Thursday, March 6, 2014

The knot

I recently learned of a therapy failure.  A client whom I’d seen for five months, fairly consistently, thirteen months ago, had fallen deeper into alcohol than he’d been during our time at work.  After his third session I wrote: “Client continues to live in the stratosphere of questions about himself that he can’t answer: Should he leave the marriage or try to save it?  Efforts to help him get grounded in his deeper feelings and convictions – such as, Is ‘commitment’ an idea you viscerally accept? – seem futile."  His ambivalence did not release at all over the succeeding months, as we came to understand that his choice, essentially, was between food and oxygen.  He had fallen in love with a younger woman who “fed” him essential nutrients that his wife could not provide, though he continued to love her, too.

Many men are attracted to much younger women in a kind of romantic haze that I suspect many fewer women feel for boy-men.  I believe this is because men suffer a special kind of immaturity.  As they grow up, family’s and society’s imperatives of manliness and sexual smart-alec-ness make them skip natural feeling parts of their childhood.  These parts remain unloved.  (There is a circle here: If the child were loved, he wouldn’t disappear beneath the macho style.)  They grow up, then, with an abandoned child inside.  He emerges later, gazing upon his recaptured self, recaptured love, in the literal shape of a girl-woman.

My client could not give up his child self or his adult self.  I could not disagree with this, but asked him to see if he ultimately wanted his adult to “win,” and to look at his wife as more wonderful than he could presently see.  Apparently neither was possible, and his indecision became a heavier, frozen pain.  Alcohol became his medicine.

Before him, the only clients I would not welcome back hopefully would be the adjudicated delinquent boys with their burnt-cold personality disorders.  But I may add to the list this very nice man, transfixed in two times, two needs, two loves.  He grew up a caregiving boy, too responsible, then married someone who needed to be taken care of.  Several decades later, his child was returned to him when a young woman in love wanted to meet his needs.  I think if he returned to therapy, we would both be gazing at the Gordian knot, wondering if it were really two strands tied, or one strand twisted: love that could be let go, or couldn't.

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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.