Sunday, January 17, 2016

Intervention tidbit #8: "Boring"

My teenage years were as gauche and out-of-body as Asperger’s, but for my ability to fake intellectual passion.  This was, I know, the reason I was gut-averse to seeing adolescents when I started doing psychotherapy.  Some of you will know the complex feeling of inferiority and fakeness among your own age or sex.  Women clients have told me they are not at ease with other women.  I felt like a shell-less egg around boys.

But now, many years on, I feel gut-right and spirited to work with teens, and see wide-open potential (though also farcical failure) in them.

There are words that people misuse because they are not in touch with their own natures.  “Love” is a major one: The real experience may be desperate need, or sympathy, or obligation, and of course sex.  “Honor” and “pride” and “self-respect,” needs that criminals and fanatics kill for, are their sense of disintegrative shame.  One of these words in the adolescent lexicon is “boring.”  A tough and sullen boy may claim that therapy is boring – yet he is talking about himself.  He really means that it is disturbing.  A different definition of the word is found in boys whose colors of life have been drained through years of lovelessness and hard labor.  Father and stepfather hit, desert, shame them.  Mother is a deflated balloon who clings to men, and then to her son.  The boy doesn’t announce stages of giving up, but they nevertheless happen as he withdraws, not inward, but to nothingness.  He discovers first that one enjoyment has become boring, then another and another.  And one day it occurs to him: Everything is boring.

What has happened inside that uses that word?  We can’t take it at face value.  He might be at a rock concert or party, or at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and find them boring.  A mountain camping trip may be the same.  We must realize that this is not attitude, but an actual state of being lost in an empty place inside that can no longer reach with hand or heart anything outside.  The word “boring” – an unaware projection and euphemism – comes to his mind because it’s the kindest way of knowing his disconnection from the world, right at the time he should be jazzed and teen-narcissistic about it.  This feeling of non-feeling – “That’s boring” – can sometimes include the suicidal sensation.

One young man’s loss-emptiness also leaked into his thoughts: his “anxiety about his own mortality, his place in the world.”  But that was “psycho-logic”: derivative dysfunction.  We needed to focus on the feelings of loss, dullness and decay, but also on what had preceded them.  Do you remember enjoyed things as a younger child, before the curtain started to fall?  He answered in the present tense, hopefully a good sign.  He liked to build things, liked “nature.”  Can you feel them still?  Is there something of timelessness to them?  I believe these interests – scraps of gold, one might say – can be re-captured if too much time and depression haven’t overlain them.  The therapy must be both hopeless and hopeful therapy, then: grief over failures that had happened and were still happening, and the encouragement to hold onto things that remained alight within.  We watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech: find what you love; don’t settle; connect the dots; “stay hungry, stay foolish.”  We had a serious hour.

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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.