Suttie's Legacy
by Rafe Champion
*  ESSAY *
Due to his untimely death and the absence of the second book which was planned to develop his ideas in more depth, his influence had to be exerted by others. Among these others were John Bowlby who wrote extensively on attachment and loss (of the mother).

Suttie's work was located in a strand of thought that branched from the mainstream of psychoanalytic theory and became known as the “object relations” theory. This depicted the central drama of early life as the relationship with the mother and the negotiation of the separation from the mother after the early period of constant intimacy. Among the pioneers in this movement were Sandor Ferenczi in Budapest and Hadfield and Suttie in London. This deviation was bitterly resisted by the mainstream Freudians whose control over theoretical and practical development in the field appears to be one of the great scientific scandals of modern times. Bowlby wrote "That [heretical] opinion [regarding the impact of real-life events] was first clearly voiced by Ferenczi, and is one for which he and others have suffered". Suttie was especially well placed to draw on Ferenczi’s thoughts because his wife and colleague Jane translated many of Ferenczi’s papers.

Ian D Suttie received fairly generous treatment in J A C Brown's 1961 Pelican book Freud and the Post-Freudians. Brown described how Dr Ernest Jones, the only native of Britain among Freud's early disciples, became the pioneer of the orthodox psychoanalytical movement in Britain. During the 20s and 30s there were two main schools of analysts, apart from followers of Jung and Adler who had broken from the main movement or were expelled from it. These were (a) the orthodox adherents of Freud and (b) a collection of people who were inspired by Freud but retained the right to dissent from his doctrines. Brown refers to the latter the Eclectics, "seen at its best at the Tavistock Clinic, founded by Dr Crichton Miller in London and associated with such names as Dr J A Hadfield and Ian D Suttie." Just to indicate the open-mindedness of the Freudians, Jones declared the Tavistock to be “out of bounds” for his colleagues.

Brown provided some helpful insights into the cultural and philosophical climate of research in Britain, compared with the United States.

To begin with, the British attitude to science is different because the scientist in Europe is the descendent of the leisured gentleman of private means whose prime object was to know rather than to do, and even when the Industrial Revolution brought about the need for applied science, the man who did the applying was not the same as the one who created the theoretical knowledge.

Brown referred to the sharp distinction between universities and technical colleges and the lower status of applied as compared with pure science, rather like the longstanding distinction in cricket between low class (paid) “players” and the upper crust of amateur “gentlemen”.

Practically speaking this attitude results in a very strict interpretation of scientific method and an impatience with any theory that is not narrowly defined by, and agrees point by point with, experimental and observational facts.

For the British scientists, interest in practical consequences and in abstract theories are about equally suspect. The result is a rather odd science of psychology, as Brown wrote “One could read quite an appreciable portion of its literature without being acutely aware that it had anything to do with living beings at all." This picture is amplified by Liam Hudson's autobiographical account of his experience in the psychology departments at Oxford and Cambridge (LINK)

Brown considered that Suttie was the first, and almost the only, British psychologist to realize the significance of cultural factors. His unpublished 1924 dissertation for the Doctor of Medicine at Glasgow University noted the social and cultural factors in many cases of mental illness that he encountered in Mesopotamia where he spent some time on duty during World War I.

Humanism and Biology

In the Introduction to The Origins of Love and Hate Suttie suggested that the desire to avoid the intrusion of sentiment into our scientific theories may have gone too far in psychology, possibly under the influence of excessively austere views about the nature of science and its methods. "It is even rather absurd that some psychologists should idealize the formulations of physical science at a time when physicists themselves are not agreed as to the kind of formulae which is desirable".

He was trained as a medical doctor and a psychiatrist but he saw the relevance of animal studies and he also saw the need to make use of evidence from anthropology in a critical and scientific matter. He suggested that we must consider the human mind from a biological point of view as the product of evolution, with two additional kinds of influence, namely family and culture. For this reason he considered that a partnership is required between the social sciences (sociology and anthropology) and psychology because the separation that exists between the study of groups and the study of individuals came about by chance and followed the personal tastes of pioneering figures. "Finally the whole study of human behaviour must be correlated with that of the social animals both on the grounds of the evolutionary relationship of species and the common purposes in life and the different means of attaining these".

The Plan of the Book

The Origins of Love and Hate has fourteen chapters between Introduction and Conclusions. Twelve of the chapters were based on a series of popular lectures which he delivered at the Tavistock, the other two were based on more specialised material prepared for journal articles.

Chapter 1. Biology of Love and Interest.
Chapter 2. A Scientific Conception of Love, Hate and Interest.
Chapter 3. Benevolence, Altruism and Hedonism.
Chapter 4. Psychology of Love and its Variants.
Chapter 5. The Function and Expression of Love.
Chapter 6. The ‘Taboo’ on Tenderness.
Chapter 7. Repression and the Jealousies.
Chapter 8. Origin and Nature of Society.
Chapter 9. Religion, is it a Disease or a Cure?
Chapter 10. Healing Cults and Practices.
Chapter 11. Psychopathology.
Chapter 12. Psychotherapy.
Chapter 13. Freudian Theory is itself a Disease.
Chapter 14. Freudian Practice is ‘Cure’ by Love.


Suttie began the book with the suggestion that the supposedly scientific approach had gone too far when  “our anxiety to avoid the intrusion of sentiment into our scientific formulations [has] gone to the length of excluding it altogether from our field of observation.”

One of his aims in the book was to put the study of love on a properly scientific basis, in the context of rounded theory of human psychology that could take account of sickness and of health. This led him to major confrontation with Freudian psychology and also the superstructure of Freudian metapsychology which for many people made more impact than the more detailed theories of neurosis and therapy.

Suttie wrote that when he commenced his investigations "I never imagined that I would come to attempt to put the conception of altruistic (non-appetitive) love on a scientific footing".

I had been compelled to reject the Freudian Metapsychology on logical and biological grounds from the time of its appearance, but it was not until 1932 that I seriously questioned Freud's sexual theory and the clinical conception of the Oedipus Complex and sex-jealousy, paternal repression and castration-anxiety, as the main determinants of culture and character. In February of the latter year, however, in studying the change that had occurred in Teutonic culture and character during the Middle Ages
and particularly the history of the witch phobia, I reached the conclusion that repression was a function of love, not of fear, and that the repressor of the 'oedipus complex', etc., was the mother, not the father. My theoretical standpoint was still dominated by the fate of the Oedipus Complex, but I seemed to be able to get a new and synthetic point of view towards the data of animal behaviour, the evolution of culture and the Psychoses, which Freud had been unable to achieve.

Formally, the tentative theory I have formed belongs to the group of psychologies that originates from the work of Freud. It differs fundamentally from psychoanalysis in introducing the conception of an innate need-for-companionship which is the infant's only way of self-preservation. This need, giving rise to parental and fellowship 'love', I put in place of the Freudian libido, and regard it as generally independent of genital appetite.

He pursued his research beyond the study of psychopathology to investigate the forces underlying social life in general and especially the varieties of childraising practices in different cultures. He then incorporated ideas from the study of animal behaviour to establish biological continuity. He noted the difficulties experienced by the relatively isolated workers who strayed from the mainstream of the psychoanalytical movement, however he felt that a growing consensus of opinion was forming about some promising developments along non-Freudian, or at the very least, neo-Freudian lines.

.Introduction, extract

Chapter 1. Biology of Love and Interest

In this chapter Suttie noted the rather austere nature of scientific or Academic (rat and pigeon) Psychology so that people concerned with the motives of conduct and such things as the sources of enjoyment, happiness and misery were dependent on the work of Freud or developments that branched from his pioneering efforts.

Suttie considered that the field had advanced a great deal in the previous twenty years though much remained to be done to break the stranglehold of Freudian orthodoxy.

Psycho-analysis in fact is losing much that made it obnoxious to European philosophy, good sense, and good feeling, but it still fails to take a wide enough view of its subject matter. This statement may seem outrageous to many who are acquainted with Psycho-analytic studies of Art, Biography, Primitive Customs, etc., but it must be remembered that psycho-analytic ideas are merely applied in these fields; they are developed and tested almost exclusively in the consulting room.

From the widest scientific and philosophic standpoint we must consider the human mind as the product of evolution - that is to say as having had its definite function to serve in the survival of our species and in the attainment of our present dominant position. Later we shall find it necessary to consider mind from two other points of view also - namely as the result of the child's contact with members of its own family, and as the result of its parents' social and cultural relationships.

The starting point of the human psyche for Suttie is the intimate attachment between mother and child. He was not prepared to accept the notion of the infant mind being “a bundle of cooperating or competing instincts” though this view is quite compatible with his developed theory in most respects and it is likely that insistence on that point would have been an unhelpful distraction, if he had lived to defend his thesis.

He described the companionship that the child experiences with the mother as a relationship that is presented to the child mind as a need for company and a correspondent desolation when that reassuring company is not there when required. Healthy development is a matter of achieving independence from the mother in gradual stages so that other things come to absorb the attention and the energies of the growing person. Suttie would have loved the experiments conducted years later by Harlow with monkeys where the youngsters could be seen venturing further and further from the mother, darting back at any sign of danger or threat, then venturing forth again, encouraged by a touch or a reassuring signal from the mother.

I think that play, cooperation, competition, and culture-interests generally are substitutes for the mutually caressing relationship of child and mother. By these substitutes we put the whole social environment in the place once occupied by mother - maintaining with it a mental or cultural rapport in lieu of the bodily relationship of caresses, etc., formerly enjoyed with the mother…This is my view of the process of sublimation; but it differs very greatly from that of Freud and his enormous 'team' of expert specialists. As far as anyone can tell, Freud considers that the infant's desires for the mother, and the gratification it receives from her, are of a sexual nature. Indeed it is probable that a strict Freudian would define all pleasure or satisfaction as 'sexual'. These longings and urges are called 'skin', 'eye', 'mouth', and other 'erotisms' to indicate their essentially sexual nature. At a certain age, Freud tells us, they become organized under the supremacy of 'the genital zone'. That is to say they become 'sexual' in the 'proper' and popular meaning of the word.

Suttie would have appreciated the modern body of research on play and its role in the development of skills and sociability. He wrote, “Necessity is not 'the mother of invention'; Play is. Play is a necessity, not merely to develop the bodily and mental faculties, but to give to the individual that reassuring contact with his fellows which he has lost when the mother's nurtural services are no longer required or offered. Conversation is mental play, but it is long before the child completely outgrows the need for bodily contact. Even many adults retain the need for caresses apart from sexual intentions and gratifications.”

In the remainder of the chapter Suttie embarked on a series of observations about the principal features of humans that distinguish us from the other social animals, in some cases that is a matter of degree, in others it appears to be more than that by virtue of the relatively plastic nature of the human mind, compared with a collection of instincts. He wrote

Non-appetitive 'interest' combines with need-for-company (they may even have the same origin) to apply the drive to the cultural pursuits of knowledge for its own sake, and to the development of a tradition which can be accumulated indefinitely…the period between infancy and adulthood appears to me to be dominated by an almost insatiable social need, which uses the plastic energy of human interest for its satisfaction in play. Freud sees this period as one of repression of the (by now definitely genital) sex impulses on account of their incestuous aims. Interest for Freud is just a substitute for or sublimation of sexual yearnings, and friendship is sexuality which has become 'goal-inhibited' by the definitely genital wish becoming repressed.

That is one of many features of Freudian doctrine that Suttie subjected to criticism in subsequent chapters of the book.

More….Biology of Love & Interest extract

Chapter 2: A Scientific Conception of Love, Hate and Interest

In this chapter Suttie endeavoured to paint a picture of the world from the infant’s point, especially the discovery of the distinction between self and mother. There is also the discovery of the difference between objects of immediate experience and objects in memory and fantasy.  Suttie elaborated some differences with Freud over the nature of the child’s relationship to the mother, the nature of hate and the driving force of interest in things beyond the mother. In particular he disputed the existence of the Freudian “death instinct” which he considered to be one of a number of errors that followed from Freud’s “fallacious metaphysical starting-point”.

“Freud conceives of all motive (a) as a ‘letting off of steam’, an evacuation or detensioning, and (b) as a quest for sensory gratification…Against this I regard expression not as an outpouring for its own sake, but as an overture demanding response from the other”.

Chapter 3: Benevolence, Altruism and Hedonism

In this chapter Suttie challenged the notion that is common to both the theories of Freud and Adler, that the root motive of human life is the ‘advancement of the individual’ in a selfish rather than a cooperative manner. He argued that the greed and hate, ‘the ape and the tiger within us’, ‘original sin’, propounded by Freudians and theologians alike as characteristically human, “appear as fictions of their own social maladjustments and of their ‘forced’ or ‘false’ maturation”.  In contrast with the secularised version of Original Sin that Suttie identified in the other major psychoanalytical schools, he argued that maladjustments occur when the separation of mother and child is mismanaged through excessive haste or the projection of various anxieties and demands upon the child by the mother or others nearby.

What Suttie called the “Crisis of Anxiety” occurs when the infant discovers that the benevolence of others (especially the most significant other, the mother) can be whimsical or conditional, or its own offerings may be criticised and rejected. He agreed with Adler that the choice of adaptation to this challenge may well establish a lifelong pattern of behaviour in personal relationships and stressful situations.  He postulated four typical patterns of behaviour to handle the crisis of separation anxiety, if the transition from dependence to healthy independence is not effectively negotiated.

(1)The preservation of the lovableness of the mother, at the expense of taking on board a load of guilt. “She is kind and good, if she does not love me that is because I am bad”.
(2)Regression to babyhood, illness or dependency. “I will be a baby again, because mother is only kind to babies” or, “Kiss it and make it well” or “Mother nurses sick people as thought they are babies”.
(3)Renouncing mother: “You are bad, I will get a better mother than you”. This can lead to adoption of the father or someone else, or maybe a religion or an ideology, as a surrogate mother.
(4)Substituting power to demand attention in place of the spontaneous and free love of infancy. “You must love me or fear me; I will bite you and not love you until you do as I wish”. Delinquency and other forms of attention-seeking behaviour can evolve from this technique.

One of Suttie’s most intriguing speculations concerns what he called the “Need to Give” which is either an instinct or is established in the early blissful state of union with the mother. “The baby then not only starts life with a benevolent attitude, but the Need-to-Give continues as a dominant motive throughout life, and, like every other need, brings anxiety when it is frustrated”.

The chapter ends with an appendix on cleanliness and ethics because washing, toilet training and related activities loom so large in the relationship between mother (or surrogates) and child, especially if there is any hint of obsession or compulsion on the part of the carers. Clearly some of these obsessions differ a great deal between cultures (with further variations between strata within cultures).

Summing up, we may say that cleanliness training and washing are therefore more important factors in the development of social disposition and interest even than feeding [for a number of reasons]…I judge the function of excretion to have an enormous influence on the very foundation of (social) character. This in no way denies the sensual significance of the functions, called ‘anal’ and ‘urethral’ erotisms by the Freudians; but it does shift the  main emphasis from its organic and sensual meaning to its social significance.

Chapter 4: Psychology of Love and its Variants

A short chapter on the forms that are assumed when the tendency to love and to give out in various ways is frustrated or distorted, in the most extreme case into hate. “Hell hath no fury like that of woman scorned”.

Suttie started from the proposition that the child comes with the “germ of parenthood, the impulse to ‘give’ and to ‘respond’ already in place”.  These virtues do not need to be inculcated, extorted from, or forced upon the child. However a mother who is suffering from love-anxiety herself may unwittingly set an example of  anxious self-seeking even while she appears to be a model of solicitous care. This can explain love-anxiety in the best-loved child and it can account for the perpetuation of neurosis from one generation to the next.

Suttie took up a point from the academic psychologists, that strong feelings are usually made up of a mixture of emotions. A sports player taking the field in an important contest will feel a combination of pride, excitement, fear of failure, love of club and colleagues, hatred of the opposition etc. (not Suttie’s example). Suttie rejected Freud’s view that love and hate are wholly independent, rather, “I regard hate as the frustrated aspect of love, as ‘tails’ is the obverse of ‘heads’ on the same penny”.

The chapter concludes with some comments on Cynicism and Ascetism, which Suttie described as the twin offspring of the temperament which is suspicious of other people’s pleasures, especially the pleasure of loving or giving out to someone else.  “The cynic observes that amiable behaviour brings pleasure and concludes that it is done for this reason. For him this is merely an inverted form of selfishness and hence worthless. The sole motive that he can see is the pursuit of pleasure in accordance with the demands of one’s own nature. This view finds philosophical expression in Psychological Hedonism.  The ascetic, like the cynic, feels that love is not real if it is pleasurable. Self-sacrifice and self-denial for him also are the measure of goodness”.

Chapter 5: The Function and Expression of Love

A short chapter on the ways and means that humans find to express affection and love by means of organs such as the eyes that evolved for other purposes. He found Freud to be unhelpful in this area.

“Freud indeed deals with the state of being-in-love and ‘the oceanic feeling’, which, he admits, he himself is unable to experience. He feels he advances our knowledge of the former state by describing it as a ‘libidinal cathexis; of the ‘object’ (i.e. mental image) at the expense of the ‘ego’.”

Chapter 6: The ‘Taboo’ on Tenderness

Features of our mode of upbringing, which I have vaguely generalized as a tenderness taboo, create an artificial mental differentiation and consequent emotional barrier between adult males on the one hand and women and children on the other..It artificially differentiates men from women, making them bad comrades and throwing the women back upon a dependency on their children, thus further widening the breach and aggravating jealousy. But its worst effects lie in separating parent from child.

From a non-professional’s point of view the taboo on tenderness is possibly the most interesting of Suttie’s ideas.  He suggested that modern science appeared to have an aversion to sentimentality and this has been taken to such absurd lengths in Behaviourism “as to betray an underlying bias of anti-emotionalism”.  Freud regarded tenderness as a derivative of sexuality (goal-inhibited) and the aversion of  “softness” extends far beyond psychology to impact on the whole of Western society, or much of it.  Suttie instanced many examples to demonstrate the effects of the repression of tenderness: the male ‘gangs’ and ‘brotherhoods’ of all ages where ‘manliness’ is mandatory, contra ‘babyishness’ and ‘girlishness’; the journalistic admiration of  ‘daring’ thieves and ‘clever’ swindlers; the phobia about sentimental feelings between male friends; the low pay of nurses (compensated by a licence for tenderness and care); mockery of  ‘spoony ‘ lovers, ‘smitten by disease’.

In the theatre, which appeared to be one of Suttie’s major interests, he suggested that “refuge from tender feelings and pathos generally is being sought in sex and that this flight is expressed in some people’s intolerance of ‘good’ music and delight in jazz excitement”. In more recent times one might instance the “flight” from the saccharine, asexual world of  “Mary Poppins” to the rather different world of James Bond.

Suttie traced the root of this problem with sentimentality back to the way that separation anxiety is handled. The progressive separation from the mother has to be matched with increased resources of companionship and play-interests with others. Again he noted the tendency for bad practice to be cumulative from one generation to the next.

His cross-cultural studies are revealing, and amusing.

We actually find, for example, that the taboo on friendly relations can become explicit even while sexual indulgence is regarded as harmless. Professor Malinowski reports of the Trobriand Islanders that while it is quite in order for a girl to sleep with her lover, it is regarded as improper for her to be too friendly (e.g. to prepare food) before marriage. They regard this very much as we are supposed to regard pre-marital intercourse. If their civilization were like ours presumably they would consider a restaurant bill good grounds for divorce; the Sunday papers  would print the menu and the Bishops would talk of the decay of morality and the dangers of neo-paganism. Still they do not carry the taboo on tenderness anything like as far as their neighbours and trading relatives the Dobuans, whose ideals of civic conduct would qualify them for Broadmoor Prison even in this country. This latter people profess an ethical attitude that would justify the Freudian metapsychology. They consider the only worthwhile object in life is to get the better of your neighbours and the only means of doing so are force, fraud, and sex-appeal.

More…Taboo on Tenderness, extract

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