Lacan and Psychoanalysis
Several clients have asked for more information on Lacan and his mirror theory. It’s not the easiest thing to summarise since it is a key part of his work which developed over his career. However a few points are outlined here.
Lacan is thought to have developed the idea of the mirror when analysing the case of Aimee, a young woman who stabbed an actress to death. Lacan examined the details of the case and concluded that she committed the murder in an attempt to attack herself. The actress represented the fame, success and prestige craved by Aimee herself. She thus projected her disappointment and self hatred onto the hatred and symbolically attacked her ideal self.
As Lacan developed his theory he concluded that because human babies are born helpless, effectively prematurely, they use mimicry to learn how to master themselves and their bodies.
Mimicry therefore causes the child to identify with an image outside of themselves, maybe a real image, or perhaps the image of another child.
By identifying with an image outside of self, I can do things not possible before. This is an “identification” with the other party.
This however results in a fundamental alienation, the “imaginary” is created where if the other child or image wants something, the child will desire it too, extending to other desires and feelings being shared. Lacan believed that the ego is constituted by this alienating identification, and that this is how narcissism develops in the individual.
This causes negative hallucination, with the ego appearing whole and complete, when actually it is anything but.
The ego, if allowed to maintain this illusion will create a false narrative based on the fiction.
Later Lacan developed the idea of the “ideal”, a perfect version of self based on internalised identifications, for example the demands or wishes of parents (implied, explicit or through absense). This identification with the “ideal” draws on the realm of the symbolic world, meant to give the person context and structure.
Meanwhile the narcissistic imaginary register Lacan developed earlier is now shown to depend on this symbolic origin. The image that people seek in a narcissistic desire is one to match the “ideal”.
From here develops the two terms “ego ideal” and “ideal ego”. The second is the person you imagine yourself to be like, the first is the reason you want to be like them. If you fantasise about being a hero, the “ideal hero” is the hero, the “ego ideal” is the source of that desire.
Lacan eventually adds the category of the “real”, the self that “resists symbolism absolutely”.
“reality” therefore is a mixture of symbolic and imagination, and the real is excluded from our situation within imposed narrative, and not dominated by the internalised symbolic.
Lacan therefore comes up with the three registers – the real, the symbolic and the imaginary.
When working with clients I tend to simplify and integrate other models. I find it easier to conceptualise the ideal or desired archetype which represents the perfectionism desired, usually based on judgements from others. The imaginary can be summarised as the mirror we see in the eyes and behaviour of others as we emotionally associate with them, and the real is the core identity, the part of us which is “good enough”. This is not to reject the first two, rather to be self aware and empowered.
A useful text to dip into is “Lacan for beginners” Leader & Groves.
I (Stuart) use elements of a number of thinkers in psychoanalysis in my psychoanalysis and psychotherapy practices. Lacan is one such thinker, often along with Jung and Klein.