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16. Disaster Anxiety

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

The sense of danger permeates life. Our joys are threaded over dread of catastrophe, Perhaps we ought to acknowledge how fearful we are about life’s dangers by coining some generic term to make the fearful aspect of self explicit. In this chapter I use the term disaster anxiety as a loose marker, to make communication a little easier.

Freud and other psychoanalysts catalogue a host of disaster anxieties: birth anxiety, separation anxiety, abandonment-intrusion anxiety, incest and castration anxiety, annihilation and death anxiety, to name the most famous. Existential psychology subsumes Freudian anxieties under death anxiety, but emphasizes that growth itself is an anxious business. To grow or not to grow, the battle with the status quo or habit or what one is used to is growth anxiety.

There is free-floating disaster anxiety and free-floating growth anxiety. We are anxious about taking the next step. We might fall off the end of the universe. The recent news report of a New Jersey child sinking into a hole in the ground opening out of nowhere claimed so much attention, partly, because it fits our intimate dread of making the wrong move without knowing it and paying an unfathomable price. The child rushed along in his own energy flow, but the ground could not support him.

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5. Feeling normal

Michael Eigen Karnac Books ePub

“TW “Tormal is what is there”, writes Winnicott (1989, p. 270) I ^L I of the baby at the beginning of life. “The baby tends to JL ^1 assume that what is there is normal/’ A deformed baby or child may not experience deformity for some time. It may have a more or less prolonged period before awareness of deformity sets in (and this is so whether deformity resides in self or in the parents). Eventually, the baby or child makes comparisons or reads itself through the eyes of others who see deformity. It begins to feel the impact of attitudes towards deformity (especially, at first, the attitudes of loved ones and care-takers) and feels the gap between inner self and external standards.

Thus Winnicott posits a period of feeling normal prior to an awareness of deformity, a “primary normalcy” (my term) subject to “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. For Winnicott, the sense of primary normalcy is contingent on being met by parental acceptance and love without sanctions. Winnicott even suggests that primary, unconditional love is expressed physiologically through the care the foetus receives in the womb. He posits a link between how the new-born is held by the emotional life of the parents and the support and acceptance that pervade the womb before birth. Emotional and somatic living are interwoven from the outset.

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CHAPTER THREE: Incommunicado core and boundless supporting unknown

Eigen, Michael Karnac Books ePub

A woman patient learnt I was seriously ill and one afternoon said, “I want to have sex with you. I want to know you. I want our incommunicado cores, our unknowns, to know each other.”

It is hard to convey the full feeling and I do not remember everything exactly. It had to do with experiencing everything, nothing held back, all giving. A full “interpenetrating harmonious mix-up”, but more. For a profound cognition-a deep, total knowing-was part of the mix. As if all would be involved, given, known. The unknown would be known, a known unknown. Somehow, knowing was an essential, implicit part of this unknown, the incommunicado core. Unknown to unknown, core to core. Swept up into and as everything. Everything itself.

Of course, she knew this could not happen. We would not do this; we would not hurt those close to us this way. She told me how she would “act out” sexually when she was young. Sex as a way of asserting self, tasting life, not missing anything. She had come a long way to be able to have and express her longing with me and for us to have the feel of it, to have the spirit of it.She feared criticism. Someone would misunderstand and push her back on herself: rejection. Always the residue of being bad, that feelings that want life and are life are bad, and that she is bad for having them. Perhaps, too, she wanted to heal me. We would have this wonderful life experience and it would make a difference to both of us. It would be a moment of fulfilment, a trueness. That this would heal me was a hope, a wish, a fantasy, a caring, a feeling inside. Now, shared feeling.

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Chapter One: Day 1

Eigen, Michael Karnac Books ePub


Day 1

Morning session: Bion's nakedness, the emotional core
of the dream, on-off thinking

This morning we're doing a little bit of Bion. I asked Jae [Jaehoon Lee, founder of the Seoul Object Relations Institute] to let you know I was going to work on excerpts from some pages (226–241) of Bion's book, Cogitations. How many people read that? Not too many. How many people did not read it?

Okay, so not too many people read it. I will have to be the cow that chews her cud, digest it for you like a mother bird, that digests the worm for the baby bird. We'll try to do that.

Bion is of course very difficult to read. He's also very naked; he's a very naked soul. One reason he's so hard to read is because he's so naked. The pain is so excruciating. And he doesn't flinch from it. He goes into it and into it. It's very hard to stay with it. But he finds some beautiful things along the way. There can be a very close connection between pain and beauty. He said some very beautiful things and I would like to share some of them with you today, both the beautiful and painful aspects of things he said on these pages. (For more on pain and beauty, see “Tears of Pain and Beauty: Mixed Voices” in Contact With the Depths, 2011).

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CHAPTER THREE: I don’t know

Eigen, Michael Karnac Books ePub

My purpose in writing this chapter is to dignify and celebrate the phrase, I don’t know. It has a long, rich cultural heritage. Yet, in political practice and everyday life, it often is denigrated, as if those who seek or hold power, whether in family, work, or politics, are phobic about not knowing. They fear that appearing not to know would compromise their position and precipitate a slide down the ladder of esteem.

We are urged, from school on, not to be ashamed of not knowing. We are told that not knowing makes learning possible, part of the process of getting to know. Yet, few of us escape childhood without being shamed for not knowing. I doubt many go through school without many kinds of humiliation, not least involving damage to fear of not knowing.

We learn early to cover up deficits. An illiterate delinquent may hide his incapacity with increased bravado and destructive acts. It is a funny kind of learning, making believe we know more or are better, stronger or more able than we know we are. I remember volunteering to tie someone’s shoelace in kindergarten, although I did not know how. The teacher treated me rather well, but the event stuck like glue in my mind. I wondered over many years why I had the need to do that. I knew I could not tie the shoe. Yet, I needed to seem as if I did, even though the result must be failure. I was caught between fantasy and reality, hung by my own mind.

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