Archive for the ‘Transference and Countertransference’ category

Source: “…the important units of recall are the occasions of repeated interaction.”

June 25, 2020

The source quotes below are from The Journey of Child Development, Selected papers of Joseph D. Noshpitz. I appreciated his description of the layers of infant experiences which contribute to Daniel Stern’s conceptualization of representations of interactions that have been generalized (RIGs). The image of RIGS helps us understand the origins of what was presented to me as the nucleus of the experiential state: the composite scene/image of the episode(s), one’s self in relationship to the other, standing in for all the others, and the associated affect, as reflected in the totality of the expressions in the moment of impact.

Let’s hear now directly from Dr. Noshpitz:

“…let us turn our attention to actual details of the process of recall: what are the elements babies use to construct inner images? It is evident that one of the elements of experience that has particular valence for babies is the encounter with the significant other. For infants, this 3- to -9 month period is a time of extraordinary pressure toward socialization. Another way of saying that is to state flatly that during this interval all babies fall intensely, passionately, head over heals in love with their mommies. They cannot get enough of her; nothing means as much. They yearn for her when they do not have her at hand, light up when they see her, reach for her when she comes near, and crow when they touch her. Smiling has appeared, social smiling in response to other’s presence, with a special smile for the beloved mommy. Hence, in laying down memory traces, special emphasis should be given to these moments of intense interactive experience with the loved one as begetters of memories.

It is therefore not surprising that Stern suggests that the important units of recall are the occasions of repeated interaction. Thus, a feeding experience, a mother-infant play session, or some other such exchange between the two is the likeliest place to look for the groundwork of memory constructs. What happens then is that the interactions between the mother and infant become familiar; their quality is both anticipated and predictable. A feeding is a comparable sequence of positionings, holdings, lookings, sucklings, with a fairly standard pattern of overall conduct of self and other as the process continues. Babies lay down a memory trace of such an exchange, then add another of very similar character the next time, and then another, and yet another as time advances.

At this point, however, if Stern is correct, a remarkable thing happens. Babies begin to average out these experiences and to construct a model of how the experience should go. It were as though a generalized representation of the interaction emerged from the recurrent encounters, an image that can serve as a basis for predicting and judging the character of the next such encounter. Stern calls these representations of interactions that have been generalized RIGs). These RIGs are the building blocks of the core self, islands of consistency that form and coalesce out of the welter of infantile experience. They provide the basic material for constructing a sense of self as well as a sense of other.

It is my view that these early generalized representations are a unique and precious achievement to infants. In effect, each one is a work of art, a creation, their own rendering of a series of intense and valued experiences into a concentrated and succinct whole. There is a quality here of recording unifying it, distilling its essence and capturing its quality, and this, I believe, is central to the aesthetic encounter with a work of art, whether as creator or as viewer.

It is important to keep in mind the central role of these RIGs. They provide the bricks to build the mansion of the sense of self. They give infants the agency, the intensity, the coherence, and the continuity that together make for a continuing awareness of inner presence, inner integrity. They are dynamic presences, constantly undergoing small changes as each new experience is summed into the average, yet they are static in the sense of being repeats of the same kind of sequence over and over; this is what offers the sense of self the necessary stability and continuity and engenders the feeling of knowing one is there and who one is.” (pages 70-71)

As a conceptual tool, the experiential state gives us a way to think about our history as it contributes to our memory banks at the level of these RIGs. It seems our work in becoming conscious – recognizing enactments as blur moments – will involve connecting the dots between present day conflicts and our corresponding RIGs origin experiences.

To be continued.

 

 

 

Stern: “The experienced micro-world always enters awareness but only sometimes enters consciousness (verbalizable awareness).”

June 10, 2020

This source quote comes from a paper by Beatrice Beebe, Ph.D.,  Daniel Stern: Microanalysis and the Empirical Infant Research Foundations

I will be following this up with more descriptions of representations of interactions that have been generalized over time (RIGs). For me, this is the level of experience informing the experiential state images of self-other-affect. In opening to recognizing the blur we then have the opportunity to be with that which is trying to surface, via the enactment. By definition of the terms, we do not have language for the subsymbolic core. (See my Philip Bromberg post Enactment: Problem AND Solution?) We really want to try to get comfortable enough to simply be with the emerging experience, and try to find language together; this is the process for bringing the blur into conscious, symbolic awareness. The microfractures in communication quotes go well with this layer of material.

“The experienced micro-world always enters awareness but only sometimes enters consciousness (verbalizable awareness). [Stern, 2004, p. xiv]

Stern operated at the interface of the empirical analysis of mother-infant communication, systems theories, philosophy, neuroscience, and psychoanalysis. Dyadic face-to-face communication was the focus. Using the method of frame-by-frame microanalysis of film, moment-by-moment interaction sequences became the center of his thinking: miniplots of brief interaction scenarios. He described the reciprocal dyadic communication process across time: Each partner is changing with the other. Miniplots of the temporal-spatial-affective flow of each partner changing in relation to that of the other became his definition of procedural representations. Stern emphasized the primacy of time and temporal process over more static notions of psychological organization. Most fundamentally, Stern’s work in microanalysis has changed what one can see, and thus what one can know. His work fostered a dynamic, interactive model of the organization of experience. The foundation of experience, the origin of mind, and the key to change in psychotherapy are found in the moment-by- moment interactive process itself.

Dan’s fascination with the micro-momentary details of the present moment, which became the title of one of his books (Stern, 2004), was the core of his inspiration and talent. In the preface to that book he wrote,

In considering the micro-world of the present moment, I first thought of the working title, A world in a grain of sand from William Blake. … It captured the size of the small world revealed by micro-analysis. … One can often see the larger panorama of someone’s past and current life in the small behaviors and mental acts making up this micro-world. … Seeing the world at this scale of reality changes what can be seen [italics added] and thus changes our basic conceptions. [Stern, 2004, p. xiv]”

The Blake poem referenced by Stern above opens with:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.”

 


Enactments: Setting the table…together

January 11, 2020

In the post below, Enactments: Problem AND Solution? I brought forward some of Philip Bromberg’s observations on the meaning and role of enactments in work with trauma survivors. My Setting the table…together title is shorthand for the importance of our efforts to get our own enactment experiences out on the table, in a manner that is useful to the patient. When a rupture occurs, how we struggle together with the hidden meaning (recognizing the subsymbolic mode of being for the gift that it is, and working directly too bring it into the symbolic mode through our shared discovery process) is the work; yours and mine. When something disrupts/disallows our working this rupture/enactment through together, we will be unsettled as hell. How about them apples!

A part of this that I find so helpful, and so resonant with my interest in the meaning and implication/application of healing only occurs in the blur, is the emphasis on focusing on the emergence, via enactments, of the subsymbolic world.

Again and again Bromberg brings us back to the idea of one dissociative process conditions for another; the work is in our engagement with what shows up, palpably, in co-created dissociative enactments. For this to be fruitful, he suggests:

“During the analytic process, a main part of the analyst’s job is to find words to get his own experience of enacted communication out on the table in a manner that facilitates the patient’s ability to do the same….”

Furthermore, citing Levenson, Bromberg illustrates “…how the analyst’s being pulled into an enactment is not a technical error but an inevitability. (and) … how working one’s way out of the mess of an enactment is a core ingredient of therapeutic action, and how neither patient nor analyst can free himself from the grip of a “mess” without the others help.

Pause on that one: being pulled into an enactment is not a technical error but an inevitability. And: neither patient nor analyst can free himself from the grip of a “mess” without the others help.

Here we have direct support for privileging (my choice of words) the analyst’s efforts to find words for his/her/they own experience of enacted communication.

The idea of privileging the detail finding words to get his own experience of enacted communication out on the table is interesting from the legal sense of the word. It seems to point to an exemption. An exemption from best practices? We do take seriously our responsibility to maintain a conscious observing presence throughout our work with patients; at the same time, this direct support for acknowledging the presence of the subsymbolic layer, as manifested in tracking our enactments, yours and mine, seems to suggest having an active relationship with one’s own unconsciousness, in the service of meeting the patient in their subsymbolic experience, is a most critical component.

Given that, we could ask, would we be comfortable saying getting activated and submitting to a dissociation enabled co-created enactment is a component of best practice? The question is a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps the answer is: “by degrees.” If the therapist, or trainer, or organizational leader, or intimate partner, and so forth, slips into an intense moment of unconsciousness with an acting out component, for all who could see, to see, then what? My advocacy for thinking in blur terms conceptually, is the recognition the violation, as a betrayal of trust, is initiatory for the one on the receiving end of the enactment.

Recall I have suggested that in the absence of good enough ritual elders, traumas can be lived through, but remain essentially incomplete initiatory experiences. At some point, in the midlife or later, we need to open up this encapsulated, episodic memory centered trauma complex in order to re-integrate the split off material and thereby gain conscious wisdom in the ways of the world.

Importantly, perhaps more so if the originator of the wounding is in a leadership position, if the enactment is met with enough consciousness to help the originator get his own experience of enacted communication out on the table, this episode can be deeply initiatory for both/all participants. Given the relative primitiveness of these defenses, offending parties may not be able to use the resources available to surrender to the transformative opening, as John Perry observes in some happy moment. Clinically speaking, for the originator to resist direct participation in the working through is not a conscious choice. We bear witness, and contain the enactment as consciously as we can.

I prefer coding these episodes as re-enactments of the wounding in that the scene, when formulated into an experiential state image, points back to the entire relationship histories of both parties present in the action. That the trusted other presents not as her/they/his known self, but in a possessed state, can be shocking, stunning, deeply upsetting, infuriating, but, really, when I am triggered by anothers submitting to an enactment, pulling me in to add my fuel to the fire, I do want to look primarily at my vulnerability to being confused about what is really going on. This is what co-created means. If I can only focus on what the other did, in this real time moment, I will be stuck feeding the complex, and continue to suffer the re-traumatization of the wound that informed my trigger. Together we have reinforced enough intensity in the conflict between us to disallow either the opportunity to breathe and drop into the core. When one can see the core driving the enactment, one can begin to consider what type of conscious enactment, or portrayal, might enable a transformative shift.

Citing Levenson and Sullivan’s work, Bromberg suggests … “working in the moment with transference and counter-transference experience provides the most powerful context for therapeutic growth.”

“… The process of consensually finding the ‘right words,’ language that symbolizes a new shared reality, is the basis for the development of intersubjectivity where it did not exist... When patient and analyst can each access and openly share their dissociated experience that has been too dangerous to their relationship to be formulated cognitively, the process through which this takes place begins to enlarge the domain and fluency of the dialogue and leads to increasingly integrated and complex content that becomes symbolized linguistically and thus available to self-reflection and conflict resolution…”

“I thus argue that what has been labeled the analyst’s self revelation, if used as a negotiable element in the ongoing relationship, is not only permissible but also necessary: a part of the developmental process that Fonagy … calls mentalization, through which subsymbolic experience is allowed to become a part of the relational self rather than being interminably enacted. …”

“…the Boston group’s findings support the view that “process leads content, so that no particular content needs to be pursued; rather the enlarging of the domain and fluency of the dialogue is primary and will lead to increasingly integrated and complex content…”

On a side note, Christopher Bollas has written beautifully on the image of countertransference readiness. There are always two patients in the the consultation room: “… the other source of the analysand’s free association is the psychoanalyst’s countertransference, so much so that in order to find the patient we must look for him within ourselves. This process inevitably points to the fact that there are two ‘patients’ within the session and therefore two complementary sources of free association.”

These combination of observations, or what sound like core clinical truths, all point to the importance of finding a way to be present in the therapy in one’s own depth process, including what I am calling the blur.

Enactment: Problem AND Solution?

January 6, 2020

Author comments on re-posting this: I am moving this to the top of the posts as I think it is one comprehensive way into this symbol system. The work is in the details. My seemingly endless emphasis on the importance of recognizing the blur – because healing only occurs in the blur – reflects how difficult this concept is, until you can see it. Philip Bromberg’s reflections on subsymbolic and symbolic modes of being and the role of enactments in bringing lost parts of ourselves into consciousness, is not to be missed. In terms of my contribution, it seems, limited as it may be, it is important to recognize these dynamics for their profound implications. Translation: we need to stop blaming each other for our core unhappiness. If psyche chose well, and I am always working to track how that is so, our partner is bringing exactly what we need to surface our deeper awareness and resources (see the Exteriorization of the Inner Antagonist post).

If you can accept the premise that the only way split off trauma complexes can come into consciousness is through driving enactments, then you can begin to focus on dropping into all the attendant feelings, sensations, levels and layers of experience, that give a chance for the blur to guide the encounter. What is trying to show up through the repetition compulsion or re-enactment of the wounding, is a time transport. In my post on metamorphosis I postulated the teleology of a complex was to preserve access to the original episodic memory triggered by something in this moment. Effectively encapsulated split off trauma complexes are doomed to remain unintegrated until such time when the resources have been developed to give effective aid to those present at the time of the wounding. What this mean, here, now, is when you find yourself exasperated and overwhelmed by what seems to be the endless repetition of your couple’s mistake, you embrace the possibility it is indeed a co-created system; together you have activated or constellated the blur, and, taking each other by the hand, you dodge the presenting death threat, and prepare to bear witness together. Shifting from the familiar power struggle, you may be rewarded with the surfacing of an original wound. Embrace all the vulnerabilty rushing in with this recognition!

I’ve referenced this as the Jumanji finesse. We accept life threw the dice and now something emergent is trying to kill (as in fall overboard and drown) us! Can we work together to access the the true symbolic death? While more and more having the presence of mind to keep breathing and experience more of this origin story? l have related to this from Freud’s manifest dream versus latent dream formulation. We tend to be distracted by what we can think about – which – will be defensive. We really need each others full support to connect with the deeper threat, fear, meaning. So on with becoming advocates for finding language for our co-created enactments…

The inspiration for this post comes from my recent review of Philip Bromberg’s chapter section on enactment and self-revelation. (see Bromberg, Philip M., Awakening the Dreamer, p. 135). I have recently been very excited to explore the origins of the concept of enactment from Freud’s early work forward. More recent wonderful papers are tying in enactment with all the neuro-biological research, and my sense is we are at a crossroads in understanding how all this comes together.

In short, historically, it seems enactment is a term which attempts to describe an event or episode in the therapy process wherein some degree of unconsciousness drives some degree of acting out; in the moment, either the patient, the therapist, or both could find themselves embodying the transference-counter-transference projections and introjections constellated by the working relationship. They find themselves in the soup, together. The quality of this felt experience reflects what Jung called the participation mystique. In relationship to my mission and contributions here, I am advocating we consider opening the concept to include the unconscious in everyday life, eg: you, me, all of us; think microfractures in communication.

Back to Bromberg: What got my attention was his referencing Wilma Bucci’s work that further seemed to simplify the complexity of what I am calling the blur. For me, the radical idea is captured in the recognition of the importance of getting triggered. Our vulnerability to getting triggered informs us about our priority, or what-is-approaching-readiness-for-emergence, unfinished emotional business. Something in the present moment has evoked a response informed by an invarient organizing principle.

Bromberg opens with the observation: “Enactment is a phenomenon that is not about denial or avoidance of internal conflict; it is a part of the natural functioning of the mind that is simply doing what evolution has adapted it to do in two discrete modes of information processing.”

“One mode, the ‘subsymbolic‘ (Bucci, 1997a), is organized at the level of body experience as ‘emotion schemas‘ that make their presence known affectively, through a person’s ‘ways of being‘; the second mode, the ‘symbolic,’ is organized at the level of cognitive awareness and is communicated through verbal language.”

So here we are invited to recognize subsymbolic and symbolic as two distinct experiences of being present in relationship (both self-with-parts-of-self, self-with-parts-of-other). It seems conceptually the blur is what you get when you combine one’s ‘ways of being’ with an attitude. In line with the blur, something internal is trying to move from the subsymbolic world into the symbolic world. The trouble, no matter how troubling, is meaningful. (See my Couple Experiential State Complex as Activated Threshold discussion.)

He goes on to tie in the role of trauma in setting up the core defenses associated with the subsymbolic world: “When emotional experience is traumatic (more than the mind can bear), it remains unsymbolized cognitively, and the mind recruits the normal mental function of dissociation as a means of controlling both the triggering of unprocessed emotion schemas that were created by trauma and the release of ungovernable affect of hyperarousal that could threaten to destabilize its function.” After trying to paraphrase this sound bite, I decided just to bold it as it is a very important frame on this work.

He then states the importance of this in terms of how psychoanalysis works with enactment: “Enactment in psychoanalysis is a dyadic dissociative process through which the patient’s trauma–derived emotion schemas make themselves known and potentially available to consciousness. When enacted dissociative experience is processed relationally, internal conflict and its potential resolution increasingly become possible.” (Chuck’s bold)

From this we recognize the traumas that required splitting defenses to manage/survive at the time of the injury will have their subsymbolic component, and it is just this not yet fully conscious or integrated layer, level, or trauma complex within that sets up, or manifests in one’s ‘ways of being‘.

First, Ways of being? This is quite a descriptor. Kids being kids comes to mind. I am thinking this captures something about how we move through the world when we’re not entirely conscious. Like, when we have identified a best practice, but are happily not remembering it on the way to the coffee shop for an afternoon shot and a cookie! Or, we get triggered and upset, say things that don’t ring true, can’t not get defensive…in short, we get complexed. (Just to bring back in the distinctly Jungian!)

And second, in suggesting “When enacted dissociative experience is processed relationally, internal conflict and its potential resolution increasingly become possible,” Bromberg is inviting us to reflect on how important it is for us to establish a symbolic relationship with the subsymbolic layer. This necessitates we embrace our own subsymbolic layer, in the service of being experientially available to the patient’s subsymbolic self. This shared, co-created experience directly enables us, together, to find language to symbolize that which has been subsymbolic for important psychodynamic reasons. Working through this blur moment, consciously struggling and finding meaning and words together, helps bring it all into the symbolic mode.

Self-regulation of dissociated, and thus potentially out of control, affective experience can take place only by activating and cognitively symbolizing in the session itself what Bucci (1997a) calls subsymbolic experience that formerly could only be enacted.” Note, the self-regulation can take place only by activating and cognitively symbolizing the subsymbolic layer in the session itself. For me, this must be the origin of the observation healing only occurs in the blur.

Bromberg suggests “During the analytic process, a main part of the analyst’s job is to find words to get his own experience of enacted communication out on the table in a manner that facilitates the patient’s ability to do the same.” This is direct support for both parties, patient and therapist for focusing attentions on the rumblings of our mutually activated-activating subsymbolic felt experience, and finding words of welcome for their symbolic expression.

Here in some different language is a lengthy observation from Donald Sandner and John Beebe on this work: “…Working through any split requires not only disidentification by the ego from the more familiar pole of the complex, but also affective recognition of the contrary pole. Such recognition requires immersion in the side that has been unconscious. There is an unconscious tendency toward wholeness and relief of tension that fosters the emergence, under accepting conditions such as analysis, of the repressed pole. The consequence is that least temporary possession by unfamiliar contents is a regular part of the life and of the analytic process, an inevitable prelude to the integration of unconscious portions of the Self.”

temporary possession by unfamiliar contents seems like another way to describe the experience of subsymbolic material finding it’s way into one’s in-the-moment experience; while it may feel like being possessed by something unfamiliar, yet, so familiar, we want to bear witness together.

If I think about what is it precisely that I am most interested in getting across to you, it is that when we encounter the blur we want to understand the adaptive, evolutionary meaning, or point: counter intuitive as it may be for many, it is in this blur – feeling real threat – that we have the potential – within and only within – the good enough holding relationship – to access and transform the formerly subsymbolic, trauma complex experience.

For one last reflection, I encourage you to check out Bromberg’s description of the contemporary view of the goal of psychoanalysis being not the discovery of the egg, symbolizing unconscious fantasy which can be pieced together, but rather:

“… it is increasingly recognized that the “egg” can manifestly be brought into palpable existence by accepting that the “egg” is not buried content but the symbolization of a dissociated relational process that is not unearthed, but mutually co-created through enactment.” (my italics)

We want to notice what is palpably in the room. And, we want to respect our own contributions to the energetic field formation. Note the co-created aspect… The patient brings in their inner figures, and we lend our bodies, minds, hearts and souls to the enactment and discovery process. How amazing it is!

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Recent Comment and (Un)Ease of Dialogue

September 16, 2019

I received an interesting comment/reflection from ES recently in response to my Complexes page, and while I generated my own reflection on his issue, it took me a while to find the origin post/page, in order to see our exchange. What comes to mind is how I would like to have a more accessible “general” comments flow, perhaps visible on the top page above the latest post. I will be working on how to accomplish this with the WordPress Happiness Engineers. Note my pages, found to the right, are fixed. Below them are my posts from most recent on back, and below them are my source quotes, close to alphabetized by author or topic.

Thank you for your patience!

Thinking About Microfractures (Again!)

April 25, 2019

In am bringing to the top page an earlier post titled: Microfractures in Communication: So What’s the Big Deal? Check out the post and take a moment to go to the Wilkinson link for the description of the importance of the rupture, repair, and reconciliation cycle. This is as good as it gets in terms of recognizing the importance of getting triggered.

One of the most important concepts to get working in your own language is captured in this single powerful quote within a  quote:

“… microfractures in communication between patient and analyst are vital because they allow the transference to become ‘the engine of analysis, by contributing raw material from the patient’s internal world and history’.” See  Wilkinson on Microfractures

This observation applies to the transference arising in our personal relationships as well. We all need a way to recognize the raw material which will find a way to present its bill, as Alice Miller observed.

Emotionally charged reactions to what might normally be considered small breakdowns in our communication point directly to the raw material of unfinished emotional business.

In a blur moment, the hurt or offense taken by one or both parties at some level can be understood or seen as an out-picturing of an experiential state scene.

The quote suggests these unintended ruptures, in letting the raw material into the space we hold together, become the engine of the analysis. These are the grist for the mill. While we can always try to do our best, planning for the inevitable microfractures that will show up allows us embrace the blur with awareness and curiosity, not negative judgement. What can we learn about ourselves, each other? (see discussion on getting one’s buttons pushed)

This is another way to understand the positive aspect of “healing only occurs in the blur.” We need to support the necessity of going there with enough consciousness to gain our freedom from the unconsciousness driving the re-enactment of the wounding.

Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984, by Polly Young-Eisendrath (Source Quotes)

November 18, 2018

These source quotes are part of Polly Young-Eisendrath’s set up for the telling of the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell: “What is it that women desire most, above all else?” She orients us to the relationship problems associated with the loss of basic trust, and a cluster of associated archetypal energies: the archetypal feminine, the archetypal masculine, the Great Mother, the Terrible Mother, and the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex.

”The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell provides a unique map or template through which to view a woman’s response to loss of basic trust. Basic trust is defined as both a sense of “continuity of being” (to use D. W. Winnicott’s term) in relationship and as the experience of secure reliance on another person to provide for one’s primary emotional needs within the interpersonal field of that relationship. Basic trust is synonymous here with attachment and specifically related to John Bowlby’s concepts of attachment and loss in human relationship.

The attachment of infant to parent is the initial interpersonal field in which the archetypes of Great Mother and Terrible Mother, as typical human experiences, are activated… we need only the images of the Great and Terrible Mother, of the provident goddess and the dreaded hag, to help us grasp the characteristics of attachment that we will explore. More specifically, when a woman feels continuous and “held,” or adequately embraced, in a relationship of basic trust… she experiences herself as an agentive “person.” As members of our species, we are “personal” when we feel ourselves to be agents of our own lives (or “useful” to others) and to be worthwhile or esteemed. We feel ourselves to be contributing members of our species, reflected by our partners as adequate, agentive and valued.

The image of Great Mother, as authority and nurturer, is the positive emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “good.” Interpersonally, it is the experience of being loved, held and nurtured by the other, of feeling oneself as good. We all need Great Mother experiences to feel that our nurturance is bountiful and powerfully good. The image of Terrible Mother, as savage goddess or hag, is the negative and overwhelming emotional experience of knowing one’s love is “bad” and feeling oneself as ugly, mean, overwhelming and destructive. Both negative and positive attachment experiences involve strength and power; both are necessary in relationship, but neither should become the dominant mode for personal identity on a continuing basis. As with other archetypal states, Great Mother and Terrible Mother are transitory identity experiences which are “bigger” then the person.

The story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell sketches out in a clear and practical way the problem of identifying with the hag or Terrible Mother. The hag, nag or bitch of contemporary couple relationships is quite prominent in psychotherapy literature as the domineering, suffocating, and overwhelming mother who must control family life at everyone’s expense. Through the help of the story, we come to respect the hag and to see her dilemma empathically. We learn that when relationships reach a breakdown in basic trust, when all rational solutions have failed and both partners are alienated, we should listen to the hag. Only she knows the answers that we’ll restore trust to the relationship.” (pp. 10-11)

The Importance of the Archetypal Feminine

For our purposes here, the archetypal feminine is the province of relating and caregiving. This is the domain of sustaining human and natural life within the human group. In other words, it concerns joining, attachment and involvement with people, things, and ideas. Its opposite, the archetypal masculine is the domain of distancing and separating. The masculine is characterized here as binding off, separating from, and aggression toward nature and human beings for survival purposes. The masculine involves dividing and separating, waging war and making boundaries, as well as analyzing people, things and ideas as opposed to the experience of joining with them. The following statement from Peggy Sanday, an anthropologist who has studied gender-related power differences in over 150 tribal and modern societies, further clarifies these distinctions as they pertain to human relating and culture:

‘One is struck with the degree to which the sexes conform to a rather basic conceptual symmetry, which is grounded in primary sex differences. Women give birth and growth children; men kill and make weapons. Men display their kills (be it an animal, a human head, or a scalp) with the same pride that women hold up the newly born. If birth and death are among the necessities of existence, then men and women contribute equally but in quite different ways to the continuance of life, and hence of culture.’ (Peggy Sanday Female Power and Male Dominance; On the Origins of Sexual Inequality, p. 5.

Because there are serious anthropological questions about whether these archetypal themes of “primary sex differences” are actually universally sorted out along the same gender lines i.e. feminine for women and masculine for men, I do not assume that women and men represent these archetypal domains through their gender identities. Rather, I’ve come to see both domains as potentially available to each gender for both identity and action purposes.

Our story helps us to understand what happens in intimate relations when the ordinary tasks of caregiving – managing a household, rearing children, sustaining emotional contact and soothing and healing wounds are devalued. When women and men devalue these activities, whether consciously or unconsciously, they fall into those habitual patterns and modes of relating which are connoted by the Jungian idea of the negative mother complex. This complex comprises behaviors, ideas, images and feelings that are concerned with escaping the intimacy of giving and receiving care. The negative mother complex is thus related to the idea of devaluing or excising the feminine from one’s identity and activity.

In our present society, men have a tendency to devalue the feminine in themselves and in women. Many feminine attributes are considered ”weakness” in traditional male gender identity. Consequently, men struggle to exclude and differ with women and with the concerns of care-giving in order to maintain separate identities as males…

Since women are the primary caretakers during almost everyone’s childhood years, the voice of female authority rings powerful tones. Men do not simply differ from women rationally or objectively; they often feel what Karen Horney has called “dread of women” and feel compelled to fight the feminine (both inside and outside) in order to experience any personal power in their male identity.

Women, on the other hand, must identify both with the devalued, “inferior” aspects of the feminine and with the powerful projections of female authority. Women feel at once too weak and too powerful in their mothering and authority. When basic trust is low and devaluing the feminine is high, then a woman tends to feel quite wholly identified with the negative and inferior powers of the hag, the witch or the Terrible Mother.” (pp. 12-13.)

“…We are ready, now, to turn to the story of Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell, which poses the question: “What do women really want?” This question, more than any other, provides a guide for us in doing therapy with couples who have lost basic attachment and trust in their relationships. Furthermore, it is a question which can lead us to the liberation and revaluing of the feminine both inside and out, in ourselves and in the lives of all men and women, for it directs us to the very heart of our humanity, to a concern for intimate relationship. Our failures in family making (not to be understood as the nuclear family ideal), our waste of human, animal and other natural resources, our despair about cooperating with human beings in other societies, and our oppression of our own partners and friends all reflect our devaluing of ordinary caregiving.” (p.15)

These source quotes are from: Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Hags and Heroes: A Feminist Approach to Jungian Psychotherapy with Couples, 1984.

For a Wikipedia orientation and brief overview of the story see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding_of_Sir_Gawain_and_Dame_Ragnelle

See also my post on Embracing the Hag.

The Importance of Getting Triggered

September 15, 2018

Thinking about my conceptual frame Couple Experiential State Complex as Activated Threshold, I have been struck this week by the importance of focusing on tracking when we, self and others, get emotionally triggered.

By using the word triggered, I am hoping to tap into our collective, universal sense of knowing we are getting hijacked by something intensely emotional. As in getting one’s button(s) pushed.

A classic extreme example referenced in the early diagnostic manual for PTSD is if you were raped in an elevator, just seeing an elevator can evoke or trigger intense emotional and physiological reactions.

I have been making the case a spike in emotional intensity is the simplest indication we are activating/activated, announcing to all who can perceive, the presence of the blur.

From this perspective, if/when a microfracture in communication pulls us into a blur state, how can we recognize the conflict as meaningful? Might this really be an unbidden, spontaneous opportunity for healing? What if there is no such thing as fighting over little stuff?

Fred Kaufman has a post on LinkedIn Every Emotion Is A Love Story. I find this to be a great opener. If we can trust the emotion is right, but our consciousness of context and setting may be confused, we can turn our energies towards trying to drop into the deeper story. As Rumi advises in A Night Full of Talking: Everything has to do with loving and not loving. If we try on making the case the emotion is correct, how can we access the trauma complex driving the blur? Under what circumstances is this present overwhelming emotion appropriate?

Preparing oneself to enter into such a healing moment includes learning to see the power struggle as a co-created complex. From this perspective, the ritualistic elements reflect what we think of as repetition compulsions or re-enactments of the wounding. In alignment with Bromberg’s description of co-created dissociative enactments, these serve to bring the essence of the original wounding, with it’s associated transference and countertransference dance, palpably into the present moment.

In his discussion of the complexes, in their favorable aspect, John Perry observes: “The repetition compulsion, as has been pointed out so often, provides the ego the occasion again and again to encounter these rejected components of development in order finally to assimilate them in some happy moments….” My sense of what he means by “rejected components of development” is simply the recognition the absence of an elder presence allowed the violation to overwhelm the vulnerable child or adult, necessitating the activation of archetypal layer defenses, ie: a trauma complex. What was needed at the time to understand and work through the emotional overwhelm is still needed. I have played with this in thinking about the function  complexes serve in my Musing on Metamorphosis: the Complex as Chrysalis post. I have to confess for me, teleology is a big word! But, I believe it works!

In closing, I have included the graphic above to highlight the Participation Mystique &/or Trauma Portal detail.  We are all involved all of the time with some deeper level of consciousness, a multiplicity of self-states if you will, which wants to inform us about what more is going on. Because I tend to think about getting hijacked into negative emotion enactments, I find the idea getting triggered serves the blur’s function in opening a portal into the associated trauma. The repetitive couple complex enactments do seem to provide a portal into our most painful relationship failings.

Clearly, we need each other to approach going there. What is needed may be as simple, and as difficult, as dropping into the original scene, so that we may feel all of it, within relationship, bear witness together, and get the story told. (See Sandner and Beebe for an articulation of what it takes to heal a split.) This reflects the conceptual notion traumas, until they can be suffered consciously in the service of re-integration, are incomplete initiatory experiences. Creating the conditions, essentially accessing a consciousness that can bear to suffer the wounding without splitting, is the work.

If we can only hold onto the here and now, this world enactment – what you/he/she/they did or did not do to uphold our loving – we are doomed to continue with our co-created dissociated enactments.

Why not make a dedicated effort to sit with our deeper selves? We have to find a way to get to what was my part in initiating or participating in the dissociation just now? Can we strive to bear to feel as vulnerable as we may be feeling? To be continued…

When “…sexual attraction is … used by the unconscious to represent the urge toward reconciliation with split-away parts of ourselves”

July 18, 2018

Processing a dissociated relational enactment this morning, the following observations on the transference from Ann Ulanov came to mind:

Ann B. Ulanov: “Jung remarks that the sexual attraction is always used by the unconscious to represent the urge toward reconciliation with split-away parts of ourselves (1976, p.173). The sexual transference, then, is a spontaneous way by which the psyche seeks to bridge a gulf between the patient’s ego-identity and the contra sexual contents projected upon the analyst (von Franz, VI, pp. 3-4). What would otherwise be a humiliating fixation upon the analyst is redeemed by its hidden purpose – to bring light into the patient’s relation to the anima or animus,… Patients in this position need not then just go on feeling foolish for desiring someone they cannot have, and indulging in childish sulks, mopings, or resentments when refused gratification. Instead, such patients see the task set them by this welling up of emotion, impulse, and aspiration, and the sense of soul with which they cloak the analyst figure. When patients long for the analyst, it is their first direct experience of their strong longing to be reconnected to a missing part of themselves, to some aspect of their own souls (p. 73-74). Jungian Analysis (my bold)

For me, not a certified psychoanalyst, it can be helpful to think about this dynamic as potentially at play if ever/whenever we sense there is a bewitching element present in an attraction or infatuation. I included this source quote in a collection from Jung’s Psychology of the Transference.

 

Psychoanalysis … Always looks for the egg … In a basket … That has been lost*

July 9, 2018

This aphorism referenced by Philip Bromberg on the last page of his book, The Shadow of the Tsunami, sets the stage for a paragraph discussion which I do find remarkable in it’s capturing of the process which I picture as the meaning behind the importance of waking up within the blur:

“For over 100 years, psychoanalysts were trained to talk to their patients about an inferred basket–an inferred unconscious–through associations and interpretations. Discovering the “egg,” which analysts have chosen to term unconscious fantasy, has been the endeavor said to demonstrate that even though what is unconscious is lost to direct observation its contents can be pieced together. At this point in the evolution of psychoanalysis, however, it is increasingly recognized that the “egg” can manifestly be brought into palpable existence by accepting that the “egg” is not buried content but the symbolization of a dissociated relational process that is not unearthed, but mutually cocreated through enactment.” (my italics)

I want to quote a bit more below, but right now, I am pondering the image “…it is increasingly recognized that the “egg” can manifestly be brought into palpable existence by accepting that the “egg” is not buried content but the symbolization of a dissociated relational process that is not unearthed, but mutually cocreated through enactment.” I appreciate this frame in it’s suggestion that what needs our attention is palpably present in “the symbolization of a dissociated relational process … mutually cocreated through enactment.” From a cocreated system perspective, for me, this is the blur. It seems what’s needed is for us to work together to increase our tolerance of being in the dissociative soup together.