Sunday, March 2, 2014

Love versus need

Fiftieth post anniversary

I believe that too often, general psychotherapy helps people shuffle the deck chairs of their psyche, manipulate their illusions about themselves.  A couple wants marriage help, to stop arguing, to forgive, to get the other partner to grow up – when the deepest invisible fact is that they don’t really love.  A woman wants a solution to her anxiety, you find yourself in heated competition with her psychiatric medications*, but she doesn’t want to know that she has been running with her eyes closed from her childhood, for thirty years.  Clients don’t want to be depressed, but they also don’t want to be real: to know that their parents did not help them grow, and this is the source of their depression.

And counselors, taking sweet refuge with their clients in the here-and-now, homestead islets of positivity in the unquiet ocean of their lives.  We support their job search, encourage them to socialize, get a college degree, grow some emotional backbone, when they are not even in touch with their real self.

There is a maelstrom, and we are holding motivational seminars on the cloud above it.

One of the illusions we often fail to see is “love versus need.”  It is part of the heart of many different problems, where a person may not even be in touch with his capacity to love – it is so buried – yet pursues another from need, or gets pursued from need, or stays under her aging parent’s thumb, from need.  How do we confuse these two feelings?

This came up recently: A new boyfriend has said “I love you” three weeks into the relationship.  Is it real?  I believe that many people say the word, and they mean that salvation, or the hope of it, has come to them.   The urge for fusion or completion is given the name love, and this deflects us from the underlying problem: We are starved, half of a shell, when alone.

I saw this in myself a long time ago.  To be alone was to have the plug pulled – quiet collapse to no meaning, motivation or soul but the sensual primitive: food, sex, sleep, symbiosis.  This was a harrowing insight, whose main redeeming value was to make my later marriage better.  I understood how much was need, how much was love.

Were our clients to understand that love has more to do with two autonomous individuals than with two needs, it would be a kind of instant psychotherapy – pessimistic psychotherapy that would force them to ask, Who am I?, not Who are you and why are you not there for me?  It would be optimistic therapy because it would help them (finally) see the playing field they are on, from birth to now.  It is their field that pulls others toward them, their wound that attracts wounded healers or sharks, their need that is caught in limbo, neither past nor present, so how can another fully meet it?  When they know their playing field, the better to make a strategy.

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* Counselors may be in "competition" with psychiatric medications in two ways: The client may always be leaning toward the quick fix and away from the difficult work of therapy; over-medication (or what Peter Breggin, M.D. would call "medication") may blanket those feelings that therapy needs to reach.

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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.