Friday, October 17, 2014

Intervention tidbit #2: A thread tied to everything

A client in his early 20’s, massively personality disordered, happy-manic one day and blasĂ© suicidal the next, knew this about himself: When he found an interest, any interest, it faded the moment he revealed it to his mother, and died when she approved it.

One thread in a cloying mother-hating mother-needing stunted character, this curiosity might have just struck my prejudice as immaturity.  But then I remembered experiencing the same strange “disappearing act” in my teens and twenties.  The simple naming of an interest or goal to my mother’s accepting face would end it.  I remembered, too, having read some inspirational fluff many years later that reframed the problem through rose-tinted glasses: ‘When you have a dream, guard its preciousness, don’t share it with the world’ – or some such.  The inspirational wisdom did not explain why.

As I see it in myself and in the young man, this one strand connects to every facet and turn of the human time-kaleidoscope.  Here are some personal notions about its sources.

Many teens and young adults have interests that are either unreal or sapped by depression.  The seeds of curiosity and covetousness embedded in human potential may never grow or are killed.  What forms then are symbolic illusion or depressive shadow interests.  A young man “wants” to be an ophthalmologist, but he doesn’t care about eyes.  Teens I see think they like marine biology – but not the life sciences.  I initially majored in philosophy.  Had I looked inside, I would have felt the subject to be an ivory tower prison.  A suicidal seventeen-year-old “wants” to be a lawyer like all the men in his family line.

Such interests will usually reveal themselves, in time, as ghosts no matter what.  But when the illusion is named to the parent who created the illusory person in the first place – the never-validated, unseen child – the unreality spreads like flash fire within and blinds him.  A ghost can’t be seen in the white light of it.

What if the parent disagrees with her adolescent’s idea or vision?  Here is the fork in the psyche.  Some tenuous egos will disappear at the parent’s nix, but others will feel themselves harshly defined by (and only by) the contrast and conflict.  They might have been the “oppositional-defiant” latency child whose “no!” prevented engulfment by the neurotic parent’s power, maintained a sliver of identity.

Probably most of our clients have prosthetic selves, substitutes for an intrinsic good feeling nurtured in childhood.  My client was part-self-by-contrast, part-self-by-symbiosis, based in a religious and incestuous mother.  In him, an interest was a lifesaver to keep him from drowning, but which he leapt from the safety of the boat to cling to.  As we talked, I suggested the simple idea: Next time you find something that’s meaningful to you, don’t share it with your mother.  He smiled apprehensively.  This had not occurred to him.

I do not remember if he found it possible.

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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.