Sunday, August 10, 2014
Most pessimistic before the dawn
This is a “real-time” posting, thought-through in the writing of it. It may, for all I know, end as bleak as it starts. The “dawn” is the beginning of this blog’s second year, next month. Hopefully it will break optimistic.
When doing therapy, I have to ignore the fact that I believe the client’s words, thoughts, manner and mannerisms are false. Everything is a life-front. He may act mature and be a thumb-sucking child. She may say love and be hate. He may raise his eyebrow and smile knowingly and be naïve as a baby. He may be muscular and arrogant and tremble like a sissy inside. She says sweetness and feels bitter enough to chew her mouth off. He says “depression” and is really a sixteen-year-old, already a shell, lost for years.
Even the most radical psychologies – Freudian and Primal – which see the child beneath all, like to believe the adult is valid in his own right. Defenses, said Freud, are necessary for the adult, though they are reality-bending. Exorcise childhood pain, in Primal Therapy, and what is left is a more “real” person.
This is necessary, I suppose, but no different than the necessity, for most people, to believe in an afterlife. It is, in fact, more necessary to hold to our adult existence. Despite the unreality, the going-through-the-motions we may vaguely feel about our grown-up pursuits; despite the childhood pulls in our marriage – I need, you need; despite all our deep and complicated thoughts that are just variations and embellishments of love-and-need-and-hurt themes – we must slap its face, this child, and walk tall, on our stilts, ’til the end.
This is our greatest paradox, that we can’t be what we are. But there are many contradictions that come from it, such as social right versus individual good; conditional love versus what a person really needs, which is unconditional care, loving forgiveness. Is a mother wrong to want to spare her criminal son from prison? She is as right as morality. She is right to hide her son from consequences, because he and she want him to live, because justice is a deep and complicated concept for someone else’s will against mine.
The paradox – we are the child and must be the adult – makes everything including psychotherapy absurd. This brings to mind a war movie fragment that I saw as a child. A group of soldiers, maybe considered to be traitors, are about to be executed by a firing squad of their own unit. One, the fall guy among them, strapped to the post is so terrified that he falls unconscious. This would be merciful, to die asleep. But as the moment approaches an officer slaps him awake so that he must witness in terror his last seconds, and other people’s justice. This is a very adult message. To allow him to die in his sleep, maybe in a dream, would be to nestle the child-in-the-adult, as Solveig holds the disconsolate Peer Gynt at the end of Ibsen’s play. But psychotherapy wants the man to know, because he can’t be the child.