Leon J. Saul THE CHILDHOOD EMOTIONAL PATTERN New York: Van Nostrana Reinhold Company, 1977, 323 pp., $15.95.
A s the title states, Dr. Saul's thesis is that adult personality is determined by the emotional patterns established during the early childhood years. From this stance he proceeds to document his thesis by means of detailed descriptions of adult patients, drawing heavily on verbatim interview material. The case presentations are rich in detail and serve well to support Dr. Saul's primary proposition.
Briefly stated, Dr. Saul's thesis holds that childhood emotional patterns are determined by the quality of parenting the child receives and that if parents are warm and loving, if the interactions and emotional balance between the two parents are mutually supportive and satisfying, and if the child's emotional needs have been met, he will develop into an independent adult, able to achieve a relatively harmonious balance between inner needs and outer reality. On the other hand, the child who feels rejected by parents or displaced by a younger sibling reacts with hostility, regression, and jealousy and retains these patterns into adult life, unconsciously transferring the same feelings to the significant people in his adult orbit. Dr. Saul stresses that the crucial years for developing these emotional patterns are the first six or seven years and, most especially, the first three years of life.
This, of course, is the classic psychoanalytic exposition of the determinants of adult personality and behavior. Dr. Saul not only expounds psychoanalytic theory with clarity and cogency but also applies it with illuminating sensitivity to the cases he has chosen for illustration. The result is that we are given valuable insights into the coping behaviors and defensive responses of a variety of psychologically distressed adults. Moreover, as Dr. Saul describes his style of interviewing - especially his initial encounter with a patient and his use of dream material and early childhood memories - and his therapeutic aims and strategy, we receive valuable insights into the methods of a gifted practitioner.
Whether this book is of value to the pediatrician is a separate issue. As a theoretical construct of the emotional needs of a child, the Saul thesis is unexceptionable. What is lacking for the pediatrician is the other half of the equation - namely, the actual (as contrasted to the recollected) roles and contributions of the parents. All that Dr. Saul has to support his thesis is the disturbed adult patient's perceptions of his early childhood experiences, perceptions that are vulnerable to the distortions of urne and memory and that may be self-serving or may serve the needs of the analyst to provide a rational past explanation for a current problem. Furthermore, no account is taken of the disturbed adult's childhood temperament and how this may or may not have meshed with the parents' personalities and needs - an important concept in the understanding of childhood personality development as delineated by Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas. Finally, no account is taken of the specific vulnerabilities of each person with respect to physical health, intellectual ability, and genetic endowment. Thus, Dr. Saul gives a view of child development that is valid but partial. There are many factors that bear on personality development, the interaction between parent and child being a major but not the only one.
In light of Dr. Saul's clearly literary and literate background, I was constantly surprised and irked by his consistent reference to the child as "it." Nevertheless, his book must be appreciated for its wisdom, for its distillation of a long lifetime devoted to psychoanalytic study and practice, for its scholarliness, and for its clarity of style.