Thursday, April 29, 2010

Letter to Psychologist: Lisa Osborne, Ph.D. (1998-1999) 10/7/98

October 7, 1998
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW #136
Washington, DC 20008-4530

Lisa Osborne
Community Mental Health Center
Washington, DC 20007

Dear Ms. Osborne:

I submit an article published in the International Journal of Group Therapy that offers important insights about shame, threats to object attachment, and shame regulation.

It may be that a central interpersonal difficulty for me centers on the possibility that I employ a different form of shame regulation than many other people. It may be that for me shame is regulated intrapsychically at a level of internal representation and intellectual processes. Cf. Weissman, P. "Psychological Concomitants of Ego Functioning in Creativity." International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49: 464-469 (1968) (discussing the potentially creative infant's ability to invest libido in a fantasized internal representation of the mother). Whereas for many other persons shame is regulated interpersonally, by means of external object attachment.

The enclosed article discusses a form of shame regulation that centers on external object attachment. It is useful to apply the insights about shame and shame regulation to persons other than batterers. More generally, it may be useful to view my experience of job harassment as a symbolic form of chronic group battering in which the "battering" is both (1) an effect of the threat that my intrapsychic shame regulation poses to other persons and also (2) a means by which those others regulate, or mitigate, their subjective experience of shame. In terms of my developmental background it may be useful to view my brother-in-law's chronic manipulation and control of my sister (and devaluation of me) as a symbolic form of battering that he employed to regulate his subjective experience of shame.

It may well be that a derivative of this conflict arises in the dyadic clinical situation where the therapist depicts, or chastises, me as a person who "intellectualizes" (again, the chastisement can be viewed as symbolic "battering"). It may be useful to view my intellectual processes as (1) a means of internal shame regulation and also (2) as a threat to the therapists' self-esteem (sense of professional competency as it relates to normative knowledge). Keep in mind that "intellectualization" is simply an ego processes that is analyzable, no less than any other defense, such as repression, reaction formation, isolation, undoing, or rationalization. See The Writings of Anna Freud. Vol. 5 at 244 (New York: International Universities Press, 1969).

Intellectualization is perhaps no more a bar to therapy than any of the other defenses or thought processes. But I have yet to hear a therapist say to me: "You engage in repression! That is not good. If you continue to repress, that will impair your therapeutic progress." We can see why this might be so. Of all the ego defenses, it is the patient's use of intellectualization that poses the most immediate threat to the therapist's self-esteem. Also--and this is worthy of close scrutiny--it may well be that therapists who complain about my "intellectualization" may simply be complaining about an outward manifestation, or marker, of something going on at a deeper level that they find disturbing: namely, my style of shame regulation.

Further, it is important to recognize that the more highly internalized is the patient's style of shame regulation, the more immune he will be to the therapist's use of shame (or chastisement) as a therapeutic modality. Thus, where a therapist tends to rely on shame as a therapeutic modality the therapist's own shame (and frustration) will be aroused by a highly-ego-differentiated patient's seeming imperviousness to chastisement.

I suspect that this particular dynamic is the source of many a medical recommendation that has been made in my case: and note that a medical recommendation can be viewed as another symbolic form of battering of the patient that has the effect of moderating the therapist's shame.

I note incidentally that one of my previous treating psychiatrists, Dr. Palombo (a psychoanalyst), never said that I intellectualized, although he once mentioned that I had an unusual level of idea production.


Gary Freedman

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