Sunday, November 24, 2013

Casual Saturday #1

A client, today, asked me how to become stronger than her parent, how to not melt to her powerful mother.  This is a bright twenty-something with a fifty-something whose power consists of having been sick long enough to infect the children by her solipsistic dark energy field.  She asks the question of maturity, or maybe the question of happiness.  Maturity means to be separate from the other.  A happy view of life means that she will not see her mother as a drowning dying person but as someone who, allowed to fall on her face once the daughter steps away, can feel good enough to get up, heal and walk on.

I sometimes talk of people having from birth a “positive core.”  Though not a scientific idea, it makes sense if you accept that most babies are born much more positive than negative.  That is, they are curious, seek happiness and love and help from pain.  Even most of those born in trauma who recoil from touch still had the blueprint of positive potential.  (My “theory” says that psychopaths are different – their heart burned out from the beginning.)  If my graduate student has this core of positivity underneath her weakened and diminished self, then if she grieves the pain of so much loss that surrounds it, the core’s quiet light will shine through.  Sometimes I ask a client to find her core while still troubled, as a lighthouse in her dark ocean.

As to maturity, we talked about natural self-esteem, logical self-esteem and fake self-esteem (the first two borrowed from “natural” and “logical consequences”).  Natural self-esteem is what grows in the young person organically in a loving respectful and basically content atmosphere.  You simply feel OK to be yourself.  I remember, early 1960’s, three young-teen second cousins sitting around the den with their asbestos litigation attorney father, Harry Jr., all farting up a storm and resplendently free of shame.  That was self-esteem!  Logical self-esteem would be to know and cherish that you are worth what other people are worth; to take pride in your surviving your childhood; to respect the quality of your competence – all this despite bad self-feeling or existential emptiness.  Fake self-esteem – which we may mix with the logical – would be narcissism.  I can’t, though, tell the young woman how to acquire this.

Two things we’ve settled on: It will be best for her to depart from home and start her life elsewhere; but, that it won’t be better for her: still the same person, still afraid of people in power, maybe afraid of everyone (we haven’t investigated that possibility).  Yet I picture her going away, growing, then coming home but being too big to fit into her parents’ house anymore.  “So sad when that happens!” Mrs. Doubtfire ironically said.

I’m sure there are many things better than psychotherapy to metamorphose one’s character in a sea change way.  I’ve wondered about the Outward Bound program that sends kids and others into nature, into beauty, to struggle and bond.  Hitting the end of the road may lead to character change, as it did for me.  Still, I put my money on deep grieving and the irreducible kernel of life force, the core of positivity that can kick fear’s ass, heal the sick and sing a love poem all together.  It is quite ambidextrous.

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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.