Buying Underwear Is Not Spiritual Growth

Jockey is running an add campaign where for a limited time you get a free pair of underwear in exchange for your soul and $22.50. Understanding your reaction to the commercial might make you a better person.  We’ll also talk about what has more broadly become known as body-work in therapy.

 

Ignore the music and most of what she says.  Her dancing in her knickers, playing with firefighting equipment and the emotions displayed only make sense in terms of a relationship to someone who is watching.  Not in terms of the audience, but in terms of in whose watchful presence would her actions and emotions make sense?  My answer is of course her boyfriend, or more specifically, someone who represents the loving gaze of a father who is proud of his exuberant daughter innocently enjoying her body through play.

Which is exactly what body positivity is all about, and exactly how people become ashamed of their bodies and sexuality (i.e. sensual pleasure you feel bad about) in the first place.  Jockey is selling freedom from shame, which unfortunately comes from somebody else, not you, and not Jockey.  They are selling the lie of positive attention, which the knickers will help you imagine for a while and then experience as a loss.  Because, after all, a product is not a relationship.  

Freud first identified that most over-stuffed of terms, libido, as early as 1894.  While the concept morphed throughout the years it is best understood as that embodied, enlivening sense of warm buzzing sensual pleasure which has been popularly understood as explicitly sexual.  Freud and his concepts of neurosis, hysterical symptoms, the preceding generations neurasthenias, and the modern day notion of psycho-somatic symptoms trace their lineage of the embodied nature of emotion and its suppression.

The libidinous enjoyment of ones body was expanded by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (Freud-Sadger-Reich lineage) and his Orgone Energy.  It was later carried on by the bodywork therapy of his analysand and trainee Alexander Lowen.  It grew to more broadly influence the work of somatic therapeutic modalities such as Rolfing (with Fritz Pearls), the Alexander Method for musicians and actors, Hannah Somatics, and the somatic method of Moshe Feldenkrais. Recent neurological trauma oriented therapies such as Peter Levine’s Trauma Releasing Exercises and David Bercelli’s work broadly incorporate similar incites:  Healthy, happy people experience themselves, their emotions, and their body as one virbrant holistic embodied experience – not as diffuse disconnected stimuli.   Emotional problems, when they occur, always manifest in physical symptoms because emotions themselves are physical.

For a brief experiment on this yourself pick two objects – one you consider important, the other you consider unimportant.  Find some quiet private time for this and then hold and observe the objects in turn.  Attend to the feelings in your body, whatever they may be, and consider the koan “How do i know this is important and this is not?”  You will notice the body pattern of whatever emotions you have associated with the object.  It may include warmth, buzzing, tension or relaxation feelings.  There is some way you know, experientially, that one object is important and the other.

This is the beginning of the bodywork approach to dealing with psychology – trying to locate, experience more intensely, and understand.

Primitive original emotions, called affects, are experienced by infants and even animals to some degree.  The best modern writers on this subject are Joseph Lichtenberg, Silvin Tomkins and a curious volume by Joseph M. Jones called Affect as Process which among other things considers primitive emotions as a form of non-verbal communication, later subsumed by language to greater or lesser degrees of success.  Your body is a system of language and physical emotions which represents the external world, lines of reasoning which match well with Lacan, but to the best of my knowledge have not been explored elsewhere.  To the intersubjectivists this means that our emotional affects communicate directly to the neurology of other humans in our presence through the tonus of our nervous system in a way that, contra Freud, is not purely imaginary.  It’s the language of the unconscious.

Show ’em what’s underneath is a clever double entendre. It’s about exposure of the self through exposure of the body – the validation of the one being inseparable from the validation of the other.  I would assert that feeling sexy means the sense of being secure experiencing bodily pleasure and joy in the gaze of another. * In the case of this actress, it is her father (by metaphor).  Do you really think it is a coincidence that the marketers chose to cast someone speaking about her father?

What prevents their targeted customer from experiencing this desirable feeling of vicarious love is a sense of shame – the painful withdrawal of the desire for recognition –  which of course, belonged to most girls fathers who at some point became uncomfortable with their daughters and experienced shame in their presence which they could not talk about (and indeed may not even consciously be aware of).

In a metaphor, the relationship with the father was no longer a safe place to feel sensual pleasure (the enjoyment of ones free play, and the feeling that it brought joy to others).  The way this happens is that young children naturally enjoy the embodied (emotional and phsyical well being) experience of sensual pleasure – feeling at home in ones body.  Adults identify with this experience (by which I literally mean feel the same pleasure in their body through the process of empathy) and infer or project, depending on your philosophy, even if only unconsciously, that children are experiencing sexual pleasure.  The difference between “sensual” and “sexual” is of course one word…shame.  This empathy produces shame in the adult which they then take out on the child in a variety of ways.  Mostly this occurs as shaming them for enjoying touch or being naked.  The tragic part is that nobody  can talk about it and thus nobody knows what happened or how to find a new home for the feeling.

To whit:  Jockey hopes that the affect the actress is feeling will trigger an emotional resonance with potential customers that will convince them unconsciously they can have access to these feelings, too:  Pride – the safe sense of being the positive center of attention.

Notice the girl is a “safe” bet in this fashion:  Pretty, but not a model – blue collar, yet with an “heroic” occupation.  She is a safe person to admire to without triggering jealousy, which would ruin the whole game.

The real money for viewers is if this commercial makes you feel resentful of her, Jockey, women in general, the media, or anything else.   You should consider this possibly as a rejection of the pride she is demonstrating.  This could be your own shame, it’s what happens to adults with their children, and it is what unconsciously ruins your life because everyone else who sees you with this reaction already knows the truth about you.  What’s going on is not ok with you because you are not ok with it.  Blaming the media ignores the reality which is that you are still not enjoying the show and it’s their fault that you are not ok.

If you really want better relationships you have to get to the place where you can enjoy watching someone who is happy to have your positive attention.  

Don’t make them hide from you.

 

*Note:  My definition ignores the role of aggression, which is traditionally considered part of this dynamic, but which I consider a later, common but unnecessary development reaction.

 

The Trophy Generation Revisited

Consider that the rise of the Trophy Generation mentality has coincided perfectly with the repression of conflict between children as evidenced by anti-bullying and the expansion of gender and racial equality campaigns.

Maybe you have to use trophies the way the Romans used bread and circuses.  The purpose of trophy giving is not to make everyone a winner. It’s to keep anyone from feeling like a loser.  This is important because resentment is the root of violence.

The healthy loser becomes motivated by admiration for excellence and is at best a booster for the establishment.  This move, however, requires a transcendental perspective which elevates interpersonal relationships beyond the present moment, such as religion.  Most less successful individuals historically resent other people, segregating into separate groups and classes and rejecting the values and cultural practices of others by developing preferences of their own – work with your hands instead of your mind (or vice-versa depending on your historical epoch), or become scholastic if sports aren’t your thing, mutatis-mutandis.

Affect research and theorists such as Jones (Affect as Process) and Lichtenberg (Motivational Systems Theory) have pointed out that the human motivation for hierarchy and competition occurs most powerfully in latency children (~5 years to puberty), at exactly that time period during which the trophy phenomenon is most pronounced.  Could it be that the discomfort adults feel with competition is causing them to disrupt a developmental milestone?

The best criticism of this factor, adult narcissism projected onto children, is of course made by the now dormant thelastpsychiatrist.com.  His critiques, however, often result in blaming baby-boomers for the problems  they themselves blame “kids-today” for.

I think a deeper perspective can be gleaned by considering that the other-hatred and powerful identifications of the latency period go underground if not allowed to develop naturally, turning into the narcissism of adults who either deny (and project) or symptomatically over-express (and deny) those most natural of human emotions – interpersonal present-moment hatred, jealousy and resentment.

The only rejoinders to this position of accepting “crass” emotions I see are the religious one, for which gods get the credit, or the neo-liberal one – for which you get a trophy.

 

Sexual Envy and Hopeless Self Help: A Brief Response to The Hotel Concierge

Image result for jealousy vs envy

Tumblerite The Hotel Concierge has written a strident and broad advice piece/ social science observational on attraction.  I greatly enjoyed the piece but I think he misses the centrality of shame and resentment in what he calls narcissism.  One true achievement of the march of history, much like the hallmark of psychosexual maturation into adulthood, is the ability to freely choose ones role models.  It is quite easy to be attractive:  Emulate the motivations, ethics and behavior of those you admire. What prevents people from doing this is the idolatry of their rivavlrous gods.

THC’s rangy exposition involves the following train of logic as far as I can tell – which I don’t mean as a dig.  I obviously love a good tangential aside as much as the next:

  1.  America, as modern market democracy par excellence is competitive and obsessed with a statistical mindset of interpersonal comparisons including physical beauty or attractiveness.
  2. Not to be soothed by accepting ones lot in life, you can after all get better and improve yourself.  He states that beauty is an mutable truth, by which he means it is adaptable, or more adaptable than people tend to think when using feelings of unattractiveness to justify their weeping and gnashing of teeth.
  3. He proceeds to rebut the popular equation of (#evopsych+FMRI+TED talks =buy my ebook) which propelled folks like David D’Angleo to financial success and which leads to ascribing beauty and attraction to health traits and Skinnerian behavioral triggers.  He concludes his point with noting that the emergence of sexual differences during puberty either become conditioned to a hormonal response or perhaps are simply socially learned.
  4. He contrasts loneliness with love, and posits that people want two things – power and love.
  5. The desire for power signal-boosts social hierarchies into the stratosphere of the Big Men and Rubbish Men (and then chicks).  Behold – the birth of prototypes.
  6. Embrace a type in contrast to the desire to shop around eclectically, statistics and sanity are on your side.

Prototypes are a relic of capitalism which has given us infinitely reproducible goods.  You don’t covet your neighbors Ox as much as you covet the wife of the guy in the Ox commercial you both watched before buying Oxen.  This helps you avoid conflict with your neighbor since you don’t care about the Ox or the wife.  You just envy the guy in the commercial, his desire, his pride, his magesterium of being as embodied by the Ox and the wife.  Before prototypes there were actually types:  Born a peasant, die a peasant, enjoy a peasants pleasures and resentments along the way.  Prototypes are transcendental and keep peasants from rioting thanks to metaphysics and Freud’s primary process (the substitution of an objects representation for the thing itself).

The unfortunate advice to aspiring Don Juan’s and successful businessmen alike has always been to act like you’re already successful.  The unstated presumption behind this advice is that it means acting like someone else.  Before markets this meant someone specific. Here we see the truth of desire: It is always mediated by the existence of some Other.  The inability to sincerely imitate (mimetic admiration) other people without falling into humiliation or rivalry is the hallmark of what people call “narcissism.”  This condition is also learned from someone who is too insecure to be idolized and forsaken by a child.

To the obsessed, the wretch who is convinced he has to have had sex with many women, it is not the women he wants, but the being of the mediator of his desire. He wants to be his role model, in this case the alpha male, or for women the girl who has it all.  These of course are no longer individuals, but metaphysical media golem’s.  Amalgams of fantasy and fiction have been ever more grafted onto ordinary identification.

The literary characters worth noting here of course include Don Juan himself.  But one must turn to Dostoevsky to understand the role of the man who idolizes a Don Juan archetype.  No story captures this wretchedness better than The Eternal Husband.   (Readers may also enjoy Rene Girard’s comparison to Don Quixote’s vignette, “The Ill-Advised Curiosity,” for an older tale of cuckoldry).  Cuckoldry upholds the desire for the woman above the bonds of resentment, and enshrines the role of Other as an idol.  The narcissist makes gods of his tormentors. It is them he wants to be.

(The corollary for women of course is Emma Bovary, who watched too many feminist videos on youtube…err…I mean read too many shitty Parisian novels.)

This is why these people, much like the consumer of real estate seminars, are rarely successful. They are hiding their actual desire from themselves, the desire to appropriate and embody the je ne sais quoi of their hidden role model. The reason one would avoid this is the conscious experience of self-loathing, the shame of interpersonal envy, and the inchoate danger of humiliation – failure and debasement in the face of your god. So instead, you must prove your worth before your idols.  Addictions and compulsions become a propitiatory sacrifice which never quite takes.

Being a nerd is to model your desire transcendentally.  It’s a fine way to avoid conflict, but is also a way to avoid contact.  And as such, it makes you traditionally unrelatable to some cohorts.  Much like postmodernism movies are increasingly complicated mystery boxes and bloggers such as THC and I are at risk of obfuscation.  We must after all not be accused of being typical.  As an aside, Pixar makes the best movies because the characters have clear motivations.

The self is first and foremost being-toward-others.  To be is to only ever be-like and a style is to be styled after.  Fashion is the blatant copying of other peoples appearance, which is why it must always change to hide this fact in an illusion of novel originality. These paradoxes of individuality and impersonation, vanity and authenticity are the snares of modernity and have lead to a century of escalating obsession with the psycho-mythology of narcissism.

Narcissism can never truly be self-apsorption.   Narcissus’ curse, after all, was that he thought he was staring at someone else.  The modern version of this is people who think they are trying to find themselves.  Look no further than your fellow man.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Sucks – Also, why Black Artists Don’t Win More Awards

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, Murillo

 

With Harper Lee’s passing the web has been a buzz about her work.  I consider To Kill a Mockingbird (TKMB hereafter) to be symptomatic of the endemic monotonous narrative of victimology, and the megalomaniacal righteousness which accompanies it.

One should expect some psychosubterfuge because as Flannery O’Conner once noted

“It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are buying a children’s book.”

The con of TKMB is that which the existence of the story conceals, not that which is revealed through the narration.  A story is first and foremost a justification.   The narration proposes that young Scout, Atticus the plastic saint, and a small cohort of scooby-doo-gooders are the only ones who witness a travesty of scapegoating qua racism.  Their valiant efforts to see justice done fail under the overwhelming caprice and indifference of the masses.

This on the surface is quite intoxicating, until you consider that the masses love the story, as evidenced by the 30 million book sales and rating of the book as second to the Bible in moral influence in American lives.  The perspective which is portrayed as rare is actually the norm, feeding the narcissism of the reader.  Which is fine for children, but adults?

The true victims of scapegoating by TKMB as opposed to in it are working class white people.  The narration contrasts the educated Finch and his precious family as the ones virtuous enough to face the truth.  The likes of the Ewell Family, Mayella and Bob – a lying slut and the town drunk, are the fictional scapegoats of the narrative.  The reader thinks these people exist, everywhere, and most importantly that the reader doesn’t do the same thing.   The fact that the reader does the very same thing all the time is what is concealed by the narrative, which is why TKMB remains so immensely reassuring as a children’s story.  It reminds you of your comparative innocence and your right to judge.

Affluent white liberals use racism like a dog-whistle to conceal their contemptuous bigotry toward working class whites. (Archdruidreport).

The myth of innocent childhood has always been in service of the vanity of adults who in this case can’t differentiate the ponderous “empathy” of Atticus finch from the turgid ecstasy of embracing  the projective identifications of an underclass.

As defense for my position, I suggest the question:  What does it take to convince a child that someone deserves to die?  It takes a saccharin moral fable. Bob Ewell, after all, perishes in the conflict against Boo Radley and the children.  It is not he who we feel sorry for.  After all, he had it coming.  Nobody really killed Bob Ewell – that’s the lie which hides the fact that ultimately the narrator (as narrator, not character) killed Bob Ewell, and you liked it.  This intrusion of the author into the story parallels the often criticized narrative of the story – Lee couldn’t keep straight whether scout was an innocent and naive child or a wise and reflecting adult voice.  Innocence is a work, fabricated by the creation of a monster.  It is belief in the reality of such caricatures, the exaggeration of their prevalence, and the complete dismissal of balanced or redeeming qualities which make them fit for sacrifice.  It is their death which ends a cycle of blame and violence and restores peace.

Consider that the role of the scapegoat serves to symbolically relieve tension within a community.  It is not the death of Tom Robinson which relieves the tension of the community, but Bob Ewell.  The reason Tom Robinson has to die is to cover the crime of the author.  If after all, Tom Robinson was released and said “I’m glad that lying bastard Bob Ewell is dead.  He had it coming.”  We suddenly would not be left with much of a moral tale because we would be at risk of identifying with these sentiments, those which the story is designed to conceal.  The story would now be:  Everybody scapegoats and disparages other peoples character as a justification, the Ewells were just bad at it because #RACIST.  It is more effective to conceal your motives with claims to virtue

This kind of hypothetical conclusion of direct or mediated vengeance was much more common of the classical period and lasted (as identified both by Nietzsche and Girard) until the ubiquitous expansion of Christian morality and the accompanying identification with the victim.  As an example when Potiphar’s Wife was shamed by Joseph’s rejection she transferred it back on him.  The moral of that story was that Joseph’s shame was undone by later being lifted above and exonerated by a powerful Other.  We don’t bother with that anymore.  Now we just kill the accusers.  Also, in TKMB and to modern SJW’s, it is educated white people who get to play the role of the powerful Other.  Thus, moral megalomania.

(As an aside, the irony of the Christian turn, and the pox of resentment culture, is that one major impact of Christianity and later Islam has been the scapegoating of the Jews – mutatis mutandis – the creation of a victim to justify resentment and violence.)

The best that can be said of TKMB is that it reveals to us James Gilligan’s compelling thesis:  Shame is the root of all violence.  Shame is an inevitable byproduct of being part of an underclass, and the resentments born of the desire to rise above leads to a denial of the vulnerable need to fit in and be safe in the community, subsumed as it is in by the role of victim – one who has been made low.  Always, this perspective of entitlement to moral vengeance makes each crime a solipsistic restitution. 

What is restored in and by TKMB is an uneasy truce between blacks and a certain class of whites – all it takes is the sacrifice of a certain kind of white people.

This childish story remains popular based on its reassuring banality, but another kind remains decidedly unpopular:  The corollary story told by black artists of how hard it is to be black.  This will never rise to the same level of popularity because if there is one thing black artists will not accept is white folks identifying with their characters.  “That is so like me!”  If you’re telling a story in which this feeling is not possible for your audience then you may not be telling a story, but rather covering one up.

This applies in the same way to art which explores sex and gender issues.  Angels In America won the Pullitzer and the Tony, after all.  It can be done if you’re willing to step beyond resentment to vulnerability.  Despite my criticisms, Jenner has done a decent job of this, despite an inability to speak the language of desire vs materiality.  To some large extent this is one challenge of the trans community.  It is after all one’s desires that allow people to understand you.  For artists it amounts to an admission that it’s hard, but not that hard to be me.  Like not so hard that nobody else can relate.  And for stories of the hard knock life it means being a minority may not be as hard as being poor or living in a bad neighborhood.  But it’s hard to tell a story about that because the knee jerk rejoinder to “work harder and move” seems an awful lot like the horror movie shtick of “don’t go into the basement.”

The lesson for artists is that resentment can be viewed as refused identification. The stigma, the sign of the scapegoat, is a symbol of refused identification.   And the author of a victim tale always refuses first…

Criticism of Microagression Theory

Recently The Atlantic, content sweat-shop of the neo-liberal ego ideal , ran an online piece by Conor Friedsrdorf on microagressions. His article was a response to a journal publication which claimed a cultural change is happening of which microagressions and victim culture are a part.  I found the specific article unconvincing but this general issue is closely associated with the notion of cultural appropriation, so I wanted to elaborate on some points I made in that previous post.

My contention would be that belief in microagressions is a psychological defense which serves to hide the reality of actual aggession – an inescapable part of everyday life. I’ll save you the mystery: We can’t escape aggression because we don’t want to.

The social justice crowd could loosely define microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership.” (Emphasis mine)*

This sounds an awful lot like what we used to call slights:  An insult caused by a failure to show someone proper respect or attention.

The noteworthy difference between a slight and a microagression is the concept of group affiliation as justification for offense.  People slight eachother all the time.  You can’t do otherwise.  Even in analysis where you pay a highly trained professional to listen to you for hours at a time to help explore yourself they will inevitably misunderstand you.  You will also learn that you often misunderstand your analyst, and even yourself!

The assumption that race and gender are significant important categories upon which to view yourself and others masks the macroaggression taking place – that of the person using the concept of microagressions as reactive entitlement to escalating aggression.

If you can take on this perspective (microagressions as slights) what becomes noteworthy is considering the question: “Given that experiencing slights is a part of being human, what is it that enables some people to be resilient to their effect?”

Some people would answer structural inequality. My answer would be shame proneness as a legacy of structural inequality. The belief in structural inequality as the product of present agency, not past circumstance, is a defense against experiencing conscious shame.

Microagressions are illustrative of a very human problem which shows up in analysis and all our relationships.

Consider a woman who tells her therapist excitedly that she had a great date the night before.  This is what she consciously wants her therapist to know.  Call this the “haystack.”  A traditional approach would be to look for the “needle.”  This could be one of several things:

  • Conscious avoidance:  She doesn’t want her therapist to know she drank too much and slept with the guy.
  • Unconscious message:  She wants to convince herself and her therapist that she wants this relationship to work out, and isn’t at fault for sabotaging it.
  • Unconscious avoidance:  She doesn’t want herself or her therapist to know how inadequate she feels and the resentment she has toward men which motivates her to set herself up as a victim to sadistic men who “only want sex.”

Any and all of these things may be happening, or none of them – it depends.  Usually we fill in “the needle” with our own unconscious fantasies projected into others “haystacks.”  This doesn’t mean it isn’t there, it just means it’s difficult to discover.  Sometimes discovering is inventing.  For the world to continue spinning, in our day to day relationships, it is important to pretend that the haystack is all there is.  Go with the haystack – or keep the needle to your blog.

If you don’t want to feel slighted all the time it pays to note that you are being motivated by competitive, aggressive emotions.  What will solve this for you is developing the ability to return quickly to pro-social motivations of affection, affiliation and equality.  Social justice is fast becoming an excuse to indulge controlling behavior and aggression under the pretense of activism to preserve race and gender as issues of importance.  .

You can’t solve the problem with society.  There is no problem with society, there is only your problem with it.  Better yet – society is the sum total of our problems with each other.  Microagressions are the solution to actual aggression.

The needle haystack dilemma of the SJW’s is:

  • Conscious message:  “I’m offended by your disrespect for my race/gender.”
  • Conscious avoidance:  “I resent you for your race/gender.”
  • Unconscious message:  “I am morally superior to you – shame on you.”
  • Unconscious avoidance:  “I feel inferior to you.”

Nobody respects each other as much as our ideals would imply. We’ve always known this and and it is one reason we create manners and etiquette to begin with – it is very easy to offend one another without agreed upon (false) pleasantries.  You need manners and etiquette to show people you respect them when it isn’t obvious that you respect them – like when you don’t respect them.

The most optimistic way to view microagressions is as a morphing sense of modern etiquette.  If you aren’t full of shame, you could see a microagressor as a coward or a fool – one who is too afraid to be direct or too uncouth to keep it together.  You can’t see this because it’s how you think they see you.  Microagressions are a belief about a relationship.

*As an aside – the definition of microagressions conspicuously leaves out the notion of whose group membership creates the perceived slight – the offender or the offended.

Miley Cyrus and a Criticism of Pansexuality

Miley Cyrus recently “came out” as pansexual.  I’d like to believe her position represents enjoyment of the freedoms of postmodern liberation, but unfortunately this may be too optimistic.

My suspicion is that Miley Cyrus’ pansexuality, gender fluidity, and hyperbolic sexual exhibitionism cover an equally massive sense of emptiness.

What this all means to you has a great deal to do with what you think motivates sexual activity and gendered behavior.  What do you think we’re doing when we’re having what we like to call relationships?

She says she is driven by das Es, I say she is driven by das Über-Ich.

You don’t have to care who is driving, but I sometimes wonder where the car is going.

After The Orgy

There is a joke that goes like this:  A man finds himself waiting at a glory hole until a stranger enters the stall next to him.  Excitedly he asks the stranger “So, what are you into?”  The stranger replies “Anything.  Everything.”  Horrified and filled with disgust the first man flees from the bathroom.  After all, he thinks, a discriminating taste is something all decent people share.

“I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me. I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl,” Miley Cyrus in Paper Magazine

Sounds like someone who isn’t a person except by virtue of her odd preoccupation with the only two powers she acknowledges –  love and the law.  Perhaps there is something there about love for the law…or what the law might symbolize…

Clearly I have some issues I am projecting here.  However, I maintain that what comes across from Miley as countertransference has nothing to do with her sense of enjoying herself and everything to do with her needing others to know there is nothing to be ashamed of. Enjoy thyself!   It’s not encouragement, it’s an injunction.

Miley doesn’t enjoy sex.  She’s an activist for other peoples freedom from oppression.  If she enjoyed sex that much she’d be at the bottom of a naked pile of writhing lubed up genderqueers.  It’s about being right and good as an activist in flight from guilt and shame.  She’s still the good girl Disney and her father wanted her to be, she just has squirrelier friends.  After all, those who can, do – those who can’t, advertise.

What actually relieve shame is empathy.  To empathize with shame requires that you realize shame is natural, as is the injunction that you shouldn’t be ashamed.  Empathy requires identification and sympathy and you can’t sympathize with shame if you have to be right that there is nothing to be ashamed about.  In the long run it is intepretation which cures – the understanding of subjective process.  Not just the intellectual understanding, but the experience of the feelings along with an identification of their meaning.  My interpretation is that Miley tries to rid herself of shame and guilt by relieving it in others.

She spent too long being an object for other peoples use, and is now trying to solve that problem by being a better object, you know, the right kind.

It probably sounds like I’m saying she shouldn’t do this.  It’s all quite ordinary at 22.  Rather I’m saying she can’t enjoy doing it on purpose.  After all, then she’d realize she got it from her mother.

Before the Ceremony

“I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual. But I’m not in a relationship. I’m 22, I’m going on dates, but I change my style every two weeks, let alone who I’m with,” Cyrus, Elle UK.

This doesn’t sound like someone motivated by love, or even possessive erotic drives.  It sounds like finding a look you can live with.  Again, all too ordinary at 22 – but how one resolves the ordinariness (or not wanting it to be ordinary) is the telling part.

Freud’s most sinister insight is that the conscious pursuit of pleasure baits the superego.  As Adam Phillips notes, “There is no one more moralistic, more coercive, than a hedonist.”  Miley is pursuing righteousness, not pleasure, and as such should be understood as a temple prostitute. 

“Coming out” can be an attempt to eliminate an uncomfortable secret which closes the distance between you and those you care about.  It can also be an attempt to forestall anxiety about future criticism – trying to control peoples future response to your actions by controlling the narrative.  Think Brother Rabbit telling Brother Fox not to throw him into the Briar patch – anything but that.  Which of course the rabbit only said after getting caught in the tar.

Conclusion

All that being said, I hope you realize I am writing this because I have a crush on her.

Mary Douglas in Purity and Danger showed us how to some extent all cultures have an obsession with some form of moral, hygienic or aesthetic purity.  One way this used to show up was gender and sexual purity.  The new religion is being free of prejudice, judgement, and privilege.    Who then are the new heretics, and what parts of oneself must be denied to achieve this new purity?

As the purity project of neo-liberal identity politics nears the final solution, new targets of blame and projection of disgust, hatred and bigotry will be sought and needed as the internal awareness of having these (impure) feelings becomes increasingly intolerable.

You know, male cross dressers are still viewed as perverts if they admit they do it because they enjoy it.  But if you’re authentically transgendered, you’re a fucking hero.

True Detective Season Two Finale

The only question of interest the show left me with was “Why did Ani Bezzerides get to live?”

In movies, as in real life, people die for no reason to prove that there is no reason to live.  Usually, people die (or are killed) for a reason.  Some meaning must be made of the death.

Ray and Frank had to die because their strident blow at the heart of darkness created a debt against the system.  They could not escape and leave the scales unbalanced.  They had both shown pride or entitlement and had to be punished.

Ani did kill a bouncer in relative excess, but this was her own balancing of the scales as revenge for her childhood sexual abuse.  This may seem odd since the two had no connection except Ani’s unconscious.  This relates to the infinite substitution of objects.  Freud’s theory goes that the Id is only over “soldered” or loosely connected to the objects it attaches to.  So killing any man unsoldered this connection and everything it had been holding in place for Ani.  Ani was already feeling shame so her guilt in killing an innocent man balanced the scales between self and other.  The system owed her a mulligan.

Ani’s father in a previous episode had called her “the most innocent person” he had ever met.  Shame and innocence go together like guilt and pride in a double sea-saw.  To punish is to increase shame and innocence and reduce pride and guilt.  To seek revenge is to reverse punishment – to increase guilt/pride and reduce shame/innocence.

The final nail in the coffin would be that both Jordan and Ani suffered the loss of their love objects (Ray and Frank respectively).  As they pass on the story to a news reporter and carry on alone with the immaculate child I am lead to imagine that they have set aside their revenge, mourned their loss and passed the torch on to the journalist.  Their love can be reinvested in the child they now share together, which thus serves as the remembrance of their loss and completes the cycle.

30 is the Old 20: A Criticism of Dr. Meg Jay’s Defining Decade

 

Dr. Meg Jay, a psychotherapist and author of The Defining Decade, tells us 30 is not the new 20.  I agree – it’s the old 20.  By this I mean that despite the freedoms and liberation of postmodernity we are still human, all too human.

In my response to her work I will engage post-structuralism, gender theory and the history of psychotherapy – hitting on my main point that Dr. Meg, Judith Butler and most people miss the function of the superego and wind up motivating themselves and others through negativity, often not realizing they are doing this or that there is another way.

Her popular book and TED talk (and a healthy dose of click bait) brand her as an expert at dealing with the problem of “twenty-somethings.”  What is the problem of these Twixters?  Their problem is that they don’t take their 20’s seriously – by which Meg means they aren’t being productive (This means immature, which means bad).

To Dr. Meg’s credit she does soften the blow through a parental instilled fear of future loss, though most people still hear it as “they should grow up already” because explaining the uncomfortable presence of this judgmental thought is why they looked for the book in the first place.  Meg helps other people feel less bad about judging 20somethings.

I will return to this key point because what Meg is avoiding is the knowledge that you can’t be motivated by future loss if you haven’t grieved the past.  You will instead remain motivated by past loss – which usually means not motivated, the problem in question.  Meg is well aware of this, as evidenced from her doctoral work on melancholy, specifically as related to identity formation.  I will form a speculative case for why this apparent irregularity may exist.

 

Image result for doctor j

Slam dunk?

 

Docteh-Jeh’s message is that kidults need a swift kick in the abject-horror to counteract a societal zeitgesit which states or implies “your 20’s don’t matter.”  This is where I start my critique.  The question, as always:  “Is this true, or does she wan’t it to be true?”

Meg wants it to be true that 20fuckthings are being told by society that their lot in life is inconsequential, that these same people are incorporating this message, and that they should reject it in favor of leaning into life because your 20’s are a golden opportunity (to work and prepare for the future).

Unfortunately I polled the collective unconscious of history about this subject and discovered what I already knew:  nobody is telling them this.  Do a google search for “your twenties aren’t important” or “your twenties don’t matter” and ask yourself how a psychotherapist could conclude that this is a rampant problem?  The majority of the links are either (1) to Dohktuh Jaighs book, or (2) other articles about how critically important your 20’s are, usually with a product to sell about how to solve the problem.

Twenty somethings are telling themselves their 20’s don’t matter, like a child leaving a carnival with no iced cream who can’t really believe there will be a next time.

There are at least two ways for your life to matter:  to yourself and to others.  The reason young adults can’t tell the difference is because old adults can’t tell the difference.  Neither can most therapists.

The Ambivalence of Crossing the Street

They can’t understand because they don’t want to understand.  Understanding is horrifying.

How do you think children learn to cross the street (or not)?

You can remember not to cross the street because you are afraid of father and his punishment. You could also remember because you love mother and want to show her.  Or, you can cross the street and look both ways, remembering that mother and father love you no matter what.

All of these are easier than being alone in the yard thinking about death and realizing that mother and father are gone.

Harder yet may be to know that they fear death, too, and can’t tell the truth about it. Perhaps your fear used to be their fear.  If you show them you aren’t afraid… even this connection you will have to lose.

Nevertheless, on the other side of the street lies another yard full of happy children to play with.  If you cross the street will you be happy, too?

How this turns out for you depends on how much you already enjoy playing in your yard right now.

Crossing the street is scary, but do you have faith it is worthwhile?  Will it be good enough?  Is it worth looking both ways – all the way down the street and to the end of time?

Perhaps you had better check with mother, or wait quietly until father returns.

The Brief-Therapy of Dr. Meg Jay

The best way to sell people a solution is to create a problem bigger than the one they say they have, but smaller than the one they fear they have.  Begin with a narrative that shocks them and accounts for the presence of disavowed fear, inferiority, guilt and shame.  Then reify the narrative into a thing, spun anew.  The narrative about the problem makes people feel bad and the narrative about the solution makes them feel excited.  Kind of like church, only you can’t deduct it on your taxes.

Then they buy the product to feel good about trying, relieving their anxiety about the underlying issues and enjoying the catharsis of participating in the ceremony.

The best way to do brief therapy is to offer a solution to a problem you created which is bigger than the one the client says they have, but smaller than the one they fear they have. Begin with a narrative that shocks them…

Dr. Jay presents the vignettes of  two women: Alex and Emma, who are dating two “knuckleheads” – men who aren’t good enough for Dr. Meg’s father…er for Dr. Meg…I mean for her clients… Meg’s talk is also peppered with the fear of not being able to have a baby when you get old.  Wait a minute, I thought this is about psychotherapy and 20 somethings (presumably persons of both genders, errr, sexes, I mean…oh fuck it…) not “Lean In 2:  Return of the Killer Superego.

  • Alex:  Alex dresses like a flouncy slob (according to Meg, who is disgusted with women who don’t act like it because of her disavowed attachment issues) and baits Dr. Jay with jokes about her boyfriend.  “Oh well, 30’s the new 20…”  What distracted Meg is the joke, what it distracted her from was the self-hatred behind the humor.  “What does it feel like to not take your life seriously?”
  • Emma:  Same story, the difference is Dr. Jay told Emma to sack up and Emma took it like a man.
  • The Man:  Oh, wait, Meg doesn’t talk about male clients because their 20’s don’t matter since they don’t have ovaries.  If a man was dating a woman who isn’t good enough for him it means he’s an ass – all women are equivalent because, according to the melancholy Dr. Meg and her customers, they don’t matter or only matter in comparison to men or women with children.

The Depth-Therapy of Dr. Meg Jay

Judith Butler’s seminal article on gender identification called Melancholy Gender:  Refused Identification, is a real classic.  But Butler misses why.

Butler identifies that Freud changed his concept of grief between Mourning and Melancholia and The Ego and the IDIn the former, grief was resolvable through the remaking of broken attachments.  In the latter, he notes that melancholic attachment is required to let an object relationship go.  You have to mourn the loss.

As Butler notes, he also changed what he meant by letting an object go.  In MM he meant the Id detached from it (you stopped giving a shit, and could therefore give a shit about other things).

By the Ego and the Id Freud means detachment of the drive qua incorporation of the object.  You never let it go.  It becomes part of you.  You can’t have what you never wanted, and you couldn’t want it because you couldn’t have it.  Tag – you are it.  Enter the super-ego (punitive ego, negative self talk, inner critic, stinking thinking, deep negativity, critical inner parent, damaged sub-selves, persecutory objects, original sin, demon posession and so forth).

This means that to be able to give a shit about your life now you need to remember you gave a shit about it in the first place, which means dealing with the loss of what you first gave a shit about and your feelings about why you had to give it up.

If you don’t do this what you get instead is melancholy – incomplete grief and the apathy which hides it from you.  You hide it because you can’t take it seriously because you are ashamed of it.  You are ashamed of it because nobody else took it seriously either.

In Butlers terms female gender is only not being a man and the sorrow of the lost love of women (and the feelings you have(and can’t have) about it)).  Melancholy gender is the unknown and unknowable grief of having to give up the same-sex relationship.  You can’t mourn it because you can’t know you have it because it’s existence threatens you, since all you are is not-it.  (Men and homosexuals work the same mutatis mutandis).

Dr. Meg wrote an award winning article engaging with Butler in 2005.   (Meg Jay Ph.D. (2007) Melancholy Femininity and Obsessive—Compulsive Masculinity: Sex Differences in Melancholy Gender, Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 8:2, 115-135)

She proposed that this melancholy gender is worse for women since their primary relationship with the mother is same sexed vs. opposite sexed for men.  In short – why more women are depressed than men (Which isn’t true, by the way.  When you include aggression, substance abuse and risk taking behavior in the diagnostic categories.  By the way, the belief that women are more depressed might be evidence of masochistic drives of the superego.)

She also notes men (knuckleheads) are more likely to become obsessively compulsively masculine than to experience melancholy gender.

Men can avow the love (libidinal or embodied cathex) of the mother to some minor extent, and its loss, but cannot avow the love of the father and instead obsessively try to be like him.  They cannot mourn the loss of the love-for because they are forever acting it out, the energy or drive of this same love having become invested into the ego.  In laymens terms, they put the energy of love-for into being-like.

Women cannot avow the love (libidinal or embodied cathex) of the mother and thus cannot grieve its loss.

What Butler and Meg miss is the profound difference between Freud’s two books in that Freud was working with two radically different models of the Psyche.  In MM Freud was operating under the assumptions of Id Analysis, the Drive Model.  In Ego, Freud introduced the Structural Model.  The key difference between the two is the existence of the super-ego and the nature of repression.

  • ID Analysis, Drive Theory:  Primitive drives come in conflict with societal standards and must be repressed.  Keeping them from awareness causes symptoms.  Bringing awareness to them and channeling them in a new direction causes relief.
  • Ego Analysis*, The Structural Model:  Ordinary drives come in conflict with primary caregivers and subsequently the superego, “the precipitate of abandoned object cathexes.”  This is fancy Freud babble for the lasting impression of significant past relationships.

*Freud never used the term ego analysis.  After 1923 and the publication of Ego and the Id he spent most of the rest of his life dying of cancer and running from Nazis, so he was a little too busy to elaborate.  This distinction was first noted by Otto Fenichel in Principles of Psychoanalytic Technique, and was then mostly forgotten outside of some obscure circles, never to fully return.  People preferred the drive model and it lives on in public understanding because it lets them explain, express, and avoid awareness of the superego by blaming people.

The reason this matters is that Butler and Jay draw most heavily upon MM, missing the distinctions offered by the superego in the later work.  This is all very obtuse, thought I suggest you read the linked articles for a real roller coaster.

What you need to know is that the Psyche does not have the character of drives and conflicts but of relationships between wishes and ideas about other people.  The fact that these relationships seem like reality is the hiddenness of the superego. It hides in plain sight.

What lead Freud to this realization after decades of analysis was his attempt to explain the negative therapeutic reaction – why psychoanalysis didn’t work for most people and made lots of them worse.

If love goes unavowed and unavowable it means you are ashamed of yourself with respect to caring.  The experience of the broken attachment, the withdrawal of a libido cathex (giving a shit), is often one of shame and guilt or the defense against it.  The way you can remember you once loved at all, if you had to stop, is by internalizing guilt you can’t explain and shame you can’t admit.

Consider Derrida on The Secret:  To have a secret you must always remember it, so as not to tell it.  To hide it from yourself, you must put it somewhere else.

The place you put it is into explanations for why you can’t enjoy yourself, the labyrinthian and myriad justifications for disavowed agency.

There are only two sexes, which is a shame, since we want them to mean so very much more than they do.

Why then the kick in the pants?

Maybe what helps Meg’s clients is the fact that she shows them it is OK to act like a man and not be a lesbian.  (Ok, to be nicer: how to just model a well-integrated female psyche.) Hell, I didn’t say this, Meg did in 2005.  Much like Lacan thought the way to cure impotence was to make women wear strap-on dildos under their dress.  (Shit-you-not: Ecrits, 825).

Wait, it’s OK to be a Lesbian, too, right? Sure, but why all this talk about babies?  Well, according to her publishers, lesbians, gays and men aren’t really in the target demographic for self help books authored by professional women.

But we’re all still talking about 20somethings, right?

So why write the book?

If you humor me by agreeing that the book is not for 20somethings, but for 20something women then consider why Meg needs to hide this fact from her clients and possibly herself.

One possibility is that Dr. Meg went through these issues herself, resolved them, and has learned a lot from her practice.  This fits the narrative of her story.  I’ll leave you to speculate on her motives for going into therapy and gender studies as a career, then subsequently turning away from deep gender issues to promote brief therapy and self help.

Another possibility is that Meg herself has unresolved melancholy gender issues.  Listen to her voice and watch her gestures in her TED talk:  Can you hear the echo of the sadness and see the uncertain-but-carefully-polished lack of comfort in her own skin?

Her motivation in writing the book and pretending it is about 20somethings (as opposed to women) is that she is still struggling with her shame and doubt about doing what she is doing in life and is trying not to.  It’s an attempt to quiet anxiety by becoming a public expert – a demonstration of her benign narcissism about having worked through these issues herself.  Much like starting a cult, religion or self-help group (if there was ever a difference between the three). Or a blog….fuck me!

She knows that young women wouldn’t buy the book if it was about the psychological problems of young women so she pretends it’s about something else.

They wouldn’t buy the book because of a defense against shame, which is largely their problem to begin with.  And they can’t see their shame because people like Meg can’t see it either.

They keep the secret for each other, from each other.

Conclusion

Being a 20something man rules unless your father was a pussy and your mom was a hysteric- which unfortunately is most men.  Your dad was afraid he’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), which is why you’re afraid to be masculine (isn’t there supposed to be something wrong with that?).

To Meg, starting a career and family of your own is a behavioral strategy, a way to foreclose the unresolved grief beneath the melancholy of identification and ambivalence.  In being like your parents and other adults you can in that way be an adult and perhaps bypass the super-ego. This makes entry into adulthood the world of being like. 

What Meg cannot convey in her book or brief therapy is the difference between being and being like.  According to Dr. Jay it is identity capital – object relationships which prove who you are.  I say that whether this works or feels phony depends on whether  you can enjoy yourself and can give a shit about anything (Whether your ego is contaminated by super-ego effects).

The problem with her approach is that it will work decently with those who struggle with guilt but less so with those who struggle with shame.  In the case of the former it will reinforce negativity as a way of motivating the self and others.  For the latter it will become grist for the mill of self hatred and striving, yet another book in the heap of self-help. This is so because they are already telling themselves and the Dr. Meg’s of the world that 30 is the new 20.

What you miss is the experience that being an adult can be a lighthearted game big kids play.

The Ego-Analytic Alternative

If you want to improve your sense of what works vs. what doesn’t in psychotherapy study sex and violence.  Two of my favorite and most often cited sources are Bernard Apfelbaum, a sex therapist in the Masters & Johnson lineage, and James Gilligan, a therapist and violence scholar who spent his career in criminal justice.  To understand their work in a nutshell see the links above.

Apfelbaum & Gilligan show us the shame and guilt underneath the problems that bring people to therapy or worse.  Shame and Guilt tend to disappear into the unconscious.  They are hard to realize we have because they are hard to express and have accepted in the public discourse or empathized with (mirrored) by others.  This is because everybody else is trying to avoid guilt and shame in themselves and as a result tries to avoid it in us.  If they see ours, they feel theirs, so they avoid ours.

This pattern reinforces shame and guilt about shame and guilt.  To a large extent this is the problem with life.

The old twenty meant being an adult.  It meant being accepted into an ordinary world of normal adult satisfactions and entitlements.  Thirty, the new (old) twenty, means adults hate you for an additional ten years before they take you seriously.

Don’t blame them for this, it’s the economy.

They don’t take you seriously without an education and they don’t take your education seriously (Because they don’t take themselves seriously, and are threatened by you.)

This leaves me at the fundamental question:  If others don’t take you seriously how can you take yourself seriously?  For the first time in history neo-liberal youth have a protracted period of relative freedom.  Asking why 20somethings can’t grow up is the wrong question.  Why can’t twenty somethings enjoy what everyone has always been fighting for?  Maybe they believe (or can’t consciously believe) that adults are spiteful and jealous and still want (can’t consciously want) our approval?

Some conclude the problem is we have too much freedom, which I think is unfortunate.  I say we can be more than dogs who sleep in open cages.

To return to the illustration of crossing the street:  Your 30’s are the other yard across the street.  You will get there eventually, even if father has to make you.  Whether you enjoy yourself when you get there or not, all things being equal, can be well predicted by whether or not you are enjoying yourself now.  What is it that makes you not enjoy yourself now?

Why isn’t your life good enough?  If you think the answer is that you’re not working hard enough to plan for the future you might be in trouble.

Dr. Meg Jay’s moral lesson is reminiscent of the Ant and the Grasshopper, so I’ll leave you with Apfelbaum’s analysis of it:

  Like the ant and the grasshopper. The ant constantly works, all summer long, storing up food for the winter. Now the grasshopper, he just sings all summer long. He makes no provision for winter. So winter comes and the ant does fine, but the grasshopper starves to death. Do we feel sorry for him? Is that the point of the fable? That the poor grasshopper has this slow agonizing death from starvation? Of course not. It’s his own fault! We don’t waste sympathy [note: sympathy can be wasted] on him; he has forfeited his right to it. No one says. “Pity the poor grasshopper.” Because he asked for it.

That’s blame logic. Outside of blame logic we should be able to see that if you are responsible for your own suffering, you are even more in need of sympathy. If you have only yourself to blame that’s a much worse punishment than if you can blame someone else. And the reason for that is that we relate to ourselves according to the logic of blame.

The poor grasshopper not only has to starve to death in the snow, he has to blame himself for it. He has to beat himself up for not being practical and responsible like the ant. “Why, Oh why did I have to be such a jerk? What is the matter with me? What is such a big deal about singing that I couldn’t at least take a little time to put aside a little food?”

In other words, negative self-talk is the same as negative other-talk.

Not only does the grasshopper have to starve to death, he has the added misery of having to blame himself. It could even be that he was pretty depressed all summer so he had to keep singing to keep up his spirits. And every day he thought he would put aside some food, but he just never got around to it, and before he knew it, it was winter. It just got away from him.

But he wouldn’t be able to spare himself with that explanation. He’d be just as self-condemning, telling himself: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that after summer comes winter, for Chrissake!” How stupid can you be?” That’s negative self-talk. There are no extenuating circumstances. Just like negative other-talk.

So we don’t even have any way of knowing how much we are suffering from living in this world of blame, and forfeiting our right to suffer[sic]—no way of knowing how stressed out we are, living in the courtroom, and how much our thinking is limited by having to work up a case for ourselves.

From <http://www.bapfelbaumphd.com/Negative_Self_Talk.html>

Dr. Meg Jay might help you store up for winter.  I say the ant and the grasshopper can both learn to whistle while they work.

For the apathetic, here is a  bit of original fill-in-the-blank poetry:

Apathy, my weapon!

Apathy, my crutch!

Apathy is all I have

For I have so very much _____!

 

Ego Analysis of Confidence and Courage

The mistake people make about confidence, and life in general, is about shame.  They are living from an orientation that they can’t be afraid.  

The ego analysis of this condition is so shallow that it is deep.  If you don’t want to be afraid it means you think it is bad to be so.  So to be afraid means that you are bad.  They are ashamed of being afraid.  They don’t want others to know they are afraid because they think it is weak, bad or crazy to be afraid about whatever it is they are dealing with.  (As an aside, there may be little difference between excitement and anxiety other than how you relate to them.)

Your fear is ego-dystonic if you don’t want it to be true about yourself.  You are trapped in this sense invisibly by the language signification of the problem:

  • You don’t want it to be true about yourself
  • Therefore it is true
  • You identify with the disavowal

You also don’t want others to know it about you.  This is just as bad since this again carries the presupposition that it is true.  It can seem like there is no way out.  There are three solutions, as I see it: Accepting the truth, fighting the truth, or desiring the truth.

The depressive solution here is to accept the spoiled identity of lacking confidence and believe that you are inferior.  This leads to resentiment.  You can blame and look down on people who are phony, or blame and resent people who have undermined your confidence.  You can appeal to medical and evolutionary explanations.

The narcissistic solution is to deny the shame as noted above and try to get by on convincing others you aren’t afraid.  The unspoken logic goes that if you convince other people you are not afraid then somehow their reaction will eventually transform the fear itself.  This is the “fake it ’till you make it” perspective.

You wind up fighting reality, and by extension yourself and others, living a series of superficial behaviors and manipulations to try and prove that it isn’t true.  If you can successfully fake it, you may relieve your anxiety about it to the point it doesn’t matter.  But you are still always at risk of feeling bad about yourself, or feeling like a phony.

There is a way out of all this that can leave you born again.  The mistake is fundamental and it exists in the belief that you just can’t be afraid.  This belief hides shame.  The resistance to feelings of inferiority can spawn endless searching and striving.

What if you wanted other people to know you are afraid so that they would know you are being courageous?  What if you yourself were not threatened by fear, but indeed wanted to be afraid, too, because you wanted others to know you were courageous?  Isn’t that confidence?

The way out is pride.  You can’t see it because of shame, and you can’t experience your shame directly because much of what we all do is designed to hide it from each other.

We do this from a superstition so deep that we have built the world around it.  That superstition is identity – part of which means that if you feel something, you are something.  If you feel inferior, you are inferior.  That is why shame becomes invisible.  Again this is a trap of language, the infinite regress of signified concepts.

To want to be better means that you really are worse.  

The desire to be know as you are can help you live the experience that you really aren’t anything but desire and experience.  And what you’ll experience is the freedom and pride of being, living your experienced feelings, not a relationship to a concept.

So repeat after me:  The truth is I’m afraid. I’m ashamed of being afraid and I worry you won’t take me seriously if you know that I have doubts and insecurities about what I’m saying.  This matters to me because I care about you, and I care about what I’m doing.  So, now that you know this, let’s get on with things, shall we?

The key is that you can learn to want to be afraid.  Once you can want to be afraid the sting is gone.  Your challenge in life is to find something worth being afraid of, something worth being ashamed about.

The reason you would want to feel ashamed is so you can have pride and self respect.  If you’re looking for the trace of your shame I’ll give you a hint, it’s grief.

Of your fear say, I will it thus!  You may discover all along that the only thing you were ashamed of was living a lie, which can stop at any moment.

You’re Angry: A Basic Ego Analysis Example

Photo by lvl Laturla via Flickr
Photo by lvl Laturla via Flickr

Therapists, couples and people in general often have the experience of being in the presence of someone who seems angry but isn’t expressing it.  This can produce feelings of anxiety, since most people are not comfortable with their own anger or, ipso facto, that of others.

Is this person angry at me?  Did I do something?  Will they blow up at any minute?  What’s with them anyway?  This can lead to counter-blame or counter anger.  You can become angry at this person for making you anxious, for creating tension or making you doubt yourself.  You then might even feel guilty about having these feelings and so forth.  You usually end up doing nothing or blurting something out due to anxiety.

Another common response is to try and indirectly check in with the person by enquiring how things are going or to test the waters in some way.  Therapists may point out that this is codependent, trying to take care of someone else’s feelings.  They may offer the insight that this is how, from a position of real inferiority, you once tried to deal with the feelings of your parents.

Another interpretation is that you are trying to avoid your feelings by avoiding theirs, trying to smooth things over.  This makes sense based on the behavior alone in that what you are indeed saying and doing is actually not addressing either their feelings or yours.  Perhaps you are trying to imply concern in the hopes of soothing the underlying conflict.  It may reflect a worry on your part that you can’t handle their anger, that you feel embarrassed about how easily their anger is already effecting you.

In psychoanalysis and some other forms of therapy and even the recommendations of some self help authors they may make or recommend a naming interpretation that could be as simple as “You’re angry.”  This could be well intentioned, in that the speaker thinks they are being helpful and may not have any normalizing beliefs about anger (“…and you’re an asshole for being angry with me!”) which are being sub-communicated.

However, this often produces a negative reaction.  The person denies being angry or erupts into rage and blaming.  Traditionally, this would be viewed as confirmation of the therapists interpretation in the case of the former, or evidence of a weak ego and narcissistic rage in the latter.  In ego-analysis, these would be weak ego = strong super ego and narcissistic rage would be shame about shame.

The ego-analysis approach, what I’d like to call reality psychology or the psychology of innocence, would say this interpretation is wrong.  By this I mean that the person isn’t really angry.  By which I mean they cannot feel entitled to / experience / express / enhabit the ontological experience of being angry.  You can tell this because the angry person often hears the received message that “You’re wrong to be angry!” 

The actual experience of the person is that they cannot be angry.  They are held back from being angry by super ego effects such as shame, guilt and fear.  And, in reality, the anxious partner often does indeed believe, and thus communicate, that they think the other person is indeed wrong to be angry, no matter how they say it.

An ego-analysis would look something like:  “It would be natural to have feelings of anger right now and if you did you might feel like you shouldn’t, or that I wouldn’t respect that or be concerned that I can’t handle hearing them.”  This of course may still just drive the feelings underground or cause explosive reactions.

This is because the opposite could be true since ego-analysis is amoral and non-normative.  The person may feel like they should be angry and are unable to express it.  They may feel like they are weak, immature or broken for not being able to stand up for themselves like other people seem able to do.

The point is that simply saying “You’re angry” is unlikely to produce relief but may be a key to the reality (causal relationship) of their problem, which is how they relate to their anger.  Not knowing this problem exists is part of the problem.

One thing that could help is being vulnerable and respectful about your response.  Perhaps something like “I’ve been feeling like I’m walking on eggshells lately, like maybe you’re angry with me.  I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t be so sensitive.  If you were angry with me it would probably be hard to tell me since I’m being oversensitive already.  If you are angry, I probably should already know why and that’s gotta be frustrating.”  The reason you would say this is that it is actually how you are feeling.

Some people will read this and conclude it is codependent.  They may recommend bypassing all thoughts and feelings about your conversational partner’s experience,  to just focus on yourself and your feelings and let them deal with theirs.  Sadly, it may take you years of personal therapy to be able to address someones anger without having any of your own insecurities about doing so – if this is possible at all.  Your life is happening now.  Pretending not to have these insecurities by covering it up with neutral looking self help is part of the problem.  Showing your actual feelings about what you are saying let’s the relationship have the chance of itself being therapeutic.

To think you ought to deal with you and let them deal with them is idealistic naiveté based on the normalizing belief that we all just should be more mature (read: better) and differentiated than we actually are.  It relies on an idealization of psychological health (which refers to theoretical moralized perfection, not the cause of mental processes) and denies the reality of life and itself serves as a moral justification for ignoring the way we actually effect each other.

Besides, the person may be pissed at you because you already are avoiding their feelings, which is exactly why you sought out the self-help advice to bypass your thoughts and feelings about them in the first place.  Perhaps they know that your therapist is just an ally you have enlisted to justify your position.  It’s also why you can’t see their shame.  Because you are both engaged in a process of helping each other hide your mutual vulnerabilities.  If this process goes on unconsciously you wind up fighting over respect under the pretense of issues rather than disagreeing about issues from a place of respect.

The final defense of the codependency crowd may be that ultimately you can only respect yourself.  This is an appealing belief, and it may even be true in that other people help or hinder our ability to learn how to respect ourselves.  Were it not for the fact that it seems to deny the lived experience of almost everyone throughout time I may be inclined to believe it.

If the angry person actually had self-respect she would freely enjoy expressing her anger.  If the anxious conversational partner actually had self-respect she would not be so threatened by another’s anger, and would have no insecurities to bypass and would not experience vulnerability as subordination.

It may indeed be wise for therapists to not disclose their feelings or the counter-transference.  But it can be immensely helpful for their clients understand why this is:  Differentiation is an ideal which may be impossible for some of us all the time or all of us some of the time.  If you doubt this, consider how many therapists obsess about whether or not to shake your hand, accept a gift, give a hug, take notes, negotiate fees, say hello in public, etc.  It seems to me like there is some evidence of a resignation about the limitations of human potential which is repressed by a systemic moral appeal to professional responsibility.

This appeal to the responsibility ethic is itself a moral position, not a causal analysis.  To not realize it is a problem is the problem. To try to solve the problem by assigning responsibility is an attempt at an ethical solution, to feel alright about not solving the problem.

Perhaps the admonition to avoid thinking about how enmeshed we all are is an aspirational denial of reality.  You know, we just don’t talk about that around here.