement of his structural theory An Outline of Psycho-analysis (1940), internalised relationship patterns are described in some detail: "a portion of the external world has, at least partially, been taken into the ego and thus become an integral part of the internal world. This new psychical agency continues to carry on the functions which have hitherto been performed by the people (the abandoned objects) in the external world: it observes the ego, gives it orders, judges it and threatens it with punishments, exactly like the parents whose place it has taken. We call this agency the superego" (p. 205). The superego may be considered the relational link to the external world: "the superego continues to play the part of the external world for the ego, although it has become a portion of the internal world" (p. 206).

It is possible to identify a theme of internalization of external relationships in Freud's evolving understanding of structural theory. This kind of internalization is implied in his discussion of the ego ideal and superego, but not as a simple modelling process because narcissistic dynamics initially dominate the process and are always present. Freud also maintained that the resolution of the oedipal complex Noun 1. Oedipal complex - a complex of males; desire to possess the mother sexually and to exclude the father; said to be a source of personality disorders if unresolved
Oedipus complex
 was necessary for the formation of the superego. The oedipal complex, clearly three persons in both a real relationship and fantasy relationship, provides another dimension of relational internalization. And finally in his discussion of superego functions there is a continuity of parental action "exactly like the parents whose place it has taken". At some level Freud was interested in the way relational experiences are internalized and I would argue that the superego is the 'relational' agency in structural theory.

2. Relational Perspectives in Psychoanalysis

There have been a number of psychoanalysts who have emphasized the importance of relational themes. Among the early disciples of Freud, Ferenczi (1926) had more of a relational perspective and influenced later Object Relations theorists. Ian Suttie (1935), as early as the 1920's, focused on the link between self and others. He saw companionship, intimacy and tenderness, rather than sex and aggression, as the prime motivators of human behaviour. Melanie Klein Noun 1. Melanie Klein - United States psychoanalyst (born in Austria) who was the first to specialize in the psychoanalysis of small children (1882-1960)
 (1946 and other papers) may have been the first to offer a more complete relational theory …:This article is about relational theory in physics and philosophy. There is a separate article about the relational model and Relational Philosophy as a category of Philosophical anthropology

In physics and philosophy, a relational theory
. She conceptualized the idea of the internal object, and emphasized that the relationship between the self and its internal objects is of central significance for development. While many retained the drive model in the British school, there was a shift to vicissitudes vicissitudes
Noun, pl

changes in circumstance or fortune [Latin vicis change]

vicissitudes nplvicisitudes fpl; peripecias fpl 
 of relatedness.

Harry Stack Sullivan Noun 1. Harry Stack Sullivan - United States psychiatrist (1892-1949)
 (1953) emphasized that human experience is only understandable in the relational context. Other important concepts which are fundamentally relational include Bowlby's attachment (1969), Fairbairn's axiom (1952), "Libido is not pleasure seeking but object seeking", Winnicott's (1953) "good enough mother", Balint's (1968) "object relatedness", Kohut's (1971) "selfobject experience" and Ogden's (1994) "analytic third". In recent years the relational perspective has been strengthened by infant research, for example Daniel Stern's observation, "The infant's states of consciousness and activity are ultimately socially negotiated states" (1985, p. 104). While there is a chorus of voices about broadly relational themes, the focus of this paper is principally on what is internalized. I will now briefly consider the contribution of a major psychoanalytic theorist about the process of internalization.

3. Loewald and a Relational basis for Internalization

In psychoanalytic circles there has been a revival of interest in Hans Loewald (1906-1993). He developed a highly original theory with considerable clinical relevance. While he did not 'found' a school he remains one of the most quoted of psychoanalytic theorists.

He saw the psychological birth of the infant as beginning with a state of primary narcissism. All experience is unified. There are no objects, drives, self, others, now or then, external or internal. Primary process persists as a level of organization which Loewald called a "primordial primordial /pri·mor·di·al/ (pri-mor´de-al) primitive.

1. Being or happening first in sequence of time; primary; original.

 density" (1980, p. 186). In his understanding of primary process he emphasized the quality of timelessness, "The patient, instead of having a past, is his past" (p. 165). Mind is interactive by its very nature. Our adult experience only appears to be separate, bounded and disconnected, "The neurotic neurotic /neu·rot·ic/ (ndbobr-rot´ik)
1. pertaining to or characterized by a neurosis.

2. a person affected with a neurosis.

 core, wanes but is never actually or definitively destroyed, and rises again at different periods in life and in different shapes, so too, that more archaic psychotic psychotic /psy·chot·ic/ (si-kot´ik)
1. pertaining to, characterized by, or caused by psychosis.

2. a person exhibiting psychosis.

 core tends to wane but remains with us" (p. 400).

It is hardly surprising that Loewald has been so influential among the later Relational psychoanalysts. He understood "instincts as relational phenomena" and not energies within a closed system (pp. 152-153). He discussed the nature of internalization as the interplay between the external object and the ego repeated internally. What gets internalized "are not objects but interactions and relationships" (p. 291). The foundation is the original "mother-infant unit" which is the original psychic field or matrix and from which individuation individuation

Determination that an individual identified in one way is numerically identical with or distinct from an individual identified in another way (e.g., Venus, known as “the morning star” in the morning and “the evening star” in the
 processes begin. He concluded, "By the internalization of interactions an internal system of interactions, relationships, and connections between different elements and different genetic levels becomes established. This internalized, internally bound force field constitutes, it seems to me, what we call intra-psychic structure" (p. 291). It is clear that Loewald was interested in experiences that built psychological structure. He (1978) argued, "Intrapsychic intrapsychic /in·tra·psy·chic/ (-si´kik) arising, occurring, or situated within the mind.

Existing or taking place within the mind or psyche.
 structure formation is brought about, not by unilateral activities on the part of the infant organism, but by interactions taking place first within the infant-mother unitary field ... if id, ego and superego have their origins in interactions with the environment that are internalized, interactions that are transposed trans·pose  
v. trans·posed, trans·pos·ing, trans·pos·es
1. To reverse or transfer the order or place of; interchange.

 to a new arena, thus becoming intrapsychic interactions, then psychic structure formation and individuation are dependent upon object relations" (p. 494).

In psychoanalytic circles there has continued to be an interest in theory based on relational aspects of experience. The relational analyst Stephen Mitchell
"Stephen Mitchell" redirects here. For information about the psychologist, see Stephen A. Mitchell
Stephen Mitchell (b. 1943 in Brooklyn, New York) is a poet, translator, scholar, and anthologist. He is married to author Byron Katie.
 (1999) observed that the individual is embedded Inserted into. See embedded system.  in a matrix of relationships, with the underlying structure of experience and its deeper meanings deriving from such patterns.

4. Infant Observation and Developmental Research

The traditional source of psychoanalytic theory was analytic material heard from adults. Child analysts such as Anna Freud Anna Freud (December 3, 1895 - October 9, 1982) was the sixth and last child of Sigmund and Martha Freud. Born in Vienna, she followed the path of her father and contributed to the newly born field of psychoanalysis.  and Klein used data derived from treating children. It is hardly surprising that there have been methodological problems with an approach based largely on treating psychopathology!

Gradually developmental research has challenged psychoanalytic assumptions. Daniel Stern (1985) argued from research data that there is no symbiotic symbiotic /sym·bi·ot·ic/ (sim?bi-ot´ik) associated in symbiosis; living together.

Of, resembling, or relating to symbiosis.
 union (a belief of Freud), "Infants begin to experience a sense of an emergent self from birth. They are pre-designed to be aware of self-organizing processes. They never experience a period of total self/other un-differentiation. There is no confusion between self and other in the beginning or at any point during infancy" (p. 10).

However, to some extent research has caught up' with theory. Beebe, Lachmann and Laffe (1997a) examined the pre-symbolic origins of self and object representations with a focus on inter-relatedness. This provides a clue to the nature of early structuralization: "It is the dyad dyad /dy·ad/ (di´ad) a double chromosome resulting from the halving of a tetrad.

1. Two individuals or units regarded as a pair, such as a mother and a daughter.

, rather than the individual, which is the unit of organization" (p. 135). What is initially represented is not an object, but an object-relation: self-in-relation-to-object (p. 172). Continuity in development is at the level of relationship patterns. It is the early inter-actional structures that organize experience. It is not a linear model but a "transformational model" with mutual transformations and restructurings--active reorganization. They review and report on findings in infant research to make some interesting conclusions, "Infants are given auditory and visual stimuli over and over. When they stop attending to stimuli they have habituated, and habituated is an index of schema formation ... the ability to form a schema is an index of a primitive capacity to categorize cat·e·go·rize  
tr.v. cat·e·go·rized, cat·e·go·riz·ing, cat·e·go·riz·es
To put into a category or categories; classify.

 and create representations, and it predicts developmental outcomes" (p. 144).

Bucci (1985) has argued that there are two parallel systems of representation, verbal and nonverbal non·ver·bal  
1. Being other than verbal; not involving words: nonverbal communication.

2. Involving little use of language: a nonverbal intelligence test.
, and that both develop representational rep·re·sen·ta·tion·al  
Of or relating to representation, especially to realistic graphic representation.

 capacities. The verbal mode stores information in linguistic form linguistic form
A meaningful unit of language, such as an affix, a word, a phrase, or a sentence.
; in the nonverbal system information is stored in the perceptual modes such as image, sound or smell. These provide later, largely unconscious, organizing structures. All this undermines another tenet of psychoanalytic theory which has linked the capacity for representation with symbolic capacities which begins to develop, as Piaget (1937) observed, at 9-12 months.

Tronick, Als, Adamson, Wise, and Brazelton (1978), developed an interesting strategy for infant research known as the 'still-face paradigm'. Following two minutes of natural play between the mother and infant, the mother is instructed to face the infant without moving her face or vocalizing. Usually the infant will make repeated efforts to greet the mother (smiling and cooing) and cycle through disengagement disengagement /dis·en·gage·ment/ (dis?en-gaj´ment) emergence of the fetus from the vaginal canal.

 and repeated efforts to elicit a response. In later research Tronick (1989) demonstrated that the effects of still-face experiment persist for several minutes after the resumption of normal play. The infant shows a negative mood and avoids looking at the mother. This implies that events have lasting effects because they are internally represented. Cohn, Campbell and Ross (1991) have shown that by six months the infant's style of coping with the still-face situation has become stable and that it predicts an infant's attachment status at one year. If the infant persists with trying to engage the mother then a secure attachment is more likely. These results indicate that the infant has a 'working model' or 'representation' of what he or she expects will engage the care-taker.

Beebe et al. (1997a) used this and other research to support their view that, "Self and object and their representations are rooted in relationship structures" holds true only as long as relationship structures are broadly construed to include self-regulation with interactive regulation processes (pp. 154-155). Structure occurs with both the repeat of what is expected and what is repaired. In their recent book, Beebe and Lachmann (2002) identified three central principles to the organization of personality from infancy and these will be further explored within the context of spiritual experience.

With this theoretical platform in place, we will now consider how spiritual experience might positively affect changes in personality.

5. A Spiritual Dimension

A theist the·ism  
Belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.

 will assert that God is a person. The Christian view of God is trinitarian: three persons eternally in relationship, with the very essence of God being relational. Indeed, in the 20th century a more social understanding of the trinity developed (Grenz, 2001). The implication of this understanding the trinity is clear. To know God is to enter into a relationship. This was the truth that Job finally understood: he went from a second-hand knowing about God, to "now my eye sees you" (42:5).

Spiritual experience is not a fantasy relationship, because God is truly known. While there are familiar aspects to a relationship with God, since we relate to a Person, there is also something irreducibly unique. God is Creator and theological terms such as omnipotence om·nip·o·tent  
Having unlimited or universal power, authority, or force; all-powerful. See Usage Note at infinite.

1. One having unlimited power or authority: the bureaucratic omnipotents.
, omniscience Omniscience

shrewd god; knew everything in advance. [Babylonian Myth.: Gilgamesh]


knows all: past, present, and future.
 and other divine attributes are appropriate. At the risk of being simplistic sim·plism  
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.

[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple
: God is bigger than us This article has no lead section.

To comply with Wikipedia's lead section guidelines, one should be written.
. But this is not the whole picture. God is also qualitatively different: holy, absolute love and the embodiment of self-sacrifice in Christ. Or simply: God is better than us. In Christian circles it is not controversial to assert that in a believer's encounter with God, the transcendent qualities of the divine being infuses spiritual experience. The 'otherness' of God can be understood in terms of transcendence, but this is communicated through the immanence immanence (ĭm`ənəns) [Lat.,=dwelling in], in metaphysics, the presence within the natural world of a spiritual or cosmic principle, especially of the Deity. It is contrasted with transcendence.  of personal experience. The two are in tension but united in relational experience. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann (1981) underlined the mutuality of our experience of God and God's experience of us.

The Biblical witness is also clear. The experience of God through Jesus Christ Jesus Christ: see Jesus.

Jesus Christ

40 days after Resurrection, ascended into heaven. [N.T.: Acts 1:1–11]

See : Ascension

Jesus Christ

kind to the poor, forgiving to the sinful. [N.T.
 is relational. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). While it is not possible to fully understand the mystery of this experience, nevertheless it is a valid psychological question to reflect on how spiritual experiences might lead to change in personality.

At this point psychoanalytic concepts about the formation of personality can be employed and raised to a different level. Ron Lee Ronald (Ron) Henry Lee (born November 2 1952, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.) was an All-American basketball player for the University of Oregon, and epitomized the "Kamikaze Kids" under coach Dick Harter with his all-out, fearless hustle and relentless desire to win.  (1993) used Kohut's psychoanalytic idea of 'selfobject' to argue that only a relationship with a responsive other can lead to structural growth in personality. There are potentially temporary benefits from substances (eg. food, alcohol, drugs), behaviour (eg. sex, gambling), entertainment (eg. songs, movies, TV) and perhaps religious objects (eg. a lead-glass window). These can provide a "cohesive function" for personality, but not lasting change, or genuine healing. Something different happens when God responds to us. I have found that the encounter with God has been mostly non-verbal but nevertheless tangible: 'sensing God's presence' in meditation, prayer and worship. The responsiveness of God can provide more lasting structuralization--with consequences for self-organization, enhancing mutuality and integration of affects.

Perhaps developmental research can take this discussion further. Beebe and Lachmann (2002) outlined three principles of organization. These are privileged routes, or organizing principles, to the formation of personality. Perception, cognition cognition

Act or process of knowing. Cognition includes every mental process that may be described as an experience of knowing (including perceiving, recognizing, conceiving, and reasoning), as distinguished from an experience of feeling or of willing.
, affect and arousal are all organized by these principles. In the same way that infants categorize faces, shapes, colours and animals, they also form schema or categories of interpersonal interactions.

The first principle is that of mutual regulation. Infants are biologically prepared to detect regularity, generate expectancies and act on these expectations. There is a shared system of rules for the regulation of actions in the dyad. This leads to both successful and unsuccessful interactions. If you observe a mother and infant there are spatial patterns of approach-approach, or approach-withdrawal, to cite just one dimension. It is by such means that both regulate their affect and levels of arousal. What seems to be most adaptive is mid-range matching, without extremes of responsiveness: either too intense or too detached, because both will compromise infant development.

There are parallels in spiritual experience. Just as it is natural for a distressed child to turn towards mother or father; a believer will seek God. There are many Biblical promises in this regard, but one will illustrate: "The peace of God ... passes all under standing." (Phil 4:7). What we know is that the responsiveness of God meets us in a place of need: for comfort, reassurance, and safety. While such a sense of God is not always in our full awareness, there is an abiding reality and the divine provision is sometimes more apparent in hindsight.

In all this I believe that there is an 'optimal responsiveness'. God characteristically meets our needs, not in terms of some humanist quest for Verb 1. quest for - go in search of or hunt for; "pursue a hobby"
quest after, go after, pursue

look for, search, seek - try to locate or discover, or try to establish the existence of; "The police are searching for clues"; "They are searching for the
 'self-actualization', but for spiritual growth in terms of what God determines to be best for us. An aspect of this process may include optimal frustration' when there is no seeming experience of God and prayers remain 'unanswered'. What the mystics called the 'Dark night of the soul' may be a mourning process leading to structural growth (cf. Freud, 1917). But, in some measure mutual regulation is part of what contributes to spiritual growth.

The principle of disruption and repair is very interesting. Infants are affected by confirmation and violation of expectancies. There is a need for both the infant and nurturing parent to be able to rematch REMATCH Cardiology Clinical trials–Randomized Evaluation of Mechanical Assistance Therapy as an alternative in Congestive Heart failure–related to use of a portable, electric left ventricular-assist system–LVAS–eg, HeartMate® , usually with in seconds. Mild disruptions such as the game "I'm going to getcha!" are incorporated into playful exchanges and can produce positive excitement. However an experience of a parent shouting in rage at a child unable to sleep is very different. What endures is the relationship pattern.

The repair of disruption is a mutual achievement. Unfortunately a failure by either in the dyad can lead to difficulties. A parent can be withdrawn, neglectful ne·glect·ful  
Characterized by neglect; heedless: neglectful of their responsibilities. See Synonyms at negligent.

 or even abusive. An infant, or young child, can be difficult in terms of temperament. But whatever the cause regulation and repair breaks down, and if this is chronic, then what follows is an expectation of mismatch initially at a pre-symbolic (or before language) level: in effect, "My needs will not be met!" This is represented in relational terms: "What is being organized is both an expectable interactive misregulation and an associated self-regulatory style" (Beebe & Lachmann, 2002, p. 162). This is easily recognized clinically when clients have self-defeating behavioural patterns, perhaps appropriate at some time in the past, but inappropriate to a present situation. In therapy the restoration of the relationship serves as a "template for correcting past relationships" (Wolf, 1993).

I suspect that the relational composition of the superego is driven by this need for guidance and ultimately repair. The dictates of conscience indicate what is right and wrong, and motivate repairing moral failures. Additionally, a Christian perspective will have an appropriate emphasis on the importance of dealing with sin and restoring a 'right relationship' with God. This is the point of confession, repentance and walking in new life, "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins Forgive us our Sins (orig. French Pardonnez nos offenses) is the title of a historical novel by Romain Sardou. Plot summary
Imagine staging the end of the world and observing the effects of this apocalypse on an isolated, rural village… imagine a
 and cleanse cleanse  
tr.v. cleansed, cleans·ing, cleans·es
To free from dirt, defilement, or guilt; purge or clean.

[Middle English clensen, from Old English
 us from all unrighteousness un·right·eous  
1. Not righteous; wicked.

2. Not right or fair; unjust.

un·righteous·ly adv.
" (1 John 1:9). The importance of repairing our relationships with others is conveyed in the Biblical principle of forgiveness. St Peter asked, "How often should I forgive?" And Jesus replied "Seventy seven times." (Matt 18:21) Forgiveness is not just spiritually valuable, but important for the growth of personality. Repair in a relationship enhances our human potential. This adds structure to personality, maturing or healing, or whatever is most descriptive of an important ongoing process.

The last principle of is that of heightened affective moments. Important moments of transformation are often associated with intense emotions. In psychotherapy psychotherapy, treatment of mental and emotional disorders using psychological methods. Psychotherapy, thus, does not include physiological interventions, such as drug therapy or electroconvulsive therapy, although it may be used in combination with such methods.  we often hear about a 'modal scene' in which a client will recall a painful memory that has subsequently shaped his life. Usually there is intense affect which is still associated with the event. Current research on trauma would support the organizing power of heightened affective moments. Pine (1981) noted that the power of such events often has an effect out of proportion to mere temporal duration, and indeed what seems more important is the intensity of the experience, "When bodily needs or intense psychological/affective states are aroused, they take center stage. The exploratory and play activities, for all their contribution to development, go on only in quiet times, in the infant's 'spare time'" (p. 20). Also "affectively supercharged su·per·charge  
tr.v. su·per·charged, su·per·charg·ing, su·per·charg·es
1. To increase the power of (an engine, for example), as by fitting with a supercharger.

, becoming central to the organization of an array of precepts and memories, formative in their effect far out of proportion to their mere temporal duration" (p. 25). In Christian life conversion experiences and spiritual moments are often affectively laden, can re-organize personality and lead to lasting changes. Such an experience can be part of a developing sense of vocation or mission.

An interesting psychological question to ponder is why spiritual experiences such as conversion lead to such profound changes. Jesus spoke about being "born again" to Nicodemus (John 3:3). After conversion or an 'altar call' experience the structure of personality seems less rigid. In part this apparent flexibility might relate to the dimension of transcendence. Could this recall the infant's first experience of parents? Certainly bigger and possibly better--in that parental love can be self-sacrificial.

I suspect that in experiences of conversion, whether as an adult, adolescent or child, there is a powerful link to our earliest object-relational ties. There is a 'return' to a time of fluid personality structure. Primitive relational structure, as Loewald noted, is always present but not always in awareness. Spiritual experience at some level will always reach this depth within our psyche, "Unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 19:14).

Christopher Bollas (1987) introduced the concept of a "transformational object" in psychoanalytic circles. In using this term he described the largely nonverbal relationship of an infant to the care-taker in the first year or so of life, which results in "processes that alter self-experience" (p. 14). Jacobson (1997) noted that it was not the gratification of an instinctual in·stinc·tu·al  
Of, relating to, or derived from instinct. See Synonyms at instinctive.

in·stinctu·al·ly adv.
 desire but a desire for a change in the self. Interestingly, the "quest is not to posses the object; rather the object is pursued in order to surrender to it as a medium that alters the self" (Bollas, 1987, p. 14). Bollas seemed to arrive at God by another name, "We cannot influence the universal. We are lucky enough to be open to its influence" (Jacobson, 1997, p. 111).

What I have not explored is the relational dimension of therapy, though it is implied throughout this discussion. I will illustrate this with a brief discussion of a case: William was a young student at a local Bible college A Bible college is an institution of higher education in which the course of study specializes in biblical studies. This curriculum differs from the focus on academic programs of Christian liberal arts colleges or research universities, which may include, but are not limited to,  who had had a "breakdown" with obsessive-compulsive features. The head of an international mission agency asked a psychologist to assess William. The report was negative. The director asked me for a "second opinion" and after looking at the MMPI MMPI
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory

MMPI Child psychiatry A personality assessment tool widely used in making psychologic evaluations, which is normally given at age 16 and older. Personality testing
 test results I agreed that William was not worth the risk of the mission continuing to support him. In the following week, I had a call from William and he asked to see me. When I met this devout young man I was impressed with his determination to serve God, so we entered a year of regular psychotherapy and he attended a therapy group that met for ninety minutes each week. He stacked supermarket shelves to support himself, but mostly to pay for therapy. I made no commitment except to reevaluate him at the end of 12 months.

William made remarkable progress in our individual work. He was able to relax his hyper-religiosity and gradually to laugh at himself more. He wrote a poem called "I'm falling in love with ordinariness." The group was not even vaguely Christian and "gave him heaps"--initially negative feedback but gradually they saw in him a remarkable strength and determination. At the end of the year I recommended that he continue in his preparation for missionary service. He completed his studies and for the last decade he has faithfully served in the third world. I later asked him about his relationship with God in that "year off" and he said that mostly he felt abandoned by God. A turning point came when he attended church and heard the verses from Hebrews, "If you endure chastening chas·ten  
tr.v. chas·tened, chas·ten·ing, chas·tens
1. To correct by punishment or reproof; take to task.

2. To restrain; subdue: chasten a proud spirit.

, God deals with you as sons ... but if you are without chastening ... then you are illegitimate and not sons" (Heb 12:7-8). In that moment he understood that his trial was motivated by God's love, even with an echo of his own birth outside of marriage, "I snuck snuck  
v. Usage Problem
A past tense and a past participle of sneak. See Usage Note at sneak.
 in before mum and dad got married, so it spoke deeply. God loving me so much, he was pulling me apart and putting me back together."

I see William illustrating the relational dimension that proved to be central to the healing process. I worked with him as a psychologist, there was challenge from members of the therapy group, he was also part of a self-help group self-help group, nonprofessional organization formed by people with a common problem or situation, for the purpose of pooling resources, gathering information, and offering mutual support, services, or care.  and very involved in a church community. But what really made the difference was a transforming encounter with God that brought everything together.


Freud received a letter from a physician who said that after a period of doubt, "God made it clear to my soul that the Bible was his Word, that the teachings of Jesus Christ were true, and that Jesus was our only hope. After such a clear revelation, I accepted the Bible as God's Word and Jesus Christ as my personal saviour. Since then God has revealed himself to me by many infallible in·fal·li·ble  
1. Incapable of erring: an infallible guide; an infallible source of information.

 proofs" (1929, p. 2). While Freud interpreted the doctor's experience in oedipal terms, I think that it makes better sense to explore his vivid spiritual experience in terms of a different relational experience that was ultimately saving and life transforming.

In the face of mystery, awe is more appropriate than words. And yet theologians reflect and ultimately speak. Psychologists reflect and treat hurting people. Perhaps we can all agree that the internal world of the human psyche is more complex than any of our theological or psychological maps.

In this article there has been a review of Freud and later psychoanalytic theorists in regard to relational themes. What has been a particular focus is the process of internalization. I have also briefly surveyed some of the advances in developmental research. And finally I attempted to draw some conclusions about the nature of spiritual experience and what this implies for change and growth 'in Christ'.

To return to the opening metaphor, God is the great jazz musician. There is a kind of divine improvisation in each of our lives. We come with our stuckness, like a rigid chord structure and notes of dissonance, but in spiritual experience we find that we are surrounded by a spontaneous melody. Our lives become a sacred song to the glory of God.


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STEVENS, BRUCE A. Address: Southern Cross College Southern Cross College (formerly Commonwealth Bible College) the official ministry training college of the Assemblies of God in Australia, located in Chester Hill, NSW, Australia. , PO Box 125 Chester Hill, Sydney, NSW NSW New South Wales

Noun 1. NSW - the agency that provides units to conduct unconventional and counter-guerilla warfare
Naval Special Warfare
, 2162, Australia. Title: Director of Counselling Program in the Graduate School, Southern Cross College and principal of Canberra Clinical and Forensic Psychology forensic psychology

Application of psychology to legal issues, often for the purpose of offering expert testimony in a courtroom. In civil and criminal cases, forensic psychologists may evaluate individuals to determine questions such as competency to stand trial,
 (private practice). Degrees: MTh, Australian College of Theology The Australian College of Theology, was established in 1891 by the then General Synod of the Church of England in Australia. Its headquarters are located in Sydney, New South Wales , PhD in pastoral psychology, Boston University Boston University, at Boston, Mass.; coeducational; founded 1839, chartered 1869, first baccalaureate granted 1871. It is composed of 16 schools and colleges. . Specializations: Psychoanalytic theory, psychotherapy with the personality disordered personality disorder

Mental disorder that is marked by deeply ingrained and lasting patterns of inflexible, maladaptive, or antisocial behaviour to the degree that an individual's social or occupational functioning is impaired.
, and a research interest in using psychological models for understanding Christology.


Southern Cross College, Sydney, Australia

Correspondence conceerning this article may be sent to Bruce A. Stevens, PhD,: Southern Cross College, PO Box 125 Chester Hill, Sydney, NSW, 2162, Australia. Email:
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Date:Dec 22, 2006
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