An Attempt at Ending C-PTSD Isolation

I am attempting here to help find a cure for the feeling of self-blame and alienation we get from society because of childhood traumas, including those that cause C-PTSD. My hope is that when we see our unity with healthy people–that is, our shared experiences of suffering and struggle with those of the healthy (they may experience such problems on a far lesser scale, but they experience them all the same)–we’ll feel less isolated, less ashamed of ourselves for our struggles, and more accepted. This can help our healing.

My attempt at finding this cure will involve the creation of a new theory of personality. When we see our own position in the context of this personality theory, and see our position thus in relation to the positions of everyone else, my hope is that we will not feel there’s such an insuperable barrier between us and all the ‘normal’ people out there. People suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD often feel hopelessly different from other people; I’m hoping in this post to contribute to a feeling of not seeming so separate.

In previous posts, I’ve shown how the relative health and ill health of human psychology can be compared to all the different points along the body of the ouroboros, a unifying symbol I use to represent a circular continuum, with the polar extremes meeting where the coiled serpent’s head is seen biting its tail up in the top centre, and the length of its body representing all the intermediate points of the continuum.

Let’s imagine a large plus sign drawn over the ouroboros of the personality, with the vertical line crossing where the head bites the tail at the top (at 12:00), and crossing the middle of its body at the bottom (at 6:00); and with the horizontal line crossing the serpent’s body (at 3:00 and 9:00) where the first and last quarters of its body are above (towards the head and tail, respectively), and where the second and third quarters are below (towards the middle of its body, bisected by the vertical line).

Going clockwise from the head, we’d see the first quarter representing the highest levels of mental health (though at the neck and back of the head, one is a little ‘too healthy’, for in this area of stratospheric self-esteem, the potential of narcissism lies). The second quarter represents moderate mental health, the third moderately ill health, and the fourth severe ill mental health and neurosis, especially where we reach the bitten tail, where fragmentation, disintegration, and psychosis begin.

(In two posts where I discussed how the ouroboros can symbolize political and economic ideologies, I characterized the third quarter as the left-libertarian ideal, the fourth–approaching the bitten tail–as a temporarily necessary authoritarian communism, the second quarter as the neoliberal/libertarian right, and the first as the authoritarian right, approaching the fascist biting head. In other words, political health moves in the opposite direction of individual mental health; for resorting to fascism is the misguided attempt of mentally ill people to cure themselves through destructive politics, moving–so to speak–from 11:00 to 1:00 on the clock of the ouroboros. We can’t cure our ills by projecting them onto hated racial or ethnic minorities; we must cure them by facing what’s wrong inside ourselves, as Weiss‘s Sade advised us.)

As I said above, up at the head/neck of the ouroboros (at 1:00) is where those people who are ‘a little too healthy’ reside. Here are those who, for example, were spoiled as children, and not punished enough; those whose infantile grandiosity wasn’t let down in bearable, phase-appropriate ways. At the mild end of the narcissistic spectrum, these ones tend to have a sense of entitlement, so when bad things happen to them, they tend to fly into rages. If they’re not problematic in that way, they’re more like Ferris Bueller, totally believing in themselves, yet also sometimes taking advantage of overly-doting parents, and in danger of going too far.

Just behind the neck in the first quarter are those in a more or less ideal state of mental health (at 2:00-3:00). Calm, confident, and easy-going, these types can deal with life’s problems with patience and level-headedness.

Downhill from there, moving clockwise along the length of the ouroboros’s body to the middle, we cross the second quarter (from 3:00-6:00); here’s where people are moderately healthy, with some emotional issues of a significant sort (like Ferris Bueller’s mopey sister), but their issues are generally manageable without therapy; this is because, while their parents were flawed in notable ways, they were also nonetheless good enough parents. The same assessment goes for the environment (the neighbourhood, school, etc.) that these moderately healthy people grew up in.

Everyone experiences every point of health or ill health on the body of the ouroboros, at one point or another of his or her life; where one’s general mental health lies depends on where one finds oneself predominantly lingering on the circular continuum.

In the third quarter, we find people of moderately ill mental health: here, as well as in the second quarter, we seem to find most of the world’s population, though I suspect that more and more people have been inhabiting this third quarter over the past thirty years, given the rise of neoliberal politics and their attendant alienation. Here, parents and the general environment are bad to grow up with, but it isn’t bad on the pathological, malignant level we find in the fourth quarter, approaching the bitten tail of the serpent.

The fourth quarter is the realm of trauma, where sufferers of a variety of psychological disturbances reside. These include sufferers of PTSD, C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression, from mild to severe forms of them (depending on how awful the father of Cameron, Ferris’s uptight friend, is, Cameron’s either in this quarter or in the third). I suspect sufferers of BPD are also around here (11:00–12:00), though I also suspect that people with Cluster B personality disorders are more at the biting head than at the bitten tail.

Remember that I’m doing a lot of simplifying here, and my generalizations shouldn’t make you ignore the wide variety in all the different disorders and reactions to trauma. I just want to place everyone on a continuum to suggest the relationships between all the differing groups, so we not only see where we belong among everyone else, but also so we see that we belong; there’s no wall separating the traumatized from the rest of the world. We needn’t feel as lonely as we all too often do.

Also, I’m concerned with mental health issues resulting from trauma and environmental factors, not with biological and hereditary factors, such as those causing autism, schizophrenia, etc., which are far too complex for me to put on my simple continuum.

Finally, remember that I’m no authority on psychology or psychiatry. I just dabble in psychoanalysis and write my amateur opinions here, which you should take with a generous grain of salt.

The bitten tail is where psychological fragmentation occurs, the fear of disintegration, and the need to dissociate to protect oneself. Repeated exposure to stress in early life results in disturbances in, or sensitization of, the HPA axis, causing such problems as depression, anxiety, or emotional dysregulation. In this last case, feelings, during wildly emotional episodes, can be confused with rational thought, leading–if left unchecked–to delusional thinking and psychosis.

We sufferers of C-PTSD can be vulnerable to the effects of emotional dysregulation, so we have to be careful not to let our feelings lead, or take precedence over, our ability to reason and think in the needed self-critical way. We can take hope, however, in the fact that we needn’t feel trapped in a life of insanity; for as Freud noted, psychopathological thinking is on a continuum with normal thinking. I agree with that, hence my use of the ouroboros as a symbol for a circular continuum on which all mental states can be placed.

With my ouroboros schema of the human personality, I wish to give hope to all of us sufferers of C-PTSD, PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc., that we aren’t so walled off from the rest of the world; that with effort, we can move along the length of the serpent’s body, counter-clockwise towards its head, to greater and greater mental health.

We must start by acknowledging where we are now, in our state of ill health. We must face our pain. We have to feel it if we’re going to heal it. We can start by writing about our everyday feelings, using adjectives that go from the general to the more and more specific. Then, in our writing, we can explore where those feelings came from, what traumas in our memories caused them.

Richard Grannon created this idea, ‘Emotional Literacy’, so I must give full credit to him. He can explain how to do this writing of your emotions far better than I can, so I suggest finding his videos on YouTube, as well as his ‘Silence the Inner Critic‘ course.

[While Grannon has the formal training in psychology that I lack (I merely read a lot of books on psychoanalysis, especially those of the object relations school, and learn whatever I can about narcissistic abuse), he also endorses neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a popular self-help idea from back in the 1970s and 1980s, but one now–at best–lacking in sufficient empirical evidence to give it scientific validation, and at worst, a discredited pseudoscience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say NLP is of 0% worth (I imagine one can take a few ideas, here and there, from it and mix them with other ideas); I would say, though, that NLP–as much as my own ideas–should be taken with a big dose of salt.]

Another thing you should do, if your harsh inner critic comes from a family of narcissists (as did mine), you’ll need to replace those bad object relations with good ones. The inner critic is formed from a harsh superego, an internalized parental imago, or image of your censuring Mom and/or Dad that lives in your unconscious mind as a ghost would haunt a house. That inner critic is NOT you: it’s like a virus that has infected you, a foreign entity, and it has to be removed. I compare mine to Pazuzu, the demon that entered Regan MacNeil‘s body in The Exorcist; it must be cast out.

I wrote up meditations/auto-hypnoses at the ends of these blog posts; you can use them to visualize new, loving, accepting, and supportive parents to replace your inner critic. Imagine all the good, admirable qualities such parents would have, and visualize your ‘new parents’ embodying and demonstrating those virtues. Add to this a visualization of your abusive parents/siblings being removed from your life (I’m assuming you’re currently at least physically removed from them, as I am; if you aren’t, I hope you can get away from them if they are as traumatizing as I found my family in Canada to be).

I imagine those five people I grew up with being whisked up into the sky, gone from my life forever. I know such an image may seem harsh to you, Dear Reader, but if you’ve had a family as oppressive as mine was, you’d understand why I do such a visualization. You could try visualizing your tormentors, be they family, ex-spouses, or ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, being removed in a gentler way, if you so wish.

In those posts I mentioned two paragraphs above, as well as in other posts, I also related my ouroboros conception of the personality to the personality structures of Freud and Fairbairn, as well as to concepts from Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan, and Heinz Kohut, to show that the ouroboros of the personality isn’t just some figment of my imagination; it’s grounded in well-established psychoanalytic concepts.

As I said above, where the serpent’s teeth are biting into the tail is where people with Cluster B personality disorders reside, including narcissists. As Kohut noted, these latter people are split between grandiosity (biting head) and toxic shame (bitten tail), as well as idealizing a parent (biting head) and feeling traumatically disappointed in, or having lost, a parent (bitten tail). Furthermore, as Otto Kernberg has observed, narcissism is a defence against fragmentation and BPD; it’s a maintaining of oneself at the head (12:00-1:00) to avoid sliding over to the bitten tail (11:00).

Kohut’s narcissistic transference was designed first to indulge, temporarily, the narcissistic patient’s grandiosity, then to recreate the optimal frustrations that should have occurred in childhood, the bringing down of infantile grandiosity and parental idealizing to tolerable, socially acceptable levels of narcissism. This, according to my design, is a move from the pathological biting head (12:00-1:00) to the serpent’s neck and upper body (2:00-3:00); still in the optimal first quarter, but not in ‘too much’ health.

That move from the ouroboros’s head to its neck/upper body is also reflected in Klein’s move from the paranoid-schizoid to depressive positions; the former indicating splitting (head biting tail) seen in its extreme form in BPD sufferers, with an inability to integrate the good and bad in people; and the latter position being a reconciling, an integration, of good and bad objects (i.e., loved and hated people as internalized in the unconscious), a healthy ambivalence.

As for us sufferers of complex trauma, though, a clockwise move from bitten tail to biting head (11:00-12:00), then to the neck (12:00-1:00), would be a harrowing of fragmentary Hell; As I said above, those who embrace fascism, projecting their personality problems onto others, seem to do this. A counter-clockwise movement from the fourth quarter to the third, then to the second, and finally to the first, is the wise direction to take.

So, to recap, the bitten tail area represents the inner critic, Freud’s shaming superego, the realm of trauma, disintegration, Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position, Fairbairn’s Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (as described in previous posts–see above for links), Kohut’s toxic shame and fear of fragmentation, and Lacan’s traumatizing Real Order. The biting head area symbolizes Freud’s pleasure-seeking id, Fairbairn’s Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object, Winnicott‘s False Self, Kohut’s grandiose self, and Lacan’s narcissistic Imaginary Order, with its Ideal-ego gazing into its mirror reflection and seeing an illusory unified self, a defence against fragmentation, as Kernberg called it above. The length of the serpent’s body, from its healthy neck to a nearing of that hurting tail, is the realm of reality, Freud’s ego, Klein’s depressive position, reparation, and acceptance of ambivalence, Fairbairn’s Central Ego/Ideal Object, Winnicott’s True Self, Kohut’s optimal frustration and transmuting internalization leading to a cohesive Self, and Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where language and symbols connect us with the laws and customs of our community, thus linking us with other people and ending our feelings of isolation. (The mysteries of the entire circle of the ouroboros, I believe, can be related to Wilfred Bion‘s ineffable O.)

Going back to Lacan’s Symbolic Order, while looking askance at his postmodernist, structuralist over-obsession with language (i.e., take it with a grain of salt), I can see a limited validity in how he saw language as part of the therapeutic cure, since our shared symbols (i.e., signifiers) link us with society; so, improving our skills at communication with others will be crucial in healing ourselves. Part of our healing from C-PTSD, anxiety, and depression will come from learning how to verbalize how we are feeling, in as vivid language as we can muster, over and over again. So, to move counter-clockwise along the body of the ouroboros, from the tail up to that first quarter, just by the neck at about 2:00, we should write our pain away, as I have done in all my blog posts on my family.

Whatever you do, don’t conceive of your trauma, vs. mental health, as a dichotomy cutting you and other sufferers off from ‘normal’ people; that will only make you feel worse. Remember that you’re on a circular continuum with everyone else, and you can slide along that snake-skin in the direction of healing and inner peace…if you work at it.

And with the end of internal fragmentation, you can move on to ending feelings of social alienation. Feel your sadness phase dialectically into happiness, the Unity of Action. Be happy in having gone beyond the pairs of opposites.

Recall in the meditations/self-hypnoses I wrote of above (click on the links given), that you should imagine yourself as part of the water of an infinite ocean, your cohesive Self being–as it were–Atman connected to the Brahman of everyone and everything around you, the Unity of Space. Imagine those gentle, slow-moving waves as they undulate from your left, across where your body is (remember: you are the water at that spot), and to your right. You are at one with that water, connected with all life around you. Maintain your psychological state in that sense of peace for as long as you can, focused on the present moment, the eternal NOW, the Unity of Time, feel the vibrations of oneness within and without you, and feel yourself no longer lonely.

The Inner Critic

Everyone has an inner critic to some extent, of course, but some of us–many of us–have much harsher inner critics than others. To know the difference between the milder and nastier kinds, we have to look at the family situation, at how our parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings were treating us when we were kids.

To keep things relatively simple, we’ll start with the use of Freudian terminology, which is generally well-known. Everyone starts with the id, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” (Dickens, page 2) that resides in our minds, with drives that seek out pleasure. It’s like a demanding, impulsive, selfish little brat haunting our brains.

(This id is like the biting head of the ouroboros, a serpent coiled in a circle biting its tail, which I use as a symbol for a circular continuum with the opposite extremes meeting at the head biting the tail. The ouroboros thus represents the dialectical relationship [i.e., unity] of opposites.)

It doesn’t take long for a little child to get acquainted with reality and learn he can’t always have what he wants. Thus, he develops an ego, and his id gets pushed down into the unconscious. We move from the serpent’s head along the length of its body, towards the middle, from the primary process to the secondary one.

As reality gets harsher and harsher, and ‘morality’ is imposed on the child by–all too often–angry, judgemental parents, the child develops a superego, an internalized object relation representing not only his parents, but ultimately all authority figures: teachers, religious leaders, police, politicians, etc. Now we move along the serpent’s body to its bitten tail.

The superego is associated with morality (the “ego ideal“), but if anything, the superego is pure evil, a devil inside us, for it tends to be outright sadistic in its censure of all our faults, our inevitable failure to measure up to that ego ideal. This is the inner critic, and my use of the image of the bitten tail of the ouroboros captures the pain we all feel from our cruel, biting superego.

I believe we can cross-fertilize many later psychoanalytic concepts with Freud’s three-part personality structure, using the three significant sections of the ouroboros–biting head, length of the body, and bitten tail. In previous posts, I’ve shown how WRD Fairbairn‘s endopsychic structure replaces Freud’s by largely paralleling it: ego–Central Ego/Ideal Object–length of ouroboros’s body; id–Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object–biting head; and superegoAntilibidinal Ego/Rejecting Object–bitten tail.

Interestingly, Fairbairn originally called the “Antilibidinal Ego” the “Internal Saboteur,” which–as approximately corresponding to Freud’s superego–vividly captures how this part of our personalities is the inner critic, joined to a Rejecting Object (i.e., anyone we may imagine as hostile or otherwise repellant). As we are hateful to ourselves within, so are we adversarial without. What’s inside us is outside, too.

Similar post-Freudian parallels can be seen in Melanie Klein‘s paranoid-schizoid position, at the front lines of the conflict between Freud’s id and superego, where Fairbairn’s fantasied, internal Exciting and Rejecting Objects reside (as opposed to the Central Ego and its external Ideal Object), where the sadomasochistic relationship of the serpent’s head biting the tail is. Here is where splitting into absolute good and bad objects occurs, an unhealthy, black-and-white way to think about relationships. Klein’s far healthier depressive position, where objects (i.e., other people) are seen as both good and bad at the same time, along the length of the ouroboros’s body, restores us to the grey world of reality, Freud’s ego and Fairbairn’s focus on real, external object relationships, safely away from the inner critic.

Furthermore, Lacan‘s Imaginary Order, home to the mirror stage, is where the illusory Ideal-Ego is, at the biting head, where unfulfillable desire is, and also where Kohut‘s untamed grandiosity is (see here and scroll down to find more of Heinz Kohut’s ideas). Along the length of the ouroboros’s body, we find Lacan’s Symbolic Order, where the Ego-Ideal is in rapport with the Other, linked by language; this is also where Kohut’s restrained narcissism is, resulting from optimal frustrations and transmuting internalization, a healthy state. Finally, Lacan’s terrifying, impossible Real is where the superego is, and also Kohut’s toxic shame, the bitten tail, the inner critic, the realm of trauma.

The biting head is maximum, pathological egotism and selfishness, the quest for pleasure; the bitten tail is maximum pain, self-hatred, fragmentation, disintegration, and the inner critic; and the length of the ouroboros’s body is various median levels of health and illness, the front half the realm of the good enough parent and the resulting stable, coherent self, a kind of Atman, as it were, that can be linked with the Brahman of the rest of the world, and the hind half the realm of–towards the tail–increasingly bad parents, resulting in increasingly dysfunctional families and children.

So, how do we cure ourselves of the inner critic, that reservoir of bad inner objects we got from emotionally abusive parents and other family members? We need to replace them with good inner objects…but how?

We can start by establishing what we would consider to be ideal personality traits for one’s parents to have, the idealized parental imago of Kohut’s bipolar self. For my part, I consider such admirable traits to include patience (i.e., calmness in the face of stress), tolerance, generosity, kindness, and a wish to cultivate family harmony and good (but realistic) self-esteem.

I arrived at these through a sublation of their dialectical opposites, the vices my parents actually had. My father was an ill-tempered, bigoted, stingy old fool; my mother, as you can glean from these posts, was utterly lacking in empathy, and used gaslighting and triangulating to ensure an enduring family discord.

You now can re-pattern your internalized parental imago, that harsh superego with its unattainable ego ideal, by taking all the awful things your biological parents said and did to you, and going along the length of the ouroboros, an Aufhebung, to find the dialectical opposites of those parental vices, as I described in the preceding paragraph.

Granted, no parents can ever even approach perfection, but what we’re doing here is inner child work; and children’s naïve nature is to regard their parents as godlike role models. We need to go back to those early years, to the roots of our traumas, face them bravely, and work through them.

You have to feel the pain to heal it. Write out, as vividly as you can, a description of all those awful things that happened to you as a child. Give nuanced descriptions of each and every cruelty done by every perpetrator: your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, school bullies, etc. This is how trauma is processed. I did this in all my posts on emotional abuse.

Turn these cruelties into their dialectical opposites (through sublation), and in hypnotic trance, meditate on these good traits, as vividly as you can imagine them.

Make sure you’re alone, without any distractions. Sit or lie down in a relaxed state, and close your eyes. Slowly take in a deep breath, hold it, smile, and let the breath out slowly; continue to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply as you focus your attention on your body, starting with your toes, then slowly moving up to your feet, your ankles, calves, shins, knees, and upper legs. Imagine this rising focus as if it were water rising from your feet slowly up to your waist; thus, as if your body were half-submerged in water, so is your focus on all of your lower body, at this point.

Continue bringing the focus up to your belly, back, and chest, as if that water were now rising up to your neck. Your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders are now ‘wet’ with your mind’s focus on them. Your whole body, from the neck down, should be gently vibrating with soothing relaxation.

Now bring the ‘watery’ focus up to your head. Feel gentle tingles all over your head, forehead, eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, mouth, and chin. This is a special ‘water’, though, for you can breathe it like a fish! With that ‘water’ inside you, now your insides are as soothed as your outsides. You should feel relaxed all over now.

In this peaceful state (if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to what you’ve been focusing on), slowly count down from ten to one while continuing to breathe in and out, slowly and deeply. As each number goes by, make yourself loosen up more and more, relaxing more and more, limper and limper; so by the time you reach one…then zero, you’re at a maximum state of limp relaxation.

Now, in this state of perfect calm, you’ll be more suggestible and receptive to hypnotic autosuggestion. Imagine those ideal parents, with all those virtues that are the opposite of the vices and faults of your biological parents. Imagine how those good parents would treat children, any children, then imagine yourself as the child they’re loving, caring for, and protecting.

Realize that such good parents, whose virtues you’d admire, idealize, and look up to as a child, would naturally love you and cherish you as their little boy or girl. Visualize them taking turns picking you (a child of three or four) up, holding you, grinning at you, cuddling you, and kissing you. Of course they love you! They’re your parents, your new, good internalized parents, and good parents by definition always love their kids, no matter what faults a child may have, no matter how frustrating a child may be sometimes.

In this state of hypnotic trance, in which you should feel quite good now, let that love wash all over you like the purifying waters of the Ganges, healing all your emotional wounds, freeing you from past pain. Indeed, as you’re washing all that pain away, remember you’re in that peaceful ‘water’ I mentioned above. Now, as we continue this thought experiment, imagine your new cohesive self, healed of its former, internal fragmentation, your ‘Atman’, if you will, combining with the surrounding water. Your ‘Atman’, your very body, is water, and is at one with the surrounding water. This is the Unity of Space that I’ve written about before.

No longer do you feel separate from the world: you’re one with the world, and if there’s good inside you (from your new idealized parent imago), there’s good out there, too. Feel vibrations of inner…and outer…peace, in and all over and around you. You can begin to trust the world around you. Be mindful of this new feeling of peace–NOW. Stay in that mindful state, experiencing this unity of self and other, for as long as you can sustain it. Feel gentle, slow-moving waves of the infinite ocean flowing through your body, soothing you, uniting you with the world in perfect peace.

When you’re ready to come out of trance, slowly count from one to five: as the numbers go by, wiggle your fingers and toes, take a deep breath in, stretch your spine and arms, open your eyes, and feel great for the rest of your day.

Do this meditation/autohypnosis every day, as many times as you can fit it into your daily schedule, to get maximum benefits. Over time, you’ll feel your inner critic transform into your inner friend.

Family Romance

I

Mom is here.  Dad is here.
Child is held.

Mom is harsh.  Dad is harsh.

Child runs off.

New Mom guards.  New Dad guards.
Child is safe.

She says, “Play.”  He says, “Play.”

Child can play.

II

Mom looks over.  Dad looks over.
Child is watched.

Mom looms over.  Dad looms over.

Child then flees.

New Mom sees him.  New Dad sees him.
Child is tended.

She saves him.  He saves him.

Child is free.

III

Parents are rich…yet, they’re poor.
Child feels empty.

Parents give things…but not love.

Child feels lonely.

New parents: poor…yet, they’re rich.
Child has plenty.

New parents love…but, sans silver
Child–loved wholly.

 

My Blog’s New Title

I’ve changed the title of my blog, formerly titled simply after my name (‘mawrgorshin‘), to ‘Infinite Ocean’, named after not only a song I wrote, recorded, and published on the Jamendo website (along with a number of other pop songs and classical compositions of mine [these latter under my original name, Martin Gross]), but also after the philosophy I’m trying to cultivate here.

On this blog, I will continue to write analyses of literature and film, typically from a psychoanalytic and/or Marxist/leninist slant (the lower case l is deliberate, for reasons that I hope are obvious; if they aren’t, please read these posts to understand). I’m trying to explore how inner fragmentation and family dysfunction result in social alienation and class conflict, as well as how the latter two rebound and cause the former two problems in turn, and the pairs of causes and effects go back and forth like a ball in a tennis court.

It is my hope that these analyses will contribute to a restoration, on at least some level, of social harmony and justice.

The Calm After the Storm

There is the breast that gives milk,
and that which doesn’t;
and then, there are both, which feed us sparingly.

We, smiling, suck on the first,
we bite the second;
we sigh when we see they’re from the same mother.

One parent is our hero,
one is a mirror;
but both are bridges from us to the world.

Some heroes will fall from grace,
some mirrors crack;
our bridges, then, will break, and we can’t cross them.

Bravely, we’d walk on the water,
see wavy reflections
beneath our feet, our warped and rippled faces.

Thus, we ignore the storm,
feel still, calm waters,
blind to the splashing sea we’re drowning in.

We’d reach the other side,
the land of milk,
but all we have to drink is wind-tossed water.

The storm cannot be calmed
until it’s faced.
We see our faces blowing on the waves.

We see parental ghosts
inside our eyes,
the ruach blowing on the rolling seas.

They blow the wind into us,
we blow it out,
and all our gales break mirrors and bridges.

Our gusts make crests and troughs,
and gentle waves
will only come when we can calm the winds.

Bad ghosts blow hurricanes,
good ones blow breezes;
cast out the bad by letting in the good.

The good are our new heroes:
they’ll mend the mirrors,
and help us build new bridges we can cross.

The winds of rage will slow down to a calm.

We’ll cross the bridges, reach the other side,

and drink the milk of bliss and mutual love.

The Self/Other Dialectic

I will try to resolve the contradiction between self and other, or subject and object, in order to help show the unity between people, and move us in the direction of a cure for the social alienation, disintegration, and fragmentation that plague our relationships. A unifying analysis of all human relationships, starting with the family and fanning outward, can, I believe, help us better understand how to deal with their ups and downs.

We start with the most basic unit, the mother and her baby. In the best of circumstances, the mother gives the most love and attention to the baby that she can, unifying them; in the worst of cases, she is terribly neglectful, even abusive to her baby, as Sandy McDougall is to her baby, Randy, in ‘Salem’s Lot, or as Margaret White is to her ‘psychological baby’ Carrie. Then, of course, there’s every intermediate circumstance between the best and worst along a continuum.

(Recall from my previous posts that I don’t conceive of a continuum as being in a straight line, with the extremes at either end, far away from each other; but as coiled in a circle, with the extremes touching and phasing into each other. I use the ouroboros to symbolize this dialectical conception of any continuum, including the self/other dialectic, with the serpent biting its tail at the extremes. We should strive towards a unity of the opposites, not an irreconcilable dichotomy.)

While allowing for various levels of parental imperfection, we can see a good enough mother (or, by extension, a good enough early caregiver of either sex) as lying anywhere along the ouroboros’s length from its head (the best mothers) to the middle of its body (average mothers); anywhere on the other half of its body, approaching the bitten tail, is where all the bad mothers, fathers, and other early caregivers lie, at every point of severity, from moderately bad to the very worst.

The dichotomy of a splitting into the ‘good mother’ and ‘bad mother’, where the head bites the tail, is the only way the baby is able to understand his or her caregiver; in fact, during the first few months, he or she is capable of conceiving only a partobject, a ‘good breast‘ that gives milk immediately on demand, and a ‘bad breast’ that frustrates the baby with its absence. Without yet a clearly-defined sense of self, the baby imagines the breast, later the whole mother, as an extension of himself, something he in his fantasied omnipotence can (or should be able to) summon at will to satisfy his needs.

Even the best of parents fail to satisfy the baby for extended periods of time. The baby, however, doesn’t understand the inevitability of at least some parental failures; it can’t differentiate between good enough parents who sometimes fail, and bad parents who fail by habit or by design.

In its frustration, the baby slides in its bad experiences along the length of the ouroboros’s body to its bitten tail, where frustrations are extreme. The baby experiences the paranoid-schizoid position as it hates, and bites the tardily provided nipple of, the ‘bad mother’; ‘schizoid’, because the baby splits the mother into absolute ‘good’ and ‘bad’, since it can’t yet conceive of a good and bad mother; ‘paranoid’, because after the baby has bitten the ‘bad’ mother’s nipple and/or attacked her in unconscious phantasy, it has persecutory anxiety from its belief of her wanting to get revenge on it.

Along with this paranoid fear of parental revenge is the baby’s fear of losing the parent (who is now understood to be separate from the baby), and her damaged internalized object, forever. Sometimes Mother leaves the baby for, in its opinion, inordinately lengthy periods of time; it has no way of knowing the real (presumably legitimate) reason for her absence, so it imagines all kinds of horrors. Is she dead and gone forever? Has she abandoned me after all my fantasized revenges on her? Have I killed her?

Now the baby goes into the depressive position, and yearns for reparation with the parent. This is represented by a move from the biting head/bitten tail of extreme conflict with Mother, to the upper-middle of the ouroboros’s body, where the baby learns to accept a good enough mother, who is a combination of good and bad qualities. This is the best we can do with regard to parent/child relationships, though we can always go down from there…and we way too often do.

The paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions don’t apply only to parent/infant relationships; we all sway back and forth between the two positions throughout life, and in our relationships with all people. The same universalizing can be done with the lord/bondsman dialectic in Hegel‘s Phenomenology of Spirit, as I discussed it here. (Examples of this dialectic being applied to many other human relationships, in particular those involving power imbalances, can be found in this video.)

In healthy families, conflicts–of the sort that lead to the placement at the biting head/bitten tail (paranoid-schizoid position, or Hegel‘s metaphorical ‘death struggle’)–are usually resolved fairly quickly; for example, in tribal societies (as opposed to our much more alienated ones), crying babies are typically picked up much faster and held, whereas modern families tend to leave the distressed infants to cry themselves to sleep.

In unhealthy families, power imbalances cause emotional conflicts to be constant, with only brief resolutions. Cycles of abuse, a passing round and round the body of the ouroboros, involve brief good times (‘honeymoons’ at the serpent’s head), then small episodes of conflict that grow and grow (moving along the serpent’s body, from the head to the tail) until there’s an explosive confrontation (the bitten tail) and a phoney resolution (biting head), and the cycle begins all over again.

This kind of abusive relationship can begin in the family, then be patterned in other relationships (school bullying, workplace bullying, cyberbullying, etc.). When children experience the primarily or exclusively bad parent, they internalize the parent, creating a bad object relation, like a ghost of that parent, haunting them and inhabiting their minds, and intruding into their thoughts. The bad object is like a demon to be exorcised.

WRD Fairbairn wrote of the bad effects of non-empathic parents on children, who as a result of this problem feel their egos split three ways. The original, Central Ego, connected to its external Ideal Object (for our libido is object-seeking, that is, wanting friendships and loving relationships with people, not merely pleasure-seeking [i.e., sex, drugs, etc.], as Freud would have had it), now internalizes object relations in unconscious phantasy with two new ego-object configurations, the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (e.g., idolizing of celebrities, lusting after pornographic models/actresses, etc.), and the Anti-libidinal Ego [formerly known as the Internal Saboteur]/Rejecting Object (our hostile feeling towards either real or imagined enemies).

Note how the self/other dialectic permeates Fairbairn’s total reorganizing of Freud’s id/ego/superego personality structure. Unlike Freud, Fairbairn correctly saw energy and structure as inseparable. We project, or give energy to, and introject, or receive it from, other people all the time; and because of our mutual alienation and isolation, we yearn for each other’s company, deep down inside, despite our pushing of others away.

Fairbairn’s Central Ego/Ideal Object (replacing and approximating Freud’s ego) would reside along the upper body of the ouroboros, towards the biting head, where the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (replacing and approximating Freud’s id) sinks its teeth into the serpent’s tail. The Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (replacing, but only marginally comparable to, Freud’s superego) configuration would be at the bitten tail. Note how these unhealthy latter two are in the same position as that of the paranoid-schizoid position, at the bitten tail/biting head, the splitting of idealized good, and hated bad, objects, the point of maximum alienation between self and other.

Everyone experiences the ‘biting/bitten’ area of human relationships to some extent, but if we have largely good internalized objects, we can shift back to the ouroboros’s upper half soon enough, and enjoy friendly relations with real, external objects for most of our lives. If those primal objects are bad, though, a child will experience the agitation of the ‘biting/bitten’ area for traumatically extended periods of time, scarring him terribly and possibly even giving him C-PTSD.

When threatened, we have four basic responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Fighting is the biting head of the ouroboros; the other three fs are responses to the bitten tail experience. Dysfunctional families may result in child bullies, the biting first of the four fs; or in the fleeing/freezing child victims of bullies, the bitten second and third of the fs…or in the last of the four fs, the fawning people-pleasers, but also (if they’re really successful at pleasing Cluster B types) sometimes narcissistic golden children, a combination of fight and fawn who tend to hover between biting and bitten (i.e., bully and victim), in my experience, at least (my sister, J.).

These object relations–whether in the good area of the upper half of the serpent’s body, or in the bad, hind area, near where the biting of the tail is experienced–are transferred from the family into the larger social sphere, a cyclical revolving around the ouroboros’s body to experience the same self/other dialectic, but in a broader social context. As the children grow older, they replay their particular versions of the self/other dialectic in school and among their friends or enemies in the neighbourhood.

So, if the child has loving parents who create a safe, soothing environment for him or her at home, subsequent social settings will tend to give off the same basic feelings for him or her, providing lots of friends and minimal enemies at school and in the neighbourhood. This is so because that soothing, loving home environment, providing positive object relations for the child, an internalized group of friendly Caspers, if you will, who make the child feel that everything is OK, gives him or her confidence and an easy-going nature that attracts mostly friendliness in other kids.

But if the child has neglectful, domineering, non-empathic, or outright abusive parents, the child will feel trapped in a hostile environment (haunted by the frightening ghosts of bad internalized objects); and his or her agitation will rub off on all the other kids at school or in the neighbourhood, attracting bullies if he or she is in flight or freeze mode (at the bitten tail), or making him or her into a bully if in fight mode (at the biting head). If he or she is in fawn mode (specifically of the golden child/flying monkey sort discussed above), this could make him or her into a socially manipulative type, or simply into a more benign people-pleaser.

Such observations should be obvious to most people, but we who were bullied by non-empathic families were typically blamed victims, told that it was our inherent nature that made us incapable of making friends; this is how abusive families avoid taking responsibility for their wickedness, and thus traumatize their victims all the worse.

Heinz Kohut observed that a lack of empathy in parenting can lead to splits in the child’s personality, a bipolar one with, in the best of cases, his grandiosity mirrored in an empathic parent self-object on one side, and an idealized parent self-object on the other side. This is the primal self/other dialectic expressed in the child/parent relationship. Normally, the child’s grandiosity and idealizing of his parents are let down in bearable steps; this letting down parallels the infant’s shift from the paranoid-schizoid to depressive position, a move from the biting head to upper middle half of the ouroboros. If the reader is unfamiliar with these concepts of self-psychology, please see these posts, scrolling down to where you see ‘Heinz Kohut’ to find the relevant explanations.

A lack of parental empathy can result in failed mirroring of grandiosity and traumatic disappointments in the idealized parent. This results in a dichotomizing of the child’s self-esteem, his narcissism hovering around the serpent’s biting head (pathological grandiosity/bullying attitude) and the bitten tail (toxic shame/victim mentality), a combination of fawning, freezing, and fighting. The child fancies himself as Superman to hide, or disavow, his self-hate, a vertical split; he grows up consciously idolizing his ideal parent (to the inordinate extent that he did in childhood), while also being unconsciously disappointed with that parent, a horizontal split, or repression of this disappointment.

If this kind of fragmented adult nonetheless has great talents in leading and manipulating others, he could become the kind of charming, smooth-talking psychopath/narcissist who sweet-talks his way into powerful positions in business, politics, or religion. Enter the capitalist, or the politician or religious leader who props up the system of class antagonisms.

The lord/bondsman dialectic can be seen most obviously in the class struggles of history (ancient masters and slaves, then feudal lords and their vassals), as well as in the authoritarian rule of the Church over its flock; but many today are still in denial over how it can be seen in the bourgeois/proletarian dialectic.

Now, according to Hegel, the bondsman should grow to see, through all of his work and his achievements, his own mastery and self-realization. This insight should inspire him to rise up against his lord and overthrow him. The problem is that, in our contemporary world, which has grown to have greater and greater pathologies of the self (as Kohut had observed back in the 1970s [pages 267-280], coinciding with the beginnings of the rise of neoliberalism, by the way), problems with increasing fragmentation and narcissism from children getting insufficient parental stimulation or empathy, people still aren’t self-aware, and therefore they don’t have it in them to rebel.

Problems of fragmentation and narcissism mean we weren’t getting our childhood grandiosity empathically mirrored, resulting in a “lack of initiative, empty depression and lethargy”, as Kohut saw it (p.284), so we, for example, just stare at our phones or play online games. On the other side of the bipolar self, the other side of the primal psychic bridge, the ‘other’ of the self/other dialectic, our traumatic disappointment in our idealized parent imago means we need a new figure to idealize. Here’s where the smooth-talking politician comes in.

That idealized father figure, who could be Trump, Hitler, Mussolini, or any of a host of other demagogues, reinvigorates our once-sluggish grandiosity, and in following our leader, we feel a phoney sense of community in wearing our MAGA caps, or our brown or black shirts. We enjoy collective narcissism, and become the flying monkeys of our new ‘parent’, smearing and scapegoating anyone who challenges the validity of our new ideal.

This is how fascism and quasi-fascism work to destroy our ability to rise up against the ruling class, by redirecting our rage away from our true masters and towards those labelled as our scapegoats: Jews, Muslims, illegal immigrants, etc. Opposition to the likes of Trump must be seen in its proper light: these narcissistic leaders aren’t in themselves the problem, but are mere symptoms of a much greater social and political pathology.

Our psychological fragmentation stems from our sustained experience, from infancy to adulthood, of the self/other dialectic in its painful biting head/bitten tail manifestation: the paranoid-schizoid position (splitting); the Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (idealizing Trump, Hitler, etc.) and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (hating Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, etc.) configurations; the bipolar self’s idealized imago of the fascist/authoritarian demagogue on the one side, and the collective grandiosity of being in the fascist followers’ in-group on the other side, and repressing any self-doubt about the wisdom in choosing to follow such a leader blindly.

To go to the psychological roots of the pathology of the leader, we must go back to his childhood, and his tempestuous relationship with his parents. Let’s take Adolph Hitler as an illuminating example (Trump, by the way, is also a good example).

Adolph’s father, Alois Hitler, was a bad-tempered, domineering, authoritarian type. A civil servant (customs officer), he hoped little Adolph would follow in his footsteps; but the boy had different dreams for his future (to be a painter), so father and son fought all the time. Here we see little Adolph in a sustained ordeal of the paranoid-schizoid position, with no hope for reparation with his father.

As a child, Adolph had a beloved brother, Edmund, who died. The loss of this important good internalized object caused little Adolph to go from being a confident, happy boy to a sullen, lonely one. His family was drowning in dysfunction; Alois, a bad internalized object, used to beat him.

While his doting, indulgent mother, Klara, would have mirrored his childhood grandiosity and encouraged his dream of becoming an artist, little Adolph’s grumpy father traumatically disappointed him by failing to be an ideal parental imago for him. Alois died when Adolph was 13, and though it is said that the whole family was plunged into grief, considering the endless father/son fighting, I doubt that Adolph was really all that heartbroken; but Klara’s death in 1907 devastated him, and he felt that pain for the rest of his life. He needed new mirrors to feed his ego, and an ideal to adore.

That ideal, a looming danger for the world, would be German nationalism, which for Adolph was a gratifying contrast to the Austrian nationalism of Alois, something Adolph naturally despised. The mirrors of his pathological grandiosity would be the members of the German Workers Party, to whose name would be added “National Socialist”…to divert the German working class from real socialism.

One problem with someone whose mental state suffers sustained experiences of the biting head/bitten tail area of the ouroboros of the self/other dialectic, as young Adolph surely did, is the constant feeling of emotional dysregulation. This means that one’s emotions go up and down like a roller coaster, affecting one’s ability to think rationally. This mood instability can lead to delusional, paranoid thinking, even to hallucinations and psychosis, because one is feeling first and thinking later, all while emotionally distraught: one’s turbulent inner world is thus projected onto the external world, where one sees threats and dangers that aren’t actually there.

It’s easy to see how a paranoid-schizoid minded Adolph–already living in a Europe that was getting increasingly, even virulently anti-Semitic, embracing Jewish conspiracy theories as if they were scientifically proven fact–could go from idealizing Germany, and enjoying the mirroring fandom of a clique of fellow German nationalists, to scapegoating Jews and Communists, whom he and his coterie blamed for putting Germany into the economic mire it had found itself in back in the early 1920s, egged on by the spurious stab-in-the-back myth of how Germany lost WWI.

The capitalist class found people like Hitler useful for turning workers away from communism. The ruling classes had encouraged Mussolini to keep Italy fighting in WWI, and later, through his fascism, to crush Italian socialism in the early 1920s; they were content to leave Spain in the fascist lurch from 1939 to 1975; and they were willing to let Nazi Germany extend its genocidal ambitions well into the USSR. It’s only when the Axis Powers were threatening the capitalist West that they finally began to fight fascism.

If you are getting dizzy from my jumping around from one idea to another, Dear Reader, I’ll try to link everything together now. My point is that we need to focus on the psychological origins of fragmentation, emotional dysregulation, and alienation to change our world from one ruled by narcissistic capitalists, including those bordering on (or lapsing into) fascism, like Trump or Hitler, to one ruled by empathic socialism. We start with the individual, grow from there to the family, then to society, and finally to business hierarchies, nations, and the whole world.

Our current world is like a storm at sea: the high crests of an economic elite come crashing down on the troughs of the poor, splashing us, the water, everywhere in fragmented drops. The contradiction of rich and poor causes this social alienation, which in turn causes our internal fragmentation. What’s true of the outside is true on the inside. We’re broken away from each other, and we’re broken inside.

Understanding the self/other dialectic–that the other is in ourselves (introjection), and what’s in the self is in other people (projection)–can help us to build mutual empathy. To understand the self/other dialectic, an opposition whose unity can and must be found, we need to understand what dialectics in general are, even before dialectical materialism. That means going back to Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel’s dialectic, popularly described in terms of “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” (though he never used those terms, nor did he present his philosophy in so formulaic a way), can be seen as beginning with the ouroboros’s bitten tail (the ‘thesis’, an abstract, untested, theoretical idea, such as ‘being’); then we shift over to the biting head of the negation of that starting idea (the ‘antithesis’, such as ‘nothing’); then we continue moving along the length of the serpent’s body (the ‘synthesis’, such as ‘becoming’–see Hegel, pages 82-83), in a process of resolving the contradiction confronted at the bitten tail/biting head area. Once the contradiction is fully resolved (and thus concretized), we have a new, refined idea to be negated again, then resolved again, in repeated revolutions around the ouroboros’s body. This is the unifying of opposites.

This, basically, is how we must resolve these emotional and social problems: not by stubbornly staying at the point of irreconcilable opposites (the head biting into the tail), two people facing each other in hatred; but by going beyond all binary thinking (moving along the middle of the serpent’s body) and turning hate into friendship. This is how we resolve the contradictions in our relationships, through a synthesis of the self and other, from conflict to harmony and solidarity.

We start this unifying by replacing the bad internal objects of our parents with good ones. This can be done through psychotherapy, through object relations therapists or self-psychology ones, or, I believe, through meditation and hypnosis, as I described it in my previous post, Beyond the Pairs of Opposites.

We can also do inner-child work, by imagining ourselves in the role of the soothing, empathic parent, consoling the wounded inner child in ourselves (since psychological pain tends to cause greater levels of self-centredness, because one is forced to be focused more on one’s own pain than on others’, then healing that pain should generate more selflessness). Self-compassion can help us to realize more fully and deeply that everyone feels the same pain, that we all deserve to hear words of kindness, and we must be mindful of our feelings, to make sure we are neither suppressing nor having negative thoughts in excess.

I’m not trying to be a sentimentalist here; this won’t be easy work. It will take a long time to master such a profound inner change as we fight against our inner critic, the collective of bad internal object relations that will try to sabotage our progress; but in the end, it will be worth it, for ourselves and for our neighbours.

(I’m not trying to say that this brotherly love will be an absolute one, felt by each and every person for each and every other. Some people simply cannot be reconciled, if only because some others won’t be reconciled with us, no matter how hard we try to merge with them. That’s certainly true of my relationship with my family, as I’ve explained so many times before; for a narcissistic parent’s flying monkeys will do all in their power to keep old power imbalances intact. This irreconcilability is especially true of the people’s relationship with the 1%, who will never be legislated out of their wealth; but such reconciliation is possible, I believe, between the common people in a general sense, and that’s the basis we all need to work on, to build up a sizeable amount of solidarity.)

From this healing basis, we can meditate on our oneness with everyone else, and project our newly-built self-love and compassion out into the world, to all the others we now identify with; and we’ll introject the love of the outside world. This projection and introjection will repeat and repeat in our meditative trance, where our suggestible unconscious will be more open to these healing feelings. Finally, we’ll come to an understanding of the dialectical monism in everything. This, in turn, will inspire solidarity in the people. No longer alienated, we’ll unite against the ruling class.

Then, instead of having the ever-stormy seas of interpersonal and class conflict, with their clashing and splashing of water that breaks and fragments us into a myriad of tiny droplets that chaotically fly out in all directions, we’ll have calm waters, with gently moving waves of slight crests (“from each according to his/her ability”) to slight troughs (“to each according to his/her need”).

This is the Unity of Space, an infinite ocean where we’re all one. The self/other contradiction will be a unity.

It’s time for the calm after the storm.

Beyond the Pairs of Opposites

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“All creatures are bewildered at birth by the delusion of opposing dualities that arise from desire and hatred.” —Bhagavad Gita, Seventh Teaching, verse 27

I’d like to try to unify all I’ve written on this blog so far, in order to sculpt an all-encompassing philosophy, if you’ll indulge me, Dear Reader.

If you have been reading my blog posts with an attentive eye, you’ll have noticed a recurring theme that has shown itself in many forms: the dialectical relationship between opposites. This will be apparent to you regardless of whether you’ve read my political posts, or my literary or film analyses. It can even be seen a little in my complaints about my family.

I mentioned duality and dualism in my Analysis of Romeo and Juliet, and how the opposites intermingle sometimes. I mentioned equivocation in my Macbeth analysis (how an idea can sway either to one opposite, or to the other: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”), and the upside-down world in King Lear (to be good, one must be rude and blunt, as well as be disloyal to the established power structure; while evil Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall are polite, and those loyal to them are also evil). Hamlet delays his revenge because he is psychologically paralyzed by the paradox–in killing his uncle, the king–of the revenge’s extreme good (out of love for his murdered father) and evil (the prince will be as guilty of regicide as his uncle is). In Richard III, we see constant, swift shifts from good fortune to bad, and bad to good. I believe that one of the main reasons Shakespeare’s writing continues to resonate with us is his understanding of the paradoxical unity of opposites. Such understanding leads us all closer to the truth.

In The Graduate analysis, I mentioned the dialectical idea that the tightening chains, if you will, of parental authority forced Benjamin to fight to free himself of that authority. The sexual trap Mrs. Robinson set for him woke him sexually and helped him to mature. Her forbidding him to date her daughter, Elaine, on the one hand, and his own parents’ pressuring him to date her, on the other, were the tightening chains that made him defy both the Robinsons and the Braddocks, and free himself.

In my two Ouroboros posts, I wrote of how the dialectical relationship between opposites can be seen in the form of a circular continuum, symbolized by a serpent, coiled in a circle, biting its tail, the head and tail being those extreme opposites. I showed how this unity of opposites is seen in the history of class struggle and in the growth of the capitalist mode of production.

In writing of narcissism in the family, I wrote of the contradictions between the golden child (my sister) and the scapegoat (me); and how, in some ways, the former child has it worse, and the latter has it better, because the tightening chains around me, like those around Benjamin Braddock, freed me, while my older sister J.’s favoured position in the family has actually held her in stronger chains.

All of these unities-in-contradiction are manifestations of what I like to call The Unity of Action: what in one way goes well clockwise along the ouroboros’s tail, for example, goes badly counter-clockwise, and vice versa in another way. Another issue, particularly seen in some of my more recent posts, is alienation and fragmentation, the contradiction of self vs. other. The cure to this ill I see as what I call The Unity of Space, to be discussed below. A third dichotomy, that of the past vs. the future, can be reconciled by a focus on the present, a fading out of the past and a fading into the future, or The Unity of Time.

I believe a proper understanding of these Three Unities can help us solve a great many of the world’s problems. The Unity of Space can cure social alienation by helping us to see the other in ourselves and vice versa, thus creating and building empathy and compassion for others, instead of fighting and competing. The Unity of Time can help us to stop obsessing over either past pain or idealized past eras, as well as to stop worrying about a bad future or fantasize about an idealized one, and to focus on making the most of the eternal NOW. The Unity of Action can make us stop dichotomizing projects into absolute successes or failures, and instead monitor our slow but sure progress towards increasing levels of achievement (e.g., why we can’t have full communism immediately after a revolution…the transitional worker’s state must be allowed to run its course).

So many of us feel isolated and alienated, typically because of traumas from childhood abuse or emotional neglect. The aggressive authoritarianism in families in the US and around the world, resulting in all these forms of abuse and neglect, has been found by researchers to be almost universal. It isn’t a far leap to go from perpetrating abuse at home to shootings, from authoritarianism to police brutality and racism, to a fetishizing of religious fundamentalism and of the ‘free market’, and ultimately to viewing imperialist wars as ‘fighting for one’s country,’ rather than the unlawful invasion of sovereign states. Authoritarian abuse causes a split between the powerful and powerless.

This split is an example of the dichotomy of self vs. other. The alienation one feels from this split blinds one to the dialectical unity between self and other. Hegel understood this in his allegory of the lord and bondsman in The Phenomenology of Spirit (Hegel, pages 111-119). We experience self-consciousness only through a recognition of another person as a kind of reflection of ourselves, and the other recognizing us.

When two men meet, who will dominate whom? A death-struggle ensues, Hegel tells us, and the winner is the lord, getting his sense of self through himself independently, as well as knowing his bondsman acknowledges his existence; while his bondsman has a sense of self only through his relationship through his master, for whom he now works.

Over time, though, the fruit of the servant’s work, his creations, accumulates, giving him a sense of his own mastery of his art; while his master increasingly comes to depend on the slave’s work, since the lord isn’t really working. Thus, the lord and bondsman seem to switch roles in a way, a dialectical relationship that can be symbolized by the ouroboros, the biting head (lord) shifting to the bitten tail (bondsman), and vice versa. The bondsman’s journey (i.e., the accumulation of all the products of his work) from the bitten tail along the length of the serpent’s body, all the way up to the biting head, now makes the bondsman into a new kind of lord.

It’s easy to see how Marx could apply Hegel’s idea to the relationship of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat: one day, the workers would seize control of the means of production, where they’d produced so much, and create the dictatorship of the proletariat. This new workers’ state would, in turn, wither away eventually–once all pockets of counter-revolutionary capitalist resistance would be annihilated–and we would finally have anarchist communism, a reward for all our patience.

We must try to see how this interdependent self/other relationship applies to all human relationships. In so doing, we could be aided in dismantling authoritarian thinking, we’d kindle a sense of mutual empathy, and mend the social rifts that cause all our alienation.

Indeed, we must understand the ego to be an illusion, as Lacan did. The fragmented, ill-defined sense of self a baby has changes into a unified one when the infant sees his image in a mirror. This mirroring also comes in the form of a parent looking into the baby’s eyes and responding to him. This unified ego, however, is an illusion, a fake ideal to strive for. This is true not only of the mirror reflection, whose phoney ideal alienates us from it, but also of all those people whose faces we gaze into, people who mirror themselves back at us. These hellish others, as independent egos, are as fake as the self.

Recognizing this phoney sense of self and other, really just two fragmented sources of energy bouncing back and forth at each other (in the forms of projection, projective identification, and introjection), leads us to reject the alienating dichotomy of self vs. other, in favour of a Unity of Space, a dialectical monism where the boundary between self and other is much blurrier than one would assume.

The blurred boundary between self and other, the unity of all things in matter, is not just something believed by meditating mystics and practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc (or some users of LSD, for that matter). It is also seen in the notion of internalized object relations, as well as the notion of self-objects in self psychology.

What does it mean to be me, other than the sum of influences (as well as the sum of all of those I’ve influenced) in my life? As I’ve argued elsewhere, the human personality is relational, an intermingling dialectic of self and other. I–the subject in a relationship with another, the object–am the serpent’s head biting the tail of the other, and vice versa.

As well as there being a dialectic of the self and the other, there’s also a dialectic of the fragmented parts within the self. Heinz Kohut wrote of the bipolar self (not to be confused with the cyclothymic ups and downs of sufferers of bipolar disorder), a self based, on one pole, on an inner child whose grandiosity wishes to be mirrored with an empathic parent, and on the other pole, an internalized parental imago to be idealized. Super-me at one end, and Super-Mom (and/or Dad) at the other.

If all goes well, the child’s grandiosity and idealizing are let down in gradual, bearable bits over time, a move from the narcissistic biting head of the ouroboros down the length of its body to the middle. The child will thus be able to form a cohesive self with mature, realistic narcissism, in which restrained grandiosity is integrated with bearable, circumscribed amounts of shame.

If such transmuting internalization and optimal frustration don’t occur, a result of parenting that’s lacking in sufficient empathy (or worse, child emotional neglect or even abuse), the child’s narcissism is split–vertically (through denial and disavowal, creating and maintaining a False Self, or, I believe, through projection) and/or horizontally (through repression)–into a dichotomy of pathological grandiosity vs. toxic shame. Here, one is suspended at the serpent’s biting head of narcissism and the bitten tail of shame. The result? Sometimes, people like Donald Trump, a poor little rich (overgrown) kid whose ego is fed by his religious-cult-like followers, and who’s shamed (through no one’s fault but his own) by the mainstream liberal media. More typically, though, the result is poor kids with impoverished egos, because they got little empathy from Mom and Dad.

The only way such a pathological narcissist can socially function is to deny his unique problem with grandiosity, by either projecting it onto everybody (“The only thing worse than immodesty is false modesty: pretending you’re humble, when secretly you really think you’re great,” my older brother, R., once said; I suspect his motive was to rationalize and project his own arrogance onto the world.), or to project it onto a particular target (as my probably narcissistic late mother tried to do to me with her autism lie, herself imagining autism to be essentially identical with narcissism, an idea as ridiculous as it is offensive). Here we see the internal dichotomy transforming itself into one of self vs. other.

So many of us live fragmented lives, alienated from each other, and alienated from ourselves within. We’re like a large window broken into hundreds of shattered pieces, lying strewn all over the ground, with jagged edges. If anyone approaches us, he or she risks cutting his or her feet on us, because we too often react with hostility to anyone trying to connect with us. We’re shattered glass within as well as shards lying beside each other.

We need to recognize ourselves not as all these tiny fragmented shards of glass, but rather as drops of water in an infinite ocean. We move up and down in waves, those waves being the ever-shifting dialectic of the self and other, as well as pretty much everything else. All things in the infinite ocean we call the world can be conceived of as having the characteristics of both particles and waves. This wave metaphor can also represent the communist definition of equality: not a flat, straight line where everyone is forced to be the same, as the political right would straw-man our ideal; but instead as crests shifting into troughs, then back to crests, and to troughs, over and over again–from each according to his or her ability (crests), to each according to his or her need (troughs).

(The Unity of Space may sound like pantheism to some, though I’d describe it as a philosophy of dialectical monism. These kinds of ideas certainly do not have the backing of the scientific community; indeed, most physicists rightly scoff at writers like Fritjof Capra and Gary Zukav for sentimentally oversimplifying both science and Eastern philosophy, conflating particle/wave duality with a ubiquitous cosmic consciousness [whereas I’m more interested in the unconscious]. I’ll content myself with how Einstein praised Spinoza’s monism, an idea similar to mine. Appealing to those geniuses far from scientifically proves my case, of course [My knowledge of physics is at Bill Hicks‘s level!], but it’s good enough for me. Just as creationism isn’t and shouldn’t be mistaken for science, neither should my ideas; I do believe, however, that they can help people.)

When we come to see ourselves as united rather than fragmented, we can build mutual empathy and friendship, which can lead to community and finally to solidarity. With solidarity, we can begin to organize against the ruling class, the one other that we’ll never be reconciled with, because not only don’t they want to reconcile with us, but they also want us to be forever at odds with each other, and fragmented within. They use their media to divide us in this way.

But how can we heal our fragmentation within? First, we must take an honest look at our relationships with that primal other in our lives: our parent(s). No parent is perfect, or ever could be, of course, but by any reasonable measure, were our parents at least good enough? If they, and thus their corresponding internalized imagos, were more bad than good (i.e., non-empathic, authoritarian, manipulative, cruel, or abusive), we must replace these bad object relations with good ones, for those wounded primal relationships make up the blueprint for all subsequent relationships.

Well, how can we do this? If I may be so bold, I’ve found hope in one possible solution: hypnosis/meditation. In a state of hypnosis, the unconscious mind is on average more suggestible, more easily influenced (though more resistant people will be harder to hypnotize, of course). After getting oneself in a relaxed state by taking deep breaths in and out slowly, and relaxing every part of one’s body, one body part at a time, from the head to the toes, one begins to visualize the ideal mother and father. You can pick a good mother and father from inspiring scenes in movies (I like these examples), and after adapting the scenes in your thoughts in ways that are more fitting to you, you then imagine them treating you with the same love and kindness. In as vivid a visualization as you can make, imagine yourself as a little kid being loved and cared for by these idealized parents, who will be your new imagos.

What will they say to you? What kind, loving, supportive, encouraging words will they use, and in what kind of gentle tone of voice? How will they validate your experiences? How will they show patience and understanding when your foibles are apparent? Try to visualize this Edenic childhood in as much detail as your imagination, under hypnotic trance, can muster. Do this several times a day, every day, and feel the love and security wash all through your body. (Though not using hypnosis, Kohut tried to achieve a kind of empathic self-object relationship with his analysands in his narcissistic transferences.)

I’ve tried doing hypnotic meditations in Richard Grannon‘s Silence the Inner Critic course, which is rather expensive, but if you have even as mild a case of C-PTSD as I do, you’ll consider it money well spent. After only a few hypnosis sessions, I found my road rage, and propensity to blow up in anger over trifles, to be reduced to 10%-20% of what it had been before. It’s amazing! If I can do it, I’ll bet you can, too, because my bad habits are stubborn, and my tendency to make catastrophes of things is one of the most stubborn of all.

I plan on writing more about this kind of thing, so this introduction to such ideas is rather brief and sketchy; a more detailed, systematic elaboration of these ideas will follow.

This replacing of bad object relations with good ones, the introjection of an idealized parent imago to replace a traumatically frustrating, non-empathic imago, is something I believe that religions have unconsciously tried to do, using a loving sky-father god. Consider the sentimentality of such Bible verses as, “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 136:1); “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); and “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8) They all reflect this idea of the loving Spirit of God the Father, an internalized object relation, really, coming inside us, transforming us, and turning pain into inner peace. Though most of what Freud said about religion was wrong, I believe he was right about the idea that God is an illusion, based on a psychological need for a father figure.

Having said this, I must stress that my idea of The Three Unities is not meant to be the starting of a religion…in any conceivable sense. Some readers (insofar as anyone will be interested in reading this rather idiosyncratic post) may choose to think of my ideas in a religious sense if they wish to; but that’s their doing, not mine. If by any microscopic chance in the remote future, my idea is institutionalized as some form of fanaticism, causing atrocities of the sort committed by the religious superstitions of the past, then I–right now, for the record–wash my hands of it. My idea is grounded in the philosophy of dialectical monism, in psychoanalysis, and in historical materialism; I say this in case some cretin gets the idea that this writing makes me–absurdity of absurdities!–into some kind of…prophet (!).

I want to use my ideas to help people gain a power for living, not to promise a panacea. We will always feel pain and frustration in life; The Three Unities won’t stop that from happening. They may help us all to cope much better, as I’m hoping, by helping us to go beyond the pairs of opposites–dichotomous thinking, alienation, fragmentation–to experiencing the undulating rhythms of everything, the waves of an infinite ocean.

Barbara Stoler Miller, trans., The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War, Bantam Books, New York, 1986

The Golden Child

Sometimes in families, there are legitimate, practical reasons to favour one sibling over another, while the parents still love both. To take a convenient example from cinema, consider how, in The Godfather, Michael Corleone is chosen over his older brother, Fredo, to succeed Don Vito as the head of the family business. Feckless Fredo is too weak and stupid to run the dangerous business of a mafia family; his younger brother, however, has proven himself not only strong and smart, but also level-headed, unlike the oldest brother, Sonny, whose hot-headedness gets him killed.

Now, one of course would be hard-pressed to find examples of fairness in families even approaching perfection; but in families with narcissistic parents, sons and daughters are either favoured or slighted based on probably the most illegitimate reason one could think up–how much, or how little, narcissistic supply is given to the ego-driven parent.

Kids often learn early on how to get in the good graces of a narcissistic parent; what they don’t and cannot learn is that these good graces aren’t real love. Normal parents love their kids regardless of what their kids may say or do to frustrate them. The narcissistic parent, however, will hold grudges against his or her kids’ failure to provide narcissistic supply, or worse, the kids’ causing of narcissistic injury.

Narcissistic rage may prompt explosive anger in the pathological parent: all the child can understand is that Mommy or Daddy is angry, and it’s easier to believe that the rage is justified than to acknowledge that the parent is routinely being cruel and unreasonable, a scary thing for a child to contemplate, a child who has nowhere else to go to be safe. Thus, turning against oneself (blaming/attacking oneself instead of the parent) is actually an ego defence mechanism rather than masochism on the part of the child.

The rage may also prompt a vengeful attitude in the narc parent. One effective tactic a narc may use is to engage in triangulation, pitting one kid, or kids, against the offending child by speaking as a mediator between them (i.e., spreading lies and gossip), instead of the kids directly communicating with each other. Here is where narcissistic favouritism comes in. The kids who have learned the rules of pleasing Mom or Dad, at all costs, without understanding how abnormal this family dynamic is, will become golden children. Any kid who doesn’t learn, or refuses to go along with, those rules will be branded as the family scapegoat. Everyone else backs the narc parent in scapegoating the targeted child, partly out of the pleasure of ganging up on one victim, and partly to avoid being similarly targeted in the future.

These labels of ‘golden child’ and ‘scapegoat’ aren’t always absolute: some golden children are more golden than others, and scapegoats who occasionally give narcissistic supply to their disordered parents will enjoy some ‘vacations’ from emotional abuse, or they may enjoy the relief of seeing other family members get an even worse scapegoating. What does remain fairly constant, however, is the power imbalance that the narc parent and his or her flying monkeys have over the scapegoats.

It is truly nauseating, from the scapegoat’s perspective, to see the golden child(ren), GCs, suck up to the narcissistic parent, as I had to put up with in my older sister, J. My older brothers, R. and F., were moderate GCs, and they never really kissed our (probably) narcissistic mother’s ass…certainly not the way J. did, anyway; but Mom never had it in for them the way she did for me, the identified patient of the family. A fault of mine is my brutal honesty, not something our mother took kindly to.

My sister’s allegiance to our mother was cherished, though. She would back our mother up in any situation, and believe any nonsense Mom told her; even if testimony could be given to contradict Mom, J. would take Mom’s side, every time. It was all about proving that she was the worthiest of Mom’s love.

I recall two occasions, back when I was about ten or eleven years old, when J. saw me eating a lot of bad food (burgers and fries, etc.), then accused me of hypocritically “going on and on about following the Canada Food Guide.” I NEVER DID THAT. After I told her so, on the second occasion of her self-righteous accusing, I never heard that nonsense from her again (though I’ve continued, to this day, to eat lots of bad food!).

The question, however, needs to be asked: where did J. get this idea from, that I went around preaching about the virtues of eating right? I don’t think she’d been hallucinating.

In recent years, as I’ve increasingly come to see what a liar my mother was, I found a most likely explanation: Mom and J. had been engaging in one of their many smear campaigns against me behind my back, this time complaining about my bad eating habits, all the while pretending they were worried about my health, when really they were just bashing me for its own sake (on other occasions, J. would sneer at me and snort that she thought I’d eventually become a diabetic, ffs!).

Along with this, I suspect I had said or done something to cause Mom narcissistic injury–perhaps one of my less than enthusiastic reactions (<<<last three paragraphs of Part III) to her having bought me pants, yet presenting them to me (pulling them out of the bag in a dramatic reveal) as if she’d bought me a super-cool toy, one of her many mind games–and Mom wanted to get revenge on me (as all ‘loving’ mothers do, remember) by making up a story about me preaching about following the nutritional advice of the Canada Food Guide, all to hurt my reputation in the family by making me look like a hypocrite. J. has no idea how often she was duped by our mother.

To be fair, I have no way of proving for sure that the ‘Canada Food Guide story’ was one of my mother’s many lies. Maybe J. got the story from someone else. Maybe the lie was her own invention: like narc mother, like golden child daughter. But given my mother’s well-established track record, and that I’ve never caught any of the other family members lying…only in being too credulous with Mom’s fables…abductive reasoning has served me well so far. That Mom made up the lie is by far the best explanation.

My information on these matters is inescapably limited, so I can’t demand perfect explanations; I have to settle for those that leave the fewest holes. How could the alternative explanations, of all they put me through in my life, be any better than what I’ve concluded? Seriously, am I supposed to believe that an emotionally abusive family loves me, and that all their conflicts with me have been my fault? If so, how convenient for them.

It amazes me how often Mom and J. stuck up for each other. Those two were pals in the eeriest way. She was propped up as an exemplary mother, J. as the ideal daughter, always playing the role of ‘loving family woman’. I could retch at J.’s affectation.

Heinz Kohut wrote of how a narcissistically disordered person results from a failure in parental empathy, which is like nutrition for a child’s grandiosity and exhibitionism. When parents give sufficient empathy, and the child’s frustrations are bearable (i.e., given in small doses over time), the child’s resulting transmuting internalization can help him to tone down his wild grandiosity and develop healthy, realistic narcissism.

When, however, one parent fails to give a child the needed empathic mirroring, the child will turn to the other parent to compensate, perhaps in the form of an idealized parent imago; if neither parent mirrors or merges with the child’s grandiosity, his still-unrealistic, immature sense of narcissism could split vertically (disavowed and–I believe–projected narcissism) and horizontally (repressed narcissism). See Kohut, page 185, diagram and note, for more information.

In The Restoration of the Self, Kohut writes of a patient (Mr. X) whose pathological narcissism resulted from a conditionally empathic merging with his mother, provided that he always be no more than an extension of her (such a parent/child relationship being typical of narcissistic parents), and that he regard his father as inferior, a rejecting of his unconscious wish to have his father as an ideal introjected into his mind. As a result, Mr. X’s self was split vertically, with his grandiose merging with his mother, and horizontally, with his unrealized wish to idealize his father repressed into his unconscious (Kohut, pages 205-219).

I believe something similar happened with J., though she assuredly never developed Mr. X’s pathologies as described in Kohut’s book. I believe J., as a child, was traumatically disappointed in our grumpy, ultra-conservative father, possibly in part from our mother encouraging a derisive attitude towards him, however indirectly and subtly, in Mom’s usual mode (causing her to repress an Oedipal wish to idealize him–horizontal split; I believe Mom also did this to my brothers, R. and F.); then, J. found that the only way she could get empathic mirroring and merging with Mom was by allowing herself to be an extension of Mom’s ego (a vertical split, with J. disavowing and denying a grandiosity I saw her nonetheless display all the time, in proudly presenting herself as the ‘ideal daughter’ and ‘loving family woman’, while sneering in disgust at the conceitedness she saw in–or, rather, projected onto–other people).

I’ve complained before of J.’s sucking up to our mother at my expense, with numerous examples (see here for a few; see also Part IV of this). For other examples of her obnoxious attitude (and of that of my mother and brothers), see here.

I’ll give yet another example. Back in the early 1990s, the family restaurant went out of business, so naturally we were all unhappy about that. Until that time, we’d had a habit of, instead of buying our milk in stores, cleaning out empty liquor bottles from the restaurant bar, filling them up with milk, and taking them home. We joked on one occasion about the neighbours imagining we were “a bunch of boozers” after seeing so many liquor bottles among our garbage over the years. I, in my early twenties at the time of the demise of the restaurant, wanted to revive that old joke, but my timing was poor.

I tactlessly joked, at the sight of all those empty bottles in the kitchen, that we as a family “would make good derelicts.” This was right on the night that we’d closed up the restaurant for the last time, so I know, I know: I opened my mouth and inserted my foot. Mom and J. could have just said, in all firmness, “C’mon, Mawr, don’t joke about such things. We’re kind of down right now.”

Instead, J. gave me the most evil of dirty looks, and Mom told me to “Shut up.” They acted as if I’d meant to be hurtful, when surely they realized that I hadn’t meant to, as inappropriate as my remark obviously was.

I bring this up not to suggest I’d said nothing wrong, but rather to point out another example of J. and her virtue signalling at my expense, all to please our mother.

The phoniness of the golden child, as I’ve said above, is nauseating to witness; but the GC’s position in the family is not without its unenviable moments, too, and this phoney act the GC puts on is at the centre of his or her problem, for the GC is pressured into putting on this act.

Narcissistic parents assign roles like golden child or scapegoat for their kids. Not only do the parents treat their kids accordingly, but they also manipulate their kids into behaving in ways consistent with their roles; this manipulation comes in the form of projective identification.

The son or daughter who is meant to embody all of the narc parent’s worst qualities is made to introject those bad traits; my mother did that to me with such things as her autism lie, describing ‘my autism’ in the language of narcissism, and making me feel totally separate and alienated from the world. The GC is made to introject all the ‘virtues’ that the narc parent imagines him/herself to have; this is done partly by flattering the GC accordingly, but also partly by pressuring him or her to embody those virtues. Our mother did this to J., who’d suffer Mom’s wrath if ever she failed to measure up.

I’ll give a crushing example of J. displeasing our Mom. When she was about twenty or twenty-one years old (I would have been fifteen or sixteen at the time), she was dating a young man with long red hair, wearing jeans and a jean jacket. This was in about the mid-80s: he was a ‘metal-head’ or ‘rocker’, not someone my parents would ever accept as a boyfriend for J.

I remember seeing him with my sister on the living room sofa, getting in the mood, when our parents weren’t at home at night (J., studying in secretarial school, was still living at home). Obviously, I had to make myself scarce.

My bedroom was in our basement at the time. From there, I could hear my mother screaming, “I am ashamed of you!” repeatedly at J. on one of those nights; for our parents had come home unexpectedly early and found the young fellow lying naked in her bed. I don’t think you need any more details about what he and J. had been doing.

Along with Mom’s screaming, I could hear J.’s weeping and shame-laden attempts to explain herself. J. had failed to be the perfect daughter she was supposed to be, even though all she’d done was something that had become pretty standard among young adult dating couples by the 1980s…not that that made any difference to our socially-conservative parents, of course.

What is interesting about this is how our father reacted. Naturally, he didn’t approve of J.’s behaviour any more than our mom did, but his anger and shock at J. were much better controlled, as I recall. He focused more on the foolishness of what J. had done (i.e., risking pregnancy or disease), and less on the ‘shameful’ aspect of it. The unkindness of his words went to this extent: “What a donkey!” he said, twice, of J. Our near-hysterical mother, in contrast, seemed to be displaying narcissistic rage at J.’s failure to be her G.C.

Years later, J. was in a relationship with the man who would become her husband (he later died of cancer–<<<scroll down to Part VII). They were living together, and I doubt it was a platonic living arrangement. Though their relationship was getting serious, and the man was a clean-cut, respectable sort that our parents would have approved of, technically they weren’t yet married, and thus they were ‘living in sin’.

Our conservative father was the only disapproving one this time, though he grudgingly tolerated J.’s living with her then-boyfriend, acquiescing to how “that’s the way people do things these days.” Dad was playing the role of protective father, while our mother was all proud, in her smug and superior attitude, of being a ‘progressive thinker’, as against Dad’s sexist double standards for J. (while having allowed R. and F., my brothers, to live with any then-girlfriends, something I doubt our father approved of, either, by the way). This was an example of Mom doing a minor smear campaign on our father.

Mom’s hypocrisy is notable in how narcissism motivated both contradictory attitudes. Her daughter had ‘shamed the family’ by giving herself to a long-haired ‘punk’ (who, for all we know, could have cut his hair and become a ‘respectable’ member of society within a year of his breakup with J.); but now, Mom was a ‘good feminist’ for approving of this modern living arrangement with a man who–though he would prove himself a genuinely worthy husband–could have gotten J. pregnant and run off on her, for all we knew at the time.

Mom’s ‘feminism’ was nothing more than bourgeois progressivism; as long as bourgeois prejudices about ‘respectability’ weren’t challenged, J. and her not-yet husband could bonk away in bed as often as they liked. Years after J.’s ‘shame’ with the ‘punk’ in her bed, she spoke to me of the bad dating mistakes she’d made back in the 80s, with a frown of shame on her face for having displeased our mother.

J.’s haughty, self-righteous attitude toward me should be seen in light of her need to conform with our mother’s expectations of her. In my private thoughts, I always sent J.’s contempt of me back at her whenever I contemplated her chronic need to conform socially (while requiring me also to conform); now I can understand her psychological motivations for doing so. J.’s phoney virtue signalling was indeed an act she was putting on, the False Self she was required to adopt to fulfill Mom’s need for her to embody all the virtues Mom deluded herself into thinking she had. She needed J. to manifest them publicly, so Mom could watch and identify with her, and thus smile with pride at her daughter, her ‘mini-me’.

Similarly, I as the identified patient was also playing a phoney role our mother required of me, so she could be exorcised of her narcissistic demons by projecting them onto me. The scapegoat role is a False Self that I must dispel from my life; I must rediscover the real me that the family never wanted me to be.

Also, Dear Reader, if any of these issues apply to you, you must work to dispel the False Self you were required to be by your disordered parents or ex-partner, be that phoney role the scapegoat or the golden child (the good role of the idealize phase, or the bad one of the devalue/discard phase, respectively, if it was your ex who abused you). You get to decide who you really are, remember, not those people who programmed your brain for their not-so-noble purposes.

Stay authentic, my friends.

Analysis of ‘Taxi Driver’

Taxi Driver is a psychological thriller filmed in 1976, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese (who also has a cameo or two in the film), and starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard HarrisCybill Shepherd, and Peter Boyle. It is ranked #52 on the AFI’s top 100 movies of all time.

Here are some famous quotes:

  1. “May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.” –Travis Bickle

2. “Each night when I return the cab to the garage, I have to clean the cum off the back seat. Some nights, I clean off the blood.” –Bickle

3. “Twelve hours of work and I still can’t sleep. Damn. Days go on and on. They don’t end.” –Bickle

4. “All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don’t believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention. I believe that someone should become a person like other people.” –Bickle

5. “I first saw her at Palantine Campaign headquarters at 63rd and Broadway. She was wearing a white dress. She appeared like an angel. Out of this filthy mess, she is alone. They… cannot… touch… her.” –Bickle

6. “Loneliness has followed me my whole life. Everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” –Bickle

7. “I called Betsy again at her office and she said maybe we’d go to a movie together after she gets off work tomorrow. That’s my day off. At first she hesitated but I called her again and then she agreed. Betsy, Betsy. Oh no, Betsy what? I forgot to ask her last name again. Damn. I got to remember stuff like that.” –Bickle

8. “I realize now how much she’s just like the others – cold and distant, and many people are like that. Women for sure. They’re like a union.” –Bickle

9. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” –Bickle, looking at himself in a mirror (ranked #10 in the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 movie quotations in American cinema.)

10. [in an anniversary card to his parents] “Dear Father and Mother: July is the month I remember which brings not only your wedding anniversary but also Father’s Day and Mother’s birthday. I’m sorry I can’t remember the exact dates, but I hope this card will take care of them all. I’m sorry again I cannot send you my address like I promised to last year.” –Bickle

11. “When we came up with our slogan, ‘We are the People,’ when I said let the people rule, I felt that I was being somewhat overly optimistic. I must tell you that I am more optimistic now than ever before. The people are rising to the demands that I have made on them. The people are beginning to rule. I feel it is a groundswell. I know it will continue through the primary. I know it will continue in Miami. And I know it will rise to an unprecedented swell in November.” –Senator Charles Palantine

12. “Walt Whitman, that great American poet, spoke for all of us when he said: ‘I am the man. I suffered. I was there.’ Today, I say to you, We Are The People, we suffered, we were there. We the People suffered in Vietnam. We the People suffered, we still suffer from unemployment, inflation, crime and corruption.” –Palantine

13. [to Travis] “You see the woman in the window? Do you see the woman in the window?…I want you to see that woman, because that’s my wife. But that’s not my apartment. That’s not my apartment. You know who lives there? Huh? I mean, you wouldn’t know who lives there – I’m just saying, “But you know who lives there?” Huh? A nigger lives there. How do ya like that? And I’m gonna, I’m gonna kill her. There’s nothing else. I’m gonna kill her. What do you think of that? Hmm? I said ‘What do you think of that?’ Don’t answer. You don’t have to answer everything. I’m gonna kill her. I’m gonna kill her with a .44 Magnum pistol. I have a .44 Magnum pistol. I’m gonna kill her with that gun. Did you ever see what a .44 Magnum pistol can do to a woman’s face? I mean it’ll fuckin’ destroy it. Just blow her right apart. That’s what it can do to her face. Now, did you ever see what it can do to a woman’s pussy? That you should see. You should see what a .44 Magnum’s gonna do to a woman’s pussy you should see. I know, I know you must think that I’m, you know… You must think I’m pretty sick or somethin’, you know, you must think I’m pretty sick. Right? You must think I’m pretty sick? Hmm? Right? I’ll betcha, I’ll betcha you really think I’m sick right? You think I’m sick? You think I’m sick? You don’t have to answer. I’m payin’ for the ride. You don’t have to answer.” –cuckold passenger

14. “Look, look at it this way, you know uh, a man, a man takes a job, you know, and that job, I mean like that, and that it becomes what he is. You know like uh, you do a thing and that’s what you are. Like I’ve been a, I’ve been a cabbie for seventeen years, ten years at night and I still don’t own my own cab. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want to. I must be what I, what I want. You know, to be on the night shift drivin’ somebody else’s cab. Understand? You, you, you become, you get a job, you you become the job. One guy lives in Brooklyn, one guy lives in Sutton Place, you get a lawyer, another guy’s a doctor, another guy dies, another guy gets well, and you know, people are born. I envy you your youth. Go out and get laid. Get drunk, you know, do anything. ‘Cause you got no choice anyway. I mean we’re all fucked, more or less you know.” –Wizard

15. “So what makes you so high and mighty. Will you tell me that? Didn’t you ever try lookin’ in your own eyeballs in the mirror?” –Iris

The main themes of Taxi Driver include false ideals, and alienation leading into fragmentation, these being social and psychological problems stemming from capitalism and imperialism. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a Vietnam vet suffering from insomnia and loneliness, problems common to sufferers of PTSD and C-PTSD. With his feeling of being broken off from the rest of society comes the breaking up, the falling apart, of his personality.

You can see how troubled Travis is just from the first look in his eyes at the beginning of the movie. When he’s interviewed for the job, he’s asked by the interviewer (Joe Spinell) why he wants to be a cabbie; when he says he can’t sleep, the interviewer suggests going to theatres that show porno films.

Already we see an example of the social alienation between different members of the proletariat. How is it ‘treatment’ for proletarians’ insomnia to watch naked, sexualized, and exploited lumpenproletariat? Bickle was a veteran suffering from the trauma of fighting an imperialist war where soldiers like him saw (and often participated in) the raping and bombing of Southeast Asians. Recall Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the nine-year-old girl who was photographed running naked because a napalm strike was burning her clothes and her back. How could watching porn cure this, instead of aggravating it?

When the interviewer asks about Bickle’s driving record, he responds, “Clean, like my conscience.” With his record in Vietnam, this joke sounds suspiciously like reaction formation. The interviewer is offended by this remark, forcing an apology from Bickle–more alienation.

When Bickle goes into the parking lot where all the cabs are, the camera moves away from him to get a sweep of the area; not his point of view, but as if we were seeing the scene from other eyes. One would expect to see more of Bickle, who is more or less narrating the story (i.e., the story is essentially from his point of view). The camera drifting away from him suggests his distracted, dissociated mind; it also suggests his growing alienation from himself…his fragmentation.

Bickle does go to those porno theatres; what’s worse, on two occasions he tries to connect with women in that very setting! Naturally, the women in question are so offended and disgusted that they want nothing to do with him.

It’s easy to look at Bickle’s behaviour and say, “What an idiot! Taking a woman he wants to impress on a date…to a porno theatre? Asking the name of a woman selling snacks in a porno theatre? What is he thinking? Is he thinking?”

Such snap judgements, however, fail to get at the root of the problem, which is in the conflicts in his fragmented unconscious mind, in his alienation from his species-essence. Part of him wants to connect with these women (or with any woman in general), but another part of him wants to sabotage that connection by scaring them off. Bickle knows as well as any idiot (though he speaks as if he doesn’t) that no woman wants to date or get to know a pervy porn lover…but he puts women in that awkward situation anyway. In his alienation and fragmentation, he can’t make up his mind whether to be or not to be connected with a girl, so his conflict is resolved in a brutal social faux pas.

Heinz Kohut knew of a patient whose fragmentation perfectly exemplified this inability to think straight–a man who confused left and right! The patient had a dream he was “in an airplane flying from Chicago to New York. He was occupying a window seat on the left side of the plane, as he mentioned, looking out toward the south. When the analyst pointed out the inconsistency in his report of the dream: that, going from Chicago to New York, he would be looking north, not south, from the left side of the plane, the patient became utterly confused and spatially disoriented–to the point that he literally could not tell right from left for a short time.” (Kohut, pages 153-154)

The patient’s fragmentation came from his parents’ disappearance from his life for a span of more than a year, when he was three-and-a-half years old. In this connection, one wonders about the closeness of Bickle’s relationship with his parents, when he writes to them in an anniversary card (see Quote #10 above), and he doesn’t remember the exact dates of their anniversary, his mother’s birthday, or Father’s Day! He remembers only that the dates are all in July. Recall (Quote #6) that he says he’s been lonely all his life, suggesting a lack of closeness with his parents in his childhood. His trauma from his Vietnam War experiences would have multiplied his fragmentation by the thousands, hence his own inability to think straight, or to remember to do even the simplest of things, like remember to ask Betsy’s last name (Quote #7).

When Bickle becomes a taxi driver, he accepts working absurdly long hours throughout the night because he can’t sleep. He is like so many right-leaning members of the working class, who take on such long hours without ever questioning if such a working life is good for them.

He drives his cab around an especially rough area of New York City. As a conservative worker, he feels revulsion at the lumpenproletariat all around him. His prejudice against blacks is first noted when he calls them “spooks” (see Quote #1 above), then says it makes no difference to him if they ride in his cab, a denial of the racism he also manifests in the dirty looks he gives blacks later on, as well as the black man he shoots in the head for trying to rob a convenience store (instead of just making a citizen’s arrest, or, since Bickle’s at close range, maybe shooting the gun out of the black man’s hand in self-defence when he spins around to try to shoot Bickle). If only he could feel more solidarity with all the global proletariat (including not only blacks but also prostitutes, beyond the mere ‘gallantry’ of saving Iris [Foster] from her pimp, Sport [Keitel], more on that later), he just might cure his alienation.

When Bickle sees Betsy for the first time, a curvaceous blonde beauty working for the campaign of a left-leaning liberal politician named Palantine (Harris), he idealizes her in his mind, imagining that the sewer society all around them “cannot…touch…her.” When she rejects him after his foolish choice to take her to a porno movie, his ideal of her has been shattered.

This leads to a discussion of an important theme in Taxi Driver: false ideals. Apart from his temporary idealizing of Betsy, Bickle also idealizes outdated notions of manhood, a problem many right-leaning male members of the proletariat, semi-proletariat, and petite bourgeoisie have, including many in the ‘manosphere‘, for example. Bickle imagines men are supposed to protect and provide for all women, as well as ‘perform’ for them (i.e., initiate dates with them and play the role of ‘perfect gentleman’).

In his social awkwardness, though, Bickle is over-aggressive in his wish to join up through Betsy instead of Tom (Brooks), to help the Palantine campaign. His reason to prefer her over Tom, bluntly given, is that she is “the most beautiful woman [he’s] ever seen”. During their time together in the café, he’s polite and well-groomed, and in his jealousy over Tom’s attentions to her, he bad-mouths him, whom he doesn’t know at all, saying he’s “silly” and that he doesn’t respect her. That night, Bickle takes her to a porno!

The same man who has no problem with pornography does, however, have a problem with prostitution; for he sees Iris try to escape from Sport by getting into his cab. (This version of the scene doesn’t have the dialogue, but the visuals are sufficient to demonstrate my point, anyway.) We see Bickle’s piercing eyes through his rear-view mirror–an important motif representing his projections of his own, inner viciousness out into a world he perceives as vicious (more on that later)–as he sees the pimp grab the girl and toss him a crumpled twenty-dollar bill to make him forget the whole incident.

He can forget about the exploited women in porn, as well as all those other prostitutes he sees on the streets or even in his cab, but not Iris. For Bickle, she has a face: she is a real human being to him. His alienation is so bad that he can recognize humanity in such women only when up close.

Because of his having been rejected by his once-idealized Betsy, he regards her as “in a Hell,” and unkindly generalizes about all women thus, saying they’re “like a union.” He, like those in the ‘manosphere’, would do well to give up their right-leaning convictions, join unions, and end their alienation instead of aggravating it with flippant misogyny.

Note the dialectical tension, though, between this misogyny and its opposite extreme, misguided gallantry. (Remember, also, how dialectical materialism sees a unity in contradictions.) A fellow cabbie inspires Bickle to buy weapons, and after an encounter with an angry cuckold who wants to murder his unfaithful wife (possibly by firing a phallic .44 Magnum at her face and between her legs!), he buys a number of guns to kill Iris’s pimp and mafia associates, and thus free her of them.

Bickle watches that angry cuckold fearfully through his rear-view mirror, seeing a disturbing reflection…of himself, actually, when you think about it. One of the guns he buys is a .44 Magnum. He later watches porn in a theatre and mimics aiming and firing a gun, with phallic fingers, at the screen.

Part of him has wanted to stop himself. He talks to a fellow cabbie they call “the Wizard” (Boyle), who apparently gives good advice. Bickle, in his increasing alienation and fragmentation, can’t tell the Wizard what’s troubling him beyond saying, “I got some bad ideas in my head.” (Then again, how do you tell someone that you want to murder a politician, and then a pimp to free a prostitute, and maybe even kill more people in the future?)

The Wizard’s counsel is hardly helpful. He seems to be experiencing fragmentation on a certain level, too, for he speaks in a largely incoherent way. He does, however, touch on a few important points: a man identifies with his job, and by saying he doesn’t want to own his own cab, the Wizard is implying an acknowledgement of worker alienation, of his own alienation from having to drive a cab every day.

Bickle’s faux-gallant wish to be the hero who rescues the damsel in distress (Iris), yet also to assassinate a popular politician (Palantine), presumably to spite Betsy (inspiring John Hinckley Jr. to try to assassinate Reagan, to impress Jodie Foster), represents a growing problem in the self-centred, alienating modern world–masculinity in crisis.

Just as sex roles have required women to be docile, timid homemakers and beauty queens, they have also required men to be stoic providers and protectors, willing to face any terror without shedding a tear. Such would have been Travis Bickle’s experience in Vietnam, killing fellow members of the global proletariat, including innocent women and children, all to stop the spread of an ideology dedicated to ending imperialism.

The trauma of war, combined with the worker alienation felt in the modern, capitalist world, have all combined to create great social isolation in Bickle. Instead of getting organized, however, with fellow workers to end the capitalist, imperialist system that sent him to kill people in Vietnam, one that created the material conditions that alienate him from the rest of society, he’d rather “get organizized” (more fragmentation) all alone, and fight and kill the ‘scum’ he sees all around him–including his fellow proletarians.

People are way too often distracted from legitimate socialist struggle by identity politics…on both the left and the right: white nationalism and the alt-right; the extremes of men’s rights activism, incels, and others in the manosphere; the kind of CIA-influenced ‘feminism’ that wanted Hillary Clinton to be president just because she’s a woman, while ignoring her total support of imperialism and neoliberalism, etc. Instead, poor whites should be joining the proletarian struggle, and the ending of sex roles should integrate women’s and men’s issues within a socialist context. Solidarity for all the people. Our true enemy is none other than the ruling class. Alienated Bickle in many ways is like those idpol fetishists, who are too self-absorbed to channel their discontent into solving more fundamental problems.

Mirrors are a major motif in this film. I’ve mentioned the rear-view mirror of Bickle’s cab. There’s also his mirror in his apartment during his “You talkin’ to me?” monologue. Though he’s imagining himself confronting one of those “scum” he wants to ‘stand up to’, remember that he sees himself in that mirror. He’s talking to himself. The scum he’s confronting is himself, whom he’s been projecting onto the world around him. As he himself says, he’s the only one there.

Jacques Lacan wrote of the mirror stage, when an uncoordinated infant first sees him- or herself in the reflection. The emotional effects of this psychological identification with the image in the mirror are problems Lacan saw as staying with one throughout life, though. There’s a feeling of alienation from oneself: that’s me in the mirror, but the image’s totality and unity (an idealized version of myself) seem at odds with the awkward, fragmented person I feel myself to be. Bickle, on two tries, has to make three jerks of his arm to make the device under his sleeve produce the concealed pistol in his hand; this reflects that awkwardness, all in contrast with his tough talk, “You’re dead.” The gun should just slide into his hand in one quick, effortless movement.

Note that in this scene, as well as the scenes with his mohawk, he’s wearing a green jacket, part of combat fatigues. The mohawk was also adopted by some soldiers, considered to have done especially heroic missions, during such wars as in Vietnam. Bickle seems, on at least an unconscious level, to be still fighting the war in his mind. Knowing how PTSD sufferers relive their trauma through flashbacks, we shouldn’t find it difficult to imagine Bickle thinking this way.

So all of his exercising, weight-lifting, target practice, etc., is like him going through basic training again. He speaks of eating no more bad food, no more pills, “no more destroyers of [his] body” (not that he actually makes these healthy reforms): in other words, he’s trying to fight against his own fragmentation, just as his mind is falling to pieces.

Recall those breaks in camera continuity, as when he repeats the words, “Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. Who would not let- Listen you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up. Here is…” And again, right after he’s shot Sport the first time, and he goes to sit on the steps before the building where Iris is with the other mafiosi, his sudden walking into the building, turning to the right from walking on the sidewalk, after his sit on the steps, seems too abrupt…it’s as if he never sat. Those continuity breaks, like the camera’s sweeping away from Bickle in the taxi parking lot at the beginning of the film, or its moving away from him when he phones Betsy to try to make up with her after their disastrous date, all symbolize his fragmentation, his alienation from himself.

The scene of his attempt to assassinate Palantine, during which he reacts to the glib, charming words of the senator’s speech with ironic clapping and a sneering smile, could be his attempt to spite Betsy as I mentioned above; or it could be a reflection of his wish to take on the capitalist political establishment that sent him out to kill Vietnamese peasants, people who’d never done him any harm; and yet, in the words of liberal Palantine, that establishment hypocritically condemns the Vietnam War.

Remember that Bickle’s trauma, as is the case with the veteran of any war, is not just about the pain he endured, but also the pain he caused the ‘enemy’: in this case, Vietnamese soldiers who were just trying to liberate their people from imperialism; also, Vietnamese women and children, including prostitutes exploited by American GIs…sometimes underage prostitutes, like Iris.

One might think that, just because nothing is said about Bickle’s experiences in Vietnam, there’s little justification for going on and on about his trauma from the war. His laconicism about Vietnam can, however, easily be attributed to repression. (Recall, also, that the trauma of the Vietnam War was fresh on people’s minds back in the mid-1970s.)

When, during his job interview at the beginning of the movie, you see and hear him talking about his honourable discharge from the marines, his pained, grimacing facial expression gives us a clue as to how “honourable” the whole thing had really been for him; contrast this with the friendly smile of the interviewer, who has also served in the marines.

Let’s come to the film’s climax. Pimps are mafia, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, mafia are capitalists. The brutal exploitation of prostitutes, also something I’ve discussed elsewhere, is another example of capitalist cruelty, imperialist cruelty, in the case of Third World prostitutes exploited by Western tourists. So Bickle’s rescuing of Iris by going into the urban jungle and killing Sport and the other two mafia men, while he’s in his green jacket and with his mohawk, is like him going back into the jungles of Vietnam to kill the imperialists, though he–a conservative proletarian–would sense this intention only unconsciously. Since he unconsciously sees himself in these pimps (and them in him), he is killing himself in unconscious phantasy.

He uses his .44 Magnum to blow off the fingers of a mafia man, then uses a knife to stab the man in the other hand. He puts another gun to the man’s face and fires a bullet in his head, just after he’s filled the face of another mafioso with bullets–all of these acts of violence being symbols of fragmentation…Bickle’s own fragmentation, since he projects his self-hatred onto these scum. In killing them, he’s trying to kill himself.

Indeed, after killing them, he points a gun at his head and tries to kill himself, only he’s out of bullets. So, when the cops come, he just points his bloody finger at his head and mimes shooting himself. Iris, a witness to all the killing, just sits nearby and sobs.

The media portray his rescue of Iris from pimps as an act of heroism. This is more false idealizing, for what Bickle has really done, by subjecting a teenage girl to the close-up witnessing of a bloody shootout, is to traumatize her far worse than all the sexual exploitation she’s been enduring. In fact, with all those phallic guns ejaculating bullets and spraying, if you will, multiple orgasms of blood, Bickle has raped Iris far more brutally than the paid rape of prostitution ever could.

Her father writes Bickle a thank-you letter for having rescued her and having her return home to go back to school; but we never really get her side of the story. She certainly regrets having been a prostitute, but is she happy back at home again? What drove her to run away in the first place? She told Bickle, during breakfast in a diner, that her parents “hate” her. It’s easy to assume this talk is just teenage hyperbole, but the notion of ‘loving parents’ is another easy assumption, a false ideal. If her parents abused her, what kind of abuse was it? Physical? Emotional? Did her father sexually abuse her? If it’s the last of these three, an understanding of object relations theory would explain her running into Sport’s arms.

The movie ends with Bickle giving Betsy a ride home at night. On the surface, he seems to be stable again, even amiable, for he gives her a free ride. Then, just before the ending credits, as he’s driving, he sees something in his rear-view mirror that agitates him. Is it another manifestation of the filth and corruption of the city, a filth he must wash clean with more blood? Or is it his own face in the reflection that troubles him? After all, we see his eyes in the mirror just before the first of the credits; and during his moment of agitation, the soundtrack recording is briefly played in reverse, suggesting a move backwards in time, towards his moment of extreme instability and fragmentation.

He is no hero, of course. He is a ticking time bomb, ready to explode with more violence at any moment. He felt no therapeutic catharsis when he killed those mafia men. He’ll kill again, and the victims could very well be far more innocent the next time. He has by no means exorcised his Vietnamese demons, for the evil is still alive inside himself. No matter how hard he tries to project it out onto the streets of New York City, it remains inside him.

Killing is in his blood; he got it from Vietnam. The internal dialogue of violence was programmed into him from his years of seeing combat every day. The ghosts of all those Viet Cong (and, in all likelihood, innocent civilians) he killed are still haunting him, his bad object relations. Only love would replace those bad internal objects with good ones, and his perpetual objectifying of women makes getting that love an impossibility.

Recall how, before the shootout, he broods while watching TV in his apartment, holding his .44 Magnum (aiming it at the TV, too) and seeing the smiling dancing couples on American Bandstand, a staged love, to be sure (as the media is almost universally phoney); but also one that he, in his isolation, can’t have, much less a real love. Oh, the pain you see in his eyes as that bittersweet song is playing! He can’t even have a love that leads to marriage, then divorce, as he sees in the soap opera just before he knocks over and destroys his TV set.

A man-woman relationship is only a sexual one for him; hence his viewing of pornography. But could it be that, as he says, such a relationship “is not so bad”? After all, he saw far worse treatment of women, sexual and violent, in Vietnam. The escape from reality into a world of pornographic fantasy would seem less harsh. Bickle’s pathological failure to achieve loving relationships leads to his empty pleasure-seeking, as WRD Fairbairn noted (see my third quoting of Fairbairn in this blog post). However Bickle may try to rationalize his pathologies, though, his reality is that he’s in a Hell, the Hell of his war trauma, a Hell of loneliness…and he’s gonna die in a Hell like the rest of ’em.

Psychic Bridges

One recurring theme I’ve noticed from reading a lot of writers on the subject of psychoanalysis is the idea that the human personality is relational, rather than an isolated, self-developing thing. A person is best understood in terms of how he or she interacts with and is influenced by the other people he or she is in regular contact with. The most crucial contacts one has for one’s development are, of course, one’s parents/primary caregivers and one’s (more usually elder) siblings.

Object relations theory is all about how one introjects imagos of one’s parents; we carry these imagos inside our psyche, like ghosts haunting a house, and they influence how we perceive the world, regardless of whether or not the imagos are an accurate representation of the early people we were in contact with as infants or children. These imagos help form psychic bridges between ourselves and our social environment, and are crucial parts of our personalities. The positive or negative energy that our primary caregivers send across those bridges to us cause us, in turn, to send positive or negative energy right back across to them, then it comes back to us again, and is sent back from us again, back and forth, and back and forth, throughout our lives.

When those early caregivers/influencers are loving and kind, they inspire us to be similarly good to others; when they are cruel and abusive, we learn to be cruel and abusive to others. After years of being bullied and psychologically abused by my siblings, along with my inability to fight back (for it’s in the nature of bullies not to allow you to fight back), I had a huge store of inner rage, all that negative energy that needed to be vented; so, when I became an English teacher to Taiwanese kids, the boys–whose pre-teen awkwardness reminded me of when I was an awkward, patience-trying boy–ended up being on the receiving end of all that rage.

I know intellectually that I shouldn’t be taking out my frustrations on those kids (the way my siblings shouldn’t have taken the rage they got from our parents all out on me, and the difference between my siblings and me is in how I recognize what I’ve done is wrong, whereas they don’t recognize their own wrongdoing), but to this day, I still find it a challenge to refrain from blowing up at them from time to time, for such is the nature of my poorly-built psychic bridges, my ‘mental programming’, if you will. So, you see, the importance of setting up the best psychic bridges that we can for children cannot be overstated.

In the self psychology language of Heinz Kohut, these good, empathic psychic bridges are called self-objects, in particular, early caregivers who provide an empathic response to childhood grandiosity and exhibitionism, encouraging it and letting it down in ways appropriate to whatever phase of development a child may be in at a given moment. For children must learn to deal with disappointments and reduced narcissistic gratification in amounts that they can bear.

When the self-objects fail to provide that needed empathy, the child experiences traumatic disappointments, causing his or her narcissistic energy to fail to be incorporated into a psychic context of healthy, realistic self-esteem. Instead, the child’s self-concept splits: there’s a horizontal split, with much of the narcissistic energy repressed–pushed down–into the unconscious; also, there’s a vertical split, with much of the narcissistic energy disavowed–pushed over to the side, as it were. The remaining core ego puts on the mask of an unassuming, genial personality, a likeable False Self to fool the world into thinking the pathological narcissist is a normal person.

For my part, I tend to modify Kohut’s ideas where it seems appropriate, necessary, and defensible. Now, please remember, Dear Reader, that I am no authority on these matters; I merely dabble in psychoanalysis and have no formal training in it. All I’m doing here is giving my personal opinions, so take them with a generous dose of salt. Don’t take them as gospel.

Part of my modifications of Kohut includes my belief that the vertical split/disavowal of narcissistic energy includes projecting the grandiosity onto other people; this projecting often goes as far as to lapse into projective identification. If the pathological narcissist can cause his or her victim–ideally, a sensitive type whose empathy and sweetness are things the narcissist envies–to manifest the grandiosity and self-centredness projected from the narcissist, he or she then can feel ‘cured’ of the pathology, the demons seem exorcized, as it were, and the narcissist can then feel comfortable in his or her False Self, deluded that the mask worn is his or her real face. I believe my late mother victimized me in this exact way.

So this split in the narcissist’s personality is a kind of dialectical split between hidden narcissistic grandiosity and an outward display of fake modesty.

The narcissist’s psychic bridges must be examined, too. We’ve already considered his or her grandiose self; now we must look across to the other side of the bridge of the bipolar self–his or her idealized parent, and how that parent’s imago influences the narcissist’s personality.

The lack of empathy the child suffered caused an injury to his or her grandiose self; that injury carries across to the other side of the bridge, causing a split image of the parent, between the idealized, all-good parent and the hurtful, empathy-denying bad parent. Healthy people, who have realistic self-esteem and recognize the coexistence of good and bad in themselves, also see the good and bad coexisting in their parents, for the psychic bridge reflects parallels of parents and children on both sides; hence, narcissists have a split of outward good (grandiosity) and secret self-hate, as well as a split of outward good seen in their parents (idealized parent imago) and a secret, unacknowledged resentment of the bad sides of their idolized parents.

I believe the preceding paragraph describes the personalities of my brothers R. and F., and especially my sister J., with respect to their own repressed/disavowed grandiosity, hidden behind a ‘respectable’ collective False Self, and to their idealizing of our late mother. She, in turn, had the same repressed/disavowed grandiosity for herself, as well as the same idealizing of her parents, especially her father, who died when she was a child, traumatizing her and not allowing her the opportunity to experience optimal frustration in him, which would have lead to a realistic sense of his strengths and faults.

Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex needs to be modified, in my opinion, to mean not merely the love of the opposite-sex parent and the hate of the same-sex one (or, for that matter, in the case of the inverted, or negative, Oedipus complex, hate of the opposite-sex parent and love of the same-sex one), but rather an expanded notion, incorporating a mixture of love and hate for both parents. We all love Mom and/or Dad sometimes, and at other times we would love to kill both, or as least one, of them.

So these psychic bridges, with oneself on one side and one’s parents/primary caregivers/siblings on the other, are also like mirrors into which we see those primal people as reflections of ourselves (if you’ll indulge my piling of simile onto simile, Dear Reader). However we love or hate those other people is a reflection of how we love or hate ourselves; positive or negative energy is sent back and forth across the bridges.

Narcissists outwardly display grandiosity and excessive self-love while idealizing their parents; inwardly, though, they hate themselves and secretly resent their parents’ failed empathic responses to their childhood exhibitionism.

Failed parenting doesn’t necessarily result in narcissism: that tends to be the case for golden children, but what of scapegoats like me? To understand our psychic bridges, I recommend an examination of the ideas of WRD Fairbairn.

Fairbairn created his endopsychic structure, a relational model based on a libido of object-seeking (i.e., seeking out other people for love and friendships), to replace Freud’s inappropriately drive-based personality structure of id, ego, and superego. Freud thought it was all about a will to pleasure; Fairbairn thought it was all about a will to relationships, to connection with others.

So instead of Freud’s ego, we have Fairbairn’s similar concept of the Central Ego, linked to an Ideal Object (the link is the ‘psychic bridge’, as I call it). The id is replaced by the far-from-identical Libidinal Ego, psychically bridged with the Exciting Object; and the superego is replaced by the even-more-different Anti-libidinal Ego (formerly, the Internal Saboteur) and its Rejecting Object.

Everyone has all three configurations, according to Fairbairn, even the healthiest people, those whose Central Ego and Ideal Object, a seeking out of real relationships in the external world, is the dominant of the three. The less healthy we are, though, because of the poor empathy we got from our parents, the more predominant are our Libidinal Ego/Exciting Object (the urge to seek out pleasure in inappropriate, internalized, fantasied objects–idolizing of movie/pop/sports stars, consumption of pornography, etc.) and Anti-libidinal Ego/Rejecting Object (aggression and hostility towards other people).

The more predominant these latter two configurations are, the more of a ‘schizoid’ (i.e., split, fragmented–NOT to be confused with schizophrenic, though such could be the case in extreme cases) personality one has (Fairbairn, page 4). Here, the psychic bridges between oneself and others are damaged or broken.

Melanie Klein borrowed Fairbairn’s use of the word ‘schizoid’ (or, rather, he and she borrowed from each other) to describe these broken people in her use of the term ‘paranoid-schizoid position‘ to describe the hostility a baby (or, by extension, a son or daughter of any age) may feel towards his or her frustrating ‘bad mother‘ (Klein, page 3). Her contrasting term, the ‘depressive position’, describes the saddened state a child is in after fearing the loss of the temporarily-absent mother (after his hostile phantasies of hurting or killing her for having frustrated him), then wishing for reparation with her, a mending of the broken or damaged psychic bridge between him and his mother.

Some of us, like me, can never mend these broken bridges. Some of us were so severely emotionally abused, by Cluster B parents who were unrepentant right up to the grave, that we’ll never get that reparation with them. And if our siblings were the pathological parents’ flying monkeys, they will be every bit as impenitent as our parents. The psychic bridges between us and these primal people will always be damaged, if not irreparably broken; so we’ll need to establish bridges with a new set of people to replace them, new good objects to fill in the holes that the old bad objects broke into our bridges.

It should be a no-brainer to understand that the human personality is relational, based on bridges between oneself and one’s parents/primary caregivers/elder siblings, these elder people having related with one right from one’s birth, as opposed to younger people, or those one meets later in life, and who therefore haven’t had as foundational an influence on oneself.

Unfortunately, there are many who can’t grasp this idea, preferring to regard people as having a good or bad personality because they were ‘born that way’, instead of brought up that way. These people, like my elder siblings, for example, imagine a person to be an isolated particle of existence, as it were, generating himself with minimal, if any, influence from other people. My elder siblings have deluded themselves in this fashion, as did my mother, to evade taking responsibility for how their emotional abuse and bullying made me the man I am today, one who refuses contact with them.

To be sure, I must take responsibility for many of my faults: my wife, who has been only a good psychic bridge for me, has every right to complain of my faults. But one’s personality is more of a wave, a vibration connected with all surrounding vibrations, than a mere particle (to continue with the simile of the last paragraph) disconnected from everyone and everything else. Everything that I am, at my core, is the result of the pernicious influence of my mother, with her lies, gaslighting, and triangulating to ensure I’d never be friends with R., F., and J. These damaged primal psychic bridges ensured I’d go through life with mostly damaged relationships with other people.

My separation from that family gave me a chance to start again in my life here in East Asia, where I’ve made bridges with people on the other side who are kind, loving people. These are the good objects Klein and Fairbairn wrote of, rather like an adult version of a transitional object, in human form, that can link us with the external world in a healthy way. These are Kohut’s empathic self-objects, who give the needed mirroring to us damaged people, to help us build self-love.

If you are in relationships with people who give you damaged or broken psychic bridges, you must get out of those poisonous relationships as soon as you can. You must also mend what’s wrong inside yourself, either through therapy, or through self-compassion, self-care (I recommend ASMR, hypnosis, and meditation), and a greater awareness of how your own hostilities and aggressiveness to others (inspired, no doubt, by your abusers) stops you from building new bridges with others.

Remember, we people are not islands, cut off from each other and generating our own faults. If you’ll indulge more of my similes, Dear Reader, we are like the waves of the ocean, flowing into each other and affecting each other in ways we barely even notice. If someone is in a bad psychological state, he probably wasn’t ‘born that way’, he was probably raised that way.

W.R.D. Fairbairn, Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality, Routledge, London, 1952

Melanie Klein, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946-1963, The Free Press, New York, 1975