Sunday, January 25, 2015

Different eyes

I have not been able to grasp the nature of this woman’s disturbance.  It’s even very difficult to describe.  She has a subtle psychotic air yet everything she says is reasonable, conventionally insightful, and expressed without especial drama.  Her eyes look off, and I believe this is a real indicator.   They somehow seem focused and unfocused at the same time, as if they are transfixed on some inner, but invisible, scene.  The main signs of something amiss are her verbosity, interminable and circumstantial, her metaphor-laden storytelling, the tortuous yet complacent rationalizing of every confrontable statement and action – including her felt need to waste session after session with coma-inducing monologues.  I once apologized for falling sick into the Zone of Anesthesia as she spoke – I felt I had collapsed inwardly as if drugged.  She hadn’t noticed a thing, blamed it on her “overwhelming” cataract of words, then sallied on.

Am I being a “male chauvinist”?  Because there is a man, too, who has droned on for two years with his caviling philosophies, God cynicism and incapacity to question the check-mark in his head that ratifies every idea and makes self-doubt impossible – yet I never saw him as psychotic.

But it is a psychosis.  Where reason is co-opted by ideas.  Explanations replace feelings.  A seventy-minute-long barrage of words feels natural.  A sane person can see himself and see others.  But to be without agency in one’s problems, to justify with airy concepts callousness to the earth and to people, and to bore and not listen to the other, is to do neither.  It is the insanity of the responsive insensate.  He spanks his son, but feels rage at the world.

One needs to become perceptive of this disembodiment – not the easiest thing as there are convincing strata of seeming-authenticity.  A woman who claims to have “good talks” with her angry son, stockpiles my referrals to Parent Effectiveness Training and Siblings Without Rivalry and Toxic Psychiatry in her purse, then goes home and paddles her children, is at one level of unreality.  She seemed pleasantly sane until I learned about the screaming and beating.  I will have to look her in the eyes and say, “You do not have good talks with a son you hit and do not listen to.”  Robert Hare, I believe, described a psychopath who looked up emotion words in the dictionary in order to simulate feelings.  His mask of sanity* might snow me – or even an expert in psychopathy** – longer than would the mother’s.

I’m suggesting that insanity needs to be understood as separation from the heart, that is, from the self.  This happens when pain is too much and gets buried under ice, or intellect.  It can then only come out in terrible ways.  An eighteen-year-old who has no hope.  A man has hated his wife for twenty-six years and blames the universe.  A woman can talk on and on, replacing “I” with metaphors because, she explains, this keeps her from her breakdown, always waiting.

Insanity may be what we do to escape the fire of our history.  Or try to.

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* The title of Hervey Cleckley’s classic on psychopathy --

** Robert D. Hare, PhD, Without Conscience, The Guildford Press, 1993.

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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.