“It was through the discovery and exploration of the unconscious that Freud made his major discoveries, chief among them that from birth to death we are, every last one of us, divided against ourselves. We both want to grow up and don’t want to grow up; we hunger for sexual pleasure, we dread sexual pleasure; we hate our own aggressions–anger, cruelty, the need to humiliate–yet they derive from the grievances we are least willing to part with. Our very suffering is a source of both pain and reassurance. What Freud found most difficult to cure in his patients was the resistance to being cured.
Vivian Gornick, Fierce Attachments

So last night I was on my yoga mat. (Yay! I did it!) It had been a very busy day, including an unexpected trip to Kingston to get something fixed on my car — an hour and a half round trip to Kingston alone — and lots of up and down the stairs to the basement, so instead of taking a vinyasa class, I took a yin class. Lots of quiet, lots of long holds of poses, lots of deep focus. And right there I realized my problem. Dang it.

I don’t actually want to stop being chaotic in my head. I mean, I do of course, I do want that, but unlike the last time, this time I am solely motivated by getting this weight off me. That’s really what I’m doing all this for. The inner chaos is a torment, but this time it’s really just a weight loss strategy with some side benefits I happen also to like. No wonder! No wonder I’m fighting myself with all I have about being mindful. No wonder. I’m doing something I don’t want to do.

And yet I do want it. The essential Freudian dilemma. I am resisting the cure I am desiring.

Now what, Freud? [I insist on leaving out that ‘r’ every time I type his name, so “Feud,” which is surely some kind of Feudian slip, right? 🙂 )

But seriously. Now what? I do want that quiet. I want it. I want the peacefulness I had. I want that centered feeling. Perhaps I’m still too unsettled in my psyche by this relatively dramatic uprooting of myself from suburban Austin and lots of people to a rural place that’s quite gorgeous and also fraught with new challenges to learn about, and no people. Maybe my psyche hasn’t caught up with my body — it’s still en route, maybe somewhere in Virginia, if it took the first route I took in the big truck.

Maybe this is why it’s the change in my body that is satisfying me, and why the change in my mind isn’t happening yet. Does seeing this make it change? IF ONLY. HAHAHAHA. If we could think our way out of problems, change would be easy, as my husband says on his therapy website.

I remember when Jeff, my food coach, said something antithetical to the therapy-focused position I’d held for years: at some point you just have to get off the couch. My tendency here would be to analyze this, to mull it over, Why, Lori, why are you being so resistant? Is it an unwillingness to abandon the political fight? Is it…. BLERGH get off the couch. Shit or get off the pot, as my old grandmother inelegantly said. Do I want to let go of the chaos, really? Then let’s do it.

36 questions, #s 10-12

Here we go again! If you’re just coming to this and wonder what it’s about, this link collects all the answers and the post at the very bottom also explains the origin of the questions. It’s fun thinking of my own answers to the questions, but what I really loved about the previous posts were your answers! I don’t care if you’re too shy to put them in a comment; some people emailed me or sent Facebook PMs. Whatever! Now, to the next three questions:

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

not me, but it could be
not me, but it could be

I’ve thought about this for almost 40 years, so this isn’t an off-the-cuff answer. I wouldn’t change anything at all (although I wouldn’t want to live through it again). I certainly wouldn’t give myself an ordinary happy childhood, though if you had one, good on ya! Truly! Mine is part of me and the ground I came from, and I’m happy with where and who I am. The only thing I’d add is that I wish I could have known I would make it through and it would all be OK. I was never sure I’d survive, and plenty of bleak nights I hoped I wouldn’t, because it was too terrible and I didn’t think I could keep going. But if I’d known I’d come through and have a marvelous life, and it wouldn’t destroy me in any way, that tiny bit of knowledge tucked away would have been nice.

Of course there is a possibility that knowing that would have changed it all in some important way, and then I wouldn’t have ended up exactly where I am. I guess there’s a possibility I might have ended up some place even more marvelous, but I’m perfectly happy with who I am and where I find myself so I’d take that chance, just to relieve a bit of my suffering in my childhood.

11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

Art Aron, the psychologist whose lab is responsible for the research and these questions.
Art Aron, the psychologist whose lab is responsible for the research and these questions.

Yeah, I’ll skip that here. These questions were designed as part of lab research with complete strangers to see if intimacy and closeness could be created. Though it would be very interesting to analyze the stories people told each other in the lab, and then compare the linguistic analysis to the resulting intimacy scores. And to explore whether there are predictive patterns of closeness in the interaction of the two stories. I wonder if people feel closer to those whose stories are largely like their own — happy childhoods like happy childhoods — or if they’re drawn to difference. There are a couple of questions like this in the 36-question set, and I thought about just cutting them out and shortening the list, but I decided to stick with what they had, and just ignore these.

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

scaredLet’s assume we’re not talking about superhero stuff, just ordinary human qualities or abilities. That’s much more interesting — to me, anyway. To be honest, I had to think about this a long time and then it hit me: I’d like to be bolder and have much less fear — I am seeing ‘bolder’ in that way, about fear specifically. When I first started therapy in NYC, I told my therapist that my main goal was to stop being terrified all the time, and that did happen but I’m still an awfully fearful person. I don’t think I’m abnormally fearful in terms of trying new things, or being paranoid, but I am extremely fearful in conversation with others if I have to express something less than good about the other person. Because of this I avoid conflict and then whaddya know, it becomes bigger and scarier and I get myself in trouble — and I’m even more fearful. I’d like to be able to simply say, “Hey, I need to tell you something. When you … I …” AAGH, just writing that feels scary! Too often it doesn’t go well, the person becomes defensive and I just abandon myself. But just a few days ago I had one of those conversations and, while it was painful, it went SO well and I hope I can remember that. Of course I trust the person I was talking to more than anyone in the world, and that helped, but it’s just something I wish I could do without such shutting-me-down fear.

The good thing about answering this question in terms of human possibility means that I can always gain this ability if I keep at it — unlike flying or invisibility. 🙂

And now your turn!

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

feelings in conflict

feelingsTherapists advise people who are in conflict to stay focused on their own feelings. To use “I” statements. It’s always shocking the degree to which people don’t understand this — even my own husband, a therapist his whole career, didn’t really understand it and had to be guided. Here’s a starting example:

NOT A FEELING:  I feel like you are a bitch.

A FEELING:  When you talk sharply to me, I feel hurt and a little bit scared that you don’t love me any more. (or angry, pissed off, annoyed, sad)

Even though the first one does have the word ‘feel’ in it, it’s not a feeling. People seem to have a hard time pulling out their own feelings and identifying what’s going on. And sometimes there are other feelings underneath; for example, under anger and frustration is often hurt, or fear, but those are difficult to acknowledge — even to ourselves at times — and sometimes I guess we don’t want the other person to know they have the power to hurt us in that way.

It’s very ironic because (at least for me) when someone shares their vulnerable feelings I want to do anything I can to help them feel better. I want to understand what I’ve done so I can not cause them to feel that because of me, anyway. Here is another example:

NOT A FEELING: You do this, you do that, why do you have to have this, this is mine, I did this for you, you are like this and you are like that.

A FEELING: I feel kind of vulnerable right now and I need my friends and I feel worried that they . . . and when you . . . I just feel even more vulnerable and scared.

OH MY GOD! The difference in those two is night and day. The first one causes me to defend myself and the second one causes me to soften and open my arms and want to do anything I can to help, because I do not want someone I love to feel vulnerable and scared — especially because of me.

When I am in conflict, if it’s with someone I trust I have no problem talking about my feelings of vulnerability and hurt and fear. I may do that too much, in fact, and when it’s combined with my too-quick tendency to cry, it can be unhelpful. My huge conflict flaw is that I don’t say things as they come up. I talk myself out of the right to feel them, telling myself I’m probably being too sensitive/too something or maybe it didn’t even happen the way I experienced it. I don’t speak up the first time because I think Good grief, Lori, don’t be such a bitch. Chill out, let it go. And then when I’ve let something ride once, I feel like I have implicitly said it’s OK, you can do this to me because I didn’t speak up.

That’s my big conflict flaw. I hate confrontation and avoid it too much for my own good. But it’s not confusing to me what a feeling is, and if you share yours with me — your feelings, not your finger-pointing in the guise of feelings — I feel very tender toward you and really want to help. I have such great admiration for anyone who shares him- or herself with honesty, because it’s kind of rare, in my experience.

And I am absolutely gobsmacked by anyone who takes responsibility for their own stuff straight on. That’s truly rare, and since it’s a big thing for me after the way I grew up, when someone does that my memory is wiped clean of whatever the issue was and I have enormous admiration for that person. And again it’s a thing you can do too much, too quickly, which is another of my many flaws. Because no one took responsibility for the harm they caused me — instead, blaming me — I went overboard raising my kids. I was so quick to take responsibility for every damn little thing and I think my poor kids felt like they couldn’t say anything because mommy would cry and apologize so much.

AAARGH it’s so hard to be a person.