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The Regret of the Basic Fault: Healing our Original Wounds and Emotional Dramas with Psychoanalytic Insights and Enneagram Knowledge

December 10, 2019   General Enneagram   

“If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels. Yet I marvel and how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty.”

Secret Gospel of Thomas (29) 

 This essay is in response to the powerful and poignant article by Antonio Barbato in the May 2016 edition of the Enneagram Monthly: “From Essence to Birth of Ego.” You will get more out of my essay if you have already read his, but I believe mine can stand on its own two feet. Antonio begins by bringing together the Enneagram with what he calls the “law of expansion/contraction,” and with the findings about the original wound/emotional drama as presented by the famous Swiss psychologist Alice Miller (1923-2010). I am not going to address Antonio’s intriguing thesis that there might be a correlation between the three instinctual subtypes and the law of expansion and contraction, except to mention two things:

1) Amazingly, he takes the reader all the way back to simple one-cell organisms and to the very origins of our human instinctuality. He then goes on to note that for Freud “neurosis (in Enneagram terms a result of mixing our passion and instinctual bias) is mainly the result of a ‘bad’ adaptation during the developmental phase.” Many of us would probably agree with this statement, while at the same time agreeing with Almaas that “Enneatype is innate, but not our Fixation or Chief Feature.”

2) He reminds us that “neurological research has shown that until the age of six or seven, our thoughts do not have the capacity to come up with a logical defense of our emotional disturbances which are formative for our future development. The realm of emotions is, therefore, what determines the development of our ego. We have to work with, and on, our emotions if we expect any real changes in our development.” This is no doubt why the Eastern Orthodox Church has long held that working with the ‘egotistical passions’ (seven for them, nine for us) is indispensable for our spiritual development. Also important to note is that until recently when psychologists spoke about the preverbal stage of human development they usually conceptualized this as being from birth until about 2-3 years of age. Now with recent research we need to extend this until about 6-7 years, even though we are obviously speaking by then. To my mind we have barely begun to process the implications of such findings.

That being said, it is his second section, entitled “The Original Wound/Emotional Drama,” that concerns us here. In it he offers several relevant quotes from Miller’s most famous book The Drama of the Gifted Child, including the following: “I can’t help but ask myself whether we can ever recognize the depth of solitude and abandonment we have been exposed to as children, and to which our psychic life continues to be exposed as adults. I am not thinking here about actual abandonment, the material separation from parents, which of course could have traumatic effects; neither am I thinking of children who have been obviously neglected or even abused; they at least know what wounded them. I’m thinking of the huge number of people who bear the scars of wounding and yet very often had parents who were anything but indifferent or cruel, parents who have always been supportive… In spite of all this [familial love and support], depression, a sense of emptiness, self-alienation, and the absurdity of one’s own existence were lurking close. What are the reasons for such severe disturbances in people who are so gifted?” Antonio then goes on to usefully elaborate the nine versions of original wounding/emotional drama of our familiar Enneatypes. What I would like to briefly discuss now is an approach to working with our original wounding by bringing together our Enneagram work with insights by psychoanalysts Michael Balint (1896-1970) and Michael Eigen (1936-).

The Basic Fault

“There is no completeness without sadness and longing, for without them, there is no sobriety, no kindness.”

Don Juan Matus

   One of the issues that Antonio’s work points to is a painful and probably universal experience (one which I have never heard an Enneagram teacher even mention, let alone expound upon) that psychoanalyst Michael Balint wrote about in his book: The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression (1968).  There he speaks of “the regret of the basic fault,” by which he means:

“… a kind of regret or mourning about the original deficit or scar in his mental structure.  This mourning differs fundamentally from that caused by the loss in reality of a beloved person or that caused by the damage to, or destruction of, an internal object characteristic of melancholia.  The regret or mourning I have in mind is about the unalterable fact of a defect or fault in oneself which, in fact, has cast its shadow over one’s whole life, and the unfortunate effects of which can never fully be made good.  Though the fault may heal off, its scar will remain forever; that is, some of its effects will always be demonstrable… This mourning is connected with the giving up of a narcissistic picture of oneself which originally may have been developed as an over-compensation of the basic fault… The basic fault cannot be [fully] removed, resolved or undone… The process of mourning… is about giving up for good the hope of attaining the faultless ideal of oneself; a successful treatment must lead to the acceptance of the fact that one had a basic fault and to a realistic adaptation to this fact (183).”

As Antonio so eloquently describes, each of the 9 Enneatypes has his own version of the original wound/emotional drama. As some have noted, this can be seen as an early ‘fall from grace.’ Almaas talks about this explicitly or implicitly in many of his writings (cf. The Point of Existence: Transformation of Narcissism in Self-Realization, The Pearl Beyond Price: Integration of Personality into Being, an Object Relations Approach, The Void: Inner Spaciousness and Ego Structure), as does Naranjo when he speaks of our ontic deficiency and obscuration in his Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View. Related to this, it may be the case that at a very deep level this is one of the experiences from which spiritually aspiring people are trying to escape with their attempts at ‘spiritual bypassing’ (cf. the works of psychologists John Welwood and Robert A. Masters).

Experiencing our core wounds and later painful rejections and abandonments, life evasions, shameful affects, and somatic knots and tensions is so painful that it usually seems a better idea to run away from them in various ways, no matter how counter-productive and ultimately neurotic these moves eventually become. Another issue Balint brings up is one that we have encountered in Enneagram and Buddhist communities in a different guise–the ‘spiritual superego.’ Balint speaks about a narcissistic attempt to have a “faultless ideal of oneself.” This phenomenon is actually an “over-compensation of the basic fault,” and later becomes structurally coupled with the Basic Fault and hard to tease apart.

To quote more passages taken from the Internet: “The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression (1968) is the title of Michael Balint’s most well known book. In it he introduced the concept of the ‘basic fault’ to describe very early and fundamental psychic damage in the personality due to insufficient maternal response to the infant’s needs. This failure leads to a split and the development of a true self and a false self [sound familiar?]. It also results in the subjective experience of something essential missing inside [sound familiar?]. Extreme feelings and the failure to integrate them are also characteristic of such a basic fault in the personality. People with a [strong] basic fault can be particularly difficult patients. It is assumed that at best psychotherapy can help the patient to function while containing such a basic fault, but it can not heal it completely. This is especially the case with serious character disorders [borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, etc.].”

According to Corinne Daubigny: “The term basic fault refers to the structural deficiency in the personality of subjects who during their early stages of development formed certain types of object relations—which later become compulsions—to cope with a considerable initial ‘lack of adjustment’ between their psychobiological needs and the care provided by a ‘faulty’ environment devoid of understanding [the early holding environment]. The effects of the basic fault on a person’s character structure and ‘psychobiological dispositions’ (which may predispose that person to certain illnesses) are only partially reversible.” This latter statement is especially noteworthy because, if we are brutally honest, many in the Enneagram and Transpersonal Psychology communities believe on some level that they are either not that wounded to begin with or, if they are, they can certainly overcome very early childhood wounding through a combination of spiritual practices, psychotherapies, and/or religious fantasies and practices of personal ‘salvation.’

To continue: “Michael Balint developed this concept in The Doctor, the Patient, and the Illness (1957), as a result of his research with physicians in the area of psychosomatic disorders. Additionally, in The Three Areas of the Mind (1958), Balint developed the notion of the ‘basic fault zone’ to situate therapeutic processes relating to states of regression in certain patients. This became the source for his metapsychological theorization in The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression (1968), of ‘zones of the psychic apparatus, which included a critique of Sigmund Freud’s notion of ‘primary narcissism’ and new considerations on the handling of regression.

“Balint notes that certain patients (those with schizoid personalities, narcissistic states, or addictions, for example) are unable to tolerate the frustrations of classical treatment and are largely inaccessible to interpretation. The therapeutic relationship thus requires modifications in technique to open up to analysis the interpersonal psychic processes inherent in the ‘basic fault zone’.” To anticipate the work of Michael Eigen below, many now believe that all of us have schizoid, narcissistic and addictive structures and traits buried deep in our psyches, and note that these correlate to the three triads of the Enneagram. This sort of understanding is central to much of the Diamond Approach of Hameed Ali.

To continue: “A kind of ‘psychological mothering’ makes it [theoretically] possible to avoid reproducing the traumatic situation in treatment; object relations, rather than interpretation, provides the therapeutic leverage. Regression, which is in part linked to the analyst’s responses, can be therapeutic (‘benign’) if it is aimed at producing recognition of previously unacknowledged needs rather than satisfying them [here one might study aspects of Kohutian psychotherapy such as ‘optimal frustrations’ and ‘transmuting internalizations’]. Certain soothing forms of satisfaction (libidinal and physical contact) help sustain the therapeutic relationship. Reestablishing the primary love relationship allows the basic fault, once it has been recognized, to heal [note the strong orientation to the feminine]. It is said to be “neutralized” when the patient can let go of his or her compulsive object relations.

“[It should be noted that] inseparable from a conception of the psyche as a product of interpersonal relations… and from a theory of treatment that makes use of regression, the ‘basic fault’ has been subject to the criticisms that are usually made against any approach that aims at partial reparation: the risk of eroticization, the risk of nondissolution of the transference, and so on. Balint viewed such criticisms as manifestations of anxiety on the part of analysts [not the patients!]. Subsequent work has indicated that this conception of an early distortion in the ego should also take into account the pathogenic processes stemming from the patient’s family and cultural contexts [imagine how useful knowledge of familial and cultural Enneatypes might be here]. A focus on the nonverbal should not allow the underestimation of the crucial role that language and signifiers (just as much as their deficiencies or dysfunctions) play in the constitution of the ego.”

The Nature vs. Nurture Debate

“All neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

C.G. Jung

 My primary reason for introducing all this complex and heavy psychoanalytic theorizing is that over the past decade many in the Enneagram community focus quite a bit on the innate, inevitable and ultimately useful development of our Enneatype structure and not so much on the early holding environment, with its primitive object-relations (including the need the infant and small child has for mirroring and later idealizations), and of course its painful failures. It seems to me that recently we have been focusing more on the Nature, and less on the Nurture, side of the developmental equation. And I include many therapists in this critique. Truth to tell, when I say ‘we’ I really mean Americans, and I wonder why this is the case. One theory is that this occurs in part because, given the pervasive Threeish character of American culture, we really don’t want to look at the ‘failures’ of early childhood (or for that matter any other stage of the life span). We don’t want to experience the young, helpless and dependent parts of ourselves, and certainly don’t want them to be seen by others. We certainly don’t want to undergo ‘therapeutic regression in service of healing’ as that would slow us down, turn us inward, expose our deficiencies, and bring to consciousness our anxiety, shame and rage. 

The Psychotic Core: 

“Not only can man’s being not be understood without madness, it would not be man’s being if it I did not bear madness within itself as the limit of his freedom.”

Jacques Lacan

 Yet another issue is the question of why we defend so strenuously and consistently against our original wounds and emotional dramas. Jungian psychoanalyst Henry Elkin has said, “Behind every neurosis is a hidden psychosis.” Andre Green noted in 1975 that “where once neurosis was a defense against perverse tendencies, now both can be seen as ways of warding off and organizing deeper psychotic anxieties.” So what is going on here? It would seem that there are remnants of very early and primitive structures (or lack of structure) deep inside each one of us. These can emerge during sleep, when we are alone and feeling abandoned, under stress and afterwards (PTSD), when taking heavy drugs, especially hallucinogens, etc. Then our Basic Fault may be exposed to consciousness. They we may begin to suffer. Then we may eventually feel the need to mourn.

In 1986 Michael Eigen published one of his finest and most useful books, The Psychotic Core. He opens his preface by saying: “Understanding the psychodynamics of madness is essential to the therapy of most patients, including those who are not diagnosed as mad in the literal sense… psychotic attitudes and stages can be components of a broad range of emotional states and mental disorders.” To emphasize this point, he posits that there is an active ‘kernel of psychosis’ in every adult man and woman. He also notes that Freud took this deeper, more mysterious dimension of the psyche for granted, especially when he spoke about the ‘polymorphous perverse’ and highly fluid or plastic nature of infantile consciousness. Jung too had a lot to say on this topic, although he changed the terminology and focused quite a bit on the dichotomy between the egoic conscious vs. the personal and collective unconscious. Both also spent a lot time and libido examining all the ways we defend against deeper layers of distress. The need for death and mourning was later incorporated into Jung’s theory of alchemical individuation and transformation under the heading of mortificatio.

However, it is important to note that Jung’s perspective, even in his later alchemical writings, was not the same as Michael Eigen’s. For example, Jung writes that “No new life can arise, say the alchemists, without the death of the old. They liken the art to the work of the sower who buries the grain in the earth; it dies only to waken to new life” (The Practice of Psychotherapy, 1954). His understanding, whether acknowledged or not, is heavily colored by both the ancient mysteries and Christian beliefs and practices around death and resurrection. Jungian analyst Edward Edinger later said that: “Mourning is caused by the loss of an object or person who was carrying a projected value. In order to withdraw projections and assimilate their content into one’s own personality it is necessary to experience the loss of the projection as a prelude to rediscovering the content or value within. Therefore, mourners are fortunate because they are involved in a growth process. They will be comforted when the lost projected value has been recovered within the psyche” (Ego and Archetype, 1992). But note that Eigen above explicitly theorized that the regret of the Basic Fault was not due to the loss of an outer or inner object or person. So then, what happens to the person when she realizes that the “lost projected value” can never be fully recovered, when it becomes clear that not all parts of the psyche can “waken to new life?” Will we be able to voluntarily give up an overly hopeful view of reality and the human condition and then surrender into the need to mourn our loss of inner perfection and potentiality?

An Essence Perspective

“A fundamental idea used in our work is called the Theory of Holes. People, as they are under usual circumstances are full of what we call ‘holes.’ Now, what is a hole? A hole refers to any part of you that has been lost, meaning any part of you that you have lost consciousness of. What is left is a hole, a deficiency in a certain sense. And what we have lost is, of course, our essence… Of course, these originated during your childhood partly as a result of traumatic experiences or conflicts with your environment.”

H. Almaas

   From a more traditional, psychological perspective what we are talking about in regards to the Basic Fault is the constitution of our nascent ego, or what later will be called character structure. Does it have faults and fissures? Is it brittle and likely to crack and perhaps shatter under the stresses and strains of daily living? Or is it cohesive, strong and resilient (questions Kohut works with)? We know from research that the former can lead to what psychiatry calls ‘personality disorders,’ which may or may not be amenable to healing and transformation. But if a person applies herself to a ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ as to what is going on in the depths of the psyche, if she becomes aware that something maladaptive and painful might be activated, then some measure of conscious mourning may be called for. From a Essence or Transpersonal perspective, however, what we are talking about includes the loss of Essence that Almaas talks about with his Theory of Holes (see esp. his The Pearl Beyond Price), and Claudio Naranjo speaks about when he discusses the experience of ontic obscuration and deficiency in Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View. This has more to do with the inevitable cathexis of all or part of the incipient ego structure and the consequent decathexis of our identity with Essence.

So then, and to be clear, even if we have a relatively stable and healthy sense of psychological self, when we begin the process of work on self (whether through the Gurdieff Work, Hamid’s Diamond Approach, Claudio’s SAT Groups, Helen Palmer’s Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition, Riso and Hudson’s 4th Way informed approach, etc.), we will still need to be aware that mourning is healthy, useful and inevitable. It is not that we have to make a big effort to mourn, but rather that with self-awareness and self-compassion this young part can be released from its ‘prison in childhood.’ Which returns us to the work of Alice Miller who originally titled her most famous book Prisoners of Childhood: The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self. We need to remember that the mourning will be fundamentally different from that engendered by the loss of an external or internal object, and it will not be caused primarily by a chemical imbalance. Prozac and other anti-depressants won’t release us from the need to take a specific internal stance toward our early childhood condition, including the Basic Fault and the emergence of what Naranjo calls our Enneatype structure.

Conclusion: In Praise of Psychoanalytic Insights and Approaches

“Experience has taught us that we have only one enduring weapon in our struggle against mental illness: the emotional discovery and emotional acceptance of the truth in the individual and unique history of our childhood.”

Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child (15)

 As must be obvious by now, it is my belief that Enneagram-informed theorists, writers, teachers and therapists would do well to make good use of the very best of psychoananlysis and depth psychology. Too often these kinds of insights and approaches are reduced to a shallow and facile neo-Freudianism and dismissed. Or they are not utilized at all due to some combination of ignorance and prejudice. In my opinion, the worldwide Enneagram community would do well to acquaint itself with important and useful ideas and methods culled from the likes of: Freud, Jung, Mahler (see esp. The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant), Horney, Schwartz-Salant (a personal favorite—read all his books), Jones, Klein, Winnicott, Kernberg, Kristeva, Lacan (in spite of his nearly impenetrable French jargon and discourse), Irigaray (a fabulous feminist psychoanalyst and philosopher), Fromm, Kohut (the developer of Self Psychology, which is the basis of much of contemporary psychotherapy), Fairbairn, Adler, Erikson (indispensable for looking at the entire life span), Laing (still the most poetic and interesting anti-psychiatrist), Rank, Eigen, Chodorow, Reich (for his energetic and somatic approaches), Bion, Ferenczi, Sullivan, Bowlby and many others. Related to this would be an increased attention to psychobiographies which, when done comprehensively and with sensitivity, could be a deeply humanistic endeavor (note: this could be usefully combined with studies in the Enneatyping of public figures and celebrities which, like it or not, is still one of the best ways of learning about both the typing process and how social life operates in the real world). It is interesting to note that Alice Miller’s later books included psychobiographies of Nietzsche, Picasso, Buster Keaton, Chekhov, Rimbaud, Proust, James Joyce, Dostoyevsky, Mishima and others.

To return to Alice Miller, her most comprehensive and potentially transformative idea is the notion of ‘poisonous pedagogy’ which she raises in her books For Your Own Good (1980) and Thou Shall Not Be Aware (1981). In her words, “Poisonous pedagogy refers to that tradition of child-rearing which attempts to suppress all vitality, creativity, and feeling in the child and maintains the autocratic, godlike [read patriarchal] position of the parents at all costs… It is a phrase I use to refer to the kind of parenting and education aimed at breaking a child’s will and making that child into an obedient subject by means of overt or covert coercion, manipulation and blackmail.”

To return to Antonio Barbato, he ends his article in the Enneagram Monthly by saying that “The Swiss therapist Konrad Stettbacher, who proposed an effective method for treating the original wound (which he called Primary Lesion), said that these wounds make it hard for an individual to adapt in life, that they break the balance of homeostasis in the child, making it difficult to satisfy even the most natural needs.” In familiar Enneagram terms, we could say that our primary instincts are corrupted and colored by our passion. In other words, even the slightest physical sensations will be organized at an emotional level into fixed responses which over time become more and more repetitive and unchangeable. The latter is what Freud brilliantly termed the ‘repetition compulsion.’

To conclude, I admit that this essay is more of a bricolage of ideas and theories than a perfectly organized and systematized piece. Still, my hope is that it stimulates reflection and even perhaps action. I will leave it to the reader to begin to fill in the gaps and tie things together with additional creative thinking and a sensitive heart.

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