Understanding the Longing for Merger - A Heuristic Self-Search Inquiry
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In this dissertation, I address a question that I had been trying to answer for a long time: What is my understanding of the longing for merger? I chose Moustakas’ (1990) heuristic research methodology and methods to understand the purpose and origin of my experience of pervasive merger longings. I also searched the literature to find psychoanalytic understanding of the meaning of these longings. I found that merger and merger longings were traditionally addressed in Margaret Mahler’s widely accepted psychoanalytic concept of normal symbiosis, a hypothesised phase in normal child development that she describes in her Separation-Individuation Theory (Mahler et al., 1975). During this early phase, she suggested, the infant is unable to differentiate between self and other and thus experiences a state of oneness with mother that all human beings will later long to return to. However, empirical infant observation research refuted the symbiosis concept, leaving a void in the understanding of merger longings. Daniel Stern (1985) then offered a new child development theory, the Four Senses of Self. It did, however, not include a new hypothesis for merger longings. Later, Rucker and Lombardi (1990) hypothesised that the longing for merger is a defence against narcissistic wounding. Their assumption was, however, hardly acknowledged in the psychoanalytic literature, and the lack of understanding merger longings remained. In my heuristic self-study, I found myself emotionally strongly resonating with Mahler’s symbiosis concept while cognitively trusting the opposing findings of empirical infant observation. In slowly resolving this inner split, I accepted the untenability of the normal symbiotic phase and realised instead that symbiosis is a fantasy image that represents the totality of what I am longing for. I further found the understanding that my merger longings developed in a growing-up environment where love and warmth were available but empathy for painful emotional states was not. As a result, I avoided expressing such emotions and instead sought soothing in closeness. As closeness cannot sufficiently compensate for empathy, my longings intensified into the desire for utmost closeness, i.e. merger. I recognised that my experience paralleled Rucker and Lombardi’s (1990) hypothesis of merger longings. Yet the “mechanics” of the defence they describe differs from mine. Based on their hypothesis and my personal experience, I conclude by offering an integrated model of the defensive operation of merger longings.