Psychoanalyst Juliet Mitchell on Siblings in Psychoanalysis

How do our siblings affect the development of our egos and how do our early experiences with or without brothers and sisters map out our sense of self?

In this mini-lecture Professor Juliet Mitchell (UCL Psychoanalysis Unit) discusses her research into siblings and tells us more about how our siblings shape our development.

Freud’s Oedipus complex focuses on the centrality of the parental objects in the child’s psychic development. In The Interpretation of Dreams he wrote “It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father”. It seems that because of this emphasis on a vertical diachronic axis of generations not enough attention has been paid to the effect of sibling relationships in the development of the psychic structure.

Juliet Mitchell in her work urged analysts to pay more attention to the place of siblings in the subject’s psychic economy and their impact on the psychic structure. The trauma of a sibling’s birth leads the child to question its very existence and to the murderous desire to eliminate the usurper. But the baby being an alter ego also loved by the mother, the challenge is to overcome the violence and accept its sibling as like itself but not identical to itself. This leaves room for more than one person to be the mother’s child and introduces the concept of seriality.

Juliet Mitchell coined the phrase the ‘Law of the Mother’ for the prohibitions against sibling murder and sibling incest. In a direct reference to Lacan’s ‘Law of the Father’ this concept represents a theoretical challenge. If the Law is seen has a generalisation of the symbolic acceptance of the prohibition of incest, arrived at through a metaphoric process in which the name of the father replaces the object of the mother’s desire, is the Law of the Mother a different type of Law ? Lionel Bailly will argue that the process by which sibling murder and incest is prohibited is similar but different to that of the Law of the Father and does not lead to the establishment of a Law but of a Covenant arrived at through a metonymic process which symbolically disguise the real threat: the loss of maternal love. The importance of an understanding of the lateral axis in psychoanalysis is not only theoretical but also practical. The analytic treatment needs to take into account this dimension and this conference will provide an opportunity to examine and discuss clinical cases in which the siblings play a central role.

Selected Books by Juliet Mitchell

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