The Enigma of Childhood
Ronnie Solan, PhD
Review written by Ruth Shidlo, PhD
CSPP-SD, Class of ‘85
Although you may consider me somewhat biased, since I helped edit The Enigma of Childhood, I nonetheless wish to wholeheartedly recommend this book. Each time I read a section (which I have read and reread endless times during the editing process) I seem to learn something new, or a certain passage evokes additional associations and thoughts. I guess that’s what makes a book great, having various levels of complexity, for different readers to immerse themselves in at different points in time. It this respect, it is like a musical piece (or any work of art) you enjoy time and again, and keep discovering new elements that were there all along, but you never consciously noticed before.In this heart-warming book dealing with the oral and anal stages of life, Dr. Ronnie Solan, a much respected clinical psychologist and training analyst here in Israel, where we both reside, puts forth her original and groundbreaking views regarding the development of healthy narcissism, which she identifies as providing an immune system for the self, a system that helps us survive and concomitantly adapt to the world we are born into. A principle of emotional regulation, healthy narcissism (with the evolving ego’s assistance) helps us befriend the familiar and make it part of ourselves, while rejecting the alien and uncanny and its attendant anxieties. Imagine what this may mean for the transference process! Ronnie goes on to reveal the intricate links among narcissism, ego functioning and object relations (i.e., the attachment system). Regarding the latter, she differentiates between jointness-separateness, processes she identifies as beginning already at birth, and symbiotic relations, which she views as pathological even when occurring in infancy (due to the parental need for recreating such relations). She compares pathological narcissism to autoimmune disease (where the body fails to differentiate between itself and foreign invaders and on this basis, comes to attack itself), and shows how pathological narcissism is a mind/body form of attacking one’s core self. Personally, I find myself drawn, time and again, to her discussion of adaptation and defense, which I find intriguing and intellectually challenging.Enigma is replete with clinical vignettes and examples from world literature, and makes for a lively read. It is written for both the lay public and a professional audience, which requires quite a juggling act on her part—one, which she performs admirably.