Friday, April 26, 2019

Recovering aspects of oneself as a necessary condition of “finding oneself:” therapeutic progress in psychoanalysis

Insightcombines the direct experience, or recovery in consciousness,1 of aspects of oneself, so far deemed, with a perspective in the light of which their role in ones patterns of behaviour and their consequences for one are understood. [….] But though this insight involves an inner change in which dissociated aspects of oneself are recovered, this is not the same thing as what is meant asfinding oneself.’ From the one inner change to the other there is much inner work to be done. 

“The neurotic—and this, to some extent, applies to everyone—has reached certain solutions to his inner conflicts in early childhood. These solutions involve splitting off and denying certain aspects of himself, devoting some of his energies to maintaining this state of affairs. Consequently, he has confined himself to certain modes of response and closed himself to certain forms of interaction and experience. What he has thus become excludes what he could have been had he not rushed into these solutions and been able to tolerate pain, anxiety, and uncertainty a little more than he was able to. What he has missed in this process is ‘his best self’ [Freud], namely, ‘what he would have been under the most favourable conditions.’ Missing it implies a degree of inauthenticity and some curtailment of personal autonomy. 

But what he has missed is not something that exists, albeit hidden or unconscious. The patient’s ‘best self,’ in the sense Freud meant it here is not his unconscious self. Finding it is not finding something ready-made awaiting discovery. ‘Finding’ here is used as in ‘finding one’s style.’ It means making, shaping, learning, growing into. When Leonardo da Vinci spoke of the sculptor finding the sculpture he was creating in the block of marble on which he was working, getting to it by removing parts of the block of marble on which he was working, getting to it by removing parts of the block which hid it, he was underplaying the part played by the artist’s creative vision in this process. His reason, I imagine, was to emphasize how much the artist’s creative vision is responsible to something outside him, something that exists independently of him, namely an artistic tradition, and he sees the possibilities in the material on which he sets off to create or realize come from that tradition, and he see the possibilities in the material on which he works, limited by its relevant characteristics—the size, shape and texture of the marble block. It is only in this sense that he finds the sculpture, the statue, in the block, only in this sense that the statue exists within it in advance. It is in some ways the same with ‘finding oneself.’ What corresponds to the block in this case are, on the one hand, one’s past experiences and, on the other, those aspects of one’s character which make up one’s inauthenticity. What emerges ultimately, as one chips away the protective, defensive aspect of one’s character, giving up the pursuit of certain ambitions which one comes to see undermine what one cherishes, coming to terms with old injuries and forgiving those whom one held responsible for them, etc., has a great deal to do with the values and loyalties that are rooted in one’s past, the life and culture to which one belongs and the interests made possible by it which absorb one. 

But for anyone whose growth has in some way been stunted to ‘find’ or ‘grow into’ himself, his ‘best self’ has to stop deceiving himself, face aspects of himself he has denied, feel the pain he has avoided in avoiding facing these, regain the resources he has deployed in keeping them at bay, as so find greater openness to new experiences. This is the part of the process which Freud used Leonardo da Vinci’s metaphor of per via di levare to highlight. However, he missed emphasizing the patient’s further positive contributions to which is ‘creative’ in character, and the part played in this by what comes to the patient from outside as he becomes more open and less rigid in himself.
Let me re-emphasize, this ‘best self’ that a person grows or would grow into, given the right circumstances, is not something predetermined—as in the case of a chrysalis which grows into a butterfly. On the contrary, what gives a person a ‘fixed’ character, so that what he comes to is to some extent predetermined, is what makes him, as it were a ‘closed system’ [cf. Wilhelm Reich’s notion of ‘character armour’]. [….] In finding himself a person loses this ‘fixity,’ he opens up, while at the same time finding a new stability. How he grows then depends on what he encounters in life, and this is not something fixed in advance. [….]

Psychoanalysis, one would say, enables the patient to find the conditions necessary for his arrested growth to pick up again by removing obstacles, by helping him to dispense with defences and to turn back from the road of repression. This can only be achieved with the patient’s collaboration. For the rest, the analyst leaves the patient on his own, refusing to guide or direct him.2 It is true, of course, that the patient finds something of what he is like when he stops repressing those thoughts, inclinations and feelings which he has so far repressed. But ‘finding out what he is like’ is not the same as ‘finding himself.’ The way from the former to the latter is paved with integration and reconstruction. [….] It thus provides the patient with the opportunity to reconsider his own solutions in the light of his present knowledge of himself and to modify these with the help of his present resources. The idea that it aims to free the unconscious self or id (not the same thing) for it to take over so that the patient can find happiness in this new liberty is a popular misconception [emphasis added]. [….] 

[This “popular misconception,” the converse, if you will, of neurotic unhappiness and misery, finds the analysand becoming the plaything of impulses which effectively destroy the possibility of his finding cohesion within himself.] [….] Compulsion and impulsiveness, repression and license, the super-ego and the id: these are two poles between which the ego has to negotiate in the course of the person’s struggles to find himself. [….] As aspects of the id and the super-ego are transformed into part of the patient’s ego, they change character and come under the domain of the patient’s will. Impulses he had repressed, compulsions that had ruled his life, now become inclinations that no longer overwhelm him. [….] These are changes in the self towards greater unity and autonomy, changes which liberate resources deployed to maintain divisions within the self, and they open the way to renewed contact with the outside world through which the self finds new growth. That is why they constitute a ‘healing of the self.’ They coincide with Freud’s therapeutic ideal: ‘where id and super-ego were, there ego shall be.’” – Ilham Dilman, Freud, Insight and Change (Basil Blackwell, 1988): 154-158 passim.
  1. As Dilman explains: “Consciousness is not the stuff that constitutes the mental, but rather the person’s apprehension of what concerns or affects him. It may be explicit in his thoughts or implicit in his responses.”
  2. Following Dilman, respect for the patient’s (or analysand’s) individuality or autonomy means “the patient must be allowed to find his own solutions to his problems and to be himself, he must equally be allowed to see the truth for himself, and even to find it for himself. [….] Thus the patient must not be forced to accept a truth even by cogent argument, for this will at best produce a theoretical or intellectual conviction: ‘Psychoanalysis is not an impartial scientific investigation [said Freud], but a therapeutic measure. Its essence is not to prove anything, but merely to alter something.’” [….] “The analyst avoids all falsity and deception in the analysis: in the way he is with the patient as well as in what he tells him. He never leads the patient away from the truth, but neither does he impose it on him. Nor does he try to persuade him to change either, to impose his own wishes or values on him. He avoids all forms of manipulation. [….] The patient must want to ‘get well,’ to be different, he must be prepared to give up something for it—something which protects him from pain, or compensates for some lack, or simply point him in the opposite direction. He must be prepared to put himself out, to face risk, to work, and he must have the inner resources to allocate to such work.” At this point, Dilman quotes Erich Fromm in a book he co-authored with D.T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1960): “Neither the analyst nor any man can ‘save’ another human being. He can act as a guide, or as a mid-wife … but he can never do for the patient what only the patient can do for himself. He must make this perfectly clear to the patient, not only in his words, but by his whole attitude. His relation must be free from any interference of the analyst in the life of the patient, not even that of the demand that the patient gets well. If the patient wants to get well and to change, that is fine, and the analyst is willing to help him.”


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