I’m very interested in psychoanalysis as a cultural practice, which is to say, I have no doubt that in theory and under the right circumstances, psychoanalysis could be very effective. As you know, though, my background is in cultural studies, so I study everything in terms of main cultural understandings and mores.
From this perspective of about psychoanalysis as a cultural practice, I see that inner psychology, what Freud calls the “psychical” dimension, is considered to be a fundamental force about mental health. As I have noticed, this clinical expectation about determination by “psychical” forces fits very well with a view that society is already organized just as it should be; that there are no systematic or indeed more localized injustices. Rather, the client is how they are because of events that happened a long time ago, before anything occurred in the present that could have upset them.
One can see the problem with this way of structuring reality right away, since it can be used to excuse any form of abuse that may happen in the present by making it seem to exist entirely in the client’s head, or to have happened a long time ago in a merely symbolic or unsubstantial way, such as when a child perceived something about its parents that necessarily turns out to be untrue, since a child’s perspectives are distorted.
So, my question is to what degree does psychoanalysis as a cultural practice allow that there can be significant problems in the here-and-now, that would be traumatic to an individual on their own terms? Is it possible that nearly all humans, no matter what their childhoods had been like, would find some things like bullying or inexplicable aggression to be deeply disturbing, especially if they persist for very long?
My view is that it’s all too easy to say, “Oh, well, that girl committed suicide because there was a seed of suicidal tendency already in her!” One could use the same form of reasoning for rape. “Oh well, that women was raped because she developed masochistic tendencies as a child. She had it coming, but we’ve only just found out that she was defective, thanks to an enlightened rapist.” This attribution of problems in later life to an earlier stage in childhood development has the same quality of attribution of original sin to humanity — a theological trope. Of course, if one is “born in sin”, one is likely to attract all sorts of negative consequences from those around one, who pick up on one’s innate defectiveness.
Therefore, let me ask: to what degree is there actual reality that somehow stands apart from attributions of inner, psychical states, to the degree that we can take present day reality seriously?
*A teenage girl commits suicide, because she feels bullied*
I am interested in psychoanalysis in terms of its cultural context, so that means that it does have some relationship or connectivity to the society.
It may be that it also aims to ease the pain of the person, but it does so in a social context, where social assumptions abound, and in which theological assumptions may already be embedded.
On the point of victim-hood, I think the notion that there are in fact “perennial victims” is a cultural one. It has the force of right-wing rhetoric, and I don’t buy it. I severely doubt there are perennial victims, who would remain victims no matter where they went, or what their circumstances were.
Also, I asked you to what degree a person has their innate defectiveness AKA “psychical” issues to blame for their demise and to what degree a problem may be actually “out there”, in reality, as it were.
Your [interlocutor’s] answer was to create a dichotomy, where one either was a completely helpless victim or one believed only in psychical forces and put all the emphasis (and perhaps blame) on them.
I don’t agree that this is a useful dichotomy. I think it is a very interesting question to decide where psychical forces and social forces meet, and which ones are more determinant for mental health outcomes. Even the way I have formulated the problem here is vastly oversimplified, since psychical forces and social forces are not isolated entities, but synergistic.
Psychoanalysis is a cultural product in my view. Culture is more like the water we move through than like sitting in a dentist’s chair after you’ve already been told what the dentist is about to do. Culture is far more unknown, far less controllable. In a sense, it forms part of our unconscious states of being. One might well do a meta-analysis on psychoanalysis, which is what I have done.
As for why a teenager commits suicide, I can only guess, but I have already suggested a view that takes into account the degree to which theology is deeply embedded in society. She may have felt like male gods were toying with her, gods of immense power in relation to her small femininity. This is a Judeo-Christian formulation, so if she had been exposed to such a culture, or was swimming in it, Amanda Todd may have felt this way because she was aware of her cultural environment.
If one wonders why someone may commit suicide when the waters one is swimming in become worse due to bullying, one might also question the purpose of having any human relationships at all. Humans are just emotional creatures who shouldn’t be allowed to affect us. We should ignore them. Ignore the emotion. Don’t have any. This makes as much sense as committing suicide more slowly. On the other hand, you could reason that social relationships do matter, and that for cultural and emotional reasons, some events may be more triggering for some people than for others.
That seems to me a more logical view than trying to make out that psychoanalysis has nothing to do with cultural experiences, because it is hard and unemotional like a dentist.
4. I could give a better account from my own experiences…
I was brought up in a patriarchal culture and had internalized some patriarchal values, which facilitated patriarchal men to project their worse qualities onto me. I have written about this extensively on my blogs.
I eventually was able to pinpoint the nature of the projections from my father, which had kept me struggling in a state of being divided against myself for so long. I was using every amount of my psychic force to fight against this internalization of patriarchy.
Then I visited a therapist whose response effectively conveyed to me, “No, no, your father’s projections onto you are actually correct estimations.”
To me, that was like a knock out punch. I have recovered gradually, but this takes time.
There are some things that devastate us because the attack is so unexpected, from a direction we had hoped might be friendly, and because they reinforce another’s determination to keep projecting, in a pathological way, onto us.
When a war is going on inside one’s head, a war that came about through a culture, and continues via cultural ideas and means, one needs help to push against what is pathological. One doesn’t need to be pushed over and forced to accept another’s pathological states.
Otherwise, one loses one’s energy and one may die a little, inwardly.
What I concluded from my experience is that therapy is a very fraught and dangerous enterprise, which is best avoided. Moral support is much superior to therapy, if that can be obtained, because one is then encouraged to push against what is pathological and one’s healthy tendencies are reinforced.
Even better than moral support would have been the practical support and cultural logic of my original society. Since my father’s madness originated in that other culture and society, under a specific set of historical and cultural circumstances, there would have been people who could have read his behavior better. My original culture also had a counterbalancing matriarchal side to the warlike and crazy masculine side of the culture. The older women in the society kept the men in check when they were acting up, and the men accepted this and perhaps felt reassured by it.
I am fully aware that my father’s madness could have been kept in check early on by some firm words from a stern matriarch.
But no. He had to go on acting out, and everybody had to go into an extremely passive mode around me, as if we were dealing with something branded into ‘human nature’, that could never be changed so there was no point trying.
So I have genuine, not merely ideological or (god forbid) “psychical” reasons for feeling resentful of Judeo-Christian culture.
The implicit injunction to ‘sort oneself out’, when something could have been done more simply, logically and practically at a community level (that certainly would have been done had my whole society not fallen apart) gets my goat.