Carapace literally means a cover or shield for animals such as crabs or turtles. This shield is used to protect the animal from external enemies or attack.
Humans also need a cover or shield to protect us from outside attack: a psychological carapace.
This in the “safe” modern world is usually a psychological shield. We build up shields in early life to protect us from early bonding relationships which we find threatening or unsafe.
We grow up with the shield un-adapted. So that when we reach adulthood the shield actually is serving a purpose that is no longer useful. In fact it has become unhelpful. The shield has become a liability preventing us from loving or being loved.
This can happen when the early mother infant relationship is reversed. When the baby becomes a container for the mother’s bad feelings instead of the mother being a container for the baby’s bad feelings.
Clinical Example: a young man presents to the service unable to maintain relationships with anyone. He isolates himself living in sheltered accommodation. Everyone is a threat to him. He knows nobody. Coming twice a week to therapy the contact with the therapist is the only relationship he has with anyone. To avoid contact he buys food in a series of different shops so that he does not become familiar to anyone. He was referred by the community health team for neglecting himself and self-harming. In the therapy room he could not sit down or make eye contact with the therapist. His history was of a single parent drug addict who led a precarious life as though she was alone without a baby. She never showed the client any affection or care. He grew up uncared for and neglected. He was farmed out to grand-parents at weekends who tried their best to care for him. But he refused care: he did not eat, relate with feeling, or care for anyone.
His carapace developed as a baby protected him from his mother. The shield was to rely on nobody. Have no wants or needs so that he could never be disappointed. The carapace was not adapted to protecting him just from his mother but from everyone. The carapace does not discriminate. As kids our shields are primitive and simplistic. This man’s carapace was to protect him from his mother, but allowed nobody else in.
The carapace also ‘protected’ from the therapist. To create a trusting relationship with the therapist was the challenge for the client.
We all have carapaces. The healthy among us learn to adapt the carapace to discriminate. The shield becomes flexible, bendy, porous from a brittle rigid material.
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Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique.
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2014