Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Letter to students at Allegheny College

This morning my smart phone sent me another article about the droves of college students with mental health problems: Time’s “Record Numbers of College Students Are Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anxiety – But Schools Can’t Keep Up.” So many students under the pressure of intense course work and number of courses required. College counseling centers have long wait times; private counselors are expensive. There are now anxiety therapy groups with meditation, nutrition, yoga; virtual reality programs where you are immersed in and desensitized to and taught coping for anxiety-causing situations. You can also learn how to take notes.

Dear students:

God help you if you are as neurotically screwed as I was during college. However, maybe He helped me graduate with a music degree though I was a sub-mediocre performer, couldn’t compose two bars with any art or intelligence, demurred my way out of giving a senior recital. Though Allegheny College had a fine reputation, it somehow purveyed an educational philosophy that was enshrined in this unorthodox regimen – three courses in each of three nine-week trimesters. Yes, nine or eleven classes in an entire year was considered solid future-prep.

I would actually recommend this for students who are not terribly comfortable imagining they are adults or will soon be adults.

I don’t think I would ask tense and troubled students to fall deep into their psychology, which would mean to dig into roots and causes and into arcane yet smack-you-in-the-face questions of identity. That’s an undermining thing to do, unless you’re in the Piquant Elite for whom sickbed psych (the embracing of diagnostic labels) has become a self-medication or, bluntly speaking, your badge of honor. Most of you want to feel you are being yourself, not hitchhiking on your parents’ ride. You want to feel OK, not anxious or depressed or suicidal. You want to not question the rightness of your being there.

But you may not be able to feel or have these values.

So I will do the psychology for you.

Twenty years of clients have taught me that most adults, all the way to age ninety-nine, have existential and life meaning questions about themselves. They have never come up with definitive answers. That they have often stopped asking the questions over the years, or have grown a personal serenity, or have numbed the questions or buried them under species of “success,” doesn’t alter this. One of the various benefits that have happened is that adulthood comes to be like many kinds of fears: It is much more fearful when anticipated than when joined.

I would swear on a stack of bibles, bubbles and baubles that there is no established, ratified ascendancy to the State of Adulthood. Not at 18, or 21, or 13 if you’ve “become a man,” or at 11 if you had to “grow up too fast,” or at the loss of your cherry or your devastation by a mass shooter, or at graduation or marriage or first job, apartment and lava lamp. We each of us have the seeds of our own kind of grown-upness in the kernels of our birth, nine months pre-birth, our childhood, our adolescence. These factors write our personality, our defenses, some of the substance of our horizon, and our philosophy which together, in their idiosyncratic origins and nature, must be completely unique, not some inadequate or superior petitioner appealing to societal standards or consensus. You are yourself, insularly, even invisibly to the world. And setting aside the extreme difficulty of knowing one’s own molecules, you can accept that no one else can really see your essence. They don’t know. And therefore, they have no right to assess or judge you as adult-worthy. As worthy. Maturity is individual, as a million differently bowed and bent trees are beautiful.

The young adult you are will have potholes and roadblocks that come from your history. These obstacles or “dysfunctions” are not defects in your soul, your birthright, though they can bend your heart in ways that hurt you and others. They are injuries and they are learning experiences. Possibly two of the best insights (though in the nature of lead balloons) we can gain are that we are holistic in mind and body and time, where the past is not the past: It is our foundation and living roots. And that we are messy works in progress at the very moment we are needing to enjoy the fruits of our life.

I was a lost soul from my first steps on campus to my Dissociative Day of Graduation. I can “brag” of a feat that I’m pretty sure few to no other students can claim: Not for a single moment, not a millisecond during my time there had I entertained the twinkle of a thought of what I might do with my life the day, month, year or decade following graduation. Can you imagine . . . missing that cogito for the entire four-year rite of passage? Additionally, I was too self-blind to know I was a depressed person, and framed my wan aesthetic nature as a kind of disturbed positive. Then there were a few years of floating around the country on Greyhound buses, getting jobs here and there, meeting people but staying neurotically on the perimeter. In time, it took a bad marriage – or should I say a good teacher – to get me to look inward at my own demons (which started with a troublesome birth and benighted parents), feel some stillborn painful feelings, find a real direction for myself.

We all know the truism that college is “not for everyone.” And it is certainly true that anxiety and depression and moribund feeling may be prohibitive burdens. I would suggest, though, that if you want to be here on this campus or another, notwithstanding these troubles and questions of “who am I?” and “what is my meaning and purpose?”, for reasons that come from you not your parents’ flowchart, that in itself means it is right: You are reading something real in you, something organic. But remember that this rightness is a beacon within your history that has roadblocks and gold nuggets, potholes and sun-drenched seeds. I urge you to be the profound and sober college students you can be: Get help for injury – help to feel and know. Accept the uniqueness and complexity of the human state – your human state. And sally forth at your own damned pace.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Whence anger?

I had been working to help a young man, age 20, with his anger and “short fuse” problem. He had one of those “character armor” know-it-all-attitude faces that will, on a bad day, bring out the sissy inner child in me. That led me to sometimes produce stumbling lectures that grew more airily meaningless as they went along. But we both seemed to know what to focus on: His father had been a sarcastic, demeaning jerk to him for the first eleven years of his life, until the parents split up, after which a very decent stepfather came in and stayed.

My client had recently lost his girlfriend because of his demeaning attacks. He’d be contemptuous of different absent-minded actions or her failure to know something that should be known. Once he had melted her with a ridicule harangue when she couldn’t name the make of her family’s car, another time when she had “straightened up” the room and put his wallet in a place he never looked.

We reviewed, with emotion, the hurtful and harassing putdowns his father had scoured him with all his young years. We knew that these injuries had stuck, had bent him with grief that froze over with anger. I talked to him about regressive pain and rage process – Daddy, don’t hurt me – but ruled it out because he was, pert mood aside, still too young, dependent and tender to give way to his tenderer child. But I felt there was no other way to work into the compressed coil of grief and tension. I recommended “tying himself to the mast” whenever the short fuse caught fire, literally sit down and let the deeper complexity of feeling (hurt-burnt-needy-frustrated rage is complicated) swamp him with the past, and express it through a boy’s words. Therapists know, or should know, that when a self-medication whether alcohol or binge-eating or tic behaviors or a rage act-out is suppressed, a result with be the percolating up of historical buried pain.

This all seemed as right as I was able to get. There was no way that, starting his adult life with a bent back and bleeding wounds, he could just put on a “strength-based” suit of cognitive and action processes and sally forth.

But then the deus ex machina appeared, which derailed me.

“My mother,” he said, “infuriates me with the way she’s always done things.” He described, beautifully, actions of hers that seemed trivial or mundane, but hearing them, I felt an absolutely certain, crazy-made rage. She would remove an almost-empty roll of toilet paper from the bathroom but not replace it with a new one. There he was – six years old – with no necessary supply. She would throw out his old toothbrush and leave the holder empty. She would mop the kitchen floor, using such a great amount of water that the place became a flood zone. It couldn’t dry – it had to evaporate over time! Meanwhile he’d be squishing and splashing to get a snack. I felt a craziness in these behaviors, but the reason they felt crazy was not obvious and I strove, cautiously and haltingly, to understand for both of us. Didn’t she know her little boy had needs? And more, that he had a need for the predictable to be delivered, predictably? And still more: Her failure to be a normal mother who finished things and didn’t do nonsense was crazy. And even deeply more and essentially: Her vacuous obliviousness to his upset was crazy. She always acted as if his frustration did not exist: She couldn’t hear it; it didn’t register in her self-enclosed mind. She’d fix the problem in a simple workaday fashion.

Heres what we saw: One parent shamed him, whittled him down. And then there was his pleasant mother, the idiosyncratic solipsist, blithely destroying sensible reality for him. He and I realized, through a mind experiment, that had he somehow passively bought into his mother’s existential illogic, he might be impaired now in the most peculiar ways. Possibly gutted, fey or un-masculine, with no sense of the completion of goals. Maybe a felt philosophy of the rightness of not doing, or the completeness of the incomplete. But to his salvation, he had and kept his puzzlement; he never let it slip. It grew and “devolved” into anger, an intolerance of absurd ignorance, of the failure of competence. Anywhere these flaws happened, such as his girlfriend’s forgetting the fucking obvious, made him the un-mothered child, brought back to crazy. And that was an opportunistic injury, allowing the shaming to come marauding in.

The recipe: Confront your mother. Be eloquent with a razor. “That, mother: crazy! That thing you would do, crazy! Nuts, impossible, insane. You gave me a two-plus-two-is-seven childhood. You gave me a ground where a mother doesn’t know she has a son with needs, where a half-circle is closed. You were off in your own world, and I had no one. Feel this now, what I’m telling you. Blow away the clouds that sit between your eyes and your brain.”

That was a session.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Lobotomy Dynasty

If the CNN series, The Kennedys, is speaking true, then the children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy were lobotomized puppets imprinted to live their father’s life for him. Joseph wanted to be president, disgraced himself as a Hitler appeaser, then retrenched and bequeathed his aim to his sons Joseph Jr. then Jack. Growing up, the nine children were posters, billboards of “success.” The small children had to be, at the dinner table, world savvy and “articulate,” and in the possibility they were ever asked to give a speech – instructed Rose – had to have something “appropriate” to say at the ready. And somehow there was a sense of death in them, or the chemistry of it. Jack, always sickly and in pain and consigned to a clerical job, was pushed into the military by his father, then launched himself into a physically torturous and near-suicidal appointment – commander of a PT boat. He screwed up, got some and almost all of his crew killed, was no hero, but his father spun the press to make him look like one. U.S. Navy lieutenant and first son Joseph Jr., poignantly aggrieved that he was not the star, sought a way to family glory. He was killed in an especially dangerous mission. Earlier, oldest daughter Rosemary was forced by her father to have a lobotomy because she had “learning disabilities” – was not the performance intellectual the family required. The operation made her a vegetable, and she remained hospitalized for the rest of her life. “Kick,” another sister, married outside the family religion; soon after, her husband was killed in battle. She then consorted with a married Earl, leading her mother to threaten to disown her. On a flight to the French Riviera, they and two crew were killed when their plane crashed into a mountain: The Earl had demanded that the pilot fly in turbulent weather.

All the family photos and movies you see in the first episode are of these smiling, dapper and fun children of Camelot, with patriarch grinning like Power in the background.

Maybe there is an internal feeling of death and dying if you have to buy in to not owning your own life, and if you have to barrel forward along the precipice of the highest peaks, and if your inoculated purposes are un-Self, humanity-wide.* President Kennedy, pushed into his first political fight by his father, who practically paid for the election, was plagued with an auto-immune disorder and other infirmities that may have been psychosomatic: caused by stress and buried, denied tragedy. The narrator noted that Kennedy had always had a fatalistic sense and talked about death a lot – before he was thirty.

Psychology is always the river running beneath, whether you are “happy,” or making millions, or winning elections and the presidency, or winning the American Dream. Smiles and success don’t tell the truth: The deep river does.

If only we weren’t such a goddamned surfacy species.

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* Wikipedia entry, Kennedy family: The descendants of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy include six members of the United States House of Representatives or Senate, one of whom became president of the United States; as well as two U.S. ambassadors, a lieutenant governor, three state legislators (one of whom went on to the U.S. House of Representatives), and one mayor.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Death bed chats #1: The universe is droll

“A universe from nothing.” Such a silly idea: Thanks, ingenious physicists. A universe from a Creator. Just as silly. Since our intelligence is only another form of the cosmos’s ignorant energy, we can never know nature. And this means that we – human beings – cannot understand what “something” and “nothing” actually are, what the words can possibly mean. Literally. That’s how ignorant we are: We cannot know what “something” could be, and should therefore remove the term from the scientific vocabulary.

I thought I’d try to imagine myself on my death bed, around age one-hundred-and-three, to see what thoughts and feelings might generate.

* I’ll wonder why people never tried to befriend me, despite my lack of interest in friends and my off-putting nature.

* I’ll picture my wife with such choking, ineffable poignancy that I should die at that moment, not in an hour or so. If, on the other hand, she outlives me, I’ll cling to her like a desperate baby to its mother – drowned in the chemistry of infant, child and adult love and need.

* I’ll scoff with some disgust at the universe for being so fantastic yet so ultimately slippery. “What in the heck are you?” might be my last words.

* I’ll picture the difference between my psychotherapist life and my truth, which is that I remain a lost little boy who was born on the wrong planet.

* I’ll wish to go out to a piece of music. It might be a simple Grieg tune, like his Peasant’s Song, or the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto or the third movement of Grieg’s A minor concerto, or Dinu Lipatti playing Bach, or a Chopin Nocturne, or Paul and Paula’s “Hey, Paula.” That’s if my wife isn’t there. If she is, then her eyes.

* I’ll hold my blog with a tender but firm grip, because I’ve had some meaningful thoughts, though most are too unpleasant for people.

* Like most or all people, I won’t be able to really, fully believe in my “end.” How can I be gone, in life or in dreams, when I feel like the infinite?

* I wouldn’t want to look in the mirror, because at sixty-six I’m still under the delusion that I’m adorable and young-looking for my age, and I would not want to be forced to break that delusion.

* I believe I’d want to walk or hobble outside, preferably at night to see the sky. Even though I’m still the child and really only feel good under the blankets in a state of blurred consciousness, I’d want to appreciate the world one last time. God, if he or she appeared, would not impress me because I wouldn’t be able to believe it. But if the heavens opened up and a shining gold staircase appeared, leading to a greater truth, I would love that, would climb it.

* I will have to put my regrets and sorrows aside ’til later.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wish list #1: Sometimes I'm tired of what I know

I recently had the effete fantasy that there should be new or different, unique and brighter therapy ideas than what exists in the cognitive and depth approaches. (I reject touchy-feely EFT and similar nostrums which masturbate one’s self-delusion capacity.) I suppose I can see why therapists go to workshops to scout out new tricks. Secretly, they hope a new “skill” will replace what they fail to understand about human warpage through personal smarts and introspection.

Partly, I’m a cop-out. I don’t take a woman out to an abandoned barn in the boonies (as a Canadian therapist did) to have her hurl glass bottles at the wall – her father – while screaming invectives at him. I don’t touch clients, on a stage, on tender body parts to bring forth a torrent of tears and regression, as I once read Upledger did in his CranioSacral Therapy. I suppose I wish I could bring the men out to a field, as David Calof used to do, to demolish a junker car with their bare hands – raging against their rapist or shaming father. I don’t do marathon groups to wear people down to the needy heartful id. I don’t even do Primal Therapy anymore, lacking a soundproofed room with padded walls, dimmed lights and a mat not a chair.

So I’m left working my knowns: insight into the child roots of current misbehavior; depth methods to pour out old pain, altering feeling and thinking. The cognitive-type processes I use come after he or she has done depth therapy. For example, after she learns, and feels, that her achievements (the one college graduate in the family; the professional in a clan of druggies and jailbirds, etc.) are more her escapes from pain than exuberance for life and will not forestall depression forever, then we can appreciate rationality, hope and positivity.

But I wish there was more. I look at the client and wish there were immediate ways to move the brain. “Insight is not enough.” Feeling some childhood pain is not enough. I can’t be her father. That would be too much right in a wrong world. I can’t be his lifelong companion. I can’t turn emptiness into substance, foundational immaturity into maturity, dependency into heretical autonomy. The paradox is that the longer I do this work, the more powerful I feel, yet the power is almost entirely illusory.

I will let you know when the magic arrives in my fingertips.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The present is the melody, the past is the harmony

I thought I’d try to write some of the clip-art, stock-photo, Muzaky, cloyingly truistic, feel-good, shake-hands-with-your-lobotomy fluff that one can read in all the other psychology and therapy blogs. To rejoin my cohort. Let’s . . . . go!

I once had a client who, seven or eight years old, while her mother was beating her with extension cords, kicking her and breaking bones, brute-forced this attitude into her mind: “I look forward to when Im a grown-up.” This detached her from the moment and all the similar moments, a dissociation she bolstered with a rosy smile. Forty years later, her face looked like a tan balloon with a red grin painted on it. Her voice was cheery, always. She was perky and her ideas were jackhammer positive. Except when she had depressed breakdowns and could not stop crying.

Think of the good things in your life, milady! Your dedicated husband, your children. Forgive your mother, because forgiveness pacifies the heart. Cherish the lessons you have learned from your past. Join a support group of women who have struggled through adversity and stand, arms joined, on the mountain top. Get exercise and research good nutrition.

The nineteen-year-old knows why his girlfriend left him. “I’m an asshole! I didn’t treat her well.” This is the kind of insight that heals. As Dear Abby said, ‘knowing the problem is half the solution.’ Add to this his awareness of where his personality came from: “My father is a jerk.” His father, with whom he still lives, denigrates everything he does and says. The atmosphere has been shame for the past fifteen years.

Heed today’s Psychology Today blog: “If you only look at negative things, then those negative things can become a part of your personality, and that may keep you in an emotional bind where life becomes more difficult than it needs to be.” “Holding on to pain is normal, but it is also normal to let it go after an appropriate period of time.”

It may be appropriate to wonder: Where on the clock are the hour hand and the minute hand when pain and injustice, depression and anger, lack of love and failure to grow evaporate?

Isn’t it worth asking –

When does the past fall behind us? Probably not five minutes or half-an-hour ago if something consequential has happened. If a distraught partner slaps your face, you may let it go quickly if you have understanding or if she is stunned with regret. But if she slaps you again, isn’t it a bit too “zen” to say you forgive the first but not the second? What of the first and second but not the third?

The essence of bad psychology is the belief that our mind exists in the present moment, that its thoughts and attitudes and feelings form in the conscious now. This is the conceit of the hider, the runner, the counselor who eats dessert first and never gets to dinner. He has painted a smile on his face because he’s conjured a positive thought, and he anxiously wants you to do the same. Even if he is one of those who accept that childhood matters, he wants to believe that because the present covers the past, it has won the battle. We are in the now – we win!

There is no reason to believe this if we realize that our eyes are old, that our mind is saturated with memory, our impulses are related to our earlier impulses. That growing up doesnt change the harmonies nearly as much as it does the melodies. That old feelings emerge and tint or spoil the moment. That though the bodys knowledge is subliminal, it’s a magnetic reservoir informing everything. Including our identity. Sometimes we can see that while our adult doesn’t feel like our child, it can feel like a poor or sad or angry answer to it. And from that, we realize there hasn’t been much winning.

I will always have a terminal problem with contemporary therapists and their work, as long as they believe the anesthetist is the surgeon.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trump: Taking a dump in the kitchen (or – "Obsequious Pride Syndrome")

I don’t know why the line has stuck in my head after forty-five or fifty years. An interview in Playboy or Esquire, a seamy piece about some seamy criminal or fifteen-minutes-of-fame artiste, some cheap renegade – the article with faux pretension of intellect because of the magazine. The runty guy was talking about the droves of indiscriminate sex he’d had from early teens on. His smiling maxim was: “You’ve gotta draw the line somewhere.” He had just said he wouldn’t or hadn’t slept with his sister.

The terms “tacky,” “slimy,” “sleazy,” “lying, “two-faced, “corrupt,” “gross,” “disgusting,” “crude,” “boorish,” “trashy,” “low-life,” “indecent,” “vulgar” seem, when cast by any given person, to be terms of subjectivity. Who can say what “should” be offensive or condemnable to people, considering their different makeups and backgrounds? One person’s or group’s snobbery about, say, a velvet Elvis painting, those maudlin images of sad, wide-eyed children, or some crude graffiti on a church door, seems to judge the snob as much as it does the creation’s admirers.

And in part this is so: We do internalize prejudices of judgment or hate from our parents. We do have seeds of deep, child-based injustice and shaming that morph into derision, in our later life, of others who secretly trigger our pain. Alice Miller, in The Drama*, writes of a parent’s stuckness in the “vicious circle of contempt,” where his early mistreatment is projected, decades later, into callous disregard of his child’s personhood and needs. In these instances, our condemnation of the other person is but a mirror to our own soul.

But there is, I believe and would evidence, an area where all those insulting terms do land on an objective, solid target beyond ourselves; where clear understanding, not a bent and angry heart, assesses the person and his behaviors. We, from a healthier vantage point, see someone condemnable and unfit, and we are right. We are right because there is a stronger or psychologically healthier set of eyes; there is a sicker or dysfunctional misperception of facts and individuals. When I “evaluate” a serial killer or swindler to prison and punishment, I am more right than is he or his sympathetic relatives. This doesn’t mean that I can’t, through the psychotherapist’s lens, appreciate the deeper validity of all behaviors: Every action does have a meaningful reason, from murder to self-mutilation, pedophilia to self-sacrifice. But as we must live among others in the alter theme, the different plane of adult not id-primitive values, we are sanctioned to divide acceptable from unacceptable, life-promoting from life-devaluing.

Donald Trump, the person and president, is tacky, slimy, sleazy, lying, two-faced, corrupt, gross, disgusting, crude, boorish, trashy, low-life, indecent, vulgar. That many of us can see this and many of us can’t is a litmus test of psychological clarity rather than of political affiliation. We see the man’s anti-human values expressed through an abortive and malicious character, and we know this is sickness, no different from a doctor’s assessment of cancer or a victim’s damnation of a rapist who disfigures her.

There are truths that people will not like and must deny because they need a delusion to give them a prosthetic sense of balance. Schizophrenics, “who have undergone terrifying, heartbreaking, and damaging experiences, usually over a long period of time, and as a consequence are emotionally disturbed – often to the point of incapacitation”**, must believe they are Jesus or Napoleon or a famous person to delude themselves from the factual collapse of their identity. Many men, beaten and soul-murdered with shame by their father, must believe they are superior to women, are ascendant by birth. Without that belief, they would collapse into the disintegrated boyhood that never left its prison. Large numbers of people grew up to have to filter out the damage that authoritarian bluster, narcissism, crudeness, sarcasm, non-objective rule and violence did to their child selves. They became self-protectively blind to a father-figure’s callousness, primitiveness, ugliness – his failure to be an adult. Like children who “identify with the aggressor” and believe they admire the neurotic strength of their alcoholic or belittling father, they see and hear the crudity of this president and their hearts swell with obsequious pride. Like children who, ‘returning to the bad object,’*** cannot quit an abusive parent as their starved core still hopes for love and nurturing, they follow this effigy of arbitrary power who doles out false promises (as their father did), and who helps them project their pain into the “other.”

Little can be tacky or indecent to the followers of Trump. His foul breath, in the form of their caregiver and their childhood, became the oxygen that sustains them.

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* Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Childhttps://www.amazon.com/Drama-Gifted-Child-Search-Revised/dp/0465016901.

*** Ronald Fairbairn’s theory of “return to the bad object.” See David Celani’s exposition of it in The Illusion of Love: Why the Battered Woman Returns to Her Abuserhttps://www.amazon.com/Illusion-Love-David-Celani/dp/023110037X.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

My hippie moment #3: Deeper in the ocean

Does anyone today – anyone over, say, age ten – ever just pause deeply, quietly, and say to him- or herself: How do I feel about this? I mean at the body bowel-gut-chest level, where our deep ocean currents of emotional sensations are. Here’s how to test whether you do this: Image a tree along your evening walk, a cup of coffee in hand, a politician intoning about this or that, the night sky, an African-American man walking down the street with his head bowed, a picture on the wall of your living room, your life as a whole. If you are able to simply sense or feel, in many of these scenes you would find that your feeling is very different from what your common thought would be. That is, the body’s knowledge would say a “felt idea” or more likely a blurred rainbow of feeling-truths that would be different from the attitudes and ideas you had come to accept and identify as yourself. If we will agree that our organismic Self is our authenticity and our history and meaning, more so than the variety of propagandas that sit in our heads, we will fear that we have become lost to our personal truth, our real core.

Three examples. Attitudinal thought: “These gun lovers are closet cowards who don’t have the dignity or strength to be a man simple, naked before the world with his hands open, his mind capable.” Deeper feeling: He – I – would want people to keep out of my life. I like my rifle. Don’t break into my mind anymore than you would break into my house.

Attitudinal thought: “Starbucks coffee concoction. Assembly line made. Eighteen-year-old employee with no interest in the esthetics, the quality, ensuring the recipe is just right, the history, the science of it.” Deeper feeling: Why am I relying on a cup of coffee to give me some peace and contemplative feeling? It’s too powerless to do that. I am a derelict little boat in a big sea.

Consensus thought: “We must sacrifice for our children: They are our future.” Deeper feeling: Children are not more important to me than I am. My future is my future.

I’m troubled by all the ideas, the brand-name thoughts that have pretty much replaced the atmosphere of our modern days. Ideas that must be erroneous because they are eternally in conflict, big box attitudes insane to reality: all Democrats are ; immigration good or bad; conservative ideology is right; abortion is wrong. We've become garbage heads, our thoughts the pond scum on a deep pool. At the very least, if we were to fall back into our gut, our body known, we’d be falling away from our rage-inducing enmeshment in all these fights. We’d stop being disembodied heads. And we’d be finding ourselves.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Pessimistic therapy laws #4: Thrice-changed adolescents

1. Children of neurotic parents (abusive, sociopathic, solipsistic or other-dissociated; simply put: immature) are, without an enlightened witness,* wounded and can’t ascend through right development in terms of ownership of their true feelings, independent thinking, organic self-esteem, autonomy and maturity. They become suspended, re-balancing entities: attitude-heavy and attitude-bent, based on pain and self-medication and the emotionalized attitudes of their parents and others.

2. These young people (and of course the healthier ones) become immersed in a technological and commercial culture formed by the neurotic adultosphere – childish and false-self adults (parents, media, teachers, advertisers, gurus like Jenna Marbles, Logan Paul, Mark Zuckerberg, rap musicians, etc.) who did not achieve right development and therefore did not ascend beyond their children, cannot conceive of children as children. This culture is exactly like the Borderline mothers who cultivate their twelve-year-old daughters to be snarling and contemptuous intellectuals, pseudo-savvy, equals of their parent in the slough of immaturity. These youngsters, fed synthetic sophistication by adults who do not know what children need, are bent again. We have a race of teenagers with virus-like, pompous ideas and beliefs they do not really own, infantile sex, a mirage of wisdom, kids in pundits’ garb. Don Lemon, ask the fourteen-year-old what Congress should do about DACA.

3. And now: our new, contemporary theme of school shootings. These doubly-impaired youth are now forced into the worst faux-adult mentality, stripping them of the last shred of the child's spirit and innocence, forging their minds with the final failure of adult nurturant protection. No longer children, they are unmoored. Our culture has created life forms, in twelve- to nineteen-year-olds, that are far removed from what normal, healthy development would have created. Falsified selves from early on, they’ve swallowed and become a false culture, and now must absorb a quotidian trauma, a universal meaning that will taint their minds from morning awakening to bedtime. The last cultural hypnosis I remember was the ’60s hippie-and-anti-war movement. But that faded, and the young people had to be disenchanted to the (more or less) adult realm. Today’s commonplace murder of children in schools may be a stage that does not pass. What kinds of life forms will we see, when these thrice-annulled children are in their twenties and thirties?

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* Alice Miller's concept of an empathic witness for the child. In her discussion of Dostoyevsky, she writes: Dostoyevsky, for example, had a brutal father, but a loving mother. She wasnt strong enough to protect him from his father, but she gave him a powerful conception of love, without which his novels would have been unimaginable. Many have also been lucky enough to find later both enlightened and courageous witnesses, people who helped them to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them. People who found such witnesses never became criminals. (Alice Millers website.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What-if exercise #1: The last two men, one-thousand-billion years in the future, sitting on a rock (for Cat L.)

“Two men, at the end of history as we can know it, on an island in an ocean named . . . sunset. We own all of the human race’s psyche and none of its hopes, or our own. Long ago, the cosmos fled to oblivion but for two dim lights. All meaning is gone but for those fading question marks, and the meaning contained in our fear, wonder, sadness, and residual love. It is fortunate we are not children. For they would have the eyes of hope disappointed in this measureless coffin.”

“All of the people’s stories, billions of years of them, are in the reservoir of our brains, but my attitude is a sorry one: What else could they have done but build their homes and their systems of togetherness, succumb to romance, imagine truths that could never be found, and explore their lives? In all of it, each carried a germ of pain, whose source they were always afraid to know, and it made the wars and other products of frustration: murder and cruelty and black comedy and suicide. They were crazy and driven and they stumbled and fell as they ran, always.”

“It is terrible to see the end of everything. . . .

            “I still imagine there are civilizations out there, though we never found them –”

“. . . and this makes me not fully accept it. What if the eons of eons have been only a split-second rounding of the bend before some awakening to a different life, a different plane with a different play? Or awakening to the first morning? What if I die then wake in a blink, a newborn, because in another thousand-billion years all the atoms of my life, all our lives, will have found their way home again?”

“These are good things to imagine. I could say I can accept the magical, because our lovely universe has never given us evidence it is not magic. There is no answer to all that.”

“No answer. So must there be something wrong with us that we’ve asked a question? The questioning – what is everything? – undermines everything. It steps back from beauty and life, from just being, but we can’t not ask it. What if it has prevented us from being one with all, and thereby knowing?”

            “What do you mean?”

“We knew love by feeling, not thinking. We knew water by swimming, not peering from the boat. Maybe the thinking and the looking have made us blind.”

“So dying is closer to living. Once we’re simply the magical energies, we’ll be one.”

“Yes, I think so.”

A silence. They look out at nothing, which was everything.

“I think I’ll sleep.”


They had another conversation later.

“I was a psychotherapist.”

“I was an explorer. Five thousand years asleep, then awake and another look here and there. The best were places of deep forests and waters and undulating hills to the horizon, blue skies with redolent breezes, where all was safe like music, dangerous like stormy symphonies. I always contained opposite feelings about finding another person. They would be company, but also another unknowing mind, with its own perspective. I didn’t want the hope and airy thinking that come with a fellow traveler.”

“You wanted a home. You wanted home.”

“Yes. I confess for the first time that I’ve always just wanted a blanketed bed, a fireplace and a warm kitchen, the moon out the window and – ”.

“I know. . . .”

“Mother. Calm, snuggling, feeding, knowing everything. That may be all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Maybe all of us never leave home, in one lifetime, in the history of humankind. Maybe we are always connected by an umbilical cord, however far we go, whatever the timepiece says.”

“That would make sense: like the circle of the universe, like the unity of pre-birth and death. How can there really be travel, evolution, progress to some end, some goal? What are all the stars racing to, all of time summarizing to? All of us, forever, have lived bedtime stories. Until now.”

“But doesn’t it feel that way to you, that the story is ending?”

“I don’t think it can, not without mother to tell it to me.”

They looked out, nothing to see but two estranged stars and nothing but a change in the chemistry of their fear, wonder, sadness and residual love.

“Let’s hold hands, and maybe fall asleep again.”

“Yes. Until someone wakes us up.”

As they slept for a long time, the two stars disappeared, leaving only blackness. Silence was the only truth. But beneath them, whatever that could mean, there was an ember, red and gray, cold and burning. It may have been in a stove. It may have been a heart. It may have been the perfect unknown, even to itself.

He found himself in an amazing scene which was the only joy he had ever known, as if it were a dream from his fresh infancy. Around him all the royalty and creatures and objects of the zodiac were alive and busy in a roistering parade, musical, uproarious. They were happiness, which somehow was the meaning of existence. He was complete. At that moment there was no need for achievement, for creativity. Being there was all. He drank it in and it became him.

The other man was in a kitchen, possibly in a house. He sat at a table, and there was a woman with her back turned – a blindingly benign back – as she was preparing bowls of food. It was obvious to him this place, this woman, was the origin, the source of time and the world. Yet it was sedate, quiet, as if it had always existed. She turned, to carry a bowl to him.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Trump, radical

New York Times: Trump lawyers worried Mueller could catch him lying” (CNN headline). They know him, as we all do. Narcissism, Trump’s fundamental disorder, is a global delusion of perfection. It’s not a leaf on his tree, that could fall off and the tree remains. It is his baseline, the bedrock of himself. Where are you if that cracks? (Comment at The Atlantic)

How is it possible, what does it mean, that a person’s entire sense of existence – the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness, breathing and suffocation, life and death, reality and disintegration – is dependent on the possession of one specific emotional attitude? An attitude that must be constantly repeated (if silently) to oneself day and night. An attitude that requires you to assume your character and accomplishments are perfect or beyond anyone else’s capability, that must be fed by “supplies” of admiration and deference, and requires you to assess others’ view of you as either admiring and jealous or malicious and wrong?

How can one’s psyche – not merely his sense of worth, but his feeling of being alive as a person and having an identity – be constructed from some warped fusion of body feeling and thought that is obviously a second-tier growth, not his “psychological birth of the human infant”* or his childhood organism of feeling and thinking? This fusion has come later, to replace whatever he was and become his new ground.

This is Narcissistic Personality. It is as obdurate and as fragile as it seems. The person replaces himself with this secondary growth because his first self could not be sustained: His origin was a botch. This is not something that most people, including psychologists, typically observe as it is hidden and harrowing. Childhood can have such deficits – of love primarily, and its various manifestations such as empathy and visibility and care and physical affection – that it fails to become viable and to move into the next developmental phases. The anchor weight of early starvation and failure increases with time, until some point where the child’s chronological age is so out-of-sync with his time and his actual development that he must either decompensate – deliquesce – or form an instant replacement self. Perfection instead of cataclysm; confidence instead of disintegration panic; diamond-smooth persona instead of identity vacuum.

This is the Narcissist’s vision and energy: to constantly refuel, re-polish, reiterate his false self. He can never see beyond or escape from his perfumed prison.

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* The title of Margaret Mahler’s seminal book on separation-individuation.

Sunday, February 4, 2018


I suspect that some sort of physical violence is part of seventy-five percent of all television and movies and novels, and I think that violence is ridiculous. Just think about it: Grownups conversing, having different points of view, then smack! He punches the guy, she slaps the man’s face, he shoots a room full of people. War movies. Fargo. Rape and justice movies. Gone with the Wind, Blade Runner, Pan’s Labyrinth. Rowdy bar scenes. Horror-torture shows. Even the intellectuals are on board. Norman Mailer promotes Gary Gilmore, killer. Christopher Hitchens ups the Iraq War. Sartre’s “curiously ambivalent” views on violence. Ayn Rand’s heroine, Dominique Francon, is raped in a philosophically inevitable way. Religious lore is saturated with murder and prostration. We cheer boxing, wrestling, hockey. We don’t blink at Guantánamo tortures and humiliations. We nod aesthetically at Mel Gibson’s bloody Jesus and decapitated Mayans.
Do we really think this is common, implicit, the human way? What made average and non-average violence possible, and our normalization of it?

My life did. My parents were without violence. My father came home from World War II a passive-aggressive lamb. Our home life was quiet, dissociative, suppressed, fake. Put a little boy in a home where feelings are not had except for the atmosphere of assumed happy. He is bullied and troubled at school, but comes home and all is quiet, mundane. His tension builds but it is internalized. He is anxious and does not feel good, and is all alone. He says nothing real but the real happens: holes bitten in shirts, fingers gnawed, hair pulled out, tics erupted, ants burned on a light bulb. A quiet mind. Life goes by and time produces fake surfaces, fake presents. There’s the young man who talks, grows a persona, writes some poems, imagines – or would imagine – that he is growing up.

There’s a whole philosophy of death that has been growing inside us. Because somehow we sense our potential but also sense it is too late. Beneath today’s mild or pretty colors there is brown and black. Beneath the woman’s mobility and earning power is the girl’s imprisonment in silence and unfairness. Beneath the adult’s ability to “choose” was the child’s inability to have his way and maybe eventually to feel what that means. Within them are muscular and chemical and emotional constrictions that eventually have to berserk, which only means to expand like a spring to their long-suppressed normal, except that there is no normal knowable anymore, as it existed only in the past.

We cannot reach our normal, our self. There is no greater frustration. We slam our fist on the table, or we think of destroying a race. It is violence of our molecules, of our soul.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The perpendicular

“I came to work one morning and couldn’t log on to the computer. Thats apparently how this agency informs employees theyve been fired. I had been riding along in complacent mode, assuming I was secure because of my prestige as a therapist. I saw, over the course of three years, my various faux-pas as excusable or right. When I earnestly informed the unit manager that she was good at ruining a perfectly fine day; when I hung up the phone on a hospital nurse who was short with me and disrespected my assessment; when I did the paperwork my own way not the company’s way – I assumed my positives didn’t merely shine, but burned away any demerits I might have. It is true that I had deep contempt for the manager, a fake-laughing back-stabber who appeared to have no therapy skills of any kind, but rather a personality disorder the size of her Social Work degree. It’s true that I was quickly angered by the nurse whose job was to take my information in a friendly way and pass it to the psychiatrist, not sniff at it. Clearly I didn’t fit into the confines of this mediocre, bumpkin-y mental health bureaucracy.”

Actually . . . .

“I don’t like people, and I am coldly, contemptuously hateful of anyone who has authority over me. This is Narcissism, which grew out of a terrified, inchoate child out of sync with and inferior to everyone. Thank God for the Narcissism! Without it there would be an infant fumbling disorganized in his play pen, a little boy crying and lost forever in the grocery store aisles of the world. At work, I do me. I help clients for recondite reasons, but haven’t the slightest interest in peers or other adults. It was the little boy who didn’t see the axe coming. Because he assumed, as he always had, that the big people would give him a pass – the “pampering is neglect” of my childhood. I’d get the extra serving at dinner or dessert; my silly fantasies would be faux-complimented; my lies would be overlooked; I could be invisible in class. I was impervious to life and people – in the dream I lived.”

*           *           *

Over the years I have come to be disbelieving of all explanations adults give, except for the answer: “I don’t know.” A question I’ve added to the typical Diagnostic Assessment is: When you were a senior in high school, did you know what you wanted to do after high school? Those clients who did know – cosmetologist, counselor, wealthy house flipper, elementary school teacher (majoring in Early Childhood Development), computer programmer, writer of the Great American Novel, nurse – did not know their choices came from subterranean psychological itches. Most had not become what they’d named, meaning that there was a deeper itch than what they were aware of. Those who did become their aim would, many years later, have empty explanations for it.

My disease of disbelief spreads everywhere. Politicians don’t really know why they want power over people. Partners don’t know why they fell for their spouse. People don’t know why they’re in a rage, or are distrusting, or forgiving, or generous, or drug using, or procrastinating, or use big words. Conservatives dont know why they prefer capitalists to altruists, nor do bigots know why they hate millions of total strangers of a different shade. Down-and-out neurotics don’t know why people come to them for advice; men don’t know why they are chauvinist pigs or feminists. You don’t know why you are so bendable to a woman or why you have a huge ego. Everybody has an explanation, so many explanations, but no one is in touch with the pilot light of their life. Or what lit it.

When you conceive a reason for your behaviors, you are usually coming from a self-medicative place that covers an underground terrain of pain and loss. Why do I love Romantic classical music? It’s beautiful! Or really, because it’s intimacy and deepest bonding that I never had, crave, but best not touch too close up: That would be too uncovering of my starvation. Why does that woman continually return to her cruel and loveless mother? “I hope she will finally see me, love me.” But why does she hope for the hopeless . . . like a child?

Does it matter that the entire adult world lives on a plane of needful pretension, of explanations perpendicular to and fragilely intersecting our primeval truths? I’d say it does matter, because explanations hide hatred and need. And since they are our balms that soothe us, they coolly, confidently justify our genocides and prejudices and wars and crimes. If we were in touch with the hatred and the need, we might heal them, or put them away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Inspiration #1: Wrong and effective therapy

Listening to a new client today, I realized that in some cases there is the right way to do therapy, and the wrong and effective way to do it. The thirty-five-year-old man was a shambles of trembling panic, distrust, suicidal depression and ineffectiveness, and had been since he was a child. Nearly lethal sex abuse by female babysitters; a Borderline mother (“I love you.” “You’re disgusting, so why not kill yourself?”) who would dump him on a poker hand’s worth of indifferent relatives; seven elementary schools in six years; a Mob stepfather who beat him; a schizophrenic father who used meth and saw angels and demons and shared them with his son; severe school bullying of this wimpy victim boy. One would label him B-movie maudlin with his despair and self-pity. But it was one-hundred-percent real. He was a toilet of loss continuously swirling down the drain.

So, good therapy would be loving encouragement, grieving and raging or whatever was in there, years of it, that needed to come out; visibility for the first time in his life. And maybe some Cognitive-type logic, though the torrents of his feelings constantly scattered his thoughts and his ability to hear.

The wrong and effective therapy would be über-Newtonian: more than an equal and opposite reaction to the crimes.

* He must force an emotional backbone within himself. Breathe deep, rich, made-calm. Go to your new job, no matter what.

* Hate your criminals with grim strength. Get a baseball bat attorney and don’t let your evil mother get custody of your child, as mothers like this love to try to do. Yell, with poison, their abominations at her and your two stepfathers. Let them try nothing, not get a word in edgewise.

* Cry like a baby in here.

* Bring your mother to a session. “Look – here you are in Lawson’s Understanding the Borderline Mother. Yes, you’re that sick, a universe of sick. Yes, you were that useless. You have no argument. You don’t deserve to touch the hem of my client’s garment. Now get out.”

* Go to the mountain top, shake your fist and shout your new life to the old world and your new world.

* Cry more, be cared about in therapy and in the groups.

* Walk away from your family, leave them in the dust.

This would be the right, the best way. This would be rational, as rational as combating weakness with strength, injustice with justice, submission with chain breaking, and the removal of germs. But we don’t go there. We don’t go there because of the nice, false hope factor. The ethical factor. The cover-your-ass litigation factor. The autonomy factor. And one more –

He loves his mother.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Spouted grains

There is a great deal of listening in psychotherapy, a great deal of investigation, process, catharsis, abreaction, empathic communion, confrontation, and the considering and sculpting of possibilities with supportive hands.

There are times, though, when I’ll spout a few certainties to my clients.

“That’s a platitude, an old wives’ tale. Talking out loud to yourself is not crazy.”

 “We don’t have an inner child. We are our inner child – the adult self is the window dressing. Our head is a little boat in the deep ocean of our body and history.”

“The past is not the past. It is our roots, our substance. Picture a hundred-year-old oak tree. Now use your x-ray vision and look beneath the ground to the roots. They are ‘the past.’ But not only are they alive: They continue to feed every leaf and branch on the tree.”

“You ‘love your parents to death’? I’m hearing a cliché, a sleepwalk, a holding pattern.”

“ADHD, as I’ve seen it, is the person’s inability to sit still on a feeling. The mind is trying to save her from pain and fears by distracting her with thoughts and dissociation. To be quiet, to stop your mind from flapping its arms, would be to land on a feeling. But now, distracted from truth that needs outletting, you are tense. And the body shows its tension in hyperactivity and agitation.” I might add:

“Sometimes there is meaning in the tension. Your foot rocks: You need to kick. For me, spontaneous jackhammer breathing meant I needed to launch myself into some anarchic action, because I had always been so suppressed as a child.”

“Your alcohol abuse is your self-medicating of pain, pain that began deep in your history. When you stop an addiction, you will feel proud of yourself for a few minutes or a few days. But then everything – all the frustration, pain and loss – you were drowning in alcohol will rise from the depths and hit you in the face. That is when we can deal with it.”

“People are often resistant to deep sea diving into their childhood, old memories, the wounds they’ve suffered, because they fear they may end up blaming their parents, and that can feel like the double-edged sword of abandoning and being abandoned. The ultimate point, though, is not blame, but truth. What was true? What did the child feel at the time?”

“I’ve known many people who have carried a sense of guilt or badness from their childhood into their adult lives. But if you could go back to those moments when you became a guilty person, you’d likely find that you had just been made to feel bad about yourself by an angry or sad or sick parent. There can be no ‘guilt,’ because you did nothing wrong. Getting a ‘D’ on your report card was not doing anything wrong. If you had gotten all F’s, you wouldn’t have done anything wrong, because there is always a reason, a good reason, for a child’s behavior.”

“Children don’t make mistakes – they have learning experiences.”

“Domestically violent men are terribly needy little boys. Their father shamed and beat them, their also-victimized mother did not protect them, and now gutted and abandoned and unable to move beyond their starvation for bond, they’ve become him and cling to her as their defenses against collapse of their soul. You are his wife, but you are his mother. He cannot have a ‘partner,’ because he is a child. If you leave, he will explode or disintegrate.”

“I believe that hallucinatory voices and visions such as you’re describing are the person’s waking dreams. In sleep, some defenses are softened, and old feelings and memories – extreme good and extreme bad – disinter and create stories. People with psychosis and early trauma are weakly defended – their gates over past hell are porous – and this past floats into their waking hours. No doubt that feels crazy.”

“If you will let yourself feel it, you’ll see that your brittle, hair-trigger rage is old hurt that was never seen or helped or given a damn about by the people who should have been there for you. I find it interesting that we are so important to ourselves that this critical disappointment, at the moment we needed care, can make us rage ‘til the end of time and want to destroy everything. What we need is to collapse into a caring someone and rage and cry – for a long time.”

“Positive thinking is very hard to do consistently, day after day. It’s a burden to brute-force these made-up or true thoughts that try to cover how you really feel deep down, what your body says. Positive or rational thinking – Cognitive Therapy – is like taking pills. Unpleasant little things. You can’t think or inspire your way out of your history.”

“We are what we were. It’s a real fucker.”

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Our natural hypocrisy

There’s the dream bubble, and there’s the reality. In the dream, children are taught fairness, consideration, wrongness of being cruel and violent, to be careful about waste, responsibility with possessions, with other children’s possessions, with money. They’re taught natural and social consequences, and making thoughtful and mature decisions, and resolving angry conflict. They’re shown the value of work, maybe the pride of it, and of being one’s own person.

But then there’s the adult world, the one in every day’s headlines, in everyone’s lives. Government wastes trillions of dollars on selfish ends, with nihilistic debt. Wanting political power over millions of dependent people is the culture. Interfering in other countries and in people’s personal choices is the policy. Childish insults and conceits, bullying, gaudy materialism, normalizing of concrete thinking, primitive racist and bigoted beliefs. Fighting in a boxing ring or in a presidential race. Groupthink, where the concepts in our heads are those fed to all, chewed by all. A world of the popular people, shiny objects, hit songs and juicy gossip.

Why do we have these two diametrical realities? Or rather, talk one reality and live the other? Even reverse-logic realities, where children are good and stand tall, while adults shrink to savagery and pettiness? On the surface, it almost seems like some cosmic hypocrisy that we perform for the game of it. Earth, the Hypocrisy World. But it is actually individual psychology that requires this polar existence. We glance at the children and remember some moments of good from our earliest years, and we think we are giving that to them. But mixed with these gifts, or hypnotic residue, are the pains and frustrations we also suffered. There were many things we needed in childhood and did not get, and we were angry, or made cold. We seek them angrily, or cold, as adults. We were emptied of our good power, and now seek power to cover the emptiness. We needed love, and now fill that vessel with material objects. Thinking was our escape, adolescence on, from poisonous, needful feelings. These primitive feelings re-emerge when we have to act the adult.

Don’t you feel, in dizziness, this bizarre incongruity? Doesn’t it want to be cured? Can we question President Trump’s infantile and lost way of living when we really don’t question our own?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

TMI (too much information)

I recently saw a young man, 21, who had these complaints: He has “no energy, no motivation” to do anything. Nothing interests him, including activities he used to enjoy. At college, he pursued a major in Oceanography, but found everything about the curriculum painfully unpleasant and failed every course. He left school but recently returned with the mildly desperate purpose of having “fun.” He’s into the Art Education major. When others tell him his projects are good, he doesn’t believe them. Several days a week he goes to a camping-related job that should be, almost by definition, pleasurable. It’s just work to him.

It was very clear from my client’s tone and from his missing words that he had no idea he was depressed. Therapists know that a Dysthymic person may not be aware he has depression. But the young man was naming textbook features of an acute disorder. Yet he identified himself without it.

I gave him the name of his problem. That seemed not terrible to him, though he had an expression of “dull stun” rather than one of acknowledgment or acceptance.

But when I explained where depression comes from, from depth theory, it seemed to be terrible for him. As the session came to an end, he looked like a changed person, as if everything looked different to him now. He had said that his family was problem-free, though he and his slightly-older brother had never gotten along and had recently reached a cold détente about it.

I let him know that depression is in the ignorance of the family, of mother and father. They don’t see you, who you are. They are riding along on their own life, and you think that’s normal.

– Mommy, mommy . . . the teacher was unfair to me today.
– Now dear, the teacher was only trying to do his best.*

I told him that lack of empathy in a normal home creates a different child because he never gets to be himself unless there is a listener. He never gets to feel loved without someone’s eyes and words and smiles drawing him out. The home may be lively and busy, with kaleidoscopes of conversations, laughs and activities and purposes, but without empathy, without being drawn out, it is a place to lose your life.

I don’t recall going far beyond that, but it was enough to cause him to land on planet Earth, no longer float along. He looked back to sense his origins. He could no longer assume that life is necessarily good but for some surface flaw that you call “depression.”

It’s not unusual for first sessions to feel good, warm, like an unexpected odyssey. The client’s eyes are wide, deeper. She feels this was very different, even very important. Almost always she returns. This young man – I wonder not only if he will not return, but if he may wander off to some underground continent where one’s eyes never close to the darker and emptier self.

Questions I ask myself now: Should I avoid telling very surface-living clients, such as this young person, about their problem? If no, and as the facts are not mitigable, is there a way to have depth therapy without falling and drowning in the deep end? If yes we should avoid knowledge what can really help this problem, depression, that turns every cell in the body and mind into a clock whose hands read “the past”?

I’ve learned the history of psychotherapy and have read the old “legends” – case histories that all seem so drastic and moving – so feces and incest, dreams and libido-twisted – but more as intellectual mind-fucks in the musty pages, less so in the impeccably dressed supine patient on the couch. Real change may have only nipped the surface in our modern, feel-all culture with Esalen and Whitfield and their inner child, Bass and Davis and their women sexually abused as children, “codependent no more” and est and Perls and Oprah. And still, I’ve seen almost no approach, other than Janov’s primal therapy, that brings our buried roots into the room to be healed, or at least worked with. And even that system of radical insight can only help those who are already partially better: men and women who’ve read the books and know of their killed childhood, who accept that there’s an ocean of blood waiting to be screamed out. Most people, most clients who come to therapy are on an adamantine plane of unreality. They cling to the parents who have ruined them. They choose only the present and ignore their history. They are uncomfortable with silence, and lying on a couch.

If I could redo my session with the ignorantly depressed young man, I might say: Do you want to know what has tired out your interests and energy? Do you want to know where your depression comes from?


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* From Paul Vereshack’s online book, Help Me – I’m Tired of Feeling Bad -- http://www.paulvereshack.com/.