As Carl sat in the dark thinking and drinking, this insight hit him: The human being experiences all of the phases of biological evolution during its nine months in the womb. Therefore, because it is human, it also must experience all the phases of psychological evolution. “Zufluchsort scheiben sie!” (Holy shit) he said to himself. He dashed into the bathroom, so as not to disturb Emma, turned on the light and began making notes.
This insight, which became known as the “bathroom insight,” evolved into Jung’s theory of the Collective Unconscious. It made the man famous and further study proved him to be correct. There are primitive symbols, he called them archetypes, that mean the same thing to all people, no matter their culture or where they live. But there was little value to this discovery from a therapeutic standpoint. Unlike Jung’s anima-animus insight, which could clearly be demonstrated to the patients and corrective adjustments made, if appropriate, the Collective Unconscious theory couldn’t really be “used” in therapy to aid in abating neuroses. It is mostly fun information to have and dispense. (Sometimes you dream you can fly like a bird? Guess what, you used to be like a bird.)
Although our emotional evolutionary history begins in the womb, we will have no conscious memory of our time there, so we won’t be able to talk about it. I had patients claiming they remembered being in the womb, and others who claimed they remembered being born, but I didn’t believe them and even if their memories had been accurate, they’d have little to do with the ensuing events which caused their adult neuroses. And, no, I did not tell them I did not believe them. I simply said what every shrink says when he doesn’t know what else to say: “That’s interesting.”
Psychoanalysis begins with the patients talking and the shrink listening and, from time to time, asking a question. If all goes according to Hoyle, that is also how it ends, years later. You have heard people say, in an attempt to sound wise, “I have never learned anything while I was the one doing the talking.” That is a stupid statement. By listening to our words we discover how much we know — and don’t know — about a topic and how much we are learning as concepts either come together or fall apart. Nowhere is this more evident than when we are talking about ourselves to a person who has been trained to listen with that “third ear.” The therapist listens, then uses questions to function as mirrors to our words. Now we will not only hear them but will see them or, more accurately, see the images, scenes and dynamics that the words describe. We can learn worlds about ourselves by talking about ourselves and sometimes this mirror will bring us to an “insight” — a crystal clear truth which heretofore had been hidden in the dark. These are thrilling moments for the patients and their therapists. Once an insight has been experienced, it can no longer remain hidden. It is a truth, and when enough of these truths are uncovered, the patient’s mental illness will be on the run. It is marvelous to observe and it all comes about from ... talking.
An example of an insight is the following: “Patricia” was 27 years old. She came to see me after a failed suicide attempt. In our first session she said “I’m just like my mother. We are two peas in a pod.”
“How so?” I asked.
“There are so many ways I can’t begin to tell you.”
“What are some of them?”
“We look alike, although I’m tall like my dad. We love to shop. We like to lay out in the sun. We like to take trips. Oh, everything.”
“How else are you like her?”
“Oh, millions of ways but I just can’t think of any more now. Everybody has always said I’m just like my mother.”
“What’s your dad like?” I asked.
“He’d never go shopping,” she laughed. “He thinks sun bathing is a boring waste of time. His idea of a good time is staying home to work in his garden. My mother hates insects and dirt, so I always helped Dad with the garden. He’s very moody, sort of like me. He takes anti-depressants — the same ones I do. And he drinks too much, but who am I to criticize? Mom never drinks. And once, when he was younger, he also tried to kill himself. “What’s his name?”
“Patrick. I was named after him.” After a long pause she said in amazement, “My God, Jim, I am much more like my dad than my mom! No wonder I’m so screwed up!” Patricia just had an insight.
Unfortunately all patients do not have the same capacity for insight. In fact, some patients are completely devoid of it. You can hold the word mirror right in front of their noses and they still don’t get it. In these cases the shrink has a lot more work to do as he must now resort to using “interpretations” for the patients to learn what’s important about their pasts.
A typical interpretation would be one that I gave “Sharon.” She’d come to see me because no matter how hard she tried, she could not keep a boyfriend. been through dozens of them and the relationship with her current beau was beginning to sour. She wanted me to help her hang on to him. After getting a general history, I made the following interpretation: “Sharon,” I said, “your inability to have a relationship with a guy for more than a few months appears, at first glance, to be that you are unable to commit yourself to just one person over the long haul, or the guys you choose are unable to do that. It probably is both. I think this is because you were much more devastated when your parents got divorced than you care to admit. You were only 12 years old when your father left. So let’s forget about your current boyfriend, we both know he’ll soon be a goner anyway, and talk about your parents’ divorce. Please do not leave out any detail as it may be the key to your relationship problems.”
This interpretation by me was not as effective as if Sharon had put it together herself, with her own insight, but it got her into the proper arena of memory. It also implied that I expected to hear much pain when she returned to that terrible time when her parents split up. It would be OK, then, for her to “let go,” and to Sharon’s credit, she was unable to stifle a laugh when I slipped in the part about the current boyfriend soon being “a goner.”
I believe one insight is worth 50 interpretations. Most analyses are combinations of insight and interpretations, however, with the insights getting more frequent as time goes by. Once the defensive armor is cracked, it is easier for the patient to get at the truth rather than having the therapist dragging it out piece by piece.
In our minds we all carry “truths” about ourselves that are not to be messed with by anybody, including a shrink. They are inviolable and untouchable. I had one such truth, regarding my past, and I carried it like a badge of honor. It had to do with my only brother.
Bob is eight years older than I. When I began first grade, he was a freshman in high school. He was a straight “A” student. His I.Q. was above the genius level. He had a singing voice worthy of The Metropolitan Opera. He could out-dance John Travolta. He played the piano and the guitar by ear. He was an artist, a poet and religiously devout. But that’s not all.
My brother was a rock-solid 6-feet, 2-inches tall, an excellent tennis player and could knock the cover off a baseball. As a pitcher his curve, slider, sinker, and fastball were superb. Once I saw him hit a single, double, triple and homer in the same game. No little kid was prouder of his big brother.
Early on my parents noticed that I (Little Jimmy) was probably not going to be a straight “A” student. I recall my horror at being tested during second grade for being “slow.” So as far back as I can recall my parents often told me, “Don’t try to be another Bob. Just be a ‘First Jim’.” These were nice, comforting words to live by. and naturally I carried them with pride into my analysis as proof of two things: 1) I came from two of the most understanding parents one could have and 2) My parents were far better than my wife’s parents. Remember, my analysis began with marriage counseling, so there was competition between us regarding who had the best upbringing.
When I smugly told my analyst about these wonderful words of counsel from my parents, he looked at me and said, “What they actually said to you, Jim, was that you weren’t good enough to be another Bob.” My chin hit my chest. He went on to say, “He’s better than you’ll ever be in the arts, school, music, religion and even sports. Where was this ‘First Jim’ supposed to show himself?”
This is an example of an interpretation (by that bastard of a psychoanalyst Jean Rosenbaum) and it was a tough one to swallow. I had been living on those seemingly kind words of my folks which, in reality, had given me every excuse in the world to be mediocre. And mediocre I was. I graduated from college, for instance, with a slew of C’s, a couple of D’s, and a few B’s. Good enough for me and good enough for my parents. At least I graduated. Now I’m told by a psychoanalyst that those kind and thoughtful words of my parents were really a message to program me as average. Their words could have been, “You’ll never be as good as Bob so no sense trying.” I was flabbergasted by this simple truth.
Parents can be limiting, as well as limited. My folks, both from psychologically unsophisticated origins, had two essentially perfect children, my brother the multi-talented genius, and my sister, the saint. (My sister is seven years older than I.) So when I came along as a surprise, mom was 40 years old and they did not know what to “do” with me. They certainly didn’t “deserve” to have two geniuses, or two saints, so the surprise kid they decided to make average. My parents did not sit down and discuss this, by the way, and they’d no doubt be appalled and hurt if they were alive to read these words. My parents’ “decision” to raise an average kid was worked out, separately, in their unconscious minds.
Analysts see a lot of this “limiting parent” syndrome. One or two kids will get the lion’s share of attention and direction as the parents’ hopes and dreams are invested in them. The rest of the kids get care-taking. This does not mean all the kids will not be loved equally, however. I certainly felt loved the same as Mary and Bob, but I did not feel “invested in.”
It took awhile for my analyst’s interpretation to take hold. He had shattered a 30-year myth, but take hold it did, and when I was accepted into training at The Institute I made the effort to excel not only as a training analyst, under supervision, but also with the academic curricula. I found my niche in the Jewish Science – psychoanalysis. And that’s enough about me.
A patient’s personal history is the crux of psychoanalysis. What people have “been through” mightily determines who they are today. But the most important parts of their history are those early years when their concept of “self” began to take shape. I’ve heard it said that by age 7 our personalities are set in concrete. In my experience we are not fully developed emotionally until after the second Oedipal Conflict – about age 15. Whatever the truth, all analysts agree our emotional system is locked in when we are young. So if someone sees a therapist he should be prepared to spend lots of time in his youth. That can be difficult because time, teamed with pain, fear, and guilt can greatly distort memory. We analysts often hear patients say, defensively, “I had an idyllic childhood!”
“So how come,” we say to ourselves, “You are now, and always have been, so miserable? You can’t laugh, you can’t keep friends, and you’re sure the world is out to get you.” Idyllic childhoods do not produce miserable people.
One of my patients, “Theresa” (29), had gone into a deep funk because of a failing one-year-old marriage. She told me at the end of our first session that, no matter what, I would not destroy the memory of her wonderful father who was now deceased. I told her I was not in the business of destroying wonderful memories (not necessarily the truth) and we’d just see how her analysis evolved. “My mother was a stone bitch but my father was a great man,” she told me with a defiant look as she left my office.
As the analysis progressed, she began to have memories of this great man spending an awful lot of time bathing her as a child. This ritual evolved into her and her father taking showers together. This didn’t end until she went into puberty — when the stone bitch mother told wonderful father to knock it off. Theresa had no specific memories of herself and her dad in the shower. I asked Theresa if her dad washed her. She couldn’t remember nor could she remember if she washed him. “What did his genitals look like?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“How would you not know if you showered with him? You were 13 years old when the showers ended.”
“Oh,” she said, “I guess I must have seen him naked but I really don’t remember and I’d never thought about that. It’s curious isn’t it? I must have seen him but I don’t remember.”
Theresa had male and female siblings, but dad ignored them in favor of her. In a psychological sense he “married” he, and if mom hadn’t put her foot down on those showers there’s no telling where their relationship would have wound up. Dad had been seducing his daughter and, eventually, Theresa began to realize this. As her anger at him flared, her depression lifted and her marriage began turning around as the “saint” was seen for what he was ... most un-saintly.
It is inappropriate for children to see the parent of the opposite sex naked. To them the jungle-covered mysteries between adults’ legs, mom’s breasts or that huge (to them) penis of dad’s are sources of bewilderment and fright for their little minds. Nudists who have the skewered notion that “all natural” is part of God’s plan for human societies have it wrong. Exposed adult genitalia is far too confusing for kids. “Au natural” has not been psychologically healthy since Adam and Eve (here they are again) became embarrassed and donned fig leaves to cover their private parts.
What about the primitive tribes who live in the remote jungles and rain forests of the world? They all walk around naked. That is correct, and the operative word is “primitive.” Sociologically and emotionally they pre-date Adam and Eve. After Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise they tilled the land becoming farmers. The primitives are still eating grub worms and pythons for breakfast.
Waynesville resident Jim Joyce’s memoir, Use Eagles if Necessary, is being published in weekly installments in The Smoky Mountain News. Each week we begin a chapter in our print edition and then put the entire chapter on our Web site. All previous chapters are available online. The book can be purchased at rockpublishing.com/eagles.htm, and may be ordered through bookstores after May 31.