Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Familiarity Meets Contempt.

I put a question up on my Facebook to see if my friends had anything they wanted to ‘ask a therapist’ and this is what came up: “Why do people in long term [resentment filled] relationships often end up treating their spouses worse than they'd ever treat a friend? And how do you turn it around? I was having this discussion with a friend going through a divorce, and would love to hear a therapists take on it”.

Answer (a simplified version of a complex answer):

Familiarity breeds contempt. There was a study by Norton, Frost and Ariely in 2007 that came to the conclusion,  “the more information people had about others, the less they liked them”. It’s a nice way of saying that we like it when we can project our sub-conscious desires and split-off parts of ourselves onto the blank spaces of an unfamiliar person, and that too much familiarity clogs the screen and kills the projection….and so we dis-like and then critique the screen.

A lot of us enter relationships with some idea or fantasy that the other person is going to make us happy. Eventually there is a discovery that the magical other you married is really just a person and not a solution to an un-named problem. That person doesn’t really have magical offerings in store. Real intimacy is what happens between two people when they absolve the other of providing the magic and instead collaborate to bring riches to the relationship, share core values, and tolerate/support the other’s separate and sometimes divergent needs. When I see couples, they always come in with the idea that all that has to happen is that the other person has to become who they want them to be, and then they’ll be happy.

Intimacy is the discovery that the other person isn’t an extension of your needs, and that your relationship to yourself drives your relationship to your partner. This is what Ranier Maria Rilke meant when he wrote that “Love is the first great aloneness”. When you’re close enough to someone there’s  no escaping that your partner isn’t a screen to use to fill in the missing parts of the self. It’s a kind of co-dependency that hits a wall when your partner can't satisfy your needs.

So there’s that. There’s also the sort of inverse-narcissism involving the person receiving the grief … I’ll get into that in another thread as the covert part is going to take a little effort to explain and I’ve got a patient in the waiting room for  the next session.

The fix involves identifying the projections and putting both people into ownership of what’s really theirs. It’s a process of differentiation, self-awareness, and honesty…
But the truth is, by the time most people come into therapy, there’s so much scar tissue to cut through that for some it’s too late… especially if the origins of the relationship are designed to deny one’s own growth. That being said, I see a lot of people wake up in the process.

Another way in for some...is that we accept the love we think we deserve. Denegrating the person that loves you is a way to avoid yourself.

I hope that helps start a conversation... 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Anosognosia, Lemons, and Desire.

Loved this article on Anosognosia in the Times.

When I was just starting out at the training clinic I had a court ordered patient suffering from a paranoid personality disorder who, by the nature of being forced into treatment by the court, didn't see him/herself as suffering from a  mental disorder. Instead they saw that the judge was out to get them.... the Anosognosia made for an interesting process for trying to address the paranoid thoughts... which is a cute way of saying I was totally cornered in the room.

Back when I was a pre-doc studying diagnosis, there was this collective meltdown in the classroom as we learned the DSM IV and diagnosis. P
athology tends to be an over-abundance of defensive mechanisms... but everyone has a tiny bit of these defenses at work. Its the quantity of  the defensive mechanism that oftentimes is the difference between 'healthy' and 'pathological' behavior.  As a student one sees the self or some particles thereof in almost all pathology... hence the collective meltdown in class. It takes a certain amount of denial of reality and blindness towards the self (have you seen me dance?) to get through life.

Magical thinking can be helpful, so long as you know what you're up to, 
and that's the hard part... the knowing. The capacity to know where you end and where the magic begins is what the process of making something conscious is all about (watch American Idol auditions to illustrate the point). Everything you see is informed by your desires and there is no clear objective view.... unless that view includes awareness of those desires. This is why so much of talk-therapy is an attempt to reveal and narrate one's desires.  It's also why its easy to make oneself a victim in therapy and then never leave the comfort of that stance (that's another thing I need to write about, working through victimhood as a part of the process).

Making something come into consciousness from within is a big part of the therapy... and that's why all the talking. Once you can verbalize, you can see and play with the object, you can move around  and through the desires and get a bigger view from multiple vantage points, and you can soften your bias by developing a sense of humor about yourself. Through the narrative and the talking..... there's a chance to engage and change the story. And again, this can take time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Love is boundaries.

For all the throw-aways said during sessions, the one that comes back to me more than any other is, "love is boundaries". It gets said often because there's about twenty different meanings depending on the context and all of them are essential truths.
Love really is boundaries. Love acknowledges that you and I are separate psychologically distinct beings with enormous power to effect each other.
Whether its setting a framework for your teen you bump up against and ultimately not conquer, or most importantly confronting where you begin and end so that your emotional experience is separate and distinct and therefore not controlled by someone else...
Love really is boundaries. 
Its a part of the power of the therapy, that the boundaries are clearly delineated and maintained through the work in order to give the relationship the power to heal you. 
Moments of boundary loss in relationship is a gorgeous thing. For some its an almost religious experience of connectedness... its just not the thing to build the relationship around.
If you really want to be close to someone, you have to know where you begin and end, and where they do, and then you have to see the space in between you as a field of intimacy. It's a kind of paradox that can only be made sense of  when its felt. .. and it seems it often gets felt in the therapy. Without that field there is no room for empathy and no space to make connections from self to other. Its intense.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Secret to Functional Intimate Relationship in 20 words.

Take the time to find out who the person is.
Do everything you can to support who they are.