April 27, 1998
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008-4530
Community Mental Health Center
3246 P Street, NW
Dear Dr. Singh:
This letter presents a case study in an aspect of my interpersonal relations, specifically, patterns in my interactions with a group of coworkers at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, where I was employed as a legal assistant during the period September 1985 to February 26, 1988, assigned to the Computer Applications Department.
This group of coworkers included Craig Dye, Daniel Cutler, Michael Wilson, Cindy Rodda, and a supervisory employee, Esperanza ("Espe") Rebollar, the data base administrator.
I begin with a brief personality profile of Craig Dye.
Craig Wallace Dye, born April 9, 1959, began working at the firm on October 6, 1986; he was 27 years old. He had been referred by Espe Rebollar, who had worked with Craig previously, at another place of employment.
An exceptionally intelligent individual, Craig had earned a masters degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University. He had thoughts of entering law school, and had attained a near perfect score on the law school admission test (99th percentile). The position for which he was hired was far below his abilities and educational level.
In the early 1990's Craig applied to law school, and was accepted by a number of the finer schools including Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Georgetown, among others. He decided, however, not to attend, and thereby foreclosed an important career opportunity.
Craig's family background is complex, and, no doubt, conditioned the apparent complexities of his unconscious mental life. He reported to me that both parents had been married previously, and had children from their former marriages. His mother's first husband was an American Indian, so that Craig has one half-brother of another race. His mother, who he described as strict ("my mother was very hard on me"), was a teacher. His father worked in a steel mill. Presumably it was Craig's mother who played the dominant role in his early intellectual development. Craig grew up in a rural area outside Buffalo, New York. He did not expect to go to college, but planned to work, like his father, at the steel mill. He did attend college (SUNY-Buffalo); he reports that his grades were not particularly good. One achievement of his college days, which he reported with pride, was that on one occasion he managed to have sex with two different girls within a 24-hour period. He said that he worked very hard in graduate school, though, and that his grades were excellent.
The core issue of Craig's personality is his phallic-narcissistic character, which, in him, is strikingly defined. To describe the character type in broad outline is to describe Craig himself. One author writes:
"In its least pathological form, narcissism is the term applied to the behavior of men whose egos are invested in the seduction of women. It is these personalities who have been described as phallic-narcissistic in the psychoanalytic literature. Their narcissism consists of an inflation of and preoccupation with their sexual image. Wilhelm Reich introduced this term in 1926 to describe a character type that was somewhere between the compulsion neurosis and hysteria. "The typical phallic-narcissistic character," he writes, "is self-confident, often arrogant, elastic, vigorous and often impressive."
The importance of the concept of phallic-narcissism is twofold. First, it underlines the intimate connection between narcissism and sexuality--specifically, sexuality in terms of erective potency, the symbol of which is the phallus. Second, it describes a relatively healthy character type, in whom the narcissistic element is at a minimum. As Reich explains, even though phallic-narcissist's relationship to a loved person is more narcissistic than object-libidinal, "they often show strong attachments to people and things." Their narcissism is manifested in an "exaggerated display of self-confidence, dignity and superiority." But "in relatively unneurotic representatives of this type, social achievement, thanks to the free aggression is strong, impulsive, energetic and usually productive.""
Lowen, A. Narcissism: Denial of the True Self at 15-16 (New York: Collier Books, 1985).
Because of his phallic-narcissistic character, Craig tended to discharge threats to self-esteem by means of displays of arrogance rather than shame, depression, or social withdrawal. His underemployment at Hogan, which was a continual threat to self-esteem, disposed him to a persistent tendency to arrogance.
The most notable aspect of his interaction with me was his use of double-bind communications. If I ignored him, typically, he responded as if I were attacking him. Conversely, he tended to sexualize any contact I initiated with him.
Further, it was clear that he had strong inhibitions against initiating any contact with me; any contact that he did initiate was, typically, associated with some attempt to humiliate me--as if the humiliation were a symbolic fee I needed to pay that allowed him to proceed with the privilege of granting an "audience."
During our employment together, Craig's reaction to me vacillated between the paranoid (i.e., his fear that I was agressing on him by ignoring him) and the sexualized. We continued to be friendly after I left Hogan, in late February 1988. Craig's reaction to me moderated a great deal after I left the firm; part of this change was probably due to positive changes in his own employment status at Hogan, and consequently in his self-esteem. He was granted more responsibilities in the department, and, in 1989, Craig was promoted to the position of department manager. Also, during the summer of 1988 Craig was able to develop an enduring heterosexual object relationship, which further diminished threats to his self-esteem and the need to discharge that threat in displays of arrogance.
Even after I left Hogan, however, Craig's behavior toward me, though far less sexualized and hostile, continued to be dominated by a double-bind style; that is, although his behavior moderated, the underlying dynamic remained unchanged.
Can Craig's behaviors in relation to me be understood in terms of his phallic-narcissistic character?
Indeed, they can. But, significantly, only in an indirect way. We must first take notice of the fact that "[t]he female counterpart to the phallic-narcissistic male is the hysterical character type." Lowen, A. Narcissism: Denial of the True Self at 16.
Turning to a published description of the interpersonal context of the hysterical style, we find what serves as an apt description of Craig's behavioral response to me. See Andrews, J.D.W. "Psychotherapy with the Hysterical Personality: An Interpersonal Approach." Psychiatry 47: 211-232 (August 1984).
The following material suggests, additionally, a line of inquiry in regard to why Craig's character style, apparently involving as it does "an interpersonal power game," might have a particular "fit" with my psychic life; why, in fact, my struggle with Craig in adulthood may reflect a need to reenact earlier--and traumatic--"power games" to which I was subjected by adults, in childhood.
Slipp has suggested reviving Freud's "seduction" theory but recasting it as "an interpersonal power game [which] need not go so far as to involve actual sexual intercourse. It is a way of emotionally controlling and manipulating another through sexuality . . . seduction is not seen as a single traumatic incident as suggested by Freud, but as a continuing style of relationship". . . . Celani describes similar parental behavior, and goes on to comment that
"The hysteric soon learns she is constantly in the "manipulative marketplace" . . . in that she must perform a certain role if she is to get satisfaction. . . . As a result, the hysteric is never sure that she is loved, since she has performed strenuously to elicit any love she received. Only when she stops performing and still receives love can she begin to believe in her own inherent worth. Unfortunately, few take this risk since there is always the possibility of an outright rejection. . . .
. . . Those who discuss hysterical interaction describe double binds and indirect messages which compromise the hysteric's efforts at agreeable conventionality. Halleck asserts that "The hysteric's demandingness, histrionics, and dishonesty should be viewed as purposeful actions designed to structure the interpersonal situation so that she can manipulate the responses which assures their continued interest and attention" . . . A related point is made by Seigman (1954), who speaks of "the 'put on' and 'shallow' qualities of hysterical affects that seem to irritate the observer because of the hypocritical connotations."" Andrews at 215.
It is the following observation that is particularly significant in regard to Craig's conflicted behavioral response to me:
"Making the double-bind communication pattern still more explicit, Wisdom[, J.O. "A Methodological Approach to the Problem of Hysteria," International Journal of Psycho-Analysis (1961) 42:224-37] describes how the hysteric draws others into a complex interpersonal net:
The hysteric dangles before another person symbolic sexuality which can be readily taken as a real invitation or the beginning of a seduction. We may suppose that in normal relations where sexuality is initiated the same thing happens, i.e., sexual symbolism is proffered, which if the response is favorable leads to what is symbolized, to intercourse. But the hysteric must confine himself to the domain of symbolism, and the dangling of the symbol initiating a seduction is in fact all there is of it. Hence the person before whom the carrot is dangled . . . feels enticed but held off, and becomes baffled and irritated. . . . the dangled symbol can [also] serve as a promise of a reward if only the other party will do all sorts of things to please him. Further, the victim who declines is regarded as rejecting or mean . . . while the victim who goes forward to meet the advances is regarded as guilty of rape--whatever is done is wrong (emphasis added)." Andrews at 215.
But why would this be? Why would a heterosexual male, of fundamentally phallic-narcissistic character, respond to me with an insistent feminized "shadow personality:" namely, an hysterical personality style that was dominated by double-binds that, in their most flagrant expression, vacillated between his depiction of me as either "rejecting or mean" or as a homosexual with secret fantasies of sexual intercourse?
One plausible answer is that Craig's response was, in fact, a regression. His response to me was a particularized one, namely, a transference response in which he was reenacting a struggle with an adult figure from his past whose expectations Craig unconsciously experienced as ones that carried the risk of placing him in an ego-dystonic feminized role. In effect, Craig was struggling with his own self-created double-bind. To satisfy the transference object's expectations, as he saw them, was to risk his placement in a feminized role--to refuse to satisfy the transference object's expectations was to risk punishment. Craig displaced this conflict onto me in his use of me, as a transference object; thus, I was depicted as either a potential rapist or as "rejecting and mean."
These speculations are consistent with Reich's description of the typical character resistance of the phallic-narcissistic male:
"The analysis is always promising if the analyst succeeds in unmasking the phallic-narcissistic attitudes as the warding off of passive-feminine impulses and in eliminating the unconscious attitude of revenge toward the opposite sex. If this fails, the patients remain narcissistically inaccessible. Their character resistance consists in aggressive deprecation of the treatment and of the analyst in a more or less disguised form, in narcissistic usurpation of the interpretation work, in the rejection and warding off of every anxious and passive impulse and, above all, of the positive transference. The reactivation of phallic anxiety succeeds only through the energetic and consistent unmasking of the reactive narcissistic mechanism. The indications of passivity and anal-homosexual tendencies should not be immediately pursued in depth; otherwise the narcissistic defense will usually build up to a point of complete inaccessibility." Reich, W. Character Analysis, 3rd ed. at 224 (1945; reprint, New York: The Noonday Press, 1990).
Observations of Peter Blos allow us to see a possible common element in Craig's behaviors in response to two seemingly unrelated objects, and thereby offer support to the proposition that Craig's struggle, or masculine protest, against being placed in a feminized role is an enduring and over-determined aspect of his personality that may have dominated both his regressed relations with me as well as his difficulties in, or prohibitions against, actualizing his prodigious intellectual abilities, that is, as in his failure to carry through with his plans to attend law school.
"[M]y clinical experience . . . has taught me that a son's subordination of his life's work, ambition, dedication, and achievement to the libidinized expectations of his father are experienced by the son as a submissive and passive adaptation. The effort to surmount this never quite ego-syntonic position of a boy's active-passive balance in the mastery of self and environment reaches a crucial impasse at the closure of adolescence. At that juncture this unresolved imbalance frequently merges with associative fragments of a feminine self representation. If this emerging conflict cannot be contained or resolved, an abnormal psychic accomodation will take its course." Blos, P. "Freud and the Father Complex." In: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Vol. 42 at 440 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).
There are suggestions that a family romance fantasy, and associated rescue fantasy, may play a role in Craig's psychic life and in his heterosexual object choice. The family romance is a type of fantasy in which the subject maintains that he is not the child of his real parents but is instead the offspring of other parents (usually of higher station). The rescue fantasy, of saving the life of the father or a female figure, is a common variant of the family romance. Usually the family romance arises on the basis of disillusionment with the real parents (who have failed to demonstrate the omnipotence with which the child has endowed them) and/or as a defense against the aggressive sexual elements of the oedipal period. Campbell, R.J. Psychiatric Dictionary, 6th ed. at 644 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
Rescue fantasies can take many forms, and their meaning for the individual will depend on whether the fantasied object in need of rescue is male or female.
"Freud described the oedipal nature of such rescue fantasies: the defiance of the oedipal father, the wish to have the mother for oneself, and to give her a child. For some men, Freud said, rescue is a necessary condition for loving. The women who are rescued are debased or sexually promiscuous, or prostitutes, representing the mother of puberty whom the child has discovered to be sexually active. The man rescues their virtue, convinced of their need of him. These women are overvalued, like the mother, and belong to another man. Jealousy is a component of this choice, and the men have a series of such relationships because none proves satisfactory." Gillman, R.D. "Rescue Fantasies and the Secret Benefactor." In: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, Vol. 47 at 279-80 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).
With respect to the fantasy of rescuing a father-figure, "Freud . . . wrote of the fantasy of a man rescuing a king. The rescuer throws himself in front of the king's horse while it is out of control and puts the king in danger. The horse is stopped and the king steps out, saying, "I owe my life to you. What can I do for you." Freud had this fantasy when he was alone in Paris before he had found his patron, Charcot. This fantasy is like the Oedipus myth. There is a chance meeting between son and father. The son risks his life for the father, the censorship transforming the attack into a rescue. The son stops the movement of the horse, the primal scene out-of-control sexuality. The son controls the horse, the masculine potency. The murder 1/ is repressed and enacted in a reaction formation." Gillman at 281-82.
Evidence of a family romance and associated rescue fantasy in Craig is scant but suggestive. During August 1987 I happened to mention to Craig that the only German I knew I learned from listening to the Wagner operas. He said: "So, your German is only good for doing things like rescuing maidens in distress." In December 1988, I asked Craig if he felt attracted to women who had illustrious relatives. He said he did, in a tone of recognition that suggested that I had struck upon something of importance to him. He proceeded to relate an example of this.
Possible evidence of these fantasies can be found in Craig's most significant and enduring heterosexual object choice. During the summer of 1988 Craig began to date a summer employee at Hogan named Alexandra Zapruder. She had just completed her first year at Smith college, and was about 19 years old at the time. Craig was then 29 years old. Alexandra's father is a successful tax attorney, Henry Zapruder, and a Harvard Law School graduate. The Zapruder name gained notoriety in the 1960's when, in November 1963, Henry Zapruder's father, Abe, just happened to capture for posterity, on film, the assassination in Dallas of President Kennedy. The amateur film, the only known film documentation of the assassination, is the so-called "Zapruder Film." Significantly, the first time Craig mentioned Alexandra to me (on August 16, 1988), he related to me the family history and how the name Zapruder rang a bell for him when he first met her, but he couldn't identify why.
Owing to the minimal quantity of evidence concerning Craig's unconscious fantasy life, and also to the many varied forms that rescue fantasies can take, it is impossible to assign any particular psychoanalytic meaning to the above facts.
Certain possible interpretations are worth mentioning, however:
-- the Zapruder family history may satisfy certain narcissistic needs for Craig (specifically, with respect to a possible family romance fantasy);
-- Alexandra Zapruder's young age (or other qualities) satisfied in some way a rescue fantasy for Craig;
-- Craig idealizes Henry Zapruder as a reaction formation to oedipal aggression and oedipal jealousy;
-- Craig's ability to defend against his aggressive impulses in relation to Henry Zapruder is related to Craig's libidinal investment in Henry Zapruder's daughter; and
-- there may be an insidious relationship between Craig's (paranoid/sexualized) reaction to me and his possible idealization of Henry Zapruder (really a reaction formation against oedipal aggression).
1/ I observe, incidentally, that during the time I was employed with Craig at Hogan & Hartson, we were both assigned to a task for the client Chrysler Corporation: a large-scale document production task relating to automobile airbag (car crash) litigation (psychoanalytically, suggestive of out-of-control sexuality, oedipal aggression, and rescue). The significance of this is that, oddly, a letter dated September 27, 1993 that I prepared and submitted to former treating psychiatrist Suzanne M. Pitts, M.D., at the George Washington University Medical Center, discusses an incident that occurred in the weeks prior to the termination of my employment at Hogan. The letter suggested the possible psychoanalytic symbolism of the subject matter discussed at a departmental staff meeting, held in February 1988, the manifest purpose of which was to review recent developments in Chrysler's airbag plans. Precisely why the department supervisor called a meeting of low-level law firm support personnel to review Chrysler's internal corporate strategy was never explained. Two weeks later the supervisor terminated my employment, but refused to explain why.