Saturday, June 28, 2014

A session, today

Watch Sam Harris, today’s most forcible atheist polemicist, debating Christian and Jewish scholars and Deepak Chopra’s “woo woo” physics,* to see a self-confidence that many people don’t have.  The impression is of the placidity of a platinum lake which others’ formidable intellects and arguments bounce off like sunbeams.  For the purposes of this post, I will believe his way is not narcissism or angry ruthlessness, but the fact and pleasure of being and knowing oneself.

Many others, myself and today’s client included, either have to claw our way out of impotence, or blanch and collapse in defeat, before someone’s authoritarian word.  This is true even if we know we are right and they are crackpot and Neanderthal.  A client’s husband says to me, “I don’t believe in therapy, it’s a fraud” and my gut melts until I kick in my smarts and narcissism and shoot back.  A “manosphere”-level** relative tells her that “women can’t drive” and her blood pressure shoots up, her words flail and tears fall.  Something happens where the adult disappears, revealing the inept child inside – and outside.

Reflecting psychotherapy’s essence, this problem of confidence – or actually of self, itself – can be addressed from the outside or the inside, from the present or the past.  A “now” approach would be to help the client see that the faux-authority attacker is a wounded little boy who has come to cover his hurt with contempt, his disintegrative inferiority with bland superiority.  He is actually speaking a delusion that he must cling to else he will feel the core fault of his childhood.

The then or inside approach – better and much, much harder – is to reach into time and hold all her injuries, all the deaths of confidence and self as they pour out in your hands where they can finally sit in peace, and without shame.  That is a start, but there may not be a second act because the loss of self by an invading or abusive mother or by the pervasive over­power­ingness of childhood leaves an empty place which real knowledge and real conviction can’t grow on.

Lacking a natural self, which is the immovable mover of our psyche, we will have to manu­facture a defense, or offense, against engulfment by anyone else’s will.  I could tell the ignorant husband, “What you are saying is that no one ever helped you, so now you need to believe that help isn’t possible.”  And in my weakness I might be pleased by his angry bafflement.  The client could say, “What a sad little mouth-breathing nincompoop you are, uncle,” refusing to fall into the debate.  Or she might quote Phil Ochs: “For you, ‘the calendar is lyin’ when it reads the present time.’”***  Or she might get Socratic: “Which driving skills do women lack?  In each and every case?  Which skills do men never lack?”  The arsenal is wide, and may contain delusion itself, and shaky as it sits upon a child who is a flickering candle.

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** Manosphere: (Note 4/29/2016: Defunct website!)

*** Phil Ochs, “Here’s To the State of Mississippi”:

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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.