The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Sense of Futility

Hey, buddy. How was your Father's Day? I hope you weren't saddled with any more maroon shirts.
I happened to see William last week. Did he tell you? I saw him on Connecticut Avenue. He waved. I called out to him: "Four more months!" Yes. Today is June 21st. My banishment began on April 21st. My return to the Cleveland Park branch is scheduled for October 21, barring unforeseen (but totally foreseeable) circumstances. I'm thinking of writing you a letter, buddy. A letter that will extend the ban. I'm thinking, "how does the ban hurt me?" It only helps me, really. No jury duty. Plus, Social Security will be calling sooner or later to find out about my status. A well-placed "nut case" determination made by my local librarian can only keep the checks flowing. You may never see me again. Unless, like William, you happen upon me on the street (or other venue).
I'm feeling like Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. Remember that? When Reagan ran against Bob Strauss's old friend, Jimmy Carter? Reagan asked: "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" I feel like asking you, Brian, "are you better off today than you were two months ago, at the beginning of my banishment?" I'm no better, I can tell you that. My interest rates in you have only soared; they're at about 20%. I think about you all the time, buddy, or at least 20% of the time. My unemployment remains the same. Yes, my personal economy is in a mess.
At my session with The Mad Monk, on June 9th, Dr. Bash said something interesting. Her spin on your decision to ban me was that you felt threatened by me. I explained that the infamous letter I wrote was not, in fact, threatening. I explained that even the police said the letter was non-threatening. Dr Bash said: "It doesn't matter. Brian felt threatened. That's enough." Yes, Brian felt threatened that's enough! Your opinion, regardless of how unsupported by objective facts, is sufficient.
Funny thing. At my last session with Dr. Bash on Friday June 18, I told Dr. Bash that I was uncomfortable in group therapy. I said I felt threatened by the other group members and the group leaders. "How?" asked Dr. Bash. "Well," I said, "there were comments from time to time about my disability benefits. That I was just malingering. That I was just in therapy to "keep the checks flowing." I said I felt those comments were threatening to my sense of honesty and integrity. I explained that no therapist, in the entire time I've been on Social Security, has implied or stated that I was engaging in any fabrication to "keep the checks flowing." Dr. Bash said: "That's not threatening. Those comments were not, in fact, threatening. I don't understand what you mean when you say you found those comments threatening." Interesting.
You see the dialectic, as Nicole Raffanello would say? When someone else says he feels threatened by me (you, for instance, Brian), that person's opinion is sufficient. He doesn't have to be objectively threatened. But when I say I feel threatened, my opinion, my subjective mental state is not enough. I have to be absolutely factually accurate. My statements have to be objectively verifiable and fact-based.
That's not simply quibbling. It's an important dynamic in my relations with others. It is the very dynamic that was at play in my job termination. My coworkers said they were afraid of me. That was their opinion. There's no objective evidence that I did anything of a threatening nature--by deed or word. But they said they felt threatened and that was enough. As Dennis Race said: "His coworkers said they were afraid of him."
Yet when I said it was my opinion that I was a victim of job harassment, my subjective mental state was scrutinized by a different standard. Dennis Race said that my opinion was the product of a psychiatric disorder and that I was potentially violent because I held a certain opinion. I was terminated (or banished) from the firm. My subjective opinion was scrutinized for its factual accuracy, and, shown wanting, I was determined to be mentally disturbed. What about the people who said that they were afraid of me, that they were afraid I was homicidal? Weren't they disturbed? No. They were just stating an opinion. That's all. Just like you, Brian. "Brian felt threatened by you. That was enough." For others, opinion rules. For me, serious fact checking is summoned.
We see the same dynamic in racism. A black guy goes into a white-owned store. He dallies. Walks around the aisles. Checks out items. The store owner says the black customer looks suspicious. That's enough. The store owner's opinion is sufficient to establish in some devious way that the black guy was "suspicious looking."
A black guy goes to a restaurant. He waits to be served. He waits and waits. No service. Other patrons, all white, who arrived after the black customer are waited on. The black guy complains: "In my opinion, there's something wrong here," he tells the manager. That's the black guy's opinion. Is it enough? No, a resounding no! "You people are all paranoid. There's nothing going on here. We're short on staff. You people are always walking around with a chip on your shoulder, thinking that everybody's out to get you."
Be that as it may.
I told Dr. Bash that listening to her invalidation of all my opinions is difficult for me. I explained that I've thought long and hard about my personality and my experiences over the years. That I've read a lot of articles in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis. I told her that I have ideas about my problems that will not be easily dislodged. So she asked me to clarify with some examples.
I said, "Well for one thing, I think, based on things I've read, that my earliest experiences in infancy caused problems for my development. When I was born, my parents lived at my grandmother's house, while they looked for a house to buy. They had been living in an apartment. But they had moved out of the apartment just before I was born. And I was raised for the first six months by two mothers, my maternal grandmother and my mother. I was bottle-fed, so they were able to share the feeding and caring duties. I think there's a chance I bonded with both my mother and my grandmother, and that when my parents moved out, when I was six months old, I may have experienced the loss of my grandmother as traumatic."
Dr. Bash's observation, so typical, was a fact-based analysis. "But you didn't, in fact, lose your grandmother. After you moved to your new house, your grandmother still came to visit. She still held you, fed you, took care of you." Fine. But what about my subjective experience? Did I feel a sense of loss, and was my development affected by that subjective experience of loss? Dr. Bash will never even entertain that question, because it involves assigning some value to my infantile subjective mental state. And we know that's forbidden for her. She will always apply a fact-based analysis to me; but, at the same time, permit others to have subjective opinions about me, or assign value to other persons' subjective mental state.
I'm willing to concede it's not a very crucial issue. I guess there's no way to know how I might have been affected by having two mothers. Though there is literature on the subject. Gary N. Goldsmith, a psychiatrist at Harvard, wrote a paper on Freud titled: "Freud's Aesthetic Response to the Moses of Michelangelo." The Annual of Psychoanalysis (1992). Freud himself had two mothers: his biological mother and a nanny on whom he was very dependent. Goldsmith argues that the experience was important for Freud's early development: that Freud experienced an infantile depression as a result of the loss of his nanny and that his repressed rage was expressed through its opposite--namely, idealization. Goldsmith offers the opinion, also, that Freud's aesthetic interests, or obsessions, (here, Michelangelo's statue of Moses) were a sublimation of his rage over the loss of his nanny.
It's interesting to observe the role of idealization in my personality functioning. My relationship with you is a fantasized one, based on an irrational idealization. In fact (if I may say that), my ban from the library and my mourning experience about the loss of library privileges may be interpreted, perhaps, as a derivative of some early loss. Couldn't the loss of my grandmother in infancy be seen as a precursor (one of several) or determinant of my reaction to you and my loss of you, buddy? Might not the behaviors that I engaged in prior to the ban, that in fact (may I say that?) resulted in that very ban, be seen as having been calculated to result in the ban - what might be termed an acting out in the service of the repetition compulsion? That is to say, perhaps, I was tempting you to punish me so that I could re-experience a loss and mourn over that loss, all in an attempt to master the loss. As the analysts say, the whole matter may evidence my need to transform a passively experienced loss at some early stage into a loss that is actively sought: a perverse form of ego mastery.
Of course, with Dr. Bash as my therapist, we'll never know.
Another thing. Dr. Bash always throws out the baby with the bathwater (no pun intended). Leave aside the question of infantile loss. It's simply useful to look at something else, if only because people always say to me: "Well, why is it that your sister turned out so well (yea, sure!) and you have all these problems in life?"
Dr. Bash didn't pursue the fact that from day one my sister was treated differently than me. My sister was breast-fed, while I was bottle-fed; my sister had one maternal attachment object, while I had two; my sister did not experience any confusion or loss connected with her mothering, while I experienced both confusion and loss. What does that say? It probably says something. One of my previous psychiatrists, I.J. Oberman (who trained in psychoanalysis with a student of Freud's, named Theodor Reik), once told me that whatever happened to me that caused my problems must have happened in the first six months of my life. Interesting, isn't it?
Then another thing. I have a theory that my early loss (well, in my opinion there was a loss) was not just injurious but also ego-strengthening. The complexity of my early relations and my attempts to master that complexity might have paved the way, in adulthood, for my ability to understand complex psychological issues and social situations. Whatever.
Then I told Dr. Bash about the injury I suffered when I was two-and-a-half years old. I explained that while my mother was cleaning some kitchen curtains, I put a curtain-rod in my mouth; I fell, and the curtain rod punctured the soft-palette. The wound bled profusely and had to be cauterized.
I explained that I had read an article that attributed developmental consequences to early childhood injury or mistreatment. Joseph Fernando, "The Exceptions: Dynamic and Structural Issues," in the 1997 annual, "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child." Fernando's patient, a young adult, had suffered a broken leg in early childhood. According to Fernando, the injury and its aftermath (parental blaming behavior) caused a disturbance in her superego maturation, and led to the character type that Freud termed "The Exceptions." In "The Exceptions," the early idealized parental images are never metabolized as in the normal person, and the individual's superego remains warped. Such individuals attempt to recapture in their interpersonal relations in adulthood representations of their early idealized parental images. Fernando's patient was obsessed with two persons. The two persons were her only friends. The patient was not simply lonely. It was that she only wanted to bond with these two persons because they matched her internalized and idealized images of her parents. See the connection with me? Have you noticed that I tend to be a little obsessed (unrealistically, I might add) with certain persons? Also, another feature of the character type "The Exceptions" is that they are rebellious. The results of my own psychological testing state that I tend to "question and denounce social sanctions to the point that I lose sight of my own best interests" (William Fabian, Ph.D., The George Washington University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry). Isn't that quality suggestive of rebellion? Well, that's my opinion!
So we have a situation where I suffered a notable physical injury in early childhood. In adulthood I tend to become obsessed irrationally with certain idealized persons, and I have the personality quality of rebellion. I have identified a paper that draws all these issues together, and shows that these seemingly unrelated issues are all of a piece; they all fit together. Don't you think that should give Dr. Bash pause? Ah, but you're not a Mad Monk; you lack the monastery state of mind so necessary to understanding the monkish mentality.
You know what Dr. Bash's comment was? "Do you remember the injury and its aftermath?" "Very little," I said. "Well then," said The Mad Monk, "the injury could not have possibly affected your development if you don't even remember the injury." I have never, in my 27 years of psychotherapy, seen such a naive notion of psychological functioning. According to The Mad Monk, you have to remember an injury for it to affect you. Bizarre.
It is a tenet of psychoanalytic theory that early deprivation, injury, or loss is registered not only in memory (conscious or otherwise), but as autoplastic change in the ego, particularly in the ego defenses. Ruth Abraham (whose work is quoted by Goldsmith) writes that Freud's infantile disturbance in his relationship with his mother resulted in an early "splitting" of his image of his mother. Goldsmith goes on to argue that Freud's autoplastic response centered on reversal (of rage) and idealization. "Splitting," "reversal," and "idealization" are ego defenses -- they constitute an autoplastic response of the ego to an external stressor. They are not memories; they are structures. Arnold Rothstein, an internationally prominent expert in the area of narcissistic disorder, attributes the ego attitude of rebellion to an autoplastic response to deficiencies in early maternal love. See Rothstein, A. "The Ego Attitude of Entitlement." The International Review of Psychoanalysis, 4: 409-417 (1977). (Rothstein was a star football player in college, by the way -- not a viola player). Perhaps my relationship with the U.S. Social Security Administration is a symbolic derivative of early maternal deficiencies. Something worth looking at as I enter my second $100,000 of disability payments.
In the case of "The Exceptions" Fernando hypothesizes that the relative lack of superego maturation and integration in these persons affects maturation of the ego ideal, ultimately interfering with the deconcretization of the ego ideal and its integration into the personality as a substructure within the superego system, a process that normally takes place definitively in late adolescence. These are structural disturbances of the ego resulting from early injury or maternal deprivation -- not the persistence of memories of injury, deprivation, or loss.
There is a disturbing symmetry between, on the one hand, Dr. Bash's view of the personality as a collection of memories and thoughts, and her view, on the other, that the role of the therapist is to change the patient's conscious thinking -- to get the patient to adopt the therapist's outlook. That's brain-washing and mind control -- not psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, done properly, is a process involving structural changes in the ego. See Stanley R. Palombo, M.D., "The Emergent Ego."
Leonard Shengold makes a pertinent comment about the limitations of any therapeutic approach that depends on the patient simply accepting the mental outlook of the therapist: "When patients merely borrow the 'outlook' of their analysts (the analysts' views into the patients' minds), it is not insight and there is no integration. The patients must slowly and painfully make their own the mental contents and finally the correlative power."
Dr. Bash went on to caution me about reading technical material. "You should not be reading these things. You need to watch more television. (She actually said that). You need to read romance novels and detective stories. What do you read?" I said, "I like Hermann Hesse." "Who," said the Mad Monk? "Hermann Hesse. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1945." "Never heard of him," said The Mad Monk. "What does he write about," she asked. "Idealists, rebels, nonconformists, wanderers," I said. The Mad Monk's response: "That has nothing to do with you." And I suppose detective stories and romance novels have anything to do with me!
Then I went on to discuss my opinion (!) that I suffer from a rapprochement crisis. I explained that I thought my mother failed to respond appropriately to my combativeness and need for what Margaret Mahler calls "refueling," when I was a toddler. This was too much for Dr. Bash. At this point she summarily cut off the conversation. It was all too much for her.
"What television shows do you like?" she asked. "Well, I like Fear Factor, Law and Order, Cops, and America's Most Wanted." "Good," said Dr. Bash. "Watch them, and don't read any more psychoanalytic material."
Incidentally, if I may continue with this forbidden topic. Don't you find intriguing the internal consistencies between the Goldsmith paper (on infantile maternal loss) and the Fernando paper on the consequences of early childhood injury -- two issues that seemingly have nothing to do with each other?
According to Goldman, infantile maternal loss can lead to rage that is defended against by idealization. According to Fernando early childhood injury can lead to the failure to metabolize early idealized parental imagoes, with a tendency toward idealization in adulthood. Don't you see how these insights help explain my obsession with you, buddy.
Are you sort of empathizing for my sinking feeling about The Mad Monk? She doesn't know squat about anything that is important about my case. "But you don't remember the injury." "You never really lost your grandmother." Yes, those are the facts.
But in my opinion -- MY OPINION -- the actual loss and the actual injury, events that occurred if at all in the historical past, fall out of the present psychodynamic picture. What's interesting and significant is that these papers by Goldsmith and Fernando explain adult dynamics that, in fact -- IN FACT -- do seem to apply to me. Goldsmith's ideas and Fernando's ideas provide a useful orienting approach to the psychological issues of my irrational and obsessive idealization of you (and others) and my rebellious attitude toward authority figures. That's important. That's you and me, buddy. My idealized buddy, Brian.
In any event, Dr. Bash has concluded that mine is a useless case. "You don't want to change," she keeps repeating. "I can't help a patient who does not want to change." If you ask me, I have changed over my 27 years of psychotherapy. For the worse, that is. Yes sirree, Bob. I've changed all right. I've gotten markedly worse, particularly in the last year since I've been exposed to The Mad Monk.
Thus ends my communication from my mental prison - "Stalag" Freedman. Yes, I may as well be marooned in a prison camp on a desert island, like Dreyfus on Devil's Island.
Check you out later, Brian. I'll write you again next week, June 28th.
P.S. It was really good running into you at MLK this morning. Be advised: Branch librarians should not be seen at MLK in anything other than business attire. Seeing you in a tee shirt and jeans was disappointing; but then you do that sometimes, don't you. Disappoint, I mean.


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