Friday, September 27, 2013


Today’s word is quiddity, defined by as “1. the quality that makes a thing what it is; the essential nature of a thing.  2. a trifling nicety of subtle distinction, as in argument.”  And by Merriam-Webster as: “1. Whatever makes something the type that it is: essence.  2. A trifling point: quibble.”

That is, the word means the opposite of itself: the essential nature of a thing, and a subtle distinction.  While Janov (primal therapy) sees dialectic, “the interpenetration of opposites,” throughout human psychology (, I also see it in the practice of psychotherapy.  One expression of it: Some of the most critical core truths verge on (a) the effectively irrelevant or (b) the absurdly recondite.  For those who have read beyond Psych 101 or a master’s degree community counseling curriculum – pretty much equivalent – into the real stuff (the quiddities), you will see what I mean.  You might find at random this, from an article by Janov:

“The point about original reduced oxygen experience is that the whole personality seems to ‘shrivel up.’  It is a constriction rather than an expansion.  When she speaks she takes up much less space and air; her words hardly move out of her mouth, and there is an air of fatigue about her.  Is it any wonder that she (or he) is less sexual?  Again, the whole system slows to adapt to reduced oxygen; the system is doing its best to avoid a mismatch between supply and demand (Singer, 1999).  And when there is imprinted low oxygen we might expect slower growth rate.  One way we see this is in neonates born to smoking mothers who are often of smaller stature.  That in itself assumes trauma somewhere during womb-life maturation.  That can foretell of a premature heart attack or cancer later in life.  I think it is more likely to lead to cancer than cardiac problems because of the massive repression or inhibition that goes along with this kind of personality.  Repression of womb life events is nearly always of life-and-death matters; the repression it engenders is massive, and the result can cause serious distortion at a cellular level.  (“Life Before Birth: How Experience in the Womb Can Affect Our Lives Forever,” Arthur Janov, PhD, Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 23(3), Spring 2009.)

. . . or this, by Masterson:

“The defensive or libidinal grandiose-self-omnipotent-object relations fused unit of the closet narcissistic disorder consists of an omnipotent-object representation that contains all power, perfection, direction, supplies, and so on.  The grandiose-selfrepresentation is one of being superior, elite, with an affect of feeling perfect, special, unique, adored, admired.  The underlying aggressive object relations fused unit consists of a fused object representation that is harsh, punitive, and attacking and a self-representation of being humiliated, attacked, empty, and linked by the affect of the abandonment depression that is experienced more as the self fragmenting or falling apart than as the loss of the object described by the borderline personality disorder."  ("Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Closet): A Developmental Self and Object Relations Approach," James Masterson, MD.)

Another quidditicious state is the proliferation of psycho-wisdom in scholarly, academic, pop and conversational forms.  It is so boundless as to be a kind of runaway inflation: Each “unit” loses value in lived reality and personal discourse; becomes a trifle.  I (discreetly) roll my eyes whenever someone labels a public figure or coworker a “narcissist” or “sociopath,” or their aunt’s husband a “codependent” or an “enabler,” or describes herself as “clinically depressed” or “bipolar” or “ADD” or a “split personality.”  A poignant conversation about your difficult life transforms to instant bathos when the word “abuse” or “trauma” appears.

Fortunately for me, the quiddity dust storms crash to a halt, the sun replaces the clouds, the air is clean and quickened, when the most ‘subtly distinct’ of all things – a 16-year-old client – sits in the chair.  I burn all the books in a pile behind me and by the light, listen to a moving quiddity: an essential loss of self reflected in the most intangible ways.

The young man, always anxious, sees forces not events.  When he feels happy, “everyone else” is miserable.  When he gets high grades in class, “everyone else” does poorly.  World events occur in roles and stereotypes, not because individuals act by their lights.  A cultural movement is by "Caucasians" or Hispanics or "the poor" only, en masse, like oil and water not mixing in a great ocean surge.  An idea read in a book or heard in an advertisement replaces whatever was in his head and becomes what his life is dedicated to, until the next one.

One reason this client is so engaging is that I believe I relate.  When I was a boy, I did not see people as people, but as roles.  Father and mother were just and only that, not individuals alive first and performing second.  A truck driver, who would honk his horn for me when I made the honk gesture, was only and always a truck driver: It was his complete identity; he could never turn into something else.  When I learned that a teacher at my elementary school quit to become a real estate agent, I could not grasp it: She was a teacher – with an emphasis on “is.”

Though I haven’t read all the books, I would chance a guess that none of them has ever explained – in a real existential, neurological, familial, understandable way – what happens in a child’s psyche that causes the exchange of reality for this strange experience.  Explanations are given, I’m sure, but they are useless – terms that try to paint the ocean, homestead the inscrutable, like ego, identity, bonding, cathexis, individuation, “withdrawing object relations part unit” (WORU), undifferentiated unity, depersonalization, derealization, dissociation, and more.

For me, this tinted reality came from disconnection, later transformed to different aberrant traits based in unmet infancy needs and immaturity – putting hexes on other kids, knowing that some aware yet effete god looked down upon me from the sky, knowing my value – and culminated around my client’s age, fifteen-and-a-half, in a shiny porous narcissism anchored to Ayn Rand’s philosophy and attitude of egotism.  In my young client, I “preliminarily saw” a beginning similar to mine, but a psycho-development bathed in more anxiety and fewer encouragements of reality, such as friends possibly.  No one can explain why his feet have never firmly touched the ground, why the grand forces of the world that cow, amaze and convince a toddler, have continued to be his Father into his late teens.

The work I do with him is a quiddity.  He doesn’t sleep anymore, and if one accepts Modrow’s flowchart of psychosis (How To Become a Schizophrenic), the not sleeping could be another missing rung of the downward ladder to schizophrenia.  I try humor – not very successful – and encouragement not to respect the ideas that come from anxiety, which comes from early fear.  The ultimate help may never be possible, as it may be to emotionally face the earliest unmet needs – help from birth panic?, corrective holding and bonding?, to scream in existence pain? – without which we remain waiting.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.