Tuesday, September 30, 2014
The radical grain
I’m sometimes envious of psychotherapists whose clients voice the deep Delphic, poetical-scatological, Freudian-perverse stuff in sessions – the demonic bowels-of-life matter which most people don’t whisper for more than a moment in the privacy of their Self. My appointments feature much less Nabokov and Burroughs, more Seinfeld-type soul. What do I lack, or what am I doing wrong that keeps the spiritual smeared feces, guttural emotions, incestuous urges locked away?
On rare occasion, though, an individual will reveal something outside the range of normal experience or common theory. Two individuals in therapies thirteen years apart described suffering identity questions – “Who am I?” “Why am I not Abraham Lincoln?” – at age three. So absurd yet so believable. I could vaguely picture being in that place – a girl standing on a bathroom stool looking in the mirror – feeling detached from herself in reality and principle so early in life.
Another absurdity presented was a middle-aged man’s disclosure that he dreads, and feels deathly wrong to be in, the world itself. His xenophobia was both microscopic and universal: Being alive in Life felt like a calamity of imminently worsening torture. His thoughts: “I am the living dead in a live world. I can’t join anything because I am curled up in a dying womb. I am screaming yet silent, ripping my mind out yet calm. The night is beautiful and like death. I am impossible, this is impossible.” He was not suicidal.
How did this happen? What if he is not alone in this state, what if more than a few people feel this way but have not identified the feeling and therefore do not know it is the seat of their psychic structure? How does the way they are living reflect it? We talk with them, work with them, are married to them. Does this say anything about the world, or even about God?
I believe it says, if even one soul is in that place, that ‘the world is in a grain of sand’* and the grain is the imprinted trauma of a birth or early life.
I want to get across that he did not say he felt “dead inside.” Gilligan writes of maximum security prisoners who, the metastatic endpoint of horrific child abuse, felt non-human:
“Some have told me they feel like robots or zombies, that they feel their bodies are empty or filled with straw, not flesh and blood, that instead of having veins and nerves they have ropes or cords.”**
Shengold, describing “soul murder,” says:
“What happens to the child subject to soul murder is so terrible, so overwhelming, and usually so recurrent that the child must not feel it and cannot register it, and resorts to a massive isolation of feeling, which is maintained by brainwashing (a mixture of confusion, denial, and identifying with the aggressor). A hypnotic living deadness, a state of existing ‘as if’ one were there, is often the result of chronic early overstimulation or deprivation.”***
And people do claim emotional emptiness or deadness. My client felt alive in quiet, in isolation, in the starry night above the skyline, and with his music or his food, but in the light of day and activity he was an error. The sense of this brings to mind the denizens of planet Krikkit in Douglas Adams’ novel Life, The Universe and Everything from his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. The people did not know they were intolerant of existence until the shock of discovery that there was a universe beyond their dust cloud-obscured sky. After which, everything but them had to be destroyed.
Picture a fear of being awake in the real world. Every neighborhood feels strange; every scene, like a rapist has pulled you out of a bed. Your smiles are fake, your words are pretentious ghostwriting for no one. Anxiety is depression, depression is fear, and absurdity is the gift before you were born.
Human psychology is remarkable.
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* Paraphrasing William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower. / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour.”
** James Gilligan, M.D., Violence, Vintage Books, 1997, p. 33.
*** Leonard Shengold, M.D., Soul Murder, The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1989, p. 25.