"My friend is, I think very frightened of ideas that might undermine her belief system,"by Anna Blundy / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
I was having coffee with a friend the other day and said I had to go because I had patients to see. “Oh,” she said, wincing. “I’d forgotten you do that.” This was odd in itself, because for years I must have been avoiding talking to her about psychoanalytic theory for fear of offending her (it’s normally very difficult to get me off the subject) or, rather, for fear of her offending me. Then I saw her face light up as a “joke” leapt into her mind. “Amazing that you can dole out advice when you can’t sort your own life out!” She laughed, relieved to have wrapped the subject up so satisfactorily. I tore the edges off a packet of sugar and wondered whether or not to bother.
A textbook error, but I bothered. “Um, it’s not about advising anyone. Friends can easily do that. It’s about thinking together to understand someone. For example, if you repeat patterns over and over again and don’t know why. Like people who say they’re always attracted to bastards? And then we try to look at the unconscious meaning…” I trailed off. “Hey,” she said, raising her hands in surrender as if I’d been explaining that selling guns to children was a decent living. “I respect people’s work. If someone pays you to do that, good for you.”
It was a startling reaction. Simply: “I’m not interested in this.” People quite often say: “I don’t believe in Sigmund Freud.” I usually reply: “He existed, I assure you. There’s even video evidence.” But those people want to have a discussion. They’ve read some Freud (or not) and have decided he was a misogynistic cocaine addict who set up a personality cult. I enjoy this argument and it is, at any rate, an engagement with the material and with me. Lots of people view Freudian theory as a belief system (it isn’t—it’s more a way of describing the unconscious mind, as gravitational theory is a way of describing why things fall to the ground) and lots of people hate either Freud’s seduction theory (the idea that his female patients were victims of incest) or his abandonment of same (leading to his ideas on the Oedipus Complex). His ideas of penis envy in girls and female sexuality in general are still passionately argued about and that’s great fun (I tend, slightly controversially, to agree with Freud).
But to bat it all away as rubbish from the standpoint of complete ignorance strikes me as fearful. My friend is, I think, very frightened of ideas that might undermine her belief system, that might accuse her of being a bad mother, accuse her mother of being a bad mother or other unthinkable thoughts. If I had spent the past decade becoming a yoga instructor or an aromatherapist I’m sure she’d be fascinated and want to try it. These are soothing and non-threatening ideas.
And she’s right in a way. Psychoanalytic ideas are extremely challening to our own propaganda about ourselves and our families. It’s really hard to accept our own hatred (perhaps Kleinian theory more than Freudian), our unconscious murderous and/or sexual desires, our rage, our shame, our reluctant gratitude. Really looking in the mirror is excruciating and, for some, just too scary. But, in the end, I think we’re much more likely to accept and forgive ourselves and others as mothers, fathers and people post-therapy than we are pre-therapy. Far from being self-indulgent, therapy is the way out of self-indulgence.
Well, that’s what I should have said. Instead, I tore up another packet of sugar.