Saturday, November 8, 2014

The unknown

I remember an interesting woman who was court-ordered to domestic violence therapy following a physical argument with her fifteen-year-old son. She could not understand why the boy was so stuck in the past: still burned by his parents’ divorce five years earlier. That was the reason, she believed, for the anger now: “I hate you, witch.”

The woman identified herself as “a motherly person,” raising this child and recently, two stepchildren. But here the mix-up begins. By “motherly,” she meant toward her ex-husband, whom she had “coddled” because he was “more child than man.” But she implicitly extended the attribution of motherliness to her whole character. And how was her husband childish?  He didn’t know how to “pamper” her.

What did this woman – maternal envoy with breasts and baroque tattoos exposed – know about herself? Almost nothing. It’s probably not unfair to say she didn’t know what motherly meant. She didn’t know what pampering meant to her. She didn’t know her complex feelings beneath their simple labels, or that she had never seen her son without the filter of agenda. She may not have understood the experience of love. She didn’t see her painful angry twisted backbone or her killed empathy from childhood and their effect on everything.

My summary, from two decades of clinical practice, is that many people don’t know themselves at all, so profoundly that one could say they don’t even know what know means. They do not know that certain questions exist – fundamental questions of a viable childhood and the existence of self – and therefore that they ride the waves of their life above certain answers: above sharks with mouths agape. Their sense of themselves is attitude, not observation. And if they do observe, even down through the floorboards to infancy, a self-preserving handle of anesthesia or positivity remains to cling to, protecting them from the worst revelations.

Self-knowledge can be insanity, as Modrow described in How to Become a Schizophrenic.* Carl Jung, I once read, turned away a prospective client when he presented an introductory dream. Jung found in it a dormant psychosis that would awaken were the man to deeply see himself. I have glanced at skeletons of my nature that would be overwhelming were it not for the dysthymia that muffles them.

All this may seem inessential except that psychotherapy is tied to self-awareness. How, in hell, do we know how far to go in its uncovering? Is our aim in some way a complete self-contradiction, a continuum of enlightenment from painful flame to conflagration; from revisited mourning to hopelessness about our parents, to feeling the void of love, to the grip of false self and never-born? These are questions that always lie beneath my work, always, even in the happiest or most casual moments. I am sure I will never find the answers.

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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.