Monthly Archives: January 2022

So you’re angry…and guilty

So you’re angry. You feel entitled. You’re like Richard III with the deformity, or so wrote Freud. The world, or the microcosm in which you live, has dealt you a blow, an unfair disadvantage. You’re gonna take what you can get, not expecting anyone to do anything for you. And you extend this attitude to your sexuality, with which you play like it’s a toy; actually, like it’s a modern toy, as in some electronic goodie that merits an upgrade like, every other week or something. Meanwhile, you’re down on the old toys, and especially one toy in particular. And this toy is a she, typically (yes, I’ll be ironically sexist for a moment). She’s your wife, or your long-term partner, whatever. Long-suffering, some will opine. Deeply impacted, traumatized, abused, others will say, including her, though some of the words are borrowed. The thing is you agree. It’s not like you don’t feel bad after you’ve done your thing after the Xth time. It’s not like you don’t feel guilty. And in feeling guilty you will feel penitent, at least until resentment returns and you sort of remember why you felt the things that made it okay to act upon your fantasies which then led you to feel guilty.

Validation. See, it’s not just about sex for you. It’s about the package of emotion that you wrap around sex, which includes murky yet happy experiences of freedom, relief, the pull of seduction, of play. That sinful other offers a conflict-free experience: she’ll admire you, or at least not intrude with her own troublesome wishes. With her you’ll escape the vague feeling that you are used up, have been used up, studded and then dispatched to some figurative pasture wherein you perform tasks that are drudgery, or acts that border on the heroic but which yield little in the way of thanks. Can’t she—meaning the old toy—make a bit more effort? Lose weight, put on some make-up…ya know, act like she did before you put a ring on it. Those days are gone, it seems. Now you’re trapped, or you feel trapped, subject to daily criticisms that now far outnumber the once-upon-a-time compliments. You know what to do. It’s 2021 still (yeah, I know, wrote this a month ago), hanging on by a thread, and something that’s trending aint gonna stop anytime soon. It’s never been easier to have affairs, writes Esther Perel, a modern author on the subjects of sex and relationships. It’s also never been harder to not get caught. If you get caught you might come see someone like me. I’m paid to take your confession, and then, as far as you’re concerned, tell you what to do about the old toy that you want to keep, apparently.

You want me to validate you? Tell you what to do? Affirm that you were entitled (whenever that attitude emerges) to all the toys on the shelf because of all that you do, all that you have tried, that merits the reward of intimacy. You tried everything, didn’t you? Did you? If you’re like the average (or even the not so average) obsessive, or “addict”, then you tried everything except actually asking for what you want, regularly, in the relationships that you chose. You think you asked for it, meaning the things you want. Well, maybe you did…once or twice. Yeah, okay. She said no. Then she said no again. Then you gave up and sought out that or who that says yes.

So you’re angry. You feel entitled. You discovered that text from that someone else and it blew a fuse. You walked in while he was looking at those images with his hands down his pants and you wondered, in part because he’s usually better at hiding, how much is this going on? The first time you found evidence of this you brushed it off, thinking it was normal, for men that is. Your girlfriends said the same thing, waving their hands, moving the air, declaring it was no big deal. A dissenter is your one friend who is bisexual, or maybe she’s more gay than before, you can’t tell. Anyway, she’s woke and she tells you you shouldn’t put up with this shit. Well, you’re not gonna put up with this shit. Not anymore. Plus, this getting caught thing: it means he’s losing control, doesn’t it? It must mean he has an addiction, unless he wants to get caught. Does he? Maybe he doesn’t love you anymore and this is just his way of saying it? An avoidantly attached personality, your therapist friend said. But you’re confused on that point because he says he’s sorry, wants to work stuff out, get some help. For himself? So he says, though he keeps implying that you’re to blame for the thing that he is doing a lot—so much so that he’s calling it an addiction.

So now you’re angry. Now you’re angry? Actually, you’ve been angry, or at least tense, for quite some time, because you thought something was going on but you were brushing it off and he was saying it was nothing, and nearly everyone else was saying it was nothing, and now it’s out of the bag and the pants are down by the ankles and suddenly it’s a something. It’s an addiction? Okay, well now it’s time for all the pent up feeling that you didn’t feel justified to vent is coming out, big time—like never before, it seems, which stirs another thought: actually, getting pissed at things has never been easy. You’ve never felt entitled to vent your spleen, even though people say you do so all the time. What they don’t know is how guilty you feel afterwards; how painful it is to get angry. That’s why you do it in secret a lot, which includes speaking to confidants, people who are as secretly angry as you so they vicariously enjoy (sorry, feel) your pain. Thing is, that’s starting to ignite guilt also. These confidantes: they can take so much, or worse, they’re gonna start judging you, thinking you’re too angry. Bitter. Time to pay someone to listen to you. A therapist. Specifically, find someone who specializes in something called betrayal trauma.

Validation. You want to hear someone validate your experience, tell you that you’re entitled to your anger and, by implication, the vengeful actions that will proceed from that anger. Here’s your secret: despite what has happened, you’re not sure you’re entitled to your anger, or to that much anger. So the next bit is unconscious: you want to borrow entitlement from someone else, and specifically, an expert. This is a form of permission seeking, and guilt reduction. And this was Freud’s deliciously amoral point: righteous anger is how we soothe guilt. It’s the bone we look for to justify the diatribe, the melt-down, the action movie climax that we all want to inhabit: the one in which the hero, or heroine, gets payback! Ah, those movies! Those HBO/Netflix binge-worthy gems: don’t they trade masterfully upon our desires? Addictive, you might say. See, if you pay close attention you might notice your internal conflict is not so different from that of the addict. The problem is guilt. Guilt doesn’t quite get extinguished, even in scenarios wherein the righteousness is fever-pitched. Why? Because the capacity for guilt may be inherited. It may be part of character, part of who we are, as opposed to something stirred by circumstance, the strictly external phenomena. You wanna know what a psychodynamic or psychoanalytic treatment would “do” for a patient like this?

Well, if you’re a Winnicottian worker, your marching orders will incline you to validate the anger of the betrayed, and even the underlying disappointments of the acting out figure. You will likely think that many in our patient mist lacked an original strong parent to teach them entitlement. As a result, you’ll think that some of us are simply ill-equipped to ask for what we want, or to protest unfairness, or wrongdoing. As a result, you’ll think it your task to bolster the wounded selves of such patients, give them a hint, at least, that what they secretly or impulsively want is…dare they say…deserved—so deserved that they might integrate that entitlement into their daily lives, which leads, broadly speaking, to the likely therapeutic goal: to be entitled in a way that is honest, non-destructive; at peace with the world. Ah! Doesn’t it sound nice, like a soothing hot tea before a nice hot fire on a cold, damp night? It sounds nice, but sometimes a little condescending, when those who claim to have reached this promised land boast of the achievement.

If you’re not Winnicottian. If you are, say, a Bionian or Kleinian figure, you’ll tread a less popular path. When a patient asks you, “It’s only fair and right for me to ask him to leave, isn’t it?”, you might respond with, “what are you asking me for?” (to be fair, only if you’re prepared to piss off your patient), or—slightly less frustratingly—“well, I think we can see how you’re struggling with the question of what to do. You’re angry and you want to express that. But you’re not quite sure it will feel right, so you ask me what I think, hoping I can make it easier”. You’ll know you have an analytic patient if the person can think upon this answer; if they can, as Bion once proposed, tolerate the frustration of not knowing answers long enough so they can use their minds, think about who they are and how they relate, historically, to anger and guilt.

Whether they perceive the irony or not, the rest of the patient population will seek out that which makes them feel better. Like any addictive habit, that will feel good, for a while.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Frankenstein’s Window

David didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. In fact, David thought he’d played it perfectly. Well, not perfect–nothing is perfect–but as near enough as he could imagine, uh, performing. Yes, he was annoyed that Jessie had spilt juice all over the sofa. Actually, he was seriously pissed that Jessie had spilt juice all over the sofa, especially as he had warned her to be careful with her glass so as to NOT spill juice all over the sofa. Sure, she’d said, hopping back and forth between kitchen and living room. No problem, she exuded. Oh shit, she then said as a stream of juice shot out from the glass looking like a frog’s tongue spearing a hapless fly. Sorry, she immediately said, looking sheepish, her shoulders hunched, already seeking a cowering pose. Goddamnit, David exclaimed with an air of bitter knowing, followed by a martyred sigh. Stay calm, he self-coached. Don’t lose your temper. Too late, some would say. Anyway, Just…be quiet. That’s what he said, what he thought. Best to not say anything more.

Still, can’t continue with the game. The game, the second game of—whatever it was that he and Jessie were about to resume playing—that was over. “Forget it”, he said. He figured they would. The next day, Patty, Jessie’s mom and David’s fiancé, was curtly disgruntled.

“What’s your problem?”, David asked.

“I don’t know”, Patty initially lied, gauging him it seemed. Then she plunged in: “Think you were a little harsh last night with Jessie”.

“What’d I say?” David asked, calling for evidence.

She replied evenly: “do you want her to be afraid of you?” Patty glided airily about him, casually dominant, like she needn’t outline a case.

“That’s exactly what I was avoiding”, David retorted, forcing a righteous surge. It was in his chest mostly, he noticed, building up a head of steam but stilled, like it was stood at attention facing a locked door. “That’s why I hardly said anything”, David added.

“Well, you said enough”

“Was I supposed to say nothing?”

Patty had a response: a verbose, sprawling instruction with a rosy prescription as its climax: “just be cool”

Somehow that didn’t resolve matters. David stirred, wondering how he’d gotten this wrong though not really thinking he’d gotten it wrong. He’d followed once tacit but later made explicit rules about having time outs when one is hot under the collar; to give space for everyone to calm down. Meanwhile, the objects of his suppressed rage were meant to respond in kind, not poke the bear. How much space, as in time? He didn’t know. A day or two maybe? He was vaguely aware of contrary instructions stemming from mythology and psychoanalytic folklore. His one-time analyst had told him the story of the Wolf man, a patient of Sigmund Freud who once had a dream of wolves perched in a walnut tree. They stare outwards, stilled in every sense, yet in their stillness they carry the menace of their hidden potential. The other mythic figure in the mental midst was Frankenstein, he of Mary Shelley’s creation, longing for human contact but exiled to the arctic due to his irredeemable monstrosity.

Silence is a compromise: an expression of dislike and a threat but also a pulling back that bespeaks the terror of the monster. And in our literature, our mythology and dreams it is ever a monster, a beast—some displaced contortion of ourselves—that has or will do the deed. And yet there is a window of opportunity for another compromise to take effect. It’s a therapist’s prescription, an “if you could just tell the (offending person) X, then…” —well, something will be averted, it is presumed, or hoped. It’s a sound idea, of course, this would-be declaration of truth, this proposed scything through the gaslighting moment; this potential capturing of truisms while the doors are still locked, the temperature set and poised in a mild-to-moderate range. However, it presumes a desire to repair and convey love and not hate; it suggests a willingness to sacrifice pleasure, the discharge of aggression, in order to preserve order; it gambles upon impulse control, frustration tolerance, or the containment of fear, but also the exercise of something deeper. It’s parked a bit lower than the chest you might notice if you’re familiar with the somatic derivative. It is bilious, guttural, nursing an old resentment that has yet to feel justice. It might help to realize that the once antagonist is no longer around, and that displacing onto substitutes will not satisfy for long.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dr Strangelove in the 21st century (live)

Yes, live. With all of the cliches that come with that word. You know how television stars and such used to speak of live television: they’d speak of the glitches, the flubs, that would occur in front of a live audience, with no space for editing. This has editing. If only I could erase from memory the frozen moments when the computer froze, the internet blinked, and my talk about the frailties of technology as depicted in the greatest cinematic feature of that theme was aptly, if cruelly exposed. What you’ll see in the long-awaited link (well, august of last year) is my resilience, I guess; my improvisational wheels turning…my what the hell else can I do attitude. No denial possible, but denial happens. The thing that happened: it happened. You just keep going, or in my case, talking, and now writing. What you’ll mostly hear and slightly see from my audience is a supportive, indulgent, interested if slightly nursery-home like response at times. Anyway, the talk’s the thing, I’m told: the human touch at the heart of an endeavor. Incidentally, there’s a film running on Netflix called Don’t Look Up. It’s the Dr. Strangelove of our time, basically: a film that will make you laugh and then gulp. Get depressed, or disturbed. Listen to my talk, regardless.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized