Posted tagged ‘Philip Bromberg’

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.