Archive for the ‘Connecting the Dots Series’ category

Projective Identification: Informing the Experiential State

July 9, 2017

In the Bollas quote posted below, we are invited to picture an interaction between a father and child complicated by the father’s not conscious enough awareness of his personal issue with feeling guilty over impulse buying or the pressure created internally by the urge to be impulsive.

The concise pattern language based example does not comment on a possible continuum of alternatives to this father’s reliance on employing this defense, only that for him the stage is set to rid himself of this discomforting conflict by simply putting it into someone else. This works, allowing him to break psychological contact with this impulse and its inspired guilt… Unfortunately, the cost of this ridding is to find/experience cause for alarm in what is described as, in reality, his child’s ordinary impulsiveness. Through his overly censorious criticism of the child, the father off-loads his burdensome urge-to-impulse-and-inspired-guilt (complex). This is a blur moment. Most people looking in on this exchange would recognize a deeper dynamic at play, something a bit or more off in some way, but not so with the father. By design, one’s consciousness is protected entirely from experiencing the dynamics responsible for the impulse/guilt conflict in need of discharge, as well as it’s origins.

Representing this image/affect graphically as an experiential state scene, we can try picturing ExpStateSelfOtherAffectthe father in the act of criticizing the child. Imagine the depth of expression for both, surrounding the giving and receiving of the wound. I am suggesting wound here, because of its identified unconscious dynamic. The father is, through this mechanism, transferring his personal conflict with impulses and guilt into the child.

How might we think about the whys? Why this mechanism? Why now? What is adaptive about its deployment? How is it likely to effect the child, over time? In the instance of this example, we see a parent has misinterpreted or miss-apprised what is identified as in reality the child’s ordinary impulse. The father is reacting to his child’s identification with the father’s projection, not his child.

From the perspective of the child being criticized with an unconscious-to-the-father overly censorious driver, we can picture this scene as one which will inform the child’s developing experiential state on the theme of something in me is not OK.

The experiential state image is a useful tool to think about what psyche does with encapsulated episodic memories. Recall, humans as early as several weeks of age demonstrate the capacity for episodic memory: in this memory storage system emotionally charged episodes get swallowed whole, encapsulated and stored, without being fully inventoried. It seems as long as unconscious contents remain unconscious, their intensities are not diminished by time and space.

When we get emotionally triggered, it is likely one of these highly charged capsules of traumatic experience has activated, contributing it’s resonant emotional tone to the scene. Typically, the encapsulated trauma memory does not announce it’s role in providing the emotion. Again, this is the blur.

If we were to orient the father to his vulnerability to employing such a defense, with increasing awareness, he might choose to experiment with checking his impulse to censor his child. If he is able to do so, what might he notice? The increasing internal pressure may well lead to a spontaneous memory or feeling. From a psychodynamic perspective, it is possible an unthought known can begin to be thought about.

The action disorder formulation gets at this starting with the observation: “Any affect or emotion which in its raw and unaltered form is too intense to be controlled by will alone may need its ritual. Without ritual, such energies may inundate the ego and force it into acting out or into obsessive behavior. Ritual brings about containment and acceptance, control of intensity, and ‘dosage’.” (Whitmont, E., Return of the Goddess, p.235.)

At a personal level, we may or may not have much of an idea about how much of a charge we are carrying related to still split off trauma.

At the level of at least doing no harm, the father in his unconsciousness is likely to be initiating a reenactment of his original wound.  From this perspective, what he puts on the child and what the child experiences, will quite likely be an out-picturing of the father’s core experiential state scene. Almost from the beginning, any two who would love will be generating a core internal image or representation of what it means to be in relationship. See Developmental Considerations)


The father, suffering at some level with feelings of guilt about impulses, rids himself of the conflict by putting it into the child. His psyche sets the child up to become identified with the unacceptable impulsiveness projected onto him, setting up the father’s feeling justified in using a critical tone to find the child guilty as charged. This is the blur dynamic.

In truth, while the father is in the stage of life where in he can choose to embrace corrective experiences leading to the dissolving of the irrationality contributing to his experiential state scenes, the child is in the phase of coalescing of his/her experiential state. Recall, my first orientation to the concept of the experiential state was the fact that it was the single composite picture informed by every important interaction concerning wounds to loving. I find it helpful to think about multiple emotional challenges, on themes, which can still then be collapsed into one.

I’m going to post this now and try to approach it by reworking the graphics in the Representation of Persona Submitting to Emotion plate.






The Partial Cure Problem (revisited)

February 1, 2017

I am bringing this February 2016 post forward in preparation for exploring in a future post the dynamics associated with dueling partial cures. It is as if we marry with the belief the beloved will be able to bring out our best, and then, each can’t help but resist at all costs.

In his essay on working with trauma in analysis, Donald Kalsched touches on the importance of recognizing the partial cure problem: “However we visualize it, the self care system accomplishes a partial cure of trauma, enough so that life continues, despite dissociation and its effects in limiting a person’s full potential. When people come for psychoanalysis they often don’t know that this partial cure is in place, nor do they expect that their identities, informed for many years by ‘interpretation’ from the self care system, will have to be ‘deconstructed’ in the course of therapy.” (my italics)

In reality, most people will not be afforded the option of analysis. Still, we all will struggle with the price of psyche’s solution enabling us to survive unbearable trauma: until we are able to rewire the disconnect we will be unable to truly be vulnerable again. This opening to re-connection process necessitates a level of conscious remembering and suffering through the original wound(s).

The partial cure is very useful place to start in framing up the problem:

  1. Consider the core defense system constructed to bring us through and into adult life is informed by interpretations from psyche’s self care system;
  2. This defense is the mechanism by which we maintain the original(s) split;
  3. This split, or what we can think of as a core disconnect, is the evidence of continued existence of trauma contained in encapsulated episodic memories;
  4. These encapsulated episodic memories – by definition hidden from conscious view – inform/contaminate our emotional responses to here and now moments in the emergence of the blur;
  5. By design, to the degree they are well encapsulated, we cannot directly access the original wound;
  6. If we think in terms of image and affect, the scene of the original wound, as an overwhelming emotional experience, swallowed whole, is the episodic memory in need of effective encapsulation.
  7. Perhaps psyche’s encapsulation function has its equivalency in nature in the oyster’s ability to create a (see) pearl: “A natural pearl begins its life inside an oyster’s shell when an intruder, such as a grain of sand or bit of floating food, slips in between one of the two shells of the oyster … and the protective layer that covers the … organs, called the mantle. In order to protect itself from irritation, the oyster will quickly begin covering the uninvited visitor with layers of nacre — the mineral substance that fashions the mollusk’s shells. Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed.”
  8. In this respect, the partial cure could be imaged as a complex set of defenses which, layer upon layer over time, serve to maintain the disconnect with the help of the encapsulation. What this means is we can function, in spite of the fact the intruding/invasive irritant is still present.
  9. The inability to remember significant traumatic experiences suggests to me the partial cure facilitated disconnect is still being employed to protect us from the historically overwhelming original wound(s).
  10. Until we can find a way to reconnect, it is as if one’s most sensitive, loving, vulnerable little kid, in essence the human embodiment of the divine child, remains lost, kidnapped, somehow locked out of the present moment.

Take Two: Conscious Enactment

December 10, 2016

Conscious Enactment: from the Blur to Healing and Wholeness

What do I mean by the concept of  conscious enactment?

Let’s start with what it isn’t. Take a moment to reflect on an encounter with the blur.

When the blur is working, we believe in the reality of the manifest content. This means what gets our attention is our here and now problem, and our best guidance is too call it out and commit to resolving it together through conscious action. Sounds good. But, from the dream time perspective, if either of us has a sense of there is more here, something about the tone and intensity of the problem or need, then we want to consider the blur aspect.

This means examining the difficulty from the perspective of microfractures in communication.

What is being shown through the blur is an out-picturing of an original wounding episode(s). Psyche’s shorthand is to reduce this to an experiential state scene: something has happened, self and composite other are captured with expressions reflecting the core primary affects associated with the scene, eg: shame, abandonment, fear, anxiety.

This is the layer of the latent content.

In short, I am proposing conscious enactment as the intention to revisit the blur for the purpose of  surfacing the underlying experiential state driver of the microfracture.

Hence, take two. We want to embrace as many takes as it takes(!) to satisfy the opening and experience the deeper affects and witnessing attendant to the recovery of split off emotional life.

One more important idea: from the co-created system perspective, it is helpful to consider each participant is contributing to the core material being evoked through the blur. When consciousness can not contain an activation, if the complex is allowed to expand and split, then the figures in the experiential state, eg: raging/abandoning parent and reactive terrified child, will each attempt to hijack the ego and command the bus. When this happens, with the split, the “other” is projected onto the environment. We are both at risk for being possessed by either of the complex entities. This dance is now in the service of the re-enactment of the wounding. When one can see the blur as a kind of threshold, the opportunity for deeper healing is at hand.

In calling for Conscious Enactment, I am proposing we turn our attention to identifying the experiential state component hypothesized to be driving any blur state.

How directly might we make the shift from wound/defense to opening to the opportunity to have the most longed for dialogue? Can we imagine what would be the most satisfying expression of connection for both parties? This is the guiding image take two: conscious enactment strives for through this consciously authentic encounter. We can’t will it to occur, but it seems we can create the conditions to support dropping into the depth of the wound and then/there, bring something to the moment which was unavailable at the time of the wounding. This is what heals the complex, in some happy moment.

The micro-fracture in communication again offers a simple template: ruptures are the way in, repair and reconciliation of both the present and original wound the way to wholeness and health. More to follow…

Couple Power Struggle as Compromise Formation?

October 24, 2016

As I’ve been exploring the idea our most challenging and repetitive intimate partner conflicts may be generated by our dueling partial cures, Freud’s discussion of dreams and compromise formations popped into my head in the middle of the night. The unbidden thought/question was: Is it possible what we can remember and report about a painful fight is really the waking dream equivalent of a dream’s manifest content? I recalled Freud’s view of dream work is that the dream we remember – the “manifest” dream is actually a compromise formation: a psychic product, symptom, symbol, or dream form that expresses simultaneously and partially satisfies both the unconscious impulse and the defense against it.” (For more on manifest versus latent contents, see link below.)

What gets our attention, what we fight about, is something we can think about. Something deeper, and sensed to be threatening at some level, remains hidden – latent – from consciousness . (see link below) The compromise formation is psyche’s camouflage tool.

So what about the unconscious impulse and the defense against it? The Wilkinson discussion of micro-fractures in communication comes to mind. Micro-fractures as manifest content carry a charge reflective of a compromise formation dynamic at work. Through the opening/piercing they provide, something unintended is shown to us. What is being shown at some level can be thought of as an out-picturing of “raw material from the patient’s internal world and history.” As compromise formations, these spontaneously expressed offerings can become the engine of self – other analysis. Note it is best to recognize by definition that what is being revealed is wearing camouflage, and all parties want to respect the dynamics at play to keep hidden the true meaning until the conditions are favorable.

The phenomenon of the blur, as an altered and altering state of emotional consciousness, provides an important bridge between the here and now and the unconscious-to-ego “latent” contents. When triggered, internally or externally, activating complexes, if unchecked, provide the stage, actors, and script for the purpose of re-enacting the wounding. That is, until such time as one or both can gather enough consciousness to wake up within this dream.

How might it shift the dialogue to consider, mutually, what we are fighting about in the blur reflects to some degree a manifest content? Note one does not want to ask is this or is this not the real fight we’re having. Rather, if something of our reality is defensive, in what ways might this reflect our co-created manifest content? And if so, how might we  penetrate the defensive camouflage? Recall, if manifest content rules are in play, psyche is allowing into consciousness material which expresses simultaneously and partially satisfies both the unconscious impulse and the defense against it.

A simple example which comes to mind is if we argue about who gets to drive the bus and something about your tone awakes my inner child, I am likely to project my shaming parental figure/introject onto you. My impulse might be to scream or cry out “NO! I want this, that, or the other” but, fearful I might sound like a two year old, and/or be shamed or punished for trying to have a say, I may hold back, in silence or protest. The defenses responsible for our early survival will kick in automatically and silence the impulse to be heard, to matter, to be a part of all that is good in the family. How are the defenses enabling our survival then still being deployed today? Getting to the core character building origins of his/herstories is never easy.

I am struck with the overlap between the concept of compromise formation and Jung’s view of the symbol. An image functioning as a symbol both informs us about, while at the same time protects us from, an emerging, essential to conscious life awareness. Jung (1921) defined the symbol as “the best possible designation or formula for something relatively unknown yet recognized to be present, or required.” (Jung, C.G., CW6)

Is it possible the blur, when recognized for what it is, may be the best possible designation or formula for something relatively unknown yet recognized to be present, or required? For more on this see my section on Complexes as Bridge to the Symbolic World in the Psycho-Educational Symbolic Overview, or my exploration of the teleology of the complex in Musings on Metamorphosis post.

When one can see the unconsciousness present in the blur as an unbidden opportunity, one can get perhaps more  wholeheartedly embrace the suffering which comes with the piercing of the the veil of camouflage. In telling our stories we create opportunities to reminisce deeply, experience again more and more of the original affects. We practice embracing our lost selves, taking care of them and bringing them home.

The take away is be on the look out for mysterious movements and meanings. The participation mystique is more than an abstract concept!

Here is more response ease for Freud’s use of manifest versus latent dream content:

“Manifest content
The manifest content can be interpreted as the information that the conscious individual remembers experiencing. It consists of all the elements of actual images, thoughts, and content within the dream that the individual is cognitively aware of upon awakening. Illustrated through iceberg imagery, the manifest content would be identified as the “tip”: it is barely exposed above the surface with an enormous portion still hidden underneath. As the hallmark of psychoanalytic theory suggests, what is observed on the surface is only a partial representation of the vastness that lies beneath (Friedman & Schustack, 2012). Although images may initially appear bizarre and nonsensical, individual analysis of the dream can reveal its underlying meaning.

Latent content
Related to yet distinctly separate from manifest content, the latent content of the dream illustrates the hidden meaning of one’s unconscious thoughts, drives, and desires. The unconscious mind actively suppresses what can be revealed from the latent content in order to protect the individual from primitive feelings that are particularly difficult to cope with. Freud (1900) believed that by uncovering the meaning of one’s hidden motivations and deeper ideas, an individual could successfully understand his or her internal struggles through eventually resolving issues that create tension in their lives. In contrast to the information easily recognizable, latent content makes up everything underneath the surface. Illustrated once again through iceberg imagery, the depth of meaning that can be derived from examining this layer can reveal deeper underlying thoughts within an individual’s unconscious.”

Connecting the Dots: A Case for Embracing Conscious Enactment

June 8, 2016

My intention with this post, the first in my connecting the dots series of posts, is to pull from my pages the cluster of most helpful frames on universal problems and needs, in language everyone can hope to get working for themselves. Like it or not, we are all agents of consciousness, and when we can understand the importance of our conflicts in bringing us back into the wound that never seems to heal, we can perhaps access the guidance available within us to win our healing, self and other, together, in some happy moment. , It is, after all, a co-created system. This dot is about death and rebirth. Here we go.

Let’s start with a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The Holy Longing”:

“Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the mass man will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you,
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter.
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

Translated from the German by Robert Bly

The opening Tell a wise person, or else keep silent is cautionary. It seems Goethe knows something about the mass man who will mock it right away. I believe he is referring to this same mass man when he suggests And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.

Until we are able to bring consciousness to our experiences of death and rebirth, we will be a troubled guest on a dark earth. This is an initiatory process. Learning to get one’s binocular vision back on line – the capacity to look both out and in with consciousness  – separates one from the herd. Honoring the reality of inner work puts one at risk for being discounted and shamed by those who have do not have a relationship with their inner work; having a sense of being locked out of one’s inner life is a kind of terrible darkness indeed. The price one pays in tolerating this state of being locked out brings Stafford to mind: “I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.” Reacting defensively to an invitation to share feelings is an engaging form of emotional disconnection.

From a trauma informed perspective, Sandner observed: “Death and rebirth are the mythological symbol for a psychological event: loss of conscious control, and submission to an influx of symbolic material from the unconscious.”

Emotionally overwhelming episodes – what I think of as wounds of overwhelm – introduce us to the archetypal world of mythology and the dream time, while the ego is in a state of unconsciousness.

It is critical to recognize psychological events associated with loss of conscious control may be split off from ego consciousness; at the same time they will be conscious, but not to the ego.

And until trauma, as incomplete initiatory experience, can be worked through, re-integrated into consciousness, psyche relies heavily on dissociation and projection. To be continued…