When Bloggers Stop Blogging

A substantial number of bloggers, like the “old soldiers” in the antique song, “never die, they simply fade away.” Some are captured by other priorities or overtaken by demanding events. A few write books or publish elsewhere. And some, I believe, are “written out.” At least for a while.

I’ve posted in this space since 2009. Almost 600 essays. From the beginning, I wondered how long I’d have something new to say; well-crafted ideas bright people might want to read. But especially to spill out my brain for my kids and future grandchildren. To leave, in the composer Bela Bartok’s words, “an empty trunk.”

I didn’t liken myself to Shakespeare and, while I note some improvement in my writing , my belief hasn’t changed. Though several dedicated readers suggest I should compile the best of these in a book, we are overwhelmed with print already. Nor does ambition drive me to take on such a task.

I wrote while recuperating from surgery. I scrawled when embroiled in difficult moments in my life. Words appeared on the page in times happy and sad, when energetic and tired, when I was kind to the people I loved and when less than my best.

That’s the way writers are. Not all of them are “called” to write, but they must expel whatever is inside. Compulsion describes the act. A real writer, adept or not, doesn’t wait for the conditions to be perfect. His industry summons the muse, rather than being summoned by it.

I have less interest now, I’m afraid. The lure of other parts of my life draws me more. I don’t intend to abandon the blog, but I imagine I will space out my attention to the space.

Thank you for reading. Please continue to read. Your kind words are appreciated. Thanks for disagreeing with me or asking questions. I’m not disappearing and I’m not dying. Whether my posting life “fades away,” I cannot predict.

Remember, you can still peruse 10 years worth of my efforts.

Or read Shakespeare.

I won’t be jealous.

—–

The top Cartoon of Skywriting Aircraft by NASA was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Frankenstein and Danger of Self-awareness

Does self-awareness bring happiness? Most people seem to believe their portion of self-awareness is sufficient for contentment. Others don’t think about the question. The latter live without much excavation of what is deep in the cavernous underground of their psyche.

I intend to write more about this subject, but will introduce the topic with the story of two people who don’t know themselves well. After reading, you might ask yourself how much self-awareness you possess and whether it improves your life.

My take on the subject may surprise you.

If you watched Ralph for 30 minutes straight and walked away, you would be unable to describe him. He was a man with no distinguishing qualities: not too heavy, not too thin; not too much hair (if there is such a thing), but not bald either; a man of indifferent facial features rendering him unremarkable. Although mega smart, his eyes displayed no light or life. Indeed, his brain’s powerful wattage came as a surprise and then only after you’d gotten to know him.

Nor did withdrawn Ralph have many friends; wait — any friends. Vocation became all. If I gave you the name of what he did, you probably wouldn’t comprehend it. Suffice to say, this brainiac possessed a specialized knowledge of something to do with physics. Still, if one is preoccupied by such arcane, abstract, and technical work — a marginalizing kind of territory — conversation is hard.

What Ralph did have, to the shock of anyone who met his family, was a knock-out wife named Fox. And, funny enough, she resembled Megan Fox: equally sultry, but more curvaceous, with hair so black you wondered if it came from a bottle of dye. Indeed, Fox existed as a woman to die for. Ralph was close to fulfilling the expression’s prediction: dying inside because of her.

The honeymood period had been different. This woman only now devoted her life to turning heads. She observed men to see if they ogled, and so they did. The throng turned toward her, where she once blended unknown and unnoticed into every crowd.

When they married, Fox was as plain as white bread. Much like Ralph, in fact. Maybe I’m being too kind to her. Her nose reminded one of a driver frozen in place at a four-way traffic stop, unable to decide which way to go. Her jaw was too small, so her bottom teeth bunched up, like a classroom of eager students all raising their hands. Her “bum” was absent — one of the many straight, boyish lines on a body screaming for curves.

This young woman’s ear lobes had been marred by a failing intern at a bargain “piercing shop.” The cretin used something like a train conductor’s punch to do the job. Meanwhile, her oversized, protruding ears (as if ready for takeoff) created a human likeness to Disney’s Dumbo. Fox’s feet made grace of motion a challenge, too. Topping everything, the delicate dear-one’s sensitive eyes responded with pain to sunlight, requiring an almost vampire-like avoidance of the summer outdoors. In total, this woman appeared a mess on the outside, while her insides couldn’t help noticing and sent out distress signals.

Given the lady’s neediness, perhaps Ralph’s arrival falls into the “meant to be” category. She struggled to reach for a top shelf grocery item and asked for his aid. When he provided the assistance she started chatting him up, telling him the details of her miserable life. “Oh my God, thank you. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here to get the Cheerios. I always have such trouble with these things. No one ever seems to give me the time, so sometimes I go without.”

Fox went on and on. The relationship might have been different, if only lonely Ralph had been a more confident and not so good-hearted. A woman eager for his company should not be ignored, he thought. Soon they were sitting together in the supermarket’s cafe. He still listened and she still filled the conversational carbon dioxide with her ill-fated history. The pattern had been set.

Ralph couldn’t help but notice two things. First, she enjoyed talking to him. Second, he garnered appreciation despite doing almost nothing. Our fellow’s muteness around women mattered not. Since Fox engaged in endless monologue, he found an uncommon ease in being with her.

A third idea occurred to this Everyman, too: he pitied the injured creature. The recitation of her life disappointments touched him. The masculine heart broke as he auditioned the ugly duckling disses she described, her parents’ neglect, and the absence of outstanding qualities in a world demanding them.

Ralph looked beyond Fox’s outsides to the “poor girl” insides he saw on the newsreel of sorrow she re-ran. They became a couple. At first, Fox was overjoyed for a boyfriend — one who would listen to her! Ralph wanted a girlfriend just as much, so it seemed inconsiderate to begrudge the woman he loved for her uncontrollable regurgitation of life’s raw indignities. Besides, she seemed grateful he’d drop anything for her, and he felt wanted and purposeful in being able to better this woman’s life.

Marriage inevitably followed courting. Children inevitably followed marriage. Challenges inevitably followed children. “Oh, Ralphie, look at what Molly (their two-year-old) did. I’m too totalled-out to clean up the mess. Can you take care of it, Ralphie?” What could the dear man do? He’d come home from work “totalled-out” himself, but Fox needed rest. Their daughter couldn’t be alone to create further disorder, Ralph said to himself.

As time passed Fox came to treat our boy’s devotion as an entitlement, treat Ralph’s patient listening as an entitlement, treat Ralph’s bread-winning and housekeeping and childcare as an entitlement.

The miserable male consoled himself. She’s had such a hard life, he thought. She’ll soon snap out of it. Maybe if I can do more, things between us will be good again. “Good,” meaning back to the time Fox offered gratitude and the kids were distracting her husband from focusing on her. Then, one day, she asked for something new.

“Ralphie, my doctor says he knows a foot specialist who can fix my feet so it’s not so hard to walk. Wouldn’t that be great? We can afford that, right Ralphie? How about it?”

Well, you know Ralph. Refusal of a reasonable request was unthinkable. He achieved an abundant living and knew it. It was the least he could do for the woman he loved and the mother of his children.

Although Fox had to go through a difficult period of recuperation, the surgery made walking the natural, unconscious thing it is for most young people. Once the healing advanced, her surgeon recommended training in ballet. Ralph’s wife became the embodiment of grace, a creature whose movement across space was streaming and seamless — something to behold.

For a brief period the spouse was even grateful to Ralph, but within a few months wretched routine resumed. Customary indifference and lack of approbation were Ralph’s daily bread, duly accepted. Until, of course, the next thing Fox wanted.

“Ralphie, my doctor says he knows a plastic surgeon who can fix my schnoz. Wouldn’t that be great? We can afford that, right Ralphie? How about it?”

Ralph didn’t jump at this suggestion quite as fast as the idea of taking Fox’s feet to the repair shop. Moreover, he’d grown to like the way Fox’s nose couldn’t seem to make up its mind about the best route to take from its bridge to her nostrils.

Still, she was the woman he loved and the mother of his children. Before too long, Fox had a nose to die for. Straight, not too big, not too small; “just right,” as Goldilocks would have said. Fox spent hours staring at her proboscis in the mirror, admiring the surgeon’s craft and her enhanced appearance: what you might call attractive if your standards for beauty weren’t too high.

Sex, however, didn’t improve. Romance had never sizzled, but Ralph accepted what his companion offered. Since he’d never had intercourse with anyone else, for a long time it satisfied. Now, however, frequency diminished. Fox also made it more “conditional.”

Let me explain.

The wife complained of headaches and exhaustion — both words sometimes uttered when the other is preoccupied with something else, their brain is somewhere else, and they only wish their partner were elsewhere, too. Fox had an ever-changing, ever smaller list of body parts available for touching, and a growing catalogue of forbidden sex acts. These, she claimed, might cause a brain hemmorhage.

“The Mayo Clinic will prove it. Take me there, you’ll see!”

He didn’t. She’d won the point.

For his part, Ralph began to think of Fox’s torso as a terrain undergoing lots of highway and road repair. He imagined her naked physique covered with little CAUTION and DANGER signs: arrows indicating detours, and tiny flagmen waiving him right or left, but always into a dead end. The helpless bloke wished for the radio traffic reports one hears every 10 minutes, desperate for guidance to the least hazardous routes. Alas, no station carried the needed updates on Fox’s body map. All Ralph got was static.

Other than when Ralph kissed Fox on her rear end (which she loved but left him cold), ardor was ever more frustrating for our Mr. R. Indeed, as Fox transformed into a fox, the limitations multiplied and the frustration grew.

Attempts at sex caused a mindset akin to days without food, knowing the closest restaurant took a three-hour drive and remained open for just 15 minutes beginning at 3 AM every other week; and the food was cold and tasteless and they never had what you wanted on the menu; and the wait staff were impatient and complained and banged around with pots and pans while you were trying to eat; and the servers were pestering you to hurry up because they were closing soon.

Well, you won’t be surprised when I tell you the surgical requests kept coming. They took the usual form: “Ralphie, my doctor says he knows a surgeon who can do ‘X.’” Next came a complete reworking of her jaw, mouth, and teeth; later breast implants, buttock rounding, and cheek inserts. Botox injections targeted a variety of places. An “ear job” followed to close up the holes left by the conductor’s punch and pin them back so that they didn’t stick out. Soon Fox requested an alteration of her hairline, in addition to lots of consultations with makeup artists, skin specialists, and hair stylists.

The family’s dull doll became unrecognizable — movie-star beautiful. She also transformed into a one-woman cheerleading squad for the wonderful doctor who picked out the best people to work their magic; with not a word about Ralphie, the guy who paid the surgeons and kept doing everything else he’d always done — ever faithful, ever devoted, ever taken-advantage-of, all-day-sucker Ralphie.

Nor was the new “arm candy” an unalloyed benefit to him. Ralph was told he was a lucky hombre, but overheard strangers wondering about the ill-matched “FR” pair. Someone would take her away from him, they guessed.

By the time Fox reached her early 40s, her physical transformation was complete. She passed for 30, at most, and pursued a life unimaginable during her frumpy, freaky, friendless teens. The kids both attended college out-of-state and Ralph never stood in the way of what she wanted. Ralphie earned a fine salary, she rationalized. In fact, however, he worked overtime to pay for the kids’ tuition, the old doctors’ bills, and Fox’s impulse purchases.

With fewer responsibilities due to the the children’s departure and no more surgeons to consult, the manufactured femme fatale realized she missed her divorced doctor, the man she so idolized: the person who guided her to achieving her new, traffic-stopping, stunning state of being. Their meetings started when she dropped in at his office, unannounced, and said hello. Soon they scheduled lunches. Long ones. Ralph couldn’t help but wonder if something was happening.

One day at sunrise, while Fox slept in and the provider was taking a rare vacation day, he drove to a nearby beach. As a young man, when he was the friendless class nerd, he’d walk along the lake front, let the sun soothe him, and nursed his malaise. Sometimes it worked. The sound of the waves and the warmth of the rays eased his craptastic condition. Perhaps he got lost in a fantasy of winning an adoring girlfriend who would become his wife.

How did things go so wrong, he wondered? The stillness of the deserted beach provided no comfort. “What can I do? I still love her.” Ralph was talking aloud. “If only I can regain what we had on our first day in the grocery.”

Ralph’s right foot caught on something and he fell on his face, eating a mouthful of sand and pebbles. Disrespect everywhere. Not even the beach likes me, he thought.

As Ralph got up he noticed the object he tripped over. A hard item protruded from the otherwise flat surface. He pulled at it: a golden Middle Eastern style lamp. Scuffed and dented, it nonetheless looked as though it had once been a fine product of the metal artisan’s craft. Ever prepared to do cleaning, the Sad Sack took out his handkerchief and tried to shine it up a bit.

That’s when the genie appeared.

For the conclusion of this story, go to Dr. Frankenstein and the Curse of Self-awareness: Part II.

—–

The top photo is of Megan Fox, by Luke Ford. Next comes Girlfriend and I by Christian Reusch. That is followed by Beauty and the Beast by Giovana Milanezi, uploaded by Johnny MrNinj and a Singapore Road Sign by Woodennature. Deep Sadness by Erik Charlton is the fifth image. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Looking Back: How Do We Judge Our Past Selves?

A recent exchange of comments with a talented blogger provoked the question of how each of us judges our past. I’m not talking about instant guilt, but indictments of older action or inaction. Multinomial offered the following account of her historical failure to say “no.” Here is a partial and edited quote:

(I sometimes failed to say) “no” to certain men who propositioned me for sex when I was homeless, desperate for a place to crash, and alone … in his home. I didn’t want to be raped again, and I didn’t want to be homeless. I didn’t want to be vulnerable, but I was.

I figured if I said “yes,” it would be quick, easy, my choice, consensual — and not rape. I regretted saying “yes.” I feared saying “no.” I wanted to say “no.” And the men weren’t entirely wrong to ask me. They were just being themselves. I didn’t want to find out if my “no” would have meant yet another rape.

I feared saying “no” then, but today I no longer fear it, and I wouldn’t say “yes” if I ever became homeless again in a vulnerable situation like that. I wished I had said “no” back then. I really did. I can only blame myself … .

Here is what I wrote back, also edited:

I’m so sorry you had to experience this.

No one, except perhaps another homeless rape victim in a similar dilemma, has the standing to judge you. Of more concern, however is your lasting judgement of yourself.

Holocaust survivors sometimes frame the post-war perspective of their tragedy in a unique way. They describe the world of “before and after,” as if surgically separated from the endless horror show in which they played the part of Untermenschen, the German word meaning “those who are less than human.”

The concentration camps were like another planet for which no one could prepare, a Kafkaesque place of choiceless choices

In the period between “fore and aft,” those trapped lost all possessions, their homes, their loved ones. Crushed together for days in railway box cars like cargo for transport, these Jews, Gypsies, and Homosexuals soon lost their names in return for tattooed numbers. Starvation, freezing, hard labor, and physical brutality rendered Hell a comparative vacation spot.

In such an inverted moral universe, the rules of civilized society are harder to apply, perhaps quaint. Yet many of the victims (and many of us) tend to use a “before and after” standard to evaluate what they did to survive.

I would say this to you, Multinomial. Be careful not to disparage the bygone self — the one who didn’t say “no” — by guidelines appropriate to the world you inhabit now.

Those who live in “normal” circumstances encounter a more moderate case of the same problem. A person of mature character is not identical with his younger persona. These two hold different valuations of money, risk, friendship, time, and more. Illness and injury, experienced or witnessed, remind them lifelong health is not promised. If lucky, perhaps the middle-aged are optimistic now; if unlucky, more pessimistic than the neophyte who went by a duplicate name.

A growing stockpile of deeds requires justification as time vanishes. Opportunities, like blocks of ice, melt away. The past resists do-overs or at least makes them more effortful. One can and must work to enhance and partake of what remains.

A single “best” choice or set of choices — fitting for all times and conditions — is an illusive thing. Growing up, for example, requires risk; age, not so much. The financial advisor suggests a more conservative approach in retirement. You can no longer easily make money if your gambles don’t pay off, he reminds you.

An old saying tells us, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Perchance the senior man who coined the phrase was correct for his place and time, but off-the-mark for his junior version: the one who challenged himself or raised hell or acted on impulse. And had great fun in the process.

So called “wise men” persist in preaching at graduation ceremonies. The tiresome message leaves the class reaching for their phones. The oration amounts to this: never trade “short pleasures for long woes,” a paraphrase of John Milton, a man whose authorship of Paradise Lost implies heavenly wisdom not even he possessed.

Julian Barnes’s mid-life protagonist in The Sense of an Ending could well counter those who disparage adventure:

We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.

Tread cautiously before you criticize another’s decisions. Without your feet in his Adidas, your derogation is unearned self-congratulations. The statement, “I wouldn’t have done that,” reveals your impoverished understanding of life. You glory in an imaginary identity from your self-appointed place on a pedestal you didn’t build.

Some desirable opportunities only come once, if at all. When two such roads appear equally inviting or necessary, the solo wayfarer is now forced to meet a traveling companion: the ghost of the road not taken. The specter will afflict him unless the wanderer befriends the wraith, permitting a measure of peace.

Satchel Paige, the fabled pitcher of baseball’s segregated past, advised: “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Such suggestions, of course, are easier to quote than follow.

Your remembering self is a curator of treasure and heartache, joy and pain. Happiness grows if he is selective, or an expert in rationalization, denial, or self-distraction. Like a masterful mechanic, his ability to readjust the rear-view mirror of your elapsed days makes him a handy tradesman.

I’m told he is in high demand, though this wizard doesn’t advertise. If you find his phone number let me know. I’ll pass it along.


The first photo is called, Meerkat Looking Behind in the Singapore Zoo, by BasileMorin. The next two are reproductions of the same statue, Lot’s Wife, by Hamo Thornycroft. The first picture of it was taken by Stephencdickson, the next by Don Macauley. Finally, Rembrandt’s Belshazzar’s Feast. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Thinking About Transference in a New Way

Transference — erotic and otherwise — is worth an unconventional look.

What past events push one toward an unconscious like or dislike of his therapist? What previous learning does the patient now misapply to a stranger who offers help?

A child reacts to his parents based on reiterated experience. If the adults are pleasant and welcoming, his sentiments tend toward the benign. If the guardian’s proximity signals rash criticism, irrational outbursts, or inappropriate physical contact, he associates them with troubled, private states of mind and feeling.

The young one’s mood changes even in anticipation of adult attention. Looking forward to mom or dad’s return home from work can trigger joy or fear. Repeated signals of happiness or trouble will be learned. When an alcoholic overseer opens a beer can, the internal stir tells the child what might soon happen.

The scene or place connected to a wound matters. The familiar location informs a sensitive offspring of potential discomfort. A bedroom, for example, causes alarm if sexual abuse tends to occur there. The boy or girl’s emotional alteration becomes automatic. Conscious thought isn’t necessary.

We are thus conditioned by neglectful or abusive parents. The brain is a predictor, foreseeing danger. Our time at home trained us to notice subtle warning signs of mistreatment. High alert occurs in proximity to anyone resembling those who inflicted the injury, as if we are wearing glasses enlarging false positive features of menace. The distorting lenses sometimes govern how we see employers, friends, and lovers. Youthful coping mechanisms kick into gear.

A trauma survivor’s life is one of constant reliving.

What characteristics of the therapist contribute to this? First, counselors are most often older than the patient, just as the mom and dad were senior to him. The treating professional has an advantage of authority and power in the relationship, as guardians do. He also sets rules and requires their fulfillment. Payment is expected, rather like the home stipulation to do your chores, or else.

The doctor creates the schedule and determines the length of the session. If you wanted more intimacy with your parent, you might be frustrated by your provider’s boundaries. If you never felt special in the family, the doctor’s full caseload reminds you of growing up without status. You are one of a crowd, not first in line.

A clinician needn’t do anything remarkable to provoke a facsimile recreation of a historical script he never read. As if by magic, he arranges the set for the client’s long-running drama. The latter’s well of resentment, love, sadness, and yearning reveal themselves act by act.

A considerate and wise healer gives all his attention, looks in your eyes, and accepts you without judging. You know little about his life. His imputed resemblance to the rejecting sire allows you a mirage-like new chance at the love you never won. He assumes the form of the imagined caretaker you didn’t have, now come to life.

Transference is a kind of disguise, a costume the unknowing client applies to his doctor, who is taken for someone else. The apparel designer’s imagination fills him with qualities belonging elsewhere.

A risk exists here: the mistaken identity can overwhelm the therapist’s capacity to interpret it and refer it back to the initial source.

If this sounds like a guarantee of a bad outcome, however, it isn’t.

Once you accept the idea of transference, you may begin to actively catch the triggered emotions as they develop (or soon after) and work on their underlying cause: the ancient shadow of old relationships and the need to grieve them.

An erotic transference must be more tactfully managed. Tender feelings, romantic or not, are problematic even when unmentioned. While their connection to the past is identical to more common transferential moments, the universal hope for a sainted parent or perfect mate adds a layer of complexity to emotional resolution.

In each case, if your counselor does not overreact to your unhappiness, resentments, or thirst for unique closeness, your imbedded responses should lessen: they will be extinguished or unlearned with time. Likewise, the ability to recognize the difference between your doctor and early custodians is a first step toward doing the same with bosses, companions, and suitors.

People will be recognized more as they are, less similar to Halloween characters. Improved life choices and increasing ease of intimacy becomes possible.

Life and therapy offer us endless challenges. Muhammad Ali, a man who knew a bit about contests inside and outside the ring, offered this advice:

I hated every minute of training, but I said,
‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’

——

The first and last images above are both untitled painting by V.S. Gaitonde, the last from 1953. The middle work is called Painting No. 1, 1962, by the same artist.

What Does Erotic Countertransference Look Like?

Words are hard labor. Let’s therefore add some pictures. The moving kind in matters of the therapist’s heart.

Much is written about erotic transference, but this is countertransference. Ladson and Wilton (2007) report:

The intense emotional experience of countertransference in psychotherapy … is not rare. Some studies have reported 95 percent of male therapists and 76 percent of female therapists admit they felt sexual feelings toward their patients.

The above video, from the HBO series In Treatment, offers you a glimpse. Enough to know — if you are open to knowing — how a therapist’s erotic countertransference can divert psychotherapy from its intended aim.

Observe TV’s portrayed counselor (Paul). His discomfort is evident in his speech, his body, his silences. The grip on his role is slipping.

The first and last two minutes of the nine-minute excerpt offer the session and the words. The center segment is given over to silent film.

Do you believe their relationship will turn out well? Do you think office hours will remedy the problems for which Laura booked her first appointment?

The second clip begins with Paul looking for guidance from his analyst Gina. He has lost himself to a mutating agenda. Laura came to him to improve her psychological state. This man was sought as an expert healer, not a man soon to be in love.

The pair now struggle with a different goal. Doc Paul is like a person hanging from the wet window ledge of a twenty-story building. The strength and clarity of the woman who is his client will overpower his ambivalence. The flashing EXIT sign makes no difference.

The most remarkable moment in these two fragments opens at 7:47 of the first one. Paul is told who he is, what his weaknesses are, by his perceptive patient … and that she loves him just as he is. No wonder the ledge is slippery. To be known and accepted — here is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

You might be stirred or troubled by your own transferential emotions if you are in treatment yourself. Perhaps you hope for physicality, but should the professional’s self-control crumble, the collapse renders impotent all his education and ethical resolve; and your safety with it.

A therapist must draw a line never to be crossed.

Lower your eyes to his office floor. The indelible mark was present long before your meeting.

Any other barrier, more movable or less precise and clear to him, risks injury to both of you.
STOP signs help only if you recognize where to look, and the brakes still work.

Knowing Yourself, Then Showing Yourself

Writers are reminded to “write what you know” and “show, not tell.” The instructions apply to fiction, but also pertain to the fact of who we are.

Therapists take the closed-up, armored patient, hoping to help him remove his metal plate covering.

His end goal?

To man up.

Up straight, chest out, eyes forward. Self-confidence and pride manifest themselves in the unspoken declaration, “Here I am.”

One encounters rejection this way, but our compensation is exploration of the world regardless of fear. What acceptance we obtain is less essential, but more often real; not the approval of those fooled by our costume, blinded by the bronze.

Much discussion exists on the subject of self-revelation to others, but a first step prepares you to lower your guard. It was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi over 2500 years ago:

Know Thyself

A dangerous effort? The book of Ecclesiastes warns:

For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

We seem to have a conflict here. Humans use rationalization, compartmentalization and four “D” words to keep their minds off troublesome realities: denial, dissociation, distraction, and drugs.

Socrates, another son of Greece, sided with Delphi over Ecclesiastes. The legendary teacher didn’t write, wore dirty clothes, and was sufficiently disclosing of what he stood for that he was sentenced to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens.”

He led them to question their own beliefs.

The philosopher chose his end over exile because he could only be himself as he wished to be, with his people.

Counselors are friendlier to Socrates than Ecclesiastes in their pursuit of the Delphian truth. They recognize no one can show himself who doesn’t know himself.  Otherwise he displays but half — the fragment of which he is aware.

The hearing impaired who are clueless to their deficiency resemble those without self-knowledge. Such men live in a world of sound, but perceive only a segment of it. The undiscovered portion leaves no evidence of absence, no apology in the form of a regretful RSVP.

But Ecclesiastes was no fool. Fearless self-insight exacts a fearful price. Once you realize how you hurt another, the recognition bleeds you. You bleed in the knowledge of who you have been, how you harmed. To the good, now you can improve, apologize. Permission for do-overs, however, is a rare, “sometimes thing.” The damaged don’t always stick around.

Nor does self-awareness recover lost time. Those who wait for aged parents to acknowledge their failure, encounter people for whom internal vision would come with an unacceptable redefinition of themselves.

Fifty-years of error cannot be borne except by the hearty in body and mind. Indeed, all of us of whatever age want to turn from the mirror’s truth, claim distortion, and blame the glass.

A splendid blogger, Clara Bridges, tells us, “I read and write poetry for myself, not for others, and in both cases the revelation is primarily of myself, to myself.”

Clara recognizes the power of journaling, not just expressive and therapeutic, but as a tool for piercing the layers of cloaking armor we wear in our everyday version of Halloween.

Bronze plate is an inflexible thing. Clanging hardware is cumbersome and noisy. All grace disappears, the wearer’s voice drowned out by the dissonance.

A Dance of Seven Veils calls to us. The music is seductive if you are open to hearing it and brave enough. Adding to Delphi’s admonition, it sings, “Know thyself, then show thyself,” one dropped veil at a time.

You partner with yourself in the first dance, others are invited later.

Who knew counselors offer dance lessons?

—–

The first image is Constance Talmadge, Head and Shoulders Portrait,1921, Library of Congress. The second is called, Looking in the Mirror, taken in Surmi, Tulgit, (a small village in Ethiopia) by Rod Waddington, 2014. Both are sourced from Wikiimedia Commons.

What are the Limits of Telling Your Patients Something Uncomfortable?

I wrote an October post offering suggestions to make oneself more interesting: Are You Boring? Words You Should and Shouldn’t Say.

Today I’ll take this another step: what should a counselor do if the patient complains of inexplicable, endless rejection and the healer believes the explanation is that the solitary creature is boring?

Not the kind of training we get in graduate school.

Most counselors first establish the therapeutic relationship, of course. They sidestep the dullness problem. But, when the uncomfortable complication remains untouched and the individual continues to experience exclusion, what then?

The “Are You Boring” article offers both dos and don’ts. Some of those remain unmentioned in the course of a routine psychological consultation.

A UK therapist, Emma Cameron, tweeted this in response to the notion of raising the issue:

But to me this seems like a recipe for increasing social anxiety, self-judgement and shame, which many therapy clients already struggle with…

I answered,

As noted within the essay, this is a risk. On the other hand, some might benefit from recognizing and improving their interpersonal skills, of which speech is a part.

Ms. Cameron is wise, but where do her point and my counterpoint leave us?

My approach in treatment was to engage in a Socratic dialogue: use questions to lead my fellow man into the light of self-knowledge. People skills, anxiety, depression, and self-image issues were addressed, as necessary. I’d evaluate whether my patient’s present relational distress caused him to offer only the safest conversation; as if he were “hiding his light under a bushel basket.”

Indirect suggestions of routes out of his tediousness might be offered. Something like, “Have you ever thought of reading this, or studying that; visiting museum X or watching movie Y? Perhaps you might enjoy trying something new.”

But what if the forlorn fellow doesn’t have much wit or wisdom worth sharing in a relationship, yet I believe him capable of striking sparks with some guidance?

Counselors and advisors ask themselves how much information is enough, how much too great? Whether the other is open to unsettling opinion and what will happen if the fraught communication is attempted? The cause of Ms. Cameron’s hesitation is to be found here.

No challenging tidings should be offered for the sake of the truth alone. Daily choices about what to say and how to say it are made by everyone.

We are now in the domain of the unmentioned and the unmentionable. Who will tell the other he has bad breath or a failed deodorant? Does your new female acquaintance mention your comb-over looks preposterous or you bore her to desperation? No, she just takes flight.

I’ve not met a single soul who needs to know everything about himself. One minute of complete self-awareness is a scorching, lazer-like invasion of insight. Inflicting pain in honesty’s name is cruelty disguised as moral superiority. The Hippocratic oath reminds us, “First do no harm.”

Let me put this another way. What does a psychologist give you and what does he take away? Therapy involves a transaction or exchange, as in all well-functioning relationships. What do you present or withhold and at what cost? How far do you go providing anyone painful knowledge?

One must not to take something useful away (including the foundation of self-esteem) without inserting a superior substitute. Mental and emotional defenses cannot be deconstructed without peril. They serve, perhaps imperfectly, but they do serve.

Some kind and decent people gain more by learning to deal with inevitable rejection than by heightened awareness of their lack of incandescence. Not a few profit from ways of enriching their lives without the degree of friendship or intimacy desired.

Do you see the problem with what I just said? The counselor who is swift to conclude his client unable to triumph over his limitations could sell him short.

Perhaps to protect the comforter from discomfort in delivering a harrowing message, he refrains from nudging the sufferer to exceed himself and improve his life.

A therapist is like a magical juggler. Before he walks off stage, he must do his best to provide as much or little of what the patient requires to stay aloft.

And understand how much weight the client’s reinforced wings can now bear.

Thanks to Emma Cameron for allowing me to quote her tweet.

The top photo is a Security Guard Sleeping on Duty, posted by Brad & Sabrina. The second image is Prince Florimund Finds Sleeping Beauty from Child’s Favorites and Fairy Stories. Both come from Wikimedia Commons.