Psychic equivalence and pretend mode are ways of thinking that developmentally precede mentalization. They can be thought of as pre-mentalizing modes or pseudo-mentalization, because they appear to be mental state thinking, but are distorted.
Fonagy talks about them developing in place of mentalization in babies who don’t receive contingent, marked mirroring (marked means the expression of the mirrored emotion is marked in such a way as to indicate that it is the baby’s emotion and not the parent). If the emotions simply leak into the parent via affective empathy, but the parent is not aware that these emotions are the baby’s, or if the parent feels the same way about the situation as the baby does, then the emotion can seem to magically transport itself into the parent. This can lead to psychic equivalence: if I feel things to be this way, then they are this way.
Pretend mode means that thoughts and feelings are disconnected from reality. So this is the person who shows up to therapy, seems to be having all kinds of important insight, and goes on with life as though nothing has happened. Because actually nothing has happened. The thinking about mental states was decoupled from real life. I suspect this is also parts.
I had an especially difficult day yesterday. The kids, in the end, did go to football practice, and I did get some time alone. I spent some of it crying and struggling with various painful feelings. I do not know why this happened. I don’t know what my real source of pain is or if the thoughts going through my head at the times when I feel pain are actually the source or some tangent I have drifted into.
I struggled when I woke up this morning. I am having an intensely hard time with my relationship with C’s dad, since he opened up and shared with me that I feel like his wife. This is, I imagine, pretend mode. There is certainly a real feeling involved, but he has a wife and three children with her. Psychic equivalence would demand he leave her, because feelings are reality. Pretend mode says I have a feeling but I am not going to attempt to resolve the contradictions inherent in the situation.
But on my end, I am overwhelmed with pain that I can’t completely understand the cause of.
He has been my friend. When there is a problem with C, I can talk to him about it, and we help each other. I can tell he feels real warmth for me.
Something about the situation makes me realize that I need to wade through my experiences of loss so that I can have relationships without those losses causing me to shut down or avoid the pain they remind me of, but it seems impossible. It seems impossible to grapple with the pain I realize stand between me and other relationships.
This morning, I was thinking about this. I was thinking that I didn’t really understand that boundaries of what makes someone who they are–myself or others. I think I understood care for me as a personality trait, something particular to Nata, which was part of her being and not part of anyone else’s being. The loss of her felt total, because her existence was tied up with concern for me.
I think perhaps that’s how the loss of a parent feels: it’s the only relationship which is so unique that their loss feels the loss of that entire category of experiences.
I know there are complexities to my relationship with Nata, because we were sexually abused, and because we had a sexual relationship. It’s not as simple as “she felt like my mother,” only she did feel like my mother. That’s the most painful part of the loss, because that relationship can’t be recreated with someone else.