The Immature Personality

Some people do not reach the level of emotional development appropriate to adulthood. Arrested development of an aspect of personality at any stage leads to immaturity of personality. Some adults, for instance, cannot detach themselves from their parents’ home. Others are extremely self-centred, unable to feel tenderness towards anyone else; such people cannot form an intimate and stable relationship with another person. Still others have a childlike need for approval and admiration. There are others who show great promise at school but who subsequently fail to realize what had been hoped for them and what they had hoped for themselves. Such people are preoccupied with private nostalgic memories of what might have been, boasting about those few things they have actually accomplished. It is a characteristic of all these immature people that in spite of their obvious assets they live unproductively.

Many alcoholics had an unduly close relationship with their mothers. One woman patient got drunk and suddenly burst out: * There is a heaven and we will be together again, mother -oh, how I want to die! ‘ Such intense and persistent ties to the mother are more characteristic of male alcoholics and may remain prominent even when the alcoholism is in remission. A 47-year-old man, extremely cooperative in treatment, said in great distress that he had to confess that he had been deceiving the doctors for weeks; although he was not sure he was right to do so he wanted to correct the information he had given, namely that his mother had died of cancer. In fact she had died of drink. This was the first time he had brought himself to disclose her ‹“ lapse ‘; he had never even told his wife.

I thought it unfair to her memory. But after a lot of thought, as the days passed, I thought I should tell the truth about her. I sincerely apologize, but I could not help myself. There were ten children before me in our family, and one after. I was nobody. But I got a lot of pleasure out of doing little things for my mother. When the children had all gone to bed she would sit by the fire. I would get out of bed and brush and comb her lovely long black hair for an hour. There must have been something soothing in this, as she thought it made her sleep better.

No other relationship that he had experienced in his life had been of such intensity.

The attachment to the mother can be still more extreme, a passion which can engulf the son so extravagantly that his life is entirely distorted by the prolonged dependence. A man who had had a few drinks before a group-treatment session and was therefore less guarded than usual, told his fellow alcoholics that he used always to drop in for a cup of coffee at his mother’s house each morning on the way to work. He then burst forth that he hated his father. When he was five he had seen his father slap his mother’s face. That had spoilt his life. He had ‹“ toddled ‘ from the house into a field, vowing never to forgive his father, whom he had hated ever since. That was why he drank: he would get himself drunk and then go to his parents’ home expressly to rouse his father by his intoxicated state. It gratified him to make his father distressed and angry. ‹“ Can you wonder I am still single?’ he demanded. The other members tried to divert the conversation but he would have none of it. When he was a little lad, he said, at the time of the slap, he had vowed he would wait for his father to die and then look after his mother himself. The others exclaimed with surprise, but he repeated that he would never marry; instead he would devote himself to his mother.

Adults who have their energies bound up in obsolete relationships are only partially available for current experiences. They are bent on living out in the present a family myth which they conceived in childhood. Because the myth is personal and kept secret it cannot be influenced and corrected by real events. The dependent adult who clings, because of an inner, private logic, to an outworn parental relationship, often sustained in phantasy long after the parent is dead, suffers serious limitation in his present life, and cannot undertake the roles which his experiences in adulthood create for him. This sort of person turns to drink because his unreal phantasies of a golden relationship with a parent provide such a satisfying and nourishing world for him that the real world has nothing to offer of comparable value. When actual situations conflict with his phantasies he drinks, so as not to be aware of them; he escapes into a world where they do not penetrate. We have described his recourse to drink as though it were both conscious and deliberate, but this is not usually so. The phantasy world may perhaps be present only as a vague feeling-state. When drinking he lessens the tension of his conflict by permitting phantasy to predominate over a subdued reality.


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