THE USE OF BODY PARTS AS NATURAL TYPE 2 SYMBOLIC OBJECTS BY CHILDREN WITH SEVERE LEARNING DIFFICULTIES, PART 2.
Variants of hand-biting behaviour
Case F: L. McC. Date of observation: 15.8.00 Date of birth:
13.08.88 Age 12-0 Sex F
L. opens her mouth wide, brings the back of her hand/wrist to her chin, with her other hand, with some force. There is usually or always an accompanying vocalisation, seemingly of an aggressive character.(A)
The behaviour seems obscure in nature but can easily be regarded as a variant of a much more common behaviour in SLD children, that of bringing one of their hands to their mouth, and biting it. Often here their other hand brings the hand to be bitten to the mouth. ( B ). As we discussed elsewhere B can be interpreted as a symbolic and displaced attack on another, where the bitten hand represents an adult, usually a parent or parent figure. The attack is often triggered by a real current event , e.g. the child being reprimanded by a carer and, or authority figure but is based on long-standing attitudes towards the parent(s). This oral-aggressive action on the symbol is associated with an angry staring at the hand and both contrast with similar behaviours with the hand but at the opposite emotional - attitudinal pole, where the child smiles and looks lovingly at one or both of her hands and may kiss it or them , ( oral- receptive type behaviour ), this latter type of behaviour being often triggered by the real current events of an affectionate interchange with e.g. a parent figure. L's behaviour ( A ) is like B but somewhat different and one suspects that A is an aborted version of B.
If A is an aborted B
then one has to ask what is the impulse or motive acting against the
impulse to bite her hand? The answer must be sought on either or
both of two levels of reality.
1. R , Reality
On this level L's hand is simply her hand and part of herself. The drive acting against an impulse to bite it is the drive of self- preservation, of avoidance of pain etc.
2. R1, Symbolisation
On this level the hand represents another. On this level what could be the impulse or motive acting against the urge to attack a parent figure? The answer may lie in the child's love for the person and, or her fear of him.
L engages in little of 2, she doesn't engage in hand regarding behaviour of either a positive or negative type and she doesn't engage in the common hand biting behaviour, in fact she does not seem to display any type of s.i.b., her aggression is primarily directed against others.
So she doesn't bite her hand because
a. she primarily responds to her hand non-symbolically, ( non-symbolically in the sense used above , that is ).
b. her aggression is primarily other-directed , she is extra-punitive, she engages in little or no s.i.b.
We say that L.'s behaviour is an aborted hand bite but this
may not be entirely true. The original impulse may never have
been to actually bite the hand but only to threaten it. In this
case one may ask why she does not simply put her hand to her open
mouth and merely make a biting gesture? If the response is
aborted this happens at a very late stage of the process. The
impulse to bite almost reaches full motor expression, and an
opposing or suppressing impulse is sent down from the cortex very
late, rather than the impulse being suppressed at source, in the
cerebrum or cerebral cortex. Such a circumstance reminds us of
our old view of stammering.
Another possible hypothesis might run along these lines :
L. is using or trying to use one of her hands, possibly assisted by the other hand, this time against the actions of her mouth , so she would be using her hand to try to close her aggressively and widely open mouth.
What forms of other-directed aggression does she show?
L. shows these types:-
She scratches the hands of adults, or more accurately, digs her nails into them.
She grabs an adult's clothing at the neck .
We may also observe that she goes through phases of putting the front and neck of her top into her mouth, between her teeth. It does not seem that she actually bites or chews the clothing and so we might regard this as more oral-receptive , than oral-aggressive. In phantasy she is sucking at her mother's breast. On the other hand the grabbing of adults clothing at the neck is more aggressive, and is of course other directed. Here the anger and destructive impulses are directed specifically at the mother's (or mother figure's), breast.
The response to all these behaviours.
What should our response be to these behaviours, if any?
S.I.B. of any type is undesirable, even the relatively minor self injury of badly scarred hands; so the proper course of action is to discourage such behaviour, e.g. by withdrawing attention from the behaviour , ( and clearly signalling this, e.g. by turning one's face away from the child ), and by ensuring that the behaviour is not rewarded in other ways.
As a symbolic attack on adults and, or authority figures, and, or carers. The argument in this case must be made between three mutually exclusive possibilities:-
a. symbolic attacks make it less likely that an actual attack will occur. This option would relate to the old theories suggesting that if one expresses anger, talks about one's hatred of someone, gets it off one's chest etc this makes it less likely that one will actually do anything. This idea also seems comparable with the old ideas that e.g. if a child likes playing with his faeces one should give him Plasticine or clay to play with as a substitute. This does not seem to be a good strategy, if a child can't get the substitute he will use his faeces. He may find it difficult to distinguish between the two, on the grounds of acceptability. We must convey the simple clear message that playing with faeces is unacceptable. We could give him a 'substitute', if one likes, but one very different in stimulus value, from the soft pliable stuff, with a correspondingly different behaviour with it, e.g. Leggo etc. This would satisfy an urge to manipulate, shape, and construct things.
b. symbolic attacks make it more likely
c. they have no relationship to the probability of an actual attack.
We can consider the symbolic attack to have similar qualities to a weak actual attack on a person. Therefore the appropriate action to be taken should be to punish these, to reduce their frequency, again e.g. by withdrawing attention and giving a clear signal for this, at a similar time or phase as when we are reacting to weak actual attacks. We want the child to have beautiful, loving thoughts, not ugly, hating ones.
Further evidence for the hypothesis that the child's hand may represent another person derives from this class of observations:-
When biting his hand the SLD child often uses one hand to bring the other to his mouth. Why should he do this? There seems no good reason for this behaviour on the level of reality, R , or n.r.a.; the hand to be bitten can perfectly well be brought to the mouth by its own arm. The reason must be that the hand to be bitten is symbolically not-self and represents another, and so must be moved by the other arm and hand , which is actually and symbolically part of the self.
(In the case of the child who, sometimes at least, brings the hand to be bitten to his mouth by its own arm, the implication is of course this:- the arm, at least, if not also the hand, must be 'on the side of ' the mouth, the oral aggressor. In the case of the hand, of course, this must be in part only , since symbolically, the hand must also represent the other person, the person being attacked.)
The latest methods of mapping cerebral neuronal activity e.g.
M.R.I., C.A.T scanning etc may provide an interesting way of
proving our hypothesis. If the pattern of such activity, found
when the child is interacting symbolically with his hand is
similar to that found when the child is interacting positively or
negatively with the parent or parental figure this is evidence
for our hypothesis. If the neuronal activity found when the child
is interacting symbolically with his hand or hands is especially
pronounced in that area of the brain especially concerned with
the recognition of faces this again is more evidence for the
Consider the case where a child uses one of his hands to bring the other to his mouth , e.g. to be bitten . Say the child uses his left hand to bring his right hand to his mouth . Further evidence to reveal what is happening might be derived from electro-myographic recordings from the child's left and right arms. If the left hand represents the other, it should resist being bitten, so the extensor muscles of the left arm should show greater activity than the flexor ones. The right hand, representing the self, is trying to bring the other to the mouth for oral-aggressive attack and so the flexor muscles of the right arm should show greater activity than the extensor ones.
A neat allocation and clear demarcation of roles to the two hands may not be possible. One interpretation of the case of J.W. , (case A) , in the first paper might run as follows:-
We said that the hand held up in front of her face was shaking and betraying great muscle tension . This could be likened to a sort of tonic-clonic spasm, a conflict acted out at a late, peripheral stage of the process of executing an impulse arising in the cerebral cortex and might indicate that this hand was playing dual and opposing roles at almost the same time.
The actual current reality stimulus situation , the
The child is crossed, frustrated, reprimanded etc. especially by an adult figure, (parent, parent figure, carer, authority figure etc).
The background latent past history of relationships and attitudes, especially to a parent , ( these interact with the reality situation to determine the response ) :
Similar events and circumstances to the above, in the past, in the child's home.
The child's response
1. R , Reality level
he child glares at the adult and may attack him, is physically aggressive. He may bite, scratch, pinch, slap, punch, kick etc.
If the child has always got what he wants , either immediately or on showing some actual aggression to e.g. his parents, and such aggression has been accepted, e.g. as a form of communication!!, there may not be the necessity for the sort of symbolic behaviour discussed next.
G.H., discussed in the first paper, does not engage in this sort of symbolic behaviour, she is openly aggressive to others, especially staff.
2. R1, Symbolism level
The child stares angrily at his hand ( = parent/authority figure ), here the natural progression or escalation would be to an actual physical aggressive attack on the hand ( = parent, authority figure ), e.g. in the form of oral aggression i.e.biting , or slapping the hand with the other hand.
We may expect a child whose preferred mode of aggression against the symbol is oral, e.g. biting , to mostly use this form of physical aggression towards an actual other person, especially adult, authority, parental figures ; if he slaps the symbol we would expect him to slap the real adult person, authority, parental figure. Such is certainly true in the case of K.W., in the first paper. In the case of L. McC. the aborted or at least deviant own hand biting behaviour is different from her usual manner of aggression against an adult , which is to scratch, pinch or dig her nails into his hands, but when she is extremely aggressive she does threaten or attempt to bite the adult's hands.
We may expect also, associated with the angry staring, an aggressive, threatening vocalisation; e.g. see L. McC., J. W. etc.
Why should the child engage in R1 rather than R , in this instance? See below @
The adult response to these behaviours, whether punishing , rewarding , or neutral
See discussion above.
The actual current reality external stimulus situation
The child's needs are met by a parent or parent figure e.g. he is given affection etc.
The latent past history of relationships and attitudes, especially to a parent , ( these interact with the current reality situation to determine the response) :
Similar events and circumstances to the above, in the past, in the child's home.
The child's response
1. R , Reality level
Here we would get actual affectionate responses to the adult, e.g. child may smile at the adult, approach him, hug and kiss him etc.
If the child has always had a loving relationship with his
family , and has not been short of love there may not be the
necessity for the sort of symbolic behaviour discussed next.
G.H. , discussed in the first paper, does engage in a lot of this sort of behaviour and the assumption must be made that she is being/has been starved of love.
2. R1, Symbolism level.
The child looks lovingly at his hand ( = parent or authority figure ). There may be a natural progression or escalation to an actual physical affectionate contact with the hand ( = parent or authority figure ), in the form of oral receptive behaviour i.e. gentle mouthing and kissing of the hand.
The child who kisses his hand, sucks his wrist or arm etc. may be expected to do the same with a liked adult.
Some children , as part of their affectionate interactions with adults, do kiss the adult's hand. In line with the well known somewhat blurred area of demarcation between aggression and sex, even in affectionate exchanges, where the child is mouthing an adult's hand, there may be a tendency to gently bite the hand , e.g. ( A. A. ) .
Why should the child engage in R1 rather than R, in this instance? See below *
The adult's response to these behaviours, whether punishing, rewarding , or neutral.
See the above discussion about the response to be made to aggressive thoughts and gestures. However, in this case the child is expressing loving , affectionate thoughts and these must surely be encouraged and rewarded; to make such a response is in fact one's natural instinct , as a caring adult or parent figure. The child is practising being caring and affectionate to others, like a little girl with her doll ; we have to encourage such behaviours.
These questions may be asked:-
1. Does the child engage in any of the above described behaviours, by himself or with others?
2. If with others, how close is he to them?
3. What/who is the child looking at when he engages in the behaviour, e.g. at his hand or at another person?
I recall cases where the child bites his hand or arm and approaches closely to an adult, ( and I believe looks at the adult ). This behaviour seems very clearly to be an aggressive threat display. One would imagine that the child biting his hand and looking at it would be more wrapped up in his symbolic, emotion displacing fantasy than would the child who bites his hand, in the presence of another, e.g. an adult , and who looks or glares at the adult.
Also, of course, if a child shows both positive and negative attitudes and behaviour, i.e. is ambivalent, to the symbol he should show a similar pattern to the real object.
Note that amongst the most important first ideas of another person, ( adult or carer ), are those of the face and hands of the other . The face and hands are seen as important in satisfying the child's basic needs for love, food, drink, warmth etc. In t.r.a. the hand is grasped and pulled to ask for help or permission to go somewhere or do something, to help satisfy the child's needs and goals etc. We also note that these body parts have very large cortical representations.
* Say the child is receiving affection from an adult. Why does he not simply enjoy this, why does he engage in his hand regarding behaviour? Possible explanations may be: -
a. The child may fear rejection of his affectionate advances
b. The events are precious and should be kept, i.e. in symbol form , in memory. In this form they may be revisited, when necessary.
c. The current events may be used to retro-actively modify ones in the distant past, events occurring in the family with the parents.
In the peculiar logical and causal structure of the world as viewed by the unconscious, the fact that here and now, this adult, this parent figure, is finding us loveable, and loving us, may prove that the original parent found us loveable and loved us. Phantasy and reality, past and present lose their rigid boundaries. An explanation like this may be of most relevance where the child has some feeling of rejection by the family, e.g. where he has been sent away to a special residential boarding school. The internal, introjected images of the parents , borne on the child's hands have to be brought out to be modified and made closer to the heart's desire.
@ In the case of a child being crossed by an adult, why does he not simply aggress against the person himself ? The explanation here would naturally run along these lines:-
a. He may fear retaliation from the person
b. He may not wish to lose his love
c. He may wish to concern himself primarily with the old original relationship, and get his own back for past injuries occasioned by the parent, and rewrite the script of his own personal history.
If a child makes a response R1, and this is quickly followed by a reward then of course the probability of occurrence of R, in similar circumstances, will be increased. What will happen if there are two quite different responses, the result of two very different, even opposite motives, happening very close together in time? In this case of course it would be difficult to modify the behaviour, it would be difficult to get the reward/punishment in at an effective time. In the cases discussed above where the organism appears to be split into two persons such a difficulty may be thought to be possible. If a child is engaging angrily with his hand as a symbol of another person and we punish the child for this behaviour we might be thought to be punishing both the child and the 'other '. Of course the child is always the author, the script writer, the director and the actor and ultimately responsible and so the sanction always really relates to the child. In addition both of the protagonists in an interaction, both real and symbolic, are engaging in similar behaviours, e.g. aggression , and so the sanction, applied to this, would seem not to raise problems.
Note that the above described phenomena involved processes discussed by the psychoanalysts when they talk about the transference.
A note on R , reality and R1, the symbolic level , fantasy.
1. Of course, we have joined two separate ideas here.
These are of course not synonymous, fantasy is perhaps a sub-class of symbolism but fantasy/symbolism is what we are talking about.
2. An organism learns various ways in which to satisfy a need. Some ways may be more satisfying than others. If one way is blocked then the organism chooses another way to satisfy his need. If it is not possible to satisfy the need in reality then the organism may satisfy it in fantasy, using symbols, partly using memories of real past occasions of satisfaction of the need
Some more cases
Case G:- J.M. Date of birth: 10.8.83 Date of observation:
8.9.2000 Age: 17-0 Sex M
J.M. , in a temper, brings the back of one hand to his mouth , and with the other hand, as a fist, punches the hand by his mouth.
Here we see clearly that the punching hand and the mouth are 'on the same side', and both are attacking the hand by the mouth , a war ( or rather battle ), on two fronts.
Case E:- G.H. Date of birth: 12.1.84 Date of observation: 4.10.2000 Age: 16-8 Sex F
Today she is very accepting of affection from a parent figure, with little or no aggression towards him. Shows the usual behaviour of looking fondly on her hands, (palms), with this addition, which she has perhaps been showing for some time: -
She grasps a strand of her hair, puts it into her mouth, (not
biting I think, just gently mouthing it) and looks fondly at her
hand, held up in front of her face, through her hair.
This accords with the hypothesis of the hair being a symbol of another person, especially a parent figure, and perhaps especially the mother, especially for a girl.
Case H:- S. M. Date of birth: 18.12.89 Date of observation: 18.10.2000 Age: 10-10 Sex F
Brings one hand up to her chin with her other hand, with her mouth open and making an angry, distressed noise, in class today. She was being irritated by the tantrumming of another child. This is more or less identical with the behaviour discussed in case F above.
Case I:- C.D. Date of birth: 30.3.90 Date of observation:
18.10.2000 Age:10-6 Sex F
Holds hand up to her face and very close to it, and says "Later darling!".
This is probably something her mother says to her and she is getting her hand = mother to say this to her when mother and child are separated , with the former at home (or at work etc.) and the latter at school. This involves the echo effect discussed elsewhere, e.g. in case B. S. in the first paper. If this verbalisation is meaningful one would surmise that the behaviour involves at least these two aspects: -
a. As a familiar utterance of her mother this is pleasurable since it brings and keeps her mother near to her, at least for a little time, in memory or phantasy.
b. The verbalisation, from the mother, is a signal that an anticipated pleasant event will happen but not just yet, this is a promise and yet an instruction to wait. If the child waits then the event will occur. As a verbalisation from this child, this is a self-direction to wait.
[Very similar behaviours occur with non-articulate vocalisations into the palms of the hands, click the little picture for examples]
We need to gather together information on a large number of
individuals showing this sort of behaviour and a large number of
similar individuals who do not
We may possibly break down the object (e.g. hand ) behaviour , for this purpose, into
Positive:- looking or kissing or stroking
Negative:- staring or biting or hitting
We want to see what things the members of these groups have in common and what things the non-members of the groups have in common. We possibly need also to study what are the common situations which bring about these behaviours. For example, in the case of a child threatening to attack or actually attacking the hand, as a symbol of or substitute for, a significant other, it might be that the other is not actually present for the child
as the proper target for the child's anger. ( It may also of
course be that there are inner obstacles in the child to this
frank expression e.g. a competing urge e.g. fear of or love for
the person). Similarly, affectionate interactions with the hand
as a symbol of a parent would be expected to occur if the actual
parent is not present or if inner obstacles to this behaviour are
present e.g. fear of rejection, contradictory aggressive impulses
and so on. All of the individuals in whom I have seen such
behaviour are students at a boarding school , who may have, or
have had , difficult relationships with their parents. They are
relatively emotionally deprived and in need of a parent figure.
In terms of ability the students are in the s.l.d. range, but probably at the top end of this. Specifically of course they are able to use objects symbolically, by definition. Many of them are beginning to talk, sometimes rather echolalically, but not completely.
They use symbols, including verbal symbols, i.e.
words to keep their loved ones with them
I have, fairly recently, observed the use of the palm of the hand to represent a person's face in a piece of b.s.l. representing the circumstance of two people meeting face to face, ( the signers two hands in shape B (perhaps with a dot modifier) brought fairly close to, and 'facing' each other, after a sign indicating 'meeting', which is the two vertically held up forefingers, hand shape G , being brought together.) More bizarrely, I have also seen the same symbolisation where a hand, palm outward is made to represent a person looking around him by twisting the vertically held hand around in various directions in an episode of the T.V. sitcom 'Father Ted'!
This use seems very natural and occurs in a living , visuo-manual sign language.
The coding of the natural symbolic behaviours associated with the hand.
This circumstance of the use of this symbolisation in b.s.l.
leads us to the realisation that we might very well represent the
symbolic behaviours concerning the hand which we have discussed
above by means of the Stokoe type of system. So, for example, the
child bringing the palm of his hand up to his face to be looked
at, say with anger, would be represented as:-
O 5 T ^ or even O 5 T ^ .
If we look at the b.s.l. signs for anger, angry, aggressive etc. in the Dictionary of British Sign Language - English we observe that the clawed hand is moved up the belly/chest and the signs are clearly focussing on the emotional feelings and the fact that these are often felt most strongly as located in this region of the body. Just what the angry person is angry with is not indicated. In our hand related phenomena the object of the anger/angry attitude is represented, (by the hand), and the nature of the emotion is largely represented in the facial expression of the child, although some is represented in the hand-shape, (clawed hand or 5 ). Who this emotion 'belongs to' is rather ambiguous; although it may be logically seen as belonging to the object this is contradicted by the 'signer's expression and it is in fact much more plausible to regard the emotion as belonging to the real owner of the hand. As discussed elsewhere the hand here takes on more than one role, it partly plays itself, (the 'signer's hand) and partly plays another person, especially this person's face.
Non-manual features: face adopts an angry expression. The above mentioned Dictionary verbally describes the facial expression accompanying the signs for anger and aggression as:-
"The brows are furrowed, the head nods forward, the cheeks are slightly puffed out, the nose is wrinkled, the corners of the mouth are turned down ," etc.
This may not seem a complete or adequate representation of the emotion of anger, whether real or counterfeit and symbolic and it is not a coding as such. It may be instructive to check into systems of coding facial expressions in emotions as in some textbooks of psychology.
We have to add here also the fact that in the child's behaviours with his hand held up in front of his face he looks at his hand.
This makes it necessary to codify the direction and object of a person's gaze. We read , in books on b.s.l., that eye gaze, i.e. the direction in which they look, and the way in which they move, allows a signer to show where things are, and also how they
move. Change of direction of eye gaze can allow a signer to
portray a conversation or any interaction between two people. For
example take the case of representing a conversation between a
grown-up and a child. When the child is supposed to be signing or
speaking the signer may look up and to his left; when it is the
adult who is supposed to be signing or talking the signer may
look down and to his right.
For the meaning or gloss section, in our case, we have to state that
the palm of the hand represents a person's face.
Note that there is no outward indication that this is a parent's face. To deduce this we have to look at the total, whole situation of the child, especially his separation from home and parents, his consequent feelings of rejection and anger etc.
While on the subject of B.S.L. and the Stokoe system etc. we may observe that the codings and symbolisations of the signs are purely ones of brute movement, there is no obligation on this to be a conscious, deliberate, formal symbolic act. But one accepts that these signs, the ones in the book, used by deaf people symbolically as part of what is accepted as their language, are conscious, deliberate etc. If we take, for comparison, the case of verbal language we know that the word 'dog ' is
1.accepted as meaningful
2.accepted as a meaningful word
3.accepted as a meaningful word in the English language.
This word is put in an English dictionary, but a nonsense word such as ' plig ' is not, neither is a cough, and neither is a meaningful German word such as 'Heimat'. In the same way, in b.s.l., or other sign languages, there are manual movements which do not have meaning, in that system, such as scratching ones nose. It is an amusing occurrence, in a beginners' sign language class when the tutor does something like this, which leaves the class rather confused and unsure, was that a sign or was it just that her nose was itchy?! In b.s.l. also we will not usually accept signs from Irish sign language or Swedish sign language, unless such signs have been imported and borrowed. The codings and verbal descriptions of the signs in the above mentioned dictionary are only instructions on how to make the sign, not explanations of the meaning , this is given in the last column of the pages, under the heading 'glosses'.
In a similar fashion,
instructions on how to produce a word in a language could be
provided. In dictionaries this is done by use of a phonetic
alphabet and system, often the International Phonetic Alphabet
In some texts designed to teach foreign languages to English
students, as well as, or instead of, this system reference to
English, possibly regional, sounds in English words is made to
help the student pronounce the foreign words correctly. Even more
similar to the b.s.l. dictionary case, where one is told what
parts of the body to use, especially the hands of course, what
shapes to put them in, and how and where to move them, are the
examples in some books on teaching foreign , ( spoken and
written), languages where the student is instructed, e.g. to
attempt to utter the sound ' ee ' with the lips pursed and
rounded as if one was going to utter the English sound ' oo ' to
try to approximate the sound of the German u umlaut , 'ue' or
'u'. Another example is the case of one method to show how to
produce the Swedish sibilant 's'. The student is instructed to
adopt the normal positions of the vocal organs required to
produce the English 's' sound, but then to move the front of the
tongue back in the mouth to contact the ridge of the palate etc.
The following sort of stages may be considered:-
1. The vocabulary of the language is established, the sphere/region of our interest is delineated, what are words, what are meaningful words, and what are meaningful words in the language we are concerned with, e.g. English.
2. How to make these words or sounds.
3. What they mean .
4. How they may be put together, the rules of this.
5. What the combinations mean.
In some very clear signs the total meaning of the whole movement/event is fully given by consideration of the (possible) meanings of the separate components, as in this sign:-
one forefinger of one hand held up vertically, ( = a person ) the other forefinger of the other hand held up vertically, ( = another person ) these two moved to each other = two people coming together, i.e. meeting. This sort of construction where elements of meaning can be compounded to make other more complex meanings, as in German, is something I believe is a good model for the teaching of s.l.d. students.
What are the relations between this sort of behaviour
involving the hand and other phenomena such as
t.r.a., demonstration /imitation, mime and sign etc.?
The behaviour concerning the person's hand would appear to be
unlike t.r.a. in that it does not only use objects as themselves
but uses body parts, here the hand, as symbols for something
else, for another person, especially their face. This makes it
very similar to sign , in, for example, the b.s.l. sign for '
face to face meeting '.
As discussed elsewhere, demonstration-imitation involves using the body part of one person to represent the corresponding body part of another person, ( but not a different class of body part).
|So, for example, in showing someone how to tie a knot, the demonstrator uses his hands but then wants the person who is to imitate him and replicate the performance to use his own hands. Also involved may be the use of one specific exemplar of a class of objects to represent any member of this class of objects, but it is also possible that one could use an object to represent itself, non-symbolically, if one will. So, for example, take the above case of showing someone how to tie a knot. The demonstrator may use one piece of string to make the knot and require the other person to do likewise with his own, a different piece of||
string, or, after doing the knot, untie it and want the other
person to make the knot with the same piece of string.
some objects are 'imagined'
some objects represent themselves
some objects, e.g. body parts, may represent corresponding parts of another person, as in demonstration-imitation
These features probably occur in sign but the representation of one body part by another, different one, which occurs in sign does not occur in mime. This feature, in sign, enables the signer to limit his signing to the signing space, which does not extend below waist level.
|'Freudian' dimension||symbolising a penis|
t.r.a., physical prompt,
It might of course be the case, eventually, after some experience of these connections, that event1, (n.r.a.) will produce an image of event2.
We can see a similarity between the natural 'Freudian' type symbolism of the hand and that of sign languages such as B. S. L.
Some iconic manual signs, relying on vague and general
similarities of form and shape between the hand, in some shape or
form and an object would seem to be very similar to the symbolism
we are discussing. We may cite as examples in b.s.l.:-
B, for a car,
V, for the two legs of a person,
A, (fist), for the head of a person.
|(Of course the psychoanalytic writers seem to be far more interested in specifically sexual symbols, i.e. symbols of the primary sexual organs and of frankly sexual acts, e.g. the female organs of sex and procreation symbolised by a vase etc. Also they appear to talk more about inanimate objects as symbols than about symbols which are formed by a part of the body, but the principle is the same.)|
The relationship between the natural, unlearnt symbolic use of the hands which we have described as occurring in s.l.d. children and the phenomena studied by investigators into 'body language'.
There would appear to be a reasonably close relationship.
There are also links with sign languages and with our t.r.a.
Consider these examples taken from a book on 'body language':-
slapping oneself on the forehead (when e.g. someone is asked if they have done something they said they would do, and in fact they have not done so).
In this connection consider one b.s.l. sign for 'stupid'. In this sign one taps or knocks one's temples with the knuckles of the clenched fist, usually twice to correspond with the two syllables of the word 'stupid'.
Now the tab is the head, the location of the brain, the organ which allows us to think. (See signs for 'clever' , 'think', 'know', etc. all with this tab). The hand shape, dez, is a fist, and the action of punching or knocking have the connotation of aggression towards this organ. The implication is that it has frustrated us, and annoyed us and let us down, by being dense or stupid. Compare this with the SLD child who attacks the bodily site of pain by punching or slapping this part of her body, e.g. the head if she has a headache or ear ache. In this case this part of the body has annoyed us and let us down by giving us pain , and in this n.r.a. type of action an additional factor in the production of this sort of response is the release of endorphins which reduces the pain).
crossed arms plus clenched fists
Compare our discussions of the interpretation of arm crossing as an indication that the child is not going to use his hands, (any more). So here it might be that the person feels like punching the person with him on the nose but is restraining himself, literally and physically.
crossed arms plus upper arms gripped by the hands
seated readiness, (e.g. to end an encounter or conversation, or to proceed further with the business at hand.)
The first is fairly straightforward t.r.a., the second involves an element of abstract symbolism.
Another example of our t.r.a. which is given in books on body language are actions like taking off ones spectacles, folding them and putting them away in their case as an indication that one considers the situation in which they were necessary is at an end, e.g. a negotiation or interview with someone. (Presumably one would be thinking here of a case where the user is short sighted, and needs the glasses to see the other person properly, or where he is long sighted and where the interaction or other activity requires the person to look at something small or to read something).
Other examples quoted by authors in this field are foot pointing and body orientation. In the former the feet point at, and indicate, the direction in which a person would like to go, and may be used to point at a someone whom the person finds interesting or attractive. In the second case it is the body which points to the direction or object or human being the person finds interesting and would like to go to. In the case of another person the first person is showing that he wants to move closer to her; similarly if he is pointing to a door, he wants to go to it. The nature of the object gives further information as to the person's intentions or desires, in the door case the implication of course is that the person wants to go to the door and use it appropriately, e.g. open it , go through it and leave the room, and so perhaps the company of anyone who
was with him in the
room, and/or leave, (abandon), any activity or task in which he
may have been involved, in that room.
Both these are very straightforward examples of our t.r.a., these postures are beginning phases of a sequence of actions or a process which, if carried through, leads eventually to the actions of getting close to a person or object and then using him/her/it, in some way. This being the case, these postures or beginning movements represent or symbolise the later stages of the process, and so also the desire to achieve them or bring them about.
Examples are also given which relate very obviously to standard Freudian symbolism, e.g. the woman fondling a cigarette, the stem of a wine glass, or any long , thin object is regarded as an unconscious indication of a desire to play with something else, the seated woman playing with her shoe, thrusting her foot in and out of it as a suggestion of the act of sexual intercourse, etc.
However , in the use of the hands we are talking about, ( and incidentally in t.r.a. ), we are only interested in conscious actions, not in unconscious ones, e.g. autonomic responses, such as e.g. the pupil dilation of two people who are sexually interested in one another. The latter type of autonomic response, can in some cases, it appears, be brought under a degree of conscious control, often by special training, but it is much more difficult than in the former case. These unconscious types perhaps cover more of the area of non-verbal communication in animals that are significantly lower on the evolutionary scale than man.
Further discussion of the use of body parts as natural symbolic objects in s.l.d. children.
1. A person (A), is aware of another person, (B), and of
his/her qualities, physical, psychological and so on, or at least
has some sort of picture of them, of varying degrees of accuracy.
He also has certain attitudes towards the person and may be aware
2. He, as director , selects an object, and gives the object a role , that of playing person B. The object could be a person, it could be himself, or a part of himself, (e.g. his hand), this is the actor . In this way the person might be both director and actor. In the case of the person himself, or a part of him, being the actor, there is no chance of conflict between director and actor. In our film or play analogy, there is also a producer , who I suppose is the driving force, and who has the cash, and drive to make things happen, such a role could also be taken by the same person. The casting director picks people to play certain roles, and he may select them for physical resemblance to the person portrayed, for the ability to make himself act like that person, and more generally the ability to act convincingly. In any case make-up will remedy any shortcomings and increase the resemblance between actor and person portrayed.
In the case of the hand and face, this slight similarity is enough for the child, a stronger need makes even quite dissimilar things seem reasonably alike, e.g. prudish and repressed Victorians covering up the legs of their pianos etc. All these processes of casting , directing , etc are probably not particularly conscious. Also as usual note the similarities between what we are discussing and the magical practices of sticking pins into poppets, or burning them.
There is some
confusion of symbol and symbolised, so that the play may be
somewhat confused with the real events it 'symbolises'.
If we try to analyse what we're talking about when we say that one person (A), or object 'plays' another (B), it may be seen that A attempts to make himself look like and act like B. In other words he imitates or copies B.
The child is putting on a one-man show here. But even the role of audience will probably be assumed by him to a greater or lesser extent. This is because he is getting pleasure from his roles of director, actor, and audience, as he is therein satisfying some of his needs in fantasy. To the extent that he performs knowingly and willingly in front of an audience other than himself, he will also be communicating to others, knowingly and willingly, consciously and deliberately. What he is communicating is clearly his attitudes towards various specific people and classes of people.
What of the commonly accepted view of the symbolic meaning of food and of a person e.g. parent, giving this to the child? The interpretation is of course that food = love, parental type affection, and that the parent feeding the child is giving the child love. How does this fit into our analyses? Is it an example of the t.r.a. type of meaning? This does seem part of the story since a benevolent emotional attitude of the parent towards the child may lead on to his giving the child food, particularly tasty food. So by our backwards meanings type of symbolism, the act of giving food means the parent cares for the child, in both senses of this term. This is comparable with the fact of a person signing 'please' indicating that the person has a need.
Additionally the food will be given together with a fond smile
and with other bodily indications of love. So this brings in the
other aspect of meaning , not the sequential t.r.a. type but the
type of parallel , synchronous meanings, deriving from
associations of the food with other objects, and the event of
giving the food with other events. Similar in the temporal aspect
is our example of the 'Freudian' case of a vase or similar
symbolising the female genitals. However, the basis of the
association here is similarity of form, and perhaps function, at
least part of it. A candle could represent the penis, as a
'Freudian' symbol, because of a similarity of shape, and size,
but in fact it would be perfectly possible for a female to use
such an object to masturbate with. Perhaps members of this class
of object have actually been used for this purpose, but it is not
possible to be made pregnant by a candle.
In our emotional case the association is not one of similarity of form but of a more abstract and complex type. The attitude of love is expressed in a number of ways of acting towards and treating the child. These all involve satisfying the child's needs, but not necessarily his wants, so the parent gives the child food, drink, clothes, warmth, rest, play, makes him better when he is ill, education, and so on, and moreover provides these with a cheery smile, with no feeling of it only being his duty, but because it makes him happy, and with no thought of recompense, (e.g. the child can repay me and look after me when I get old). The general concept of these objects and activities which the good parent gives to the child might be seen as those ways in which the parent might be good to the child, things that make the child happy, but there are exceptions as said above.
Some after-thoughts about the case of Lilla McC
Some after-thoughts concerning Lilla McC. and her aggressive grabbing of
the clothing of others
I think that this was only with adults, so this is a clue as to the meaning of the behaviour.
I think it was especially clothes around the neck, so here is another clue.
We can analyse the behaviour in this way
does what? grabs
to what? clothes
which clothes? those around the neck
whose clothes? adults, I think
We have to look at what she does, and how she does it, not just talk vaguely about aggression
Is aggression, a noun, the right word or should we using an adjective, aggressively, to describe the manner of a response?
As usual we can use the word aggression, and subdivide it into various types, e.g. verbal aggression, physical aggression etc
In the latter we can make further subdivisions e.g.
punching, slapping etc
We have to look at what a person does, and think about the motive behind the behaviour
Then we could look at the manner of the response, but this would also involve a motive, and we would then look at this
The two motives might be the same or different.
So we would get the situation where a person might be acting under the combined motives of sex and aggression, to commit a rape, etc
This might be seen as grammar, especially English grammar, influencing the way we think about the ‘science’ of psychology. Perhaps more acceptably it might be a sort of universal grammar having this influence
What other forms of aggression did Lilla display?
Pinching people, especially their hands or wrists, if I recall correctly
This is again a hold, but now even more aggressive
And look at the precise target of the aggression, the body part.
The nature of this might be accidental, but if not it will probably have a meaning
Coincidental, if e.g. the hands are the body parts of the person which are nearest to her
Note that she does not use the palms of the flat hands to contact the adult’s body and push him away from her
She grabs hold of the person, she holds him, (admittedly in an aggressive manner, and this is indicated by the word grab, of course)
So the interpretation is that she wants the person to stay close to her, she wants to stay close to them, she is demanding that they do so.
She does this aggressively. Why? Maybe because her advances have been frustrated before, and/or that such behaviour style has been rewarded before, (not necessarily by reducing this particular need drive).
Think also about
Kissing, sucking, actions motivated by the hunger and/or sex drives,
on the cheek,
on the earlobe sexual +
on the breast, sexual ++
How sexual the action is depends on the body part
Compare with biting the ear-lobe or nipple etc
Then we look at the strength of the bite, (or punch or pinch etc
So a man could punch a male friend, or his teenage son in the chest gently, to show he likes him, but in a manly way
Here is still sex or nurturing but with more aggression and possibility of tissue damage
Discuss the relation between
an emotion e.g. fear, sex, anger
attitude, e.g. love, hate
This is a sentiment directed towards a specific person or thing or idea
A tendency to experience a particular emotion is involved, e.g.
sex, maternal, paternal behaviour, etc in love,
anger, in hate etc
So we have an
Aggressive, clinging behaviour
The young of primates do cling on to the body, fur of the mother The mother is often moving around quickly, jumping and climbing in the trees, so the baby must cling, on to be safe
Recall the old experiment with the babies put to hang from a stick or something - they found this easy, and at very young ages and could hang for a very long time
So with Lilla, this is aggressive, clinging, dependent behaviour
Such behaviour is immature, but one would expect immature behaviour from older mentally handicapped children, as one would from younger normal children.
As for the aggression one might look at the specific early history of Lilla and her environment
she grabs on to people, (adults)
at the clothes around their neck/chest
she wants them to stay close to her, look after her, and nurture her
she grabs in an aggressive way and shows other type of aggression because
such drives and behaviours might have been frustrated at various times and the situation is classically conditioned to produce angry feelings towards the person, (the frustration-aggression hypothesis)
How should we react to such behaviours?
We want to discourage, i.e. not reward, the aggressive style but perhaps we do not wish to eliminate or modify the actual clinging dependent behaviour, at least initially.
But later we will certainly wish to try to modify the dependency and train her to become more independent.
Note the close relationship between ---
the grasping, clawed hand shape, used by Lilla, when about to grab someone’s clothing
her pinching hand shape, or rather her digging-into-flesh handshape
The Freudian description gives us:-
1. receptive – mouthing/sucking (baby with no teeth)
2. aggressive – biting/chewing (child has teeth)
receptive e.g. sucking, activity could be gentle, or vigorous
Now it is clear that ‘aggressive’ type might be gentle, or vigorous
Because of the nature of the natural weapons in the second case, vigorous activity, with force, can be quite damaging
PEASE, Allen, 'Body Language'.
© 2004 John and Ian Locking
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