Being Recognized and Remembered

In this article, we will use affect theory to help enhance our understanding of the needs of human beings to be recognized and remembered. We will begin with everyday examples, then discuss the self and affect theory (especially interest).

How are we to understand human needs for recognition and being remembered? The wish to be important, to make an impact, to gain notoriety? To be thought of, talked about, idealized and adored? Is it innate to human beings as the result of an evolutionary process, necessary as part of the parent-infant attachment for survival?

Some common ideas and everyday lie can address these issues—fear of death, non-existence, being forgotten, one’s self and self-esteem. Trauma and life’s vagaries can throw one’s sense of self into confusion. These issues and questions pervade our art, history, fiction, non-fiction, politics, and more.

These examples address this eloquently. The first is by John Adams, the second President of the United States. He noted the ‘passion for distinction’ in men and women:

“—whether they be old or young, rich or poor, high or low, wise or foolish, ignorant or learned, every individual is seen to be strongly actuated by a desire to be seen, heard, talked of, approved and respected” (McCullough, p. 421).

He elaborated:

“I am often astonished at the boldness with which persons make their pretensions. A man must be his own trumpeter—he must write or dictate paragraphs of praise in the newspapers; he must dress, have a retinue and equipage; he must ostentatiously publish to the world his own writings with his name…He must get his picture drawn, his statue made, and must hire all the artists in his turn to set about works to spread his name, make the mob stare and gape, and perpetuate his fame” (McCullough, p. 207-8).

Journalist Heidi Stevens presented a poignant episode between mother and child which expands the discussion about being recognized and remembered.

“I watched a toddler sitting near me catch his mom’s eye across the pool. She was in a  mom-and-baby swim session a few lanes down from my son, maybe with the toddler’s younger sibling and the toddler watched them intently, waiting for his mom to look through the foggy glass and notice him.

When she did, he went wild. “Mama!” he yelled and waved. “Mama! Hi mama!”

She couldn’t hear him. But she smiled and waved. He waved some more and yelled Mama some more.

I cried. Of course, I cried. I cried typing this. You watch a toddler utterly filled with joy as the simple sight of his mom’s wave and keep a dry eye”
(Stevens, Chicago Tribune, 11/11/18).

The self

The concept of self has a long and conflicted history with a large literature. Philosophers throughout the ages up to the present sophisticated psychological and neurobiological studies have wrestled with who we are, why we are who we are, and how we can best understand these issues. A comprehensive review is beyond our scope, but some trends should be noted. The focus here is on in-depth psychological studies, with neurobiological studies being summarized elsewhere (eg, Gedo, 2005; Demos, 2019: Panksepp & Bevin, 2012).

Virtually all psychological theories of motivation and behavior make an effort to grapple with the problem of self.

There are a variety of well-known psychoanalytic efforts to deal with the self and its development. Freud’s models, Winnicott’s True and False Self (1960), Erickson’s eight stages, motivational systems such as Lichtenberg proposed, Daniel Stern’s developmental model (emergent, core, subjective, narrative self), Gedo & Goldberg’s hierarchical model of development (1973), Gedo (2005), and others are examples. Goldberg (2015) highlighted the need to distinguish between the brain, mind, and self:

“One is a vital organ composed of neurons, synapses and computer-like activity. One covers the vast area of meaning and offers us an entry into interpretive science, which stands apart from empirical science. And one is the seat of agency, which defines our individuality. It is necessary that the tree are never reduced to the one or the other, despite the lure of reductionism.” (p.14)

Virginia Demos (2019) suggested the two most biologically-based human preferences are coherence/organization and being an active agent for affecting the course of internal and external events.

Heinz Kohut’s work increased the focus on the self and self-pathology (1966, 1971, 1984). Kohut defined the self as the independent center of initiative. Kohut, along with the developmentalists, systematically considered the effects of the environment on the self, i.e.. Galatzer-Levy and Cohler expanded this integration in their book The Essential Other (1993),  highlighting the internal-external integration throughout life. They described the self as “the experiential cohesive center of initiative…By cohesive we mean that the self is an integrated whole over space and time” (p. 25). Later, Galatzer-Levy suggested the development of the self could be considered as non-linear, rather than epigenetic, with small effects at times creating large changes (2017).

These studies increasingly seemed to make explicit not only the differences between the intrinsic aspects of the self and the extrinsic influences on development but also the integration of the two. Greenspan’s notion of floor time (1992, 1997) suggests providing psychological functions and assistance for the child—eliciting the child’s self rather than imposing. Winnicott, of course, also highlights this issue with his ideas about impingement, true and false self, and the like (1960, 1965). These ideas focus on the integration and blurring between the intrinsic and extrinsic perspectives—between the value of validation from the extrinsic world (eg, Stern, 1985) and the value of competence as achieved internally and is related to the development of the self and self-esteem (White, 1959; Basch, 1988; Gedo, 2005).

Affect Theory

We turn now to Tomkins and Affect Theory. Recall that for Tomkins, the primary motivators are the innate affects (1981). Tomkins conceived of script theory to account for the role of affect in the development of the self and character structure.

“In script theory, I define the scene as the basic element in life as it is lived…{It} includes at least one affect and at least one object of that affect” (1991, p. 74).

Connecting one affect-laden scene with another affect-laden scene involves the formation of scripts. The script deals with the individual’s rules for predicting, interpreting, responding to and controlling a set of scenes. In this model, eliciting positive affects of interest and enjoyment is the gateway to an authentic sense of self, whereas the negative affects of fear, shame, and disgust are inhibitors. This discussion of the self, self-esteem, and self-cohesion leads us to various questions. How do we understand narcissism, grandiosity, compensatory grandiosity, and the like? A number of clinicians and theoreticians have made inroads to our appreciation of these issues, both in terms of development as well as clinical work. Kohut and self-psychology come to mind, as does Winnicott and his ideas, self, annihilation anxiety, and breakdown. As we will discuss later, religions and views of an afterlife are related to this.

So…why do human beings seem to need recognition, and need to be remembered? Does one needing intense adoration and idealization have an impaired sense of self, and how might that have come about?

This continues the fascinating issue of the relationships between the intrinsic and extrinsic. These concerns are seen throughout the psychoanalytic literature as well as everyday life. Consider issues of validation, attunement, and empathy (eg. Basch, 1983, 1988; Stern, 1985); the sense of aloneness and borderline psychopathology (Adler and Buie, 1979); Winnicott’s focus on maternal preoccupation; the fear of nothingness, non-existence, death.

The eyes seem important—the notion of “the gleam in the eye” and being seen. As Darwin noted, the gleam in the eye is not just a metaphor—with joy often comes secretion from the lacrimal glands, and sometimes tears (1872). In addition, infants appear programmed to focus most on the eyes and the mouth and actively seek eye-to-eye contact (Demos, 2019). This makes sense given that the eyes and mouth have most of the small muscles in the face, acting as communication of affect. Tomkins emphasizes the importance of the eyes in intimate relationships. The importance of the eyes shows up in art as well as development. Bob Dylan described the profound impact when he, as a youth, made eye contact with Buddy Holly at one of Buddy’s concerts (Chronicles, 2004). Dylan’s song, “The Levee’s Gonna Break,” also conveys the power of the eyes:

“Well, I look in your eyes, I see nobody other than me.

I look in your eyes, I see nobody other than me.

I see all that I am and all that I hope to be.”

This raises the issue of what underlies aspects of self-esteem and the need for recognition. The importance of attachment in the development of the child’s sense of self and need for recognition has frequently been discussed. René Spitz showed years ago the damage that lack of emotional attention and attachment could cause (1945, 1965). Perhaps affect theory may aid in understanding various aspects of attachment and self-development.

Affect theory currently reframes the ideas of J. Bowlby, P. Fonagy, and other attachment theorists regarding a specific attachment drive. Rather, affects are seen to underlie aspects of attachment, and attachment is mediated by affects. As Demos (1989) stated.

…attachment theory as representated in the works of Bowlby (1969), Aimsworth et al. (1978); Sroufe and Waters (1977)…argues that there is a preorganized behavioral, emotional perceptual system specialized for attachment which has been inherited from our primate ancestors and is designed to decrease the physical distance between the infant and the caregiver in time of danger. By contrast, the view presented here [that is, Tompkins and colleagues] speaks of highly organized and coordinated systems that the infant has inherited from evolutionary processes but conceptualizes these systems at a more basic and general level, for example, the perceptual, cognitive, affective, motor, and homeostatic ssytems, which are designed to function equally well in the inanimate world, and in safe as well as dangerous moments (p. 293).

Interest and Enjoyment

This would suggest that the affect of interest plays a crucial role in the formation of the self. This seems to involve two aspects.

  1. Interest in the infant for him/herself.
  2. Interest in the child’s interests—that is, what the child seems innately interested in.

Caregivers may or may not be interested in the child per se, and may or may not be interested in what the child responds to. Enjoyment, as a decrease in tension and stimulation, is also related to a sense of being of interest, being recognized —this brings us back to caregivers having fun with the child, playing with the child. In terms of affect theory, the positive affects of interest and enjoyment may be a useful way to conceptualize issues of development of a sense of self, self-esteem, and need for recognition both early in life and throughout the later years.

How about those with an impaired sense of self? How does that come about? From infant research and clinical work with children and adults, we learn that the negative affects of fear, shame, and disgust can significantly impair development and one’s sense of self. Do these dynamics lead to a greater need for idealization, adoration or recognition from the outside world?

One way to consider these issues involves intrinsic and extrinsic perspectives and the relationship between the two. Infants appear to need some level of interaction, recognition and interest, psychological oxygen, validation, encouragement of their efforts, and so on. There is also an intrinsic perception, namely the sense of interest, joy, and competence in being able to accomplish something. We previously discussed the competence theory of White (1959), Harlow (Pink, 2009), and Basch (1988), and others. Thus one needs to consider both intrinsic and extrinsic sources, and their interaction when grappling with the development of self-esteem and need for recognition.