edited by Jacki Watts, Kate Cockcroft, Norman Duncan (Ph. D.)
Juta and Company Ltd, 2009 – Psychology – 686 pages
….some quality of their early infantile experience had felt intolerable and they ad mobilized primitive and rigid psychological defence mechanisms to protect themselves from these painful early experiences. The cost of this however was that they were unable to use their minds to think about and process experience.
…..what Bion called an “ego-destructive superego”. an amalgam of attacking bad objects that impedes any efforts to understand one’s experience.
The question of which comes first, excessive aggression or the maternal failure to contain destructive projective identifications, did not concern Bion. His focus was on the end result of the failed containing process. What is important is not the origin of these experiences, but whether these experiences can be endured and given meaningful representation, rather than evacuated as unthinkable horrors.
Beta-elements. These are sense impressions and primitive affects that are felt as concrete things in themselves. They are unmentalised and meaningless sensations that have not yet evolved to the status of feelings.
…called these raw sensations beta-elements. Beta-elements are not felt as comprehensible phenemena that may be labeled and understood, but rather as sense impressions and primitive ….
The raw experience of sensory stimulation can be responded to in one of two ways: it can be evaded or modified. The prototype of evasion in infantile phantasy is evacuation (expelling experiences), whereas modification of the experience is through thought, that is, representing experience and mentally digesting it.
How do thoughts and the capacity to think arise from beta-elements, which are emotionally concrete objects of raw experience that are not yet symbolized, that is, given a meaningful status as cognitive referents or links to other experiences? Without any mental elaboration beta-elements can only be acted upon as things are: They are to be broken up and thrown out; or with some luck, sent out for detoxicating and refining.
A containing mind provides a mental skin in which the projected contents of the infant’s primitive internal world are kept safe and given meaning. ….and to think about and make sense of his emotional experience, rather than evacuating it through projective identification or impulsive behavior.