Friday, January 17, 2014


A lot of my therapy happens to feature helping people become stronger.  “Stronger” to me means certain mental-emotional and character qualities, and the behaviors directed by or at least infused with those qualities.  This goal cannot, “technically speaking,” be considered client-centered, as it often originates with me (though it would not be pursued without the client’s interest, and is arguably locked into the nature of depression, anxiety, etc.).  It is not a multi-culturally polite approach.  The indigenous folk of Lower Slobbovia may define strength as submission to the will of their demented nonagenarian great-grandfathers, and the foresight to sharpen the penis of their bedded sons. . . .

“Childhood in contemporary Japan, although somewhat more Western than that of other Eastern nations, still includes masturbation by mothers ‘to put them to sleep.’  Parents often have intercourse with their children in bed with them, and ‘co-sleeping,’ with parents physically embracing the child, often continues until the child is 10 or 15.  One recent Japanese study found daughters sleeping with their fathers over 20 percent of the time after age 16.  Recent sex surveys report memories of sexual abuse even higher than comparable American studies, and ‘hot lines’ of sexual abuse report mother-son incest in almost a third of the calls, the mother saying to her teenage son, ‘It’s not good to do it alone.  Your IQ becomes lower.  I will help you,’ or ‘You cannot study if you cannot have sex.  You may use my body,’ or ‘I don’t want you to get into trouble with a girl.  Have sex with me instead’” (Lloyd de Mause, 1997 speech, “The History of Child Abuse” at
. . . definitions that I could never agree or work with despite the sacrosanctity of cultural differences.*

When you look at the idea of strength, doesn’t it seem estimable?  A person who cares about herself wouldn’t allow someone to abuse her body or boundaries or screw with her mind.  She would feel in her heart worthy of living, and her heart would move her to live and enjoy her birthright, not merely hide and hope.

But of course, “strength” doesn’t mean the same things to everyone.  To philosopher, logician and atheist Bertrand Russell, “people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners” would be “contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings” (“Why I Am Not a Christian,” lecture, 1927 at – certainly not a strength.  Yet millions of people would consider such acts of faith a beautiful reflection of their strength.

Again, I can only go by my own lights, which are admittedly filtered through my history.  Strength, then, is often seen in relation to malevolent or sick others who control, and who have sapped my clients’ self-generation and spirit and backbone.

Out of this perspective, though, comes a question: Why do many clients recoil at the thought of exercising this “relationship strength”?  Why do many pay weak service, or lip service, or no service to the notion?  Why is it not a value?  Men and women stay injured children before parents whom they continue to depend on for lifeblood: money and residence and child care.  They have “heart plugs”** which family pulls at its neurotic discretion.  They may know their life is constricted by weakness and the gravitational force of their parents’ needs or will, and they accept.  While there must be many answers to this question, I believe that often the people are in a very real way accepting unhappiness.  One corroborative explanation for this is Scottish psychoanalyst W.R.D. Fairbairn’s “return to the bad object” dynamic.  Fairbairn, working in an orphanage pre-World War II, “noticed that children who were forcibly removed from their abusive homes remained extraordinarily attached, both in fantasy and in reality, to their parents.”***  His explanation defined bad object as a parent “who holds out the promise of gratification, yet fails time after time to satisfy the needs of the dependent individual.  Thus the bad object has two facets, an exciting facet that promises gratification and a larger rejecting facet that frustrates the needs of the dependent other.  A parent who is a 100 percent rejecting object is not defined as a bad object, since this type of parent promises nothing to the infant, who soon gives up all efforts to get her needs met.”*** 

The “bad object” caregiver cannot be rejected by the child: Meager satisfaction is the parent’s hook embedded in her soul.  Like someone trudging miles through the desert who is, at the moment of greatest weakness and need, offered a single spoonful of water, the child must accept, “love” and conform to what will be insufficient and even emotionally torturous.  And further: Frustrated in his critical needs, he becomes "more rather than less attached to his mother than is the loved and accepted child.  . . . Young children, including abused and neglected ones, are absolutely fixated . . . on their mothers.  The more they are deprived, the more they are fixated."***  Collateral dynamics are involved.  The attribution of false guilt to the child.  His internalization of badness which saves the parent’s goodness.  And the mutable meaning of happiness.

For doesn’t happiness redefine to the size of the child’s world?  The small planet whose dimensions are the umbilical cord of fixation tethering him to his mother?

I would like my clients to grow strong enough not to bleed at the sight of a parent or boss; to burn off their false guilt (you are not bad for getting a C); to feel mature enough to laugh not quake at father’s raised eyebrows or mother’s raised voice.  These are strengths, want them or not.

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* In that spirit, here is architect Roark at Kiki Holcombe’s cocktail party, from The Fountainhead (pdf complete novel):

“’Oh, Mr. Roark, I’ve been so eager to meet you!  We’ve all heard so much about you!  Now I must warn you that my husband doesn’t approve of you – oh, purely on artistic grounds, you understand – but don’t let that worry you, you have an ally in this household, an enthusiastic ally!’

“’It’s very kind, Mrs. Holcombe,’ said Roark.  ‘And perhaps unnecessary.’
“’Oh, I adore your Enright House!  Of course, I can’t say that it represents my own esthetic convictions, but people of culture must keep their minds open to anything, I mean, to include any viewpoint in creative art, we must be broad-minded above all, don’t you think so?’
“’I don’t know,’ said Roark.  ‘I’ve never been broad-minded.’
“She was certain that he intended no insolence; it was not in his voice nor his manner; but insolence had been her first impression of him.  He wore evening clothes and they looked well on his tall, thin figure, but somehow it seemed that he did not belong in them; the orange hair looked preposterous with formal dress; besides, she did not like his face; that face suited a work gang or an army, it had no place in her drawing room.”
** Movie version of Dune.

*** David P. Celani, The Illusion of Love, Why the Battered Woman Returns to Her Abuser, p. 7; p. 137; pp. 25-26.

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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.