The Clare Spark Blog

November 10, 2013

The pursuit of happiness, co-counseling, and reality-testing

happinessTimeThe following links are relevant to this blog. I especially recommend the song “A Sunny Disposish” available on YouTube, lyric by Ira Gershwin.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/fashion/After-a-Parents-Death-a-Rush-of-Change-modern-love.html?_r&_r=0.

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2146449,00.html

http://historypsychiatry.com/2013/11/10/the-geography-of-depression/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/07/a-stunning-map-of-depression-rates-around-the-world/?tid=pm_world_pop

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-counselling

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEWLnblbzc  (“A Sunny Disposish”)

Why do you suppose that the ever popular Over the Rainbow was nearly dropped from The Wizard of Oz? Could some mean-spirited Republican have sensed that Yip Harburg the lyricist was a Red, pushing utopias? Or could the song have contradicted the major message of the film: that rural life on the farm was filled with attachments that surpassed those of the Emerald City? Why, after all, did Judy Garland want to get away and pursue happiness elsewhere? (See comment below that argues I am wrong, that she always wanted to get home. But the lyrics betray a yearning for something else: some earthly or heavenly utopia? Maybe that is why it was nearly dropped, assuming that my facts are correct.)

I could ask the same question of the song I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, a Vaudeville song from 1918 suggesting disillusion with the promise of American life. (See lyrics here: https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ retitled Film Noir, decoded.) The bluebird of happiness motif is reproduced in the Harburg-Lane hit song, first heard in the Depression year of 1939.

The Declaration of Independence built its polemical foundation on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but never guaranteed that such an outcome of universal happiness would be the case for everyone. Hence, the popular culture emphasis on romantic yearning, laments for lost loves, or admonitions to be happy, lest you lose the regard of your friends and family, not to speak of success in “the community.”

Life is hard, attachments are fraught with ambivalence, and frequent sadness should not be diagnosed as a personality disorder. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dysthymia.  Or perhaps I am mistaken and am really a neurotic (formerly called a melancholic), in danger of sinking into a serious depression that could fill my horizon with utter darkness.

Anyone can play.

Anyone can play.

I don’t mean this to be a long blog, so let me end with this anecdote from my two years as a volunteer faculty member at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where I spent a lot of time after my divorce in the early 1970s. It was rather a hippie outfit, very counter-culture with revolution in the air, along with marijuana smoke, faculty sanctioned jerking off, critical theory, and Kierkegaard. “Co-Counseling” was all the rage. The idea was to cut out professionals, and engage each member of the dyad (male-female pair only) with another suffering person. You would hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and take turns in talking about earlier traumas to your partner. Then after an hour of spewing forth painful memories, the partner got a turn dredging up the past and you had to focus on what you were hearing. This was considered to be revolutionary and a substitute for “the talking cure.”

Several faculty marriages broke up during that time, while a few partners in co-counseling married each other. My theory: no one had ever listened (or pretended to listen) to the co-counselors for such an extended period before, and without interruptions or otherwise cutting them short, changing the subject, or falling asleep. The partners (supposedly) never lost focus, or at least that was how they were perceived.

I told this story to my son-in-law and he laughed his head off. It is so true. Changing the subject is what we do and what we experience evermore as a result of the internet, mass media, and the Progressive imperative to be optimistic, to maintain “a sunny disposish” at all times, lest we found ourselves “All Alone” like those hapless Americans who have had their health insurance cancelled by Federal fiat.

Bless you, Irving Berlin and every other songwriter who reminded us to “Remember.”

For more on this subject see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/03/eros-and-the-problem-of-solidarity/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/05/10/losing-focus-and-mass-media/.

positive state

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May 18, 2013

Friendship in the era of anti-Freud

Paul Prud'hon, 1793

Paul Prud’hon, 1793

The publication today of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 manual, reminds us that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies alike have no interest in Freud’s “talking cure”—which simply meant that relief from psychogenic symptoms could be alleviated by telling a neutral party (the psychoanalyst) in a protected, safe (confidential) setting about the traumas and family relationships of early childhood up to the present; in the case of Freudian therapy, such memories were usually repressed but dredged up through free association and transference, in which the analyst was the recipient of feelings about the parent that gradually, under the guidance of the analyst, were traced back to the family of origin. Presumably psychogenic symptoms would abate.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_cure.)

The un-ambivalently bourgeois Freud and his methods are now not only under attack by postmodernists and Foucauldians, but by his old enemies, those who believe that human suffering is inevitable in this, the Devil’s realm, and that freedom from what are now deemed to be “personality disorders” can at best be alleviated with pills and behavioral cognitive therapy, a form of short-term “affordable” therapy that ostensibly rewires the brain. (It is derived from Behaviorism, and was seen as torture in Clockwork Orange.)

While I was briefly teaching at California Institute of the Arts, a form of therapy called “Re-evaluation Counseling” was in vogue and several marriages broke up as a result, for it was my theory at least that partners in “co-counseling” (never married to each other) had never experienced being listened to for one hour as they brought up troubling experiences from their past. Such rare attention to old troubles was an impetus to romantic love (as I speculated). (On this method and its origin, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-evaluation_Counseling.)

Which brings me to the subject of this blog: how even one intimate, strictly confidential friendship can partly substitute for the loss of Freud and his methods.

First, despite the romanticizing of the nuclear family by politicians and churches, the family of origin is a hotbed of potential trauma that can haunt the adult throughout life, poisoning all relationships and causing chronic illness. I have no doubt that rivalries for the favor of either Mother or Father are real, however out of fashion “Freudians” may be. But we must bury such rivalries (with either parent, or with siblings) for the sake of the “family unity” that is favored by demagogues of every stripe.  I refer not only to Oedipal feelings or to “the Elektra complex” but to the fierce resentments inflicted through sibling rivalry. Our feelings toward parents and siblings, however, must remain “pure” and unambivalent, for ambivalence is a no-no as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or the birthdays of childhood rivals whom we are not permitted to resent, even as they displaced us or bullied us in untold and/or repressed family dramas. (For more on this, see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/17/bondage-and-the-family/, and https://clarespark.com/2011/01/26/obama-and-the-rhetoric-of-the-political-family/.)

How can friendship alleviate these forbidden, often sick-making feelings? My first advice is not to expect family members to substitute for the undivided attention of a friend. Parents and siblings are the last persons who want to hear about their lack of parenting skills or other deficiencies, some structural and not their fault at all.

Second, the friend must be one who has been tested through time not to gossip and to keep confidences; also to be non-judgmental about the expression of negative feelings. Such a person will presumably  have enough self-knowledge to be an appropriate recipient of such personal confidences and not to be freaked out.

If we are so unlucky not to have such a buddy, then do what I do: cuddle up to the great fiction writers and poets. Most of them were Freud’s inspiration too, as he freely admitted. Besides the Greek dramatists, many of the greatest contemporary novelists of the last two centuries were such resources, whatever their politics. Personal favorites of mine are Benjamin Disraeli, Herman Melville, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow. Melville, for instance, threw his inner feelings and ambivalence wide open for all readers to witness, to mull over, and to apply to one’s own closest attachments.

Above all, however, read the post-Freudian attachment theorists: you won’t find many feminists recommending them, for they  emphasize the danger of careless separations between mothers and infants: John Bowlby, Donald Winnicott and Margaret Mahler. (For my summary of how hasty maternal separation from infants and small children can cause panic attacks and separation anxiety, see https://clarespark.com/2009/11/16/panic-attacks-and-separation-anxiety/. For my blogs on Freud and anti-Freudians see https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/. For an even more negative view of DSM-5 than mine see http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578050-single-book-has-come-dominate-psychiatry-dangerous-shrink-wrapping?fsrc=scn%2Ftw%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fshrinkwrapping.)

Panic Attack George Grie

Panic Attack George Grie

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