Damaged Bonds

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'It is one of life's chilling characteristics that bonds that nourish also damage. We are formed and malformed at the same time. In an earlier work, Toxic Nourishment (1999), I explored the ways that emotional nourishment and toxins are fused. Damaged Bonds complements and adds to this, by encouraging us to look at and face, as we can, how we wound and are wounded by the bonds we need to live. It is, perhaps, part of life's oddity that doing so, to the extent we are able, brings its own kind of joy. '...It is the underlying assumption of this book that the therapy bond (both damaged/damaging and generative) helps support dream-work and connections between dream reality and every-day waking activities. It is thus, also, our hope that therapy helps improve psychic digestion. At a minimum, we suspect that it will help us to learn something about our relationship to emotional processes, so that we can become better partners to ourselves and others.'- Michael Eigen, from the Preface

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1. Damaged bonds

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The amazing changes human beings go through moment to moment throughout a day inspire awe. It is glorious when these shifts bring variations in happiness. But many are variants of misery. I have asked people whether they think there is pain at ecstasy’s centre, and many said yes. Yet, the reverse makes them uncomfortable: they do not like to think that there is ecstasy in pain. Yet pleasure/pain and agony/ecstasy ever blend, as the sensation-feeling kaleidoscope they are part of turns and turns.

When one thinks of invincibility, one thinks less of feelings and sensations than of will: invincible will. Years of clinical work have brought me face to face with the grisly fact that people who seem overwhelmed with every shift of mood and situation, who complain that they have no will of their own and are always giving in to others, are, nevertheless, gripped by an unbudgeable will that cannot let go. This will may play a role in enabling survival, but often it puts life on hold. Too often it becomes empty will, feeding its own existence without giving the individual much in the way of nourishment.

 

2. Wounded nourishment

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Many of Bion’s clinical examples contain the theme of wounded nourishment. It is unclear whether: (1) there is a state of affairs one might call “primary nourishment”, which gets wounded; (2) nourishment and woundedness are conjoined from the outset; (3) or nourishment and catastrophe have somewhat different tracks that are superimposed one on the other, or link up and permeate each other. These, as well as other possibilities, play some role in various passages.

At times one might say: “In the beginning there was nourishment.”

At times one might say: “In the beginning there was catastrophe.”

Bion’s writings give voice to the traumatized self. If Walt Whitman sings the body electric and catalogues joys of self, Bion details what it is like for self to be electrocuted and to continue as the remains. If nourishment appears, something bad will happen to it.

Ice cream—I scream

In one vivid example, Bion (1970, pp. 13-14) traces a nourishing link through successive phases of destruction. He is more interested in what becomes of the scream as link than the fate of food as link. But he points to a primary nourishing link undergoing waves of disturbances resulting in waves of destruction.

 

3. Damaged dream-work

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Dreams try to represent what hurts and weave a wombing effect around it, but the womb keeps breaking apart. Dreams as wombs attempt to contain and limit pain and generate new possibilities, but they often are damaged, even blown away, by trauma they try to display, undo, or work with. We try both to evade and to face our reality, our traumas, and to magnify, minimize, celebrate them, not simply to master them or be in bondage to them, but also to free ourselves from them. Dreams try to open freeing paths, but much of dream-work is crippled.

Dreams both contain and free. As womb for wounds, dreams not only represent the latter but infiltrate, permeate, and play a role in digesting injury. The womb image implies, too, transformation and birth—perennial beginnings. As a cocoon for wounds, dreams provide an arena for transformative work in the depths of wounds. But there are different kinds of containers, some more rigid, dead, airtight. There are containers for sealing psychic radioactive waste as long as possible and containers with permeable membranes for creative passage and commingling of material.

 

4. The undreamable object

ePub

Bion (1992) proposes the notion of an object so frightening that it cannot be dreamt—an object that stops dreaming. The dreads we know are hints of dreads we do not perhaps cannot, know. The dread of dreads is a kind of negative counterpart to the Kabbalistic Ein Sof, God as unknown infinite, infinite of infinites. Only here it is God in utmost negative aspect, destroyer rather than bringer of life (see or touch God and die, see Medusa and die). Bion proposes the notion of a dread of dreads that is not only unnameable, but also undreamable.

To be undreamable is to be unprocessable. For Bion, dreams are critical for processing, “digesting”, or making use of experience.

Dream-work is responsible for rendering pre-communicable material “storable” and communicable; the same for stimuli and impressions derived from the contact of the personality with the external world. Contact with reality is not dependent on dream-work; accessibility to the personality of the material derived from this contact is dependent on dream-work. [Bion, 1992, p. 45]

 

5. Cameras

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We have always been fascinated with images of ourselves. We now possess little boxes that provide images of ourselves and each other on demand. In view of the camera, we are potential, portable images. We always were, insofar as we viewed each other in our minds. But to be able to produce, nearly instantaneously, images of ourselves that we can hold, pass around, and look at together—such a capability cannot fail to impact upon our sense of self.

When I was a child at school, teachers revelled in stories about “natives” fearing that their souls could be captured by mirror images. A camera, even more than a mirror, was a kind of soul box. Associations of theft, imprisonment, and pictures are seen in terms like “capture”: capturing experience, expression, gesture, reality.

As a child, I could not capture in words the muted thrill that went with the conquistador’s superiority, the “native’s” stupefaction. Not only control of weaponry, but control of soul images— was that not something to marvel at? Not only my own growth lay ahead, but the agonized growth of social consciousness in general. Within a couple of decades, the cultural climate was such that any group could call into question the superiority of any other group, along any conceivable line (e.g. social, racial, sexual, economic). The categories, above/below, more/less, were suspect.

 

6. The world gets bigger

ePub

“T ‘m growing in a way that’ll enable me to survive being alive”, I says Laura.

JL Laura has been working on herself for years. She sees into herself, feels herself, tries to salvage seeds of integrity. She does not give up on herself. She is now in her fifties, and she works harder than ever, sees more, feels more.

She is proof that the dead come alive and seek more and more life. However, a point comes when one does not know what to do with aliveness one discovers.

From the outset, Laura saw herself as growing in inimical circumstances. Her mother was abrasive, critical, rejecting, yet she expected loyalty. Her father was caring and calm but distant, involved in work. He respected Laura’s freedom, separateness. She admired his ability to be cool and reflective and felt a quiet core of love—not enough to protect her in a daily way from mother’s onslaughts and scorn.

A mother’s love mixed with rage seared and scarred her. Laura felt that she grew in a poisonous atmosphere that regularly flared into higher bursts of awfulness. A sense of devastation lodged in her chest. Since Laura pinned feeling crushed to mother’s rage and ridicule, she nurtured the belief that one day she would free herself by growing up and leaving home.

 

7. Filing insides

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““T’m critical, bitter, like having a file inside. Not just a file to

I store bitter memories. A metal file that gnaws experience

JLdown to the worst part, and this thing inside points to it and

says, ‘You see—that’s all there is. Just garbage. Just poison. Just

evil/

“My father talked a good game. He had an idealized vision of someplace where people can be their true selves, a heaven on earth. He tried to make me believe in it, and for a time I did. The way life could be if The place the good people were. By good he meant honest—the truth-seekers. The truth-tellers. That was the thing. You saw the Truth, capital T. You told others truths they didn’t want to hear. You were better, a truth-bearer, and that’s what really counted.

“What he didn’t tell me—and couldn’t admit—was the importance of seeing pain on a person’s face when you struck. Truth shocks. It brings a look of disbelief, helplessness, hurt. Truth creates a tear, a rent in the garment. And you feel juicy, on top, fulfilled. You are the truth man, and others can’t take it. Truth bullets, truth bombs. Truth orgasms. Is there any greater satisfaction? You are helping people be their true selves. You are helping them get to earthly heaven.

 

8. The need to kill oneself

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The urge to kill oneself is more widespread than realized. It even may be a “normal” part of life. Freud (1920g) wrote of conflict between drives to die and live, a destructive drive aimed against self and displaced to others. To call the urge to kill oneself normal seems an exaggeration, a distortion. But it calls attention to an urge needing freer circulation in the psychic body.

Ella told me recently how good she felt after giving vent to the wish to kill herself. Such feelings were taboo to her. She fought them off as fast as possible when they entered awareness. Therapy gave her permission to express such frightening feelings as fully as possible.

As far back as Ella could remember, thoughts of suicide had been flickering on and off. They were momentary, sporadic, fragmentary, never a real possibility. But they frightened her, and she withdrew from them. Now, in therapy, she could feel her chest contract, hollow out, freeze, lose feeling. The frozen contraction spread through abdomen, genitals, limbs, even skin, up through shoulders, neck, inside her temples. Cheeks above, cheeks below tightened, clenched teeth, squeezed anus.

 

9. Tinkering

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Does it make sense to make sense of a life? One constructs frames of reference, ways of thinking about a life that include social, political, psychological aspects of history. One finds ways to understand. Still, life sifts through one’s fingers, like sand, and one wonders at the fleeting nature of time. One wonders at capacities we discover, our makeup, our use and misuse of all we are given, its use and misuse of us.

Sam tells me that he is brilliant then spills out his story of damage. He depicts his mother as seductive, father as rageful, both as depressed. His father’s depression is lifelong and powerful, his mother’s was more serious when he was a child, lessening as he grew up. Sam felt that he saved himself by being super-smart and great at everything. He was athletic, social, a terrific student. He got into top schools, flew through graduate school, got an amazing job making lots of money, terrific girlfriends, wonderful friends.

Why does he seek me?

He is very lonely. He likes having girlfriends and lots of money but wants to build a life with a special someone and have a family. He wants a substantial life, someone to love who loves him and work he really loves. He is good at creating a terrific but loveless life. Love, like time, is elusive.

 

10. Shivers

ePub

My work as a patient is what made me an analyst. But many factors went into making me a patient. I slept in a crib in my parents’ room until age five. From the earliest age, I listened for sounds in the night. I have never stopped listening. Some of my earliest dreams were primal-scene dreams.

I hated the crib. It meant being a baby, held back, compressed, imprisoned, suffocated. The crib played a role in my becoming a sort of lifelong rebel. As a young adult, I could not be free enough. I am lucky to be alive, given the crazy things I did to feel free. The rock musician who wrecks his guitar makes me wonder if I have spent my life, in part, breaking cribs (hopefully, only a partial model of therapy). The sense of being compressed looking for spaces to pour myself into never left.

When I was six, my parents bought a house, and I had a room of my own. I still tried to hear what they were doing at night, but having my own space was a blessing. My new neighbourhood had kids, and I played all the time. I have never needed much to be happy. Walking down a street, looking around, swinging my arms is enough to make me smile. I used to whistle while I walked, and now my older son hums and whistles a lot.

 

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