Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Analysis Interminable

Originally posted on November 25, 2012

So my wife and I are pretty mentally healthy, but we are introspective, so we notice traces of neurosis, such as introjection of dissatisfied early attachment figures—also known as “hungry ghosts”—those for whom who we were was never enough—and we joked about it. I strongly suspect that 30 years of psychoanalysis would not suffice. “Only thirty?” I hear us asking. I strongly suspect that we never get rid of these transferences—but, as Ram Dass (the spiritual teacher popular in the latter quarter of the last century) said in 1988, “You never get rid of your  neuroses. They do get smaller, though.”

I’ve become more aware of the following: Building on the above, we can also turn increasingly to the light, fill our mind with positive affirmations, gratitude-giving, noticing the plasticity of the here-and-now and its potential to influence our attitudes, learn the skills of “cheerful-ing.” I think this causes the neuroses to atrophy somewhat, but as Allee noted, they’re like weeds. They never go entirely away. But cultivating vigorous and healthy plants generates a healthy competition and the weeds remain marginalized, pushed to the side.

All this suggests that postive psychology complements a degree of dynamic psychology. It does help to notice the roots of folly, the presence of unrealistic illusions, false expectations, magical thinking. This is also what cognitive therapists do, and before that, people like Albert Ellis who noted that a fair amount of ordinary neurosis (the Woody Allen kind) involves an uncritical acceptance of negative thinking. (We repeat and hold on to these negative thoughts because there’s an associated illusion: If only we could think these seeming dilemmas out, penetrate these problematic conundrums, then we’d get free of them. There’s a germ of truth and a heap of illusion here, and the energy spent in this ruminative form of repetition-compulsion, the standard emotional turmoil of the chronically anxious and mildly depressed, is thus spent in the vain hope of relief—a dog chasing its tail.)

Surrender, move on, let go, re-focus on the positive—these are easy to say and not so easy to do.  That doesn’t make them wrong, note; just that saying them to another or to oneself either doesn’t help at all or only hardly—because doing it requires a great deal of consistent practice.

I need to identify an alluring distraction from the optimal mental process: “There must be a simpler way!” Who says this is so other than wishing it so? Knowing that (figuratively speaking) there are three little demons working as a Greek chorus in the brain—always—the call to wanting an easy formula— is a part of the tendency towards magical thinking. Recognize it and turn away.

Indeed, there are many such inner saboteurs (to personify a dynamic of mind) and it pays to become aware of them: They’re as prevalent as scammers and spammers on the internet. They represent the residues of childish thinking— that’s why they operate at such a persistent level. Recognize and turn towards your most positive affirmations.

For some, an equally magical but quite constructive myth is worthwhile: Imagine that there are forces helping you to enjoy what you’ve found to be wise, valuable, and good. Imagine your guru, Jesus, Mary, some saint, the Lord, guardian angels, ancestors, whatever works for you. Allow them to “take” your unworthy thoughts and feelings, your petty resentment and tendencies to self-blame; allow them to rain grace upon you in the form of fortunate events, dreams, oracles, people you just “happen” to meet, phone calls, books that seem to fall into your hands or that you open randomly and there is the passage that could be of use to you. Don’t worry that these may be unconnected. Factual-ity is not the issue; evocation of hope and determination is! So open to Grace in this way.

Dissociate Grace from any particular religious tradition: Let it be some positive clue, reach-back, cosmic help that comes to you, and your job? Work with it! Follow up on it. It really doesn’t matter how “realistic” the source is: What counts is the strength of your turning towards the Light.

Thus ends the sermon for today, from a psychiatrist who has really thought about dynamic psychotherapy.

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