From Complexity to Creativity -- Copyright Plenum Press, © 1997
Part IV. The Dynamics of Self and Creativity
CHAPTER 13. ASPECTS OF HUMAN PERSONALITY DYNAMICS
ASPECTS OF HUMAN PERSONALITY DYNAMICS
The next and final chapter will confront the topic of creativity, using the theory of subself dynamics, together with genetic algorithms, autopoietic systems, emergent patterns and other concepts from the psynet model, to construct a unified theory of creative dynamics. Before turning to creativity, however, it seems worthwhile to give an example of the application of subself dynamics and the psynet model to other personality phenomena, less blatantly cognitive in nature. With this in mind, in this chapter I will provide new, system-theoretic analysis of the phenomena of romantic love and masochism.
Romantic love, our first topic, is a phenomenon in which theoretical psychologists have historically had very little interest. Relatively obscure phenomena such as sadomasochism, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and hysteria, have garnered vastly more attention. In recent years, however, this has begun to change. In this section I will review some recent ideas about the psychology of romantic love, and I will explain how the psynet model, combined with subself dynamics and certain ideas from the psychological literature, suggests a new way of thinking about love.
In short, romantic love is here envisioned as an autopoietic, adaptive supersystem constructed from four inter-reinforcing, inter-merging subsystems: a sexuality system, a caregiving system and an attachment system, and a higher-level system called the "intimacy system." This supersystem sustains itself internally by autopoiesis, and externally by the production of intimacy, defined as "the systematic co-creation of patterns of mutual emotional significance." Falling in love is then viewed as the process of converging to this supersystem -- this autopoietic, adaptive attractor. Subself dynamics adds an extra level of complexity to the dynamics, for different subsystems are present to different extents in different subselves, and so the autopoietic supersystem must learn to adapt itself to the shifts between subselves.
This may seem to be an overly complicated analysis of something as primal and experientially simple as romantic love. But such complication is, I would argue, the price one must pay for a thorough and understanding. The psynet model reveals the subtle dynamics underlying the elemental feeling of love. In doing so it explains certain aspects of love relationships which have previously been incomprehensible. And it also explains the unpredictability of love -- why it is so difficult to predict who will fall in love with whom. According to the psynet model, this difficulty is not so different from the difficulty of predicting the currents of the atmosphere, or the rise and fall of economic indicators. It is an unavoidable consequence of the complex nonlinearity of subself dynamics.
14.2 THE LAWS OF LOVE
I will begin by outlining a psychoanalytic view of romantic love. While Freud himself had little to say on the subject, a recent paper by Otto Kernberg (1988) provides an analysis of romantic love from the Freudian perspective:
I believe romantic love, with its constituents of idealization, longing, and the sense of passionate fulfillment when the love relation with the desired object is achieved, reflects the unconscious achievement of the union with the desired incestual object and yet the capacity to overcome the infantile equation of all sexual objects with the oedipal one, and a triumphant identification with the oedipal rival without the implication of patricide or matricide. In normal passionate love, the distinction between the original oedipal rival and other competitors of the same sex has been achieved, and the related sense of inferiority to both parental objects linked with the infantile origin of the Oedipus complex has been overcome.... (p. 67)
In romantic love, according to Kernberg, the Oedipus complex is finally conquered. The man finds he can love his mother (or a representation thereof) without killing his father; and in this way he unlearns the identification of all love with maternal love. The triumph of getting the woman is there, but without the violent Oedipal overtones. Similarly, the woman finds she can love her father (or a representation thereof) without violence or threat to her mother. Romantic love, in this view, is what finally liberates the mind from the shackles of childhood sexuality.
Going beyond the purely Freudian framework, Kernberg ties his conclusions in with self theory:
[T]here is a basic, intrinsic contradiction between two crucial features of sexual love: the necessity for a self with firm boundaries, and a constant awareness of the separateness of others, contradicts the necessity for being able to transcend the boundaries of the self so as to become one with the loved person. Sexual passion integrates these contradictory features: the shared experience of orgasm includes the transcendence from the experience of the self into that of the fantasied union of the oedipal parents, as well as the transcendence of the repetition of the oedipal relation to an abandonment of it in a new object relation that reconfirms one's separate identity and autonomy. (70)
The transcendence of the oedipal relation is seen to tie in with the transcendence of the dichotomy between aloneness and togetherness. Namely, orgasm promotes togetherness and, in Freudian language, identification with the union of the oedipal parents. But at the same time, the abandonment of the oedipal parents and the entrance into adult sexuality leads one to a new and powerful self-image. Paradoxically, by giving up oneself and melding with another, one achieves a stronger self.
Love and Attachment
Kernberg's Freudian analysis gives the beginning of an explanation of the emergent quality at the center of romance -- that "something special" that arises from the combination of sex and love in the proper way. Clearly, as Kernberg suggests, this emergent quality has something to do with the transcendence of the distinction between self and non-self, and with simultaneously reliving and shedding one's early relationship with one's parents. In order to really understand what is going on, however, we must leave the Freudian terminology behind. Ultimately, there is no need to invoke the Oedipus complex; one may arrive at conclusions similar to those of Kernberg from totally different considerations, while at the same time obtaining deeper insights into the nature of romantic love. Shaver, Hazen and Bradshaw (1988) have given a convincing and modern analysis of romantic love as a combination of three behavioral systems: an attachment system, a caregiving system, and a sexuality system. They focus most of their attention on the attachment system. Essentially, their "attachment system" plays the role ofKernberg's Oedipus complex: it is a childhood experience which is simultaneously re-enacted and transcended through the experience of romantic love.
They define the attachment system as
a set of behaviors (crying, smiling, clinging, locomoting, looking, and so on) that function together to achieve a set-goal, in this case a certain degree of proximity to the primary care giver. The set-goal changes systematically in response to illness, pain, darkness, unfamiliar surroundings, and so on -- all conditions associated with potential harm.
As other examples of behavioral systems, besides caregiving, sexuality and attachment, they cite mating, affiliation, and exploration. In the language of the psynet model, a "behavioral system" would be a certain kind of autopoietic subnetwork within the dual network. Specifically, behavioral networks are autopoietic subnetworks that exist on a fairly low level of the dual network, and contain a high proportion of processes concerned with action. The fact that they "function together to achieve a set-goal" is a consequence of their autopoiesis: the different processes in the system work so closely and effectively together that, if one were removed, the others would quickly use their ingenuity to reinvent it, or something similar to it.
Shaver, Hazen and Bradshaw give a very convincing point-by-point comparison of features of attachment and adult romantic love. This comparison is so convincing that I see no alternative but to give a briefer, paraphrased version here. For sake of conciseness I will borrow their terminology of AO for "attachment object" and LO for "love object":
-- Formation and quality of attachment bond depends on AO's sensitivity and responsiveness. Love feelings are related to intense desire for LO's interest and reciprocation
-- AO provides a secure base so that infant feels competent and safe to explore. LO's reciprocation causes person to feel secure, confident, safe, etc.
-- When AO is present, infant is happier, less afraid of strangers, etc. When LO is viewed as reciprocating, the lover is happier, more outgoing, optimistic and kind.
-- When AO is not available, or is not responsive, the infant is anxious and preoccupied. When LO acts uninterested or rejecting, the lover is anxious, preoccupied, unable to concentrate, etc.
-- Attachment behaviors include: proximity and contact seeking, holding, touching, caressing, kissing, rocking, smiling, crying, following, clinging, etc. The same behaviors are present in love relationships, augmented of course by the act of lovemaking.
-- When afraid, distressed or sick, infants seek physical contact with AO, and lovers with LO.
-- The result of separation from AO or LO is distress, followed by sad and listless behavior if reunion seems impossible.
-- Upon reunion with AO, the respond is smiling, positive vocalizations, bouncing, jiggling, etc. Upon reunion with LO, or when LO reciprocates after reciprocation was in doubt, the reaction is physical ecstasy, the desire to cry out, to hug and be hugged, etc.
-- The infant shares toys, discoveries, etc. with AO; the love shares experiences and gifts with LO.
-- Infant and AO share prolonged eye contact; so do the lover and LO. Infant seems fascinated with the different parts of AO's body -- nose, ears, hair, etc. Lover seems fascinated with the different parts of LO's body.
-- Infant feels fused with AO and, with development, becomes ambivalent about the balance of fusion and autonomy. The same is true of the lover and LO.
-- An infant generally has only one AO at a time; a lover generally has only one LO at a time.
-- Separations and adverse circumstances, up to a point, tend to increase attachment behavior.
-- Communication with AO takes place largely in a "private language" of coos, songs, soft voices and body language. The same is true, to a lesser extent, of communication with LO.
-- Powerful empathy; an almost magical ability to sense the other's emotional needs.
-- Infant experiences AO as omniscient and omnipotent. Similarly, in the early phases of love, the LO is perceived as a perfect being; all LO's flaws are systematically overlooked.
-- When the relationship is not going well, cues of AO's or LO's approval or disapproval are the cause of highly sensitive reactions.
-- The infant's greatest happiness comes from AO's approval and attention. The lover's greatest happiness comes from LO's approval and attention (as Flaubert wrote in Sentimental Education: "[She] was the focal point of light at which the totality of all thins converged.").
-- When the loss of a spouse occurs, the typical reaction is similar to separation distress in infancy, including uncontrollable restlessness, difficulty in concentrating, disturbed sleep, anxiety, tension and anger.
No one who has been in love can deny the uncanny accuracy of these parallels. Indeed the parallel between love relationships and parent/infant relationships is a staple of popular music and literature. Countless pop songs refer to lovers as "baby," "mommy" or "daddy." Ronald Reagan, even while President, called his wife Nancy "Mommy."
A little more speculatively, the attachment theory even provides an explanation for why romantic love seems to fade after a few months or years. According to Bowlby (1969),
By most children attachment behavior is exhibited strongly and regularly until almost the end of the third year. Then a change occurs.... In many children the change seems to take place almost abruptly, suggesting that at this age some maturational threshold is passed. (p. 204-205).
The attachment theory of love suggests that this conclusion may perhaps transfer over to romantic love relationships. Once one is sure of being loved, one feels security rather than passionate uncertainty, and, acting on the cue of one's earlier attachment relationship, one is impelled to move on. Curiously, the time period most often associated with the duration of romantic love is also three or four years.
Despite the long and impressive list of similarities, however, there are obvious differences between infantile attachment and romantic love. These are due, in large part, to the other two behavioral systems involved: caregiving and sexuality.
First of all, love is a largely symmetrical relationship, while the infant's attachment to its mother is completely asymmetrical. During early childhood, the infant's attachment system is complemented by the mother's caregiving system. If either system is deficient then problems will result: a baby who displays insufficient attachment will tend not to be properly cared for; and a mother who gives insufficient care will give rise to a person with abnormal attachment behaviors.
In a love relationship, both partners are generally expected to give both attachment and care.
This caregiving behavioral system is not something that we very often think about. But, once one looks for it, it is extremely obvious in everyday life. Who has not marvelled at the uncanny affection for babies that so many of us seem to display? Why should we love these little creatures who urinate and defecate all over themselves, who display less intelligence than household pets, who spend most of their time either sleeping or crying? These qualities in an adult or an older child would be repulsive. The seemingly innate affection for babies is a consequence of the caregiving system, which is "activated in a parent when his or her child displays attachment behaviors.... [I]t includes sensitivity and responsiveness, behaviors aimed atsoothing the child (holding, patting, rocking), and attempts at problem solution." (p. 86)
There may be more or less asymmetry in caregiving in a love relationship, both in quantity of care given and in kind of care given. Stereotypically, the male gives financial and protective care, while the female gives emotional care. Females conventionally display a greater amount of attachment behavior; but males are also capable of extreme displays of attachment. The one sure thing is that no love relationship has quite so much asymmetry as the infant/mother relationship!
Much better understood than the caregiving system is the sexuality system. Freud and other psychoanalysts have argued that the infant-parent relationship is partly based on sexuality; but even if this claim were true, sexuality would still form a major difference between love and infantile attachment, because the roles of sexuality in the attachment and love relationships would necessarily be very different. Kernberg, quoted above, has given one view of what exactly this difference in roles might be.
We have already dwelt, in the previous chapter, on the inherent gender asymmetry of the human sexual system. But this asymmetry, it would seem, is not particularly important for romantic love, except insofar as it helps to determine the type of individual to whom a given person will feel sexually or socially attracted (a topic that will be taken up below). More crucial to the actual dynamics of romantic love is the tactile aspect of sexuality. An infant experiences very frequent skin contact with the mother -- indeed, before birth, the contact is constant! As we grow older, we lose this physical closeness, and we touch others only for short periods of time, as in handshakes, hugs, and physical sports. Having sex, and sleeping next to a sexual partner, are really the only occasions we have to touch our bodies against others' bodies. The tactile aspect of sex "supercharges" the attachment system in a way that can hardly be overestimated.
Romantic Love as an Autopoietic Magician System
Although Shaver, Hazan and Bradshaw do not emphasize this point, it seems to me that one of the most essential aspects of romantic love is the synergy between the attachment, caregiving and sexuality systems. These three autopoietic systems link and eventually merge together to form a larger autopoietic supersystem. This supersystemic autopoiesis is, I suggest, an important part of the "magic" of love.
As a first approximation one may think of this autopoietic supersystem as a joining together of the three component systems. But this is not entirely an accurate view; it overlooks the dynamic nature of the dual network. Eventually, acting in such close proximity, the various networks will wind up swapping subnetworks with each other. They will change one another, and overlap with one another, so as to produce a final product which is not the same as the union of the three components; it is a fundamentally new system, formed by mutation and crossover and autopoietic interproduction of the parts of the three components. The attachment, caregiving and sexuality systems merge together to form something different, a behavior system for romantic love.
For sake of simplicity, however, it is convenient to ignore this merging together for the moment, and to think about this supersystem as a union of three disjoint components. Looking at the supersystem this way provides a clear insight into the nature of the autopoiesis involved. First of all, one concludes that the supersystem is not autopoietic in the strictest sense. For it is not true that each component is producible by the other two components. For instance, the attachment and caregiving behavior systems, by themselves, are not capable of producing the sexuality system. What is true, however, is that, given just a low-level activation of the sexuality system, the attachment and caregiving systems are capable of producing a high level of activation of the sexuality system. Similarly, given a low-level activation of the attachment system, thesexuality and caregiving systems are capable of producing a high level of activation of the attachment system; and, given a low-level actiation of the caregiving system, the sexuality and attachments systems are capable of producing a high level of activation of the caregiving system. Thus, even ignoring the process of merging that will inevitably occur, if one assumes a low base level of activation for all three systems, one concludes that the supersystem is effectively autopoietic: high levels of activation in the three systems are adaptively inter-perpetuating.
One way to understand this supersystemic autopoiesis is to construct "archetypal love stories." Here is an example. Let's say one partner, Sally, is attached to the other one, Jim. This attachment will soon lead to distress if it is not met with caregiving. So unless Jim responds with caregiving behavior there will be no two-way romantic love. But why, then, not a totally asymmetric relationship, in which Sally is attached and Jim is caregiving? This is where sexuality comes in: Sally and Jim become involved sexually, which involves a great deal of physical contact and other behaviors which, to Jim, are naturally reminiscent of the attachment relationship of his early childhood. Thus Jim has a natural incentive to develop attachment behaviors as well. And once Jim develops attachment behaviors, Sally must respond in kind with caregiving behaviors -- the system is complete.
This little scenario indicates how sexuality can help turn one-way attachment/caregiving relationship into a full romantic love relationship involving all three systems of both partners. Of course, many other scenarios are possible. For instance, the start can be a sexual relationship; the intimacy of sex can then lead to an increasing spiral of attachment and caregiving behavior. Attachment and caregiving, due to their complementarity, have a natural potential to build upon one another in the manner of a "feedback loop"; sexuality, it is easy to see, provides an environment in which this is particularly likely to occur.
For further examples of this kind of supersystemic autopoiesis, one may look in any one of the tens of thousands of love stories that have been published over the last few thousand years. There is an immense variety to the details, but the upshot is always the same.
Intuitively speaking, the experience of falling in love has all the earmarks of convergence to an attractor. Once a few of the pieces are there, the others seem to fall into place like magic: all of a sudden, "Wow!", and the full-on feeling of romantic love is there. The idea of love as an autopoietic, evolving supersystem makes this intuition precise: it specifies what kind of attractor the "falling in love" dynamic converges to.
Patterns of Attraction
So love is an autopoietic magician system. The sixty-four million dollar question, however, is: what makes Jack fall in love with Jill. Or Jill with Johnny? What makes an individual fall in love with this particular person instead of someone else? Why is the autopoietic, evolving supersystem so darn picky?
In the last few decades, a fair amount of empirical research on this question has finally begun to appear. None of it, however, really seems to get at the heart of the matter. The reason for this, I believe, is that most of the research has focused on the traits of the two individuals involved in a love relationship. And love, I will argue below, has less to do with traits of individuals than with phenomena that emerge between two individuals, phenomena that are present only when the two individuals interact together.
Love, I will argue, is a matter of eliciting intimacy, where intimacy is defined as the repeated, shared creation of patterns of mutual emotional meaning. More technically speaking, what this means is that in order for romantic love to occur, the different subsystems of the different subselves of the two individuals involved must produce emergent adaptive autopoieticmagician systems which permit the sustained co-creation of emotionally significant patterns. This is quite a mouthful; it is a complicated requirement -- and this, I propose, is exactly why it is so hard to tell who will fall in love with whom. For better or for worse, the romantic love system is a complex one!
Before discussing emergence and intimacy, however, I will first review some of the most important facts that have been discovered regarding the psychology of love, mostly drawn from the book Love's Mysteries, by Glenn Wilson and David Nias (1976). It is important to know exactly how much can be explained by traits, before moving beyond them.
On a very general level, one may isolate certain qualities that are considered desirable in a love partner. According to one study, for males these are: achievement, leadership, occupational ability, economic ability, entertaining ability, intellectual ability, observational ability, common sense, athletic ability, and theoretical ability. For women, on the other hand, the same study found quite a different list: physical attractiveness, erotic ability, affectional ability, social ability, domestic ability, sartorial ability, interpersonal understanding, art appreciation, moral- spiritual understanding, art-creative ability. The most important gender difference regards physical appearance: it predicts dating probability much better for women than for men (a 62% correlation versus a 25% correlation). Both sexes, however, like attractive partners!
The folklore of romance includes two contradictory maxims: "like attracts like," and "opposites attract." But many studies indicate that, even for the selection of marriage partners, neither similarity nor complementation predicts very much. According to standard methods of profiling personality, individuals tend to marry almost, if not quite, at random. On average, there is a slight tendency for people to like partners with similar attitudes. And, as might be expected, attitude similarity is more important for choosing marriage partners than for dating partners. But these are not dramatic tendencies.
In one study, which dealt with married couples who had met through a computer dating service, the following results were found. Couples were more likely to marry if they were of similar height, had a similar degree of interest in sport, and were similar in concreteness of ideas, serious-mindedness, confidence, control and dominance. Complementation appeared only in relation to wit: a jokester tends to marry a non-witty person. Most notable among the results of this study is the absence of complementarity in the area of dominance versus submission. On the contrary, a slight similarity effect was found: dominants tend to marry dominants, and submissives tend to marry submissives. On the average, women are attracted to dominant men, but only if they are competent. Dominant, incompetent men are liked even less than submissive, incompetent ones.
Some interesting cognitive phenomena may be observed in the dynamics of romantic attraction. For instance, it is known that, if a man erroneously believes that a certain woman has excited him, he will tend to feel a greater attraction to that woman than he would have felt otherwise. This observation resonates well with Gosselin and Wilson's cognitive theory of the origin of sexual deviance, discussed in the previous chapter, according to which, e.g., masochism evolves from the chance association of physical pain with sexual excitation.
And there is the "gain" phenomenon, according to which a person will be most strongly attracted to someone whose negative opinion of them has suddenly turned positive. This is even better than someone whose opinion has been consistently positive. And someone whose positive opinion has changed to negative is even less attractive than someone whose opinion has been negative throughout. This phenomenon may be viewed as a validation of Paulhan's view of emotion, according to which happiness is a feeling of increasing order, and unhappiness a feeling of decreasing order. Good feelings are caused by a positive rate of change more than a constant positive value. Bad feelings are caused by a negative rate of change more than a constant negative value.
Along the same lines as the gain phenomenon, marriages that appear to be "good" -- based on mutual support, admiration and kindness -- will sometimes fall apart for no apparent reason. The lack of change leads to a lack of happiness. Marriages involving a fluctuation between negative and positive relations will often be felt as more exciting and stimulating, because the necessary positive and negative gradients are there. But of course, this kind of fluctation is not necessary for a successful marriage: the feeling of increasing order can come from other places than improving relations. For example, returning from a hostile workplace to a loving home can make one's spouse seem particularly attractive: here the gradient is caused by a changing environment rather than a changing relationship.
These cognitive and trait-theoretic investigations are perfectly interesting, both as scientific results and as guidance for real life romantic affairs. But they stop short of giving an answer to the real question. The reason is, I suggest, that they fail to come to grips with intimacy. Not all relationships are equally intimate, but falling in love, I propose, requires a high degree of intimacy. And intimacy is something that cannot be understood in terms of traits or cognitive errors. It has to do with subself dynamics, with the high-level interaction of self and reality theories. In short, it is complex.
Successful thought systems, according to the psynet model, survive for two reasons. First, because they are autopoietic. Second, because they produce patterns that are useful for other thought systems.
I have said that the attachment/caregiving/sexuality supersystem is autopoietic. But this is only half of the story; it does not answer the question of the external purpose of romantic love. The answer to this question, I propose, is intimacy. Intimacy is the means by which romantic love produces useful patterns.
Clearly one may fall in love without experiencing intimacy. After all, what about "love at first sight"? But a sustained experience of being in love is, I claim, not possible without a reasonable degree of intimacy. An attachment/ caregiving/sexuality supersystem will not survive in the dual network without intimacy to support it. Love at first sight is mostly an anticipation of love; without the intimacy to back it up, it eventually fades away.
Intimacy is notoriously difficult to define. Two reasonable definitions are:
I am defining intimacy as the experience of personal and relational affirmation and enhancement that derives from interactions demonstrating reciprocal knowledge and validation between partners. (Rampage, 1994)
[Intimacy is where] people share meaning or co-create meaning and they are able to coordinate their actions to reflect their mutual meaning-making. (Weingarten, 1992)
Building on these previous definitions, I propose to define intimacy as the systematic co- creation of patterns of mutual emotional significance. And I propose that there is, in each person, a fairly cohesive intimacy system: an autopoietic pattern/process network oriented toward making intimate acts, remembering intimate acts, thinking of intimate acts, and perceiving intimate acts on the part of others.
The intimacy system is not as basic as the attachment, caregiving and sexuality systems, because it exists on a higher level: it has to do with fairly abstract emotional patterns, instead of simple physical acts. But it is real nonetheless. One may look at love as a process of linking up the lower-level attachment/caregiving/sexuality supersystem with the relatively higher-levelintimacy system. The combination of these four systems gives a full-fledged romantic love supersystem.
In Buberian terms, we may say that intimacy is a special kind of I-You relationship. It is a pattern of interpersonal relating which leads to particularly strong and sustained I-You encounters. Intimate relationships cause two individuals to create meaningful patterns together; in this way the two individuals become linked so closely that a recognition of one another's emergent wholeness becomes almost second nature. The intimacy system may thus fairly be viewed as a system for getting and holding onto I-You relationships. We may thus conclude, on purely formal grounds, that intimacy tends to lead to repeated and intense I-You encounters. Thus, according to the Fundamental Principle, intimacy tends to lead to healthy minds: to healthy subself systems spanning two physical bodies.
One common example of intimacy is the emotionally revelatory conversation. This example fits well into my definition. The conversation itself is a mutually created linguistic pattern, and if it is not emotionally meaningful to both participants, then it is not intimate. It is all right if only one partner is revealing themselves, but what is necessary in this case is that the other one must visibly empathize; the empathy is a sign of mutual emotional significance.
Another commonplace example of intimacy is sex. Clearly, sex need not be intimate, because it need not have mutual emotional significance. Sex with a prostitute is generally not intimate. But sex does involve the systematic co-creation of patterns -- patterns of bodily motion. Some things are communicated far better by body movements than by words. If mutual emotional significance is there, obviously, sex will be intimate.
Note that illusory intimacy is possible, in the sense that one of the people involved may falsely believe there to be patterns of mutual emotional significance involved, when in fact the other person is not emotionally moved at all. In this sense there can be one-way romantic love without true intimacy. There is systematic co-creation of patterns of one-sided emotional significance, with the illusion of mutual emotional significance. But this is the "exception that proves the rule."
The connection between the attachment/caregiving/sexuality supersystem and the intimacy system is one of mutual support. On the one hand, intimacy gives the tripartite supersystem a purpose, a purpose outside itself. By giving rise to intimate behavior -- i.e. connecting with the intimacy system -- the supersystem creates new patterns, which are potentially useful to the remainder of the mind. Thus it goes beyond its autopoiesis and justifies itself as a "useful belief system." Intimacy guarantees the "fitness" of the tripartite supersystem as a pattern processing system within the mind.
But, on the other hand, the intimacy system is at least as desperately in need of the tripartite supersystem for its survival. For "intimacy," in itself, is a very abstract thing. One may have certain habits for extracting personal information to share with others, for listening and responding to others' confessions, for working together with another to produce something of mutual meaning. But these habits will be useless unless one finds oneself in an appropriate context. The tripartite supersystem helps to create appropriate contexts for intimacy.
And the tripartite supersystem is peculiary appropriate as a "bottom end" or "user interface" for the intimacy system. For, as is well known, mental states of great emotional intensity, such as those which one achieves through intimacy, often cause one to "lose control" (i.e. shed one's usual adult behavior regulation systems). They put one in a dependent state, in which one becomes easily attached, in which one requires caregiving. Therefore intimacy may be understood as giving rise to a direct need for active attachment and caregiving systems. The attachment/caregiving/sexuality supersystem matches up with the intimacy system to form an adaptive autopoietic supersystem of great beauty and power.
Love and Subself Dynamics
Intimacy cannot be fully understood without referring to subselves. For, the cooperative construction of patterns by two individuals is always really done by two subselves. To oversimplify things for sake of argument, let's say that Jane and John each have three prominent subselves. Then, for romantic love between Jane and John to be successful, it need not be the case that each subself of Jane's can easily enter into an intimate relationship with each subself of John's. What should ideally be the case is that each subself of Jane's, and each subself of John's can enter into an intimate relationship with at least one subself of the other person. Thus no subself will be left without the experience of intimacy.
It is important not to misunderstand the relationship between subselves and the romantic love supersystem. There is not one fixed supersystem, invariant between all subselves. But neither does each subself have its own independent supersystem. Instead, in the typical situation, each subself will possess a certain "projection" or "interpretation" of the same romantic love supersystem. Another way to say this is that the romantic love supersystems associated with the different subselves will generally tend to be quite similar to one another. The autopoiesis involved in the romantic love supersystem is largely subself-independent; but the supersystem is also involved in complex self-organizing relationships with processes specific to individual subselves.
The number of possible subself relationships is staggering. For instance, some of Jane's subselves may hate some of John's subselves, and this may cause serious problems, or else it may be prudently managed. Jane or John may evolve dynamics according to which, at the point of conflict, the troublesome subself fades into the background.
Let's give our example more detail. Suppose Jane has three important subselves: one vulnerable, emotional, irrational and creative; another logical, sensible and ambitious; and a third, cold, unfriendly, and moderately reasonable except in regard to other people. Suppose John has three important subselves: one vulnerable, emotional, irrational and creative; another logical, witty and extremely intelligent; and a third, extremely outgoing, sarcastic, nihilistic and jovial. Call these subselves Jane1, Jane2, Jane3 and John1, John2, John3. Each of these "subselves" is a set of behavior patterns, an autopoietic subnetwork of the dual network consisting of self and reality theories and lower level processes to support them. Each is a complete and self-contained system for dealing with the world.
Now, John1 and Jane1 match up in a natural way, as do John2 and Jane2. These pairs are extremely likely to be intimate with each other. John1 and Jane2 generally get along acceptably, as do John2 and Jane1. They are often intimate, the logical one of the pair one providing the emotional one with support and advice. But while Jane3 tends to tolerate John1 and John2 without too much complaint, she is extremely hostile to John3: in her cold and antisocial state Jane is offended by John's sarcasm. On the other hand, John1 is often hurt by Jane3; in his vulnerability, he cannot bear her coldness. And, similarly, Jane1 is often hurt by John3; in her vulnerability she is wounded by his sarcasm.
In this example we have the potential for a deep and intense love relationship. First of all, Jane1 and John1, both vaguely "female" in characteristics, can share their fears and ideas and feelings with each other in an intimate way. They both display strong attachment behaviors, which may often lead to sexuality behaviors and caregiving behaviors. The romantic love system involving these two subselves, though involving all three components, is dominated by attachment. The sexuality involved here is one of mutual "feminine" behavior, mutual passivity; one would expect extensive foreplay.
Next, Jane1 and John2, or Jane2 and John1, fall into a natural attachment/caregiving relationship. The sexuality involved here is of a classic man/woman type, where the number 2 subselves take on the stereotypically male role.
And Jane2 and John2, with their lessened need for attachment, still do have some need for intersubjective validation and intimacy. Their romantic love supersystem is less intense, less prominent, but still perfectly healthy. The sexuality involved here is one of mutual "masculine" behavior, mutual activity; one would expect vigorous intercourse without intense caressing or foreplay.
Finally, the other combinations do not display romantic love supersystems at all. The reason is that Jane3 and John3 are basically incapable of caregiving behavior, and display only very limited attachment behaviors. They may partake in sexual behavior but it will not be emotionally intense; it is unlikely to be "intimacy."
The compatibility of Jane and John, in this example, is determined largely by the transitions between one subself and the other. What is crucial is that the combinations Jane1/John3, Jane3/John1, and Jane3/John3 should not be allowed to coexist. First, either Jane1 must learn to phase out when John3 comes along, or John3 must learn to phase out when Jane1 comes along. Similarly, either John1 must learn to phase out when Jane3 comes along, or Jane3 must learn to phase out when John1 comes along. Finally, either John3 or Jane3 must learn to disappear when the other one appears.
Ideally speaking, it is even possible that the love relationship may help to "cure" the unhealthy subselves, Jane3 and John3. For instance, John2 may be able to offer caregiving to Jane3, and, not being so vulnerable as John1, he may be able to do so in spite of her apparent rejection. This caregiving may cause Jane3 to phase out and yield to Jane1 or Jane2. If this phasing-out occurs often enough it may cause atrophy of Jane3's internal processes, and thus lead to the dissolution of Jane3 as an independent subself. Jane3 may turn into a mere "mood" which quickly passes into Jane1 or Jane2.
Similarly, Jane2 may be able to offer caregiving behavior to John3, and thus cause John3 to phase into John2 or John1. The reason caregiving behavior may be expected to cause the phasing-out of non-intimate subselves is precisely because of the romantic love supersystem. The caregiving behavior will tend to activate attachment behavior and sexuality behavior, because of the autopoietic nature of the supersystem. Even when the subself in question does not partake of the romantic love supersystem, the supersystem still exists in the background and, unless the division between subselves is particularly severe, it can still be activated.
On the other hand, the love relationship may also cause the partners' subself dynamics to take a turn for the worse. A typical pattern would be for a particularly painful experience to cause Jane1 to pass into Jane3, or John1 to pass into John3. In other words, the non-intimate personalities may arise as "defense mechanisms," as overreactions to the wounded vulnerability of the feminine personalities. Thus, for example, the emergence of Jane1/John3 may lead immediately to the emergence of Jane3/John3. And if this occurs often enough, it may become ingrained in Jane1, so that Jane's moods of creativity and emotionality habitually shift into moods of coldness, for fear of the pain of continued vulnerable emotionality.
Of course, this is just a simplified model. In reality subselves are not this clearly delineated. Each subself is fuzzy and therefore the number of subselves is fuzzy as well. Some of the subselves will be vaguely divided into subsubselves. And there will be "superpositions" of subselves, intermediate states in which one subself controls most actions but another subself retains control of a few. But any model has its limits. The subself dynamics model, combined with the romantic love supersystem and the idea of intimacy, provides a much deeper view of love relationships than has previously been available. It provides a way of giving detailed analyses of love relationships, without recourse to unscientific concepts or purple prose.
Finally, it should be said that, in the subself dynamics view, there is cause to take a positive view of romantic love. It can hurt, yes, but it promotes the creation of an emotionally potent intersubjective world. It is a part of the larger process by which we all work together tocreate a world we can meaningfully share. According to the Fundamental Principle, insofar as it promotes intimacy, romantic love supports healthy subself systems. The mind involved in romantic love is involved in at least one, usually multiple I-You subself relationships; and this promoted healthy mental functioning. Thus, the system of two lovers is, as a system, a healthy "mind." Of course, either mind taken separately may not be healthy; the I-You dynamics may be disrupted by the end of the love relationship, leading to severe depression.
The Freudian View Revisited
Finally, we are ready to return to Kernberg's Freudian analysis of romantic love, discussed near the beginning of the chapter. Recall that, in Kernberg's view, the main features of romantic love are the overcoming of the Oedipus complex and the transcendence of the boundary between self and other. It is interesting to see how these features are reflected in the system-theoretic model of love that I have given here.
Clearly, intimacy provides a feeling of boundary-transcendence. Together with another, one is creating intensely emotionally meaningful patterns, which is something one normally does alone. Subself dynamics provides an even stronger possibility for boundary-transcendence in the context of love relationship -- it is possible for two subselves of different people to feel more closely bound together than two subselves that live within the same person. For instance, Jane1 may well have more in common with John1 than she does with Jane2 or Jane3. She may also co- create more mutually emotionally meaningful pattern with John1 than she does with her own co- selves. If John1 is similarly closer to Jane1 than to his own co-selves, then one has a situation where the two people, taken together, form a cohesive personality system. The unit of two people, taken as a collection of subselves, is more cohesive than either individual person. The dynamics of pattern has overcome the limitations of the physical body.
Regarding the Oedipus complex, the situation is slightly more complex. The psynet model itself is not incompatible with Freud's version of the Oedipus complex; however, the two models do not come together in any particularly elegant way. It is much more natural to re-frame the complex in terms of subself dynamics. When one does so, one concludes that the transcendence of parental anxieties and conflicts is a common consequence of romantic love, but not a necessary one.
The child will base her/his behaviors on observations of both mother and father, and will generally evolve subselves modeled on each. The tendency to identify with the same-sex parent will in general be greater, so that the subself (subselves) corresponding to the opposite-sex parent will continually be struggling for power. In some cases, this struggle may give the appearance of a desire to "murder" the same-sex parent within oneself. We will see this in the following section, where masochism is analyzed as a strategy used by female subselves of male people to maintain control over their competing male subselves.
Romantic love re-activates the attachment system, which has been lying largely dormant since early youth. In doing so it takes a large number of processes which previously were optimized for interaction with the parents, and modifies them to be more useful for interaction with the lover. The attachment system is integrated with the sexuality and caregiving systems, and in this process the attachment system itself is changed. Anything else which was connected with the attachment system is also open to change at this point -- it is not uncommon for an intense new love affair to cause fundamental changes in a person's behaviors. This reorganization of the attachment system is, I suggest, responsible for much of the transcendence of parental relationships which Kernberg identifies with a transcendence of the Oedipus complex. In Buberian terms, the transcendence of parental attachments is just the attainment of the ability to have I-You relationships with individuals other than the parents.
But there is more to it than that. Just as the attachment system lies largely dormant from early youth until the onset of romantic love, so there are many other intimate behaviors which are rarely exercised except in parent/child or lover/lover relationships. As a small child, one is exceedingly intimate with one's parents, not only physically, but also in terms of sharing one's feelings and experiences. This intimate relationship is sometimes duplicated in later youth and adulthood with same-sex or different-sex friendships. But it rarely is duplicated so effectively as in an intense romantic love relationship. Just as the attachment system is "reawakened" by romantic love, so is the intimacy system. And everything connected with the intimacy system is therefore primed for reorganization. In particular, there is a powerful incentive for changes in the attitudes of, and relations between, one's male and female subselves (though there is no guarantee of such change).
Subself dynamics, as in the example of Jane and John given above, suggests that love will be most powerful when it provides intimate interaction for both the male and female subselves of each partner. If this kind of intimacy is not provided then the love relationship will be felt to be "missing something" (the only exception to this rule would be a couple in which one or more of the partners had no opposite-sex subselves, or only very weak opposite-sex subselves; in this case the relationship is not felt to be missing something, because the individual her- or him-self is missing something). Thus romantic love ideally provides a context in which subselves of both sexes may learn, grow, interact and express themselves. By this evolution and revision of the intimacy system, subselves may be freed from old patterns molded by intimate interaction with the parents.
So, in sum: romantic love reawakens and reorganizes the attachment and intimacy systems, therefore disrupting patterns and processes that have been stable since early youth. It therefore provides a golden opportunity for overcoming the problems of one's early relationship with one's parents. If the Oedipus complex is real, then it falls into this category, and one concludes that Kernberg is correct: romantic love provides a means for overcoming the Oedipus complex. But, even if the Oedipus complex is a rare or nonexistent phenomenon, the role of romantic love in overcoming childhood problems is still a potentially very important one. Like many other Freudian analyses, Kernberg's theory of love points one in interesting directions, regardless of whether one accepts its ultimate conclusions.
14.3 THE DEVELOPMENT AND DYNAMICS OF MASOCHISM
Now let us turn from romantic love to a phenomenon which, though far rarer, has attracted far more attention from clinical psychologists over the past century: masochism. In the 108 years since Krafft-Ebing published Psychopathia Sexualis (1886/1965), numerous authors have probed the psychology of this apparently paradoxical phenomenon. But no one, it would seem, has solved the central puzzle of masochism, which is: how can certain people derive pleasure from pain? In this paper I will approach the problem from a new angle, using the system- theoretic approach to personality. The result is a novel analysis which synthesizes many of the previous ideas on masochism.
By way of introduction, I will not attempt a comprehensive review of the large literature on masochism, but will mention only the two theories that are most relevant to the complex systems model that I will present here. These are the classic ideas of Freud, and the more recent cognitive explorations of Gosselin and Wilson (1985).
In the Three Essays on Sexuality, in 1905, Freud commented that "it can often be shown that masochism is nothing more than sadism turned around on itself," but concluded that
no satisfactory explanation of this perversion has been put forward and it seems possible that a number of mental impulses are combined in it to produce a single resultant.
adding that sadism and masochism are habitually found together, so that he is
inclined to connect the simultaneous presence of these opposites with the opposing masculinity and femininity which are involved in bisexuality.
In the 1924 essay "The Economic Problem of Masochism," Freud revised his opinions somewhat and distinguished two kinds of masochism, primary and secondary. Secondary masochism is sadism which turns back on itself due to lack of any other outlets. Primary, or erotogenic masochism can take two forms, feminine and moral masochism. Moral masochism is what Freud described much earlier, in Civilization and Its Discontents, with the following words:
The sense of guilt, the harshness of the super-ego is ... the same thing as the severity of the conscience. It is the perception which the ego has of being watched over in this way, the assessment of the tension between its own strivings and the demands of the super-ego. The fear of this critical agency (a fear which is at the bottom of the whole relationship), the need for punishment, is an instinctual manifestation on the part of the ego, which has become masochistic under the influence of a sadistic super-ego; it is a portion ... of the instinct towards internal destruction present in the ego, employed for forming an erotic attachment to the super-ego. (136)
Moral masochism, more simply, is taking joy in the torture of castigating oneself. In some cases it also take the form of pleasure of being punished by others; the external tormentor is then a symbol for one's own super-ego.
Feminine masochism, on the other hand, is the kind of masochism demonstrated by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in his infamous stories of submissive males begging dominant females to whip them and humiliate them. The typical feminine masochist will profess a desire to play the role of a slave or a servant, or a dog or horse, or even to wallow in urine or feces, or menstrual blood. Freud suggests that, at the deepest level, the feminine masochist believes himself to be a woman. As Silverman (1992) puts it, "it is not only at the level of his sexual life, but at that of his fantasmatic and his moi that the male masochist occupies the female position."
A Cognitive Theory of Masochism
The Freudian model of masochism is an interesting one and, as we shall see, is reflected in the structure of the complex systems model to be presented below. A more detailed model of masochistic psychology, however, is provided by Gosselin and Wilson, in their book Sexual Variations. Gosselin and Wilson seek to provide a unified cognitive treatment of all deviant sexual behavior, with a focus on fetishism, sadomasochism, and transvestitism. For instance, they explain the psychological origins of fetishism as follows:
At some point, the young child is at a high level of arousal.... At that moment, there is also present an element of the fetish-material-to-be: apron, baby pants, crib sheet, mackingosh-as-shield-from-rain-and-cold. The male child notices the stimulus more readily than the female child and connects it with the high arousal state, which may or may not have any direct sexual connotation about it.... The message recorded simply says atthat stage, "Possible link between that material and that excited feeling." The youngster is in fact making a miniature scientific hypothesis that certain qualities in a fabric are associated with a particular feeling.
When the fabric turns up again, the child remembers the previous association and says, in effect, "Let me test my hypothesis by searching for that feeling." Unfortunately he often makes a mistake which is common in all of us. If he notices no excitement, his verdict is "not proven, but my hypothesis may still be right," simply because nobody likes to admit, even to themselves, that they are wrong. If he does feel excitement -- even coincidentally, or because he expected it and therefore felt it -- his verdict is that the hypothesis has been proved. An expectancy is thus strengthened that "next time it will work the same way" and confirmation is almost bound to be obtained on subsequent occasions because the reaction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. (161-162)
This cognitive theory develops an obvious theme which may be traced back at least as far as Binet, namely, that fetishism develops due to early sexual contact with the fetish material. But Gosselin and Wilson's argument goes beyond this simple idea. For example, it explains why males should develop more fetishes than females -- because males have, in their erections, a far more obvious indicator of their own level of excitation. Thus males will be much more likely to make the conjectured associations.
Surely Gosselin and Wilson's assumption about the origins of fetishism in the juvenile mind is not an implausible one. And, as they point out, a similar argument can be made for masochism:
In sadomasochism the basic experience of being physically punished as a child, probably followed by a reassuring cuddle to show that "Mommy loves you just the same, even though you're naughty," easily provides the conditioning model. (165)
Note that the frequency of punishment is not essential. In their empirical study of sadomasochists Gosselin and Wilson found no significant correlation between frequency of punishment and resulting sadomasochistic tendencies; and, although one suspects that some such correlation really does exist, one would not expect this correlation to be very strong. The three-stage sequence -- initial chance association of painful punishment with pleasurable arousal, followed by a phase of "jumping to conclusions," followed by self-fulfilling prophecy -- is dependent on many factors other than frequency of punishment.
This cognitive theory explains the origins of sadomasochistic tendencies; what about the maintenance of these tendencies?
As the child grows up, he may receive messages ... to the effect that the usual target for his genital feelings (i.e. the female per se, and particularly her vagina) is forbidden, or naughty or wicked, or dirty, or unmentionable or in some other way not to be approached. Now, because he is more easily conditioned than most, he takes these messages seriously and believes in them more easily; because of his higher emotionality, his attempts to disobey the messages lead to overpowerful anxiety and guilt associated with his arousal. In seeking to obtain sexual pleasure when aroused, he may therefore remember that the fetish fabric [or the pain, in the case of sadomasochists] gave pleasure without interaction with the female. (165-166)
This argument is sensible, and as they point out, it transfers over naturally to the case of sadomasochism.
The Freudian and cognitive theories of masochism give very different explanations for thesame phenomenon. However, as we shall see, they fit together quite nicely in the context of the system-theoretic model.
Male and Female Subselves
The central idea of the theory of masochism to be presented here is the concept of male and female subselves -- in other words, the idea that every one of us, in our early youth, develops two subself networks, one reflecting a generally female point of view, and the other reflecting a generally male point of view. In some individuals these subselves may coordinate so closely with one another that they function almost as a single unified subpersonality network. In others they may remain at odds with each other, each one taking control of the body and personality-independent memory at different times. Masochism is to be understood as a disturbance of the dynamics between male and female subselves. Freud, in the passages quoted above, hinted at the concept of male and female subselves, but did not articulate the idea very clearly; here the hint will become a central focus.
It may be questioned whether these subselves themselves can split up into further subsubselves; such an occurence seems possible but rather unlikely. It seems quite plausible that many individuals should contain more than one subself of each gender, but much less likely that, say, a male subself should contain well-differentiated male and female components. In theory there could be an hierarchy of males within females, females within males, females within females, males within males, males within females within females, females within males within males, and so forth. But in practice, it seems probable that the distinctions become blurred after one or two levels.
For simplicity, from here on I will generally speak as if there were just one male subself, and just one female subself. But this is an idealization which is unlikely to be fulfilled in practice. In any particular case things will be more complicated, and the different subselves may "team up" to work for and against each other in various subtle ways. Furthermore, for purposes of illustration, I will exaggerate somewhat the difference between the male and female subselves. In reality, of course, male and female thought patterns have far more commonalities than differences. But it is the differences which are most relevant to the phenomenon of masochism.
It is easy to see how male and female subselves would arise. First of all, a child of either sex will generally imitate both parents. In some situations the child will try to behave as the mother does, in others the child will try to behave as the father does. Thus, among the huge collection of situation-dependent behavioral schema which the child's mind builds up, two large categories will emerge: the category of mother-like behavior schema, and the category of father- like behavior schema. Each of these categories will naturally form into an self-organizing system, which is an approximate reconstitution of the personality system of the appropriate parent. For the collection of behavior schemas derived from, say, the mother, will tend to "hang together"; they will reinforce each other, first of all by setting up conditions in the mind that are favorable for one another's survival, and secondly by setting up conditions in the external world that are favorable for one another's survival.
Each of these self-organizing systems is, in Epstein's terms, a "self and reality theory." According to the logic of the dual network, each one provides a different way of constructing coherent wholes out of the fragmentary features provided by the sense organs and lower level perceptual systems. Thus each subself literally sees a different world. More concretely, to take a very common case, the male subself may perceive a world consisting of factors to be controlled, whereas the female subself may perceive a world consisting largely of factors which control. This is not merely a difference in attitude, it is a difference in perception and cognition.
The type of masochist for whom the word masochist was originally invented was whatFreud called the "feminine masochist." This is the individual who derives sexual pleasure from having others physically abuse them. In most cases it is a male who enjoys being whipped or spanked, verbally humiliated, and otherwise tormented by an attractive female. Freud rightly points out the fundamentally female character of the feminine masochist. But how does this insight translate into the subself theory? The simplest interpretation is that it is the female subself of the feminine masochist which wants to be tormented. But more careful consideration suggests a subtler interpretation: that the female subself wants the male subself to be tormented. Masochism is the spilling-over into the external world of an internal conflict. The dominatrix is a tool used by the female subself of the male masochist in order to temporarily subjugate the masochist's male subself.
This hypothesis is somewhat reminiscent of the well-known "sex identity conflict hypothesis." As Beatrice Whiting (1965) observes,
[A]n individual identifies with that person who seems most important to him, the person who is perceived as controlling those resources that he wants.
Thhus, for most boys, the primary identification will be
with mother and "cross-sex identification" will occur, which causes the boy to be
thrown into conflict. He will develop a strong need to reject his underlying female identity. This may lead to an overdetermined attempt to prove his masculinity, manifested by a preoccupation with physical strength and athletic prowess, or attempts to demonstrate daring and valor, or behavior that is violent and aggressive.
Wife-beating, according to Whiting, is one possible consequence of this kind of conflict. Masochism, or so I argue, is a related phenomenon: the difference is that, in the masochist, the female subself recognizes the undesirable tendencies of the male subself, and acts to beat it down.
The hypothesis which I am making here is also related to Deleuze's (1971) idea that the masochist, by being beaten by a woman, wants to destroy the power of his internalized father. But the difference is that, while Deleuze situates the female power outside the masochist, in the dominatrix, I situate the primary source of female power within the masochist. The masochist's female subself wants to conspire with the dominatrix to beat down the masochist's male subself. Thus, the subtext of masochism is a struggle for internal control between male and female subselves.
Psychoanalytically, one suspects that this struggle may often be a reflection of the mother's repressed desire to beat down the father. The female subself internalizes the mother, the male subself internalizes the father, and in this process the mother's hostility toward the father may also be internalized. It would be useful in this regard to study the relationships of the parents of masochistic individuals, and observe whether there is indeed an unusual degree of repressed hostility of the mother against the father.
Or, taking a cue from Baudrillard (1988) instead of Freud, one may say that what happens in masochism is that the prototypical female dynamic of seduction breaks down. The female subself fails to derive sufficient gratification from the exertion of seductive, implicit control. Thus she seeks an external agent, not so much to control the specific behaviors of the male subself, but to subject the male subself to patterns of being controlled. By subjecting the male subself to patterns of being controlled, which differ so greatly from his ordinary patterns of controlling, she hopes to weaken the male subself's controlling habits, and to to thus render the male subself more amenable to her control.
The Role of Cognitive Factors
But there is a missing link here: this strategy on the part of the female subself would never work if there were not some "seed" in a person's history to start it off. This is where the cognitive theories of Gosselin and Wilson come in: they explain how the basic connection between physical violence and sexual excitation could originate and develop. Their cognitive arguments are made extremely plausible by the singular appropriateness of punishment as a source for the arousal/violence connection. For corporal punishment is a situation of total lack of control, which usually occurs in response to an excessively controlling attitude. The child decides that he is the boss, that he can do whatever he wants to do, and the parental response is that he is emphatically not the boss, that he in fact has no control whatsoever, that he can do nothing but lie still and be hurt.
Thus, one may conjecture the following series of events. The female subself finds itself in a losing position in its war with the male subself, so it turns to the only thing in its experience which has stopped the male subself from being overly controlling: physical discipline. But the male subself has no incentive for seeking physical discipline ... except for the connection between sexual arousal and pain and humiliation, established according to the mechanism described by Gosselin and Wilson. This combination of factors provides a much more plausible story of the maintenance of masochistic tendencies. They are maintained as a consequence of the self- organizing nature of the small self-organizing system consisting of the male and female subselves. The female subself encourages the male subself to pursue the connection between arousal and pain; the male subself obliges due to its own internal dynamics; and by succumbing to these masochistic pressures, the male subself accedes power to the female subself, thus giving the female subself incentive to give further encouragement for masochistic behavior. This is a feedback loop occurring within an self-organizing system; it is exactly the sort of explanation that one would expect a systems theory of personality to provide. In complex systems terms, it is an attractor of the dynamical system posed by the male and female subselves and their interactions.
The End Result
So, finally, what is the end result of all this subself dynamics? On the one hand, the female subself can win, leaving the male subself completely cowed and "emasculated." This results in an ineffective and disheartened male; for, clearly, it is impossible for a male human being to survive in a mentally healthy way without either a male subself or an integrated male/female subself. On the other hand, the male subself can win, abandoning its masochistic tendencies and shutting off the female subself altogether. This is also not a happy conclusion, since the female subself is also necessary for healthy functioning.
Finally, and most optimistically, it is possible that the male subself will be weakened just enough for the female subself to force it into a relationship of mutual support. This is not to say that all subself competition need end, but only that the male and female subselves should come to form an self-organizing system in which both have roughly equal shares of power (as measured by, say, the degree to which the overall responses of the system depend on changes in the responses of each individual subsystem). One might think that, once such a balance were achieved, the masochistic behavior would no longer be necessary. But it is also possible that the subselves could become entrained in a cycle: a period of roughly equal power, followed by a period of gradual ascendance of the male subself, followed by a period of masochism, followed by another period of roughly equal power, and so forth.
Clearly there are many possibilities; as Freud surmised in 1905, there is a great deal of complexity involved here. One way to explore this complexity would be to formulate thedynamical relationship between the two subselves as a mathematical dynamical system, in the manner of (Abraham, Abraham and Shaw, 1993) or (Goertzel and Goertzel, 1994). Admittedly, one might run into difficulties in setting the various parameters involved in such equations. But nevertheless, the experiment would seem to be well worth doing.
The masochistic personality as described by Freud, Reich, Fromm and others is the result of the first outcome listed above: the victory of the female subself. But this is not necessarily the most common outcome of masochistic subself dynamics. It must be remembered that those masochists who seek psychotherapy are generally among those who are most troubled by their masochism. Many of the masochistic individuals interviewed by Gosselin and Wilson seem to lead happy and productive lives. According to the present theory, the explanation for this would be that their male and female subselves have reached a balanced dynamical condition which can only be sustained by periodic masochistic behavior.
The theory of masochism which I have given here is really only a sketch of a theory. For one thing, it speaks throughout of the competition between a single male subself and a single female subself, when in reality there will usually be a number of male subselves and a number of female subselves, as well as some subselves that are not clearly identifiable as either male or female, and some semi-autonomous mental subnetworks that are not quite independent enough to be categorized as "subselves." The dynamic described above is extremely general, and is in principle extensible to these more realistic situations. But clearly, more theoretical work in this direction is required. And this will be difficult theoretical work, because it will require the introduction of numerous cognitive and emotional issues besides the male/female dichotomy that has been our almost exclusive focus here.
And in addition to these theoretical questions, the problem of formulating rigorous tests of the theory remains uninvestigated. The theory of subself dynamics is certainly not immune to empirical test. As opposed to, say, the theories of Freud or Fromm or Reich, it would seem to be a very testable theory indeed, as it is grounded in the psynet model, which rests on some very concrete ideas about cognitive and neural processes. But a great deal of ingenuity will be required in order to work out actual experiments which probe the subtleties of subself dynamics. One suspects that the experiential sampling method (Czentomihalyi, 1992) might be useful in tracking the passage of various subselves in and out of control.
Finally, no attention has been yet been paid to the clinical consequences of the theory. The author is not a clinical psychologist and has little expertise in such matters. However, given this warning, it must be said that the theory of subself dynamics would seem to have obvious therapeutic applications. Specifically, the theory of masochism outlined here suggests that, if the male masochist is to be cured, he must be cured by somehow strengthening the masochist's female subself, until it becomes strong enough that it no longer has the need to subject the male subself to humiliation and violence. The task of the clinician would then be to develop strategies for carrying out this strengthening.