The biggest elephants slip out of sight

 

So, let’s take a step back, get some perspective and understand some things, or alternative opinion, at least. Sex addiction, a concept dominantly aimed at men over the last thirty years, exacerbates a divide already created by the narrative of feminine virtue. To be fair, the sex addiction field (movement?) isn’t responsible for generalizing undercurrents that collapse upon closer inspection. Take the following scenario, for example: a couple are in therapy, speaking of a sexual episode that serves as an interlude between contentious arguments. After lovemaking, one partner asks, “Are we good now?” thinking that sex has saved the day. The partner responds coolly, “We haven’t solved anything here. What makes you think our issues have gone away?” So, at this point I have not revealed who is who in this arrangement, as in who the man is and who the woman is (sorry PC monitors, my client base is dominantly heteronormative). What if I offer a couple of interpretations? Let’s see where the biases land, shall we? So, I suggest that the first person asks “Are we good?” with the assumption that sex will re-establish a bond; the episode was “relational” and intended as an affirmation of the couple’s togetherness. The second partner remained irritated by the first partner throughout the lovemaking but was sufficiently aroused to put aside, for the most part, feelings that may have interfered with performance. This person thus satisfied desire but later asserted a moral high ground with respect to the couple’s conflict: talk about having it both ways.

              So, who is who? Well, if one absorbs the platitudes published under the umbrella of sex addiction treatment, one would be inclined to believe that the partner motivated by “relational” goals would be female and the person intent on getting laid but still maintaining a superior attitude is male. I’ve read numerous articles or books that dispense such generalities, anticipating the nodding heads of a Greek chorus while failing to address or even imagine nuance. That chorus seems increasingly homogenized, speaking with transparent rhetoric. To encourage protest, it affirms assertiveness: “stand up for your rights”, etc. When it disapproves of speech, we hear critiques like “divisive”, and “hate speech”. To decry unpopular opinion, one simply needs to cast it as hateful in the modern zeitgeist. Approved speech that is suppressed is called silence—an imputation of cowardice. One is encouraged to “show up”. However, if you show up with the wrong opinion, then you are self-serving: it is a “photo op”. Back to private, microcosmic scenarios, my warring couple and a pair of interpretations: The first person—the “Are we good?” partner—thinks that sex is an effective circumvention of conflict. It is the answer to all problems, a kind of all you need is love approach. Now here’s a twist. The second partner agreed to have sex thinking (falsely) that the conflict had actually been resolved beforehand. This person had been hoodwinked by the partner’s seeming contrition, only to feel increasingly foolish during the lovemaking episode, which felt familiarly cold and unloving.

             Again, who is who now? Same scenario, different interpretations, but I think each would elicit biases as to which gender is being represented based upon stereotypes promulgated by self-help and sex addiction literature. I could evoke further scenarios, leave these relatively lightweight scenes behind and address what I believe are the biggest elephants confronting our field. The issues therein conflate matters of sexual addiction, post-modern sexual mores, progressive and conservative politics, and congeal thought upon the darkest behaviors on the sex addiction fringe: acts of abuse, and of sexual assault. Would these issues elicit further biases? Of course they would. The baseline assumption is that women comprise the dominant faction of sexual abuse victims while men are vastly over-represented as perpetrators. With respect to violent sexual assault, there is surely little to contest this particular assumption. But amidst an era wherein definitions of coercive sex are broadening to include instances of pressured sex, or compliant but later regretted sex, then notions of perpetration begin to blur. Mine and Joe Farley’s forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, cites research of the last decade that increasingly implicates female victimization of male partners, employing a construct, “Made to penetrate”, that has gained traction in research circles in recent years. It was so important I stuck it in the footnotes. Anyway, my skepticism: the idea has yet to gain traction with mainstream culture, and likely not with credulous readers of self-help literature. The problem, as I see it, is two-fold: firstly, boys or men may be even less likely than women to admit being coerced into sexual activity, fearing an emasculating response, especially if the alleged perpetrators are female. I can imagine reactionary society openly mocking their accompanying accusations as cowardly, unmanly. I imagine a corollary of women’s experience, which on the whole means something that’s been observed all along: sexual abuse desexualizes its victims, it seems. Meanwhile, a progressive rebuke might focus upon a moral equivalence argument, a point of symmetry that is not desexualizing, but rather de-individualizing: something vaguely territorial, perhaps; something along the lines of, yes we suppose this happens, but does it really compare to the rates or levels of abuse that have been meted out by men against women?              

Back to the standard pretexts of sex addiction treatment, which is all about treating people, men and women, equally. Right? Well, take a glance. Take more than a glance at literature—books, blogs, you tube videos, whatever—that purport to represent men’s sex addiction versus that of women. Notice that women are more likely tagged with the label love addiction, which, in comparison with the salacious concept of sex addiction, enobles women’s sexual acting out behaviors, and therefore turns on its head society’s task of mailing out scarlet letters. Meanwhile, instead of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, female sex or love addicts have “complex trauma”, which is an ambiguous contrivance, suggesting experience grounded in external phenomena, and then internalized as personality-altering characteristics—a more palatable, stigma-free assessment category whose plainspoken synonyms are words like victim or survivor, not creep, jerk, or pervert. I have other bullet points on this theme, but you get the gist. So, here’s the thing: in general, the biases of our profession reflect the progression of psychodynamic thought as it has moved into the 21st century, alongside progressive social movements and the demographic changes in our profession. A hundred years ago psychoanalysis, then clearly a patriarchal institution reflecting the psychology of western men, posited drive theory as a model of how the human mind works: something internal, a libidinal/aggressive energy within a human being strains to express itself, and will do so to one degree or another, despite the ego defenses that work to hold it back. Repression. Latterly, Object Relations theorists like D.W. Winnicott injected that the fate of this drive is contingent upon the variability of a nurturing environment, be that a caregiving dyad, a home, or a broader sociocultural milieu, while analysts like Jean LaPlanche, Jessica Benjamin, Carol Gilligan or the Lacanian Julia Kristeva excoriated this same establishment for reducing women’s sexuality to the maternal/child bond. These views have long since been adopted by feminists and other social justice advocates (who now represent a plurality in our field) who externalize an understanding of psychopathology, at least selectively. Misogyny is therefore a kind of original sin, reflecting an ancient subjugation of women. Misandry, its lesser observed twin, is a social protest against that which is variously conscious or unconscious, but not repressed.

              This has in turn been picked up by the sex addiction field, yielding watered down versions of Object Relations theory with substitute jargon so that its principals can pretend originality. It means that female sex or love addiction is understood primarily as a reaction to either repressive sexual mores that disadvantage women, or else it constitutes an identification with an aggressor phenomenon. This is a theory first advanced by one-time psychoanalytic outcast Sandor Ferenczi in the early 1930s. It offers that sexual acting out behavior is a re-enactment of a sexually traumatic (as in victimizing) past. There. Now here’s the next thing. Assuming that OR theory also applies to men, you may wonder how that plays out. How do we graft the theory onto what we think happens to them? Well, firstly, it would mean that male sex addiction is not simply a matter of excessive drive, contrary to the essentialist beliefs of many. It would mean that males act out sexually either because the nurturing (or not) environment is permitting/expecting them to be promiscuous, or else because they have also been developmentally traumatized in some way. As indicated in the last entry, the most popular theory with respect to this category of trauma is the abusive, alcoholic father story, with second place going to disillusioning mentors: molesting priests or sports team coaches, for example. The first chestnut, which smacks of Oedipus Complex derivatives, offers that passive boys, symbolically castrated by overbearing fathers, struggle to make it with the women they admire, instead pursuing vulnerable women who substitute for their abused mothers. But to identify with the adult male sex role as it once was is to symbolically re-traumatize women, or even commit incest with them if partners and mothers are psychically linked. Thus, sexual desire must be split-off, directed at women who cannot be hurt because they are transiently involved or not psychologically real—hence prostitutes, strippers, and porn stars.

              Alternatively, if trauma theory were to analogize the male and female childhood experience, or even offer what Freud originally suggested with his latterly withdrawn Seduction Theory, then practitioners would offer what they typically suggest when the subject is the sexual traumas of women: a once sexual victimization at the hands of a male perpetrator. And some men report such victimizations, and usually they indicate a male perpetrator which, if then linked to a later heterosexual pattern of addictive behavior, would make about as much sense as the Electra Complex makes to critics of Freud’s Oedipal theories. See, if a repetition compulsion or aggressor identification were in effect, then otherwise heterosexual boys and later men would therefore manifest ego dystonic same sex attractions, which in turn might lead to homophobic reactions, manifesting as a reaction formation, or perhaps the reputedly defunct Conversion disorder. And how frequent are these phenomena, the reader might wonder? With respect to heterosexual men, OR theory filtered through modern assumptions and quasi empiricism suggests that hypersexualized boys “model” (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s term for internalization) the example of their sexually incontinent fathers, in this way remaining bonded with their bad male objects later in adulthood, which in turn elicits guilt when this identifying behavior conflicts with consciously-held goals, like those “how to respect women” ideals incessantly imparted by their disgruntled, single mothers.

              There you have it: father blaming. Lucifer the angel expelled-from-the mountain-of-God stuff (remember that one?). Not God blaming, or Eve blaming. Certainly not slut shaming. Mother blaming?

              Actually, it’s been suggested…with euphemisms, mostly, or ambiguity. Think Jean LaPlanche. Otherwise, Excess gratification, enabling a Narcissistic development—the failure to say “no” early enough, often enough, to that omnipotent, more often male (we think) than female child, who clings, protrudes with fingers, embraces and scratches with equal ferocity to an object that may respond in kind. Think Object Relations theory. It’s another chestnut, actually. Made its rounds, got covered in psychopathology 101 if you ever took such a class; if you were ever listening. But wait. Saying “no” to what, the reader might further wonder? Does this mean a child that isn’t sufficiently weaned from the breast? Is that a sexualized child, so repressed until later, until after puberty—when all the parts and fluids are simply working more fully, having arrived online, so to speak? Careful, the medical field thus argues. You’re entering the taboo zone now, so let science come to the rescue and say what facts and fate have decreed. Besides, nobody is reporting such childhood abuse as you are implying. Why don’t more of our clients/patients report on this? Gee, d’ya think it might have something to do with implicit, preverbal memory not being available for autobiographical recall? And even if it was, who would go there, at least plainly? I touched on this touchy subject in my earlier blog, “Life Weans The Giraffe”, and here I’ll “touch” on it, this final word, this ancient and original horror once again, with or without scare quotes. And so, to those who think the answers lay in a forensic grasp of an actual past, versus the phantasies of infantile experience, here is my climactic provocation on this multi-layered subject of sex addiction etiology: …no, can’t write it. Sorry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gaslight

 

Have you heard of this word? It’s quite popular these days in…what do I keep calling it? Mental health circles? Psychotherapy circles? Circles? Not even offices, “these days”. The milieu is the online cyber-sphere, the realm of Zoom, the I-phone; possibly the socially distanced consultation. But not conferences, networking lunches, or live “treatment team” discussions. Literature? Maybe. The editors I’m conversing (exchanging e-mails) with say they’ve been furloughed, or otherwise detained. So they won’t read me and they won’t read or publish anything new for a while. Our profession: it’s being podcasted, you-tubed, perhaps, but its edifices are being ghost-towned. Ghosting. That’s…well, that’s for another entry. Today’s subject is another staple of sex addiction treatment, Gaslighting. It’s an important concept, actually—perhaps more relevant to people’s daily lives than any other communication problem—though it’s an appropriated property, with a pedigree in drama, modern and classical. Here’s my footnote on it from Getting Real About Sex Addiction:

“Gaslight is a 1938 play and later a film about a man who torments his wife, searching for jewels to steal in her attic (the lights in which dim the lights elsewhere in the house—hence the title) and lying about his behavior and disappearances. The term has come to mean someone who deliberately seeks to induce anxiety, even psychosis in another through deception. Interestingly, the play recalls Sandor Ferenczi’s famous concepts of “identification with the aggressor” and “confusion of tongues” (1933): a sign of trauma is the subject’s identification with and induction into patriarchy—an internalization of its demands—exploiting a child’s dependence, need for love.”

Have you heard of Sandor Ferenczi? You should have. He’d be a darling of social justice warriors, Me-Too crusaders looking to history for evidence of good men. Ferenczi was a psychoanalytic dissident of the 30s; a once acolyte of Freud who thought the project’s original Seduction Theory—which would have implicated scores of Viennese men in the practice of sexual abuse—should have been restored to the center of psychoanalysis, in place of Freud’s subsequent theory of infantile sexuality. The latter became the model for the human mind, not the belief that external events—trauma—is the original sin besetting humankind. Modern psychoanalysis sings a different tune, humming the bars Ferenczi sang, citing the Gaslight example. I prefer its dramatic antecedent, Hamlet, but I get the point, what the stories are trying to say about what really drives us nuts. But even the zeitgeist ethos doesn’t capture the common hold that Gaslighting has upon everyday interaction. See, it’s not just about events that occur that are later denied. More intricately, it’s about thoughts conveyed that are soon denied, to be met by knowing yet beguiled and censored responses. Here’s my play. It’s from 2020:

A man invites another out for a drink, wanting company. He is rejected, but he will jettison—that is, split-off—that feeling. His stoical other and soon-to-be nemesis seems indifferent, elusive. He says no. Twice. The homoerotic current is subsumed beneath a hetero front: the first man provokes, asks if the other even likes parties…women. In the cold moment, the other man keeps a surface calm, but he looks away, knowing that eye contact in this instance would be aggression. It would betray hate. He gets up, stifles a reply but moves to leave. The first man delivers Gaslight comment number one: “what’s your problem?” Does it sound familiar, this chestnut of denial; this projection of offense? “Nothing”, the other says, not wanting a conflict—not finding the words, it has to be added. “Seriously”, presses the first man. He presses his luck. He acts like he doesn’t know what he’s said, and in some protean sense he is telling the truth, for he is on automatic, unaware. Still, he presses. Is he asking for something? Is he asking to learn?

The second man gives finally. Heaving a breathy sigh, as if it’s all an effort to explain himself, he declares, “You’re disrespecting me. You know you are.”

The first man shrugs, affecting indifference. Now he’s rejecting—rejecting truth, rejecting feeling, and altering the script. This is now about a guy who over-reacts to a simple question. Sensitivity. The second man juts his chin, utters a disgusted noise. Will he press his case, declare further what is happening in this banal, everyday moment? Given the stilled tongue of the adversary, further words might not be necessary. The escalation: it likely won’t happen; but what is the verdict? What will the narrative be if and when the stories are spun beyond this testy dyad? He–the second man–could state what is happening. He just about knows and understands the phenomenon. Everyone does, he thinks briefly. His family, his friends, himself at times; anyone: they’ve all done this thing. They all deny what happens and then fumble for words. Only one sums it up.

Another example, better perhaps, concerns a man who gets quietly drunk, is sternly obnoxious, and asks rude questions in the guise of being interested in others’ lives: “How’s your…” followed by “Well, sounds like he hasn’t got long to go…” –that sort of thing. Never mind why others put up with it. That’s a long story. And it’s not likely to change because if one raises an objection in the moment the man becomes confused. Talk to him about it later and he simply won’t remember. Either way, he’d pay minor lip service to the question of offense, chuckle it away, insinuate that the offense is in the complaint (“I was merely…”), and otherwise ridicule the protest. What do we now call this protest?

Gaslight

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Cyril the gnat

 

As a one-time supervisor—whom I once lampooned in a skit I wrote and enacted—would have said, “I am not a fan”. He will have been speaking of a once marginal psychoanalyst named Masud Khan, who in my pseudonym-filled skit became Mesut Ozil, who is a German soccer player, which is an example of…nevermind. Displacement. I think. Anyway, my client was speaking of John Gray, or alluding to John Gray, at least (of whom I am not a fan), by quoting his famous phrase, don’t sweat the small stuff, because she was sweating the small stuff. Meaning, she was distressed over that which seemed inexplicable and trivial, and whose meaning was obscure, and possibly superficial, but not necessarily so. Deciding it was superficial was part of the “don’t sweat it” mandate, which rather forecloses the “think about why you are sweating it” ethos that I tend to encourage. This seems like a waste of time to those to like to imply that they never have a lot of time, as if anyone does, and that I am wasting their time by suggesting they take time to understand why they sweat over that which doesn’t merit sweating. This sometimes results in the kind of exchange that challenges the premise of what is “small”. Does small mean inadequate, unworthy, or insignificant? Or is small that which is subtle, semi-invisible, but nonetheless impactful, even deadly? This latter rhetoric sets up my climactic provocation: are we not in the midst of an H.G. Wells-like scenario, suffering at the hands of that which we had once othered (we thought it was foreign); that we thought insignificant, un-impactful, not close to home. Indeed, are we not suffering more than we ever imagined we would at the hands of that which is microscopically…small?

Which leads me to discuss Cyril the gnat. Cyril has friends, many of whom hover—and I mean hover—about my kitchen, drawn to the compostable cairns that sit within thin cardboard, take-out containers and such. This is the ephemera of our Covid life: the boxes, the cans, the debris; the unrinsed, sugary resins. A few of the gnats venture beyond the kitchen’s entry, towards a dining table that teases with extra plates, plus crumbs that scatter about electronica, or else live camouflaged upon the surface of a beige carpet. When either my wife or I vacuum (Okay, it’s more often her than I), one can hear the crackle of hardened food being swept up, carried along a film of hair that we’ve shed from our bodies. Human beings shouldn’t live like this, but we do, at a distance from the minute dirt, dust and insect-inviting debris, thinking it good enough. It’s not good enough. Time for a deep clean. Meanwhile, the gnats, Cyril and company, are in from the heat. Most of them stay close to the edibles, and it’s Cyril who’s in my face, or else within arm’s reach, baiting me to show my quickness, reach out and slap the air and squash him in a sweaty palm. Cyril is trying my patience, pushing his luck. A risk-taker, he is not socially distancing. He is disrespecting me, tickling my skin with his feathery fly-bys, not giving me space. What is he thinking? And what am I thinking, thinking that he thinks. So, what has the instinct that presses him directed? That he take over? This interloper, this looter and complainer: he is mocking me with his butterfly flutter, his floating in from the dark, followed by his quick dashes away.

It’s a week later now. Most of Cyril’s friends are gone, observing that the food supply has reduced, so they have moved on in acceptance of their transient, itinerant lives. We’ve righted our ship, my wife and I, having cleared away most of the salty chips and other sweet pieces, or else drowned some of the beta gnats in a vat of apple sauce and vinegar. Only Cyril remains, wondering if we’ve really gathered our wits, turned a corner and flattened our curve. There’s a slip backwards afoot, Cyril thinks, still hovering about the light fixture by the television, and dodging the death ghetto that is our kitchen. Can we sustain our better habits, keep up our defenses, recapture our privileged hegemony? Cyril seems more determined than his peers. He’s sticking around, not content to haunt with territorial norms. Somewhere around a nook in our living room he has found a nest. A school of offspring is pocketed within the wood of a coffee table, I think. Cyril has planned for the future, has staked a claim at the frontier of his existence, within the bosom of a home he feels ready to seize. He has been inspired by recent events, after all. A world-wide revolution has occurred and small lives—lives so small they don’t even seem like lives—suddenly matter. They kill. Big lives, my life, are now the roommates, forced to share space with the lesser fortunate. Justice. Cyril the gnat and his progeny are here to stay, and I am sweating. Cyril himself might not see out the win. Not in his lifetime, maybe. No matter, as far as his individual life is concerned. He is down, and he may be downed, for his cause. He won’t even prepare, I think, being accustomed to the sudden, brutal demises of his kind. I will get him, if only him. Yet Cyril is lucky: he lives phylogenesis, lets his reflex govern the present, driving him on behalf of his species, yet there will be no past or present as I think of it; no dignity or lack of it in the face of death, and therefore no composing himself for an audience with God.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Lost in the rough

 

In the Covid era, a meeting at a golf course between two non-golfers makes as much sense anything else. It made more sense than meeting at our favorite local eatery, anyway. I was the one to object to an original plan of an airless interior versus an open space. In response, Joe, my friend, my co-author, suggested the nearby golf course, saying he wanted to “hit some balls”, possibly with double entendering purpose.

I’ve played golf about a dozen times in my life. Turns out Joe has played even less than that. No matter, it seemed as we got together, ostensibly to discuss our currently dormant writing project, entitled and herein promoted as Getting Real About Sex Addiction: A Psychodynamic Approach to Treatment. It isn’t dormant because we’ve got writers’ block and have stopped writing on it. It’s not dormant because we can’t find a publisher and are tired of rejection (well…). Actually, it’s dormant because we do have a publisher, who for the time being shall remain nameless, who is near dormant in his interest. He expresses support and enthusiasm—has done for over a year—but for one reason of another (especially since the Covid outbreak and subsequent restrictions), he cites delays owing to other priorities, suggests an indefinite time-frame for our publication, and even ignores requests for a publishing contract. With our shared penchant for innuendo, Joe and I agree that our publisher is like a careless lover, ever promising affection but never making a commitment. Regarding our book: he won’t put a ring on it.

Perhaps this is perversely apt for a book that is mostly about male sex addicts, because although female or pan sex addicts exist, they are not the focus of our profession’s “clinical attention”, much less progressive society’s thinly-veiled contempt. Hate. When it’s deemed righteous it’s called revolution, or a paradigm shift, or something like that. Clearly, based upon statistics and stereotype, the contemporary sex addict is wayward in his habits, slick and therefore elusive in his communications; at times compulsive, he is also calculating, gaslighting, opportunistic, and prone to ghosting. In a word, he is untrustworthy. In at least one more, he is heterosexual and of course male, because the most livid pathologizing is reserved for the most privileged. They are privileged with the “pathologizing” label of sex addiction, so-coined by an industry patriarch, Patrick Carnes, and since promulgated to the mental health colony, now dominantly feminine. The sex addiction label (not yet a diagnostic category) is controversial, in part because it is pathologizing, which isn’t nice, critics assert, unless it’s aimed at the privileged. The dominant faction of label recipients, men, are therefore further privileged to receive tender care and attention for their narcissism-fueled desires. Excuse me while I pause to laugh at the twisting rhetoric of my profession. This is my commentary, my satire, aimed as it is at the ideological undercurrents that live within the sex addiction field in particular. What are my qualifications? How well placed am I? How well placed is anyone to observe the sexual mores of our dystopian 2020? Is not lying concurrently in the beds of or before the laptops of millions stopping anyone else from having opinions? As Joe sat before me at lunch, at times eyeing a pair of golf clubs with which he’d hoped to get in some driving practice, I reminded him of these themes in our book, or within my slightly more numerous chapters, at least. See, partly because of delays, we haven’t talked about or even read each other’s chapters in ages. Gee, d’ya think it might be a good idea to remind each other of what we’re doing, I evinced.

Let’s go for a walk, I suggested, with Joe gleaning that I was about as interested in golf as a squirrel scrambling across one of the putting greens. He pointed to a path that seemed to wind its way throughout the course, there for players, and at least appropriate for pedestrians, we thought. Or, we didn’t think. Not really. We thought to take the clubs along so that I could swing at the air, take the head off a weed, or a stray daisy. To fidget with a toy; to self-sooth, as therapists are prone to observing. Play of another, less organized kind. Joe and I had too much to talk about, having not seen each other in months, but in spells, at least, we stuck to our task, and spoke of our embattled manuscript as we strolled along the sinewy path. At one point we stopped talking for a few moments as we were semi-politely shushed by a tall and patrician-looking man who was about to—how do you say?—make a drive? He thrust an open palm in our direction, signifying a genteel, yet officious displeasure. “Just…please, don’t talk”, he beseeched, containing an imperious disapproval. “Are you guys lost?” he followed up in a friendlier voice, having just taken a satisfying shot. Joe picked up on the meaning. I didn’t and was then treated to Joe’s assessing comments for the next few minutes. The man had reminded him of some in his practice, of the breadth of masculine Narcissism that has informed, darkened, but also fed private practice psychotherapy, and likely sex addiction treatment, in recent generations.

Soon, Joe returned his attention to our shared, if oft-interrupted endeavor. He asked after feedback given to us by early readers, which aren’t interested friends or colleagues, necessarily. I think we’ve managed to enlist one person whom we know to read more than a handful of pages. No, the more rigorous feedback has come from other would-be publishers, departments of review to whom we (or I) have submitted sample chapters, hoping to capture academia’s interest. Well, we received interest, I reminded Joe—some of it hostile in nature, which I found pleasing, as this is in keeping with the book’s adjunctively subversive aim, as far as I am concerned. However, the most salient critiques were based upon misunderstandings, of passages clumsily written by myself, and thus were necessarily and easily correctible. The reaction to opinions that are indeed irreverent and will hopefully remain so, or out of the mainstream, or “evidence-based”—that selectively applied principle—are yet to come, perhaps. In speaking of all this, Joe seemed a bit lost in our project, and needful of my re-orienting influence, especially if we are to have the requested latitude to further edit or re-write our material over the next year or so. By the end of our golf course, socially-distanced outing, my co-author was proclaiming rejuvenation: an agreement to revisit our dormant project; to revive it regardless of others’ interest, or our publisher’s interest, and to add updated material to its extant substance. A few topically relevant passages about therapy in the era of Covid, Joe agreed.

Near the end of our visit we were walking amongst a derelict section of the course, within a quadrant that featured an old gazebo, plus some manner of waiting area—a wholly undefined yet concrete structure. As we left its perimeter, we were approached by a golf cart driven by a smiling woman whose piercing gaze shot right into us. She pulled up uttering a query similar to the one directed at us by that superior-looking figure from the previous hole. Are you lost? was not quite the question she led with, and even if she had, its effect would have been quite different. Immediately, I was struck by her pleasant demeanor, and when she offered to escort us back to the golf club’s entrance—a suggestion made vague by an offhand turn of phrase—I quickly suspected that Joe and I had broken course etiquette, yielding a complaint resulting in this woman’s approach. This time Joe was slower on the uptake, which meant that I was quicker to the space next to our driver, while Joe sat on the end of the cart’s seat, which seemed designed for two. “Riding bitch” she said, which belied the air of flirtation I’d briefly assigned to her, or not. Was it an insult? A moment of manly teasing from a woman who has assimilated obnoxious golfing men? On the ride back via the sinewy, not-quite-the-pedestrian path we thought it was, our chauffeur pleasantly asked after our business. I replied that we’d patronized the club’s bar/sandwich shop, implying an entitlement to walk the grounds. Joe changed the subject, speaking of a club employee—a teenager, youngster, or something—who might be known this woman, and who might vouch for our decent characters, maybe. Actually, I’ve no idea why Joe was small-talking this woman about some kid who worked at the club. However, his distraction didn’t stop me from making, like a good, as in present therapist, the elephant comment of the moment: “I’ve a feeling that we shouldn’t have been walking where we were, that we’ve broken the club’s rules here”. Laughing, seemingly embarrassed yet keeping her dignity, the woman confirmed that “technically” we were walking where we shouldn’t have, but that it wasn’t a big deal. Not a big deal. What Joe and I were doing, on all levels, is not a big deal, I thought with a touch of angst, but a newfound bit between my teeth. “Treading on a few toes”, I later muttered, thinking of the year or so ahead.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Fire

 

Elsa had prepared for this evening all afternoon. For several days, actually. Laid out upon her bed, her gossamer satin dress, the base of which needed a slight hemming, she thought, posed for her admiration all afternoon long. Around six, as she applied a light facial cover and delicately attached a pair of earrings she’d bought for herself shortly after Christmas, she gazed into her bathroom mirror, prodding at her brunette bun, examining her color combinations, her symmetry and style. Once, the accessories would have been gifts. Earrings were a typical offering from her ex-husband, gone six years now, geographically anyway. He’d been gone emotionally for at least twice that long. The gifts, like the near-annual jewels, were like stand-ins, substituting shiny objects for a void.

Ostensibly, Elsa was venturing alone to the dinner gathering, though one of her colleagues was bringing along a male friend to the party of six. This was the kind of online-ignited get together that Elsa had patronized before. About a half a dozen people, maybe a few more, converging upon a social scene, usually a fashionable restaurant in a lively district, with casual if tacitly intent purpose. About two-thirds of the group would be unattached and similarly-situated: thirty-something, single though experienced, maybe too experienced; professional and therefore financially independent, though not wealthy necessarily; implicitly egalitarian, progressive in their beliefs. Elsa thought her friend Judy a little gratuitous in this last category. Ever eager to exhibit her knowing, socially just credentials, she used words like “cisgender” to indicate the profiles of heterosexual others, or “woke” to signify a near-requisite sensibility. Ever careful to include and not assume inclusion, she crafted her thoughts to cover all bases, to not reduce or restrict to any particular way of being.

For an hour, Elsa’s thoughts drifted lightly over a surface of chatter and dry congeniality. Work was a predictable subject of conversation since at least two within the party were colleagues from Elsa’s magazine; one, a junior editor, was technically her subordinate, which added to a somewhat formal air. Elsa rarely got drunk, but she might have wanted to let the hair out of the bun, so to speak; to tease Judy out of her studied sociability. She might have wanted more than one drink to soften the creeping anxiety that settled in around eight o’clock. Joe, her mooted quasi-date for the evening, had started well with alert interest in Elsa’s literary career, but soon betrayed a dismaying distractibility. He timed his comments well, not interrupting necessarily, but within moments of Elsa’s speaking, he at least twice spoke in tangents, conflating his interests with hers, leaving Elsa confused, and quickly bored, which taxed the abilities she employed in the daytime, like the maintenance of polite, smiling contact. Over Joe’s shoulder, she observed a congestion of dinner guests around a tight front entry. A troubled hostess was struggling to manage the numbers, it seemed, and a fussy manager bounced back and forth between the restaurant’s kitchen and the glitchy elevator that brought group after group, packing the space. That singular path to the dining area was the one feature of the restaurant that Elsa disliked. The curiously small elevator, built to fit an earthy, Terra Cotta ambience, seemed inadequate for the restaurant’s physical needs—a sacrifice to someone’s notion of an aesthetic, Elsa thought.

The explosion that occurred around eight-thirty blew past the ornamental shaft, not destroying it necessarily, but certainly obscuring it from vision. Within seconds, smoke filled the room, with sparks of flame spitting out from the sides. Sounds of glass shattering shot out from side to side, with feminine screams and angry male barks hitting the noiseless gaps. Elsa staggered, reached out for someone’s touch, possibly Joe’s or that of Judy, straining to stand. She wasn’t injured, not physically anyway, and her investigatory mind was just about functional. The fire, or explosion, had come from the kitchen, she thought, as if divining the cause was the paramount task of the moment. Everyone else had other priorities. From within the haze of their shock, they fell over chairs and past broken tables. Splintered wood and shards of glass were minor obstacles as bodies scrambled like desperate rats to a presumed escape, that space wherein that tight and glitchy elevator once stood, pretty and inviolate. The cluster of panicked diners were in for a rude awakening, and by the looks of the crowded back-up, evident even amid the thick and blackening smoke, the prospect of escape had hit a wall.

Elsa stood as though frozen, not sure how to act, to think, or to be. Twitchily, she flicked glances at frightened faces, those of colleagues, of strangers, of people to whom she cared how she appeared no matter what they represented. She heard fragments of thoughts, of frantic inquiries. What floor were we on? Where is there an emergency stairwell? Elsa thought, am I the only one still thinking about what happened? The advancing blanket of smoke pushed back groups, the dinner party to which Else was now tenuously attached. The fluttering limbs and stop-and-start motions suggested a thin solidarity that was doomed to collapse: every man, woman, or whatever Judy might remind was in between or beyond was for themselves, said the body language. To Elsa, it seemed that within moments that could not be measured temporally, all social conventions would dissolve. Not only would the barely-invested concern between individuals disappear, so too would the inhibitions that illustrated the fixed limits of caring. As flames ignited curtains on either side of the dining hall, portending an entrapment of heat and breathlessness, the crowd rushed back, pushing Elsa, now separated and amongst utter strangers, towards a back wall. Fire escape. Someone called out the words with a blend of fright and inspiration, and suddenly heads turned, searching for the recognizable fixture that would signal hope.

Soon the coughing started, followed by smoke-induced tears, which forced temporary blindness. Choking, and hearing the din of others’ like-suffering, Elsa’s body spun away, bumping off others’ bodies like a ball in a pinball machine. What lay before her felt like a hallucination: an orange line of fire, advancing upon a wall that flanked the kitchen, melted away an ornate wallpaper pattern as though it was an ice-cube quickly thinning into a puddle. As the flame tore away at the fabric of brick and mortar, it revealed behind it a grey space that beckoned like freedom. Cool and clear: that was the impression Elsa held of the space that had opened up, promising room to breathe. Glancing around her, she saw that few were at the gap so she dashed towards it, pushing past an object that might have been a chair but was possibly flesh and bone—someone else’s already-slumped, defeated body. Within another indeterminate moment she was at an edge, contemplating a dream. Is this a dream, she wondered, feeling a pressing heat at her back and an urge to leap? This is a dream, she next decided, regarding a mobius strip of fire all around her. Whatever this is, it will soon be over. The dream—or this something unthinkable—will soon be over, yielding relief. Elsa gasped. Dizzy, her head spinning, she knew there was one more decision to make. Instinctively, she looked over her shoulder, like she was saying goodbye to the assembly of faces. Who did she really know? Who cared about her? As something like a hot spear struck her, she let out a shriek and stumbled backward. Falling, she felt the weightless sensation of a terrorizing drop and conjured its hard and bloody end. Finally, the eyes of an unknown woman met hers, perhaps drawn by the sound of Elsa’s cry. It was an appraising gaze, at once sympathetic yet judging of another’s indignity, and as the eyes of that woman disappeared above the floor upon which she remained standing, Elsa wondered her final thought before the great dream: does it matter still what anyone thinks?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

That’s all, folks!

 

Amid these difficult times (how’s that for an opening cliche?), I’ve determined that it’s time to address an important matter that has hitherto been ignored: the meaning of the roadrunner and of course, its relevance, like that of Dr. Strangelove, to the strained realities of the present day. Roadrunner? Yes, the roadrunner, as in the long-running (hey, a pun) Looney Tunes cartoon that began in the late forties and persisted well into the 21st century, tirelessly representing themes of obsession, futility, as well as split-identifications.

To fully appreciate the roadrunner one has to be a child, or at least inhabit the childlike state that intuits all of the following: namely, the roadrunner rules. Rules were important when I was first watching cartoons. Pre-teens know rules, are governed by rules, and don’t know the possibilities of breaking rules, generally, yet they know how to identify. The world of the roadrunner, plus its (gender?) nemesis, the seemingly male Wile E. (not so wily) Coyote, is likely the American southwest, given the resemblance of the landscape to that of the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley. The rocky, arid spaces suggest the starvation that motivates the salivating Coyote, while the roadrunner figure, wide-eyed and spry, seems ever comfortable, well-fed and unthirsty. The rules are that no dialogue exists between these characters, only the non-verbal utterances between enemies (the roadrunner’s impish “beep-beep”, for example, which made it seem like a car), such that a western “duel” is conjured.

In its cartoon physics, rules apply to the Coyote that don’t apply to the underdog roadrunner: For example, the roadrunner can stop on a dime while the Coyote cannot, which often leads the latter to fall off precipices that he doesn’t see until its too late. Interestingly, a sub-rule that relates here is one in which the Coyote is spared the full consequences of his impending fall until he realizes his error. What does this mean? Are we to infer, or absorb into our childlike state that reality only hits when reality hits? That psychic reality (coming out of denial) will coincide with material, or physical reality? Furthermore, in the cartoon, the Coyote enjoins the audience into his psychic acknowledgement, as if the collective witnessing (by the viewer) is also necessary to activate the actual fall. What typically follows is the changing of our position to that of a God-like aerial view. We see the Coyote fall, and as he looks up at us and disappears towards a sandy earth and a presumably dusty death, he appears more humiliated than terrified. He has, after all, been fooled again.

This recalls another rule: that the roadrunner never directly harms the Coyote. It just seems to ever know something the Coyote doesn’t, like the apparent fact that a painting on a rock will allow its entry, such that the roadrunner can continue along a road that has been painted on a surface, while the Coyote gets flattened as he runs into the same surface. And what does that mean? Is this really the roadrunner’s world, and does it have special powers that defy physics? Are we to infer a social allegory in this hint that rules are applied selectively? Again, the roadrunner cannot directly harm the Coyote, but it can manipulate or take advantage of nature’s whimsy, the apparent flexibility of gravity, and of hallucinatory objects. Of course, it’s also possible that the roadrunner itself is not real, and that its disappearance into the painting on the rock is itself a hallucination.

The most important rule in the roadrunner cartoon appears to be that the Coyote cannot and will not ever capture the roadrunner. Why? And if he never captures the bird (?) why does he never give up. Why does he not move on, start chasing lizards or something, or at least hire some company other than ACME to supply the weaponry that will invariably let him down. What…was ACME like the Amazon of its day: were brick and mortar stores all gone and did he have no choice but to order from this one supplier of all that is needed? For children, it’s not clear who is meant to be identified with. It’s not clear who is the hero and who is the villain, which for me is the secret of the cartoon’s lasting appeal: though it borrows motifs from the genre of the western, it otherwise mocks its landscapes and binary paradigms. In it, the underdog is a pest and a flirt; it is implicitly female in a pre-feminist sense: teasingly appetizing, but with no appetite of its own. Okay, not quite true: occasionally, the roadrunner stops in its tracks, tempted by a petit cairn of seeds that its adversary has placed in the middle of the road, but it can easily eat and run, and more importantly, it may seem to the viewer that the would-be prey can give or take sustenance. The Coyote, meanwhile, is deceptively powerful and nasty–a rapacious derivative of the big bad wolf–and a desperate fanatic who does not know when to stop.

If we are to identify with the roadrunner, then this identification is the reason the bird is never captured. The reason: the consequences are unthinkable. The roadrunner will be eaten. He, she–whatever–will be torn to shreds, and cartoons can’t allow that. That’s for adult entertainment, horror films and the like, and children must be protected from the dire consequences of the chase. Sorry Coyote, this means that you must lose while we empathize with your need. You are a villain, but a likeable one because you never seem to actualize your villainy. Also–again, because of cartoon rules–the Coyote is not destroyed by this necessary sparing of the roadrunner. Each episode ends with the Coyote unfed, which is sad but not fatal. The episode, and therefore the Coyote’s loss and humiliation, will soon be over, only to begin again the next time.

If children of a happy or safe upbringing, we watch the roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, allowed by adults to enjoy their never-ending chases, their darker-than Tom and Jerry drama, because unlike the mouse and cat, the roadrunner and Coyote are never friends in domesticity–they are rivals amid desolation, and perhaps the last creatures on earth. But this again is too much imagination for the childlike mind. The episodes only last a few minutes, so we’d know, or learn, about stopping, but not death. Kids are often told when to stop, when recess is over; when play time is to become work time, school time; when dinner, as provided reliably, is ready. On some things, adults  encourage children to not give up on that which is frustrating, and sometimes be told that one doesn’t always get what one wants. That’s all, folks! No one explains obsession to a child, or fanaticism; an addiction never satisfied, much less starvation. The need of the Coyote, and the ambiguous need of the roadrunner, must ever exist in tension, unresolved and co-existent. No one seems to understand–at least not with words–pursuing a goal through hallucination, at some point forgetting what pursuits are even about.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dr. Strangelove talk

via The Dr. Strangelove talk

“Mr president, I’m not sayin’ we won’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 20 million killed…depending on the breaks”

Leave a comment

May 31, 2020 · 6:37 am

Fishing for narratives

 

There’s a fair amount of gender stuff in this blog recently. That’s because there’s a lot of gender stuff in my forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction. Inevitable, I think, when the dominant context in the field of treatment is heteronormative—meaning, aimed at heterosexual men. It gets tiresome reiterating this, given the zeitgeist demand for diversity. Even barely interested publishers want to know if mine and Joe Farley’s efforts would attend to the needs of sexual minorities. But sex addiction (SA) treatment’s dominant attention to the “needs” of heterosexual men is a fact in this country—one of not many facts, actually, in the field of SA treatment, but a fact nonetheless.

The demographics of treatment, plus the typical split-formats of group therapy in particular, enables a predictable positioning of men and women. These positions are girded by chestnut beliefs that permeate society, dominate pop psychology literature (at least), and thus infiltrate the offices of psychotherapists. I sometimes think that all one needs to be a therapist in the present dystopia is to have a sociology degree from university coupled with an accurate take upon what social and political beliefs reign in the community in which one practices. Thereafter, treatment models and theory is what you have to filter those beliefs, employing jargon so as to affirm whatever narrative is most palatable. Facts? Yes, there are facts, plenty of which are relevant to treatment, and depending upon the context, they may determine whether society invests money in mental health care. But make no mistake: in the absence of research that actually proves that one method, intervention, or “style” is most effective over time, our field of practice, following the dictates of consumerism, will pursue that which is quickest and cheapest, and with respect to gender issues—those narratives that are most familiar.

So, do I have specific examples of treatment-distorting narratives? Indeed I do. Take, for example, the commonly expressed view that the sex addiction construct “excuses” the behavior of afflicted individuals, in effect privileging heterosexual men unfairly. This view fits a prejudice of both progressive society and, in this context, also traditionalist observers, and so the narrative sticks. Only it’s BS. That’s right. I think wordpress allows the contraction. I’ve been treating individuals, couples, men and women who present on both sides of the acting out/non-acting out divide for nearly twenty years, and in my opinion, the opposite of the “excuse” narrative is more prevalent. The SA assessment (it’s still not a diagnostic category in this country) does not yield clemency for someone who cheats on his or her partner. Divorce or separation rates do not diminish because the specter of sex addiction has rendered conflictual couples more flexible in their mores. And as far as illegal activities are concerned, I find that courts and sex offender treatment “protocols” are largely unmoved when individuals claim that a progressive addiction is the cause of an unacceptable behavior. Crossing the line of moral horror is as much a criteria of addiction as frequency of behavior or states of craving, and the horrified—meaning the righteous onlookers—do not excuse.

Nor should they, I think, by which I simply mean that self-identified addicts shouldn’t be exempted from legal consequences that result from behaviors known to be illegal. The addict made a choice, I say, disagreeing with what some recovering addicts think. Nor do I think that impacted partners are obliged to forgive their addicted partners, especially if “forgiving” entails remaining in a relationship with a habitually slipping or relapsing addict. Still, the truer reductionism with respect to the term addict is one of scapegoating. Addiction, a concept borne as much via ontology as medical science, is often blamed for a crossection of habits that straddle behavioral, psychological, even spiritual manifestations. This is largely the influence of the 12-step community, which seeks to support individuals afflicted with what it thinks is a disease, though in personifying the problem of addiction (“my addict is telling me…”), it enables shorthand explanations that circumvent complexity, yielding facile and false narratives. As a result, potentially dynamic problems between couples are cast as the unilateral fault of “the addict”: “Typical addict. I ask him to pick up the kids after soccer practice, and of course he forgets…”

Therein lies a bridge to gender issues, which are also subject to reductionism and stereotype. Combined with the prejudices aimed at male sexuality, broader assumptions about male versus female traits deliver a hammer blow to heterosexual men in sex addiction treatment. In drawing attention to the circular logic that pervades my field, I wrote in Getting Real about the assumptions of masculine privilege that underlay interventions and imagined what eating disorder treatment might be like if corresponding biases prevailed in that context. Are women privileged in representing the majority of admissions to eating disorder treatment? Do men, by implication, find it more difficult, more stigmatizing, to admit problems related to losing or gaining weight, and does the construct of “eating disorder” shield or excuse women (mostly) from moral judgements that might otherwise be aimed at them: the imputation of greed, for example. Well, excessive eating (or the reverse, self-starvation) does induce moral judgements, but not as much as sex does, and feminists and traditionalists ally in the belief that pornography and prostitution are immoral entities, either because they promote exploitation or promiscuity.

More skewed narratives, I write in Getting Real. I don’t dispute the progressive premise, which observes exploitation of women’s sexuality, ignoring promiscuity unless there are power differentials, like someone paying or being in charge—plus someone getting paid, behaving subserviently. Unlike social conservatives, progressives object to power differentials that they deem institutionalized, though like conservatives, they are selective as to what they think exploitative, and like conservatives, they appear to sanctify sex more than any other human behavior. Ostensibly, the exploitation of violence is likewise objectionable, but close inspection suggests not. For example, in response to January’s SuperBowl event, I’ve heard numerous women—menu feminists, I call them—complain that the game’s vaunted halftime show, featuring scantily-clad Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, was yet another example of patriarchal culture objectifying women (it didn’t seem to matter that the female performers in question clearly chose their roles and likely earned a lot of money). None of these women remarked on the main event, which featured similarly well-paid gladiators, many of whom will be crippled if not brain-damaged by middle age, all for the entertainment of our Pax Romana—sorry, American—dream. They chose their roles as well, of course. Or, does anyone really choose, I hear some asking?

The professions of fisherman, electricians, roofers, and landscapers have two things in common. Firstly, they are all male-dominated professions. This fact alone would reinforce for many a belief that masculine privilege reigns in our present-day society: the term “male dominance” linked psychically with male advantage. Fact number two might muddy the waters of what is known versus what is presumed. Those same four professions are above firefighters, policemen, and apparently military personnel in a Bureau of Labor report indicating the most dangerous jobs in the United States, based upon an aggregate of workplace injuries and time off work. How privileged am I as a psychotherapist to not worry about electrocuting myself, or slipping off a roof or a high tree, or—I guess—a fishing boat? Who knew: that’s the most dangerous job of all, apparently. The French analyst Jacques Lacan wrote that mental processes issue from an intertwining—what he termed a Borromean knot—comprised of three realms: the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. The imaginary contains proto-concepts born of imagery, our intrinsic narcissism; our earliest split-recognitions of self and other. The symbolic represents such representations via language, via laws and social structures—the unconscious organization of society. The realm of the “real” exists beyond what is known—beyond the not-quite language that brings us “addiction”, and reality-approximating words like “standards”, “protocols”—to the imperceptible. The blockage of the real exists in our repetitions, which represent our beating-our-heads-against attempts to contrive. Lacan called this our automaton behavior. The imperative of moral equivalence (a lingua favorite of progressives, I notice) gets employed to reduce discussion, cast opinion as fact, to dismiss narratives that don’t fit with an orthodox message.

Alright then, let’s compare an iconic women’s movement moment with an unrecognized as such yet contemporaneous watershed in the cause of men: the burning of the bra was about sexual and economic freedom, the former proceeding from the latter. The burning of the draft card was about not dying at the behest of authority.

We get that it is true, what Lacan taught. We get it and we don’t.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Circularity and Tautology

 

Just before Covid broke out and thereafter shut us in, I’d started going to Peets to prepare notes for this blog. I’d already had in mind to write a few overdue thoughts on the matter of tautology when I saw an anecdotal cue in the corner of my eye. Over the shoulder of a diligent girl with a winning, sympathetic smile who served me coffee was a poster proclaiming that the house brew from Colombia was a hundred percent grown by women—that is, men were not involved, presumably. For a fleeting, half-witted moment I wondered why this was necessary to advertise before thoughts of obligation intruded. Was there a tradition of female exclusion in the Colombian coffee industry? I wondered. Amid the progressively flavored ambience the question seemed foolish, and not because I ought to have known something, anything, about Colombian culture. The poster’s claim/boast will have been deemed acceptable by marketers; been green-lighted by franchise execs, nodded to by employees and duly patronized by a genteel, civic-minded customer base. Why? Because its premise will have been deemed unfalsifiable. No evidence necessary. Circular reasoning, in philosophical and critical thinking circles—not so much the office spaces of advertisers, I’ll venture. Was research into the history of the Colombian coffee trade really necessary? That women had been hitherto excluded was a given, wasn’t it? Would it even matter if the implication wasn’t true?
Unfalsifiable ideas (ideas immune to rebuke) designed for professional and thereafter public consumption are nothing new in modern psychology. An acknowledgement of this dates back to the 1930s at least, when Freud wrote in “Constructions in Analysis” that psychoanalysis employs circular reasoning when considering the accuracy of interpretations. If a patient were to reject an interpretation, it is only a sign of resistance, many analysts thought. Those of the Kleinian school took it a step further, suggesting that a resistant, interpretation-rebuffing patient was one exhibiting a “negative therapeutic reaction”: meaning, an act of aggression, denying the nurturing goodness of the attending analyst. Even those who write with tongue-in-cheek satire of this stance confess guilt when asked if they have ever resisted the resistance of a patient—even claiming that the correctness of an insight was or is confirmed by the denial of the patient. Indeed, the more intense the denial, the more deeply embedded is the truism, was or is often the belief. The matter of real interest becomes the correspondence between the intensity of denial and the level of unconsciousness: the deeper the idea is buried, the more intense the denial of the analyst’s interpretation.

Circular thinking is habitual; that is, it happens unconsciously and repeatedly, so they lodge in the mind. I recall one example from an academic setting, during a somewhat delicate discussion about touch in therapy, as in the prospect or practice of physical touching between clinicians and patients. The sensitivity in the air concerned the matter of sexuality, of course, and more specifically, the legacy of sexual abuse by male practitioners upon female patients. Amid this background, however, the view remains that some manner or degree of touch between patient and provider may be appropriate. Hugging, for example, or shaking hands. Fair enough? Not so fast, complained one student—a woman—who pointed out that most of the literature on the subject of touch between patient and analysts/therapists has been written by men. She needn’t have substantiated her point, it seemed. Still, what she then pointed out, without comment on the contradiction, was that an analyst named Judith Butler has “written more on the subject of touch in the clinical setting than anyone”.
????
As in more than anyone since men stopped writing on the subject, assuming that’s still allowed? The data point supplied had not perturbed the previously declared premise. My not-quite-as-provocative-as-that query didn’t yield an answer on this occasion. My fellow student didn’t identify the men of yesteryear who had previously dominated the topic. Neither did the instructor. They simply thought it a refreshing change, not an irony, that the most prominent commentator upon touch in therapy was a woman. By the way, I’m sure there has been plenty of “research” into this question, utilizing hidden cameras no doubt, to determine how often, and by what proportions of each gender, that physical touch is occurring in therapists’ offices. I know. I’m not taking this seriously, am I? Well, not quite. It’s more that I don’t take seriously the thinking or methodology that’s being applied to this subject. I can’t be bothered to review beyond what I already have what’s being written on this subject, as if it could be studied objectively. And it hasn’t. I imagine (borderline assume) that the fewer male therapists that remain in this field are as conservative as I am. I shake hands. I will give a hug to a male patient, usually without concern. I will give a hug to a female patient at the end of an intermediate-to-long-term therapy, assuming she initiates. I will never initiate. Never. The day that changes is the day it becomes acceptable to have hidden cameras in my office. And that’s the day I retire, frankly. Actually, that’s bravado. I’d check my bank account first. So, who knows about what’s under the surface, or behind closed doors upon which “In session” still interdict? Should we know?

Circling back to my main topic: circularity. In the crossover realm of addictions and addiction treatment, which I attempt to describe in the forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, there are analogous tautologies, which are redundant expressions indicating unfalsifiable logic. The term “male sex addict” may be one example; the phrase “objectification of women” may be another: terms that may seem redundant because of prejudicial beliefs. Do we assign the term sex addiction to women in an era sensitive to “slut shaming”? Would the term “objectification of men” be deemed a thing by an average observer not prone to ontological (nature of being) insight? There are chestnut beliefs taken for granted by many, professionals as well as consumers of psychotherapy.

One that exists on the periphery of mental health care emanates from Alcoholics Anonymous, still the most prominent sobriety movement in the United States after a near century of existence. Absent a painstaking assessment of a drinking history, and sometimes even in spite of said data collection, a person who presents for help, either within a 12-step milieu or within a 12-step-based treatment program, is often thought to be in denial of a problem simply if he or she denies a problem. The presentation for assessment, for care—whether at the behest of others or not—signifies the conclusion a priori. Hence a circularity: if an individual presenting for care admits that he is an addict/alcoholic, then he is an addict/alcoholic. If he equivocates or else denies that he is an addict/alcoholic, he is still an addict/alcoholic. It’s just that friends, family and professional helpers will all now have some work to do upon the resistant mind.

No surprise that similar phenomena contaminates the sub-field of sex addiction treatment, which is otherwise largely preoccupied with medical, ontological, and phenomenological (study of experience) questions regarding diagnoses and criteria: questions like, what is this thing we call addiction? Or, for those still debating the details, what are the events or behaviors that actually happened? Hence, the field ignores its other assumptions. But tautologies and circular reasoning are apparent, and not just amongst practitioners and patients, but especially amongst the non-acting out, “betrayed” partners of designated sex addicts who, in the aftermath of a discovered acting out pattern, are hypervigilant to clues of wayward behavior, including instances of denials or argumentativeness. I’ve known more than one partner of an addict declare with studied conviction that she knew that her partner had slipped or relapsed in his behavior, not so much because of some undeniable evidence pointing to this conclusion, but rather because the intensity of his denials implied the unconscious defense of negation—negation of that which is necessarily deemed true. So, don’t tell me that analytic ideas have no place in the modern conversation of addictions just because people don’t know the theoretical derivatives of their assumptions. Next, this issue of whether an addict is an addict based upon whether he self-identifies or else because he’s in denial is just the tip of the iceberg on this matter of tautology and sex addiction. As my opening anecdote suggests, the muddying of water (or coffee) extends to gender biases intersecting with notions of what is trauma, or what constitutes objectification as these concepts pertain to an already loaded subject—sex. Okay, I got called out recently (you might have read) for using words like ‘trauma’ without explaining what it means. As if I know what it means! That doesn’t mean that I don’t have ideas, or even experiences that would inform, but I think the term’s meaning has become diluted in our culture. For once, I’ll be brief and orienting, for I think the debate congeals around a triangular phenomenon: firstly, there is the notion that trauma is the crazy-making event. Second and third, the question (broadly) is whether the crazy began in the self or within some un-locateable pre-verbal memory, or further, whether crazy stems from a later (even contemporary) crazy-making event. Platitudinous wisdom suggests that some combination of each phenomena is true.
Thanks
If the subject of trauma across contexts has been contaminated, can you imagine what I think has happened when the context is sex? Well, without the background specter of sex and gender politics, it’s hard to imagine that sex addiction would have gathered steam as a concept, displacing as it has (almost) in recent years the relatively benign if not old-fashioned construct of infidelity.
In Getting Real, I argue that sex addiction treatment is a subsidiary front in a zeitgeist war against male sexuality. The evidence for systemic tautological fallacies lie in the far higher rates of men being admitted to sex addiction treatment versus women, coupled with the absurdist view that such admission rates constitute a privileging of care for men instead of the neo-Scarlet lettering that it obviously is. Now, I know there are some who would reject my appropriation. Cue again the concern with matters of moral equivalence, or asymmetry. So, once again, I accept that the plight of modern sex addicts doesn’t match the experience of ostracized women in 17th century New England, but also (once again), metaphors and allegory don’t imply equivalence or symmetry. They serve as reference points, and are inherently imprecise, as all meaningful things are. Incidentally, few would argue that the trauma of sex addicts’ partners matches that of combat veterans, but does that render the term sex addiction induced trauma invalid? I don’t know if the people who promulgate this hegemonic opinion also believe that sex addiction is an unnecessarily pathologizing label, but it wouldn’t surprise me if such concurrences of semi-thought, which compound absurdity, exist in our professional field. Beyond the statistical surfaces, the ethical complaints that accompany the sex addiction concept—that pornography and prostitution exploits and objectifies, or that extramarital affairs betray partners—largely target a heterosexual male population whilst shielding would-be female sex addicts from a similar excoriation. In my view, a now dominantly female proletariat in mental health care is wary of attaching pathologizing labels to female sexuality, which results in circular, apologist formulations. Therefore, a woman who acts out sexually with pornography or prostitution or serial affairs does not exploit or objectify others, especially men, but rather internalizes a demeaning state of mind such that what she does she invariably does to herself.
Uh-huh. Again, note the Cliff Notes co-opting of a psychoanalytic concept, which is common within frameworks that comprise the sex addiction field. More importantly, note the assertion of ideas across mental health/sociological spectrum that are presented credulously; that is, immune to falsification.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dr. Strangelove talk

via The Dr. Strangelove talk

Leave a comment

May 2, 2020 · 5:02 pm