Monday, September 24, 2012

uncertainty, compassion, chaos: early morning ramblings

The Self Psychology Study Group of the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc recently read C.B. Levin’s 2006 paper “That's Not Analytic”: Theory Pressure and ‘Chaotic Possibilities’ in Psychoanalytic Training. It saddened me that she endured from her supervisors “the constricting pressure to conform” from their authoritarian, dismissive comments about her creative and spontaneous work, but also inspired me that she wrote such an illuminating and interesting paper about her experience. If American ego psychology privileges as psychoanalytic free association and interpretations of conflict, resistance and transference, and eschews as unanalytic, and merely supportive, the participation in co-creating and negotiating the analytic process, then the possibility for change by analysand and analyst alike is greatly constrained.

It is hard to be on “the edge of chaos” as a patient, a therapist, a person trying to make her or his way in the world. As therapists we try to open our hearts to the unknowable, the uncertain, the unpredictable. For some, the need to be certain, to stand on unshifting conviction about what is right or true becomes a life or death struggle, whether to prevent annihilation of the self, the soul, or one’s physical existence.

Sometimes, the more one’s certainty is attacked the more one might dig one’s heels into the presumed safety of the rigidity of certainty of creed, dogma, or ideological beliefs. White Jim Crow southerners feared the loss of the self (defined by their straw man superiority over ‘coloreds’); fanatical Muslims, also often poor and uneducated, take to the streets on the edge of a deadly chaos in protest against the ill-conceived, so-called film The Innocence of Muslims, and people are killed.

In the U.S. we ask ourselves: Where does freedom of expression cross the line to become intent to incite violence? When does free speech become agitprop? How do we reconcile poor taste and ill humor with freedom of expression? Certainly Terry Jones, the Florida preacher, voiced intent to provoke fanatical Muslims in hopes to reveal Muslims as gone astray from the nonviolence of Mohammed, just as Jim Crow southerners went astray from the teachings of Jesus. The dangers of dogma in the consulting room are less drastic, while perhaps more insidious.

In the psychoanalytic world, being rule-bound allows little room for possibilities foreign to one’s circumscribed world, a world made impermeable by the rigidity of dogma, seemingly protecting one from uncertainty, but also from the chaotic possibility of making something new and changing the self and other in the process. A patient accuses me of never being able understanding her trauma, tortured in a war ravaged country experiencing ethnic cleansing, atrocities I can barely imagine much less bare to listen to. I cling to a belief that, in being a witness, in feeling compassion, in listening attentively, I diminish her isolation and honor her suffering. But what if my belief keeps her pain from truly penetrating my weltanschauung? This work is rife with uncertainty, as it must be. I liked Levin’s modus operandi of “opening up a space for honest inquiry” and revealing as “unanalytic certainty of knowing a priori what is analytic.” And so we press on.

Levin, C.B. (2006). “That's Not Analytic”: Theory Pressure and “Chaotic Possibilities’... Psychoanal. Inq., 26:767-783.

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