Looking at hands 5: Hand-Directed Behaviour:- additional

Some further reflections on the hand symbol behaviour.

The human hand's major function (see our discussions on n.r.a. and t.r.a., regarding symbolism of body parts, here the hand), are to create, grasp, manipulate and control objects. (To have something or someone in the palm of your hand.)
Even if the hand doesn't actually create an object, as the child sees something and reaches out and grasps it, an experience, a sensation (tactile) is created, by his action, and so primitively he has created the tactile object. This would appear to involve a confusion between an independently existing object and the sensation which it may produce in a sentient creature.
As for the status of the hand, as a symbol or sign representing the face, it could be of an iconic type or a holding classifier type, using the terminology of sign language. As for the latter might we imagine holding the back of a person's head and looking at her face? It seems likely that what we have is a combination of the holding classifier type of symbolism and the iconic one. In n.r.a. an object is grasped, the hand is rotated and the palm turned to the face so that the object can be seen, so in the case of this sort of natural sign/mime the same is done without the actual object.
We must also consider the factor of the distance between hand and face. In the emotional behaviours with our children the hand is brought very close to the face, (recall the expression 'in your face'.) The real face and symbolised face (the hand) are within each other's territorial zone, the personal space, reserved for encounters within relationships which are highly emotionally charged, either extremely positive, loving and intimate, on the one hand, or extremely negative and hostile on the other. What is supposed to be, or is, happening is 'up close and personal'. There is ultimately zero distance between hand and face, so that physical, oral, interaction and contact can take place, either positive of mouthing, kissing, or negative of chewing or biting. So there are these two dimensions:-

                          +   |
 d       0--------------------|----------------------->
                           -  |

These two dimensions interact to form strengths, or intensities of experience so that a very positively valenced object, or symbol of this, very close to the person makes a very intense positive experience, and similarly for a very negatively valenced object or symbol of this. Far away, the experience, positive or negative, is much weaker.
It would seem that the relationship between the current provoking real interpersonal exchange, (between child and parent figure or carer), and the positive or negative hand directed behaviour, is that where the first is a trigger for the second i.e. the fantasy behaviour (positive or negative) is not in proportion to the intensity (plus or minus), of the real incident which produces it. Moreover it is believed that the current event triggers a symbolic re-enactment of positive or negative behaviour, of attitudes or behaviours or feelings to the parent. So the behaviour is a transference phenomenon, in psychoanalytic terms. The current event in the current relationship is similar to this primal event in the primal relationship and so in a sense reminds the child of this earlier one, the child's reaction to the current situation is coloured by the nature of the earlier relationship.
Another hypothesis to be entertained is that the behaviour is a fantasy enactment of something which may be described as an Oedipal - Elektra situation.
To check this one might ask these questions
1. Do strong/frequent occurrences of the behaviour happen more in individuals functioning at this 'stage' ?
2. Do negative experiences with same sex parents (or parent figures) produce stronger or more frequent negative hand reactions than with opposite sex parents (or parent figures)? Do positive experiences with opposite sex parents (or parent figures) produce stronger or more consistent positive hand reactions than with same sex parents (or parent figures)?
Another question to be answered is whether such responses occur at home, with real parents, whether or not the child is or has ever been at a boarding school. Is there anything in the boarding school situation itself which has any bearing on the behaviour? Does felt rejection by parents, with a child at boarding school, have a bearing on the behaviour?
These points might be relevant to the question as to why the retaliatory behaviour of the child is only symbolic.
If the behaviour is seen at home with real parents one might employ the usual hypothesis that the child refrains from real negative behaviour to the frustrator because of fear of retaliation, from the parent concerned, and refrain from real positive behaviour, because of fear of retaliation from the other parent. (So we could use the situation where this other parent was not present?)
If the behaviour was seen more often with a child at boarding school one could entertain the hypothesis that the child symbolises the parent, because this is the one he is really thinking of, and this person is not present with the child.
Of course, as said elsewhere, we note that, as befits the level of the children who we have seen display this type of behaviour, both the positive and negative reactions to the hand, as the symbolic parent, are of an oral nature, in the first oral receptive, (mouthing , kissing and sucking), in the second oral aggressive (biting, chewing, and gnawing).
It appears clear that the kind of symbolism seen in these hand directed behaviours (looking, affectionate or hostile actions) is of a 'higher' type than that involved in our t.r.a. and is of a similar type to that seen in mime and, or sign. The motive in our children however may be less communicative than it is fantasy satisfaction of a frustrated drive (of sensuous desire or hostility), this fantasy being propped up and supported by external symbolic objects (the hands).
We might discuss the relationships between
a. the type of symbolism seen in t.r.a.
b. the symbolism seen in our hand - directed behaviour
c. the symbolism seen in cases of conversion hysteria.
We will use old accounts of c. since really the cases described in the old literature I think are practically never seen today. If we do this, take the case of a person whose job or duty involves essential use of a body part or organ. A hysteric may solve the conflict between his felt duty or obligation to do his job and a need not to do it, (e.g. from fear of the dangers associated with it), by a functional loss of capacity to use the organ. So in wartime the soldier developed paralysis of his arms so he could not use his rifle, or paralysis of his legs so that he could not go into action.
( A more conscious action might be to shoot himself in the foot, either fully consciously and deliberately, or with some degree of persuading himself it was an accident.)
We might compare this with our case of an m.l.d. boy who was conflicted in the area of school work. He felt pressured by his parents to achieve academically, (his mother even talked about him going to University !) As well as being in the m.l.d. category he had very poor eyesight which required him to use glasses. A possible way out was shown in his statement to his teacher about the possibility he might break his glasses. A more sophisticated response would involve damage presented as accidental, to threaten this event seems to rule out the possibility that it could be accidental. But the character of the response is similar of course. To prevent the act, one might destroy the objects involved in the act. In more serious pathological cases it might be the body organs themselves which are targeted rather than the mechanical aids to their effective use, e.g. spectacles for the eyes.
Similarities are seen in the fact of the unsophistication of the type of person involved here, and in the fact that it is the psychological concept of the body part and its function which is important, not the actual neurology involved. The hysterical case is happening at a low level of consciousness, unlike the case here, this is another difference.
In around March 2005 a friend of my son, who for some time worked in a psychiatric hospital, after being informed of the rough outlines of my theories of h.r.b., and h.d.b. told me of a patient he had encountered who had the delusion that he had an eye in the palm of his right hand.
At the same time the same person also reminded me of the expression, common in young female blacks of the US a few years ago, "Talk to the hand", if they were not interested in what another person had to say to them, if they felt that the other person was slighting them in some way. At the same time as uttering this phrase the person would thrust out her hand to the other person, its palm towards them, and turn her face away from the other person. In the film 'Ali G indahouse', in one scene Ali says to a person before him, "Speak to the hand, 'cos the face, it ain't listening!", and as he says this puts his ' 5 ' hand up to the other person's face and turns his face away. The meaning is that he didn't want to listen to someone who might be insulting, or threatening him, or communicating in some other kind of negative way with him.
Another observation from everyday, normal life is the following. A Quaker lady talks on a T.V. program about the purpose of the one hour group silences. She talks about "facing yourself", and when saying this she holds her flat, ( ' B ' ), hand up before her face, fingers pointing up, and the palm facing towards her.
This is an oral-aggressive attack on the hand, using the teeth, a very primitive form of aggression.
Note further that the hand is the quintessential or archetypal mode, and therefore symbol, of a person's action and effect on his environment, physical and-or social, for good or evil.
(So even if the effect on his surroundings was brought about by verbal means rather than manual ones, the hand might still be able to function as a symbol of the agent of the effect).
Both the biting mouth, and the hand are of course parts of the same person. So here we have a dramatic representation of a conflict between two parts of the same person.
The meaning is:- "I hate what I have done, what I have caused, it's my fault, (or my hand's fault, to the primitive mind), so I will attack and punish this, by biting it."
As a gesture the attack will be minor and token in force, and the hand not really damaged, but sometimes the attack is 'real'. The latter is seen in some s.l.d. children, as we have seen, when they are frustrated. Such children's hands are often badly scarred and calloused as a result of years of abusing their hands in this way.
As a gesture this can be seen in comic ads like the one on British TV of a few years ago. Rowan Atkinson plays a man who has unintentionally humiliated his boss, so that it looks as if he might soon be looking for another job, or at least is facing demotion or reprimand.
When he realises what he has done and that his boss is aware that he is the culprit, he bites his hand
(We might note that, while the above cases bite their hands as an expression of their anger over the conduct of their hand, the obsessive-compulsive neurotic washes his hands, to try to remove the guilt occasioned by his evil acts)

We have said that in h.d.b., and h.r.b. the child's hand is a symbol of a parent's, or parent figure's, face.
If the hand is a symbol, then we must ask of what type of symbol it is?
(a) Is it a consciously used symbol like a person pointing to a schematic symbol of a tree to mean one specific member of this class, (or the class itself), or a person making the B.S.L. sign for tree?
(b) Is it an 'unconscious' symbol such as occurs in dreams, the sort described by the psychoanalysts? These are often concerned with sex, according to Freud, (but of course Jung has a much wider interpretation of the field of symbols).
(c) Is it something in between, maybe like play acting, or day-dreaming?
Here there is more conscious purpose, but the symbol is of a pretty primitive class, like (b).
In a daydream one satisfies a need in phantasy, one that one is unable to do in reality.

Possibility (c) is is probably a good model for our h.d.b.. The specific type of daydream where one gets revenge for some hurt that one has suffered at the hands of another, is a very close model. In our case the aggrieved person is a child, and the injurer is a parent, or parent figure, often one of the opposite sex to that of the child. Finally the most exact model would be one where this phantasy is played out partly internally, 'in the head', but partly externally, with an external object as a symbol for the injuring parent. In our case the symbol is the child's hand and what is symbolised is a parent. A parallel case is the oft-quoted displaced aggression scenario where, after being reprimanded by the boss, one kicks the cat, or punches a punch-ball and imagines it's the boss's face.
A related, and possibly more interesting parallel is with the magician who fashions a tiny likeness of a person from wax, and perhaps adds to it something belonging to them, e.g. makes its hair from the person's actual hair. The practitioner then might stick pins into the poppet, or heat and melt it. This is sympathetic magic, the attacker believing that his symbolic actions on the doll actually injure the person represented, in the corresponding part of his or her body. In the same way, when the child bites her hand, she may actually feel she is attacking the person represented, the parent. The mental processes involved here are obviously of the primitive type only found today in the dreaming adult, the psychotic, and the very young child*
Another example from the distant past is from Ancient Egypt. There a faithful likeness in stone of a deceased person was seen as a safe and durable vehicle for the soul to ride down the thousands of years into eternity, (especially if it also had the names of the person inscribed on it). Here the symbol was much more than a symbol, it became the thing represented. In what must be the ultimate expression of foul and wicked revenge an evil-wisher might inflict the final and perpetual state of non-existence, even in the form of the soul, by destroying the statues and obliterating the names.

Does the child react to his hand, exactly as if it were his mother's face, or teat? Or just act as if it were? Possibly the object is only a part symbol and to be compared with the C.S., which evokes the C.R., which is only a part, the preparatory response component, of the U.C.R to the U.C.S.
As for (b) we know that the values of much fewer attributes are considered as a basis for the estimation of similarity, symbol value, or even identity in dreams, than in normal waking life. Examples are the pencil, pen etc being a penis, and the vase, flower-pot being a vagina or womb. Other examples, less sexual are window = eyes, door = mouth, sun = father or mother, tree = person, and so on. As we said before the strength of drive will determine the degree of remoteness of the actual likeness and the somewhat inappropriate over-generalisation of the concept, e.g. a hungry man sees references to food everywhere!
The hand symbolism seems to be of this type, so, as far as the hand is concerned, what is the basis for the symbolism? In what possible way is a child's hand like the face of a parent?
To me it looks like (c) is near to the right model for h.d.b. But we must say that there are various types of symbolism seen in a sign language, and they are not all of a purely arbitrary, and conscious and conventional type. Some seem to be based on quite primitive processes. See our comment on the a.s.l. sign for 'cross', 'grumpy' at the end of the web page 'Body Parts as Symbolic Objects 3'.
This then makes the relationship between the three type discussed above not as clear cut as might be thought, and the differences between them not as great. If we look at h.d.b. from the point of view of a sign language, e.g. B.S.L. we can ask, of the types of sign, which type, (or types), might be a model for our h.d.b.?

The type of B.S.L. sign we will discuss are:-

A. Handling classifiers
For example, the closed fist, A, can represent the gripping of a narrow cylindical object, and so represent the object itself.

B. Size and Shape Specifier
For example flat objects can be represented by flat handshapes such as 'B', 'H', and so on.

C. Tracing size and shape classifier
For example the 'G' handshape can trace the outline of a square, room, or window.

D. Touch classifiers
For example the tips of the fingers of the '5' hand can represent playing a piano, using a keyboard or reading Braille.

Some of these are not clearly separable, e.g.
One might also argue that the separation between conscious and unconscious is not particularly valuable, and also it must be said that in the above scheme we have not placed 'lower' forms of communication like t.r.a., where the actual object is grasped.
Which one, or ones, of these could be a model for our h.d.b.?
We can see D as a possibility, if the handshape in h.d.b., or in h.r.b., represents the young child or baby feeling his mother's face, an activity commonly seen in young children.
Although close to the best model, it must be said that (c) might be a little too conscious to be an exact fit. For the child glaring at his hand the hand is no cold, conscious, arbitrary symbol, as in many signs. There might be a degree of suspension of disbelief that the hand is the parent's face in the drama he plays out with his hand but this may not be particularly conscious.
The intensity of the affect directed towards the hand, implies that it is no formal, conventional, arbitrary, highly conscious symbol but that, at least temporarily, it is the parent's face.
The behaviour has aspects both of the conscious and rational, and of the unconscious and irrational.
The symbols it uses, as in dreams, are private but universal. They are not used for the purpose of communication with others, but for the personal and private satisfaction of frustrated need drives.
The child, might, at some deeper level of his mind, see his hand as the mother's face, but at a higher, more conscious level knows that it is really his hand. Likewise the magician who sticks pins into a wax poppet knows that the image is not identical with the person represented, as it might be in a dream. For the magician a further stage of thought occurs, which is a belief that his actions cause a like effect on the person represented, e.g. if he pierces the 'heart' of the doll, the person represented will have chest pains, and maybe even suffer a heart attack. If we again relate this to the child we might look closely at the picture and text on page 111 of the elementary book on M. Klein cited below. This theory of sympathetic magic might be supported and the belief reinforced by accidental, coincidental, occurrences. For example if Megs sticks pins into the farmer's wife's image as a way of trying to eliminate a rival in love, and the woman falls ill, but only with a bad cold, this part reinforcement might be quite encouraging for the practicioner of the art.

In t.r.a., a person's hand grips a beer glass, and an outsider sees this; at a rather more sophisticated level, a signer (or mime), makes this hand shape, (without the actual object), and again an outsider sees this. In these cases there is communication, (maybe deliberate), between two people, in the visual channel, = 'beer glass', or 'beer', or 'drinking beer' etc.
In the touching type of sign, (D), e.g. thumb tip contact with a door bell/buzzer/chimes push button, playing the piano, reading Braille etc again the hand shape and movement are borne visually to another and so the meaning is given.
All these external visual hand shapes and movements are associated, of course, with kinaesthetic, proprioceptive sensations, but these in themselves, cannot of course be used to communicate directly with another.
Tracing, (C), could be a part of h.r.b. if the child traces the shape of his mother's face, but the visual shapes and changes in the shapes are not very clear and so can't be used for public communication.
What of tactile, textural, surface qualities such as those gained from feeling a piece of sandpaper? There is no visible distinctive character to the hand shapes and movements and so these sensations cannot be communicated to the outsider. So also the child's feeling of the softness and warmth of the mother's face, or breast, is private and personal. Such feelings could be associated with the organ which is an important element in producing such sensations, (the hand), and so the hand might become a 'symbol' of the other important object involved in producing these sensations, the maternal face, or breast, but this must remain a private 'symbol' as there is not a clear hand shape or movement which can visually communicate such feeling to the outsider.

We say that there is a slightness, and an unconscious, 'paleological', type of relation in dream links, where only one attribute may be used, and the similarity of the values of two objects w.r.t. this single attribute employed to represent identity. But this might be seen as being as true for sign - after all whiskers is only one attribute, it does not make your hands, in this shape and movement, actually a cat!
But in sign the individual sign is conscious, and the signer, and the person signed to, (hopefully), does not really think that the hand is now really a cat, just a symbol of it. (The child who is signed to will not rush up to the hand, say "Ohhh!", stroke it and give it a saucer of milk!). The speaker who says "cat" does not think that the sound 'cat' is a cat, or that the word 'cat' is a cat. (If this did occur it would be a case of word magic, and one would have questions about the mental state of the person concerned.)

Let us clarify the following points:-
(a) The child looks with love or hate at the palm of his hand.
(b) He may kiss the palm, especially the thenar eminence, the fleshy part of the palm at the base of the thumb.
(c) But he sucks the thumb, or bites the thenar eminence, the fleshy part of the palm at the base of the thumb.
In (a) the palm represents the parent's face.
In (c) the thumb and thenar eminence represent the mother's nipple and breast
In (b) the symbolism is not entirely clear; it might involve both (a) and (c).
So there are two things symbolised, but both are parts of a parent, (or parent figure?), especially the mother.

*See the works of Melanie Klein, a famous psychoanalyst best known for her work with children, e.g.

Melanie Klein for Beginners, Hinshelwood et al, Icon Books, 1997, page 111

© 2004 John and Ian Locking


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© 2004 John and Ian Locking

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