The series comes to an end, and together with the last two arguments we also delineate some important take-home messages of the whole book.
First, we go back to the statement “It’s better to enjoy than to live”, trying to explore how the desire has in it a dark part that feeds not on wellbeing but on throwing away. For this purpose we look at a game played by Freud’s grandson, interpreted by several psychoanalysts in a different way.
Then, in the last point we make a tribute to ignorance, namely the disposition of not knowing that we should have while discussing with others, but also the attitude expected from a psychoanalyst when listening to his/her patients. Doubt over certainties, questions over expectations.
Lastly, we go through nine points that made this book inspiring for me, and that I embrace in my profession as a psychologist.
We talked, up until now, about the ambivalence that constitutes our roots, the coexistence of opposing realities that can find a space to live together, to keep confronting each other.
But some ambivalences are much more urgent. Choosing between two jobs, deciding whether to stop smoking, having or not having children… When these ambivalences are resolved, there is a reduction that needs to be made.
From a multiplicity of choices, and therefore Selfs, to one road: the one we decided to walk on.
After long debates with ourselves, we make up our mind and choose one version of life, one version of ourselves, while giving up all the alternatives at once.
In the indecision lies the everything; with resolution comes the limit.
So, while on the verge of a decision that urges to be made, we bask in the illusion of everything, and with it we feel an all-embracing omnipotence.
And we promise ourselves that an ideal solution will follow this doubt. We are convinced that the perfect answer will come to us.
While we distract ourselves with distant rewards, the choice becomes a necessary and idealised destination. In our mind, this doubt, that makes us feel crippled but infinite, will leave room for absolute clarity.
Sometimes, when it’s protracted for very long, with no signs of resolution, we could ask ourselves if perhaps this ambivalence is a shield from the first one.
I don’t choose a job because that would mean that I might have to come to terms with the fact that my choice holds in it both good and bad aspects, and that the perfect decision I was aiming at, was never really attainable.
The two people I love are both great and indispensable in my mind, because the reality that comes after choosing either one might reveal their bare humanity.
Instead than facing the scary and complex reality behind every choice, I am stuck on the choices.
So, in a world of confusion where some ambivalences can never be overcome, and some others lead to more ambivalence, what keeps us grounded is holding the ambivalence inside of us.
Once we understand that its scariest aspects are also what makes life tremendously precious, every choice might seem less final. Every alternative won’t represent the hopes we forcedly dressed it with, but an imperfect, complex responsibility that will require our care and energy and will be worth it sometimes while not others.
Once ambivalence becomes an ascertained part of our life, no choice will seem perfect, but all will seem valid.
Today, we explore what it means to adhere to the reality principle, seeing some common solutions of cognitive therapies, and highlighting the stance of psychodynamic ones. This difference helps us understand the theories behind these two approaches, and how they focus, respectively, on normality and uniqueness as a starting point for helping the patient.
Then, we enter the most controversial territory of psychoanalysis: the death drive. Is there a force in every person that together with the desire, that pushes him/her forward towards progress and creation, acts as a conservative force, sucking back the individual? Or, as Freud calls it, is there ‘an urge in organic life to restore an earlier state of things‘?
For M. Klein, being able to feel ambivalent towards someone – or something – was an incredible accomplishment and sign of psychological maturity.
The child starts learning about ambivalence during what she calls the ‘depressive position’. Very simply explained, it’s the moment where the child starts peaking into the complexity of human nature. This fills him/her with melancholy and impotence. Before then, the infantile world was pervaded by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things. The good breast that feeds me, and the bad breast that doesn’t.
There is a moral ambiguity the child has to come to terms with: almost nothing is utterly good or bad. The same breast – parent – that feeds me, loves me, protects me, is also the one that can turn away, be absent, punish me.
O. Kernberg drew upon this theory when he defined a borderline personality: someone who has not overcome the stage of differentiation, and perceives extreme, irreconcilable emotions towards the same person.
‘Healing’ from this black and white view, bringing opposites to integration and coexistence is something that takes time, and is often the goal of therapy itself. But we can still do something small, everyday, to practice ambivalence.
Are we condemned to never overcome our earliest experiences? Did we already form our identity in our first years of life, and everything that came afterwards is just an attempt to make sense of it? Or perhaps, memory is a process in itself. While we remember, we create. The first part leads us through the similarities between memory and art.
In the second part, we explore the role of the analyst in the therapeutic process, and the meaning of being ‘cured’ within this process. If there isn’t an ideal Self or a desirable outcome, how can we measure the success of therapy?
I believe we should take the time to speak about what’s important, and ask the hard questions.
The privileged of us should speak up, put their louder voice at the service of the ones who are not listened.
And, like it happened during the #BLM protests, let go of the Ego for a bit, of the personal purpose, to offer space to something else. So, I would put aside the word ambivalence, if it wasn’t in such an important connection with what happened recently in Italy.
Four guys beat up a younger one to death, while he was trying to defend a friend.
Now, some context. They are right-wing enthusiasts, and the guy they (some of them, all of them, it doesn’t really matter) killed was a Black Italian 21-year-old.
Italy is, as usual, divided between the supposedly ‘pure’, who point their fingers at THE CRIMINALS, and the ones who support them, of course just until they receive a s**tstorm on social media and apologise.
I, and I assume many people around me, who are even more informed and aware about the issue, feel a sense of ambivalence.
It’s more common than we expect: one part of us is tempted to associate with ‘the right ones’, judging the abominable act with disgust and detaching from it as much as possible. Rage does that; it detaches us from reasons.
The other part of us is timidly trying to show us a bigger, scarier monster hiding behind these ‘smaller’ ones.
Violence, racism, prevarication, division are part of our environment; we breathe them all the time, we grow up surrounded by them.
Like when a woman dies at the hands of her partner, he is the criminal, but he is in fact only the peak of a rotten system that raised him to treat women this way.
We condemn by saying ‘I am not like them, nor will I ever be’.
To the point that some of ‘the pure ones’ have gone to attack this quartet by wishing them to die, wishing that the unborn child of one of them would be aborted, throwing disapproval in the form of insults and threats.
Ambivalence, here, is the choice of honesty. I don’t like racism, I don’t approve of it, but I am still slightly racist. And you know what? I want to improve. I am still sexist, but I want to improve. I have still some inherent prejudice, but I want to improve.
The ambivalence is the courage of not creating compartments that forgive us and leave us in a stagnant self-entitlement. It’s a much more tragic and complex understanding that we are only moving on a continuum. Ahead, improvement, and behind, the ugliness we cannot deny if we want to grow.
How can we condemn, without detaching?
Is it possible to make a more “ambivalent” stance?
With this third episode we dive into what it means to accept one’s desire, and how this does not coincide necessarily with a happy and tranquil life. We see how much easier it can be to just surrender to the expectations of others, as opposed to pursuing our desire – what Lacan calls ‘encountering the real’.
Then, we see what the ideal conditions for the growth – and fulfilment – of this desire are. Surprisingly, it’s not a lack of limits or a disinhibited freedom of flowing that encourages its manifestation; it’s a ‘NO’ that creates the opportunity.
Today, we dive into the connections between our concept of identity and our unconscious; we see how the rigidity of our definitions causes a risk of rupture between us and our most personal desire, our creative Self. Then, we look into the ethical issue of responsibility in relationship to this new concept of symptom: if I cannot choose my desire, can it become an alibi? Something above my will, an excuse?
How many times life gives us the impression of moving in circles, rather than straight, towards a destination?
And how many times those destinations feel like yet another beginning? There’s not even the time to realise we arrived, and we are already leaving.
We fantasise about places that we haven’t reached, situations that we haven’t experienced, people that we haven’t met. We make plans and we convince ourselves we will move linearly towards a goal. But that linearity is just an illusion. And a boring one, too.
We move, we stop, we ponder, we go back, we change plans, we transition, we bail, we reinvent, we turn around, we change.
There is a process, much deeper than the one we force on ourselves. And it’s a never ending cycle of integration. 🔄
Certainty, doubt and assimilation.
Thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
It’s a process with meaning, and one goal: learning. Being better not by gaining more medals, reaching more goals, but by being always a bit different, a bit wiser, a bit more aware, more in contact.
These words capture that intangible force we experience in therapy; never fully the client’s, never completely the therapist’s. That force, that has led many of us to liberation, revolution, awareness, is created in the interaction between two, irreplaceable individuals.
There is one of them who comes with 📔 a story, ⚙️ a complaint, 🧩 a request.
🔥 For some these are messy, unclear, all tangled together. There is a raw emotion, something growing inside. It’s almost physical; so, when the therapist asks “where do you feel it?”, at first it’s strange but then the answer is found while searching for it. “It’s in my hands” and suddenly something blurry starts having a shape, a home, a story.
🌊 For others, it’s words. It’s a definition. There is a statement, prepared just to unveil what’s safe and leave out the rest. Words reveal and protect, rationalise the emotion. So, if there is a wall between the two, they will both have to look at it. There will be a way around it only together.
With the experience of the one who knows how to move around walls, how to climb them, how to read what’s on them; and the wisdom of the one who created it, and knows what it’s made of, and what’s behind it.
🌞 Therapy happens there, in that space brought by both parts.