PSYCHOANALYSIS: A LESSON WITH "MADAME"
By Claudia Luiz, ED.M., CERT. PSYA./ Local Columnist
Here is an important lesson in psychoanalysis - different schools of thought have different kinds of parties. I know this because every year, the Jungians, Adlerians, Existentialists, Freudians and Moderns convene at the annual conference organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.
One year, the Modern Psychoanalysts had a big party after a conference. It doubled as a fund-raiser, and faculty were trying to raise money. One professor was raffling tickets for a week's stay in her Italian villa; another was selling tickets to waltz with him. I quickly bought one of those.
I then realized that another distinguished professor, who was dressed as a gypsy, was selling tickets for fortune-telling. Her fees for supervision were pretty exorbitant, so I thought this could be quite the deal for just a buck. I bought one
“Madame,” I started, because that was what she was calling herself. “I have a terrible real problem.”
“What is your problem?” she answered in an Indian accent.
“Are you an Indian sage or a French fortune-teller?” I asked.
“I can be whatever you want me to be” she replied impassively.
This pleased me. Now, I was getting far-eastern mysticism, psychic wisdom and analytic neutrality all rolled up into one.
"Okay", I started. "Here's the thing. I've had a good measure of success in the past decade. Marriage, good children, nice practice, awards, you know. But lately, I've had this feeling that some my old, unhappy feelings are ...well, seeping in. How should I deal with this problem, Madame?"
"Ahh," said Madame with a twinkle in her eye. "Those feelings...you must invite them into your mental house, child. Let them in! They will always come knocking. Do not be afraid. Look into the eye of the tiger. You must not turn them away."
A huge wave of relief washed over me. I had not realized, until that moment, just how much my hyper-vigilance, guarding against old, hated feelings, was wearing on me. It was exhausting.
Later that evening, taking a five dollar turn around the dance floor with the waltzing psychoanalyst, I was aware of a tremendous sense of well-being.
So those feelings were not an unwanted part of my character that I had to continue trying to shun.
They were not menacing monsters that could threaten to sabotage my efforts to lead a good and full and happy life.
They were just guests in my mental house to be treated with respect and perhaps, a little dignity. They were truly old friends and by not hating them, I could find new aspects of myself to love. Funny how these lessons get learned and then re-learned again in new, and better ways.
Long after that party, I found that my attitude towards some of my feelings had shifted. I have always particularly disliked certain emotions. Anger, for example. I have even done some foolish things just to avoid it.
What we feel - anger, grief, sadness, anxiety, shame...it's only the beginning. The layers of thoughts and feelings on top of those simple experiences are what make or break our success dealing with them. Could I begin to accept everything I felt? Could I deal with wanting to kill my husband and children, feeling rejected or outraged or gravely misunderstood? The possibilities are endless.
What helps us invite unwanted parts of ourselves into our mental house? A suggestion by a guru that we are finally ready to hear? Enough success that we feel empowered to more effectively mitigate the inevitable pains of existence?
Can a good therapist help us learn to embrace the unwanted parts of ourselves? What had led up to this moment, at this fabulous party, that made it possible for me to experience such deep relief and hope about a better future?
Psychoanalysis aside, the brain is never static. New synapses can be created in the brain at any time, anywhere, anyhow. The conference is coming up again this year and I'm going. Life is, after all, a carnival.