Sue Erikson Bloland, LCSW
*This talk has been approved by New York State for 2 hours of Continuing Education Credit for LCSWs, LPs, LMSWs and LMHCs and 2 Contact Hours by the American Psychological Association for Psychologists.
In his book Peak (2016), Anders Ericsson argues that current research on the elasticity of the human brain points to a new way of understanding the real nature of “genius.” What distinguishes the highest achievers in human history, he suggests, may not be the extraordinary gifts with which they were born so much as it is the spectacular effort they have invested in developing their innate abilities. In his earlier study of genius (Greatness, 1994) Dean Keith Simonton concluded similarly that, what distinguishes renowned geniuses in every walk of life is not innate brilliance so much as it is the possession of a “monomaniacal” drive to achieve that eclipses the efforts of everyone less obsessed with their work.
Accepting the above premise, this presentation will suggest an important connection between certain childhood experiences of loss, neglect or abuse – in other words, early relational trauma – and the origin of the obsessive preoccupation with work and with achievement which both Simonton and Ericsson identify as the essential source of genius. What kind of trauma is it that sometimes sets in motion an extraordinarily driven, highly focused and effective pursuit of “greatness”? And why is it that even the most extraordinary success in achieving this goal does not, in fact, heal the wounds of the childhood trauma that set the pursuit in motion? Why does such success not provide the emotional fulfillment that the highest achievers, along with the rest of us, imagine it must? To provide our clients with insight into this paradox, and encourage them in the pursuit of non-spectacular paths to healing and self-esteem, we need to examine our own fantasies about the emotional rewards of achieving fame or greatness.
Sue Erikson Bloland, LCSW, is a supervisor and member of the faculty at the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis, where she is also Co-Director of Admissions. The daughter of the celebrated psychoanalyst and author, Erik H. Erikson, she has made a life-long study of the psychological nature of fame. Her memoir, In the Shadow of Fame, was published by Viking Penguin in 2005, and she has published articles in The Atlantic Monthly, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, and Psychoanalytic Inquiry. She is in private practice in New York City.
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*Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center is recognized by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work and for Mental Health Practitioners as an approved provider of Continuing Education for Licensed Social Workers #SW-0054 and for Licensed Psychoanalysts #P-0040 and for Licensed Mental Health Counselors #MHC-0166.
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center maintains responsibility for this program and its content.
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