Father Hunger

This excerpt from “Under Saturn’s Shadow” by analytic psychologist James Hollis speaks to me anyway – I’ve been working on the “deficit” he speaks of much of my life…

All imagos are two-sided. If an image has a depth dimension it must express the dual character of reality. Acknowledging and maintaining the tension of opposites is a fundamental Jungian tenet. One-sidedness begets distortion, perversion, neurosis. Thus, for example, the archetype of the mother expresses the dual aspect of nature, that which giveth and that which taketh away. The Great Mother represents a life force that both begets and destroys, gestates and annihilates. As Dylan Thomas so succinctly put it, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower… is my destroyer”.

So , too, the archetype of the father is dual. Father gives life, light, energy – no wonder he has historically been associated with the sun. But father can also blast, wither, crush. The preliterate mind, playing with the image of the sun as centre of energy, the vitalising principle, evolved God the Father who energises and fecundates the feminine earth. Patriarchy replaced the worship of Earth Mother with that of Sky Father. (The halo associated with Christ is a relic of the solar aura of the Father even as the serpent associated with the maternal deities is spurned by the emergent patriarchy in Genesis.). When the experience of the father is positive, the child experiences strength, support, the energising of his own resources and modelling in the outer world. When the experience of the father is negative, the fragile psyche is crushed.

To use a modern metaphor, the child’s psyche is a set of potentialities, a data base to be shaped by the affirmation and modelling of the parents. Through his mother he may experience the world as a nurturing and protective environment. From father he may receive the empowerment to enter the world and to fight for his life.  Of course mother can help empower him and father nurture him, but archetypally they play specific roles. Mother also actives the mother complex, which must be transformed and transcended lest he remain childlike and dependent. He must leave the world of the mother and enter that of the fathers. All mythology is a playing out of some variant of two great mythologems. The mythology  of the Great Mother is the great circle, the death-rebirth motif, the Eternal Return. The mythology of the Sky Father is the quest, the journey from innocence to experience, from dark to light, from home to horizon. Each mythic cycle must be served.

When the parental imagos in the child are inadequately modelled by the parents, he carries the deficit throughout his life…

Existence beyond time and space

“..Nietzsche stated that God was dead, Jung rediscovered God as a guiding principle of unity within the depths of the individual psyche. Jung’s belief in the ultimate unity of all existence led him to suppose that physical and mental, as well as spatial and temporal, were human categories imposed upon reality which did not accurately reflect it. Human beings, because of the nature of thought and language, are bound to categorize things as opposites; that is, all human statements are antinomian. But these opposites may, in fact, be facets of the same reality. Through his collaboration with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jung came to believe that the physicist’s investigation of matter and the psychologists’s investigation of the depths of the psyche might be different ways of approaching the same underlying reality. It had long been recognized that analytical psychology could never be wholly “objective,” since the observer was bound to exert an effect on what he was observing by the fact of paying it attention. But the same point had also been reached in modern physics. At the subatomic level, it was recognized that it was impossible to determine a particle’s momentum and its velocity at the same time. Moreover, the consituents of matter could be considered to behave as waves or particles, depending on the choice of the observer. Physicists came to realise that it was possible to look at one and the same event through two different frames of reference which, though mutually exclusive, were nevertheless complementary. The Principle of Complementarity, which became a cornerstone of modern physics, could also be applied to the mind-body problem. Perhaps mind and body were simply different aspects of a single reality as viewed through different frames of reference.”

 

Anthony Storr, The Essential Jung: Selected Writings

The Psychopathology of Everyday Nationalism

Considered and thought provoking article from Jock Encombe…psychologist and psychotherapist living in Edinburgh in these interesting times..

“In his groundbreaking 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’, Freud introduced the world to the ways in which the unconscious intrudes upon our superficially rational lives.  100 years on his ideas are now embedded in how we try to understand reality.  It is curious, therefore, that there has been so little examination of the nationalistic psychology that underpins the Yes campaign.  There are perhaps two main reasons for this. Firstly the very use of the word ‘Yes’ has given it the advantage of positive unconscious bias.  A No vote really does feel more negative.  And secondly, ably served by its deniable cybernat shock troops, the Yes campaign has played a skillful and aggressive hand in accusing Better Together supporters of various thought crimes.  Not believing in Scotland or the Scottish people. Not having ‘Scottish’ left of centre values.  Not believing in social justice.  Being in effect bourgeois, fearful and selfish.  There have even been SNP posters that suggest voting for Better Together equals supporting child poverty. The result of this is a powerful combination of intimidation and sentimentality that has made many Better Together supporters nervous about putting their heads above the parapet.

Psychotherapy teaches us that when people are attracted to visions of a perfect future and then become aggressive towards people who do not buy into their fantasy, they are in denial about some aspect of themselves.  So what, therefore, might a psychological understanding of the appeal of Scottish nationalism look like?

From a broad historical perspective there are many episodes in Scottish history that have inflicted trauma on our collective psyche: The Jacobite rebellion. The Darien Venture. The Act of Union. The clearances.  The impact of rapid, massive industrialisation and de-industrialisation (much more than any other European country experienced). The sectarianism that continues to scar the West of Scotland. The humiliating collapse of our banking industry.

When a patient comes to therapy with a similar personal history, an underlying pattern of narcissism and magical thinking is often revealed as the psychological process by which they have learnt to cope with their experiences.   The process works by seeking to avoid unbearable feelings of worthlessness by either angrily projecting them onto others (‘You don’t believe in Scotland’), or by escaping into grandiose fantasies of wholeness and perfection (‘Independence will make us the wealthiest small country in the world’).   While providing temporary relief, however, magical thinking is ultimately doomed to fail.  The return to reality is always painful and often destructive.  Furthermore it is a pattern of behaviour which, if the underlying psychological hard work of acquiring self-knowledge is not undertaken, is destined to repeat itself.  It is perhaps worth noting that middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable to these kinds of behaviour.

The cataclysmic collapse of RBS – which ensnared many of its employees and shareholders in its inflated vision of world domination – is a vivid example of the dangers of narcissism that has led to shame and economic misery for millions of people.  It is interesting to note that George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS who notoriously recruited Fred Goodwin as his successor, has long been a Yes supporter.  While Alex Salmond was of course also employed there as an economist in the 1980s.  Another interesting parallel is between Goodwin’s ‘Make it Happen’ slogan and Salmond’s similarly vague and aspirational ‘this is our moment’ language.

While imaginative fantasy can have a psychopathological dimension it is of course also the raw material of creative work. This explains the appeal of independence to many of Scotland’s artists.  Imagination alone, however, will not provide the economic stability or jobs without which any kind of sustainable, agreeable national life is possible. Or without which child poverty has any chance of being alleviated.  We should not forget, either, that many of the least attractive nationalistic figures in history were skilful weavers of propaganda and romance.  Or that dangerous ideologies have always found artistic support. The quasi-racist attack by Alasdair Gray on Vicky Featherstone, the English founder of the National Theatre of Scotland, is one example of this.  There is a tone of romantic totalitarianism to much of the Yes language, a kind of hectoring misty-eyed kitsch that needs challenging.  As Milan Kundera observed in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’:

 “Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions.”

The great British psychotherapist Donald Winnicott believed that to live happily and well we need sufficient psychological maturity to accept the messy ‘good enough’ nature of relationships and life. The Union is by no means perfect but it is certainly good enough – and with the enhancements of further devolution is likely to get better.  Writing in the 1930s Winnicott also believed that such a realistic and mature approach to life, in time, would always overcome the seductive pull of nationalistic and totalitarian ideologies.

Being part of something that provides security and stability, for all its imperfections, is surely a wiser choice than gambling on an outcome that carries such a high risk of division and regret?

For the sake of balance it is necessary to concede that some aspects of the psychology of Better Together can also be legitimately criticised.  As can the negativity of some of its campaign tactics.  But the need for balance should not obscure the central point that, in Orwell’s words, “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception” – or that many of the SNP’s tactics have created a climate of fear and deception in Scotland.

Beyond the macro-economic arguments there are important questions to be answered about some of the SNP Government’s other activities:  The frightening centralisation and undemocratic arming of our police force. The politicisation of our Civil Service. The harrying of business leaders and other public figures who oppose independence.  What we need now, therefore, is less sentimentality and more clear thinking.  All of us who have a vote, or the opportunity to influence people who have one, need to ensure that realism and generosity of spirit prevail over illusion and intimidation.”

Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.

Atheism’s empty tomb

Check out this week’s Spectator. Atheism’s empty tomb. “new atheists are now hitting the intellectual buffers. The problem that confronts them is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots…A.C Grayling.. reveals a frankly dishonest account of intellectual history.. their unattractive polemics have surely helped to push some semi-Christians off the fence, onto the faithful side – including A.N. Wilson and Diarmaid MacCulloch”.

.. and me. much, perhaps most, new atheism is dishonest and manipulative. I’m particularly struck by Dawkins’ misrepresentation of evolutionary science. (Read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).  I have often wondered what a professional psychoanalyst would make of the motivation of the atheist evangelists.  (Something, perhaps to do with killing your father?)..