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16. The Micro-Environment

Williams, Arthur Hyatt Karnac Books ePub

Recently I came across a large pond that had been artificially constructed many years ago by men who were excavating gravel. When they came to the end of the gravel, a large hole was left that quickly filled with water. Thereafter an impressive micro-environment slowly developed, eventually reaching an ecological balance. There were trees around the edge, an array of plants, and a wide variety of freshwater creatures from water voles to frogs, fish, and dragonfly larvae. An oasis had formed that facilitated the settlement and breeding of diverse forms of life under conditions that favored growth and development. It was less exposed than the world around it. Although it was comfortable enough, eventually it must have been restrictive to some creatures. I began to reflect on the similarity between this micro-environment and that of the family. There is often the same protection from the outside world, interactiveness, ecological balance, and, ultimately restrictiveness. When the balance has been disturbed by forces acting within the micro-environment or impinging from the world outside the environment, homeostatic processes are set in motion to restore the balance. In the case of the family in which self-healing has failed, a point is reached when they are referred for or seek therapeutic help.

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8. Escalating Violence

Williams, Arthur Hyatt Karnac Books ePub

Anyone who stands at the edge of a sandy cove will have noticed how the power and fury of a stormy sea expends itself as the broken wave runs up the sloping sand and then gendy runs back down the beach, leaving a smooth expanse of sea-washed shore. This is what happens in ordinary circumstances with the ebb and flow of the tidal cycle. Under some conditions, however, forces such as cyclones, storms acting upon the sea, eardiquakes, or other volcanic actions stir the depths. They infuse a more inexorable menace into the situation, so that instead of losing power and slowly flowing back into the matrix of origin, each successive wave, more powerful than its predecessor, escalates the violence, sometimes to the destructive crescendo of a tidal wave.

Violence is an essential part of each one of us and, like the sea, it can run a benign course or it can escalate to a dangerous and destructive crescendo. An example of nondestructive violence is a man I saw who fainted and fell into fairly deep water. I was on the point of jumping in to save him when my colleague, a man so slow and gende in ordinary life that we liked to call him “the sleeping clergyman,” was in the water before me. His organized se-quence of violence ended with successful artificial respiration and the relatively quick recovery of the man. When things were calm, I mentioned that his rapid, life-saving, violent action seemed to contradict his everyday behavior. My colleague replied, “It had to be done. I don’t expend energy unnecessarily.”

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14. From Fantasy to Impulse Action: Is This Reversible with Psychotherapy?

Williams, Arthur Hyatt Karnac Books ePub

When I was asked many years ago to give psychoanalytical psychotherapy to convicted prisoners serving prison sentences, I was impressed with the marked tendency in these men to move from fantasy to impulse and thence to action. This differed fundamentally from Julius Caesar’s “Veni, vidi, vici” in that the lack of thought and judgment that characterized the prisoner’s rush to action had not led to victory but to conviction and imprisonment. What was the main underlying mechanism?

Freud (1911b), in “Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning,” differentiated between those who rushed to action to unburden themselves of accretions of stimuli and those who could tolerate frustration. By stimuli he meant circumstances that burdened the individual with psychic pain. Those who are better able to bear the frustration of psychic pain for long enough perform a vital task, namely, that of reality testing. During reality testing the likely consequences of any action taken by them can be considered. In addition, two other things happen. One is the capacity to tolerate the pain; the other is that modifications of any subsequently chosen action will have had time to be thought out and tried out in fantasy. The enormous difference between the rush to action and the ability to wait cannot be overestimated.

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4. The Death Constellation (II)

Williams, Arthur Hyatt Karnac Books ePub

In 1956 capital punishment was suspended in England, except for certain kinds of murder. I was approached by the prison medical audiorities and asked to take on for psychotherapy first one, then, soon after, several more prisoners who had been convicted of murder and were serving life sentences. The object was to see whether, and how, the psychic state of prisoners serving life sentences could be helped. If, as was envisaged, many (if not most) of diem were deemed safe as far as further killings were concerned, they could then be assessed regarding the wisdom of parole. I was appointed as a part-time psychotherapist because I was—and am—a psychoanalyst, not despite it.

The first two lifers I saw had been selected because they were intelligent, verbally gifted, and, apart from the crime for which each had been convicted, not diffusely psychopadiic. Later, the selection of patients covered a wider spectrum of disturbance.

It turned out that mainly these prisoners were fairly ordinary persons, but they possessed wiuiin themselves a part that was quite capable of killing someone, enemy and/or persecutor. In the ear-lier referrals I saw, there was a good deal of remorse: I do not mean self-pity. There seemed to be little evasion of the truth, though later, as therapy proceeded, it was often found.

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6. The Nature of Aggression

Williams, Arthur Hyatt Karnac Books ePub

Aggression consists of the use of force to express feelings and to achieve aims. It is used to intimidate, to impress, to manipulate, and sometimes to subjugate other people and the environment and the various things contained in it. In former times the vanquished, whether other human beings or animals, were not necessarily killed but were enslaved so that they became subordinate factors and aids to achieve the further aims of the victor. Aggression is used for purposes of self-preservation and in the service of species preservation. It is used at times to save, rescue, and defend. These functions contrast markedly with the opposite functions mentioned above, namely, to dominate, to annihilate, or simply to seize and use. Aggression thus has a positive developmental function as well as a predatory function exercised for egotistic purposes, usually to the detriment of other people.

Pathological Aggression

These two aspects of aggression might be termed as normal parameters, but in addition to these there is a kind of aggression that from the first is essentially pathological. In this type of aggression, which may be characteristic for the particular individuals who use it as the habitual currency of their interpersonal relationships, there is violence and destructiveness beyond the need of the task in hand. Some of these people smolder sullenly for long periods of time only to burst out into flagrant aggressiveness in an episodic way for adequate or sometimes totally inadequate reasons. The important point is that the severity of the explosion into aggrievement gready exceeds the provocation that triggered it off. This suggests that something rather like a time bomb inside an aggressive kind of individual is so situated or anchored within the psyche that certain kinds of provocation can detonate it. Sometimes the detonating agent seems minimal and totally inadequate.

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