“Ghosts in the nursery”

From: Wilder.org:

In 1975, Selma Fraiberg, a clinical social worker and child psychoanalyst, introduced the metaphor of “ghosts in the nursery.” This concept refers to the relationship between a parent’s early, often harsh or traumatic experiences of the way they were raised and their own parenting style.”

From: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011), by Jeanette Winterson:

“Jung, not Freud, liked fairy tales for what they tell us about human nature. Sometimes, often, a part of us is both volatile and powerful – the towering anger that can kill you and others, and that threatens to overwhelm everything. We can’t negotiate with that powerful but enraged part of us until we teach it better manners – which means getting it back in the bottle to show who is really in charge. This isn’t repression, but it is about finding a container. In therapy, the therapist acts as a container for what we daren’t let out, because it is so scary, or what lets itself out every so often, and lays waste to our lives.”

From: What is the container/contained when there are ghosts in the nursery?: Joining Bion and Fraiberg in dyadic interventions with mother and infant (April 2015) Infant Mental Health Journal, by Johanna C. Malone, Carolyn Dayton:

” “Ghosts in the nursery.” “Visitors from the unremembered past.” Fraiberg, Adelson, and Shapiro’s (1975) words convey the relational “intruders” that they perceived while working with mothers and infants. A mother’s unresolved past is a driving force within the treatment of mother-infant dyads. Working with these families, the therapist strives to process and metabolize the distress of the dyad while enabling the mother to contain the infant more fully. This article proposes that Fraiberg et al.’s metaphor may be newly elaborated utilizing Bion’s (1962) original theoretical conceptualization of the “container and contained.” He posited that an infant projects distressing affective states upon the mother, who contains the experience, transforms the feelings, and then enables the infant to reintroject a more tolerable experience. This lays the foundation for the relational experience of being known by another and facilitates the infant’s development of self-knowledge and emotional regulation. We utilize Fraiberg et al.’s original case material to identify ways in which ghosts in the nursery disrupt the processes of the container and contained. Bion’s ideas may help enrich our understanding of how the therapeutic relationship enables cycles of containment, transitioning the material “ghosts” from being contained by the infant to being contained by the therapist, and to ultimately being transformed so that the mother can reattribute them to the past.”

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