Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’
Both hope and fear are great motivators, and they both have the capacity to promote growth in us, but hope creates space in the mind and heart. Fear, more often than not, restricts it.
Just think of how you feel in your own body when you’re afraid – you tense up and go on vigilant alert, like an animal bracing to fight or flee. Let’s say you’re walking down a dark deserted street and you hear someone following you. The instant you become aware of it your body and your mind go into hyper drive and all your energy is devoted to “Am I in danger? What do I do? Do I turn and confront? Do I run? If I confront, then what? If I run, where do I go?” Your entire world constricts to focus on the situation.
When you feel hopeful, your body’s relaxed. You feel generous and open, not only with others, but with yourself too. Your world expands with ideas for how the hope could gather even more momentum. You feel motivated forward.
If fear takes too much hold of a personality, rigidity of thought and paranoia enter. When this happens on a national level the same trend is seen. You end up with things like racism, sexism and hate. When hope is experienced in the extreme in a personality, a sense of being un-tethered to reality allows delusion to enter, and on a national level this puts a culture in danger of complacency and unprepared-ness.
Obama inspired our country to make history by realizing that we need in our country the very same thing we need in our personal lives. When we use the better part of hope and fear together we’re in the best position we can be in. The best part of fear is that it teaches us what we’re afraid to lose, and the best part of hope is that once we know what we’re afraid of losing we can set about nurturing it and keeping it strong and safe. And hope should be by far the greater force in this equation.
Fear is the prompt. Hope is the way. Fear is about trying to survive something. Hope is about knowing why you want to.
The same dynamic is at play in our national and private yearnings. We want the same illusion of moral constancy in our politicians as we do in our marriages.
But we inevitably find our leaders have feet of clay. And it’s common for couples to not even know what’s going on in their very own relationships.
I’ve heard these sexual secrets with regularity in my 20 years of practice as a psychoanalyst; I can reflect on stories of infidelity from my small puritanical home town that have dribbled in over the last 40 years, long after the fact, often after somebody who’d be affected by the secret has died (just like with Deep Throat); I know of their existence in the family in which I was raised; and they’ve been repeatedly disclosed to me by my friends as they’ve grappled with it. Naturally, I also see it played out in media coverage whenever a story breaks.
It’s omnipresent and we don’t want it to be.
We can consider the sexual acts of others so stupid and hubristic we can’t even believe they were undertaken, and we think that would certainly never happen to us. Or we try to keep our concerns at bay by joking our partner has no time to have an affair, or we ask them if they’ve been untrue and they say “No, honey”. Sexual love over time can be tricky. I don’t know who said it first, God or Bono, but this line comes to mind: “Love is a temple; love the higher law. You ask for me to enter but then you make me crawl.”
No matter what we do to try and protect ourselves, this is the problem: rationality plays no role in desire. They operate in separate spheres.
To prove we’re all susceptible, here’s a list of just some of the jumpstarts to affairs:
Too much narcissism
Not enough narcissism
Wanting to ride the wave of happiness by riding someone’s curves
Augmenting great sex at home
The absence of great sex at home
Falling in love with someone else
Wanting compartmentalized un-emotional sex with someone else
Too much money and grandiosity
The absence of money and the wish to not feel it
Not having children
Because you’re young and don’t know better
Because you’re old and know too much
Because your partner’s your best friend
Because you can no longer stand your partner
To get back at your partner for betraying you
To get your partner’s attention
Because the couple steers into danger consciously
Because the couple drifts into danger unconsciously
Because it’s so not what people believe you’re capable of that no one would suspect you
Because it’s what everyone expects of you
Because the Madonna/Whore split is alive and well
Because you’re human.
Our trust doesn’t extinguish our partner’s sexual desire; and their trust doesn’t extinguish ours. In fact, our wish for trustworthiness exists in part because we have such a well-earned fear for the power of desire. The same is true of those we vote into national power. Our hope for true leadership guides us in our search, but it doesn’t guarantee finding it.
I believe we’d have a better chance of weathering the foibles of our own humanity if we’d reconceptualize intimacy in a way that plans for the high possibility of infidelity. I suggest this because betrayal is hard enough without the additional shame we heap on it with our clanging response of shock each time we hear of another couple in crisis.
The same could be true for how we see our leaders.
There should be no cause for shock in the case of something that happens with great regularity. What?! A politician lied to cover up hypocrisy? What?! Someone strayed? What?! You ordered the chicken again?
My daughter believes in the Tooth Fairy. At 45, I believe in The Cornstarch Fairy, who visits me once a week and adds a teaspoon of her thickening agent to my body while I’m sleeping. I’ll come back to the pertinence of these age appropriate fantasies in a minute.
As a psychoanalyst who works mainly with women, I hear lots of amazing and upsetting stories of all kinds. But over the last 20 years, there’s only one type of suffering I can honestly say I’ve heard reported every single day I’ve practiced. My female clients reveal it explicitly and implicitly, and my male clients regularly refer to it when talking about the women they love: women at odds with themselves due to some form of self loathing. What’s come to sadden me the most about these stories is that we learn this self-loathing from the women around us, most destructively, our mothers.
Throughout our history women have been undermined and restricted in movement by men, and having been so steeped in that mindset, we’ve learned to undermine not only ourselves, but our girls.
Historically, conventional beauty was, in some ways, attached to survival. If a woman were beautiful she had a better chance of securing a husband who could afford her things she couldn’t access on her own, like financial security and real estate. Today beauty is obviously still an asset, but women continue to chase physical perfection with a fervor that belies the strides made toward the equality of the sexes.
How women feel about their bodies physically, sexually and with regard to age, expresses itself on a continuum from mild to severe, from casual self-deprecating comments like “I hate my hair,” to the devastation of eating disorders. How we see ourselves in our own bodies, and how we see the physicality of women and girls around us precludes the fuller appreciation of who we are.
We teach self loathing to each other and our daughters through comments we make about ourselves and other women, and through our conversations with each other. And we do it all the time without thinking. I’ll give three examples of how this gets played out (all real with slight changes to protect anonymity).
1. An actress in her early 20s is at the premier of a movie she’s in. The film has been critically acclaimed by The New York Times, and she feels excited and proud. Her mother comes up to her when the film is over and says what a shame it was that her outfit in the movie made her look so heavy. In that moment, who the daughter is in the world evaporates. Her mother doesn’t see her. In those few words we see a mother who can’t access the fullness of who her daughter is, and a daughter who’s denied access to the fullness of her mother.
2. A woman in her 30s says that even though she loves her family, it’s hard to visit because she knows her mother will focus on her weight. This feeling is common in women and becomes tied in with the attendant fantasy any of us would have: I would be more loved by my mother if I were thinner. The mother wants her close, yet she drives her away.
3. I’m having breakfast by myself in a quiet hotel restaurant. There’s only one other person there, a middle-aged woman who tells the waiter she waiting for someone just as another middle-aged woman enters to join her. It becomes clear it’s a business breakfast, and that although they’ve had a phone relationship, this is the first time they’re meeting in person. As they greet each other, one of the women refers to being in town for her daughter’s college graduation. The other woman exclaims, “You don’t look old enough to have a daughter that age!” to which she responds that she has an even older daughter who just had a baby, so she’s a new grandmother. Again, the woman comments in an exaggerated tone, “You’re kidding! You don’t look old enough to be a grandmother!” Age takes center stage and everything else disappears. There is no acknowledgment of her experience of the graduation or the birth.
We each have chances to change this legacy, and it can be done in the minutia of the day. When my daughter looses a tooth, we can revel in it as a rite of passage, or I can make her self-conscious about the gaps in her smile. I can complain in front of her that aging has only to do with an intensification of self-loathing, or I can teach her that it’s a normal shift in living we all make.