Thursday, April 14, 2016

Good riddance

The forty-two-year-old man and his fiancée were two out-of-phase yo-yo’s bouncing off each other. He clung, she withdrew. He distanced, she tickled him back in. The most recent recycle brought him to therapy. This was true love, he said, unlike his earlier eleven-year marriage that flagged about half-way in. Now, when things are going well, when “she is saying everything I want to hear!”, it’s beautiful.

This was a man who didn’t seem to know anger, who was equable and harmless, super-reasonable as a cushion accommodating all weights and sharp edges. At first I wanted to see the clinginess and softness as personality disorder. There was also the deep somatization that takes repressed pain and emptiness and turns them into gastrointestinal disaster. But later it became clear that we had someone who, in his formative years, had been bled slowly in a warm scented bath and now had no power of autonomy or spirit.

At the beginning of therapy he had mentioned that he’d been an “unruly” child, but that his parents had knowingly directed his negative energy into sports. Once he used the word “control” to describe their coached sublimation; later he could not remember why he’d used that word: Everything about them had been warm and affable, fun and involved, helpful and wise. They’d been sixties hippies, playing the great music in the house, involved in political movements, practicing the best-latest parenting psychology.

Yet . . . there was his long adult-stage depression, the dry and faded marriage, the acute neediness like a second adolescence. There was the arbitrary career field, the staying too long by “doing the right thing” for the children, the seamless docility in sessions, the sudden life-endangering illness. And the personality that could not see a single errant atom in his parents or his childhood, his sibling relationship, friendships or school. Pliant or curious, though, he was willing to look for something in his past, and tried to write his parents a letter.

“I can’t find a thing.”

I believe we could find some things, if we tune our radar to benign causes of lifelong dysfunction.

Client and his sister, young children, were taught to meditate and found the practice enjoyable. It became a bedtime ritual. So our theory – which he found plausible – is that empathy was replaced by the parents’ culture and their self- and outer focuses. The child’s feelings were lost beneath the eraser of meditation, by their curvature into football, were tempered by mother’s psychologizing and father’s grand dedication to altruistic causes. Client and his sister had no idea that they were disappearing in the music.
Children have fire and need their fire. Maybe it’s most fatal not when they are subject to clear abuses, but when they are bathed long-time in peace and good lessons, other people’s passions and lyrics, the atmosphere of not being you. The question of what is “good” and “bad” comes into play. My client was good – and gone as captain and inventor of his life.

Maybe the childhood unruliness was the most precious thing in his life, that he’ll miss forever. To help my client would be to cause him an ocean’s disturbance of obscurity. He’d have to wonder what fire there might have been, what philosophy his child would have chosen, what feelings and desires were meditated away. And if he will become angry at his enlightened, dedicated parents.

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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.