Freud’s theory is not just his opinion about the way the mind the worksby Anna Blundy / January 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
There is a bright moment in the process of therapy when a patient suddenly shows up. It feels like a miracle when someone so wrapped up in their own despair just looks you right in the eye and asks an ordinary question.
There is a particular patient I’ve been seeing as part of my training for over a year now. When I first saw her she always had her face hidden by her hands or her fringe, she covered every inch of her skin even in summer and had difficulty leaving her house. She was desperately lonely and couldn’t see a way out of her state of mind.
In his work On Narcissism, Sigmund Freud compares mental illness to toothache, pointing out that every aspect of the sufferer’s being becomes concentrated on the pain. This is certainly true for depression—it is acutely isolating. (Far from talking therapies being self-indulgent navel gazing, they are often the only way out of self-indulgence.) So, although my patient had got a job and moved into a flat share during our therapy, although she was no longer clinically depressed and had come off anti-depressants without a slump, I knew she was still trapped by her own nihilistic thought processes. My pragmatic supervisor told me that this might be as good as it was likely to get.
So when she showed up last week, looked me in the eye and started telling me, directly, fearlessly, how angry she’d been with her parents over the weekend, I was stunned. No guilt? No shame? No self-flagellation?
Ordinarily she would turn her rage into self-hatred, looking at her feet and telling me how responsible she felt for her parents’ awful relationship (passive mum, violent dad). This time she saw the absurdity in her dad’s wild rage at a sloppy waiter. She watched her mum’s complicity, her attempts to appease and defend her husband instead of challenging him. Seemingly out of nowhere, they had become real, separate people in my patient’s mind and she saw them and reality clearly.
“Why now?” I asked her.
“I just got so frustrated with them that something had to change. And it obviously wasn’t going…