Tag Archives: Colwyn Trevarthen

The Feeling of Self Value

Colwyn Trevarthen is a practised and astute observer who can home in on the meaning of commonplace interactions of children and adults. In a recent lecture he talked about a photo taken in 1907 of a Blackfoot couple with their young daughter standing between them. The child is evidently well cared for and is proud of her central position between her parents. Trevarthen insists on identifying the child’s feeling as pride.

This is striking because of the negative connotations of pride. Here we are invited to think of a pride unconnected with the sin of pride. The child feels proud to be herself, to enjoy the love and attention of her parents, and to belong in their company, to feel confirmed.

Such a child, possessing the imagination to create counterfactual fictions, also knows, even without direct and harrowing experience, what it would mean to experience the loss of pride and confirmation, shame. Shame is our basic anxiety as social beings.

Alfred Adler identifies this as the Selbstwertgefühl, the feeling of self value, the self evaluation. This lies at the core of the self and is its root preoccupation. The child and the adult that have been deeply discouraged and led to feel deep and lasting shame have a desperate need for pride, for a positive self evaluation, and will construct one from any material at hand or invented for this purpose. Unable to experience the pride of confirmation of self value that comes from belonging and shared meaning, a pathological, easily offended pride is produced, aggressively directed at others and in competition with them. Instead of a pride in belonging, a pride in not belonging!

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The work of Colwyn Trevarthen at Edinburgh University demonstrates that the child is born equipped for social interaction, and expecting to be a subject among subjects. The child interacts with its environment, both natural and social.

The video evidence he has collected is so compelling that no room is left for doubt: the child’s world is one of intersubjectivity.

In one piece of video we see a father holding hidden in his coat a premature baby. The baby utters short passages of squeaks, pausing for a response from the adult. A dialogue is established in which both parent and child play equal and determining roles. The roots of social interaction, language and musicality are revealed.

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