Couple Experiential State Complex: Finessing a Re-enactment of the Wounding

Posted May 8, 2017 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

COUPLEEXPERSTACOMPLEX.GRAF10-12

Couple Experiential State Complex

Author comment: This page was originally posted in October of 2012. I have moved it to the front page to highlight the core formulation. The teaching I keep moving towards is in the basic idea our emotional triggers – serving to activate the blur – can be understood as psyche signaling we are ready to engage in a take 2 healing round. The emotional disconnects allowing one to live through core traumas are not meant to carry us the whole way. Can you get a sense of this from the below?

Having come together in the name of love and commitment, how are we to understand the meaning of the insensitive, unkind, and/or self/other destructive actions that always occur between two passionate human beings? The Couple Experiential State Complex formulation provides a way to begin to imagine what happens when relationships bring two Experiential State Complexes together.

While our discussion will focus on important intimate relationships, emotional encounters in everyday life all point to the transference. Many a couple, dining out, have suffered through the awkwardness of how to recover the festive mood in the aftermath of one partner experiencing just cause for upset with the wait staff.

In line with John Perry’s formulation (see Emotions and Object Relations), the very presence of emotion suggests an activation of the unconscious in the moment. With this, a blurring of the boundary between the here and now and the Experiential State suggests some degree of projection and increasing potential for introjection. Powerful dynamics demand the unconscious script be acted out. Alas, when one person is activated in this way, the usual response is the other will react with a complementary emotion. Learning to differentiate feeling from emotion or affect is a first order priority.

On the differentiation of feeling from emotion, Perry, with help from Jung, observes:

“. . . feeling is of a different order from that of emotion; feeling is a function of consciousness, and – to the degree to which it is differentiated – has the quality of choice and intentionality in judgments of value.” J W Perry p.2

“. . . emotions are the activity of the unconscious, the non-ego” (Jung, 1907)

“. . . emotions are autonomous and happen to the ego without its bidding, and the ego is the recipient of the impact of the emotions” (Jung, 1939, 1943).

“. . . we think of the unconscious as being the autonomous psyche, and it can as well be called the emotional psyche.”

In terms of understanding what generates the emotion, Perry observes:

“. . . I find the occurrence of any emotion to consist of the interplay between two complexes. . . The subject experiences the affect that belongs to the complex with which the ego aligns itself, and assigns the other pole to the object. During the emotion the energetic value of the ego is lessened, and that of the complex heightened, and in this situation one should speak of an interrelation of an affect-ego and an affect-object.”

Rowe Mortimer (1996 seminar) has observed from a self-psychology perspective the self and others are not just representations and memories. The internalized mother and father “others” are comprised of something of the actual energies of the mother and the father, as experienced and taken in over time. They organize on themes and become active, dynamic, willing agents, operating like sub-personalities. When activated by stress or triggers, a power struggle may ensue, with the mother, father, and potentially other significant internalized others challenging the ego for control of the driver’s seat.

If the ego succeeds in staying conscious enough to contain the activation, the blur is revealed, and something important can happen to advance our understanding of the deeper wound. If the ego is unable to withstand the emotional activation, then the activating “other” will either hijack/possess the ego, or be projected on to the environment; onto both willing and not so willing participants. If the “other” overpowers ego consciousness, the child state corresponding to the experiential state gets projected. Either can be the experiencing one and either can be projected. If in the moment I sound peculiarly like my angry father, it is likely I have simultaneously projected my child state onto you. If so, your reactions to my tone may be doubly painful, reflecting the possibility you have unwittingly introjected or embodied my split off wounded child state.

The Representation of Persona Submitting to Emotion plate pictures the shift from consciousness to activation of the complex and potential for splitting and projection of one or both poles onto the environment. In this moment, one’s ego functioning may be completely absent, reflecting a kind of highly contagious possession state.

With practice one can sense this pending deterioration of consciousness where in one or both are under the influence, affect-ego and affect-object, and seeing self/other through the blur of the complex. The greater the emotional charge and the more effective the repression of the trauma complex, the more difficult it is to stay conscious in the face of very powerful triggers.

Activating complexes often present in the form of an issue that seems to require we take a stand or take sides for or against something. The difficulty in staying conscious in the middle of such pressure usually reflects a deterioration in one’s capacity to relate to the complexity of the situation, in the direction of more concrete, black and white thinking. This suggests the activation of splitting defenses. Rather than getting pushed into a corner, or alternately demanding the other accept our rightness versus their wrongness, we want to aspire to “Not either/or, but both and more.”

It is reasonable to offer a willingness to help make the both and more case, as this requires consideration of the opposing reality on the way to opening up to the “more.” It takes practice to hold to one’s center and stay calm and conscious in the presence of intense emotion. Am I really guilty as charged? Are you truly just trying to help me in attacking me so? Did I really hurt your feelings terribly without even realizing it? (Edinger on Calcinatio and Invulnerability to Fire).

When can we trust our perception of what is real in the moment? Perry suggests (in the early object relations language):

“Objects, as they actually are, emerge only with the growth of consciousness and the differentiation of the ego, freeing it from the tangle of alignments with the various complexes that move across the affective stage.” (J W Perry p.43) I find this to be a very powerful word picture.

I have conceptualized and represented this “tangle of alignments with the various complexes that move across the affective stage” as an actual line inhabited by a number of distinctly different Experiential State symbols, as representations of the “various complexes.”

The designation of the line as the “affective stage” serves as a reminder that we are challenged to work at the level of emotion, without becoming completely possessed by or identified with the emotion itself.

I have suggested multiple versus single Experiential State symbols in recognition of the helpfulness early on in identifying the roots of the primary relationships with mother, father, siblings, and others. Taken all together, averaged and generalized over time, these point to the composite picture portrayed in the concept of the single state image.

The center figure above designated as the Couple Complex represents the combining of individual Experiential State figures into one composite complex.

When activated, both partners will feel pulled to react to either’s self/other positions. Quite often, in any encounter, some switching from adult to child to adult and back again will occur. The activation unconsciously strives to generate a script which, if submitted to, leads to both participants experiencing directly the painful, usually repressed feelings of childhood, associated with the inability to be truly seen, valued, protected, and loved.

The way this can just show up and make trouble is remarkable. A line from William Stafford’s poem Ritual to Read to Each Other paints this picture: “For there is many a small betrayal in the mind, a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break, sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood storming out to play through the broken dike.” When activated, complexes threaten to overwhelm the most carefully constructed dikes.

The colors employed above suggest the possibility we share specific overlapping elements at the core wound level. My family colors recognize your family colors. At this point, the actual colors are not meaningful to me beyond helping to make the point that an emotional tone or color shading will be present in our unconscious recognition/selection of the other.

Perry suggests we must develop the ego’s capacity to discriminate and differentiate between inner and outer, past and present.

Until we are able to do so, feeling toned complexes are like “tractor beams” in the Star Wars saga, pulling us into emotional encounters somehow sensed to be fated. If we are to have any chance of healing, we want to understand why we must go there.

This is the “participation mystique” aspect. However we try to consciously manage our individual and relationship needs, at another level, a deeply unconscious level, we are engaged in pursuing the healing of splits in the service of recovering our wholeness. (Sandner and Beebe Psychopathology and Analysis)

When we find ourselves beyond the honeymoon and inexplicably drawn into suffering in ways we didn’t know we could, before bailing, we should consider what Perry describes as the functional intent pressing for consciousness through repeated reenactments of the wounding:

“… Complexes, in their favorable aspect = components of development. 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.”

This formulation supports the notion that we will persevere in our problem behaviors until we find someone who’s nature and strengths, in concert with ours, will allow the two of us, together, to bring to the wound that which up until now has been missing.

This perspective suggests we direct our efforts to recognizing emotion in the moment and developing the capacity to hold on impulses to actions supporting the repetition compulsion, or what I call the unconscious reenactment of the wounding with the beloved. We then have the choice to practice sitting together in the service of remembering our stories, and offering them for witnessing, with an eye for opening our hearts and reconnecting to the painful facts of our split off childhood experiences. At this time, in this way, we have access to compassionate consciousness and deep empathy, and so find we can heal the splits and suffer the recovery of a little more wholeness.

Salmon Boy: He said nothing…

Posted May 5, 2017 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

I first heard the poem Salmon Boy on a tape presentation by David Whyte on the Imagination. The link below will take you to the complete poem by David
Wagoner (Traveling Light COLLECTED AND NEW POEMS by David Wagoner)

On the theme of radical grounding, the last half of this retelling of the Sechelt Nation legend of Salmon Boy captures a moment in the life cycle of Salmon Boy not to be forgotten.

In the poem opening, a human boy finds himself miraculously transformed into a salmon and joining with the Salmon People, swimming downstream and out into the ocean. Following their season of feeding and being in the great ocean, the time to re-enter the river comes:

“… and the Salmon People swam,

Tasting sweet, salt-less wind under the water,

Opening their mouths again to the river’s mouth,

And Salmon Boy followed, full-bellied, not afraid.

 

He swam fastest of all. He leaped into the air

And smacked his blue-green silvery side, crying Eyo!

I jump! again and again. Oh, he was Salmon Boy!

He could breath everything! He could see everything!

He could eat everything! And then his father speared him.

 

He lay on the riverbank with his eyes open,

Saying nothing while his father emptied his belly.

He said nothing when his mother opened him wide

To dry in the sun. He was full of the sun.

All day he dried on sticks, staring upriver.”

One of the very helpful points David Whyte offered in his discussion of the symbolism in this poem was to make a distinction about the father referenced in And then his father speared him. While we could think about the personal father, it shifts the meaning radically to consider this as a reference to the Great Father, or Spirit, or the Powers that show up from the Mystery in the service of initiation and transformation.

 

 

 

Emotion as Merely “Intimation of Meaning”?

Posted March 27, 2017 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

Here is an exquisite observation from Perry on the difficulty and importance of striving to stay conscious particularly when feeling pressure from emotion generated by the blur:

“From the fire of the passionate life grows the light of awareness, but the activeness of the ego’s attitude decides the gains or losses. If the ego is passive and allows the contents to remain habitually ensconced in their emotional form, there may be only gain on the side of the unconscious. In their emotional form the images remain merely intimations of meaning; one can speak of true understanding only when the meaning is recognized by an active ego-consciousness and adopted into its structure of values and meanings. Instead of passively allowing an affect-ego to relate to the affect-object, without the effort of understanding, the active ego intervenes, insisting upon an assimilation of the meaning over a period of time.” (Chuck’s italics)

If images in their emotional form are in fact mere intimations of meaning, the presence of emotion, when viewed from the position of an active ego consciousness, represents a bridge to true understanding. The emotional activation is an opportunity to deepen consciousness, moving from an intimation of meaning to the direct experience of the meaning. This is how we come to self-knowledge. Might this be the most direct pathway to finding the mythological gift believed to be at the center of wound?

A Little Shadow Talk: “Trailing Clouds of Glory”

Posted February 2, 2017 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

In A Little Book On The Human Shadow (1988), Robert Bly opens with a few images capturing our energetic beginnings. The shadow, from a Jungian perspective, may be simply all that is unconscious in us. Bly references Alice Miller’s work The Drama of the Gifted Child. (See “the truth about our childhood is stored in our bodies…

“Let’s talk about the personal shadow first. When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360° personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, alright; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like: ‘Can’t you be still?’ Or ‘It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.’ Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep her parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: ‘Good children don’t get angry over such little things.’ By the time my brother and I were twelve in Madison, Minnesota we were known as ‘the nice Bly boys.’ Our bags were already a mile long.”

“The drama is this. We came as infants ‘trailing clouds of glory,’ arriving from the farthest reaches of the universe, bringing with us appetites well preserved from our mammal inheritance, spontaneities wonderfully preserved from our 150,000 years of tree life, angers well preserved from our 5,000 years of tribal life – in short, with our 360° radiance – and we offered this gift to our parents. They didn’t want it. They wanted a nice girl or a nice boy. That’s the first act of the drama. It doesn’t mean our parents were wicked: they needed us for something. My mother, as a second-generation immigrant, needed my brother and me to help the family look more classy. We do the same thing to our children; it’s a part of life on this planet. Our parents rejected who we were before we could talk, so the pain of the rejection is probably stored in some pre–verbal place.”

Comment: Rediscovering and saying YES to our “living globes of energy” experience can be one of the best parts of the recovery journey. Can we dedicate ourselves to celebrate the emergence of these energies today, with each other?

The Partial Cure Problem (revisited)

Posted February 1, 2017 by chuck bender
Categories: Connecting the Dots Series, Uncategorized

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.

Source: J. Shedler On the Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Posted December 18, 2016 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

Jonathan Shedler, Ph.D. has written an excellent review of psychotherapy outcomes. His description of essential elements characterizing a psychodynamic approach are accompanied by an in depth review of the psychotherapy outcome literature (see link above).

“Distinctive Features of Psychodynamic Technique

Psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy refers to a range of treatments based on psychoanalytic concepts and methods that involve less frequent meetings and may be considerably briefer than psychoanalysis proper. Session frequency is typically once or twice per week, and the treatment may be either time limited or open ended. The essence of psychodynamic therapy is exploring those aspects of self that are not fully known, especially as they are manifested and potentially influenced in the therapy relationship…

…Seven features reliably distinguished psychodynamic therapy from other therapies, as determined by empirical examination of actual session recordings and transcripts (note that the features listed below concern process and technique only, not underlying principles that inform these techniques; for a discussion of concepts and principles, see Gabbard, 2004; McWilliams, 2004; Shedler, 2006a):

1. Focus on affect and expression of emotion. Psychodynamic therapy encourages exploration and discussion of the full range of a patient’s emotions. The therapist helps the patient describe and put words to feelings, including contradictory feelings, feelings that are troubling or threatening, and feelings that the patient may not initially be able to recognize or acknowledge (this stands in contrast to a cognitive focus, where the greater emphasis is on thoughts and beliefs; Blagys & Hilsenroth, 2002; Burum & Goldfried, 2007). There is also a recognition that intellectual insight is not the same as emotional insight, which resonates at a deep level and leads to change (this is one reason why many intelligent and psychologically minded people can explain the reasons for their difficulties, yet their understanding does not help them overcome those difficulties).

2. Exploration of attempts to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings. People do a great many things, knowingly and unknowingly, to avoid aspects of experience that are troubling. This avoidance (in theoretical terms, defense and resistance) may take coarse forms, such as missing sessions, arriving late, or being evasive. It may take subtle forms that are difficult to recognize in ordinary social discourse, such as subtle shifts of topic when certain ideas arise, focusing on incidental aspects of an experience rather than on what is psychologically meaningful, attending to facts and events to the exclusion of affect, focusing on external circumstances rather than one’s own role in shaping events, and so on. Psychodynamic therapists actively focus on and explore avoidances.

3. Identification of recurring themes and patterns. Psychodynamic therapists work to identify and explore recurring themes and patterns in patients’ thoughts, feelings, self-concept, relationships, and life ex-periences. In some cases, a patient may be acutely aware of recurring patterns that are painful or self-defeating but feel unable to escape them (e.g., a man who repeatedly finds himself drawn to romantic partners who are emotionally unavailable; a woman who regularly sabotages herself when success is at hand). In other cases, the patient may be unaware of the patterns until the therapist helps him or her recognize and understand them.

4. Discussion of past experience (developmental focus). Related to the identification of recurring themes and patterns is the recognition that past experience, especially early experiences of attachment figures, affects our relation to, and experience of, the present. Psychodynamic therapists explore early experiences, the relation between past and present, and the ways in which the past tends to “live on” in the present. The focus is not on the past for its own sake, but rather on how the past sheds light on current psychological difficulties. The goal is to help patients free themselves from the bonds of past experience in order to live more fully in the present.

5. Focus on interpersonal relations. Psychodynamic therapy places heavy emphasis on patients’ relationships and interpersonal experience (in theoretical terms, object relations and attachment). Both adaptive and nonadaptive aspects of personality and self-concept are forged in the context of attachment relationships, and psychological difficulties often arise when problematic interpersonal patterns interfere with a person’s ability to meet emotional needs.

6. Focus on the therapy relationship. The relationship between therapist and patient is itself an important interpersonal relationship, one that can become deeply meaningful and emotionally charged. To the extent that there are repetitive themes in a person’s relationships and manner of interacting, these themes tend to emerge in some form in the therapy relationship. For example, a person prone to distrust others may view the therapist with suspicion; a person who fears disapproval, rejection, or abandonment may fear rejection by the therapist, whether knowingly or unknowingly; a person who struggles with anger and hostility may struggle with anger toward the therapist; and so on (these are relatively crude examples; the repetition of interpersonal themes in the therapy relationship is often more complex and subtle than these examples suggest). The recurrence of interpersonal themes in the therapy relationship (in theoretical terms, transference and countertransference) provides a unique opportunity to explore and rework them in vivo. The goal is greater flexibility in interpersonal relationships and an enhanced capacity to meet interpersonal needs.

7. Exploration of fantasy life. In contrast to other therapies in which the therapist may actively structure sessions or follow a predetermined agenda, psychodynamic therapy encourages patients to speak freely about whatever is on their minds. When patients do this (and most patients require considerable help from the therapist before they can truly speak freely), their thoughts naturally range over many areas of mental life, including desires, fears, fantasies, dreams, and daydreams (which in many cases the patient has not previously attempted to put into words). All of this material is a rich source of information about how the person views self and others, interprets and makes sense of experience, avoids aspects of experience, or interferes with a potential capacity to find greater enjoyment and meaning in life.

The last sentence hints at a larger goal that is implicit in all of the others: The goals of psychodynamic therapy include, but extend beyond, symptom remission. Successful treatment should not only relieve symptoms (i.e., get rid of something) but also foster the positive presence of psychological capacities and resources. Depending on the person and the circumstances, these might include the capacity to have more fulfilling relationships, make more effective use of one’s talents and abilities, maintain a realistically based sense of self-esteem, tolerate a wider range of affect, have more satisfying sexual experiences, understand self and others in more nuanced and sophisticated ways, and face life’s challenges with greater freedom and flexibility. Such ends are pursued through a process of self-reflection, self-exploration, and self-discovery that takes place in the context of a safe and deeply authentic relationship between therapist and patient. (For a jargon- free introduction to contemporary psychodynamic thought, see That Was Then, This Is Now: Psychoanalytic Psycho- therapy for the Rest of Us [Shedler, 2006a, which is freely available for download at http://psychsystems.net/shedler. html]).”

In My View, the Experiential State Complex Generates the Blur

Posted December 10, 2016 by chuck bender
Categories: Uncategorized

There, I’ve said it more simply than ever before. I am working on my essay on the importance of the observation healing only occurs in the blur.

This is why we need to learn to work with/in the blur. An expectation to become conscious enough to avoid the blur is doomed to fail. Very much like the movie The Sixth Sense, our unfinished emotional business will show up to haunt us at some point. In reality, it is always present if we can but perceive. Best to prepare for these encounters up front.

At some point psyche will make a move, or, as Alice Miller puts it, the body will present its bill:

“The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, our perceptions confused, and our bodies tricked with medication. But some day the body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” (Miller, Alice, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware)

Recall the point of remembering is not to establish blame and then shame on “you.” Rather we want to embrace our full experience; call back into awareness lost parts of our deep emotional selves. As D.H. Lawrence phrased it in his poem Healing:

“I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self…”

The blur brings the core of the original wounding into the present.