Medium 9781782200697

Sources of Suffering

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This concise and well-written book deals with six important roots of human anguish. It divides the six areas into those primarily affecting the individual and those primarily affecting others around him. Among the former are fear, greed, and guilt. Among the latter are deception, betrayal, and revenge. The book deals with each realm from descriptive, psychodynamic, sociocultural, and clinical perspectives. It provides ample literary examples and vignettes from psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. The aim is to help the readers enhance their empathy with these complex human experiences and to become more adept in helping their patients renounce or reduce their suffering.

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CHAPTER ONE Fear

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CHAPTER ONE

Fear

F

ear is ubiquitous. All of us experience it at one time or another.

The sound of footsteps approaching us from behind in a dark alley, an unexpected visit to the city morgue, eye contact with a large alligator in the zoo, and a precipitous “fall” of a rollercoaster can all give us goose bumps of terror. We shriek, scream, or simply become paralysed with fear. We readily recognise its dark arrival in the pit of our stomachs and feel its movement in our blood.

But do we understand the actual nature of fear? Do we know the purpose it serves? Do we agree upon the circumstances under which it is “normal” to be afraid? And, when does fear become abnormal or morbid? Is fear to be avoided at all costs or can this bitter gourd of emotion be transformed into a sweet mango of cultural delight? Questions like these suggest that fear is simple and self-evident only on the surface. Examined carefully, it turns out to be a complex and nuanced phenomenon.

 

Chapter One: Fear

ePub

Fear is ubiquitous. All of us experience it at one time or another. The sound of footsteps approaching us from behind in a dark alley, an unexpected visit to the city morgue, eye contact with a large alligator in the zoo, and a precipitous “fall” of a rollercoaster can all give us goose bumps of terror. We shriek, scream, or simply become paralysed with fear. We readily recognise its dark arrival in the pit of our stomachs and feel its movement in our blood.

But do we understand the actual nature of fear? Do we know the purpose it serves? Do we agree upon the circumstances under which it is “normal” to be afraid? And, when does fear become abnormal or morbid? Is fear to be avoided at all costs or can this bitter gourd of emotion be transformed into a sweet mango of cultural delight? Questions like these suggest that fear is simple and self-evident only on the surface. Examined carefully, it turns out to be a complex and nuanced phenomenon.

Fear

Webster's dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger” (Mish, 1998, p. 425). While the source of the threat is not identified, the tone makes it clear that the danger referred to resides in external reality. Fear, in other words, is a dysphoric reaction to an actual object (e.g., a wild animal, a knife-wielding drunkard), event (e.g., an earthquake, a stampede), or situation (e.g., watching a horror movie, losing control of a car on an icy road) that is felt to be threatening. The extent of dysphoria in the face of approaching danger varies and four levels of fear's severity are identified in the English language: (a) apprehension, which refers to a mild anticipation of a bad occurrence; (b) dread, which blends the conviction that one is facing danger with a powerful reluctance to encounter the scary object or situation; (c) panic, which denotes an overwhelming sense of being scared, coupled with alarmed hyperactivity (e.g., pacing, running away) and physiological arousal (e.g., increased heartbeat, laboured breathing); and (d) terror, which signifies an extreme degree of consternation, a feeling of doom, “catastrophic aloneness” (Grand, 2002), and psychomotor paralysis.

 

CHAPTER TWO Greed

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CHAPTER TWO

Greed

I

t is to the gifted Greek storyteller of ancient times, Aesop (circa

620 BC), that we owe the eternally impressive tale of greed. Among the numerous fables told by him is this story of the farmer who found a goose that laid a golden egg each day. Initially jubilant at his good fortune, the farmer soon felt unable to wait twenty-four hours for the next egg to arrive. He imagined that the goose had hundreds of eggs inside her but was stingy in doling out the wealth. The farmer grew restless and wanted all the gold immediately. He cut the goose open but found no gold inside it. All that happened was that the goose died and the farmer lost the daily nugget of riches that was assured to him.

In this brief tale, Aesop elegantly addressed the coexistence of enormous hunger, impatience, inconsolability, a defective sense of empathy, and ingratitude towards one’s benefactors. It is this constellation of descriptive and dynamic features that are subsumed under the rubric of greed. Since greed—along with narcissism, paranoia, and discontent— constitutes an important feature of severe personality disorders and has an unmistakable impact upon their treatment, it is surprising that psychoanalytic literature has given inadequate attention to it.

 

Chapter Two: Greed

ePub

It is to the gifted Greek storyteller of ancient times, Aesop (circa 620 BC), that we owe the eternally impressive tale of greed. Among the numerous fables told by him is this story of the farmer who found a goose that laid a golden egg each day. Initially jubilant at his good fortune, the farmer soon felt unable to wait twenty-four hours for the next egg to arrive. He imagined that the goose had hundreds of eggs inside her but was stingy in doling out the wealth. The farmer grew restless and wanted all the gold immediately. He cut the goose open but found no gold inside it. All that happened was that the goose died and the farmer lost the daily nugget of riches that was assured to him.

In this brief tale, Aesop elegantly addressed the coexistence of enormous hunger, impatience, inconsolability, a defective sense of empathy, and ingratitude towards one's benefactors. It is this constellation of descriptive and dynamic features that are subsumed under the rubric of greed. Since greed—along with narcissism, paranoia, and discontent—constitutes an important feature of severe personality disorders and has an unmistakable impact upon their treatment, it is surprising that psychoanalytic literature has given inadequate attention to it.

 

Chapter Three: Guilt

ePub

“I am sorry” is perhaps the most versatile combination of three words in the English language. Compared to its lexical rival, “I love you,” the expression “I am sorry” is used far more often and in much more varied contexts. It can carry the hues of emotions that vary from flimsy courtesy through considerable remorse to soul-wrenching contrition. It can therefore be spoken with comparable ease at spilling coffee on the tablecloth, forgetting to turn the cell phone off during a play, hurting a lover's feelings, and hearing the news of someone's passing away. It can also be used by a child molester seeking a lesser punishment in a court of law, a politician caught embezzling party funds, and even a head of state expressing “regret” for policies that led to abuses of an ethnic minority or for a weak response to a natural disaster.

All these instances involve the experience of guilt, be it real or pretended, mild or severe, fleeting or sustained. The utterance of “I am sorry” is always motivated by guilt. But what is guilt? What gives rise to it? How does it affect us? And, why do some people feel so much guilt, others so little? Certainly the emotion does not result solely from committing “bad” (i.e., hurtful) acts. If that were the case, hardened criminals and psychopaths would be enormously guilt-ridden and law-abiding citizens would be devoid of the inner naggings of conscience. Actually the opposite is true. The one who commits crimes and breaks the law is often free of remorse while the one who avoids moral and ethical transgressions frequently suffers from the pangs of guilt. The relationship between “bad” actions and guilt seems highly tenuous. It seems best, therefore, to start our investigation by defining the terms involved in it.

 

CHAPTER THREE Guilt

PDF

CHAPTER THREE

Guilt

I

am sorry” is perhaps the most versatile combination of three words in the English language. Compared to its lexical rival, “I love you,” the expression “I am sorry” is used far more often and in much more varied contexts. It can carry the hues of emotions that vary from flimsy courtesy through considerable remorse to soul-wrenching contrition. It can therefore be spoken with comparable ease at spilling coffee on the tablecloth, forgetting to turn the cell phone off during a play, hurting a lover’s feelings, and hearing the news of someone’s passing away.

It can also be used by a child molester seeking a lesser punishment in a court of law, a politician caught embezzling party funds, and even a head of state expressing “regret” for policies that led to abuses of an ethnic minority or for a weak response to a natural disaster.

All these instances involve the experience of guilt, be it real or pretended, mild or severe, fleeting or sustained. The utterance of “I am sorry” is always motivated by guilt. But what is guilt? What gives rise to it? How does it affect us? And, why do some people feel so much guilt, others so little? Certainly the emotion does not result solely from committing “bad” (i.e., hurtful) acts. If that were the case, hardened

 

Chapter Four: Deception

ePub

While overtly destructive acts derived from rage and hatred draw sharp clinical and public attention, far more damage is done to human relations by the quieter evils of lying, cheating, and deceit. In myriad forms that range from pretentious decorum at official events to pseudo-cordiality among political adversaries, from socially convenient bending of truth to outright lying for monetary gain, and from laborious inflation of the self to deliberate fraud for seducing others, deception corrodes trust that is the glue of attachment and interpersonal bonds. Regardless of its form, deception arises from trauma and causes suffering to self and others. A common denominator in various types of deception (e.g., mendacity, forgery, betrayal) is the existence of a lie.

It is this central feature that I will address in this contribution. I will begin with elucidating the formal characteristics of lies and the motivations that propel individuals to distort the truth. In the passages that follow, I will take up the developmental achievements necessary for the capacity for lying to emerge. Then I will make a brief sociocultural foray into the worlds of art and entertainment, politics, propaganda, advertising, forgery, and counterfeit. Following this digression, I will return to the clinical realm and address the implications of lying for conducting psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. I will conclude with a few synthesising remarks.

 

CHAPTER FOUR Deception

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CHAPTER FOUR

Deception

W

hile overtly destructive acts derived from rage and hatred draw sharp clinical and public attention, far more damage is done to human relations by the quieter evils of lying, cheating, and deceit. In myriad forms that range from pretentious decorum at official events to pseudo-cordiality among political adversaries, from socially convenient bending of truth to outright lying for monetary gain, and from laborious inflation of the self to deliberate fraud for seducing others, deception corrodes trust that is the glue of attachment and interpersonal bonds. Regardless of its form, deception arises from trauma and causes suffering to self and others. A common denominator in various types of deception (e.g., mendacity, forgery, betrayal) is the existence of a lie.

It is this central feature that I will address in this contribution. I will begin with elucidating the formal characteristics of lies and the motivations that propel individuals to distort the truth. In the passages that follow, I will take up the developmental achievements necessary for the capacity for lying to emerge. Then I will make a brief sociocultural foray into the worlds of art and entertainment, politics, propaganda, advertising, forgery, and counterfeit. Following this digression, I will return to the clinical realm and address the implications of lying for

97

 

Chapter Five: Betrayal

ePub

The English word “betrayal” is derived from the old French traïr and the Latin tradere, both referring to “traitor”. Indeed, the Webster's dictionary meaning of “betrayal” includes “to deliver to an enemy by treachery” (Mish, 1998, p. 109). Among other explications are “to lead astray, to fail or desert especially in time of need, to reveal unintentionally, [and] to disclose in violation of confidence” (ibid, p. 109). These phrases indicate that: (a) betrayal involves breaking someone's trust in one's reliability and availability, and (b) betrayal can be deliberate or unintentional. A third feature, though not explicit, can also be discerned. This involves the fact that (c) betrayal causes hurt. The Hindi word for betrayal, vishwas-ghaat (literally, wounded trust) captures the essence of this phenomenon.

Moving from the confines of the dictionary, I propose two other facets of betrayal: (d) the phenomenon comes in active and passive forms (i.e., betraying others and feeling betrayed), and (e) the affects connected with these forms are conscious or unconscious sadistic glee and sharp “mental pain” (Akhtar, 2000; Freud, 1926d; Weiss, 1934), respectively.1 Yet another facet is that (f) betraying and being betrayed are not as aetiologically, dynamically, and phenomenologically apart as they initially appear. The drive to betray others and the need to be betrayed invariably coexist. The former is more evident in narcissistic characters and the latter in masochistic characters. However, the opposite wish is also present in each of them. Narcissistic individuals betray others while also arranging unconscious betrayals of themselves and masochistic individuals engineer being betrayed while betraying others themselves. Cooper's (1988) proposal of the “narcissistic-masochistic character”, while addressing a somewhat different terrain of psychopathology is, in part, my heuristic ally in making this assertion.

 

CHAPTER FIVE Betrayal

PDF

CHAPTER FIVE

Betrayal

T

he English word “betrayal” is derived from the old French traïr and the Latin tradere, both referring to “traitor”. Indeed, the

Webster’s dictionary meaning of “betrayal” includes “to deliver to an enemy by treachery” (Mish, 1998, p. 109). Among other explications are “to lead astray, to fail or desert especially in time of need, to reveal unintentionally, [and] to disclose in violation of confidence”

(ibid, p. 109). These phrases indicate that: (a) betrayal involves breaking someone’s trust in one’s reliability and availability, and (b) betrayal can be deliberate or unintentional. A third feature, though not explicit, can also be discerned. This involves the fact that (c) betrayal causes hurt.

The Hindi word for betrayal, vishwas-ghaat (literally, wounded trust) captures the essence of this phenomenon.

Moving from the confines of the dictionary, I propose two other facets of betrayal: (d) the phenomenon comes in active and passive forms (i.e., betraying others and feeling betrayed), and (e) the affects connected with these forms are conscious or unconscious sadistic glee and sharp “mental pain” (Akhtar, 2000; Freud, 1926d; Weiss, 1934), respectively.1 Yet another facet is that (f) betraying and being betrayed are not as aetiologically, dynamically, and phenomenologically apart as they initially appear. The drive to betray others and the need to be

123

 

CHAPTER SIX Revenge

PDF

CHAPTER SIX

Revenge

T

he history of human civilisation is replete with examples of man’s destructiveness towards man. Some of these outbursts are impulsive, passionate, and transient. Others are calculated, deliberate, and long-standing. Some involve individuals. Others involve masses. Some occur only in fantasy and, under fortunate circumstances, are turned into defiant poetry, biting fiction, and provocative theatre. Others slit throats, ruin families, and cause bloodshed.

Regardless of their extent, all destructive actions somehow or other become justified in the mind of the perpetrator. One’s violence is given a patina of reasonableness through all sorts of rationales and rationalisations regardless of whether it involves the plebian tit-for-tat of children or the awesome “messianic sadism” (Akhtar, 2007c) of paranoid fundamentalists. Matters of the former variety fall under the purview of parents, elementary school teachers, and benevolent clergy. Matters of the latter variety belong to interdisciplinary think tanks that can inform sociopolitical praxis.

 

Chapter Six: Revenge

ePub

The history of human civilisation is replete with examples of man's destructiveness towards man. Some of these outbursts are impulsive, passionate, and transient. Others are calculated, deliberate, and long-standing. Some involve individuals. Others involve masses. Some occur only in fantasy and, under fortunate circumstances, are turned into defiant poetry, biting fiction, and provocative theatre. Others slit throats, ruin families, and cause bloodshed. Regardless of their extent, all destructive actions somehow or other become justified in the mind of the perpetrator. One's violence is given a patina of reasonableness through all sorts of rationales and rationalisations regardless of whether it involves the plebian tit-for-tat of children or the awesome “messianic sadism” (Akhtar, 2007c) of paranoid fundamentalists. Matters of the former variety fall under the purview of parents, elementary school teachers, and benevolent clergy. Matters of the latter variety belong to interdisciplinary think tanks that can inform sociopolitical praxis.

 

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