Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Tiny Note on 2 Moliere plays

Never more clearly than in two French satirical plays by Moliere, Tartuffe and The Misanthrope, do we find the longing to know and be known. Humans are born with the hard wiring to read the intentions of others but many of us have that capacity thwarted during childrearing when caregivers contradict the reality of children with reprimands such as ‘You don’t want that’; or ‘Yes, you are cold’; or ‘You don’t mean that’; the worst case scenario might well be denial of sexual abuse when adults pretend with children that it is not happening. Thus we learn to doubt what we know to be so.  Because children’s survival depends on attachment, children acquiesce their own reality to that of their caregivers.

Tartuffe, a con artist who dupes Orgon of all his property by posing as a Holy Man and turning Orgon against his own family, is seen by all except Orgon and his mother Madam Pernelle for the imposter he is. How did Orgon become so unseeing? Part of the answer surely lies with transgenerational transmission of attacks on the reality of others. Mme Pernelle accuses her grandchildren of not listening to her but it is she who prattles on, insulting her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law Elmire.  She also contradicts them about Tartuffe’s character insisting “all of you Must love him” and “Rubbish!” (Act One,  Scene I). Orgon has learned from his mother that relationship can have only one subject, not accommodating the other’s reality, and so inflicts the same on his daughter Marianne. Wishing to force her to marry Tartuffe, he tells her “Because I am resolved it shall be true. That it’s my wish should be enough for you.” (Act Two, Scene 1)

While Tratuffe is sometimes also named The Hypocrite, we also find great hypocrisy in The Misanthrope, a later play in which Moliere made more subtle his spoofing so as not to so plainly offend the Church and the Aristocracy. Our misanthrope Alceste claims to dislike all the courtly flatterers who, behind the backs of others, gossip and malign. He speaks his opinion, mostly tactlessly, and pleads for authenticity from others. Meanwhile, Alceste loves a young widow Celimene who herself embodies all the disingenuousness against which Alceste rails, an illustration of how we are multiple selves, at times heroically going against the politesse, at times foolishly expecting the ideal to be concretized. Alceste might seek out Celimene perhaps because offstage (behind closed doors) Celimene and Alceste share their ‘true’ selves with one another. Alceste says to her, “Let’s speak with open hearts, then and begin…”  (last line, Act Two, Scene 1)

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Having Fallen into the Abyss Myself...

A supervisee, praised in her respective psychoanalytic training program for her “calmness and stability,” asked me recently how she could keep herself stable when faced with her very unstable patient whose instability, lamented the supervisee, she could feel inside herself as if her patient were “pushing” her. The therapist complained that she could feel herself “influenced” by her patient’s self states. Her patient was continually running away from the chaos of her own world and now the therapist-supervisee wanted to run away from this patient. A professional therapist, the supervisee claimed, can keep herself stable, work deeply and slowly, and could “stay there” in the room with her patient.

I was pleased to know that the therapist I supervised had the capacity to be influenced by her patient. Now we had to find a safe and comfortable enough way for the therapist to share with her patient that her patient was no longer alone in the chaos. And what a good job the patient was doing communicating her own internal states. [Is this what projective identification is?] If the therapist, too, could feel the chaos, and if the therapist could both survive the chaos and not be shamed by her lack of stability, what might these mean for the patient? That the patient was no longer alone? That it is okay to make mistakes? The supervisee further lamented that when she managed to feel calm and stable with this challenging patient, it was at the cost of feeling “dead” inside, feeling “serious: and unable to “interact” with her patient. The therapist found that paying attention to her own body sensations relieved her some of the deadness. The supervisee asked how she could be both alive and stable with this patient.

That is the big question, isn’t it? Bromberg, in On Knowing One’s Patient Inside Out (1991), wrote about how very difficult it is to be both participant and observer [Sullivan]. I have often wondered how one can hold the patient’s hand and jump into the abyss with the patient, and still hang on to the rim. It must take Herculean strength, and personal mettle. I know I failed gravely at least one patient.

Is the deadness the therapist feels inside not also, at least partially, a joining with a self state of the patient’s? Could the patient’s chaos be a way to protect herself from such deadness? Had the therapist stumbled upon something that the patient had dissociated in attempt for the patient to save herself from deadness? The supervisee asked why I, the supervisor, in multiple venues we had shared, was always so alive. That got me to thinking about from what deadness inside myself did I wish to run? Was avoidance of such deadness what made it impossible for me to truly leap into the abyss with my patient(s) and could it have simultaneously caused me to let go of my observer stance? The supervisee worried that, were she to enter the self states of her patients, they would either not make progress in therapy or they would leave treatment altogether for they would lose hope. I surmise that, should we make friends with our dissociated self states, neither destroyed not shamed, that might open a path for hope.