Saturday, July 14, 2018
There is an old theory in psychology, conceived during the golden age of post-Freudian psychoanalysis and psychological research. This is W.R.D. Fairbairn’s (1889-1964) theory of “return to the bad object.” I’m only minimally read in Fairbairn’s work, and here will only give a summary of the idea based on a different psychologist’s explanation of it. David Celani’s book, The Illusion of Love – Why the Battered Woman Returns to Her Abuser, uses Fairbairn’s discoveries about abused children to explain why many women are perversely drawn to, “stuck” on, their abusive partner. Fairbairn – from the kind of meticulous studies that were common in the days when family influence, not chemical imbalance, was seen to be the basis of psychological dysfunction – found that abused orphans (and abandoned children) remained extraordinarily attached to their abusive parents and wanted to be returned to them. Children from healthier, loving backgrounds were able to move on, were accepting of being adopted by strangers.
A little thought, and this counterintuitive observation seems obvious: Children’s identities form in the crucible of their early home. They are defined, and define themselves, by the verdicts and attitudes of their powerful caregivers. The child of a predominately frustrating but spottily rewarding parent (definition of “bad object” caregiver) must cling to the minuscule shred of care or its appearance, and must absorb and rationalize the rest. “Daddy is good. He wouldn’t have to hit me if I behaved better and got good grades.” The opposite reaction is impossible: the child standing up for his rights and dignity, rejecting the parent and seeing him as a monster.
Children of bad objects can’t mature emotionally, though they will grow layers of defense and intellect and experience over their suspended needy child self (like an oyster that encases and preserves the irritant within the pearl). They are like a tree growing in quicksand or non-nutritive soil. It may grow tall, but its roots are stunted, its foundation is weak.
Take this child who is internally always in abeyance, internally defining love as harsh and unpredictable, as one drop of water in the desert, and put her in an adult’s body. She has long buried her painful unmet needs for unconditional love and empathy. She will look at a potential partner from the surface “waves” of her defenses and intellect, but will be moved more by the deeper sea of her child self. Women such as these feel inexplicably troubled by a warm, kind, loving, giving man – he threatens to open their brain to their critical loss of cherishing and childhood – and are pulled to controlling, reward-and-punishment-dispensing father figures.
Take this child and put him in a man’s body, and for our purposes now, in a man who has grown a Narcissistic Personality. The inner boy – his deep sea – needs a parent-figure, but not one who is warm, who gives real parental or older-brotherly love. That would be disintegrating. He cannot consort with those who have a humane center. These good people – ethical government workers, children, European allies – will disturb him in ways he can never understand, as they would touch his child’s heart. He will walk weakly and urgently to men like his hard father. His narcissism will idealize not decent people but predatory people, not those with genuine self-esteem but those with the prosthetic ego of power and riches. He, Donald Trump, will need to reject the love and humanity that rejected him, and will remain extraordinarily attached to the unpredictable, abusive and falsely caring.
V. Putin is the Russian people’s Big Brother. But he is Donald’s big brother.
Monday, July 9, 2018
There are times when I think I must be one of the most naïve therapists in practice. I’m remembering two clients who presented in very similar ways. Each was certain that her husband (ex- in one case, divorcing in the other) had invaded her cellphone and was monitoring every aspect of her life. Not only that phone, but her children’s phones, mother’s, aunts’, cousins’ phones. And by these embeds, he knew every place she went, everyone she talked to or associated with – present or history; every email she sent or received, every dollar she spent. One woman regularly discovered items missing from her house. The home security system refused her password. Money disappeared from her private cache. The children, young teens, told her – ‘Mom, we think dad is cheating on you.’ Her suspicions were affirmed. The children said: ‘He will track us down if you divorce him.’ “I can’t protect my kids,” she moaned.
That one was a shambles, quick and intelligent but undeniably delusional at some level. The other woman seemed down-to-earth, calm and resilient. She had suffered stepfather’s sexual abuse – arranged by her mother – for years, reaching the point where she tried to kill them both by jerking the steering wheel out of his hands as he drove. The paranoid woman mentioned, as an aside, that her mother had been “extremely crazy” and an “inveterate liar.”
I get weak in the knees and in the brain when I hear these jeremiads of persecution. If I believe the women, then their life is pure torture and they will never live in peace. If I don’t believe them, therapy is seriously hobbled. They want help in the real world, but their problem lies elsewhere.
My problem or naivete – though it may also be a benefit – is that I can’t see their assertions as entirely implausible. There are narcissistic demon men who can fake their life so the rest of the world loves and admires them, often with rock star admiration. There are evil, successful men who run on poison, mental abuse and persecution, militant control, lurid possessiveness. Could such men make a life goal of murdering their wives’ souls, as my clients implied?
But then . . . . The women stay. One was married for sixteen years before having some disastrous epiphany and running. The other was complacent until she chanced upon husband and daughter in their underwear, touching. What factors make a weakened and bent woman stay with an awful man, and psychotically imagine or exaggerate acts that symbolize his total control over her?
There is probably a lifelong sense within these women of being transparent and insubstantial. They have adult brains, they have muscles in their arms, they have children to protect, they have friends. But ultimately their life has been waiting for the opportunity to be done in, taken over, vanquished. Carried home.
I haven’t read much psychology about the recondite satisfaction that comes from “return(ing) to the bad object”* – those attractions whose deep roots are the child’s mono-focus and umbilical dependency on an enervating, “bad object” parent. Stockholm Syndrome; inviting, again, the domestic abuser to come back; wanting to be “taken care of” and told what to do; regressing diminutive before elderly, cold parents. Political correctness names reasons other than the woman’s sense of peace or rightness to be small and in someone’s hands. It’s this that explains, I believe, the strange situation where a normally rational woman finds herself stripped of autonomy and privacy, and helpless to stop what is probably no more “deep state” than incompetent hacking and stalking by a childish man. Or helpless to not perceive it psychotically. The attorney can’t win her case, if he believes her at all. After all, she doesn’t have any money. The judge informs her that her husband hasn’t been violent, it’s his name on the mortgage, the cellphone, the bank account, the credit cards, the vehicles. He can’t steal them. And then the coup de grace: Her family is incredulous and disgusted that she wants to leave such a wonderful provider, charming, loved by all, gem of the community. Sometimes he’s a firefighter, sometimes a police chief, or a business owner. He is the Man.
Until he looks at her.
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* W.R.D. Fairbairn’s concept. See blogs – https://pessimisticshrink.blogspot.com/search?q=Fairbairn and https://pessimisticshrink.blogspot.com/2014/01/strength-lot-of-mytherapy-happens-to.html, along with David Celani’s book, The Illusion of Love, which is based on Fairbairn’s theories.
Sunday, July 8, 2018
I can’t see any way out of the assumption that the universe’s original stamp was to be composed of a countless number of unknowable specks. There was never a One, but only the Many. A “big bang” could not have produced uniform rudimentary objects: It could only have released what first existed. There’s no other sensible way to conceive the puzzle. Does an artist paint a green field then say he invented blue and yellow? Does a wrecking ball destroy a wall and create the matter of it? No – it releases smaller parts or objects that already exist. There had to be the elements before there was their carrier.
But that seems nonsensical, too. God or no god, why would the incredible All have originated with a most tedious plethora of spots that would later combine in all the kaleidoscopic ways?
Of course, this unanswerable question is just one of a team of unanswerables. Isn’t it a huge conceit that we judge “small” or “fundamental” by the standard of our own eyes? A superstring could be gigantic next to its tinier constituents. And one of those pieces might be galaxy-size, relative to its own innards. It also seems pompous to suggest that there is something so small that the next step is nothingness. What if there’s an infinite regress in “somethings”?
I’m not good at imagining that a Consciousness is behind it all. Consciousness is very dethroned and deflated in my book. We have an illusion of deepness or abstractness or character or emotional meaning because of our nerves, chemistry, our brain, and it changes with the quantumy gyrations inside us. We are just part of the infinite cogwheels. But contemplating the fact of existence, I sometimes think there is some primary element or urge of Necessity that forced nothing to become something. Necessity was the cosmic force, or even principle, that predated time, energy, space. It would, we could say, be “composed” of the truth that there cannot be “nothing.” So the moment there was nothing, Necessity jerked it inside-out. That doesn’t sound glamorous, but it may be the only theory I can believe in.
If some “collective unconscious” of cultural pressure, infecting age to age, had never happened, would human beings feel a need to create the unnecessary? Expressed another way, would it be more true of healthy human nature to be a happy shepherd who does the same daily tasks from youth to grave, or to be a person urged by love or itch to write stories, design buildings, make art? I myself have a felt need to write, but in my case it’s neurotic. I can’t tell as a general principle. What does make sense to me is an inner magnetism to discovery: Even many a depressed person could wonder what is out there, or below us, or inside things, and have some interest in knowing. But other kinds of creativity? To me it seems both absurd and necessary: I don’t respect that shepherd. I want him to look through a telescope or be stirred to write songs. But I don’t know why.
A troubled client text-messaged me recently. Baseline suicidal, she still goes to join the world and will soon be training for a “pedestrian exotic” career that will take her far from her home and her relations. She asked me: “What else can I do besides meditate when I’m faced with stress?” This was smart-phoning, and probably not created with the same kind of depth that face-to-face answers or therapy would make. I wrote:
Silent inner focus (breathing). No-mind – get out of the world for a little time. That keeps you from feeling that it owns you. You are ultimately in charge of the world. “It is good,” you might say, as ultimately it is true.
Hours later, she wrote: “How is it done?”
Well, it’s something that is in my personal arsenal of possibilities – feeling that the world has no established meanings that I must accept and give in to; no urge to action that I would avoid at my peril. Other people have reclaimed that fact of ultimate autonomy and freedom. By, for example, not watching tv news or reading newspapers for weeks or months, and feeling that they now completely own their life. I highly recommend trying to go to that place. It is a valid fact. It is, though, true that anxiety can make you feel you are a helpless shred in the world and must be or do things it or people require. But that is false.
Is this only my own idea, or experience, or is it legitimate psychology? My young client is anxiously attached to her mother, to some debts, to a peremptory push of “responsibility” given her by her culture. I don’t know if these “specialties” grew from that original, felt cosmic indentured bond to the world that I’ve had to corner and disarm during some anxious times. That inarticulate sense (like Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name”) surely comes from childhood, where the world owned us, where we were not autonomous. Though I believe, from my “pessimistic” perspective, that most people did not actually grow to their adult self but adopted it, this act of jumping off the globe’s ride should still be one adult gift they give themselves, maybe a necessary one.
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So, three kinds of necessity that have nothing to do with each other. Or do they?