Academic blog post alert. Today, I decided to focus on emergent themes within my clinical practice. Why? Over the past year or so, I have begun to experience in sessions, a very profound sense of bodily sensation, which were not the kind to which I was accustomed. Like any counter transference, bodily ones are intriguing and led me to thinking about what was going on. Why was I having these powerful physical feelings during certain bits of the sessions or with certain clients?
Where do I begin with such an ineffaceable “thing”? As I have been noticing myself noticing, I feel that my own body has become quite well plotted. It is well plotted in the sense that it doesn’t feel chaotic and unreliable, it feels its vibrancies, its fatigues and its joys. I have an internal image and a physical, somatic sense of my own body’s feelings and the kinds of things that I might take up in relation to another at a physical level. I think that this has been as a result of experiencing some really strange things in the countertransference where temporarily, my body has been eclipsed or invaded by the bodily symptoms of another (or my response to their symptoms ). What meaning could I make of this in relation to transformations not only within my work but also within wider culture and society?
Post modernist thinking allows for transformations of the self with a growing ease. We can change our gender; we can change our body shapes; we do things to our ears and our hair but yet, does this really change who you are? A critique I have of post modernist thinking is the performative notion of, ‘and this is how you make yourself‘. This does not ring true to me as a psychotherapist because I deal with people on a daily basis, who have tried the ‘paint by numbers’ personality adaptation method and it has not worked. It neither fits nor reaches those places where you need to experience yourself as a human.
One has the right to choose and make choices. So far so good. Notions of performativity and parody are seen as if one can go buy something new or decide to think something new and this will recreate oneself. As an analyst, I know that the unconscious is very powerful and that the unconscious has nothing to do with choice. If the self, or if the body can exist in a kind of psychosomatic ‘OK-ness’, then choice becomes play and that is lovely! For most of my work, what I listen to, what I engage with and the people that I meet are very far from being able to play. They are often stuck in rigid patterns of dissatisfaction and when they try on different identities, whether at the body level or the soul level (depending on how you wish to think about it) can fail to be sustainable. Therefore, they become defence structures and equally unsatisfactory. I think we have to move away from those wonderful and lovely descriptions in post modernism because clinical practice drives us towards something else. I do not mean a ‘true self’ or a ‘true body’ but rather a drive towards the association of parts of the self with parts of the body that can be sustainable.
When you think about the ways in which, and the lengths to which people are willing to go to change themselves, you begin to see a cultural identification with a body that is deeply troubled. We live in an age now where transformation is not problematised because it has been happening for the younger generations since the photoshopping of their baby photos! They have a really curious notion of what this thing called the body is. It is something that they need to make, it is a product and a form of production that you work on. The body has become vulnerable to being used as something other than a place from which you live. Why the body?
Well, for a start it is really good for commerce. As the stock markets collapse, there are huge profits to be made from selling body hatred and its supposed solutions. The body used to have a manual work function that was part of life, and that really has disappeared for most people in the Western world. Another idea is that if you have the individual as a sight of consumption, then the individual body becomes a series of surfaces that can become really exquisite areas for transformation, for selling to, for changing and for perfecting. The way in which the body has become a product is terrifying. We live in an age of digital culture and body images have become iconography and becomes the external representation of what it means to be human. People have now brought into the notion that if they can change their bodies, then they can change their lives…and they will be OK.
I began to wonder if as a psychotherapist, it is my responsibility to help the culture and to help my clients to get more with the depressive position? ( to use Kleinian nomenclature). I’d say that the insights that the therapy community has do have something to offer to the wider culture and it is important to me that we begin to help people to understand the fantasy of perfection or of the transformative that operates to not allow one to be in the present. The true concept of OK-ness comes from the ability to manage and to tolerate a multiplicity of emotions – distress, disappointment, sadness as well as pleasure.
We need to help the culture evolve from narcissistic injury, evolve out of the sense of ordinary pain or extraordinary pain and show that longing and desire are as much a part of the human condition as this growing need to be perfect. The imperfections are what make us human and the denial of those is what strips us of the capacity to be human.
The fantasy of ‘complete fulfilment’ from a perfect body is dangerously what the marketplace plays on; our fears. If you’ve got to the ‘depressive position’ and can feel the self, then you can enjoy the marketplace without it being the thing that becomes a substitute in the search for who you are and takes the focus away from, ‘if I can change me, then you will love me’ thinking. Although there has been a widening of the notion of the beautiful body, there has been a narrowing of the ideal of beauty.