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.

 

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.

Taylor Swift Thinks Prenups aren’t Romantic

18306972851_6730724de6_o

 

Jezebel reported that Taylor won’t sign a prenup because it’s unromantic.  Whether her marriage (if it happens) will last or not depends upon what she means by romantic.

If she means romantic as an ideal love bubble, she’s in trouble. However, I am reminded of my favorite quote by Alfred Adler: “The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.”

In one sense a prenuptial agreement can be viewed as a lack of trust in the partner. In another, it can imply a lack of commitment, hedging your bets.

A prenuptial agreement can  reflect a lack of trust in yourself. In the boxing world, Bernard Hopkins famously bet $100,000 on himself in a fight against Felix Trinidad. What would it take for you to bet everything on yourself? How much would it be worth to you to actually believe in yourself? I dare say it can be worth everything, even if you lose, to know you really fought.

If someone asks you for a prenuptial agreement, tell them they can have everything you own right now, and if they don’t apologize, leave and don’t turn back. This is neither practical nor sober, but it might be worth it in a world where very little else is.

I’m not saying marriage should be this serious for you, or even that it is good.  However, it can be this way.  And if it isn’t, then I hope you find something else that is.  If you do have something else that is this important to you, then that is a very good reason for a prenuptial agreement.

Being able to talk about the possibility of a future separation can be a good demonstration of maturity – akin to being able to talk about money, sex, family and other adult responsibilities.  However, what people ultimately feel is fair cannot be decided in advance.  Moral feelings supervene on actions, what others actually do.  The prenup is an effort to preempt this, ironically, to commit to something that may not feel fair in the future.  The value of this I suppose depends on how much you trust yourself and how you think your emotions represent the reality of your experience.

The possibility for the romance of marriage in the 21st century is to acknowledge that dreams aren’t real, but that awake, you can dream nonetheless. No commitment, no promise, no obligation exists without your living into them. Marriage is not and never was sacred, but the good news is that you already always are.

 

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.

Don’t Read Psychology Today (Review of Psychology Today (2015, May))

PSYCHOLOGY TODAY YOUR INNER VOICEWeintraub, Pamela (2015, May). The Voice of Reason. Psychology Today

Don’t read Psychology Today, or self-help, for that matter.  They are designed to sell you goods and services, just like other forms of marketing.  Understanding how this works, unlike the content of the articles, can paradoxically provide some of the relief that drives you to seek psychological knowledge in the first place.

Pamela Weintraub, in addition to being a hysterical prepper and a possible voodoo priestess, is a journalist.  She is not a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or neuroscience practitioner.  What is she doing writing for Psychology Today?  She is creating a brand.

Weintraub is what I like to call a study-scrapper.  A study scrapper is someone who combs the voluminous and never ending stream of professional journals to cobble together a marketable angle which always follows the following format:  There is new science about your brain which will help you get better and improve yourself.  (Never questioning why you need to get better and improve yourself).  To a large extent this belief is your problem.

Weintraub’s point is that by intervening in your self talk, particularly by interrupting personal pronouns with your name, you can boost your confidence or in general feel better.  Let’s see if we can elevate this mind hack to a bit of profundity with some psychoanalysis and philosophy.

She includes the following fixtional example of Jennifer, who appears to be going on a date with a gentleman she has seen before.

Jennifer( 1), what are you nervous about? It’s not the first date you’ve ever been on. I know you like this guy, but take it slow (2), and stay calm. Even if it doesn’t go perfectly, it won’t be the end of the world. You’re capable (3), intelligent, accomplished, beautiful. Just do your best and let the chips fall. Chill, Jen.”

What can we infer about Jennifer and her inner world from this example?

  • Jennifer speculates (1) about what she is really nervous about?  Weintraub attributes the relieving effect of this passage to the use of the personal name.
  • Note that Jennifer is already automatically talking back to her nervousness, trying to be reassuring and silence doubts.
  • More reassurance is offered in (2), along with the admonition to stay calm, what’s the worst that could happen?
  • She concludes with some pep talk and a final gentle admonition to Chill.  “There-there, now shut up.”

This may produce relief in a variety of ways.  It could even be that Weintraub is right about the use of the personal name.  It could also be true that Weintraub’s Jennifer has read too many Psychology Today articles and is really committed to the value of this exercise as a placebo, like a commitment to the power of the Rosary, or the catharsis of animal sacrifice.  It could be that this exercise distracts her from thinking about her actual problem.

Interesting to me about Weintraub’s vignette is the fact that we don’t know what Jennifer is worried about.  What we can infer from all of this is that Jennifer just doesn’t think she should be nervous.  Her response to this, much like the article, is to try and talk herself out of it.  This can be tricky, and at best limits your ability to understand yourself and others better.  (Note:  Weintraub’s examples from the angle of how a friend would talk to you sound bitchy and shallow, much like Jennifer’s imaginary friends, I bet.).

I’d encourage Jennifer to talk to herself compassionately, which means to stop telling herself it’s wrong/bad/immature to be anxious.  This whole monologue, and the response is problematic in that it is based on the belief that Jennifer just can’t be nervous on the date.  This is likely to create anxiety about anxiety.  If Jen is nervous on the date, why couldn’t she just say so to the gentleman she is meeting?  If she couldn’t do that, then this is her problem.  She is ashamed about being nervous, and probably ashamed about being ashamed, in that she is trying not to feel the way she actually feels (nervous) because she thinks there is some other, superior, socially acceptable way she is supposed to feel (confident).  You know, like they say in Psychology Today.

This line of thinking for Jennifer would mean drawing out her actual fears and anxieties, not jumping too quickly to trying to talk herself out of them.  It might eventually look like Jennifer realizing how hard it is to imagine enjoying herself being nervous on a date.  

This could leave Jen hopefully free to stop making her priority to not appear nervous and start making her priority to pay attention to her date and be a good conversational partner.  If she could refocus her attention off herself and onto her partner she would be able to answer her fears and anxieties very quickly by relying on the actual evidence of other peoples actions instead of her internally generated sensations.  (If she thinks her internally generated sensations of confidence or anxiety are more important than the evidence of the outside world, her problem is that she is a narcissist in this particular way, which is why she’s reading the article before the date to find a hack to not be nervous.)

If she approaches this date in terms of going to work on herself she runs the risk of turning the date into an opportunity to prove to herself she is not an inferior anxious person by using her date – and not surprisingly, putting out (why did Weintraub mention taking it slow?) – as a magical gesture.  Her date will be glad for the sex, a little confused by why Jennifer seemed stilted and compulsively over confident (and weird in the sack), and probably move on when he either gets bored or Jennifer finally snaps and is flooded with all the shame and anxiety she has been cultivating.  (This will now be the dates fault in her mind, and she’ll look for Psychology Today articles about spotting narcissists.  Circle of life, internet style).

Weintraub correctly identifies that people are generally engaged in some form of inner monologue of which they have varying degrees of awareness.  In the West, it took Beck’s cognitive therapy to show us that it wasn’t just obsessional neurotics who experienced this, but everyone to some extent.  At one level of awareness this inner monologue simply occurs to people as a fact.  When the CT (or Weintraub’s mind hack practitioner) intervenes to become aware of this dialogue and address it, it can be immensely relieving simply to realize that much of the way you feel has to do with what you are telling yourself.

This risks being facile because much of what you are telling yourself has to do with the way you feel.  More specifically – how you relate to your feelings.  Said another way, explaining or conceptualizing your feelings tends to justify/entitle or invalidate them.  Instead of addressing this relationship, Weintraub offers you a gimmic of using your own name.  This sounds strikingly familiar to the shitty relationship advice Psychology Today or Business hacks offer you about using peoples names when trying to be more persuasive. “You know, Jennifer, thanks for stopping by Kittens Closet.  I’ve a got a vibrator with your name written all over it!”

What I hate about this article is that it takes a mind hack wrapped up in the jargon of neuroscience and uses it to obscure reality.  The unspoken advice is to not take yourself seriously and instead get better at hacking your mind into normal pieces.  In other words, relate to yourself with gimmicks from click-bait.  After all, it’s how we already treat each other anyway.