Tag Archives: oedipus complex

Happy endings/beginnings

Happy Star Wars week! Have you seen it yet, the supposed last installment of the franchise? I haven’t. Is it uplifting? A downer? My first question will seem strange in the future, when I imagine more readers may be giving these entries a look than they will right now. Time will obliterate this moment of wondering. In time, as in the next week or so (an eternity in my present circumstances) I may get around to seeing Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (think that’s what it’s called). Forty two years after the first film came out, I am far removed from the excitable state that had me seeing the first installment back in the day. Like I shall be on Christmas day next week, I am a jaded adult wanting to sleep in rather than get up early to see if Obi Wan—sorry, Santa—has brought toys.

If I’m excitable or indeed compulsive about anything then it’s about corrupting things like the Star Wars mythos with sexualizing commentary. At least, that may be the view of clients and a few others who have been on the receiving end of my associations recently. One moment a man is innocently speaking of holiday plans, a weekend outing to see the new Stars Wars movie with his kids, and soon enough there are links in the air, connecting his idle thoughts with exercise routines and sexual fantasy. A languid sharing had undercurrents of arousal, I said: the plan to visit a gym would stir energy, place him in mixed company, with thoughts of improving his condition, building up his body…for what? The man caught my drift but perhaps didn’t like the suggestion. He’d wanted to keep things light and wholesome. I can tell because a compliant but begrudging man lowers his voice, starts to sound like a grumbling bear emerging from hibernation. He doesn’t like the talk that threatens to stir something threatening and I feel a bit like a fly that might get swatted any moment. Anyway, he insisted on lighter matter, turning back to the plan of taking his kids to see Star Wars and reminiscing about the first series of films that he’d also seen as a kid. A New Hope, the first film, released in 1977, is still his favorite he declared. A gratuitous recollection of trivia followed. The first Star Wars film was actually episode four, he recounted—suggesting three prequels that would not emerge for another generation. The first film had the best story, he went on to pronounce, and the most triumphant ending.

Not like the second (or fifth) film, The Empire Strikes Back, I suggested, colluding with the sublimated flow for the time being. That’s right, he agreed, adding that despite the deeper story-line, the eloquence of Yoda as he tutors young Luke in the ways of The Force, the ending is a downer. Depressing. Luke gets his hand cut off by Vader’s light saber and the future of the rebellion is uncertain.

Bummer.

Not the happy ending of Star Wars, the first film, I remarked. Exactly, intoned the man, thinking (briefly) that we were on the same wavelength. Strange term—happy ending—I then ruminated. Strange that for most recovering (or not) sex addicts the term happy ending has been co-opted and given a sexual meaning, pertaining to manual stimulation and illicit massage parlors, even sex slavery. I detected a slight sigh in my listener as I extended my comment, pointing out that happy endings in action films are usually orgiastic. For a spell I indulged my own tangential reminiscing, thinking that such endings were few and far between in the seventies. Star Wars, if the reader recalls, has often been described as a revitalization of the western ethos, only in space. See, by the mid-seventies the western, or at least the kind of playful, serial westerns that my father will have once enjoyed, were in decline, replaced by serious, socially-conscious action fare—stuff like The Godfather, or Taxi-Driver. The remaining westerns of that era—the odd, residual John Wayne flick, for example—were tired and unoriginal. Or there were good films that were complicated or too thought-provoking, like Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller. Not as much fun. Star Wars, todays’ kids won’t know, was a throw-back to a time when it was okay to like a simple action story with good guys and bad guys and not worry that Marlon Brando would tell you off for enabling stereotypes and oppression.

Come to think of it, maybe the culture hasn’t changed so much since the seventies in that respect, so maybe Star Wars still serves the same function today as it did then. Anyway, so why did I have to go and stir the pot and spoil the fun with my weird evocations of unconscious process? One moment, this poor man was having a nice moment, thinking of the happy ending wherein Han and Luke are getting medals hung around their necks by the lovely Princess Leia, with the cute and comic support characters Chewbacca, C-Threepio and R2D2 looking on, grunting or else making their funny electronic noises; then suddenly I’m making more comparisons with Empire: in the first film, the darker back-story is under the surface. As viewers of the light-hearted space western, we don’t yet know, though we might dimly feel, the Oedipal crisis that awaits Luke—that he will be tasked with fighting Darth Vader (a play on dark father, according to Robert Bly in Iron John), who will symbolically castrate Luke before finally succumbing to his son in the third film, Return Of The Jedi (the third film also resolves the near miss on the incest between Luke and Leia—whew, that was a close one, says the ego!). Then I conjure the climactic scene of Star Wars, with Luke as the lone fighter/sperm diving in his spaceship at the giant death star/egg; then he shoots his last shot, his precisely-aimed photon whatever/wad that strikes at the hard-to-get-at slot, leading to a giant blast explosion while—I swear to God—it looks to me now (okay, not so much when I was eight) that Luke hangs his head back, breathes out and pulls back like a man who has just…well, you know. But enough. I’ve surely done enough harm with my words.

“Great shot, kid. That was one in a million”, exults Han Solo, affirming the risen hero, Skywalker.

Indeed it was. Now that’s a happy beginning/ending.

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Life weans the giraffe

 

Not so randomly placed in mine and Joe Farley’s book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction, are the ontological issues surrounding the term sex addiction. It’s in the title, even, this suggestion that what we’ll be doing is examining the term sex addiction more than any other mental health abstraction and therefore addressing the problem of problem sexual behaviors: is this a thing, a variously skeptical public asks? The members of Sex Addiction Anonymous (SAA) have of course made their decision on this question. Committees of The American Psychiatric Association and The World Health Organization have not quite made theirs, rejecting the proposed diagnosis Hypersexual Disorder in the case of the former body, and recently (and provisionally) accepting the diagnosis Excessive Sexual Drive in the case of the latter organization. To be clear (or not), neither of these terms are synonymous with the construct of sex addiction, but we’re in the same ball park here. The issue is complex. It is medical, psychological and meta-psychological, as in ontological: is a human being’s sexuality a function of biological drive and are problem behaviors therefore a matter of excess desire? And even if that natural conclusion is drawn, where is the role of nurture in the matter of etiology? Are we talking about an interpersonal versus an intrapsychic event, as in a phenomenon derived from early childhood development—a weaning that went awry versus a web of innate fantasy (or phantasy as Object Relations terms it) within an infantile mind? Or is the broader social and cultural environment the more prominent accomplice in a dysfunctional sexual development?

We’d prefer to think so, at least. And so we hear weary chestnuts that even the most progressive-minded observers must be tired of hearing by now: theories of pubescent or post-pubescent development wherein boys are subject to mores that encourage their essentialist aggression, their concomitant sexual freedom, with consequent pressure to conform and therefore perform when being so deterministically sexualized. Meanwhile, girls are discouraged by societies across cultures from expressing freely their sexuality; they are raised to be demur, ashamed of their sexuality, and therefore passive or possibly manipulative in their sexual expression. And even if this is changing somewhat in a millennial age (really, have you noticed?), then it is surely a reaction to those previous oppressive norms, yielding a confusing transition phase wherein girls, boys, or those along the gender fluid continuum (suggesting a flight from binaries) switch roles at times, thus conforming to a newly burgeoning if less-defined ethos. And so we observe a faction of diffident men and boys who speak of respecting the feminine as if they are resisting in their stance a combined biological and social force upon their being. And we observe women and girls who seem increasingly aggressive and entitled in their sexual freedom while proclaiming the lack of freedom that is afforded them by an arbitrary social reality. In analytic terms, this is the realm of the unconscious but not the repressed, these habits and mores that we download from the culture. By unrepressed I mean something that is not kept away. Isms and other mores may be unconscious, but as we routinely observe, they are hardly kept away. They leak and make a mess, pervading our experience.

The premises of these positions must be difficult for the average mental health professional to sustain given the contradictions of theory and life itself. Firstly, within our profession’s demographic map, that average person is likely female, white and therefore privileged in terms of race, at least. She has been raised and subsequently educated within an atmosphere that encourages or affords (not privileged—we only use that word in this context if we’re feeling critical) a social justice lens, which means supporting narratives that advocate for the underprivileged. In Getting Real, I argue that within the niche field of sex addiction treatment (and perhaps psychotherapy as a whole), this demographic phenomenon of recent generations results in a skew that targets a privileged (non-ironic diction) client population–heterosexual men—for devaluation. The aggregate of thought suggesting how males and females are socialized towards sexual behaviors and identities emphasizes the post-pubescent experience, which for some might imply agreement with an embattled psychoanalytic idea: that pre-pubescent and certainly pre-verbal sexuality is repressed, as in kept away, and for the most part is not leaked and is therefore a lesser factor in pre-teen childhood development. There is no scientific evidence of an Oedipus Complex, say critics of psychoanalysis. There is evidence of pre-verbal attachment styles, the capacity to communicate and comprehend on a pre-verbal level, thus children’s psychological development is profoundly impacted from birth onwards by events, both benign and traumatic, that occur perpetually.

The onset of sexuality is a function of hormonal development, says a medical argument—not some manner of release from childhood repression. Puberty is the psyche’s sexual alarm clock, indicating that it’s time for play of another kind; an incipiently adult kind. Feelings like joy, excitement, wonder, fear, shame, and guilt may all be observed in small children, some pre-verbal, some not. Emotional expression, proximity-seeking, may be developed or not, contingent upon the presence and consistency of a capable adult. The nature of a child’s attachment to a parent (or primary caregiver) will be internalized as a working model of attachment that will further shape development and relationships, possibly over a lifetime. That was John Bowlby speaking and writing over fifty years ago, saying something similar to what D.W. Winnicott was teaching, only with more attention to physical need than the fostering of a distinctive, creative mind. If you the reader are silently nodding in agreement, then you’re joining at least two generations of mental health providers who generally agree with these principles while implicitly thinking that sex is not part of the early attachment equation. You’ve likely been taught to believe that proximity or object seeking, plus patterns within those relational drives, are shaped interpersonally and by broader environmental norms; that we have implicit (neurobiologyspeak for the unconscious) memory of early attachment patterns, whether they were traumatic or not; that we have implicit bias (appropriating social justicespeak for the unconscious but not repressed) in relationships, yielding prejudice directed at distinct social groups. Yes, joy, creativity, and some of that bad feeling stuff is indeed fostered in a child’s development, but not sex. Not arousal, or longing. That potential is activated later…when it’s appropriate, of course.

So, why are there excesses? Why this untidy disorder, this chaos of spillage, as if life were some kind of cosmic dumping. There, says…something: here are your tools in a pile and a flood. Do with them what you will. Is addiction, for example, a blend of natural hormonal excess negatively complemented by an insecure attachment style, of weak or failing repression barriers? And if this shaping does occur both intrapsychically and interpersonally, shall we break with our profession’s current theoretical orthodoxy and resolve that sexual nurturing largely coincides with biological schedules and is dominantly imparted with the help of the cultural village? A village that also fails, perhaps. Because if this isn’t the roughly hewn plan then we must revisit what our developmental theories otherwise imply: go back to society with ideas it doesn’t want to hear and consider taboos, as in pre-teen or even pre-verbal sexual exposure, as the original source of sexual development. We’d have to imagine that arousal and longing are part of the same dyads or village-child-passing-around norms that bring food, enable good sleep, play and a spark of imagination. We’d have to imagine that breast-feeding, or the bathing of infants’ genitalia, or the physical control of their evacuations are truly antecedents of sexual desire, or that excesses in this private realm nurture later distortions of sex as much as any unconscious yet unrepressed social message conveyed via so-called modeling to a conscious mind.

Though it would likely elicit thought-blocking accusations of misogyny or homophobia, we’d need to re-think child-rearing in a way that might stir panic; contemplate sexual orientation in a way that would challenge etiological assumptions. If the excesses of sex addiction are rooted in early childhood development, trauma specialists sometimes suggest (but don’t prove) that childhood sexual abuse is an accomplice to later sexual acting out. In this way, modern psychology comes full circle, revisiting Freud’s original Seduction theory, only with a significant permutation. Instead of conversion symptoms like the paralysis of limbs, patients present with compulsive behaviors, what Freud described as repeating versus remembering, or the shorthand, repetition compulsion. Sandor Ferenczi later gave us the term and concept “Identify with the aggressor”, attempting to rescue Seduction theory from its then-exile, to denote a relational identification between victim and abuser—to indicate a kind of psychic hostage-taking. If the vast majority of sexual abuse perpetrators are male, as a mother-idolizing culture would have us presume, then why doesn’t a corresponding majority of male molestation victims report or manifest ego-dystonic feelings of same-sex attraction? Or perhaps they do and are therefore, in keeping with analytic thought, manifesting the defense of reaction formation via a false heterosexual identification. Does it seem complicated, this human development? Maybe that’s why it seems to be taking longer and longer for children and young adults to grow, with the meta-tasks of an internal, interpersonal, and collectivist set of systems to navigate. I understand that some animals in the wild are able to walk within a day or an hour of their births. They grow up quickly in less complicated systems, with simple brains that are mindlessly free of sexual neurosis. Are the plainer brutalities of nature—the ubiquity of predation, or the threat of being left behind if not ambulatory—the forces that force giraffes to their feet? Do their hormones help? Or do they “grow up” quickly in other ways, if you know what I mean? What if our life expectancies were less than a decade? Would we evolve a quicker, more expedient onset of the pubescent watershed, becoming unrepressed yet thoughtless, and actively or relentlessly sexual, all because it was necessary to survive?

 

 

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