The Dangerous Business of the Unconscious
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 20, 2016
Guilt and self-doubt are often major players in the unconscious mind, often buried under defenses such as intellectualization and compulsive behaviors. Suggesting intensive work is to offer the opportunity to get closer to ugly feelings which are uncomfortable, and yet at the same time this opportunity might give the patient a mental freedom that they never experienced before. So the dilemma begins. Is it worth it to dig up uncomfortable feelings with the hope that eventually, those feelings will be set free and released from the unconscious? Who is to make this decision? The patient, the psychoanalyst or both? The therapist, knowing that the journey will be rocky might hesitate to suggest deeper work for fear that those rocky patches might, as the cartoon below suggests, turns out to be his life.
The patient, in turn, might say he does not have time or money to do intensive work, but deeper down he resists for fear of bringing up painful feelings. Seth, thirty-three, comes to mind. He lives off of his dad’s money, reporting, at first, that this does not bother him “because my dad is rich,” but on further exploration, Seth reveals that the pain of taking money from his dad is unbearable, but the idea of getting a full-time job is also unbearable, so he would rather take money from his dad. He continues to say how small he feels as a person because he is not financially independent. As we slowly explore the bind that he has put himself into, we more clearly see how his dad wanted to make Seth dependent on him, so the dad could feel good about himself, such that if Seth were to break free from his dad, his dad’s self-esteem would suffer terribly. Understanding that part of Seth’s behavior is an effort to keep his dad feeling good about himself, freed Seth to examine if he really wants to take care of his dad in this way. Yet, to get to that point, Seth had to feel the guilt of taking money from his dad and the associated guilt for refusing to grow up and make adult decisions. This was a tough journey, mostly for Seth, but for me, as the therapist, as well. The growth from this experience seemed to be worth the agony, but it is not always an easy call.