We contended in the preceding sections that childhood experiences are crucially involved in shaping lifelong patterns of behavior. To support this view, we elaborated several conditions of early upbringing and their consequences, noting first the impact of the sheer quantity of stimulation on maturation and, second, the effect of particular kinds of experiences on the learning of complex behaviors and attitudes. Although few theorists of psychopathology would deny the paramount role we have attributed to early experience, they may differ among themselves as to not only why these experiences are important but also how exactly they come to play their significant role in later behavior.
Early experience should be more important than later experiences. Throughout evolutionary history, early life has been a preparation for later life. Until recently, and except at times of massive environmental upheavals, all species have lived in the same basic ecological niches throughout their history. Under these conditions, the experiences of early life provide an opportunity for the young organism to acquire sensitivities and behaviors that enable it to function more adequately in its environment. It learns to become acquainted with the elements of its habitat, differentiating those components that are gratifying from those that are endangering. It learns to imitate the behavior of its parents, acquiring thereby methods and competencies that would otherwise take appreciably longer, if ever, to learn.
The importance of early learning cannot be overstated for creatures that continue to live in the same environments as had their ancestors. Until recently, this continuity was true for humans, as well. Thus, if a young boy's father was a farmer, he quickly learned how to function in an environment where farming was a primary and important occupation. If a young girl's mother tended to the children and to the home, she observed and imitated her parent's behaviors and attitudes. In these earlier times, the ambiance of an individual's neighborhood—its values, beliefs, and customs—were likely to have been the very same beliefs, values, and customs of ancestors of the past; similarly, these attitudes corresponded with those shared by the person's larger community in adulthood and, in time, with that likely to be experienced by his or her progeny, as well.
Infancy and childhood prepare children well for life in adulthood, perhaps too well. Problems have arisen in the past century since radical environmental and cultural shifts have taken place, upsetting the continuity between past and present family and societal values and customs. This sharp break between what may have been learned in childhood and what an individual may have to face in adulthood accounts in part for many of the personality difficulties we observe today. In infancy and toddlerhood, each child learns a series of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; it is these that are retained and carried into later childhood and adulthood. This continuity served the youngster well in the past because the patterns of adulthood life were well ingrained in childhood. In recent decades, however, childhood learnings are often inapplicable and inappropriate when applied to the family, neighbors, and societies of adulthood. Children who learned to fear humiliating and disparaging parents carry what they have learned into new relationships that may be radically different from those of childhood. Their aversive behaviors may no longer be appropriate nor applicable, yet they will likely persist and generate new difficulties because of this continuity of past learnings into the present. It is this persistence of early learned behaviors into adulthood, what psychoanalysts speak of as transference, and be-haviorists refer to as generalization, that underlies many of the problems we consider to be personality disorders.
We are now in a society in which few constants persevere, where values and customs are in conflict, and where the styles of human interaction today are likely to change tomorrow. We see the emergence of a new unstructured and highly fluid personality style that is commonly diagnosed today as the borderline disorder. In these adults, we find a reflection of the contradictory and changing customs and beliefs of contemporary society. This newest pattern of childhood adaptation leaves the person unable to find the "center" of himself or herself. Such persons have learned not to demonstrate consistency and continuity in their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, no less in their way of relating to others. We discuss these unstable and contradictory cultural patterns more in a later section and chapter. Similarly, we discuss the impact of experiential discontinuities as a key factor in creating the borderline personality disorder.
Is the impact of early experience, as we have asserted in previous sections, a consequence of the young child's susceptibilities during sensitive maturational stages? That is, are early experiences more significant than later experiences because the developing child is more plastic and impressionable than the fully matured adult? Can other explanations be offered to account for the special status in shaping behavior assigned to early experience?
Alternate interpretations are offered. Some state that influences common both to children and adults arise more often in childhood; that is, there is nothing distinctive about childhood other than the frequency with which certain experiences occur. Were these events equally frequent in adulthood, there would be no reason to assume that they would affect adults less than they do children. Others state that the difference may be that children experience the impact of events more intensely than adults because they have fewer skills to handle challenges and threats. A somewhat similar hypothesis suggests that the importance of childhood experience lies in its primacy, that is, the fact that the first event of a set of similar effects will have a more marked impact than later ones. According to this view, an event experienced initially in adulthood will have the same effect on an adult as it does on a child. These theorists note, however, that it is more likely that the first of a series of similar experiences will occur in childhood.
There is little question that the special status of early experience can be ascribed in part to the simple facts of frequency and primacy; events that come first or more often will have a bearing on what comes later and thereby justify our assigning them special impact value. The question remains, however, as to whether frequency and primacy, in themselves, are sufficient to account for the unusual significance attributed to childhood experiences.
Acceptance of the role that these two factors play does not preclude additional hypotheses that assign unusual vulnerabilities or sensitivities to young children. There is no fundamental conflict between these views; each factor, primacy, frequency, and biological sensitivity may operate conjointly and with undiminished singular effects. A later discussion attempts to show how these varied influences weave together to give early experiences their special role.
This section concentrates on the notion of continuity in behavior because the significance of early experience lies not so much in the intensity of its impact but in its durability and persistence. Experiences in early life not only are ingrained more pervasively and forcefully but their effects tend to persist and are more difficult to modify than later experiences. For example, early events occur at a presymbolic level and cannot easily be recalled and unlearned. They are reinforced frequently as a function of the child's restricted opportunities to learn alternatives; they tend to be repeated and perpetuated by the child's own behavior. For many reasons, then, a continuity in behavior—a consistent style of feeling, thinking, and relating to the world—once embedded in early life, perseveres into adulthood.
Part of the continuity we observe between childhood and adulthood may be ascribed to the stability of biological constitutional factors, which were described earlier in this chapter. But there are numerous psychological processes that contribute as well to this longitudinal consistency (Chess & Thomas, 1984; Kagan et al., 1989; Millon, 1969; Millon & Davis, 1996; Plomin & Dunn, 1986; Robins & Rutter, 1990). Because these processes enable us to see more clearly how pathology develops, we cannot afford to take them for granted or merely enumerate them without elaboration.
The processes that coalesce to bring about continuity may be broadly grouped into three categories: resistance to extinction, social reinforcement, and self-perpetuation.
Acquired behaviors and attitudes usually are not fixed or permanent. What has been learned can be modified or eliminated under appropriate conditions, a process referred to as extinction. Extinction usually entails exposure to experiences that are similar to the conditions of original learning but that provide opportunities for new learning to occur. Essentially, old habits of behavior change when new learning interferes with, and replaces, what previously had been learned; this progressive weakening of old learnings may be speeded up by special environmental conditions, the details of which are not relevant to our discussion.
What happens if the conditions of original learning cannot be duplicated easily? According to contiguity learning theory, failure to provide opportunities for interfering with old habits means that they will remain unmodified and persist over time; learnings associated with events that are difficult to reproduce are resistant to extinction.
The question we next must ask is: Are the events of early life experienced in such a manner as to make them difficult to reproduce and, therefore, resistant to extinction? An examination of the conditions of childhood suggests that the answer is yes. The reasons for asserting so have been formulated with extraordinary clarity by numerous theorists and researchers.
Biologically, young children are primitive organisms. Their nervous systems are incomplete, they perceive the world from momentary and changing vantage points, and they are unable to discriminate and identify many of the elements of their experiences. What they see and learn about their environment through their infantile perceptual and cognitive systems will never again be experienced in the same manner in later life.
Infants' presymbolic world of fleeting and inarticulate impressions recedes gradually as they acquire the ability to identify, discriminate, and symbolize experience. By the time they are 4 or 5, they view the world in preformed categories and group and symbolize objects and events in a stable way very different from that of infancy.
Once growing children's perceptions have taken on discriminative symbolic forms, they can no longer duplicate the perceptually amorphous, presymbolic, and diffusely inchoate experiences of earlier years. Unable to reproduce these early experiences in subsequent life, they will not be able to extinguish what they learned in response to those early experiences; no longer perceiving events as initially sensed, they cannot supplant their early reactions with new ones. These early learnings persist, therefore, as feelings, attitudes, and expectancies that crop up pervasively in a vague and diffuse way.
Young children lack not only the ability to form precise images of their environment but also the equipment to discern logical relationships among its elements. Their world of objects, people, and events is connected in an unclear and random fashion; they learn to associate objects and events that have no intrinsic relationship; clusters of concurrent but only incidentally connected stimuli are fused erroneously. Thus, when a young child experiences fear in response to his father's harsh voice, he may learn to fear not only that voice but also the setting, the atmosphere, the pictures, the furniture, and the odors—a whole bevy of incidental objects, which by chance were present at that time. Unable to discriminate the precise source in his environment that caused his fear, the child connects his discomfort randomly to all associated stimuli; now each of them become precipitants for these feelings.
Random associations of early life cannot be duplicated as children develop the capacity for logical thinking and perception. By the time children are 4 or 5, they can discriminate cause-and-effect relationships with considerable accuracy. Early random associations do not "make sense" to them; when they react to one of the precipitants derived from early learning, they are unable to identify what it is in the environment to which they are reacting. They cannot locate the source of their difficulty because they now think more logically than before. To advise them that they are reacting to a picture or piece of furniture simply will be rejected; they cannot fathom the true features that evoke their feelings because these sources are so foreign to their new, more rational mode of thought. Their difficulty in extinguishing the past is compounded because not only is it difficult for them to reexperience the world as it once may have been but also they will be misled in their search for these experiences if they apply their more developed reasoning powers.
Young children's discriminations of their environment are crude and gross. As they begin to differentiate the elements of their world, they group and label those elements into broad and unrefined categories. All men become "daddy"; all four-legged animals are called "doggie"; all foods are "yumyum." When children learn to fear a particular dog, for example, they learn to fear not only that dog but all strange, mobile four-legged creatures. To their primitive perception, all of these animals are one of a kind.
Generalization is inevitable in early learning. It reflects more than the failure of young children to have had sufficient experiences to acquire greater precision; children's indis-criminateness represents an intrinsic inability to discriminate events because of their undeveloped cortical capacities.
As the undifferentiated mass of early experiences becomes more finely discriminated, learning gets to be more focused, specific, and precise; a 10-year-old learns to fear bulldogs as a result of an unfortunate run-in with one but does not necessarily generalize this fear to collies or poodles, since the child knows and can discern differences among these animals.
Generalized learning is difficult to extinguish. Young children's learned reactions are attached to a broader class of objects than called for by their specific experiences. To extinguish these broadly generalized reactions in later life, when their discriminative capacities are much more precise, requires that they be exposed to many and diverse experiences. For example, assume that a 2-year-old was frightened by a cocker spaniel. Given the child's gross discriminative capacity at this age, this single experience may have conditioned him to fear dogs, cats, and other small animals. Assume further that in later life, the child is exposed repeatedly to a friendly cocker spaniel. As a consequence of this experience, we find that he has extinguished his fear, but only of cocker spaniels, not of dogs in general, cats, or other small animals. His later experience, seen through the discriminative eye of an older child, was that spaniels are friendly but not dogs in general. The extinction experience applied then to only one part of the original widely generalized complex of fears he acquired. His original learning experience incorporated a much broader range of stimuli than his later experience, even though the objective stimulus conditions were essentially the same. Because of his more precise discriminative capacity, he now must have his fear extinguished in a variety of situations to compensate for the single but widely generalized early experience.
These three interlocking conditions—presymbolic, random, and generalized learning—account in large measure for the unusual difficulty of reexperiencing the events of early life and the consequent difficulty of unlearning the feelings, behaviors, and attitudes generated by these events.
Of the many factors that contribute to the persistence of early behavior patterns, none plays a more significant role than social and interpersonal relationships. These relationships can be viewed fruitfully from the perspective usually taken by sociologists and social psychologists. To these scientists, the varied cultural and institutional forces of a society promote continuity by maintaining a stable and organized class of experiences to which most individuals of a particular group are repeatedly exposed. Reference to these broader social determinants of continuity are made occasionally in later chapters. For now, our focus is on the more direct and private side of interpersonal experience.
As pointed out in an earlier section, ingrained personality patterns develop as a consequence of enduring experiences generated in intimate and subtle relationships with members of an individual's immediate family. We described a number of events that lead to the acquisition of particular types of behaviors and attitudes. Here our attention is not on the content of what is learned but on those aspects of relationships that strengthen what has been learned and that lead to their perpetuation. Three such influences are described: repetitive experiences, reciprocal reinforcement, and social stereotyping.
The typical daily activities in which young children participate are restricted and repetitive; there is not much variety in the routine experience to which children are exposed. Day in and day out, they eat the same kind of food, play with the same toys, remain essentially in the same physical environment, and relate to the same people. This constricted environment—this repeated exposure to a narrow range of family attitudes and training methods—not only builds in deeply etched habits and expectations but also prevents children from having new experiences that are so essential to change. The helplessness of infants and the dependency of children keep them restricted to a crabbed and tight little world with few alternatives for learning new attitudes and responses. Early behaviors fail to change, therefore, not because they may have jelled permanently but because the same slender band of experiences that helped form them initially continue and persist as influences for many years.
The notion that children's early behaviors may be accentuated by their parents' response to them was raised earlier in the chapter; we noted that a circular interplay often arises, which intensifies children's initial biological reactivity pattern. Thus, unusually passive, sensitive, or cranky infants frequently elicit feelings on the part of their mothers that perpetuate their original tendencies.
This model of circular or reciprocal influences may be applied not only to the perpetuation of biological dispositions but also to behavior tendencies that are acquired by learning. Whatever the initial roots may have been—constitutional or learned— certain forms of behaviors provoke or pull from others reactions that result in a repetition of these behaviors (Leary, 1957). For example, a suspicious, chip-on-the-shoulder, and defiant child eventually forces others, no matter how tolerant they may have been initially, to counter with perplexity, exasperation, and anger; the child undermines every inclination on the part of others to be nurturant, friendly, and cooperative. An ever-widening gulf of suspicion and defiance may develop as parents of such children withdraw, become punitive, or "throw up their hands in disgust"; controls or affections that might have narrowed the gulf of suspicion and hostility break down. Each participant, in feedback fashion, contributes his or her share; the original level of hostile behavior is aggravated and intensified. Whether the cause was the child or the parent, the process has gotten out of hand and will continue its vicious and inexorable course until some benign influence interferes or until it deteriorates into pathological form (Gottman & Katz, 1989).
The dominant features of a child's early behavior form a distinct impression on others. Once this early impression is established, people expect that the child will continue to behave in his or her distinctive manner; in time, they develop a fixed and simplified image of "what kind of person the child is." The term stereotype, borrowed from social psychology, represents this tendency to simplify and categorize the attributes of others.
People no longer view a child passively and objectively once they have formed a stereotype of him or her; they now are sensitized to those distinctive features they have learned to expect (Farrington, 1977). The stereotype begins to take on a life of its own; it operates as a screen through which the child's behaviors are selectively perceived so as to fit the characteristics attributed to the child. Once cast in this mold, the child experiences a consistency in the way others react to him or her, one that fails to take cognizance of the varieties and complexities of his or her behaviors. No matter what the child does, he or she finds that the behavior is interpreted in the same fixed and rigid manner. Exposed time and time again to the same reactions and attitudes of others, the child may give up efforts to convince others that he or she can change. For example, if a defiant child displays the slightest degree of resentment to unfair treatment, he will be jumped on as hopelessly recalcitrant; should the child do nothing objectionable, questions will be raised as to the sincerity of his motives. Faced with repeated negative appraisals and unable to break the stereotype into which he has been cast, the youngster will relapse after every effort to change and continue to behave as he did originally and as others expect.
Significant experiences of early life may never recur again, but their effects remain and leave their mark. Physiologically, we may say they have etched a neurochemical change; psychologically, they are registered as memories, a permanent trace, and an embedded internal stimulus. In contrast to the fleeting stimuli of the external world, these memory traces become part and parcel of every stimulus complex that activates behavior. Once registered, the effects of the past are indelible, incessant, and inescapable. They now are intrinsic elements of the individual's makeup; they latch on and intrude into the current events of life, coloring, transforming, and distorting the passing scene. Although the residuals of subsequent experiences may override them, becoming more dominant internal stimuli, the presence of earlier memory traces remains in one form or another. In every thought and action, the individual cannot help but carry these remnants into the present. Every current behavior is a perpetuation, then, of the past, a continuation and intrusion of these inner stimulus traces.
The residuals of the past do more than passively contribute their share to the present. By temporal precedence, if nothing else, they guide, shape, or distort the character of current events. They are not only ever present, then, but also operate insidiously to transform new stimulus experiences in line with past. We elaborate four of these processes of perpetuation in this section: protective constriction, perceptual and cognitive distortion, behavior generalization, and repetition compulsion.
Painful memories of the past are kept out of consciousness, a process referred to as repression. Similarly, current experiences that may reactivate these repressed memories are judiciously avoided. The individual develops a network of conscious and unconscious protective maneuvers to decrease the likelihood that either of these distressing experiences will occur.
As a consequence of these protective efforts, however, individuals narrow or constrict their world. Repression reduces anxiety by enabling individuals to keep the inner sources of their discomfort from awareness, but it also thwarts them from unlearning these feelings or learning new and potentially more constructive ways of coping with them. Likewise, by defensively reducing their activities to situations that will not reactivate intolerable memories, individuals automatically preclude the possibility of learning to be less anxious than in the past and diminish their chances for learning new reactions to formerly stressful situations. For example, a highly intelligent and physically attractive 15-year-old boy had progressively withdrawn from school and social activities; for several years, there had been marked disharmony at home, culminating in a well-publicized scandal involving his parents. Despite the fact that his teachers and peers viewed him personally in a favorable light and made efforts to show their continued acceptance, his embarrassment and fear of social ridicule led him into increasing isolation and fantasies that he would be humiliated wherever he went.
As a result of their own protective actions, then, individuals preserve unaltered their memories; in addition, those memories persist and force them along paths that prevent resolution. Moreover, the more vigilant their protective maneuvers and the more con-strictive their boundaries, the more limited are their competencies for effective functioning and the more they are deprived of the positive rewards of life.
Certain processes not only preserve the past but also transform the present in line with the past. Cameron (1947) described this process, which he referred to as reaction-sensitivity, with insight and clarity. Once a person acquires a system of threat expectancies, that person responds with increasing alertness to similar threatening elements in his or her life situation. For example, persons who develop bodily anxieties often become hypochondriacal, that is, hyperalert to physiological processes that most people experience but ignore.
Beck's notion of cognitive schemas (Beck et al., 1990) may be seen as an extension of the concept of reaction-sensitivity. People acquire anticipatory cognitive attitudes from not only threatening but also all forms of past experience; these schemas guide, screen, code, and evaluate the stream of new experiences to which the individual is exposed. Thus, a person who has learned to believe that "everyone hates him" tends to interpret the incidental and entirely innocuous comments of others in line with this premise.
The role of habits of language as factors shaping an individual's perceptions is of particular interest. As Whorf (1956) and others have shown, the words we use transform our experiences in line with the meaning of these words. For example, children who have been exposed to parents who respond to every minor mishap as "a shattering experience" tend to use these terms themselves in the future; consequently, they begin to feel that every setback they experience is shattering because they have labeled it as such.
The importance of expectancies, reaction-sensitivities, and language habits lies in the fact that they lead to the distortion of objective realities. Disturbed individuals may transform what most people would have perceived as a beneficent event into one that is humiliating, threatening, and punishing. Instead of interpreting events as they objectively exist, then, individuals selectively distort them to fit their expectancies and habits of thought. These expectancies may channel individuals' attention and may magnify their awareness of irrelevant and insignificant features of their environment; they intrude constantly to obscure and warp an accurate perception of reality. The following quote from Beck (1963) illustrates this process well:
A depressed patient reported the following sequence of events which occurred within a period of half an hour before he left the house: His wife was upset because the children were slow in getting dressed. He thought, "I'm a poor father because the children are not better disciplined." He then noticed a faucet was leaky and thought this showed he was also a poor husband. While driving to work, he thought, "I must be a poor driver or other cars would not be passing me." As he arrived at work he noticed some other personnel had already arrived. He thought, "I can't be very dedicated or I would have come earlier." When he noticed folders and papers piled up on his desk, he concluded, "I'm a poor organizer because I have so much work to do."
Often inexact labeling seems to contribute to this kind of distortion. The affective reaction is proportional to the descriptive labeling of the event rather than to the actual intensity of a traumatic situation.
A man reported during his therapy hour that he was very upset because he had been "clobbered" by his superior. On further reflection, he realized that he had magnified the incident and that a more adequate description was that his superior "corrected an error he had made." After re-evaluating the event, he felt better. He also realized that whenever he was corrected or criticized by a person in authority he was prone to describe this as being "clobbered."
Selective abstraction refers to the process of focusing on a detail taken out of context, ignoring other more salient features of the situation and conceptualize the whole experience on the basis of this element.
A patient, in reviewing her secretarial work with her employer, was praised about a number of aspects of her work. The employer at one point asked her to discontinue making extra carbon copies of his letters. Her immediate thought was, "He is dissatisf ied with my work." This idea became paramount despite all the positive statements he had made.
This distortion process has an insidiously cumulative and spiraling effect. By misconstruing reality in such ways as to make it corroborate their expectancies, individuals, in effect, intensify their misery. Thus, ordinary, even rewarding, events may be perceived as threatening. As a result of this distortion, patients subjectively experience neutral events as if they were, in fact, threatening. In this process, they create and accumulate painful experiences for themselves where none exists in reality.
We sometimes see in patients a progressive worsening of their behavior, despite the fact that the objective conditions of their life have improved. Once the pathological process of distortion has begun, patients misinterpret experiences in terms of their outlook; they now are caught in a downward spiral in which everything, no matter how objectively good it might be, is perceived as distressing, disheartening, or threatening. Their initial distortions have led to a succession of subjectively experienced stresses; this progressive cumulation of stress drives patients further and further away from an objective appraisal of reality; all efforts to counter and reverse the pathological trend are utterly useless at this point. The process of perceptual and cognitive distortion has built up its own momentum, resulting not only in its perpetuation but also its intensification.
We just described a number of factors that lead individuals to perceive new experiences in a subjective and frequently warped fashion; perceptual and cognitive distortions may be viewed as the defective side of a normal process in which new stimulus conditions are seen as similar to those experienced in the past. This process, though usually described in simpler types of conditions, commonly is referred to as stimulus generalization. In this section, we turn our attention to another closely related form of generalization—the tendency to react to new stimuli in a manner similar to the way in which an individual reacted in the past—behavior generalization.
Stimulus generalization and behavior generalization often are two sides of the same coin; thus, if an individual distorts an objective event so as to perceive it as identical to a past event, it would be reasonable to expect that his or her response to it would be similar to that made previously. For example, assume that a child learned to cower and withdraw from a harshly punitive mother. Should the child come into contact with a somewhat firm teacher who possesses physical features similar to those of the mother, the child may distort his perception of the teacher, making her a duplicate of the mother, and then react to her as he had learned to react to his mother.
As noted previously, this tendency to perceive and to react to present events as if they were duplicates of the past has been labeled by psychoanalytic theorists as the process of transference. This concept signifies the observation that patients in treatment often magnify minor objective similarities between their parents and the therapist and transfer to the therapist responses learned in the family setting.
The transference of past behaviors to novel situations is necessary to efficient functioning; we cannot approach every new circumstance of life without some prior notion of how to perceive and react to it. From the viewpoint of efficiency, then, generalization enables us to apply what we have learned, that is, to react in the same way to situations that are comparable. A problem arises, however, when we transfer responses incorrectly because we have failed to discriminate between dissimilar situations, for example, reacting to novel circumstances in the present as if they were duplicates of the past.
The tendency to generalize inappropriate behaviors has especially far-reaching consequences because it often elicits reactions from others that not only perpetuate these behaviors but also aggravate the conditions that gave rise to them. Bateson and Ruesch (1951) have noted that communications between people convey more than a statement;
they carry with them some anticipation of what the response will be. Leary (1957), Carson (1969), and Kiesler (1996), along similar lines, suggest that interpersonal behaviors often are designed unconsciously to "pull" a reaction from others. For example, a phrase such as, "I think I'm doing poorly," is not merely a message denoting an individual's personal feelings but a social statement that he or she normally expects will elicit a reciprocal reaction such as, "Of course not! You did beautifully."
How does the generalization of interpersonal behavior perpetuate conditions that give rise to these behaviors?
An example may be useful. A person whose past experiences led him to anticipate punitive reactions from his parents may be hyperalert to signs of rejection from others. As a consequence of his suspiciousness, he may distort innocuous comments, seeing them as indications of hostility. In preparing himself to ward off and counter the hostility he expects, he freezes his posture, stares coldly and rigidly, and passes a few aggressive comments himself. These actions communicate a message that quickly is sensed by others as unfriendly and antagonistic. Before long, others express open feelings of disaffection, begin to withdraw, and display real, rather than imagined, hostility. The person's generalized suspicious behavior has evoked the punitive responses he expected. He now has experienced an objective form of rejection similar to what he received in childhood; this leads him to be more suspicious and arrogant, beginning the vicious circle again.
By intruding old behaviors into new situations, individuals provoke, with unfailing regularity, reactions from others, which reinforce their old responses. Almost all forms of generalized behavior set up reciprocal reactions that intensify these behaviors. Docile, ingratiating, or fearful interpersonal actions, for example, draw domineering and manipulative responses; confident and self-assured attitudes elicit admiration and submissive-ness. In short, generalization not only is a form of perpetuation itself but also creates conditions that promote perpetuation.
Maladaptive behaviors persist not only as a consequence of generalized learned habits. There are intrapsychic sources that drive the individual to recreate situations of the past that were frustrating or unresolved. Freud spoke of this process as repetition compulsions; by this, he meant the unconscious tendency to reconstruct situations in the present that parallel failures or disappointments of the past and to persist in the attempt to undo these disappointments even though these attempts repeatedly have proven unrewarding.
A contradiction may appear between protective constriction, noted earlier, and repetition compulsion. The inconsistency can be resolved if we think of protective constriction as a process of avoiding conditions that have no hope of resolution. Repetition compulsions, in contrast, may be viewed as a process of reinstating conditions that provided partial gratification in the past and that give promise of ultimate fulfillment. In this process, the individual arranges situations to use maneuvers that were periodically successful. The individual employs these partially reinforced behaviors again and again in the hope of finally achieving a full measure of the ends sought.
The derivatives of these partially fulfilled drives constitute a reservoir of strivings that persist and seek gratification. Thus, the individual repeats past patterns not only through generalization but also through active efforts to recreate and overcome what was not achieved fully. For example, a highly charged sibling rivalry between two brothers generated intense hostile and destructive feelings on the part of the older brother, a
21-year-old college student seen at his university's counseling service. These feelings were vented in a variety of malicious maneuvers, some of which were successful some of the time but never fully gratified; that is, the drive to undo, humiliate, and even destroy the younger brother remained only a partially fulfilled striving. In new interpersonal situations, the older brother recreated the sibling relationship; time and time again he made friends, only to repeat the malicious maneuvers of deprecation and humiliation he had employed with his brother in the past. These relationships only partially fulfilled his needs, however, because the real object of his hatred was his brother, and the goal he really sought, that of total destruction of his competitor, never was achieved. He repeated compulsively, in one relationship after another, the same destructive behavior patterns he learned in the past; although he never gratified his unconscious objectives fully, he obtained sufficient symbolic rewards in these peer relationships to perpetuate his behavior.
In contrast to protective constriction, then, a process limited to conditions in which failure and pain were inevitable, repetition compulsions apply to those conditions where rewards are periodically achieved and where the motivation to obtain greater fulfillment persists. Nevertheless, intolerable duplicates of the past are recreated.
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