Attitudes and Defenses

This is a paper written a long time ago [1990s] for reflection after experiential learning classes  – just want a record of it so putting it up here for now.

Emotional Education: Some thoughts on Attitudes and Defenses

Emotional Education is about (i) becoming aware of what is happening in our emotional process and also (ii) learning how to influence this happening even though most of it is unconscious.

All sorts of interactions have both conscious and unconscious aspects. The unconscious occurs first, before conscious awareness. Also, the unconscious does not have a rational sense of time, place or contradiction. Anything goes. Two ordinary ideas help our conscious observation of emotion and feeling.

Rapport               The degree of emotional contact between people

Here-and-now     Unconscious communication expresses the present emotional state (however far in the past the roots of this state may lie, or however much in desires for the future)

Rapport – (or atmosphere) can be full of feeling, different and strong feeling/s, very nearly empty/ without feeling. The word “trust” can be very significant in relation to rapport. Pay attention to it, and notice when you do not notice rapport or do not want to notice it.

To understand “Here-and-Now” observe how often when we talk (or think etc.) we are sometimes emotionally in “There and Now” (that is stuff/events happening elsewhere) or “There and Then” (stuff that has already happened somewhere). The unconscious acts “Here-and-Now”.

Rapport and Here-and-Now are connected, and consequences like trust, degree of anxiety, etc. follow depending on the kind of attention paid to them.

Whatever people are doing, they are influenced by the quality of the intra and interpersonal relationship(s) which arise, e.g. by the creation of rapport or an appropriate use of authority, respect, etc. depending on the kind of relationships and roles. [Think of examples – doctor-patient, parent-child, friendship, partners, teacher-student, server-customer, financial adviser-client… the list is long…]

In one area of psychodynamic thought, “object relations theory”, a person’s need to relate to others is taken to be central. The term “object-relationship” refers to unconscious activity, where a person processes a store of feelings about others, like an emotional program. These unconscious activities, ‘the inner world of object-relations’ are usually based on those who were important in early childhood, but are more like caricatures of people in particular emotional states, than rounded recognisable pictures. They are “part-objects”. For example, in inner world, a person could feel that a woman who is strong is also angry, or that a woman who is kind cannot be strong, nor ever be angry, even though a real mother might have been able to be both gentle/kind and strong/firm sometimes and either one or the other at other times. A child’s early perception is of emotions present, not an awareness of the whole context, nor a rounded recognition of why or how the mother (or father, other) has these feelings at this moment.

Later, relationships are influenced by unconscious associations that evoke particular part-objects. Say someone has an inner world with “caricatures” such as above, he/she might find it very difficult to trust a female boss (or doctor or teacher), and also might be completely unable to realise that his/her daughter (seen as ‘gentle’) is angry about something real, so she is wrongly labelled “upset” or “childish”.

Some particular object-relationships within people are painfully intense. These are kept out of awareness by splitting and defense. These hostile words describe part of normal development. The supposition is that life/reality is just too complex, especially in babyhood when each person has yet to develop the pre-concepts and concepts for sense-making, so we rely on non-verbal and body communication. Intense discomfort is coped with by diluting, filtering or disposing of some feeling. Ordinary good-enough caring can ‘catch’ the feeling, recognise it and hopefully return it in a manageable form, that is, no longer too intense, something from which the reality of the world can be learned.

However, relationships do not stop being complex, or uncomfortable, and people continue to use defenses that have become automatic rather than useful. These can be visible, especially to others. Developing emotional awareness, and knowledge about emotional process, whether of self or other, can create helpful change and lessen defensiveness in relationships. Examples of common defenses are:

Denial:  Disowning of feelings which are either unacceptably intense, or labelled ‘bad’, or produce too much confusion and anxiety, or all of these.

Projection:  Ascribing feelings or motives to others, i.e. experiencing others as angry, or accusatory, or jealous, etc., when it is too painful to accept these feelings in oneself.

Displacement:  Using feelings which belong to one situation in a different context, for example being angry with one’s family when the cause of the anger lies in a work situation.

Manipulation:  Using the feelings of others to satisfy one’s own need, usually without appreciation of the effects on another, as in ’emotional blackmail’ or ‘double bind’. This often covers hidden desperation about being needy and/or being rejected (needs having been rejected before) and creates a vicious circle.

There are many types of defense. Combinations of defenses entangled with those of others also make it difficult to avoid being drawn into particular kinds of relationships from time to time, for example:

Collusion: where the defense of one person matches with another (e.g. one takes an authoritarian role, the other passively obeys, while both avoid mental pain in the real problem faced)

Health Warning: When a defense is seen, some compassion for the reason for it is needed, otherwise the other is left with the original unmanageable emotional difficulty, made worse by feeling accused, exposed or intruded upon. The result will be greater ‘defensiveness’, increased rigidity, not what is wanted. Pointing out a defense does not ‘catch’ the feeling and return it in a manageable way. It is cruel.

To reduce defensiveness in a safe atmosphere, and do no harm, three attitudes are worth practicing:

Genuineness (awareness of self)

It is sometimes, though not always, easier to see defensiveness in others than in oneself.  To be genuine, and engage in relationships authentically, it is important to regularly reflect on one’s own feelings, notice how and when one became aware of them, and become curious about why the person or context evoked that particular feeling. It is particularly important to notice mixed feelings or those one does not like having, or thinks are ‘wrong’ to have, and acknowledge these conflicts. There is no right or wrong about feelings; one has them. [The action taken in response to a feeling might be wrong.]

By becoming self-aware, relationships with others become more authentic and less a performance. Also, ‘be genuine’ applies only to oneself. It is not possible to demand that someone else is genuine though it becomes more likely when they meet genuineness in you. And, do not demand it of yourself, just practice.

Acceptance (awareness of various parts of self and others)

Feelings, attitudes and personal characteristics, both physical and mental, have to be accepted because they are so at least for now [they may change]. This is easier to say than to do, as, first assumptions are made both about self and others, so you might not know what the actual feeling, attitude or characteristic is. Also, if what it is, or what you assume it is, is something you do not like, which makes you anxious or uncomfortable, you can mentally block the discomfort.  However, accepting can be practiced.  It applies both to yourself and to others. Acceptance does not mean “agree with”, it means you realise that this view or attitude or feeling exists and is held by the person. It does not avoid any responsibility you have to let someone you accept know when, how or what you disagree with.

One way to practice is to allow yourself to think about personal characteristics, e.g. impatience, kindness, and divide them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.  Then try to find a way in which the ‘bad’ characteristic can be linked with something good, which doesn’t change it, but makes it more bearable, e.g. an impatient person might also be spontaneous or energetic. Similarly, find the downside to the ‘good’ characteristics.

Acceptance needs lateral thinking.  You are opening your mind to wider images of people or groups and respecting them as individuals, not labelling or categorising.

Empathy (awareness of the other)

This is recognising what it feels like to be other person.  It is not necessarily about how you would feel if the same things were happening to you, because you are not them; you might have the same feelings, you might not. It is more like being in their skin, than in their shoes. Empathy is achieved by listening and observing attentively and picking up the clues, both those which are obvious and those from tones, atmosphere and body language. It is gathering information. You can check the information, but do that in an accepting way, as if you are aggressive or intrusive, the feelings will change in reaction to you.

Being empathic is sometimes called knowing the other’s ‘frame of reference’.  Should you want the other to move to your frame (often with good reason) and you have some idea of theirs, you are much more likely to find a way from the one frame to the other, if you convey and make use of your empathy.

There is considerable confusion about ’empathy’, especially the assumption that it means being ‘nice to people’.  For example, to treat a disruptive bully with softness and ‘would you like to talk about your worries’ is not empathic, neither is retaliation with more force than he uses.  A bully is making others fear or be angry; is not owning fear in himself, not letting himself feel weak; he is ‘projecting’.  His need may be for security without retaliation.  To consistently watch him and firmly stop him is empathic.

Genuineness, acceptance and empathy are aspects of reflective activity, or mindfulness. They do not replace regular communication. They are like peripheral vision when driving a car. Of course knowing where you are going and watching the route in front is how you drive a car. Reflection makes connections with the other people on the road, and reflective activity improves all our journeys. In literature concerning psychoanalysis, object relations, defensiveness, etc. the concepts can sound involved and difficult. However, everyone has been living with feelings, defenses and relationships throughout their life and knows a great deal about them already. Practising genuineness, acceptance and empathy increases awareness and enables the psychodynamic notion of using “counter-transference” which leads to change in our inner world.

Acknowledgement: Genuineness, acceptance and empathy as described here are my version of the ‘core conditions’ of person-centred counselling, considered in the light of psychodynamic theory of human living and growing. [See for example Carl Rogers (1961) On Becoming a Person, and Margot Waddell (2002) Inside Lives.] I have found these ideas especially useful in non-therapeutic contexts, such as occur within organisations and a variety of groups. I am responsible for this version, which I believe is accessible from observation in daily life. Emotional Education is more like human relations consultancy than therapy or counselling. Or, it seems to me that Emotional Education offers a way in, and enables flourishing, while complex or difficult ideas are not simplistically reduced.


Will: what is it?

WILL – a noun, something we have. Dictionary definitions stress the consciousness, and this is a puzzle for those who understand that we are human with our unconscious not the opposite of consciousness but the deeper unknown dynamic states of emotion, impulse and body, from which our separate consciousness arises. So – is ‘WILL’ any of these?
  1. the faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions: the freedom of the will.
  2. power of choosing one’s own actions: to have a strong or a weak will.
  3. the act or process of using or asserting one’s choice; volition: My hands are obedient to my will.
My definition: Will is indeed an outcome of conscious deliberate action, but not any old action, a very particular one, that has effect on all the other subsequent choices we make, consciously and unconsciously determined. We can make a conscious decision to attend to the self and observe what we can of its impulsive reactions.We are being willing to look at and distinguish two processes in our states of mind, that affect both inner and outer world view: the processes which Bion called “truth” and “lie” (the first primarily interested in what is actually there, the second primarily interested in gratification of what is wanted, as if it would be there). This willingness to look increases the probability that unconscious urge and conscious intent are in tune with each other, or indicates when and how they may not be. Then, to me, the notion of deliberate action in other spheres of decision making and choice makes sense. We have WILL because we have been willing in a particular way that is more interested in ‘truth’ than in ‘want’.
I find that this definition addresses problems of unconscious determinism, as though we could not be consciously responsible for our actions, and also addresses the problems of relativism: if everything is in part subjective how can anything be consciously willed?
It is of course an act of being: what is now called “mindful”. I have written about it previously as “use of self” an everyday use of the psychoanalysts’ “transference and counter-transference”.
If one is not mindful, then unconscious force, reactivity to circumstance, takes the place of willed aware intent. “Willy nilly” – what a really good word for this unhappy process. Willy nilly we are in it whatever it is, up to our necks, fooling ourselves that we know what we are doing. This is the state where “the road to hell is paved with good intention” because the mindful intention is not present.
In mindfulness, Will is taking a risk on the future, deliberately trusting interaction with the world. Truth will out, whatever I want. It is a promise. I will.


Ressentiment – unjust suffering

Ressentiment is an effect of detriment that is unjustly suffered, by an individual or group, or by labeling a person as ‘group’ (like black, or disabled, or mentally ill) and thus denying their own experience of how they do and do not belong. Anyone who thinks they, and not the sufferer, can decide on the quality of “detriment” is not able to learn the nature of what is suffered. The sufferer, as well as experiencing damage, however tiny that damage may seem, also suffers RESSENTIMENT (coined by Nietzche, no less).

This is cousin to the better known resentment. They are both affects, or feelings, arising from human emotional process. We think we know ‘resentment’ – the angry feeling a person or group has when it feels it has been wronged. This feeling is directed towards the source of the wrong, or the injustice. The sufferer of wrong may not be able to get redress, or revenge, but they do know they deserve better. They can voice something, even if they cannot act, and their sense of self is valid. This happened, I experienced it.

Ressentiment arises when people react to a perceived injustice by repressing their feelings of resentment and revenge. The feelings, the facts, can be inarticulate, the person can be without the verbal capability to own knowledge of what is happening (too young, too shocked, too oppressed, too bullied…). The repression occurs because of the impotence of those not only holding, but also unable to express their feelings openly, out of fear of the powerful, the authority of the oppressor. They remain passive and powerless… an abiding affect … a lasting mental attitude … ressentiment … becomes a pronounced dimension of social suffering  … that is lived experience of domination and repression and the feelings of humiliation, despair, shame and resentment … that are hidden injuries internalised because they cannot be expressed.

Well, quite. What is damaged is the core of the self. Later, even much later after changes in society may have happened, how is such a person (or people within a social suffering group) to know if they can now trust their own feeling or perception of the context that others believe – rightly – has changed? It is a nameless constellation of ??? something feeling ??? not right. NOT RIGHT. Damaged. The self’s capacity to repair has also been damaged (that follows if you can’t trust self feelings).

The politics, the authority, culture and  context change. Thank goodness it sometimes does. Then, if a sufferer is told that ‘it is all right now’ or ‘get over yourself’, insult is added to injury. How can people trust themselves to express the previously nameless and inexpressible?

Try to imagine how you would re-establish a validity in your soul, in yourself. Maybe anger and tilting at any windmill in sight helps, I do not know. I do know one thing that helps:

Acknowledge damage is done.

It is present, in the present, activated by a word or act. Compassion honours this reality.

To imagine how to re-establish validity, first see what people do. Observe, try not to think.

Get curious about what is it that is happening. Are those parts of a person that have been denied, that have had no voice with which to speak finding space? Or are they being shut down …again?

Can parts that have ‘felt they feel what they should not’ and ‘not felt what they feel they should’ reverse their enfolding into experience? (think child abuse, brutalised soldiering, victim of domestic violence, groups experiencing discriminatory treatment, etc.)

First, see what people do. Let yourself see, and be touched by what is then felt.

Resilience or Resistance to Psychopathy

Not being drawn in to psychopathy?

The influence of a psychopathic person, or the influence of a psychopathic culture (I have just read Will Black: Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires and found Steve Becker’s blog.). I am thinking of other ideas that may or may not mean similar things, such as Hoggett‘s perverse social structure, the “as-if” culture, institutionalisation, and hegemony.

I found “Five Steps to Tyranny” on you tube, one of the best ever documentaries.

I think I like the word TOXIC to describe this human thing. I think we all either do it or are involved somehow. It is as much a part of the human condition as breathing. that is the message contained in five steps. It is ordinary. But I do not think it is the only part of the human condition that matters, so we should not be afraid of toxicity.

  • Just, learn to recognize it.
  • Then, learn how to put it back on the shelf: Toxic, Poison, not needed except for very specific, careful, use, if at all.
  • Look at each of the five steps
  • At each one, there is an option, to proceed differently.

I am going to take this post further tomorrow.

Twist, or, psychopathy

This post is made up of excerpts from a paper “Making and Mistaking Reality” written 2003.

Systemic thinking can be defined as not looking for statements about a situation, but for provisional and partial explanations (or images) which illuminate the here-and-now. The idea of being inside or outside a system is recognised as being itself a thought construction. In systemic thinking, the need to decide inside or outside disappears. Accepting that the whole is discernible in each part and that each part is influential in the whole, the experience in the here-and-now is of a tension between separateness (e.g., personal identity) and relatedness (e.g., belonging to a group). Freud’s methodological discovery, now encapsulated in the concepts of transference and countertransference, was that this tension could itself be attended to. Expressed as here-and- now, the multi-layered dynamic experience of the present is the crucial material for thought and thinking. In the present, the concept and practice of “Mindfulness” is a clear expression of this focussed, but freethinking awareness.

I am indebted to Anne MacDonald (2002), a forensic psychiatrist from Glasgow, speaking at a conference on “Counter-transference” for her representation of the effects of different kinds of breaks and joins, using a simple ring or a mobius strip, though she is not responsible for the following.

Beginning with the ring, there is an inside and an outside, a blackknot1
and white say, two surfaces connected only by whatever is in the depth between them. A ring can turn into a mobius strip if it breaks and is twisted, so that when rejoined the separate surfaces have become one. Different breaks and joins, with or without the twist, make all kinds of knots and tangles, or helices, depending on what is found as the broken ends seek a rejoin.

Whatever the complexity, there are essential differences between the single surface of the mobius strip, the double surfaces of the ring, or the multiple dimensions, and connections in the helix. On the strip, like Escher’s (1963) ants forever on one surface, living has no tensions between different worlds, only stop or go, following the rules. escherantsOn a ring, or more complex knot, ants on the different surfaces might continue forever in endless parallel worlds. However, they might also, through trial and error, like Popperian conjecture and refutation, learn slowly.
Recall again that in the notion of systemic thinking, one is oneself a part of the system. McDonald (2002) described the profound differences in her own feeling and sense of herself which occurred when she worked with disturbed and dangerous others in prison. People with “two surfaces,” however hard to reach, had strong passions and black and white views. They understood the rules, and why they had broken them, and why they were in prison. In out of prison terms, these people are moralistic, rather than moral, and in thought terms, they make mistakes of ignorance and assumption. These in the moment reactions in people, are emotionally immature, and so is the thinking process happening at that moment, however complicated its content. In spite of this, Anne McDonald said she found it relatively easy to work, even when individuals were wholly immature or violent, as she did not feel her own sense of self in danger of being overcome.

She declared the one-surface model (formed by making a twist) much more difficult, both to see, and to influence, because in making a relationship of any kind with such a person, or the twist part of a person, one had to join them on the single surface, whatever it was. One is sucked in to the existing system, drawn in by ones own ordinary needs in contact with others (e.g., assuming trust, making a living, etc.). Instead of being able to take part in a dialogue, one loses ones own vision or perspective. McDonald (2002) said it was essential to find other people who related differently, and get out of such a system, otherwise one would be seduced. A twist in response to a break includes the manipulative, the emotional blackmailer, the con man, and the abuser, as well as the workaholic portrayed by Escher (1963), because no other way of being can be seen. The idea corresponds to hegemony of belief which distorts everyone’s experience. Institutional and cultural examples are those firms like Enron where a profit motive divorced from value existed, or the evidence of the Macpherson report (1999) of institutional racism, and the Stevens report (2003) of institutional collusion in murder in Northern Ireland. To work well in such a context, one needs a sense of ethics, as ordinary response (especially rational response) will itself become twisted, and, more importantly, in emotional terms, our sense of self is betrayed by our own need for interaction with others.
McDonald’s comment was that the only way out was to see the break and twist for what it was, a distortion which seemed like a good idea at the time, and what one really needs is the totally uncomplicated view of someone ordinary with no axe to grind (e.g., the child who saw the emperor naked, or, in real life, the chat with the secretary at the photocopier). She purposely makes time for such ordinariness, so that there is room for seeing yourself as others see you, from a distance, as well as for relationship, dialogue, and understanding (2002). Then, the distortion which seemed like a good idea at the time can be finding the break, re-breaking, and trying a different kind of join. In therapeutic understanding, counsellors know that to help someone, they often have to be seduced into failure, so they are in the kind of failure this person has previously experienced. They, unlike their client, may know the way out, and, unlike most professionals, they have supervisors who are as interested in the process of failing as they are in the process of succeeding. From emotional education experiences, it seems to me that the twist is more difficult to find in organisations, as day-to-day experience of authority, especially that of hierarchy and tradition, hide its effects within what seems like good practice at the time.

So, that is the idea of the Twist.

Now, I want to combine this with previous ideas on thought process, to develop a notion of psychopathy that helps us to see how psychopathology infects organizations and cultures. I expect this will be closely related to Paul Hoggett’s concept of as- if cultures, or perverse social structures.

Most important in my aim is to explore the idea of the twist in ordinary everyday experience, that is indeed damaging, but is far from the perversities of paedophilia or criminality that have been the subject of MacDonald’s and Black’s work.

Splitting, and states of mind

How does a mind cope with experience, its experience of itself and the body that it is in? Especially, as is the case at birth, with new experience, with a mind that is just at a beginning stage of development?

a) perception has impacted on mind or body or both.

b) Mental discomfort too great, Self splits:

  • Keep perception of the ‘good’, comfortable enough, and get rid of perception of the ‘bad’, too uncomfortable, Short-term survival, I am OK and can manage, But, the experience deemed bad can no longer be perceived, it is lost to feeling and thought. The ‘good’ is unqualified, more ideal, less real.
  • Splitting” is a word for biological process – the creation of emotion states in the mind/brain, and is both necessary and natural. It can be considered a process of psychic economy whereby the complex perception of a situation impacting on a mind that does not yet know the thought needed to think the perception, creates thinking capacity by attributing all its ‘x’ characteristics to one of a pair, and all its ‘y’ characteristics to the other.
  • Pleasure vs pain; Security vs threat; Seen before vs never seen before, etc.
  • The part of perception that can be kept is a goody, goodies are all-good and wear white hats, and the baddies are all-bad and wear black hats. We often add a defense such as denial or projection to the ‘baddie’ characteristics.

In hindsight, a stunningly obvious revelation to which this leads is that we never know ALL about a context, nor can we predict all consequences. Certainty is not a real quality, but an ideal one. Certainty is regrettably often confused with security needs, where in fact security arises from capacity to deal with the second part of the process, the acceptance of feedback.

c) Different states of mind, previously written and thought about version: (as here)

  • Splitting takes place, then, following feedback from “other”
  • EITHER – Transcends splitting, bad recovered, to become integrated, open to experience, adapts to change, engages in creative play and thought, empathic to others, copes with real world anxiety and trouble, enjoys life, secure
  • OR – Maintains splitting according to circumstances, defensive, repeats behavior, seeks certainty, almost everything we know people do…
  • Both states carry an AUTHORITY picture, how authority is seen unconsciously – a transference picture

Anyone, BABY, CHILD, ADULT in age, can be in either state of mind, some of the time, all of the time, none of the time, momentarily, or for quite a while.We are connected to each other and dependent on the kind of feedback received. This can be from outside the self, form another, or from one’s developed inner world, another part of the self.

Can I do better?

I began this blog with enthusiasm. However that did not match the results. My other blog has had some serious thought on it, but not a lot. I know and still want, that blog to be my story for myself and others who are interested – a kind of Diary of the family and friends and the communities and places where we live. Many of those family and friends know well that I am often serious, some would say too serious.

This blog began with good intentions, to enable me to sort out my thinking and my knowledge, regarding our emotional world, our communities and cultures, our politics and government, our good and bad ways of being. I wanted to create some focus and learn to express better my views on why it seems to be so difficult to create a more wholesome and fairer world. It is enough to say that most agree that the current inequalities and distress of many is utterly dire, and that is just talking of the humans, without looking at the mess being made of ecological systems that are irreplaceable.

So today I thought that maybe I could do better.

Can I do better?

How? I still like its name: transitional space. But I do not like that I have used it so seldom. I do not like the reason for this – that writing for it seems too complicated.

I will treat it more like a ‘serious diary’. See how that goes, at the least it may help my mindfulness.


This is my scribble of thought over breakfast

So – what has come to mind today?

The lightbulb experience for my own change from muddle of giving getting having regretting forgetting etc etc to a simple live in the present BEING who I am happened a long time ago, and has to be re-done over and over, as I believe it does for everyone. It is a serious piece of thinking, it embarrasses me, it comes from Wilfred Bion‘s psychoanlaytic work where he made a comment that [from my memory] said that the learning from psychoanalysis was incomplete without attending to thinking from the philosophy of science, and likewise, vice versa, that philosophy was incomplete without the insights of psychoanalysis.

WOW (as my grandsons say).

In other words, the trouble with thinking, is that we only have our mind to think with, so thinking about thinking is going to be ??? what??? Certainly not true. Certainly not accurate. etc. We all know there will always be subjectivity and whatever bias it brings. Ways of thinking, attitudes or states of mind, affect all our disciplines, not just scientific thought or psychoanalysis. BUT SOME PEOPLE MANAGE TO DISCUSS THE IMPLICATION FOR HUMANS AND THE WORLD BETTER THAN OTHERS.





One reason this mattered so much to me was that at the time I was doing a PhD in history of science, studying the thought of Michael Faraday. And I discovered that Faraday himself, in 1854, among all his many many scientific breakthroughs, had reflected on and later published his own version of THINKING ABOUT THINKING. He call ed it “On Mental Education” a title from which I took the words I have often used since: Emotional Education. I have had little enough regard from various sources too busy with other kinds of education, if I had followed Faraday and called it “mental” I think I would have been a bit mental myself. But my words carried their own dilemma of perception – most people think it is something to do with therapy, or worse touchy-feely ways of engaging, or better, helping children and some adults with self-esteem and confidence.

Emotional Education is about THOUGHT and the nature of our thinking process, whether that is then applied to science (Faraday) or poetry or farming or childhood troubles or anything else that people engage in. I want to see it applied to politics and governance.

Now, we also have discovery from neuroscience that tells us about mind.

I keep trying to catch up. I do not seem to get anywhere, never mind ahead.

Emotional Education is related to a more popular notion, that of Emotional Intelligence. there are many criticisms of EI – some on the wikipedia page. I dislike that it is mainly used as a something to HAVE or NOT HAVE as a something similar to the other kinds of intelligence. It is commodified – as in “leadership Quality”. Emotional Education is about Learning, and more particularly, following BION, it is Learning from Experience.

The next post will have to clarify the distinction I learned in my Faraday study days about kinds of thought: what is at least partially true, and can be trusted as a basis for acting, including making possible theories? and what is a “Lie”, Bion’s word, a prejudice, a dead end for progress, the kind of thought that leads to stultification, even when it sounds good at the time?




Interventions for change and development: an important difference

An Important Difference in intervention practice.

This post grew out of one on my other site, which was inspired by a prompt: How something appears is always a matter of perspective.

Looking from a different perspective is not always easy to do, even when one intends to try to do that. a perspective, a world view held, is predominantly unconscious. The good news is that unconscious patterns can change, can be changed, to some extent. Whether the major trends in its patterning have been laid down by ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’ we now know that there is more plasticity in the mind than was previously thought.

Change can happen. The questions now become: What kind of change? How can the change be brought about? Is the change we get one which is wanted? Who wants this change? I am thinking about children and ADD or ADHD diagnoses and treatments here. However, this post is not going to go far into the debates about treatment and theory of mental wellness, illness, medications, diagnoses, psychiatry, talking cures etc etc. Any or all of these, maybe especially medications, can cause shifts in neural circuits. Afterwards, will these circuits return to more or less where they were, or will the change be permanent. More important, will the change be good? At the moment, what happens is frequently trial and error, with some hope and fear and attempts to monitor what is happening. Hope and fear, like all feelings, are active in the unconscious and may create change or its opposite, solidify a pattern. Treatment and monitoring, like all interventions, take time and expense. When are they worth it?

With so many variables, I hope all those involved are thinking about “do no harm” and about the ethics of what really amounts to EXPERIMENT.

This post addresses this aspect of ethics, by outlining a little mentioned difference between Medication, psychiatric intervention, even ordinary cognitive education processes etc. and therapy, counselling or emotional education which is psychoanalytically based. (In this I include all the many psychodynamic perspectives which have developed from psychoanalytic thought and insight, not just therapies, and not just psychoanalysis itself. I can’t comment on whether the difference exists in other forms of ‘talking cure’ as I do not know enough about their practice, but I think it does not, as non-psychodynamic practitioners are differently trained. They understand ‘psychodynamic ideas’ as aspects of a theory, not as lived practice.)

Question: Where does the intervention for change take place?

One of the greatest fears commented on by those wondering about trying ‘psychoanalysis’, or any of its little sisters, psychodynamic counselling, psychodynamic consultancy to work roles or to organisations, a psychodynamic education class etc. is the thought that someone is going to get inside my head and guddle about in my mind, mess with my psyche, my self. It is terrifying. Is it paranoid or real? They (the analyst types) will interpret, I will be helpless, I will be faced with an authority telling about my own unconscious world.

Real fear: I don’t want anyone in here inside my deepest self.

PARADOX: Psychoanalysis is possibly the ONLY place where this is precisely and exactly what does NOT happen. It does happen as a result of medication, as listening to anyone who has had that experience can tell you.  It even seems to be the intention of medication – make a change inside the psyche and then see if the person is OK with it, better or worse than before, certainly different.

[I am now just going to use the word ‘psychodynamic’ for all of the psychoanalytically based notions, and the shortened word ‘psyd-practitioner’ for the analyst/counsellor consultant etc. I will use the word ‘person’ for the person who is seeking change, so many of the other terms (patient, client, analysand, etc.) having unhelpful connotations. I will use ‘practitioner’ for other sorts of professionals, non-psychodynamic, who intervene to help change, and the same word, ‘person’ for those they work with.]

In present-day psychodynamic encounters [more than 100 years since Freud’s first adventures and discoveries]

the person seeking change ‘borrows’ the mind of the psyd-practitioner

[one of Freud’s insights, the recognition of unconscious transference/counter-transference but greatly developed in practice and theory since then.]

The psyd-practitioner allows the other person in. In a full psychoanalysis, this is even encouraged, as the often derided practice of presenting a ‘blank screen’ does encourage the person to unconsciously try to enter. This is technically called something like ‘developing the transference’. Developing transference is not always appropriate when the psyd-practitioner has other roles, but some transference will always take place anyway. This is seldom acknowledged outside of psychodynamic practice, but it is what people do, all of us do, all of the time. We go in and out of each others’ minds, or at least bits of us do, mental emotional activity is exchanged. How else would you have a relationship? This everyday, every moment, interaction with mother father sister brother child teacher doctor priest friend stranger … is happening as we live and act and are acted upon. Their trace is monitored by our unconscious, which is so very much more organized than a big bucket full of stuff. Defences was the name given to some of the processes or mental structures developed to monitor and manage these comings and goings, and maybe, seen from the perspective of “whose mind is going into whose”, it is the right word to use.

To put it the other way round, the person seeking change goes into the psyd-practitioners mind and ‘guddling’ or ‘messing’ or ‘staying inside’ happens in there, not in the person’s mind. From the strength and length of the psyd-practitioner’s training, s/he works consciously to be aware of what is going on inside herself (counter-transference) works to let her own defences be lowered (putting own feelings on hold) and thus generates an understanding from a different place, even a new understanding. This is offered: only sometimes through interpretation; sometimes through empathy or the silence which speaks volumes as unconscious communication takes a more central role. The person actually has a different experience, which happens within the mind of the psyd-practitioner, and can choose to take it or leave it.

Others besides psyd-practitioners, let their minds be borrowed so another can develop, but it is seldom a conscious process. One prevalent example is reciprocal mothering (caring). How does a mother sense the unique need of this baby at this moment? She knows the need because she feels it in the depth of her own mind (which also contains the support, advice and help she has available to her).

In many of our roles, we know that someone has ‘got in’. We dream, re-arranging or recovering the patterns of our experience. In some contexts (nurses, teachers, other carers, managers, emergency responders, etc etc) people cannot shake off the stress or the despair, highly professional people become drained or burnt out. (I wish they all had some psychodynamics in their trainings.) Psyd-practitioners do not say going in and going out should happen, or should not happen. They accept that it will happen. In the space of the sessions with the other person (most often deliberately and protectively kept to a specifically agreed time) they work as well as they can to make this transfer of mental ‘stuff’ ONE-WAY ONLY. They say ‘welcome’ and ‘come in’. They may then say, or simply allow it to become known in unconscious process, ‘this is the way you are, and unlike you I know other ways to be’. Or, they could say ‘now I see/feel  the experience which has put you where you are, in this corner. Unlike you, I can see a way out’.  Trainings are often long and expensive. They are imperfect. People are imperfect.

This is however a huge and important difference in the manner of intervention. Other interventions, particularly medication, are directly applied inside the mind of the person, the practitioner can remain (relatively) untouched. They will however have experience of the person, and to avoid draining or burn-out many practitioners work in ways which maintain or even raise their personal defences, and work organization can also reflect this necessity to maintain defences. Hence – the important difference between psychodynamic practice and other sorts of intervention asks a different kind of question from the one about ‘outcomes’. To find this difference, ask:

Where does the intervention for change take place?

Or, you could ask: Whose mind is being guddled in?

A psychodynamic practitioner consciously allows his/her own mind to become a place where change happens.

The other person can live in less fear, that alone creates a space for change that can be the change wanted.

Would all those who apply medication or other kinds of advice/help, those methods which push change into the other person, please think about how they too could work in this way.

As the song says “Be the change you want to see…”

Never mind…
Tiger moms and permissive society, and hope ‘they will just grow out of it’ whatever ‘it’ might be.

early childhood and never mind … Do we listen … All the time … Or just get on with it. Either way seems to be a trap.

The trap is well defined by Joan Raphael Leff when she considers the reaction – unthinking response –  to regulation as a child care process. Once considered ‘old-fashioned’ regulation is making a frightening come-back, at least on TV. BUT, permissiveness doesn’t seem to be ok either. Raphael-Leff shows that facilitation, an attempt by those who have listened to take away the child’s pain, may be just the opposite face of regulation and although different can be equally as unhelpful as ignoring the felt need of the child (which is what regulation does). She identifies another way she calls reciprocation. In other words the child’s pain is heard, but not just absorbed by the adult as if it will then go away, as this takes away the capacity to grow through experience. As The quote above says, the experience is returned with understanding attached, so that it remains belonging to the child but can be transcended in growth. It is the child who now masters his own pain, and is able to tell himself ‘Never mind – Get on with your life’.

To think about how this happens is something I am working to express. It is unconscious. It is an emotional process, it is generative, not a therapy to correct something which previously took a now unwanted path (maybe through mistaken regulatory or facilitative intervention). Not in this post.

Thinking Truly

Thinking Truly, The Use of Counter-transference

The understanding of the meaning of ‘truth’ and ‘lie’ and of the processes in thinking by which the first is brought into the domain of knowledge, and by which the second is produced from emotional need, have implications concerning the nature of thoughts. It seems to me that both kinds of thinking can take place.  [These ideas emerge from the work  of Wilfred Bion, but I am responsible for this, and for the way I use his work.] The conscious result of either process is the experience  of an idea (or feeling or mood) in the mind.  Therefore when we have an idea, the real task is to know from which category of thinking it has come, although it would appear that conscious thinking very rarely attempts discrimination in this respect. This ‘very rarely’ seems to me to apply whether the conscious thought is applied to arts or science or politics or management or helping others or anything. The psychoanalytic mode of reflection, discovered counter-transference and uses consciously in what they call a free-floating attention to analyst, analysand and the relation occurring in the moment between them. This is a lot of words to describe an idea, a mental emotional process, which is far too good to be kept only in the context of the talking therapies.

Long ago I studied the work of scientist Michael Faraday. I believe this is an example of how ‘true thinking’ can be consciously attempted in the practice of science and Faraday himself tried to explain it in a paper “on mental education” (which you can now find online). I want to consider this notion of “true thinking” in the psychoanalytic use of ‘counter-transference’.

The core premise of a psychoanalyst (and of therapists, counsellors, consultants etc. working in a psychodynamic mode) is that the unconscious exists and affects conscious awareness, in feeling, thought and action.  The analyst accepts that in meeting ‘other’, he/she will affect and be affected by the other, at many levels of being, both conscious and unconscious.  ‘Counter-transference’ is the analyst’s inner response to meeting, the emotions and mental processes set in motion by the analyst’s own history and the object relationships of his/her internal world.  This is inclusive of:

a) narcissistic needs of self, an experiencing which takes no account of ‘other’, and,

b) reactions which, still unconscious, accept ‘other’, a taking in the perception of not-self, an experiencing which acknowledges communication between self and other.

In awareness of counter-transference affect, (a) and (b) are unlikely to appear separately. Indeed, that they do not is the source of the analyst’s doubt, and question, about his/her own capacity to ‘think truly’.  One solution is to consider that verbal responses (e.g. interpretations) are experiments, albeit theoretically informed, i.e. trial and error.  Their truth is evaluated from hindsight, as one sees what happens to the patient.  The general public, and patients, are, I believe rightly, alarmed by this possibility.  I do not think that it is what happens in analysis.  As I have said earlier, the experience of being a patient is one of being engaged in what is mainly ‘trial and truth’, not ‘trial and error’.

I find it more helpful to think about counter-transference, both (a) and (b), as a holistic response in the analyst, where either of (a) or (b) is the ‘figure’ and the other the ‘ground’ in the inner states which produce the here-and-now aware experience.  [I have not encountered this description elsewhere, so I am responsible for it and for the following.]

Consciously, as the analyst cultivates a consistent stance of ‘attentive reserve’, counter-transference is monitored by silent recognition of whatever emotion, mood and thought is in awareness, and, by a questioning introspection.  What feeling ?  Why that …?  Why now ? Why so faint, so intense…? …  This self questioning process is in effect a reiteration of the existence of a non-narcissistic part of self, one which operates as a participant observer, able to distinguish and relate to what is observed.  The communicative aspect of the analyst’s counter-transference, (b), is strengthened, and brought to the foreground, however much its configuration may still be coloured by the background of narcissistic need.

Without monitoring counter-transference, without the consistent attempt to maintain an attentive reserve, the narcissistic aspect of counter-transference, (a), may dominate as ‘figure’.  The characteristic quality of narcissism, to split off and deny the existence of ‘other’, will erode or destroy the links with ‘ground’ and the responses to communication from the other become fainter, even lost, not available for recognition.  If narcissistic need is indeed figuring as the dominant process, however temporarily, for that time the communication with other is restricted to the primitive deeply unconscious mechanisms of projective and introjective identifications.  In taking precedence, these mechanisms create fusion with what might have been separable and denial of what might have been related to; the processes of resisting information from reality and the ‘lie’ are engendered.

Precisely because the monitoring takes place, monitoring counter-transference (even in the older sense of holding back all counter-transference response, in abstinence and not for informational use), allows a part of self which says “me and…” instead of saying “only me”, to be the foreground figure in the unconscious state of mind.  However much ‘other’ is not yet known, or perception of it distorted, at the very least the unconscious ‘figure’ is now an element of self which does not stand alone, cut off from linking, modification and growth.  The primitive identifications still occur, but like those within the good enough mother caring for her infant, they are subject to inner communication, and, being modified, can be put to use as a source of empathy.

Through personal analysis and training, an analyst is encouraged to consciously ask a question similar to that I have called ‘the real scientific task’ [above]:  “From which category of feeling, mine or the patient’s communication to me, has this inner response of mine come?”  I am suggesting that it is not the answer to the question which creates access to ‘thinking truly’, but the factual existent event of asking it.  This conscious act makes a change, however minute, in unconscious configuration.  Assiduous and repetitive re-asking, the monitoring implicit in the analytic stance, develops and strengthens the mental configuration which is open to relationship with both inner and outer realities.