Thursday, February 19, 2004

Group Therapy: February 19, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up?

Pardon my paranoia, but I’m picking up something about the expression on your face today. Like—“Hey, listen—Freedman’s social problems aren’t my problem. I’m a librarian, he’s a patron. That’s it. If he wants to chat with me, fine. But I have to tell you, I like to keep my social life separate from my work life. Even Bill’s never been to my house. And I work with him. We’re friends at work. But that’s it as far as Bill and I are concerned. And I don’t know what I have to do with Freedman’s parables and metaphors. You know, he can use all the parables he wants—about photographers at the World Trade Center, about Father Theodore, about affirmative action, about George Wallace—and to tell you the truth, I found the comparison between me and George Wallace a tad offensive—Freedman can use all the metaphors and parables he wants. But there’s one reality issue. And it’s the bottom line. I’m a librarian and he’s a patron of the library I manage. Period. End quote.” How’s that for a statement of the alternative point of view!

I gotta tell you, as a friend, Brian, nobody’s on your side. Pauline, Charles, William—they all feel sorry for me. They don’t understand your position at all. If you want to stay on the right side of your employees, you might want to rethink your “battle plans.”

Brian, for your own good, I have to warn you. You might find a friend, a loyal friend like me, to be an asset. Look at President Clinton and Vernon Jordan. Jordan stuck with the President through the darkest DNA days. One of my old psychiatrists, Dr. Dimitrios Georgopoulos, said that one of my personal qualities was loyalty. He usually didn’t have very positive things to say about me. But he said it was clear to him that I valued loyalty. Being loyal to others. Based on that criterion, I have a few things to offer you. I may very well be the Vernon Jordan of CPK.

Based on what I assume to be your sexual proclivities—or am I making unwarranted assumptions?—you may need someone to cover your back in case your DNA shows up on some young lady’s dress some day. Second, if you ever run for office, I can provide a liaison for you to the half-Jewish community. Interfaith marriage in the DC area is rampant. The half-Jewish population is burgeoning. I’m half-Jewish myself, as you know. My father was a pioneer in interfaith marriage back in the late forties. Anyway, I can provide a bridge between you and the many half-Jews, quarter Jews, and other fractionated varieties here in the DC area.

Well, that said, let me digress from my paranoia back to my parables.

You know when I was working at Hogan & Hartson, Glenn Fine once came up to me in the second floor library and said: “Hey, Freedman, what the hell is it that you do all day?” I said: “I read, I smoke, and I admire.” So then Fine said: “What is it you admire.” I said: “Believe me, you don’t want to know.” Actually, that’s apocryphal. Fine and I never spoke. But like all anecdotes apocryphal, it should have happened, even if it didn’t.

So, I guess you haven’t come up with an “affirmative action plan” yet, have you? You know, to be on the safe side—to make sure your plan passes muster under Bakke and its progeny (I love that language courts use—“and its progeny”—like lawsuits have family ties), you might want to submit your plan to the Food Court to get its approval.

Anyway, the big issue for me has been to try to come up with reasonable goals for my work in group therapy. I was told I needed to come up with a few goals.

What really troubles me is when mental health professionals use “elective cosmetic surgery” as a model for psychotherapy. You know, like you’re talking to Garth Fisher, M.D.—cosmetic surgeon to the stars—and you say, “Well, doctor, I’d like my nose straightened, I’d like a tummy tuck, and some liposuction—and maybe a breast implant. I’d like to look like Janet Jackson.”

I think a disease model is more appropriate. It should be like this. “Nicole, Debra—I think I have problems in interpersonal issues. I have severe problems in social adjustment (I’m totally isolated and have no friends) and I was fired from my last two jobs.”

I believe that I suffer from serious personality problems that impair my social and occupational adjustment. The underlying problems or personality qualities are:

Extreme anxiety and guilt in relation to drive expression (see Novick and Kelley, “Projection and Externalization,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1970).

Massive splitting and isolative defenses (see Leonard Shengold, M.D., Soul Murder, 1989).

Unmetabolized superego precursors that dispose me to extreme idealization and guilt (The Psychoanalytic Study of Society, Volume 7, 1976 (Gertrude R. Ticho, M.D., editor)).


I also have qualities that are not specifically or exclusively pathological, but that dispose me to aggression in group environments, particularly groups that exhibit a high degree of group cohesiveness or narcissistic regression (see Kernberg), such as:

Reaction formation against anality (cf. Joseph Fernando, “The Exceptions,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (1997?).

Resistance against regression that is associated with a high level of ego differentiation (Greenberg and Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, discussing Kernberg’s “food metabolization” metaphor).

Creative ego processes including (1) the ability to synthesize opposites, (2) a ready acceptance of complexity and contradiction (“you’re messing with our heads—you expect us to buy that line your pitching; it doesn’t make sense” Group Member), (3) independence of thinking and the ability to dispense with peer approval, (4) the acceptance of alternative view points, (5) ability to express self in words or verbal fluency (use of “strong language” Debra), (6) attention to detail and the ability to invest energy in analyzing seemingly trivial phenomena (“Well, how would you feel if someone else watched everything you did?” Debra).

The social difficulties that can be associated with creative thinking are suggested by the observations of E. James Lieberman, M.D. (a local psychiatrist, 202 362-3963).

Lieberman writes: “According to one theory, creativity depends on the ability to hold opposite ideas in the mind simultaneously, to live and work with contradictions. ‘No mind can engender till divided in two,’ wrote W.B. Yeats. Sigmund Freud not only coped with ambivalence; he raised it to a new level of consciousness. Reaction formation, denial, repression, and dream work are some of the terms he used to accommodate the phenomenon of opposites that he observed in himself and others: Disgust conceals attraction, altruism conceals sadism, behind the fear lies the wish, etc. Many people cannot tolerate such oxymorons in their lives; they feel out of control, or ‘crazy.’ Their notion of sanity stifles creativity. Freud’s elucidation of the dynamic unconscious enabled people to cope better with normal inconsistency and to be more creative as a result.

Freud’s own powerful impulses and emotions found their match in his intellect and self-control. He checked his passion for philosophy with the detachment of a chemist, his yen for deductive reasoning with a disciplined inductive approach. Sometimes he fooled himself, as when he claimed to be unruffled by critics. He labeled himself an obsessive, but he showed signs of (controlled) anxiety, paranoia, homosexuality, and hysteria as well and probably used all to advantage, as he did his own dreams.” Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank at 65 (emphasis added).

Remember, Freud didn’t have too many friends. In adolescence he had only one close friend—with whom he “traveled to Gettysburg.” All I can say is he’s fortunate he never worked at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

Be that as it may. The question I would ask, given the nature of my intrapsychic functioning, and the probable social consequences, what should my goals in group be?

Buddy, check you out later. I’m still liking you. You may not like these letters, but remember. You’re getting off a lot easier than some of the paparazzi who stalk the Hollywood crowd.

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