(revised edition)

by Alfredo Anania

Once, a patient of mine told me that when, yet young girl, together with her parents, she went on a cruise in the Mediterranean, she had formed the habit, at the arrival in the various harbours, of trying to "see” herself throuhg the eyes of the others: the eyes of those from the quay saw her appearing at the deck of the ship. 

Since, even if the relationships are anonimous, everyone concurs together with the others to form a same psychological field/context, the ability of "seeing" oneself with the eyes of the others - or trying to do this - if systematically daily effected, would help a lot us in the interpersonal relationships and in the social life. But, perhaps more, it could help us to deeply understand the roots of the different forms of fundamentalism, and, consequently, to prevent, to face and to fight terrorist actions, attacks, wars and such. 

My father in law - who had been mobilized during the Second World War and had saved his life thanks to the help of a young woman belonging to the "enemy” population and, later, after having been captured by the former "allied", had been a prisoner for one year in a concentration camp - was, in my opinion, a good chess player, since, before studying his own possible moves, he tried to observe the position of his own pieces on the chessboard with the eyes of the adversary putting himself in the other’s shoes and trying to anticipate its possible moves. In practice, he put psychologically himself on the side of his adversary to discover how he would have been able "to defeat himself"; this not only allowed him to predispose successful plains of attack but also and above all to predispose insuperable defences that made really difficult to checkmate him. This possibility to put himself on the shoes of the adversary player evidently succeeded him so much better as much greater a psychological knowledge he had of the person against whom he was playing . 

Luigi Pirandello has been insuperable (suffice it to read: Uno, nessuno e centomila) to show how the image that everyone has of itself derives also from that he thinks that the others are thinking about him. Now, the putting oneself on the other’s shoes and seeing oneself with the eyes of the other, in any form of relationship we establish, there is a process of identification that, with a neologism, we could call "extrojective"; certainly this does not concern only the individual but also the groups, from the small ones to the social macro-groups, from the groups which have a substantial reality to those that are founded on simple ideal affiliations, or to those that represent real cultural worlds and extended religious and/or social forms/systems (for instance Orientals, Christians, Neo-capitalists, No-global and so on).  

In another writing I have evidenced the differences among diverse feelings as sympathy, compassion, empathy, identification (1), naturally I have made reference to unconscious processes of identification (2). By introducing here the concept of "extrojective identification" - that however represents, I reaffirm, a terminological forcing - I don’t make reference to any unconscious psychological process but to the adoption of a voluntary psychological and checked in time attitude. Some recent theoretical developments about the bases of the scientific knowledge can help us. This isn’t the place to deepen so vast themes, but here it could be enough to make reference to the epistemology of the complexity to admit that the scientific observation and the explanation of the world can be different with the variation of the point and of the context of observation; therefore, what is "observed" by the one has equal value of a different observation made by another one. Going on through metaphors, we can affirm that the "vision of the world" or the result of the scientific research of an observer that is on the top of a mountain will be totally opposed to the "vision of the world" or of the research resulting of another observer that is on the top of the opposite mountain, also when both they use analogous tools of observation and scientific validation. The awareness of this inevitable intruding by the observer (personal physical position in the observed field, cultural belonging, tools used for observation, and so on) and therefore the awareness that it doesn't exist the possibility to discover and to know "truths" but only of discoverinh and to knowing "realities" (those that the observer can gather from the point of the mountain where he is, but that cannot correspond to the reality achieved by his colleague that is in the opposite mountain) firstly can estrange him from every risk of "fundamentalism" and at the same time it will allow him to put together the knowledge of the reality personally acquired with the knowledge of the reality acquired by the other who is on the opposite point for reaching both together a knowledge 1+1 that is more complex than before. 

Recently an experienced in ethnology a friend of mine brought to my attention that, beyond every symbolic meaning and cultural heritage, the burka is a very useful protection to safeguard the respiratory apparatus in world’s regions where wind and dust constitute a mixture that is a lot invasive the organism. This however doesn't explain the reason for the imposition of the veil in face, in certain countries, regards only the women. It could be connected to the fact that woman, as being that has the principal role about the preservation of the human kind (she gives birth to her children, cares and, generally, raises them) is object of particular attentions and protection. 

"Tell the believing woman to cast down their eyes, guard their chastity, and not to show off their beauty except what is permitted by the law. Let them cover their breasts with their veils. They must not show off their beauty to anyone other than their husbands, father, father-in-laws, sons, step-sons, brothers, sons of brothers and sisters, women of their kind, their slaves, immature male servants, or immature boys. They must not stamp their feet to show off their hidden ornaments" (3). 

However, a lot of other hypotheses lean out to the mind, as, for instance, the charm and the curiosity which can derive from what is hidden, or the fascinating "magic" action by the eyes, in terms of sexual call, by means of the hide the rest of the face, or, more, simply the opportunity that also the less attractive women could attract the male through suits that hide however abundantly their real bodily features. In the western societies, during the carnival - ritual feast by now, except some exceptions, more and more in disuse also because of the always greater distance from the classical antiquity (Dionysian revels) - the first form of hiding concerns the face and,besider, there is a particular carnival dress, whose name speaks volumes, namely the "domino" that hides so well the person as to make very difficult to realize if the person that is wearing is a male or a female. 


"Prophet, tell your wives, daughters, and the wives of the believers to cover their bosoms and breasts. This will make them distinguishable from others and protect them from being annoyed" (4). 


Another explanation about the usage of the burka can take into account primitive feelings of ownership and possessive jealousy by males who, in not much evolved cultures (which don't know the parity of the rights among the human beings), try to hide to the others for protect own woman or women (in the polygamous societies) from the desire by other men, as it happens for the things, if it has some rightness the Chinese motto "the true thief is the owner that leaves open the drawer", so for obsolete cultures it will be good that the male prevents to be robbed of own women just hiding them as much as possible through some special dresses. What however, above all, it could here interest us it is trying to understand, putting ourselves in the other's cloths, the feelings that can arouse in a believer Muslim, for instance, the increasing tendence of western society to show nude women (advertising spot, fashion shows, pornographic market and so on) for purely business purposes. 

Now considering another type of matters, we should ask us how the countries of the "Third World" "see" the Westerners when nations, that are auto-recognized "eight richer countries in the world" (G8), meet to discuss the fates of the countries where many people die of hunger and to decide if "to exempt” them - when one cannot do otherwise - from debts that never could be paid. Once the rich ones, above all those less arrogant and more godly or also the most faint-hearted, were careful to not flaunt own opulence to avoid, as the case may be, to morally offend the least fortunate people or who are less able to create a material wealth or, even, to avoid of arousing too envy

Have we never tried to understand if there is a difference between terrorists and kamikaze? Even if the final effect is the same (our terror of their actions) are we Western able to put us in the shoes of who immolates itself, right or wrong is, for a cause? We are able to distinguish between massacres by people planting bombs by stealth and people who instead – as, for example, Samson against the Philistines or Pietro Micca against the French – sacrifices own life at the service - I repeat, without entering the worth of its justness or not - of a cause? 

During the war of Spanish succession, France had besieged Turin to invade then the rest of Italy. With the purpose to defend the city, Vittorio Amedeo II di Savoia had recruited some miners to create a system of galleries destined to strengthen the external boundaries of the Citadel. Pietro Micca was one of these miners.

In the night of August 29, 1706, some French grenadiers had succeeded in penetrating in the gallery that conducted to the Citadel and they were about to break down the door that would have opened the passage to the rest of the French army.

Pietro Micca, who was on guard over that sector, understood that the only way to oppose the enemy was to blow up a mine stove with a short fuse, so that to make to collapse in time the ramp that would have allowed the French soldiers to access inside the Citadel, but sacrificing his own life since he would not have had the time to save himself before the explosion. In fact, he died following the explosion of the mine that he had turned on but he saved from the French occupation Turin that proclaimed him as hero.

And contrariwise, are the Islamic fundamentalists able to put themselves on in the shoes of the Christian martyrs, who following really the Christ’s example, allowed themselves to be killed by the gladiators, allowed to be eaten by the lions in the Colosseum, rather than to deny their faith? Is able an Islamic terrorist or a kamikaze (The psyche of the kamikaze) to put himself on the shoes of who "offers his other cheek" to whom is killing him? What the fundamentalists think that have been the Huns, Attila, to demolish the Romano Empire? No! The Romano Empire is fallen because totally weakened both because of its moral and spiritual decadence and the great cultural revolution brought by the Christianity. In fact, they are not the armed revolutions that have the final victory but ideas revolution!

The psychoanalytic studies can help us to understand - but not to resolve tout court - some complexes psychological mechanisms that intervene in the processes of estrangement, enmity, and, in some cases, of armed struggle and war. About this you can see my publication The General and the Maiden©2010*  

As I have already evidenced in a previous writing, periodically "the international community discusses about great matters concerning the difference among the various cultures, the vital necessity of their survival, the legitimacy of the ethnocentrism. These waves of attention toward the Other a lot of times are not neither casual neither dictated by philanthropic inspirations but they are linkable to well determined historical and social events that consists in movements, for the most part supranational, which rise to oppose, to rebel or to destroy the culture that appears dominant in this or in that other region of the terrestrial globe in a such way to bringing understanding above all about “of what nature is” the adversary. Instead, the internal protests are more often neglected until they are not warned as a true menace to the maintenance of the status quo. Yes, because the inside paradox of every cultural potentate is that the change is conceived only in the world of the other! On a different level it places the aesthetical appreciation for the folklore, the popular traditions and the local customs in mixture with the curiosity, toward all that appears naïf and love for the roots in which people can identify itself to consolidate the bases of own belonging so recovering the cultural matrixes of the, by me called, Historical Self. Milestones are the symbols, together to the myths and the narrations, through which every culture condenses and handed down itself. The widening of the “moral emotional and intellectual” space (Wittgenstein) in which we live it draws food from the ability to identify ourselves with the world of the Other in its horizontal and vertical historical dimension” (6). 

Who deals with psychology of the development well knows that children know themselves through meeting and reflecting themselves from other children; also in the case of the cultural belonging it is necessary to sharpen more and more tools that allow an increasing possibility to encounter the other - for penetrating more deeply the reciprocal similarities and differences - and so better understand ourselves, our cultural identities, our ways of feel and to be in the world. We have created and we promote an enough seductive model, it is the Itinerant Seminar "L'Immaginario Simbolico" – now we are about to realize its eleventh edition - which allows a group working in progress capable of short-circuiting the contemporary social world and the cultural matrixes of which every participant is also unconsciously a carrier/representative, but other experiences could, and ought, to join our for continuing a research on the most useful models to establish human bridges among much different cultures and the identities of which they are bearers.


Notes and References

(1) «Sympathy differs from compassion (what it implicates the involvement in the suffering) because it is equally a form of involvement but through a type feeling different from that experienced by the person who has aroused it; therefore it is an emotive/affective  sharing the other’s emotive/affective but in a not-identical form; for instance, to participate with pity to one other people's pain is different to be felt the same pain of the other. The empathy is the emotive/affective union or fusion with the other; two consanguine who, for instance, are in mourning because of the death of a relative, has the “same” pain. Identification is the emotive/affective penetration that conducts to gather the intimacy of the other’s reactions» (Il "Grande Anello" Psicosomatico; Psicologia Dinamica, Anno V,nn.1-2-3, 2002).

(2) «The introjective identification is the unconscious assimilating parts of the other as parts of itself; the inside assuming the other without however altering the truth of the other; the making oneself identical (also only fantastically) to the other, conforming itself to it, that is the living, thinking acting as the other. The projective identification is the way of living (also only fantastically and unconsciously), as outside parts of itself  that are “projected” on the other. The identificatory understanding is an ability that we can also attribute to the most recent humanoid type robots which are capable not only of expressing, through the facial mime, different feelings (as it is the case of Saya, the anthropomorphic automaton realized by the Honda) but even they have the ability to recognize, through the tone, the mind states of the interlocutor and to furnish him adequate answers (for instance Ifbot realized by the Business Design Laboratory of Nagoya)»; (Il "Grande Anello" Psicosomatico; Psicologia Dinamica, Anno V,nn.1-2-3, 2002).

(3) The Holy Quran, Sura 24, verse 31.

(4) The Holy Quran, Sura 33, verse 59. 

(5) René Girard; Il capro espiatorio, Adelphi, Milano, 1987.  

(6) Prefation to, by Raffaella Anania, Matrici culturali e trasformazioni della comunità; Psicologia Dinamica, Anno VI, nn.1-2-3, 2002. 

*Franco Fornari, in his writing Psychoanalysis of the war, mentions some analytical studies that help to distinguish, in general, in relation to the ideological-political attitude, three categories of people:  the authority-followers, the loyalists and the subversives. The authoritarists are people that don't show to have a particular devotion to one determined morality, while they are tending to accept, rather passively, for a need of obedience, any ethic imposed by the society they belong. The loyalists are instead people which tend to a personal assumption of responsibility for the need to identify themselves with a determined idealized moral code. In the end, the subversives are those people which have the tendency to refuse and to oppose themselves to the ethics and to the rules imposed by one determined society. It is evident the implicit risk that every of the above-said attitudes means: the authoritarist risks often to become inhuman in the attainment of what he considers a superior duty; the loyalist often tends toward the foundation of new moral codes, frequently centred, if also unconsciously, on egocentric visions of the world; the subversive type will always risk to resort to violent actions for the tendency in a paranoiac way to throw back on the others his own, real or imaginaries, guilt or sins.       

Raffaella Anania mentions Franco Fornari because this author, examining war from the psychoanalytic point of view, "connects this recurring social phenomenon – in addition to factors that can directly result evident, but not exhaustive, as the demographic factors, economic, ideological, religious or more simply “expansionistic” or, contrarily, “defensive” type - also to deep psychological factors as: a) the outside deflection of the emerging inside terrifying ... - in other terms, the transfer on the external enemy of the inside enemy -; b) types of processes as the paranoiac elaboration of the mourning among primitives - that is the upheaval of the unconscious own feelings of guilt, on the occasion of the death of members of own group, in accusations towards the rival group -; c) the sacrifice of the scapegoat (you see Girard) (5) - in the form of deferred infanticide -; d) the search of validation through the test of truth - it is true what wins, what wins is right, who loses is false/unjust. Fornari, points besides the accent on the fact, that «when a destructive reality is covered by symbols of love there is the possibility that it is an operation finalised to cover deep depressive or persecution anguishes» (6) and that, therefore, “distortions of the reality” can easily occurs such that to prevent the forecast of all the possible consequences of the acting" (7).


First edition: August 23, 2005©

Revised edition: March 29, 2011©

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