SUMMARY OF SESSION WITH THERAPIST — AUGUST 7, 2017
A. The therapist mentioned a dream I had several weeks earlier, citing the dream as suggesting that I felt she is too young for me to be an effective therapist. In the dream I had encountered a young woman in a synagogue and reacted with the thought, “She’s way too young for me.” The therapist has come back to this idea at least four times. I stated several times to the therapist that I have no conscious thoughts that her age is a factor in my feelings about her. My concerns center on her professional abilities and personality. Why does she keep coming back to the issue of age?
The therapist has talked about the “attachment dance” — the relationship between mother and child and how that relationship can replay in the therapeutic relationship. I wonder: what about the therapist’s own relationship to her father and how is she replaying that relationship in her interaction with me?
I note a curious fact about the therapist. She majored in gender and women’s studies in college and went on to earn a masters in social work with a thesis on male sex offenders who have abused children – signifying her special concern with age disparity and sexual predation. Do her academic interests express something about her psychology: a possible idealization of women and all that implies about her relationship with her mother; a possible psychosexual concern with male sexuality or anxieties about male sexual predation and violation and all that may imply about her psychosexual relationship with her father?
This brings us back to my letter writing about my therapy sessions and the therapist’s apparent discomfort with my letters.
I am reminded of the epigram of women college students: “No means no.” Sexual relations between a man and a woman without the female’s consent is a violation, it is rape, it is an act of sexual predation. Does the therapist view my letters as an attack on her as a person and as a violation of her professional prerogatives? Is there a psychosexual component to the therapist’s discomfort with my letters?
I recently had a dream that I associated with my feelings about my letter writing.
On the evening of July 25, 2017 I had the following dream:
I was swimming in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia in the direction of downtown Philadelphia. The Philadelphia skyline was growing larger and larger as I approached downtown Philadelphia. I planned to disembark in downtown Philadelphia. I wanted to take the subway home. But I was filled with anxiety: “I have no money. How will I be able to pay the subway fare?” I was caught in a strong current that drew me with ever greater ferocity downstream. I awoke before I reached my destination.
I associated the dream to phallic-urethral concerns, namely, concerns arising during sleep about a full bladder (symbolized by the river) and the experience of an erection (symbolized the skyline of Philadelphia growing in size).
Sidney Blatt has written about anxieties arising in the developmental stage, termed by Erikson, “initiative versus guilt.”
“The dialectic synergistic development of concepts of self and of the relationship with others can be illustrated by an elaboration of Erikson’s epigenetic model of psychosocial development. Erikson’s (1950) model, though presented basically as a linear developmental process, implicitly provides support for the view that normal personality development involves the simultaneous and mutually facilitating development of self-definition and interpersonal relatedness. If one includes in Erikson’s model an additional stage of mutuality versus alienation (occurring around the time of the development of cooperative peer play and the initial resolution of the oedipal crisis at about four to six years of age), and places this stage at the appropriate point in the developmental sequence, between Erikson’s phallic-urethral stage of “initiative versus guilt” and his “industry versus inferiority” of latency (Blatt & Shichman 1983), then Erikson’s epigenetic model of psychosocial development illustrates the complex transaction between interpersonal relatedness and self-definition that occurs in normal development throughout the life.”
Does the river dream express phallic-urethral anxieties centering on my need for mastery (letter writing) independent of my mother’s initiative and approval? Is there an interpersonal dance between my phallic-urethral need for mastery and my therapist’s possible psychosexual anxieties centering on phallic predation (leading back to her psychosexual relationship with her father)?
Problems in a child’s psychosocial development will arise where a mother’s narcissistic anxieties interfere with a young child’s growing independence and initiative. 1/
When efforts to engage in physical and imaginative play are stifled by mother, a boy begins to feel that his self-initiated efforts are a source of embarrassment. A boy who is over-directed by mother may struggle to develop a sense of initiative and confidence in his own abilities.
Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose, while failure results in a sense of guilt. What does Erikson mean by guilt? Essentially, boys who fail to develop a sense of initiative at this stage may emerge with a fear of trying new things. When they do direct efforts toward something, they may feel that they are doing something wrong.
While mistakes are inevitable in life, a boy with initiative will understand that mistakes happen and he will just need to try again. A boy who experiences guilt will instead interpret mistakes as a sign of personal failure, and may be left with a sense that he is “bad.”
There is an interesting double meaning to the phrases “no means no.” In the college relational context the phrase centers on the woman’s right to suspend the man’s sexual (phallic) initiative, i.e., his entreaty for sex. In the mother-child relationship “no means no” can reflect an insecure, narcissistic mother’s attempt to stifle the male child’s independent initiative that is rooted in phallic-uretheral drives. Is there an unconscious dance going on between me and my therapist centering on her anxieties about male sexual predation and my anxieties centering on a phallic-urethral drive for mastery?
1/ It will noted that issues of maternal engulfment (and associated father idealization) may have arisen at the earliest stages of my development. My object hunger, my idealizing merger needs may be fixations on archaic pre-oedipal forms deriving from deficits emerging out of my relationship with an engulfing mother who used me for her own selfobject needs and in my frustrating relationship with a father unavailable for idealization. Cowan, J. Blutbruderschaft and Self Psychology in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love in Self and Sexuality (2002). My idealization of males is a defense against being swallowed up by a woman. See Shengold, L. Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Deprivation and Abuse (see especially the chapter, “The Parent as Sphinx”). In this way my psychology parallels Kohut’s analysand Mr. U who, turning away from the unreliable empathy of his mother, tried to gain confirmation of his self through an idealizing relationship with his father. The self-absorbed father, however, unable to respond appropriately, rebuffed his son’s attempt to be close to him, depriving him of the needed merger with the idealized self-object and, hence, of the opportunity for gradually recognizing the self-object’s shortcomings. Cowan, Self and Sexuality at 59 quoting Kohut, H. My failure to resolve the dyadic father idealization that emerged at the earliest stages of development has had significant, even profound, reverberations in my adult life. My dyadic father attachment was never subjected to a sufficient or lasting resolution during adolescence, namely, at that period in life when the final step in the resolution of the male father complex is normally transacted. Blos, P. “Freud and the Father Complex.” The Psychoanalytic Study of Society Vol. 37: 425-441 at 434 (1987).
Note how the struggles between me and my therapist are also fundamentally anaclitic versus introjective. The anaclitic therapist views my letters as resulting from my failed entreaty to get something from the therapist and as a consequent attack or assault on her professional prerogatives while the introjective patient is concerned with mastery in his own psychological playground — he is concerned with rearranging the material of his therapy sessions in a way which pleases him. 2/
B. The therapist said at one point, “What comes through in your letters is that you are emphatic that your letters have nothing to do with me.”
This is a notable distortion of what I have written in my letters. I never said that my letters had nothing to do with the therapist. I said that I was concerned with the therapist’s interpretation that I did not get what I wanted from mother, that I then acted out to get a reaction, even a negative reaction. She then went on to suggest that the same dynamic underlay my letters to her: that is, she views my letters as an assault on her following my failed entreaty.
I voiced numerous concerns about the therapist’s interpretation in my letters. I was concerned about the simplistic nature of the interpretation. To what extent did I express masochistic provocation in relation to my mother, to what extent was masochistic provocation a reaction to a disturbed mother-child relationship, to what extent did Oedipal issues come into play in possible provocation of my mother, to what extent are my letters to the therapist a reaction to internal objects (such as a need for mastery and personal expression, i.e., the need to meet “some inner artistic standard of excellence”)?
2/ I am reminded of the following quote from Freud: “Should we not look for the
first traces of imaginative activity as early as in childhood? The child’s best-loved and most intense occupation is with his play or games. Might we not say that every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or, rather, re-arranges the things of his world in a new way which pleases him? It would be wrong to think he does not take that world seriously; on the contrary, he takes his play very seriously and he expends large amounts of emotion on it. The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real. In spite of all the emotion with which he cathects his world of play, the child distinguishes it quite well from reality; and he likes to link his imagined objects and situations to the tangible and visible things of the real world. This linking is all that differentiates the child’s ‘play’ from ‘phantasying’.Sigmund Freud, Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.
C. The therapist said at one point, “Week after week you have different explanations for why you write letters.”
Any behavior can have multiple causes. Is the therapist unfamiliar with the concept of overdetermination? Overdetermination occurs when a single-observed effect is determined by multiple causes, any one of which alone would be sufficient to account for (“determine”) the effect. That is, there are more causes present than are necessary to cause the effect. For example, a number of different factors can motivate a person to hold down a job. There is a financial motive; the individual needs a source of income to live. An individual might gain an emotional satisfaction from the mastery of tasks. There may be a social motivation; a job allows a person to interact with others and form relationships with people.
As in paragraph B (above) I have problems with the therapist’s distorting need to oversimplify issues. For me this raises once again the “MacKinnon Problem,” namely, the interpersonal struggles resulting from the interaction between a possibly noncreative therapist and a creative patient who sees a complex universe.
MacKinnon gathered personality data on architects. The data clustered into three personality types: (I) the artist (creative), (II) neurotic (conflicted; artiste manque‚), and (III) the average (adapted). (Architects were chosen because they combine art with science, business, even psychology). His research found significant differences among the three groups.
Group I scored highest, in MacKinnon’s analysis, on aggression, autonomy (independence), psychological complexity and richness, and ego strength (will); their goal was found to be “some inner artistic standard of excellence.”
Group II scored intermediate on independence, close to (I) on richness, and highest on anxiety; their goal was “efficient execution.”
Group III scored highest on abasement, affiliation, and deference (socialization); their goal was to meet the standard of the group.