Saturday, May 14, 2011

Repetition Compulsion: A Need to Struggle with Defamation?

Repetition compulsion is a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again. This "re-living" can also take the form of dreams in which memories and feelings of what happened are repeated, and even hallucination.

The term can also be used to cover the repetition of behavior or life patterns more broadly: a 'key component in Freud's understanding of mental life, "repetition compulsion" . . . describes the pattern whereby people endlessly repeat patterns of behavior which were difficult or distressing in earlier life.'

From 1988 to 1991 I worked as a paralegal at the Washington, DC law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.  I was terminated in late October 1991 a few days after I lodged a harassment complaint against my supervisor and others.  I had alleged that I was a victim of subtle harassment: a type of harassment complaint that is difficult to prove and one that in most cases will rest on circumstantial evidence.  The firm later advised a state human rights agency in a sworn declaration that it had consulted a psychiatrist who advised the firm's senior managers that my harassment complaint was the product of a psychiatric "disorder" and that I might become violent.  I subsequently spoke with the psychiatrist, who I had never met; she denied ever having spoken with anyone at the firm.  I consider the firm's allegations about my mental health and stability to be defamation -- fairly severe defamation, at that. 

After I left the firm, I learned from a former coworker that my supervisor had told her employees that she feared I might return to the firm's premises to kill her. 

The harassment I experienced at the firm was probably an example of  mobbing, which typically involves the creation of an abusive work environment that features defamatory rumors about the target; a common rumor or accusation is that the targeted employee may become violent.

In August 1989 -- at the same time the firm's senior managers affirmed their confidence in my suitability for employment by granting me full-time status with benefits -- a temporary employee (who was hungry for a full time position) said to me: "We're all afraid of you.  We're all afraid you might buy a gun, bring it in, and shoot everybody."  The Government of the District of Columbia later alleged in court pleadings that my coworkers were afraid of me, citing this bizarre and patently ridiculous accusation as evidence!  More defamation.

After I was fired I spent some years writing a semi-autobiographical book (Significant Moments): a psychological portrait -- a psychoanalytical study, really -- based on my fantasies about, identifications with, and associations to quotations from the published literature.  I believe the book Significant Moments discloses deep-seated (unconscious) wishes, fantasies, conflicts and prohibitions.  It is interesting -- to me, at least -- that a brief passage in the book presents the theme of defamation derived from quotes from a book titled Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank, written by retired Washington, DC psychiatrist E. James Lieberman, M.D.

Otto Rank was a pioneering protege of Sigmund Freud who struggled with defamation by jealous colleagues within the group of psychoanalysts that surrounded Freud.  Rank was Freud's closest disciple and colleague from 1906-1926, the formative years of the psychoanalytic movement.  Rank earned a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna; Rank's dissertation, The Lohengrin Myth, analyzes the same tale on which Wagner's opera Lohengrin is based.

Lohengrin, a knight of the Holy Grail who possesses superhuman powers, arrives in the realm of Brabant -- seemingly out of nowhere -- to defend Elsa against the defamatory accusation that she has murdered her young brother, Gottfried.  Lohengrin marries Elsa, but is compelled to leave her when she breaches her promise not to ask the mysterious knight his name or origin.   The character Lohengrin has similarities to the comic book hero Superman and even to the protector cyborg portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day who travels from the future to the present to protect Sarah Connor and her adolescent son.

I fell in love with the opera when I was twelve years old and attended a Metropolitan Opera performance with my mother in May 1967, at age 13.  It was Lohengrin that introduced me to the world of Wagner and it was the first opera I ever saw.

I can't escape the suspicion that there is some psychological relationship between my interest in the story of Lohengrin as a boy and my protracted, and at times passionate, struggle with the legal issue of defamation as an adult.  I can't escape the suspicion that there is some psychological relationship between my daily struggles with defamation and the repetition compulsion.


Gary Freedman said...

A royal protector (and later victim of defamation) coming to the aid of an artist who wrote an opera about a protector:

Gary Freedman said...

Lohengrin tragically left Elsa, his wife.

I am writing this post a few days after Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver announced their separation.

Apparently, I was emotionally affected by that. I always thought they were the perfect couple. As they say in the movies, "Appearances can be deceptive."

Gary Freedman said...

As you may be able to see, this is psychoanalysis-by-blog.

I don't have the money to pay for a real psychoanalyst. So I have my daily sessions with the computer.

Gary Freedman said...

I purchased a copy of Dr. Lieberman's book about Otto Rank immediately after I read the NY Times Book Review in 1985.

I read the book from cover to cover with keen interest. There is underlining and notes throughout the book.

I started working at Akin Gump, where I suffered severe defamation, in 1988.

Gary Freedman said...

Elsa prays for the mysterious knight in shining armor who will defend her:


(quietly transfigured
staring ahead of her)

Lonely, in troubled days
I prayed to the Lord,
my most heartfelt grief
I poured out in prayer.
And from my groans
there issued a plaintive sound
that grew into a mighteous roar
as it echoed through the skies:
I listened as it receded into the distance
until my ear could scarce hear it;
my eyes closed
and I fell into a deep sleep.


How extraordinary! Is she dreaming? Is she enraptured?


(as though trying to wake Elsa from the dream)

Elsa, defend yourself before the court!

(Elsa's expression goes from one of dream-like detachment to one of frenzied transfiguration)


In splendid, shining armour
a knight approached,
a man of such pure virtue
as I had never seen before:
a golden horn at his side,
leaning on a sword -
thus he appeared to me
from nowhere, this warrior true;
with kindly gestures
he gave me comfort;
I will wait for the knight,
he shall be my champion!


May the grace of Heaven preserve us,
that we may clearly see who is guilty here!