Archive for July, 2012

What I´m worth in numbers (please mind that the title is ironic)

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , , on July 31, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

My family normally don´t call actions, attitudes or people “good” or “bad”. They talk about “intelligent” and “stupid”, though that basically has the same meaning as “good” and “bad”. “Stupid” is their version of an ultimate damnation. When I confessed to them that I was in a relationship with a guy even though I didn´t love him at all and that I was in trouble because his best friend had found out and intended to tell him, the reply I got was: “Well, just don´t be that stupid next time.”

They could have told me I was cruel, deceitful, cold or simply very wrong – but they chose to tell me I was stupid (then, by the way, dismissing the issue and making it my problem to deal with because bloody hell it was my birthday and we wanted to have a comfy family dinner). It was, aside from my father´s paranoid suspicions that I might be sympathizing with nazi ideas, the worst thing they could think of. Or the only thing that really was a “sin” in their book. The ultimate sin, though. So you can imagine that, when I recently had my IQ tested, what was at stake emotionally was my worthiness as a person.

The reason I exposed myself to this was that I wanted freedom. I didn´t want them to have the power to make me worry if I was “really that intelligent” (something my father loves to do). Each time I make a life choice he doesn´t like, he wonders why an intelligent person like me would do that. I wanted to take the power to affect my self-worth in that way out of their hands. Knowing the truth, either way, they could no longer intimidate me.

There are several levels of brilliance, so to say. If you have an IQ above 130 you are gifted, a genius, whatever. 100 is average, and everything between 120 and 130 is sort of above average. The emotional connection I had to these numbers was that if I was above 130 I was “intelligent”, whereas anything else would fall under “normal” (=worthless in my parents´eyes). This is an emotional connection I made on my own, my parents have nothing to do with it. They never mentioned that I should have my IQ tested. Their use of the word “intelligent” was always fairly unspecific and fairly absolute (an IQ test hardly determines the validity of your opinions).

I scored 127.

I had been fully aware this could happen, was even likely to happen. My parents (who, of course, are clueless of this test) always put me on a pedestal, my father went as far as assuming I might be the most intelligent family member (while worrying that nothing might become of me) and they always claimed that all my problems stemmed from me being so “intelligent”; but always while holding the Damocles sword of “stupid” over my head. I never knew how clever I really was, being the ball in a game of ping-pong between my parents´ idealizations and their devaluations.

And then? Well, there I had it, in black and white, that I was a failure.

For a few moments I suffered an attack of tunnel vision, I felt dizzy and shocked, as if I had received terrible news (like of someone being dead). Feelings of complete inadequacy were washing over me, but I also knew I had been through worse. I knew it would pass, and eventually make room for something better. I love and praise football for teaching me that much.

 

Indeed, the breakdown was outside of me. It were walls breaking down around me, not me myself. When the noise had died away and the dust had settled, I felt like my view was suddenly a whole lot clearer. Like after a massive defeat in football, I felt closer to myself. Closer than any victory or success could get me. Like after the failure regarding my thesis and finding a tutor for it, there were boundaries emerging in the fog that I call my sense of self. I no longer felt the obligation to be everything, to win a medal in every sport, so to say.

What if I had been above the magic number of 130? Would it have confirmed to me that I could be what my parents want me to be? For being below, even by three points, told me clearly that I could not meet their expectations. (They never demanded from me that I should have an IQ above 130. But if you´re told every day of your life how great intelligence is and how you are sure something absolutely special, those associations kinda form…)

If I cannot ever meet their (internalized) expectations, though…I´m free. I can do whatever I want. I felt an odd urge to try things I´ve never tried before, just for the hell of it. I felt like taking an instrument I never learned how to play and just fool around with it because I don´t have to be good at it anymore. And I´m only starting to understand how much my parents´expectations and unspoken demands must have crushed my interest in the world and my joy at exploring. How much my not wanting anything must be down to the pressure to perform.

I must learn it is legitimate to just have fun. Or at least I might. I can only try to snatch shreds and traces of that feeling yet, but it feels so alive. I guess this is what it is like not to be depressed.

I´m not entirely happy about how it turned out. It would be a lie to say I´m happy. The reason for that is not so much my family, but Athena. I know she actually does have an IQ above 130. Knowing the person who broke me into little pieces in just a few months is objectively more intelligent than I am doesn´t make me feel any better. It is something I hardly dare think of. We were competing intellectually and now her superiority seems to be carved into stone. In a way I feel like my existence is useless because she is a superior version of me anyway. Nobody who knows her would come to me with anything. Then again, she would never have fought to destroy me as much if she didn´t sense the same threat emanating from me.

I´m not sure how to cope with that yet. I´m starting to feel like there is a chance I will one day sort out what happened between the two of us and that I will not emerge from that feeling as worthless as I do when I think of her now. Maybe that day is rapidly approaching, because the horrible feelings are returning and they will not leave me alone. Maybe now, with objective data at hand, what happened back then is becoming accessible to me.

I feel like I ought to write a chronological account, the way I did with Dr. Stoneface. I don´t feel up to that, though. I don´t mean to dramatize things by only making sinister allusions and leaving you alone with that – I simply don´t feel up to it. I´m not sure enough that I wouldn´t fall back to constantly demonizing myself. I need to gather enough mental armor before I can look at everything through a magnifying lens.

So here is what hurts, what hurts most about it: To be faced with a person who is superior. Who is superior in all regards, in terms of looks, intelligence, character, social skills – and to try and fail to love such a person.

My true, genuine, selfless love of her despite the circumstances would have been a proof that I was different from everybody else, from a world full of selfish, narcissistic people who were trying to hold her down (such as her parents, who truly sucked). Despite my faults and inadequacies, despite my inferiority in all regards, it would have put me on one level with her.

I cannot love her. I squirm and ache with envy and hatred when I think of her.

When I first allowed myself to feel that way I wanted to defeat her, live a greater life, be more successful; show her she is nothing. I felt evil giving in to these impulses, but I didn´t care anymore. I had always been evil in her book, so if she wants evil, she gets evil. If she is going to accuse me of things, I will at least take care she doesn´t wrongly do so.

But should I fail?

I´m not sure anymore that even if I put all my efforts into it I could defeat her. I cannot even beat her at an IQ test. Besides, I have no idea where to start. What shall I excel in first? What has she done in the meantime? On which level are we even competing? We were competing on all possible levels, and, as she once more or less told me: If my motivation is to be better than her, and not my passion for the things I´m doing, then I´ve already lost. The sentence is true in many ways, but coming from her it was merely a weapon. I´ve learned afterwards that she never had any qualms about competing with me.

But back to the problem: What if she simply is superior?

It doesn´t just hurt. It makes me understand the concept of seppuku. If I cannot come back and defeat a person who humiliated me at her will, then I must choose another way to erase the shame.

I defeated Dr. Stoneface and like-minded mental health professionals. I nailed down their ideology. I feel like if I go on like this I will soon be able to mentally fend off everything their internalized versions might be throwing at me. I feel like I´m gaining control over my internal arguments. Today I read an article with recommendations for victims of emotional abuse which was so upsetting that I felt the old familiar urge to smash the author´s head to pulp with a baseball bat. I was going to write about it here (maybe still will) and I was under considerable levels of stress while I was reading it, but my reaction dissipated sooner than usual. I was fairly sure that I would be able to validate my feeling upset about it, to intellectually take apart that piece, so I didn´t feel so helpless.

With Athena, though… I feel like I will never get the upper hand in any argument, real or imagined. She has the higher IQ, so she has to be intellectually superior. Or, even if I should win, it would be by wrongful means because since she has the higher IQ she must surely be right, maybe she just can´t think of the right argument because I somehow bewitched her or had her confused.

Then again, I´ve been watching football for a while now. I´ve seen technically inferior teams win against vastly superior sides through sheer willpower and dedication. And as long as I lack any courage even three additional points on the IQ hierarchy wouldn´t help me one damn bit. As long as I don´t even try to stand my ground I am still adhering to the idea that she is completely and absolutely superior and cannot ever be demystified. And such an idea, according to my experience, is false.

 

Sadism, intimacy and self-doubts

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on July 31, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

I absolutely ought to go to bed, but this is bugging me:

I read on many blogs by ACONs about the connection between (malignant) narcissism and sadism. And here´s the issue: While I´m starting to understand that my own family might be toxic, abusive, and probably also sadistic – I know that I, myself, am a sadist as well.

I already mentioned my masochistic streak and my encounters with the BDSM scene. And I´m alright with the way in which I act on my sadism. I see nothing wrong with playing mind games with a person who enthusiastically and explicitly consents to them. Heck, I would never have gotten into playing the dominant role if I hadn´t been asked to!

When I did, though, it turned out I was a natural. I simply knew what to say and do to achieve the greatest effect. I knew how to crawl into my partner´s mind. Much to their delight.

I feel so tempted to keep on justifying myself. Apparently I´m not so alright with it at all. While my actions may be entirely acceptable, given that I engage in them on the basis of consent, I still can´t help but wonder if maybe in those moments I show my true colors. And very ugly ones. Maybe I´m generally emotionally twisted. My run-ins with Dr. Stoneface and psychoanalytical literature seem to confirm that, which increases my self-doubts each time, as much as I try to prove him/it wrong. So maybe I am the villain, after all. Or a very deranged product of my upbringing.

The latter would excuse me to some extent, but I still don´t want it to be the case. Why? Because I like my sadistic side. I like what I can do to and for people. I like how my fine-tuned my perception of my partner gets, I like how I my focus and my voice sharpen, I like how high and pleasantly exhausted I am afterwards. It is a state which feels pure, and clean of the general feeling of shame, ugliness and inadequacy that otherwise clouds my life. A feeling which was probably largely inspired by my family. And now I shall connect this good, pure feeling with the very people from whose influence it helps me escape? Is that the horrible, merciless, ironic truth?

It doesn´t feel like it. A lot of horrible, merciless, ironic voices in my head revel in the idea, though. Thinking of it that way evokes a nasty, scornful response in my head that sounds a lot like “serves you right”. It feels like the ultimate confirmation that I don´t deserve to feel good, powerful, skilled. Ever. These voices, too, are sadistic in their own way. “They” want me to be miserable. I feel like they are much rather the heritage of my family and other people involved in my life.

And yet. And yet.

I keep on telling myself that I´m different, that I´m not generally twisted. I have an on/off switch for my sadism. I can be cruel and laugh about it until my partner has a cramp in her leg and suddenly I´m back to normal and massage her toes. It´s not the action that makes me normal. It is the attitude. I´m not revelling in my partner having a cramp. There is a very limited level of pain I enjoy in others. I can carefully construct humiliations for our mutual entertainment, but if I hit a sore spot and my partner is truly hurt I feel horrible. I don´t enjoy that.

Then, I don´t feel any aggression in this state of mind. I feel intimate with and affectionate about my partner. I´m not putting her down in order to aggrandize myself. These sessions have no effect on my real life self-esteem other than that I think: “Hey, I´m good in bed.” (At least for like-minded partners.) Which is something. It doesn´t affect other areas, though. I´ve been doing this for several years and look at all the “whining” on my blog. There are situations when I rant about someone or types of people in order to feel better about myself. But that feels entirely different.

And yet.

One time when something had gone wrong (though I believe it was a minor problem), I wanted to offer my sympathies to my partner, saying “Oh man, poor you!” Unfortunately, though, I was still in the process of switching back and it came out all in the wrong tone. That soft, but hard-as-steel purring voice. There was something predatory about it.

I apologized and my partner was cool about it, but I was sitting there fairly dumbfounded because, holy fuck, this is exactly how my mother always talked to me when I came to her for comfort!

I described a while ago how my mother always sounded a little weird when I was little and I came to my parents´ bedroom to sleep in their bed after a nightmare. I talked about how I always felt slightly disgusted. I had to take the comfort she had to offer, but something about it was gross. Icky. Made me feel bad about myself.

Well, here we have it.

The thing is: She might have felt like a good, caring, affectionate mother!

I. Know. The. Feeling.

It just disgusts me to no end that my own mother could feel like that about me! I don´t want that kind of intimacy with her! It is a kind of intimacy that is reserved for much later in life (if at all), and for people who are not family!

Again, I´m wondering. Is it normal, maybe, and I´m just a pervert who therefore feels there is something indecent about my mother´s tone and behavior? Am I assuming she is like me, everyone is like me?

Can´t be. This realization came much later than the icky feeling I associate with seeking comfort from my mother. And everything else about her behavior, the sometimes less subtle, less “innocent” (in the sense that she really perceives herself as loving) sadism points to my perception being correct.

But am I any different from her, then?

I like to think so, yes. I´m definitely different in terms of 1) awareness and 2) how I handle this. I behave that way towards consenting adults for a limited amount of time, and I hope that I have more to offer in terms of comfort than my mother. This is something I have awful, nagging doubts about, though. Then again, few people are really good at comforting someone, at least in my experience. It´s probably fairly difficult if you´ve never really learned or experienced it.

But I think there is one thing that makes a difference which goes beyond consent, and that is transparency. My partner knows I´m being cruel on purpose. My partner lets me crawl into their mind; I don´t force the intimacy on them. I have as much power as they give me, and I don´t try to maintain or expand it by gaslighting or otherwise damaging them. The intimacy goes both ways. I don´t deny what I´m doing or what I get out of it. I might sometimes turn myself into an impenetrable facade, pretend I have no idea what I´m doing  as part of the game, but as soon as my partner told me to quit I would. I can be reached, and my partner knows it. My normal self can be communicated with, it is only, to speak in a Dexter image, sitting in the back of the car momentarily.

I never found that “off” switch on my parents. They, and especially my mother, always keep up their facade and deny they are wearing one. Which is why my mother, honestly and naively, might feel like she is very intimate with me, while I feel like I´ve never really had any genuine, authentic contact with her.  Why I never experienced any intimacy with her that didn´t somehow feel obscene.

 

 

Old familiar madness

Posted in health, mental health, personal, rants with tags , , , , on July 28, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

Here are, for your entertainment, a few recent interactions with my family.

First of, I´ve actually learned what my father was referring to when he was telling me the neighbors had remarked on the situation at home. A few weeks back my mother asked me if anything had been out of the ordinary lately. “No, why?” I replied. “Well,” she said, “I met the neighbor before I went on holiday and he asked me how you were doing.”

So that´s it. The neighbor asked “And how is your daughter doing?”. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. If you remember, my father believed he had uttered some form of criticism or worry. And apparently so did my mother, so he probably got that from her.

It´s so ridiculous I don´t even know what to say. The neighbor cares about how I´m doing, so I must have done something wrong or weird. And indeed I´m not doing well. My room is a trash bin, I don´t go to bed before five a.m. and when my mother is gone I can hardly make myself wash the dishes. Maybe this should worry her more than a random remark by a random neighbor, but no:

I don´t care if you´re depressed or anything, but if it starts bothering the neighbors you really need to draw a line.

Priorities…

Next. For my birthday, Irene wrote to me something along the lines of: “Happy birthday, and my wish for your birthday is that you write me more often.” Yes, for real. I didn´t bother reply to that, and today my mother told me that my sister was very unhappy that I hadn´t replied, and how emotionally fragile she was anyway because she has to move and leave her boyfriend behind because of her career.

Now why don´t I write my sister? Because she makes me feel like shit for everything I do? Because she lives under the assumption that I never do anything right, that I never work hard enough, that I am not independent and responsible enough? Because she doesn´t treat me like an equal? Because she tries to guilt-trip me even when she´s sending me her congratulations?

When I started college she actually warned our parents to take care I attend my classes and work hard enough. I learned about that one year later when I was so tired of my parents frowning at a B+ and constantly questioning my working morale that I told them Irene had said to me they don´t know anything about philosophy anyway. My father, slightly indignant, said: “But it was Irene who warned us to take care that you work!” It´s amazing how this girl is trying to “manage” our family. Why is she even surprised I don´t want to report to her regularly if I´m doing everything she told me to do? And why, if she constantly tells me what to do, is she surprised that I´m not independent?

Also, notice how my mother doesn´t give a fuck whether I´m mentally fragile?

Then, next, I realized that because of family dinner I won´t be able to watch today´s football match. Which made me realized that football is the only thing that makes me get up at all.

I was so angry that I couldn´t move. I felt like I couldn´t bear this, not one day longer. I had to put a stop to this. My own feelings can never hold their ground against the feelings that others inject into me. I´m homicidally angry, but the ignorance, the indifference, the blaming that I run into when I even think of my family makes it impossible to feel that anger for more than a few microseconds before everything goes numb inside of me. It is a dull, numb, unbearable pain that makes me feel so heavy, so depressed, so worthy of being pissed on that I can barely make myself move. It is the knowledge of how unable I am to even feel that I´m hurt, to feel anything other than that I am worthless, that makes me want to kill myself. Knowing how damaged I am, it seems like the only thing I can do for myself. A way to get the truth out, since I cannot even feel it for longer than a few fleeting moments.

Then I thought about what my family would do if I stabbed myself leaving them a note on the wall that said: “I hate you, you were a horrible family.” They would go see a therapist who would assure them that my suicide was a mean, terrible act of aggression (act of aggression is correct on some level), and that they did all they could, that we were a normal family and that I was always the problem child. Some people are born mentally ill, they would tell them. It´s not your fault. You did all you could. And they would reap all the pity and sympathy from the relatives and friends which they have and I don´t.

I have often imagined allies, previously neutral outsiders, who see my side of the story. Who come to me on their own accord and tell me that what is going on is terrible. Their support always felt very real, it often helped me ease feelings of extreme rage and self-hatred. But, fact is, there is no one out there in the real world who would say that. I have to remind myself of this because I retreat into this alternate reality whenever I´m not occupied with anything else. On some level I really am a bit lunatic, I guess. I do construct a false reality and believe in it. I guess what distinguishes me from psychotic people is that in daily life I behave as if I knew what reality truly looks like (for the most part), so apparently I do have some kind of reality check. Yeah, well.

So, those outside allies do not exists. If I kill myself, “my” truth dies with me. It perpetuates the lie. How else, though, do I keep the truth alive (pardon my pathos) if my own feelings are betraying me? If I´m so ruined that when someone hurts me what registers in my brain is not “I hurt”, but “I suck”? If the knowledge of how defeated I am doubles and triples my anger?

I´m finding it hard to write down any more because I´m starting to feel like a clichéd female Borderline patient out of some wannabe-thoughtful psychiatry drama. “Ooooo, do all the emotions get too much? Do you need to self-harm and then blog about it, poor little thing? What, punching yourself is not a pathetic coping strategy, but actual rebellion? Okay, glorifying self-harm goes too far! Now try to get that into your head: Self-harm is something very bad and serious and it is morally disgusting me that you cannot recognize that! You are extremely immature and irresponsible, you are not at all funny or interesting or original! Yeah, now go on and pout at me; this is so pathetic!”

So if I suddenly start shouting “yeah, I punch myself, and I don´t give a fuck what you think about it – ”

“Well, obviously you do care about it, otherwise you wouldn´t reply!”

“BECAUSE what I do with my body is my own business and I´m not responsible for what others are doing to theirs! Get off your high horse before I knock you down there with a baseball bat!”

My thoughts are constantly interrupted by little put-downs, smartass remarks, moral attacks and judgements, distractions. I´m starting to feel horribly angry and horribly tired again. It´s like five people at once mocking me, judging me, trying to provoke me and I have to try to reply to all of them and not lose track of what I actually want to say. Which makes me even more angry. Which increases the number of voices – and their meanness. I cannot feel anger without going into self-destruction mode. And that makes me pretty much helpless.

 

 

 

V for Victory – Figuring out Chapter 12

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on July 25, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

I feel fairly calm and I hope to remain calm, but I can understand my anger over Jaeggi´s Chapter 12 again. Maybe I will be able to point out what enrages me about it this time, so at the risk of boring everybody to death, here I go again.

1) Jaeggi is constantly making excuses for abusive therapists* and

2) Jaeggi holds a skeptical stance towards the victims and refuses to take sides with them although

3) Jaeggi persistently claims that therapists are stronger than their patients.

Second Trilogy:

4) Jaeggi says that the power imbalance is at the root of therapy´s effectiveness and

5) Jaeggi describes a way in which that power imbalance is created which I consider deceptive and abusive but

6) Jaeggi seems to believe such a cure is entirely legitimate.

Okay. Let´s just go through these points one by one and as concisely as possible.

1) Excuse-making

I do believe I´ve mentioned examples for this before. Jaeggi says that any therapist who abuses his therapeutic tools (interpretations, confrontrations, diagnoses, prognoses…) in order to put the patient down / to win a power struggle must be extremely desperate. In another place she says therapists might use such means in order to avoid grave humiliations. All their self-esteem, after all, is tied to their position of power.

I do not believe these are good excuses (see point 3 and 6), but these excuses are contrary even to studies Jaeggi herself quotes! She admits that many narcissists are drawn to becoming therapists, and she quotes another scientist who says that especially narcissists might be tempted to abuse the means they have. So apparently a great many abusive therapists do not turn to abuse because the patient really attacks them so harshly, but because they cannot take criticism or failure! Upon the things Jaeggi lists which might prompt a therapist to narcissistically abuse his patients are: idealization towards the beginning, but only small or no successes in treatment; the public´s low opinion on psychotherapists; fear of being seen through.

A failed treatment as a grave humiliation? Seriously? Do I have to feel pity now?

2) Attitude towards the victims

*deep breath*

Alright. This book isn´t about victims of therapy abuse, but about therapists. So maybe I shouldn´t expect the victims´ perspective to be a huge part of the book. Jaeggi goes further than just leaving out this perspective, though. While she acknowledges that abuse in therapy exists and that certain forms of it are quite frequent, this somehow isn´t mirrored in the stance she holds towards the victims.

She starts out mentioning a few accounts by victims, among them Flowers on Granite. She also describes how they were received by the therapeutic community, that is: As neurotic complaints. Then she writes:

And indeed it is quite difficult to judge those cases. Like with a difficult marriage there´s always two perspectives to it and outsiders are often – and rightly so – unsure how to behave.

Dr. Jaeggi! I thought we were talking about abuse here. The equivalent to therapy abuse is not a difficult marriage, but a violent marriage, and for the sake of your clients I do hope that you would know how to behave in such a case! What you are doing here is quote accounts of therapeutic abuse and wonder aloud whether it really was  abuse.

It becomes particularly problematic in an asymmetric relationship, though; especially if the power the stronger party holds is psychological in nature. We easily tend to give all our sympathies to the “victim” in such cases and talk pitifully about his/her ordeal. Then again, in most cases the victim wasn´t just a passive object and suddenly the tables turn: It was the victim´s fault. For that reason it is unwise of therapists, of course, to agree with complaints and devaluations of their patient´s previous therapists. Always act with caution when somebody devalues everything that´s passed and idealizes the one who´s currently there.

If there is any logical connection between those four sentences, it has evaded me. I don´t know if Jaeggi is just trying to confuse the reader or if she is confused herself. That inconsistent style is characteristic for all of Chapter 12, and that in a book which was fairly well written up until then. I´m refusing to believe this is a coincidence.

What Jaeggi does in those first two sentences is describe two different attitudes towards abuse victims. This is not a neutral description, however. Once again, she seems either to be doubting that we are really talking about abuse, or she is wondering who abused who, or to what extent the victim “brought it upon him-/herself”. She actually has the nerve to put the word “victim” into quotation marks. Two paragraphs later she will talk about the “powerful one” (meaning the therapist) and how his self-esteem relies on his position of power. Taken together, those two passages actually imply a role-reversal: The patient is the villain while posing as a victim. Subtly, slyly she devalues taking sides with the victim or meeting the victim with sympathy.

Then follows the most depressing part of the entire chapter: She actively recommends that therapists do not take sides with the victims of therapy abuse. She recommends that therapists do not validate the perceptions and experiences of victims of therapy abuse.

Jaeggi makes no difference between complaints and devaluations, suggesting that all complaints about previous therapists serve to satisfy a neurotic need. Her next sentence reinforces that message. She basically likens complaints about a previous, possibly abusive therapist to the neurotic pattern of idealization and devaluation connected to Borderline PD, ignoring the fact that it is well possible to complain about someone without idealizing the person you are currently talking to. I would believe that victims of abusive therapists would be very hesitant about trusting a therapist again. This also shows a tendency by therapists to be suspicious about any strong affects and opinions. Dörte v. Drigalski actually describes that phenomenon as well in Flowers on Granite.

Regarding the suspicion towards “strong affects”: Jaeggi says that she asked victims of therapy abuse to write down their experiences, telling us:

We expected vicious, acrimonious reports. We didn´t get them. Nonetheless we were shocked as we read those rather moderate and unremarkable accounts.

Well, good thing she was shocked by the victims´ experiences even though they described them in a moderate fashion. I just doubt she was shocked “even though”. Judging by what she has written before, I don´t believe she would have been shocked if the victims really had been “vicious” and “acrimonious”. She would have regarded them as neurotic.

Her expectation shows how she viewed the victims before she actually encountered them. As bitter, hostile persons. As villains.

And what if she found my blog, which is bitter, vicious and acrimonious?

***

What Jaeggi does in this chapter is admit that abuse in therapy exists and that the therapeutic community reacts to this with the same means the therapists used against the victims before: Diagnosing them, pathologizing them, discounting their perception and their ability to correctly judge actions and statements by their therapists. And yet at the same time Jaeggi suggests that victims are not really victims, that their accounts should be taken with a grain of salt and that it always takes two to tango, which culminates in the recommendation that victims who complain about their previous therapists should not be validated. So quite obviously Jaeggi shows all of the attitudes she observes (and half-heartedly criticizes) in her collegues. I just wonder if she is aware of this or not.

The result of Jaeggi´s recommendations and the underlying general attitude towards victims of therapy abuse is that those victims Do. Not. Receive. Help. They basically have nowhere to turn. I guess therapy abuse can result in just as many mental health problems as any other abusive relationship. And who cures those victims?

3) The power structure

I already talked about this extensively, so I will try to keep it short. Jaeggi claims that therapists are more powerful than their patients. I second that as far as the weapon arsenal is concerned. Therapists have many ways to silence their patients and from what we´ve just heard their colleagues will happily assist them.

Now please look back to the excuses made under 1).

Given how powerful a position the therapist finds himself in, just how incredibly weak must he be as a person if he feels he has to abuse that power in order to maintain his position?! Again, am I supposed to pity him? Nod understandingly? Poor chap couldn´t help himself?

Jaeggi quotes a colleague of hers who said: “Think of the most narcissistic patient you have. He is still less of a narcissist than the therapists.”

Seems there´s something to it. I guess the more therapists are engulfed in their position of power the more vulnerable they become. I guess many of them might actually be overestimating their power; at least their power to heal the patient or influence his behavior and feelings in a controlled manner. Disappointment follows suit, and their idealized self-image is at peril.

I always had a bit of a bad feeling when Jaeggi kept on emphasizing how powerful the therapist is. It did not exactly serve the purpose of evoking understanding for abusive therapists, right? Also, it contradicted her claims that therapists become abusive when they feel powerless. It would seem, after all, that the patient doesn´t even have the power to make the therapist feel that bad.

I wonder if, maybe, her own self-esteem is tied to the idea of having power as well. Maybe it is a weapon, a protective shield or a pre-emptive strike, which comes in the guise of a neutral, even self-critical statement. While I do believe the power of therapists is a fact, particularly the power to do harm, throughout her book Jaeggi makes it sound as if she and other therapists have severe doubts about their power. So maybe this statement is a form of reassurance, or, given that the chapter deals with the wrongful use of power – a threat.

Time for the Second Trilogy.

4) How does therapy work?

Nobody doubts that – due to the asymmetrical nature of the relationship and the regressive needs of the patient – the therapist is more powerful than the patient. It is the source of his ability to help the patient. Without the patient putting himself into the hands of the therapist there are few chances to heal him.

You have to look at these sentences through a magnifying lense. Jaeggi does not, as one might expect, say that the therapist is more powerful than the patient because he can help him. She says that the therapist can help the patient because he is more powerful.

This turns around the logic of almost all other professional relationships. A normal doctor can help you because he has medical knowledge, he knows how to recognize illnesses and he knows what medicine you need to take. A car mechanic can repair your vehicle because he knows how cars work. Doctors and car mechanics do have power, but that power is just a side-effect. A side-effect of their visible ability to cure illnesses/repair cars. It is not the power exchange that removes your appendix. It is not the power exchange that repairs your car. It is the professional´s skills. You give him power over your unconscious body/your car because you know he has the skills to make things alright.

If I understand Jaeggi correctly, though, in a therapeutic relationship it is giving the therapist power that makes things alright. The power exchange is not a side-effect. It is the heart of the therapeutic process.

5) Gained by deception, maintained by abuse

Why do people give therapists power? Because they believe that the power exchange itself will cure them? No. My guess would be that they give therapists power because they believe therapists, like other professionals, have inherent skills which will serve to cure them. Jaeggi herself admits such beliefs exist, and she even points out that they might be indispensable for therapy to have any effect.

The power exchange that is so vital for therapy to work is based on the  impression that therapists, like doctors or car mechanics, have any specific skills unrelated to the power exchange itself; skills which people who aren´t therapists do not have. And for all Jaeggi tells us, this impression is false. The secret behind psychotherapy is the power exchange itself.

The therapist´s power and along with it the effectiveness of therapy relies on a mistaken idea of how therapy works and what therapists can do. It is like selling a placebo as a miraculous cure and justifying it with the patient feeling better.

In the country I live in, that placebo is paid for by the gouvernmental health insurance. It is said to be scientifically validated. All this fosters peoples´belief that there must be something about psychotherapy that goes beyond what we project onto it.

So psychotherapists gain the power to help people by exploiting the belief that they already have that power. And even if therapy should be effective, even if it should help the patient I believe that this is a form of deception. A kind of con. It contradicts our basic ideas of decency.

**

Now please remember everything we established in the First Trilogy. The narcissism found in therapists. Apparently many of them aren´t as neutral and abstinent as they pretend to be. They are emotionally invested into their roles, and into their power. A power already gained by dishonest means.

In order to maintain their dubious power they are willing to manipulate, gaslight, threaten and otherwise psychologically injure the patients who trusted them, as Jaeggi extensively demonstrated. Knowing just how illegitimately they gained the power which they so fiercely defend I can merely laugh about Jaeggi´s excuses.

Extreme professional despair?  – The professional despair of a conman.

Fear of exposure? – A very justified fear.

In the light of Jaeggi´s revelations I seriously wonder if psychotherapy is anything other than socially accepted narcissistic abuse.

6) A complete lack of consequences

What I say above sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theory. I myself have trouble believing it. And yet these are merely logical conclusions based on what Jaeggi herself tells us. Jaeggi paints a darker picture of psychotherapists and their profession than any of its critics. She confirms each vicious prejudice the public believes about shrinks. And yet she still believes that psychotherapy is a worthwhile, helpful pursuit. Maybe this non-chalance is the biggest punch in the stomach of all.

**

I don´t know if the approach, the attitudes, the system Jaeggi describes mirror the reality of everyday life psychotherapy. It certainly mirrors the approach, the attitude, the system I encountered. Jaeggi´s book, to me, is the final proof that my case is not an exception. Neither did I merely encounter a few rotten apples, nor was it actually my fault. It is the system that´s rotten, the ideology.

But what, then, of the positive experiences others had, I had?

I´m not a big fan of discounting experiences that don´t suit my theories. I don´t want to believe that others merely fell for the deception, leave alone that I did. I don´t want to feel like everything my coach told me was coldly calculated, I don´t want to feel like she was looking at me and my tears and my conflicts through the lens of condescension. The thought hurts, it ruins me, it makes me want to hide somewhere.

I guess, I hope that these different experiences are merely owed to the multitude of approaches and theories out there. That there are therapists who are truly strong, honest and good counsellors. Who truly respect their clients.

In a way, generalization is the abuser´s last weapon. If minimization, denial of the abuse fails, they shout: “But do you think anybody else would treat you any differently? Do you believe anybody out there would respect/love you more, have any genuine feelings for you? They are merely better at deceiving you! At least I am honest! Are you too cowardish for the truth? Do you prefer to be deceived?”

I will not discount others´ positive experiences with psychotherapy. But I have seen many times how people used their positive experiences in order to discount other peoples´ negative experiences, and I will not put up with that, either. The fact that some people made a good experience doesn´t mean they are better persons. They have no right to look at me condescendingly and regard me as a more difficult, less reliable person who has, tee-hee, a whole lot of unresolved issues. They have no right to analyze me and make assumptions about my hidden motives. They shouldn´t think I´m more stupid or less self-aware than they are. Respecting me means to hear what I´m saying instead of wondering why I´m saying it now, here, and the way I do. If what I say makes sense everybody can decide for themselves.

I´m not targeting anybody in particular with this. And please don´t be shy to tell me about good experiences or about what was good about them. Feel free to talk about bad or ambivalent experiences, too. I´m as prone to confirmation bias as every other human being, but I´m trying very hard to look at experiences bar of any agenda.

*Everything I write in this post mainly applies to analytically oriented / transference focused psychotherapy. I´m not talking about CBT here.

 

 

Random, but crystal-clear

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on July 24, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

Having just returned from kindergarten, having just returned from being pushed around by three five-year-olds I´m starting to understand how spineless, helpless and weak I am. Mind you, I don´t blame the kids. They are kids, they are good-natured, and if they don´t accept me as an authority figure that´s mainly my own fault. Good, not just, I was never really introduced as an authority figure by the nurses. We (the volunteers) come and go and I´m not the only one who has trouble asserting herself. I just realize to my dismay that when things get out of hand I start to feel completely passive, I internally distance myself from the situation and I have to remind myself that I´m the grown-up, that I´m responsible for the kids (and their safety!). Even my voice seems to crumble.

I went home believing that this was at the root of my self-disdain. The inability to assert myself. Now I believe it´s the other way round. My self-disdain is the reason why I cannot assert myself.

Well, I guess those two things fuel each other. But the worst part about this is how often I lie to myself about my assertiveness. I dream of myself as a strong person. I am strong in some ways; I was completely dependent on chewing gum because of my emetophobia and I managed to kick that; and in a way I probably had to be strong all my life. I have suffered with anxiety disorders and compulsions since earliest childhood and I had to deal with those things all on my own. My parents never got me any help. Half the time they weren´t even aware what was going on with me. I believe they underestimated my problems, or thought they were normal childhood fears. I grew up believing that it was normal to be occupied with thoughts of desasters and tragedies.  I grew up believing that you couldn´t help but be as frightened as I was, given that there was a possibility that my house might burn down one day, that my family might die in a car crash, that I might catch a fatal disease.

When and how should I have had the energy to learn social skills if I wasn´t even mentally present enough to focus on other kids´ behaviors? I had and have daymares the way others have nightmares. I get sucked into an alternative universe without even realizing it. I said I was constantly daydreaming, but it isn´t always a pleasant activity. It´s like there´s an internal stimulus to which I have to respond, like a vicious voice saying something that provokes me or puts me down, or a fantasy where the police come knocking against my door and tell me somebody has died. My brain starts working out solutions as if it had really happened. Like: Who do I have to call? How much does a funeral cost? This is the kind of stuff my brain is firing at me 24/7 and I´m surprised I start to stutter when I order a coke!

Sometimes when I am in such a state and some real person wants something from me I get overloaded. I´m in extreme amounts of stress during such internal arguments, so I get very cranky and irritable when somebody approaches me. People have no clue what is going on inside of me. I couldn´t explain it, either. I can write it down here but I constantly doubt if I´m really telling the truth. Am I not embellishing everything? Doesn´t everybody have that? If I was really all that ill, surely at some point somebody would have noticed.

So again I tell myself: I was suffering from some kind of generalized anxiety disorder, from psychosomatic problems and a related phobia and from compulsions ever since I was a little child of 4 or 5 years and nobody ever did anything about that. It is a fact. I feel like I´m lying, but it is a fact. So obviously it is possible that I am not just a “normal neurotic” or a particularly whiny twen, despite lacking the fangs and the drooling that are mandatory for any recognized lunatic.

I told the coach I recently saw over my career choices a thing or two about my family and she, in a very matter-of-factly tone, replied: “Even if only half of this was true I wouldn´t be  surprised you developed mental health problems.” She stated this as if it was understood that 1) yes, I was ill, not weak-willed and 2) “things were not alright at home”. It is ironic, isn´t it, that a coach who I had seen for two days would point out as self-evident what three therapists never acknowledged. Three therapists I saw for a total of more than three years.

And not just therapists. Most of my friends, too, never accepted that anything could be wrong with me. I was different anyway because I was “smart”. I had good grades, so things couldn´t be too bad, right? Or, like I said to the coach: “You already are miserable, and then you are punished again for functioning anyway.”

If I had problems, they could only be a luxury because, after all, I was not afflicted with the things they dreaded most: Bad grades. I could be mean and turn this around, saying that if bad grades are their greatest fear then they seem to be doing pretty well. That, however, would ignore the reality of the demanding and punitive parents who might be behind the pressure to perform. I do believe that many of my friends were in quite a miserable position. I´m just no longer willing to put up with the fact that they invalidate me and my problems. My parents never seemed to be demanding and punitive, but fact is I never found out because I simply always performed. My parents didn´t punish me in those traditional ways (withdrawal of privileges or worse), but that was only the case because they expected me to do what I was supposed to do without any reinforcing elements.

I remember the fight I recently had with my father. He told me to clean up, then when he returned ten minutes later and I hadn´t started yet he told me again, denied he had told me so before and said in that self-righteous tone: “Well, I had thought that maybe you´d think of it on your own, but oh well…” It clearly shows what kind of behavior he expects. And if he has to remind me of it, then I have failed as a person because apparently I don´t care about my mother. It´s not that I´m lazy in a way each normal human being can on some level sympathize with (“yeah, I know I have to wash the dishes, just five minutes, okay?”). I´m inconsiderate, ruthless and exploitative.

Or when I was at the risk of getting in trouble for leaving school early. It had been a misunderstanding, but I was terribly nervous about it. When I told my mother she was oddly cold. She didn´t punish me or yell at me or something, but in retrospect I feel that she was acting as if she´d had the right to do and just decided to be lenient. I constantly have to remind myself that I had not ditched class on purpose. It had been a misunderstanding. It would have deserved a different response.

When I first told her she nodded knowingly, almost triumphantly. “So that´s why you´ve been so weird over Christmas.” She was creating an odd kind of intimacy, like she was saying I´m watching you and I´m trying to understand you, but I did not feel like she really met me with understanding. She was telling me she had figured me out and I believe she somehow mistakes knowing me inside out for being close to me.

I don´t know how the discussion went on, but in the end she said somewhat disdainfully “Well, just accept that censure and try to stick to the rules in the future.” And this is what was really wrong about her response, because I had not broken the rules on purpose. Her disdain could have referred to the school and their “stupid rules”, but in that case she should have backed me up and told me she´d talk to the teacher if there should be any trouble. So I wonder if the disdain was directed at me. At my fear of getting into trouble. It sure feels that way, though I can´t figure out why she would despise me for that.

How did the story end? I went back to school after Christmas break, feeling just as miserable as I had felt before talking to my mother, which is not suprising, given that she had denied me any moral support. The teacher asked me where I had been during her class and I somehow managed to get out of the situation unpunished. Mostly because I counted as a “good kid” who never made any trouble and had good grades. I doubt my classmates liked me any better after this. What remained, until this day, is biting shame.

I believe what I feel so bad about is that both my mother and my teacher treated me as if I was at their mercy but they let me off the hook. If they had any respect for me then they would either punish me if they thought I had done something wrong on purpose, or they would tell me straight away it was no big deal. Instead, this teacher played Spanish Inquisition with me in front of the whole class and as soon as I didn´t know what to say anymore she told me she did not intend to investigate this any further and dismissed the issue. I´d like to think I simply convinced her of my innocence, but I believe she just thought that the limbo I had been in over the last two weeks was enough of a punishment.

Other kids might have been happy to have gotten away, but I could feel the manipulation, the humiliation behind it. The worst part, for me, is that this kind of thing works so damn well on me. I´m exactly the type of person that drives herself crazy. I wish I was one of those non-chalant kids who are scared of nothing short of a solid beating and simply do what they want. On some level I hate myself for even trying to dodge a censure because if I had flat out admitted I had gone home early she would have had no more emotional power over me. (Instead I tried to convince her I´d simply been in another part of the building.) I could have done so, maybe, if only my mother had morally backed me up. Given how she had reacted to my self-disclosure even towards her, though, she would probably have deemed it phenomenally stupid to turn down an opportunity of averting a censure.

I sometimes have fantasies in which I have not just broken a rule, but I have done it knowingly. Maybe out of laziness, maybe out of sheer rebelliousness, who knows. The person who is judging my behavior gives me any opportunity to make excuses, even makes them for me, but I simply tell him the truth. And while this has to result in a possibly inhumane punishment (such fantasies commonly take place in an alternative universe that somehow resembles the Victorian age), I am sure of his love and respect for being honest. I feel like a severely messed up person for connecting being beaten with love and care, but the core of this fantasy is not the punishment but being loved in a non-condescending way.

In my romantic view on child-rearing “consequences” or, if you will, punishments should (if they should exist at all) only exist to help the kid deal with the anxiety, shame and guilty feelings that surround “messing up”, such as by providing an opportunity to make up for it. Using those feelings as a punishment, leave alone exacerbating them for that purpose is a whole lot more cruel, I think. When a child confesses to you that she has done something wrong, she does force you into a certain role, into the role of the judge. If you refuse to accept that role, you are basically rejecting the child. You can refuse to make any judgements, but if you refuse to understand what the child wants from you then you are humiliating her.

Here is another example of my mother´s behavior when I admitted to breaking a rule: I have mentioned in the false memory post that there was a place where I was forbidden to go; it was an old ruin nearby. My mother worried about what kind of people might hang out there. So when I was about ten years old I went near that place (dodging her interdiction) with the two neighbor boys. A couple of teenagers stopped us and threatened to call the police on us, beat us up or whatnot. Thankfully we were naive and sure of ourselves and we stood our ground, telling them they couldn´t call the cops because they had been inside the ruin themselves. Eventually they said “Well, alright, you can go, fuck off before we change our minds!” They probably never had intended anything other than intimidating us, they realized they were failing and they were trying to save face. We ran home and it was then that the fear kicked in. The boys told their mother what had happened and she said indignantly: “Call the cops my ass! These lads had no business bothering you!” (Well, she might not have used the word “ass”.)

Then I told my mother. She looked at me coldly and said in a terrible voice: “So what else has to happen before you don´t go there anymore?” (I had broken her rule before. Nothing had happened then.) There were no consequences or anything. I could play with the neighbor boys the next day and the days afterward until we got tired of it and went separate ways. Something happened, though. I was frightened to leave our street when we were playing. I was constantly on the lookout for those teens. When I thought I´d seen them in our street (and I didn´t really remember what they looked like) I ran away and hid somewhere. I cannot prove it, but I believe that my mother basically withdrew her protection from me. If I went to places where I wasn´t supposed to go, the consequences were my problem. She didn´t assure me that she would protect me from those teens, she wasn´t dismayed that anyone had threatened to beat up her ten-year-old daughter.

I understand that she was upset I had broken her rule a second time. I don´t understand, though, how that anger could override her relief that I had gotten out of this situation unharmed. How that anger could override her anger over the teenagers who had bullied me.  I don´t understand how, in a situation like this, she could react like an ice queen in the first place. If she had yelled at me I might buy that she was frantic with worry and relief and frustration and anger. Her reaction, however, had “serves you right” written all over it.

I believe this reaction exacerbated the fears I had with regards to the teenagers and the entire incident. The boy´s mother sort of downplayed what had happened, but she did so to reassure the boys. And indeed I don´t believe we had been in serious danger, though you never know how such situations might escalate. My mother simply left me alone with the incident. Made me feel like I could expect nothing else if I did something she disapproved of. My fear of the teenagers, my avoidant behavior seemed like something I was going to have to live with from now on. Forever, or until I would thankfully forget about it. I couldn´t count on her support to deal with it.

The day afterwards I passed by near the ruin with my sister on the way to the supermarket. I was dead scared the teenagers might show up again. I think I just didn´t expect to get any protection from my sister. Mainly, I was scared that my sister might find out about what had happened. I was probably not aware of it then, but she was jealous all the time because she believed I had more privileges than she´d had when she´d been my age. If she had known about this incident she would probably have exploded. She had a way of being aggressive that mixed utter disdain and frightening levels of rage.

In the light of these childhood memories I´m not so surprised anymore nobody ever did anything about my pathological anxiety. And given the levels of intimidation I was exposed to it might not be a surprise, either, that I cannot assert myself. At least I ought to have more patience with myself.

Failure and confusion – (not) figuring out psychotherapy (and my issues with it)

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , , on July 23, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

I´ve been wanting to write about that chapter in Jaeggi´s book for days and I can´t get myself to do it. The chapter about therapeutic power and its abuse.  I feel as if I´m mentally working my way up the ivory tower that is (transference oriented) psychotherapy, and suddenly I bang my head on an invisible ceiling.

No trespassing.

This Chapter 12 should have been the chapter that helped me most, validated me most. Instead, it turned out to be the one that upset me most. I believe it touches upon issues which don´t even have anything to do with Dr. Stoneface.

I have to start somewhere, so I´ll just sum it up.

Or not. I read two pages and I feel sick to the stomach. I hate how my brain is overloaded and my thoughts start to race when there is too much wrong at once. It seems to be entirely impossible to sum up this chapter.

Which might, somehow, also have to do with Jaeggi´s flawed logic and the remarkable murkiness and inconsistency she suddenly shows as soon as we are approaching this specific subject.

Thesis Number 1: Therapists are more powerful than their patients

So she writes it hardly needs to be mentioned that therapists are more powerful than their patients. Therefore, it is obviously not necessary to give any reasons, either. She listlessly names the standard explanations:

1) Regressive needs/desires of the patient.

2) The patient knows nothing about the therapist, while the therapist receives all kind of intimate information about the patient.

3) The insisting on the therapist´s superior knowledge, on his status as an expert.

So. For the so-called “regressive needs”: What she is talking about, first and foremost, is the dependence we have towards doctors and experts in general, and to the belief we have in them. It is not a regressive need that I show because I´m not really a grown-up person, or because I´m a spoiled child who doesn´t want to take responsibility. It is a common psychological phenomenon you find in everyone. You´ll find it in a therapist if he has a tooth ache and goes to see the dentist! So basically this is just a circumscription of what happens to a person when she is in emotional pain and has been taught that when she is in emotional pain a therapist can help her. This part of the therapist´s power seems to be routed, mainly, in their status.  Same goes for reason No. 3.

Now for No.2: I believe the word “information” is way too cold and clinical to describe where the real asymmetry lies. It lies in emotional involvement. The patient shows emotions, cries, shouts, laughs. The therapist remains calm and neutral, if not distant. The patient is supposed to idolize the therapist, or project earlier relationships onto him (so is he also supposed to fear him?), or even develop a crush on him. The therapist is, according to Jaeggi, supposed to be an actor.

The patient must never know or see what the therapist really feels. This is the actual information deficit, not the lack of knowledge about the therapist´s family, upbringing or friends.

Then again, I guess that type of information might also play a role. I often tried to find out more about Dr. Stoneface, like, about his religious beliefs or his general opinions, his worldview,  just so I could figure out where he was coming from. According to which value system was my sexuality sick? According to which standards was I demanding, irresponsible and lacking commitment?

When you know where someone´s values are coming from, his judgments don´t hit you entirely unprepared. You can decide for yourself whether to take it seriously if a puritan criticizes your work ethic or your style of clothing. If you don´t know anything about your opponent, though, his judgments are absolute. They are much, much more powerful.

Thesis Number 2: Abuse happens because therapists feel powerless

Much like in the rest of the book, Jaeggi tells the reader why therapists feel insecure, small and powerless. They have difficult personal lives, they are unsure of the validity of their own theories, they know that what matters most is the therapeutic relationship and if something goes awry they believe they themselves are neurotic, toxic persons.

Then, she says something quite remarkable: It is particularly dangerous if the “powerful” person´s self-esteem is tied to the maintenance of the asymmetry of the relationship. For the therapist, giving up power in psychotherapy means to declare himself incompetent – not just as a therapist, but possibly also as a human being.

Apart from the fact that she basically admits that a therapist´s self-esteem depends on the inferiority of the patient, which makes you wonder how therapy could ever be anything other than abuse, she also makes clear that, actually, the therapist is not powerful at all. She even puts the word “powerful” in quotation marks.

So what is this all about? It hardly needs mentioning that the therapist is more powerful than the patient, but actually the therapist is not powerful at all because the patient can shatter his self-esteem with a single remark?!

Two meanings of “power”?

Jaeggi describes a typical way in which therapists abuse their power; that is, they use interpretations and suggestions about the patient´s mental state and his unconscious motivations as weapons. (“You only criticize me because you are still envying your brother his penis.”) They might also make threats, such as: “Without therapy your life will go down the drain.” Her list covers a lot of things I´ve frequently complained about when talking about Dr. Stoneface, but also when talking about some articles.

She describes some of the consequences for the patients, such as confusion, but she chooses a relatively mild example for illustration. Then she says: How powerless, though, must a therapist feel if he abuses therapeutic measures [such as interpretations] as a means to maintain his power? You can´t help but see this as a sign of extreme professional despair.

I can help it, thank you, Dr. Jaeggi, but never mind that. I guess I shouldn´t even bother be angry about her excuse making. The point is that this book more or less unabashedly tells us that

1) therapists are in no way superior as persons, neither in terms of mental health, nor in terms of motivations and feelings or when it comes to their private lives

2) therapists are either unsure of the validity of their own theories and methods or they turn into ideologues

3) therapists possess no special magical power; their power stems from a status in society they themselves created, and from a conversational constellation that puts the patient at disadvantage

and yet Jaeggi never seems to arrive at the conclusion that under such conditions therapists can only aquire power through deception, rendering psychotherapy that is based on an asymmetric relationship – illegitimate.

I believe the reason for this is that, even though she said she got over her belief that psychoanalysts are superior beings, she never completely dropped that idea. Or maybe instead of elevating her profession, she villainizes the patients. Maybe therapists are not better persons, but patients are worse, so to say. A very revealing passage is this one:

[In the case of emotional abuse in therapy] the therapist responds to the infantile patient with the childish know-all-manner of a little boy who, in an argument, defends himself by saying “I´ll tell my older brother!”

So – how am I supposed to understand this? If the therapist emotionally abuses the patient he descends to the level of the patient?

So far Jaeggi has never given any proof or even an example of how patients are infantile, yet they seem to be so by default. The only thing she has mentioned is the normal dependence and power-exchange that happens every time somebody who has a problem encounters the expert who might solve it. It happens with doctors, dentists, car mechanics, lawyers. And yet in the sentence above “infantile”, or “childish”, seems to have an entirely different meaning. It implies a lack of maturity, and a lack of morals, character strength, fair-play. Needs override reason in a selfish, stubborn way.

This suggests to me that when Jaeggi speaks of the infantile patient she is not just talking about the dependent, trusting patient (who has been deceived by the therapist´s status), but she is also ascribing to the patient an inferior psychological make-up. Even a moral inferiority.

Throughout this chapter it never becomes clear, however, whether she believes that therapy is basically two equally fucked up people sitting in a room with one person maintaining power and influencing the other one by making him believe he,the therapist, is not fucked up (and for some reason Jaeggi believes this is legitimate); or if she believes that despite all the counter-factual evidence she provides in her book therapists are psychologically superior in some way that is not related to their status and the thus-induced emotional dependence on the part of the patient.

Psychological superiority can mean two different things. It can be a neutral description of the power dynamics of a relationship, such as: If person A says something, person B is deeply affected, but if person B says something, person A is indifferent. It can, however, also be an emotionally charged concept, such as: Person A starts to shout and rage when she loses a game, whereas person B congratulates the winner. As such, psychological superiority is tied to moral superiority and self-worth. It is about how a person copes with her emotions and how well she controls them. Throughout Chapter 12, Jaeggi never makes clear which type of psychological superiority she is talking about when she says that the therapist definitely is psychologically superior.

We can be sure about one thing, though. If therapists abuse their patients because they feel powerless, then apparently they are not objectively psychologically superior. The power dynamics in the relationship are two-sided, both parties can affect and hurt each other. So she must mean something different, not an inability to be affected. And I think she is talking about the weapon arsenal the two parties have at their disposal.

The therapist has his status, his pool of theories, most likely far more knowledge about technical terms (during an argument Dr. Stoneface seriously interrupted me in order to tell me that he was a psychotherapist, not a psychiatrist), and he can always hide behind a facade of indifference, emotional abstinance and security.

The patient has his status as a crackpot. A person whose perception and thoughts are warped. He might have read a lot of psychology books, but he is still a layman. And given the often confusing jargon and the air of mystery that surrounds psychotherapy, he might never know for sure if he has correctly understood what he has read. Chances are about zero that he´ll ever beat the therapist on his own turf. The patient is supposed to reveal his emotions, maybe he is even provoked into showing emotional reactions, by therapeutically staged interventions. We have already seen that psychological superiority is about how you cope with emotions, about showing or not showing them. The therapist doesn´t show emotions, the patient does. Another way to cement the inferior position of the patient. And yet that inferiority is based on deception. The patient isn´t more emotional, less mature than the therapist. He is showing his emotions because of the position he finds himself in. The therapist does not truly have a superior psychological make-up. He only pretends so in order to maintain his power. Jaeggi´s entire book seems to prove that.

Don´t know what else to say

I guess my long, winded speculations just show one thing: How much I would need to look behind the facade of the man against who I have struggled for over two years. How much I need a proof that it really was just a facade.

I will never get that proof. Words are elusive, they can be interpreted in many ways. Sometimes I wish I had stopped at that moment after the lecture when I decided not to call out the lecturer on the problem of informed consent because I realized I knew what I knew and I wouldn´t let him confuse me again. I don´t feel like I know anything right now. I feel like I have failed to prove anything writing this entry. And not only this, I have also forgotten what I wanted to prove.

I believe that I might have been mistaken about there being two kinds of psychological superiority. Or at least they are closely related. In both cases psychological superiority consists in a lack of certain affects. The other person cannot hurt you, make you angry, scare you. I believe that what happened between Dr. Stoneface and me was in part a power struggle pertaining to this type of superiority, not just intellectual superiority. Or at least I´m constantly involved in that kind of struggle. When I have emotions I feel like the little boy whose brother has taken away his toy and now waves it above his head laughing about his angry cries.

I believe the worst thing about my current, apathetic state is that I cannot feel anger anymore, the anger that made me start this entry. I feel so dead tired and defeated. My mind is letting me down. I cannot get the subtly disdainful, seemingly neutral and empathic voices out of my head which suggest to me that I should focus on those feelings because they are telling me the truth.

Try again.

From Flowers on Granite I could glean that in psychoanalytically oriented circles, any statement that is too emotionally charged is always viewed with skepticism. It is assumed that the speaker has very personal motivations and unresolved issues. Therefore, the actual message gets lost. It is devalued. As long as a person has any kind of emotional involvement we do not need to take seriously what he says. We are superior to him. No, I´m not imagining anything here. Showing emotions is seen as a sign of weakness, it lowers a persons status in those circles. Because the truly enlightened, fully analyzed person only shows “adequate” emotions, no neurotic affects, which means that he is abstinent and indifferent in conversations or arguments because nothing another person says could hit him.

Which means that everything I say here, my entire emotional involvement with this issue renders me inferior. As long as I am angry about what happened to me in therapy, as long as I am angry about anything I read about it, I will be inferior.

But that doesn´t matter for now. What matters is that therapists, and along them Jaeggi,  might believe that them not showing emotions in session truly renders them superior. They might feel actual disdain for the patient´s inability to not show emotions, and yet the patient is supposed to show emotions. If he doesn´t, they have to be elicited from him somehow. Or he will be asked why he is in therapy if he is unwilling to allow himself to be manipulated. I had a similar conversation with Dr. Stoneface.

Again, I cannot prove any of this, not definitely. Maybe these are just my neurotic defenses at work because I am so hopelessly inferior I cannot bear it. Maybe I´m just an infantile little kid who tries to drag everyone down in the mud. Onto my level.

They will never let me know if I figured them out or not. Dr. Stoneface will never admit it if I´m right about him. They fear exposure as much as I do.

I must get out of that triggered state of mind if I want to write anything other than gibberish. I try to imagine something different for a moment. I do not only fear psychological exposure. I also crave it if it´s done in a certain way. Often when I´m in such an angry, paranoid state of mind I imagine some imaginary ally, maybe someone I know for real, to read me, spell out for me everything that I fear, everything that seems to undermine my position and my self-conception. He might tell me that I do feel ashamed, frightened or inferior, but in a way that makes me want to admit it. He doesn´t believe my feelings reflect an ugly truth about me which I don´t want to see. He regards those feelings as – feelings. Something that unnecessarily hurts me. I can allow that exposure to happen because it will not be used against me. It cannot be used against me, because there is nothing compromising about my feelings, not in the eyes of this imaginary ally. The fact that I feel guilty doesn´t mean I am guilty. The fact that I feel ashamed doesn´t mean I ought to feel ashamed.

I have never experienced this in real life. And right now that thought alone makes me infinitely sad.

I don´t know when and how I will pick up this subject again. I believe the fight for psychological superiority is at the core not only of my issues with psychotherapy, but also the main struggle between me and my parents. I will have to pick it up again. I wish I had been able to maintain my anger. This chapter would have deserved a proper rebuttal. I hate that I have failed at this.

 

 

Figuring out psychotherapy (and my issues with it) – part II

Posted in health, mental health, personal with tags , , on July 18, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

I was going to finish my personal review of Jaeggi´s book. So what is up next is Chapter Five, which deals with the therapeutic relationship.

Chapter 5

In this chapter Jaeggi describes a fundamental conflict therapists experience: Knowing that the therapeutic relationship is the most important aspect of therapy, they feel like they have to be particularly good with relationships, especially empathic and warm at all times, but in reality they find that they might feel nothing towards the patient or even experience negative emotions; not to mention that their private lives might not look all too good. Also, they never quite know how close or distant the therapeutic relationship is supposed to be.

It´s not like I can´t relate to that. I have quite some difficulties dealing with negative emotions towards loved ones; I feel like I ought to have good feelings about them always and anytime. Especially during my friendship with Athena this was a major problem.

Jaeggi describes four different ways in which therapists tend to deal with these problems which are on a continuum that ranges from idealistic to hard-nosed. Some therapists make themselves try to empathize with everything the patient says until their are burnt out, others keep the patients at arm´s length and scornfully refuse to meet their emotional needs, even morally condemn them for those needs. I read a statement by one of those therapists and I wish it had come with a trigger warning. It didn´t take much to recognize the similarities to Dr. Stoneface. That guy claimed that almost all patients are “spoiled, demanding, absolutely unwilling to take responsibility”. It reminds me of certain arguments. What that other therapist describes is exactly how I felt Dr. Stoneface saw me. Straight from the moment I was late for our first session. Seems it never had too much to do with me.

Next, Jaeggi makes a suggestion that is extremely infuriating. Jaeggi suggests that the therapist should not try to be an ideal dialogue partner or a perfect person, but – an actor. He should not show his own feelings or demand any genuine feelings from himself, but display to the patient any emotion which might be of therapeutic use to the patient. The patient, of course, mustn´t know about that. If he becomes aware either of the therapist´s real feelings or of the fact that the therapist is acting in the first place, therapy is not going to work out.

Please note that Jaeggi doesn´t say all therapists do it that way. Maybe, probably, there are people out there who are genuine and honest. Jaeggi says, though, that therapists should be like actors.  Once again, to me this looks as if therapy would (at least if done according to her rules) rely on a deception of the patient. The patient mustn´t know that the insights gained in therapy are mere constructs (and I´m still not sure if I can agree with that), the patient must mystify the therapist, the patient mustn´t know the therapist is just acting. Which forever leaves the patient in an inferior position. And not just the patient. The general public. Everybody might at some point develop mental issues, after all, as she points out in an almost snide remark towards the end of the book: “The public sees the masks and the self-deceit of the therapist and looks at him with disdain; but as soon as someone is feeling miserable himself he is easily capable of idealizing his therapist as a saviour!” Well, thank goodness reading her book didn´t render me incurable, huh!

Her book confirmed all the fears I had about therapy. I already had those fears when I first entered therapy. When I started seeing Dr. Stoneface I was worried that maybe I knew too much, maybe I would be able to resist too well. I felt guilty whenever I read anything about psychotherapy; I felt like I was sabotaging the process. At the same time this seemed absurd and unfair to me; could it really be that the process relied on me not knowing anything about it? Would I be “allowed” to learn about it afterwards, or would I always have to stay away from it? How stable was a change, how reliable a cure if it strongly depended on me not knowing how it had worked? How was this compatible with the freedom of thought, the stability, the openness and sincerity I ascribed to a state of being cured? Did I not believe that, once you were cured, you didn´t have to keep any secrets from yourself anymore or repress any unwelcome truths?

That aside, I believe that Jaeggi underestimates the patients. I believe they might realize and perceive more than she gives them credit for. I, for example, described a while ago how I often felt like Dr. Stoneface´s emotions were staged:

I simply couldn´t take him seriously. How could anyone be that upset over me eating in session, or for looking at a questionnaire? I had a feeling that he was merely displaying anger in order to affect me in some way, and sometimes I felt like I was part of some stupid play or some secret melodrama.

Now, I wonder if maybe he displayed that anger in order to demonstrate to me that I behaved like a spoiled, demanding and irresponsible child. It seemed so artificial, like a disciplinary measure, not like I´d really hurt him. He was annoyed as a matter of principle.

I believe the other occasion on which I felt like the entire situation was theatrical and artificial might actually have been genuine to some extent; I do believe he lost his temper for real. Yet the situation itself was so clichéd, so loaded with expectations and pathos that I just couldn´t take it seriously. It affected me, yes, but I was also incredibly tired of these games:

I had somehow accused him of being arrogant. He really lost his cool and yelled at me: “Why, it´s YOU who is arrogant…” Once again, I had this weird, mixed reaction. On the one hand, I felt adrenaline shoot all through my body, a mixture of shock and rage. On the other hand, though, I felt like I was part of a staged therapeutic outbreak again. I felt reminded of the movie “Girl. Interrupted.”, where people are healed because they provoke someone into screaming the ugly truth into their faces. “Wow”, I thought. “This is probably the moment where I should crumble because suddenly I am shown my true face.”

If the therapist is an actor and the patient is unaware of it, we´re basically dealing with a form of deceit. If the therapist is an actor and the patient is more or less aware of it, the patient might start to feel like an actor, too, and respond with cynicism. I´m wondering, though: What if I had not felt like an actor?

Staging warm, positive feelings is one thing. Feigning understanding even if you wonder what on earth the patient was thinking might pass as a “white lie” in some situations. But staging sternness, anger, indignation? Finely calculated for the effect it will have on the patient? Isn´t that incredibly sick and sadistic? And then, of course, there is the question what to do if patients start to realize the therapist is just acting. Gaslight them?

There is more to say about the book, especially about a chapter in which Jaeggi writes about abuse and destructive power dynamics in therapy, but I´ll write about that some other time.