Tamara Landau



Clinical experience has led me to notice that many neurotic patients have disturbances of self-recognition which they express through recurrent bodily experiences, namely, the impression of being transparent, of not having a body that really belongs to them, of feeling light and very heavy at one and the same time, and above all, of not recognizing their own image in the mirror but of seeing that of their mother (women in particular).

This disturbance is found equally in the frequent slips of the tongue of pregnant women, such as ‘my mother’ instead of ‘my grandmother’, ‘my father’ for my grandfather’, or ‘I died when I was 4’ or again ‘ I’m going to be born in?’

One often observes this temporal inversion of the genealogy with pregnant women, and it is common with bulimic patients. The latter express clearly impressions such as: ‘ the face I can see in the mirror is my mother’s’; or: ‘I can’t recognise myself in the mirror above my waist, since my body and my fat do not belong to me, but to my mother!’; or again: ‘the hand that fills me up with sugar is my mother’s’. Now, with bulimic patients, this fusional experience is also accompanied by a destructive impulse, which they express clearly by saying things such as: ‘I eat to kill my mother’.

These disturbances as a whole come from the persistence of a fusional mother/child relationship. This fusional tie is characterised by primal fantasies ‘one life for two’, ‘one body for two’, and shapes the child’s perception of his/her own body: what the mother cannot see, cannot feel and does not name ‘does not exist’.

Consequently, every attempt at individuation is experienced as threatening, and as being likely to lead to death or madness.
According to my hypothesis, the foetus is structured unconsciously by a fusional bodily schema organised by the grandmother, along with the mother, from the moment she is carrying a foetus.

In other words, the child’s perception of his/her own body is structured unconsciously by the grandmother. But if, during the pregnancy, the woman rediscovers the feeling of ‘belonging’ to the body of her own mother, she then experiences the feeling of ‘belonging’ to the body of the foetus, and conversely the latter has the feeling of ‘belonging’ to the body of its mother and its grandmother.

This process constitutes the primal phantasy of the inverted tree, which the spontaneous drawings of patients have helped to formalise.

My work explains how the mother succeeds in elaborating this ontogenetic process unconsciously via a scheme of primal phantasies (phylogenetic in origin, since they are linked to ego’s instincts of self-preservation) throughout the pregnancy (a phase designated as the ‘primal trace’) in order on the one hand to organise the fusional schema that she forms with the child and, on the other, to unconsciously detach the child from this primal fusional relationship.

Indeed, I have been able to observe clinically that the ontogenetic process also continues after the child’s birth, for about three years (a phase designated as the ‘primal trace’). During the primal trace, the mother continues unconsciously the process of psychic elaboration in order to detach herself from the feeling of belonging to the child’s body.