Recently, I have been in conversations with people who either have Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy (CPMS) or else have children who have it. I have noticed the following: those who have had CPMS for a significant period of time (e.g., twenty or more years) seem less likely to describe it as a problem that ought to be cured. I would not go so far as to describe this as ‘resistance,’ but it is striking how their discourse demonstrates a certain contempt for a cure. It seems rather that CPMS becomes increasingly a vehicle for self-identification, and, moreover, for their unique talents to be exhibited. CPMS becomes the place for poetic expression, for the invention of language to describe the phenomena, and so on. No doubt, it is beautiful. It seems to me that this is what Lacanians refer to as the synthome. I invite you, if you are so interested, to look into the way those who have CPMS express themselves about the experience and to investigate the way that they describe their sensations and excitations as well as their relations to the Other.

On the other hand, those who love somebody who has CPMS (e.g., parents) are much more likely to feel frustration as a result of it. Parents of those with CPMS are much more likely to indicate that this is something they want ‘fixed’ or ‘treated,’ while, at the same time, adding that it is what makes their little one unique and special. Parents constantly try to walk a confusing and challenging tight rope between acceptance and frustration. I have found increasing evidence of parents or relatives who have had similar conditions, or if it is not directly CPMS that they have had then they seem to show evidence of eating disorders or panic attacks or something similar.

Here, psychoanalysis demonstrates again a unique contribution to any understanding CPMS: the underlying structure is what is important. Children tend to inherit the unconscious baggage of their parents. (I have mentioned my own eating and panic disorders in relation to my son’s CPMS.) In other words, while the parental structure may appear to be relatively stable, the underlying structure, upon inspection, might actually reveal a similar structure to the child. This is why so many parents remark upon the apparent “genetic” aspect of CPMS. More research should be done in this area (e.g., more research should be done on parents of children with CPMS). This is a highly neglected area of research. Moreover, we should try to find out the role of the father in cases of CPMS. I can not speak to this question as well as I would like.

In any case, it strikes me that all of this is consistent with what Paul Verhaeghe has described as the ‘new symptoms’ (e.g., panic attacks, eating disorders, etc). I invite you to see his article in the book Madness, yes you can’t for more on this. CPMS is not a classical ‘conversion symptom’ in the strict sense because its underlying meaning can not be revealed. I have tried to see if the CPMS has anything to do with earlier trauma (e.g., divorce, etc) and I can not be sure that it does. Soren does clearly have some problems with the separation of his parents (often, at times, remarking that he wished his parents would still live together, and so on), but I can not link it to the CPMS symptoms. Soren often says: “my body just does it.” Those are his own words, and not mine. He can not find any further words, usually, to describe it. I have to introduce the words to him and then he accepts them.

Thus, there is at the root of CPMS (unlike conversion symptoms) a radical void of meaning. I can not be sure that this is the case for all people who have CPMS. So far, however, this seems fairly consistent.

This clinical feature (the void of meaning) is absolutely not accounted for in any current research on CPMS and it is the unique contribution of psychoanalysis. Verhaeghe’s work sheds light on CPMS in a way that all other so-called ‘evidence based’ approaches simply haven’t and can not. Contemporary psychoanalytic research is at the fore in this area but has not addressed the specificity of CPMS. Instead, it treats CPMS as if it were simply a part of the ‘ordinary psychosis,’ ‘borderline,’ and so on, structures. This might be the right way to think about it, after all.

I want to be clear that I am only provisionally accepting the label “Complex Primary Motor Stereotypy,” and that my usage of that phrase is only to facilitate a connection to those who as of yet find no other “name” to describe the experience. I also do not want to settle on whether or not this is something that needs to be cured or something that is a problem. I am trying to be indifferent about that. I simply want to better understand it. The point is that those who have CPMS seem to be indifferent to the Other (and his wishes to cure it, or whatever) or else radically opposed to the Other. In both cases, treatment, if it were possible, seems fairly difficult. Transference and the sujet-suppose-savoir can not be easily established.

I am writing in haste, but I do want to point out one more detail. I have become privy to a new aspect of CPMS that I had not hitherto been made aware. Many of those who have CPMS describe an intense ‘imaginary’ experience. Some even gave that the dignity of a concept (which I will not repeat here). The imaginary experience is intense and yet it is something that they willingly do and that they find a lot of benefits from doing. For example, some with CPMS will indicate that they feel more energy and awareness after an intense imaginary fixation. A lot of those with CPMS describe keeping it for ‘at home,’ or in the privacy of their bedrooms, etc. These are describe often in visual terms: ‘its like watching a movie,’ and so on. You can see here once again that we are dealing with surplus stimulation, something that pours out of the body. Witnessing the behaviour reveals also that it is as if the fingers are being stimulated intensely by electricity. It is a too much which is not necessarily problem for he or she who feels it. Typically the too much of the clinic leads to a demand for a ‘cut’: “stop all the extra excitation doctor!” In the case of CPMS, I can not say that I have found a single demand (except from the parents) for a ‘cut.’

Incidentally, when my son was younger I believe that he may have been watching a disproportionate amount of television during the time of his parents’ depression. It is still difficult at times to remove him from a television or video game.


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