Talking cure my ass, call it silent treatment!

I´m in no shape to write since I´m dead tired, but I´ll try it anyway. And I´ll even be talking about a nicely crazy-making subject. Maybe, though, that´s a helpful combination. There´s nothing like apathy when the alternative would be feeling like I´m going mad.

I´ve just read Jay Haley´s “Strategies of Psychotherapy”, and especially the last chapter: “The art of psychoanalysis”. I´d recommend anyone to read it for themselves, you just need to google it and somewhere you can download the pdf. If it reads like a torture manual, that might be because it is one. The essence of it is that psychoanalysis is intended as a power struggle. All human communication behaviors are seen as strategies to take control of relationships. The analyst has found a way to maintain the upper hand no matter what: All attempts at “manipulation” by the patient (that is: all attempts at eliciting any response at all) are met with indifference. This is frustrating or even torturous for the patient. Apparently the allegedly non-directive therapist then waits until the patient shows “acceptable” communication attempts and rewards them with at least a little reaction. Which would render psychoanalysis of all things an overcomplicated and yet stunningly primitive and brutal form of conditioning. If Haley is correct, it could rightfully be called “the silent treatment” and apparently if you pay money for them, abusive relationships can heal you, though you should otherwise avoid them. Yes, sarcasm. The only thing that comforts me is that at least some analysts are probably unaware themselves of what they´re doing.

Reading Haley´s stuff I feel like Winston when he reads “The Book”. It tells me nothing I didn´t on some level already know, it feels good to be validated, and now that I definitely understand the how, I can´t help but wonder about the why. I mean – just what the hell? Why do we, in a supposedly civilized society, subject suffering, mentally ill people to such things? Or rather: Why can´t we seem to see the evil of this? Why do I feel like a rambling lunatic when I call this practice a form of subtle, refined barbary?

In Haley´s last chapter, there´s a description of typical communication strategies the patient will use and how the therapist will block them. This happens in phases. When I was starting to read, I thought: “Yeah, well, so the patient gave him that emotion, and then he showed him this vulnerability, and then he proved that he needs….well, goodness, I could do better!” Then, I continued to read, and gradually virtually all possible behaviors were listed. One moment I thought of one, the next moment I saw it listed there. Literally all possibilities at taking control or getting at least a fair share of it are snuffed out. Which means that each behavior by the patient is punished. He cannot get it right. If there was one right behavior that would gain him approval, he could use it to take some control. This reminds me of intimidation techniques where you will be yelled at, no matter what, where the rules you are given are just smoke screens and where nothing is predictable. What Haley describes is a far more subtle version of this, but nonetheless it´s cruel.

I think what is most hateful about this is that the patient is morally condemned or deemed psychologically immature for attempting something the therapist does in excess: Manipulation the relationship and trying to control the other. There are so many psychological texts that talk about how manipulative behaviors are pathological symptoms that cause trouble in relationships. There are so many online forums on which people talk about how manipulative their parents, they husbands or even themselves are. Being manipulative is sold to the public as being something sick and bad. The therapist is viewed as a contrast: authentic, capable of non-violent, honest communication, someone who doesn´t do all those “evil”, “pathetic” things the disordered person does. He wouldn´t be manipulative, ever! He enjoys the benefits of this image, while consciously and cold-bloodedly manipulating the ill, suffering people who come to him as he sees fit.

After reading that chapter I felt unable to move. I froze on the inside. Imagine you live in a cage where each of your movements is punished with an electric shock. That´s what Haley´s scenario is, just that we´re talking about mental movements. Once you have internalized the system, thoughts can gain you punishment. Each time you think about how you might break out from your cage, a poison dart of shame, ridicule and impotence shoots you down again. That´s what I mean by “voices” in my head: Imaginary conversations in which I am defeated again and again because they are set up so that I can´t win, and yet I cannot walk away. Not because I´m locked up. I´m hooked up. It´s my own weakness that keeps me there. Being told so from somewhere inside my head again and again, essentially each time when I get angry, is the most poisoned dart of all. It numbs and paralyzes me, as it renders all my struggles so pointless. There are so many great things out there in life I could focus on, and yet I choose to stay here and tilt at windmills! Why am I doing this?! Oh, there´s an arsenal of poison darts to choose from! Maybe I just love to complain? Maybe I need to fixate on something because my small, sad life would be too empty otherwise? Need any more clichés?

Knowing how skillfully I´ve been manipulated and realizing that I still cannot walk away from it, that I continue to slam my head against the same four walls five years after I quit therapy;  in short: knowing how ruined I am – that is utterly humiliating. I can bring it out like this, as anger, I can say: “This is bad, you shouldn´t do this to people, you are assholes!” What I can´t do is acknowledge that I am “people”. That it has happened to me and that it has worked. That I couldn´t beat it and that it continues to make me feel stupid, exposed, inadequate and immature. And do you know where the real fun starts? I know that saying this is a form of manipulation. Making a point of how humiliated I am suggests the opposite because people tend to HIDE humiliation! It makes me look non-defensive, it makes me look as if I could live with myself being the way I am and having been mindfucked the way I was! But I´m not trying to fool anyone! Not even myself! I´m just trying to exorcise all this somehow! And, sadly enough, I cannot even believe myself when I say this. Another thing I have learned: If you say that something isn´t true, that means it actually is! I guess no also means yes to some people. How exactly do people get away with this kind of thinking??

It´s so devastating. I know exactly how nutty and fucked-up this kind of thinking is, and yet it is stuck in my head! Whoever I was ten, fiften years ago – maybe I was difficult, arrogant, callous and insensitive – but BLOODY HELL at least I could THINK STRAIGHT!


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