Adventures in Psychotherapy

freud and wes 1.0

Getting Down

“Picture,”  I’d tell my British Lit classes,  “all that we’ve studied so far depicted on a cathedral-sized stained-glass window – the Pilgrimage to Canterbury, the pageantry of the Elizabethan stage, shepherds piping, Milton’s magnificent blank verse descriptions of Eden, the Augustans, the Romantics, the Victorians.”

calendar spenser

Then I’d project the images below and say, “The top photo was taken in 1910, the bottom in 1920.  Obviously, something profound has happened in the decade between 1910 and 1920 to have fashion alter so dramatically. Anyone have an idea?”

sisters-Clark-440x264

flapper-dancers

“World War I.”

“Yes. World War I shattered that stained-glass window, shattered civilization, and rather than trying to gather the shards and reconstruct the past, poets and artists and musicians picked up the shards and rearranged them in radical ways. For example, listen to this:

 

 

 I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih     shantih     shantih[1]

 

Of course, that description is over simplified.  Picasso created “Girl with a Mandolin” in 1910.  Other factors were in play.  Otto Planck and Albert Einstein were shattering Newtonian physics in the decade before the War to End All Wars, and in 1900 Sigmund Freud published On the Interpretation of Dreams.

girl-with-mandolin-fanny-tellier-1910

“Girl with Mandolin”

I’d do my best to explain Planck’s and Einstein’s theories [e.g., here’s a cool clip on the relativity of time I used: https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight/index.html (click on #4 “Time Dilation”).] I’d offer a bare bones summary of Freud’s divisions of the psyche, reminding them of Locke’s tabula rasa, then offer them the following “personal anecdote” of Freud’s theory in action.

rorshach

I’d pause, feigning emotion, placing my fist to my mouth, breathing deeply, and say, “To help you understand how this theory works, I’m going to share with you something very personal, my own experience with psychoanalysis.”

Once again, feigning emotion, I paused, took a deep breath. “When I was a baby, whenever my mother changed my diaper, she stabbed my fanny with uncooked spaghetti. Not only that, while she was stabbing me, she’d screech the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho’s shower scene.[2]

The expressions on the faces looking up at me were a mixture of bemusement, shock, or horror.

“But Mr. Moore,” sometimes someone would ask, “why would she do something like that?”

Me, sighing: “That I do not know, but according to Freud, what would my mind do with such a horrible memory like that?”

“Repress it,”  hopefully someone would say.

“Yes, like Poe’s Madeline Usher, bury it deep underground, entomb it in the subconscious.[3]

the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher

“And I was successful in repressing the memory,” I’d say, “led a fairly normal life, the horror not consciously recurring like a bad memory of your youth, like the PTSD-inducing sight of accidentally seeing your Great Aunt Polly stepping out of the shower, which you can never un-see no matter how hard you try.

“No, looking back on it, the only really abnormal consequence is that in college, rather than socializing, joining fraternities, going on panty raids, or protesting the war, I “entombed” myself in the stacks of McKissick Library amassing the prodigious learning you’re witnessing this morning.”

“Mr. Moore, what’s a panty raid?”

“Google it.”

“Anyway,” I’d continue, “I graduated, married Judy Birdsong, and lived on Limehouse Street in the bottom floor apartment, taught at Trident Technical College.  Everything was going well till one day I went grocery shopping.  In those days there was a Piggly Wiggly on Broad Street, a funky store with wooden floors, but a Piggly Wiggly nonetheless.  It was just around the corner from where I lived, so I walked there to pick up some lasagna, but when I arrived at the pasta aisle, I suffered a severe panic attack. My heart raced, I couldn’t breathe, paramedics arrived, but after a battery of tests, my physicians couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

17 Limehouse Street 1978

17 Limehouse 1978

“So I continued teaching and living the life of a newlywed, but then one night during a Chef Boyardee commercial, I had another attack.  To make a long story short, these attacks became more frequent and more severe until finally we decided that I needed to travel to Vienna to receive care from a genuine Freudian psychoanalyst.

“Thanks to the Birdsong family fortune,[4] I received the finest psychoanalytical care possible. First, I had to keep a dream journal (‘Last night I dreamed I was trapped in a bowl of slithering snakes’), then we’d do word association (Dr. Müller, ‘ropes’, Me: ‘linguine.’), and, of course, Rorschach tests (Vat does ziss look like, Herr Moore? Me: ‘O my God, vomited bruschetta’).

Eventually, after months of therapy and tens of thousands of dollars, one morning a memory burst forth from the fortress of my repression.  I’m lying on my back, my mother in her nurse’s uniform, white cap and all, comes to me shaking a box of spaghetti like a maraca, and POP!, just like that, I was cured.

The end.

“Mr. Moore, that didn’t really happen, did it?”

“Who could make something like that up?”  I would say. Then add: “You don’t get that at the Magnet.”[5]


[1] I’d memorized these last lines of “The Waste Land” confident that no one in the class would know I was butchering the Italian.

[2] Obviously, an anachronism, I born on 14 December 1952, the movie premiering 8 September 1960, but then again, time is relative.

[3] Although none of them had read “Fall of the House of Usher,”  I’d drop the allusion as if they did, trying to convey it’s fun and advantageous knowing a lot of literature.

[4] I told my students that my late wife Judy Birdsong’s family had a monopoly on paper products.  “No you must skip lines, no you can’t write on the back, dammit!”

[5] I.e., the Academic Magnet School, our biggest academic rival.

Mentally Diagnosing the Donald

trum-narcissist

After yesterday’s barrage of Cheetos-stained tweets claiming that Obama had wiretapped Trump Towers before the election, some on my Twitter feed conjectured that Donald was in the throes of “a nervous breakdown,” accused him of harboring paranoid delusions. In fact, for some time now, mentally diagnosing the Donald has become a popular topic of conjecture for amateur psychologists all over the Internet.

Well, as I am fond of asserting, “Although I am not a psychologist, I do sleep with one” [not to mention that my undergraduate minor was in psychology, which means I had a least 30 hours of instruction (and in fact became very proficient at darkening bubbles on multiple choice tests)]. These two “facts” certainly establish my credentials as a credible source of wild conjecture, so allow me to weigh in on the mental pathologies that plague our 45th president.

I’ll list and then debunk two prominent theories before I share with you my ultimate diagnosis.

Theory 1: He’s bat shit crazy

bedlam

Although the phrase “bat shit crazy” sounds cool with the consonant t-sounds and its spondaic bang-bang-bang beginning, in the case of Donald, it’s simply not true. He’s not bat shit crazy, nor, fortunately, “crazy like a fox.”

A bat-shit-crazy person couldn’t have read from a teleprompter to deliver in relatively hushed tones (albeit dripping with insincerity) a speech even as pedestrian as the State-of-the-Union Trump delivered last week. A bat-shit-crazy person couldn’t have systematically turned his head from teleprompter to teleprompter as if he were watching a Ping-Pong match in super slo-mo. No, bat-shit-crazy people twitch and constantly scratch themselves.

A bat-shit-crazy person would have seen the original letters of the speech transform on the screen and start dripping blood as he shrieked, “Evil Triminicons have launched an evasion from Faltour and will be arriving on earth at any minute to destroy us all!!!

Conversely, a crazy-like-a-fox person wouldn’t lurch from crisis to crisis because you can’t be a lazy ignoramus and be crazy-like-a-fox. You need systematic thought, and Trump’s thought is about as systematic as shards of glass spraying from an empty Jim Bean bottle launched from a car in the parking lot of a frat house.

On the one hand, Donald is too well functioning to be bat shit crazy and on the other hand not well functioning enough to be crazy like a fox.

Theory 2: Trump suffers from “Narcissistic Personality Disorder

At first glance, this theory seems rather convincing.

Here’s Wikipedia’s (the go-to source for amateur psychologists like myself) list of criteria:

  • Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  • Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  • Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  • Needing constant admiration from others
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  • Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  • Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  • Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  • Pompous and arrogant demeanor

Okay, check check check check check check check check check.

But, whoa, hold on; it’s more complicated than that.

In fact, according to Raw Story, Professor Allen Frances, “the psychiatrist who wrote the diagnostic criteria or narcissistic personality disorder,” wrote a letter to the New York Times in which he stated “[Trump] may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.”

In the letter he goes on to note that

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Frances concludes with a statement that throws a very cold towel on the very purpose of this post:

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

Well, obviously, I disagree with the idea of Trump’s psychological motivations as not being interesting. After all, you’ve read on this far, right?

Theory 3: Trump is merely a lazy, ignorant and intemperate non-reader whose mother and father didn’t love him.

 freud-couch

(How do you copyright a theory? Is it enough to superscript a © over the “him” above?)

Anyway, I’ll quickly and eloquently prove my theory so you can get off this site and contact your representatives.

Exhibit A:

A temperate person who is not lazy would have done a little research to remedy his ignorance and discover that a president doesn’t have the power to order a domestic wiretap, that only a federal judge who must have compelling evidence can bug US citizens in the US. This intemperance will now cost Donald at least 3 days of bad press. Indeed, if there’s a document authorizing a wiretap at Trump Tower, Donald has in essence declassified it with his outburst.

But Donald doesn’t like to read as his misspelling of “tap” suggests.

Why read intelligence briefings when you can be watching Fox and Friends. Steve Bannon, Ph.D will explain them to you anyway.

Exhibit B:

web-ny1-trump-queens-long186376jpg

Certainly, if Donald had received paternal love, he wouldn’t be so starved for affirmation.  Look at the expressions on those wretches posing for a family photo. Sad!

It’s always the parents’ fault, people.