Mental health is all about daring to depend on someone elseby Anna Blundy / September 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
Close readers of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion and Donald Winnicott and the rest of the psychoanalytic cannon develop their own shrinky language, which is meant to help therapists make sense of their patient, but can instead serve to cut them off.
Readers of Freud’s work will happily talk about themselves and other adults like this: “Very castrating,” “Puts up a phallic defence,” “Still working through the Oedipus complex,” “Chronically narcissistic,” “Dreadful penis envy.” It’s all about unconscious fantasy, yes, but it can sound scarily literal, particularly in the genital area.
And narcissistic, said by a shrink, doesn’t mean you think you’re good looking. It’s about being closed off, living in a fantasy of total self-sufficiency and unable to depend on anyone else. “Dependence” is good. Your therapist might say: “I think you find it very hard to depend on me?” (Subtext: “You narcissist”).
I (as a narcissist) didn’t understand this for years. Lying there, I thought: “Why would I depend on you?” But mental health is all about daring to depend on someone else for one’s wellbeing at the same time as remaining separate.
There’s another one. “Separate.” Shrinks say: “I think it’s very hard for you to feel separate from so and so.” And yet we, as patients, know perfectly well we’re separate from whoever it is. However, not being separate, in this world, refers to a state of hyper-involvement, like a baby (now a disturbed adult) who hasn’t been able to separate from, say, a controlling mother who won’t allow the child to wean (metaphorically…), or a neglectful mother to whom the baby has to cling. Yes, it’s all about mum.
Klein’s work is heavy on bitter hatred, ravenous greed, the paranoid-schizoid position, babies wanting to scoop out the insides of their mothers’ breasts. So, you might hear a therapist saying of a three-month-old child: “A very paranoid-schizoid baby, murderously attacking mum.” This could be terrifying if you hadn’t spent years immersed in the world of Klein’s voracious babies and learnt that, in fact, being in the paranoid-schizoid position, seeing things as black/white, good/bad is a normal phase of development (and one to which anxious adults often revert) on the way to that longed-for state of good mental health, ambivalence (a positive thing in therapy), the Depressive Position. Yup, that’s what…