Thursday, February 19, 2015

Intervention tidbit #5: Insights as light, rain and shadow

People change when they feel different.  Deep loss can change a person, and deep feeling-through of that loss (The Prince of Tides – Tom Wingo weeping on Dr. Lowenstein’s shoulder) can change him back.  In depth therapy, we want blocked pain – yesterday’s or forty years buried – to finally come out, giving the person back to herself (at least to that depth of pain).

Neurotic* folk can sometimes change through reason and knowledge, but not because they have “installed”** new information, or even because it is valid and true.  For the neurotic, reasoning is co-opted by the defense structure and becomes rationalizing; knowing is undermined by deeper truths.  “Obviously my childhood was terrifying, but those days are gone and I’m in charge of my life now,” says the woman who must quit her job and find a new one because she is too anxious to drive on the Interstate.  Tell a healthy and non-defended mother that banishing a child to his room to cry alone is harmful to him, and she’s likely to say, “Yes, I can see that.  Those tears need someone there to care.”  Knowledge touches feeling, feeling changes behavior.  However, tell a congenitally tense chain-smoker that cigarettes can kill, and he might say, “Yes, I know that.  But there’s a (deeper) need.”

Today’s casual theory is that only when a piece of knowledge strikes beneath our critical defenses and touches the Self primarily, beneath the needed parent bond, can it spark emotion that changes us.

I saw this in my work with a recovering anorexic graduate student, where three insights were proposed in one session.  One touched the nerve and the heart almost instantaneously; the second toyed with being absorbed; the third struck nervous and closed eyes and was rejected.

We were looking at ways to break the identity barrier that forbade her from gaining an ounce beyond her slim victory of ninety-eight pounds.  Earlier we had discarded the drastic process of “nurturant-authoritative psychotherapy,”*** which is the reparenting – the leaning on – an anorexic needs.  The first insight:

The “mistakes” you made as a child – assumed from your parents’ words or looks – were not mistakes.  Children do not make mistakes: They have learning experiences.
I had asked my client to see this as an axiom, and one that should re-color her entire sense of herself.  “I was OK.  I just needed to see myself differently, be seen differently.  And even now, I’m just trying, and learning – not defective, not a “mistake.”  I knew such a caput Nili was possible from my work with a depressed man whose boyhood spirit was bent to his parents’ perfection-demanding glare:

. . . client’s lifelong sense . . . that his life is based on seminal ‘mistakes’ he has made through the years.  Attempting to engage in depth Focusing, he could only reach – “I’m disappointed in myself,” not a deeper underlying feeling of being a hurt child.  This led to our re-conceptualizing ‘mistake’ as ‘learning experience,’ or simply the natural behaviors of children that should not be adjudged defects, signs of low intelligence, or moral flaws.
The second insight was the hidden treasure of “trusting oneself.”  We referred to Levenkron’s observation: “If you have developed anorexia nervosa, however, you probably don’t think much of my suggestions or feel optimistic about finding people whom you will be able to depend upon emotionally.  Anorexia nervosa could well be called the ‘mistrusters’ disease.’”****  An anorexic, whose starving is the despairing-defiant identity creation of a formerly “cooperative” and “compliant” empty child, cannot trust herself: There is no seat of ego within that void from which to weather the storms of her needs and impulses.  And yet, something in her now, maybe through therapy’s help or personal successes, is reason to trust that she will not overeat to disaster, will not lose all control.  My client clearly appreciated, though in bemused optimism, this idea.  I could tell that she was like a plant wondering if it should respond to the warm rain.

The third insight was a contradiction, a saboteur: the absence of her parents’ discipline, their laissez faire negligence, which must translate to feeling unloved.  There would be no way to avoid this unconscious knowledge, and therefore no way to avoid the need for medicative nurturance: food as love.  So her self-trust would always battle the rip current of love – real calories turned empty, ten thousand zeroes that could never equal her hunger.

My client could accept the first insight, that she was a good child not a defective one, because its light shone mostly on herself and touched her birthright of self-acceptance and goodness.  But that light also cast a shadow on her parents: They had allowed her to feel, as she grew to adulthood, like a wrong person.  We left the session and I wondered: Will she be wondering – How do you blend the light and the shadow?

- - - - - - - - - - -

** EMDR terminology.  From, #5: “Cognitive installation of the positive self-statement – The client is instructed to pair the previously identified or an alternative positive self-statement with the original traumatic image at the same time as further bilateral stimulation takes place.  The efficacy of this phase is measured by the client’s self-reported VOC.  An attempt is made to increase the VOC to a score of 6 or 7.”

*** Steven Levenkron’s term for his reparenting psychotherapy.

**** Levenkron, Treating and Overcoming Anorexia Nervosa, Warner Books, 1982, p. xxiii.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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.