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Psychological Projection – When fiction becomes fact

Freud exhibition

Freud exhibition by Amira Elwakil via Flickr

If we’re all projecting onto one another, where is true, authentic relationship? – Lee Beach

Lee Beach was a professor at Trent university. He taught psychology but was also interested in English literature. Dr. Beach’s reading list contained just about every neurotic in literary history, categorized by the psychoanalytic system of the day.

It was a great course. A bright moment amidst a sea of competent but sometimes superficial psych professors.

Two types of projection

Projection is an old idea, alluded to in religious scripture, literature and philosophy since ancient times.¹

Sigmund Freud conceptualized projection within a systematic theory of mind. Freud had a knack for doing that. Many of his ideas had been around for centuries. He was just the most successful in naming and fitting concepts into a larger theory of his own making.

Signboard of Freud Museaum

Signboard of Freud Museum – Wikipedia

Projection for Freud has a dual meaning. The most popular use in everyday speech refers to attributing our good and bad qualities to someone else. We “project” our own overlooked qualities onto another.

If it’s Tiger Woods, for example, some might project their own impulses toward infidelity onto him. Woods becomes a bogey man and the projecting person feels self-righteous and justified.

Likewise, a good deal of Trump detractors seem to project their own undesirable, unconscious shadow onto the American president.

That sexist, unstable Man is not a role model nor fit for office!

On the other hand, Trump supporters may project their own desire for prosperity onto equally simplistic images, tropes and slogans.

Make America Great Again!

The second meaning of projection is similar to the first, but more disturbing. Here a person believes that what is going on inside their head is outwardly real. For them a dream or hallucination becomes reality.²

Gulácsy, Lajos – The Madman and the Soldier (1909-11) via Wikipedia

A tragic aspect of the second type of projection is found in the violent psychotic who cannot distinguish between their turbulent inner fantasy world and personal acts of violence.

These people walk around in a kind of waking dream state, not realizing they’re harming real people as they live out their twisted desires, defend against non-existent threats or blindly obey inner voices.³

Positive aspects

Projection is often perceived as negative. Freud, in a letter to his disciple Carl Jung, jokes that one should not be “led like Faust see a Helen [of Troy] in every woman.”4

However, projection can be positive. When projection involves our first love, we tend to project our own idealized hopes and aspirations onto another. Love is blind, the old saying goes. Bodily chemicals rush through our system and our love object becomes a goddess or god. We are supremely happy, even exhilarated. For a while, anyhow. Once reality kicks in our dreamy cloud-like romance usually comes tumbling down.

Jung and the mythographer Jospeh Campbell also believe projection can be positive, providing the activated material is mutually beneficial and facilitates What Jungians call the individuation process.

John Duncan – Tristan & Isolde via Wikipedia

A (usually) young man and woman under the spell of projection reenact the archetypal contents symbolized in tales like Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolte. Here we see the perfect, idealized other in our lover’s eyes—again, for a while.

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Like professor Beach, some ask if we can ever entirely rid ourselves of our projections. If not, human relationships are mostly mutually agreed upon fantasies or temporary infatuations.

Thinkers like Erich Fromm disagree. They say our ability to love makes us uniquely human. For Fromm, reducing this divine mystery to a psychoanalytic or philosophical dynamic does great injustice to the beauty and sanctity of love.

Perhaps the goal is to progressively move beyond projection to develop more profound relationships, realizing that we will always fall short of true, selfless love.

¹ See my highlights at LINER for more. http://lnr.li/0zfjV/

² (a) For some, dreams and hallucinations are also real. This issue is touched on elsewhere at earthpages.ca. (b) Charles Rycroft says projection literally means “throwing in front of oneself” and both types of projection are one of Freud’s defense mechanisms. See Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 125-126.

³ These voices are imaginary or demonic, depending on your belief system.

4 Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, New York: Vintage, 1965, p. 363.

Related » Eros, Agape, Artificial Intelligence, Book of Job, Denial, Diamond Sutra, Philia, Symbol, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Transference, Witch, Witches Hammer

 My Conversation with Mary Roach (marginalrevolution.com)

 What are your desert island philosophy essays? (ask.metafilter.com)

 Maryland Democrat will speak to group which says Trump is mentally unfit for office (hotair.com)

 Untangling the Complicated, Controversial Legacy of Sigmund Freud (thecut.com)

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Freud’s Pleasure Principle – Missing the point of spiritual healing?

Sky Diving Sigmund Freud

Archie McPhee Sky Diving Sigmund Freud via Flickr

Sigmund Freud believed that human beings begin life by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This “pleasure principle” initially takes the form of relieving instinctual tensions generated by the id through activity or hallucination.

When one grows older and the ego matures, one normally advances to the reality principle, where gratification through childish activity or hallucination is replaced by socially acceptable behaviors.

This new behavioral repertoire is, ideally, appropriate to the various demands of the entire inner and outer environment.

But for Freud it’s not a happy solution. Freud had a pessimistic outlook, seeing mankind as the “walking wounded”—that is, forever saddled with psychological complexes never fully resolved nor surpassed.

Had his model included the idea of grace, Freud might have appreciated how God can touch us and heal our wounds. But as an atheist, Freud’s model is severely limited and limiting.

Elton John was probably talking about romantic love in his classic song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” But even so, God doesn’t always beam us directly from above. God’s love often comes through other people, by way of friendliness, physicality, intercession or some combination of thereof.

But these cuts I have they need love to help them heal¹

When I was young and just beginning university I found Freud liberating. Here was a guy who had seemingly opened the door to the unconscious. To my youthful self, Freud had given us a map to make sense of our anxiety, shame and pain. But soon after, upon discovering Carl Jung, and having experiences better explained – at that time – within a Jungian framework, Freud’s model suddenly seemed sort of small and dark.²

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt via Wikipedia

I remember talking with a guy in a New Age bookstore about the two theorists as I was purchasing books by Jung for my PhD studies, upon which I was just embarking. The bookstore guy summed up my feelings nicely:

Freud will drive you crazy. Jung won’t.

I laughed and went my merry way.

Now, many years later, I’ve come to appreciate Freud again, but within the context of acknowledging a pioneer who, for whatever reasons, could only go so far.³

And Jung, well, as I’ve said elsewhere, to me he seems like a kind of kindergarten mystic. But this is not the place to elaborate on that!

¹ https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/dontletthesungodownonme.html

² I’ve taken several courses dealing with Freud. The best one-volume summary I’ve encountered is Charles Rycroft’s A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977. This entry owes much to that, especially p. 121.

³ For more, here are a few highlights I made with LINER.

Pleasure principle (psychology) – Wikipedia

_____

Epicurus in the ancient world, and Jeremy Bentham in the modern, laid stress upon the role of pleasure in directing human life, the latter stating: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure”. Freud’s most immediate predecessor and guide however was Gustav Theodor Fechner and his psychophysics.

_____

Freud contrasted the pleasure principle with the counterpart concept of the reality principle

_____

Maturity is learning to endure the pain of deferred gratification.

_____

Freud argued that “an ego thus educated has become ‘reasonable’

_____

In his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, published in 1921, Freud considered the possibility of “the operation of tendencies beyond the pleasure principle, that is, of tendencies more primitive than it and independent of it”. Through an examination the role of repetition compulsion in potentially over-riding the pleasure principle, Freud ultimately developed his opposition between Libido, the life instinct, and the death drive.

 


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Freudian Slips – Glitch in the machine or key to countless possibilities?

FC&P New York Cocktail Party shoot: Is he envious of my ciggie?

Alexandra Xubersnak – FC&P New York Cocktail Party shoot: Is he envious of my ciggie? via Flickr

Parapraxis, the Freudian Slip

Parapraxis is an obscure word for a pretty common idea—The Freudian Slip. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was the first to try to analytically explain its occurrence.

In the Psychopathology of Everyday Life Freud says parapraxes are unintentional acts resulting from an unconscious wish, desire, attitude or thought.¹

This could involve forgetting names and sequences of words. But classic examples of parapraxes are slips of the pen or tongue.

Imagine a guest at a cocktail party accidentally saying, “I love your horse” instead of, “I love your house.”

For Freud, the hidden, unconscious meaning of the slip points to the person making it. From the above, the slip-maker could be an avid equestrian or, more in line with Freudian thinking, an intensely sexual person (the horse being a traditional symbol of virility).

miss_millions – my freudian slip(pers) via Flickr

Along with aggression, Freud attributed tremendous significance to the libido. The example for “Freudian slip” given at Wikipedia is even more directly related to sex, which again, for Freud is one of two innate drives.²

In general use, the term ‘Freudian slip’ has been debased to refer to any accidental slips of the tongue. Thus many examples are found in explanations and dictionaries which do not strictly fit the psychoanalytic definition.

For example: She: ‘What would you like—bread and butter, or cake?’ He: ‘Bed and butter.’³

Jung’s Challenge

Freud’s best student C. G. Jung was also keen on studying parapraxes. Becoming a luminary in his own right, Jung tried to explain parapraxes in relation to the shadow.

Jung’s idea of the shadow is both personal and collective. An irruption of shadow contents into daytime life could arise from an unresolved personal complex, the greater forces of the collective unconscious or some combination of the two.

Contrary to Freud’s theory, Jung says that slips do not necessarily point to the person making them. Not exclusively, at any rate. Jung believes that slips can involve an entire situation among several or many people, near or possibly across distance and time.

Freud recognizes the importance of others in the formation of the unconscious. But unlike Jung, he doesn’t talk about instantaneous, thematic connections across distance and time. So Jung arguably prefigures today’s transpersonal psychology, whereas Freud does not. In fact, Freud’s private letters ridicule Jung’s interest in parapsychology.4

Mankind the Information Processor

Like most things in life, there are even more alternative explanations for Freudian slips.

For many secular people accepting cognitive psychology5 there is no need for a personal unconscious or greater, transpersonal connectivity. A purely cognitive theory of parapraxes goes like this:

In contrast to psychoanalytic theorists, cognitive psychologists say that linguistic slips can represent a sequencing conflict in grammar production. From this perspective, slips may be due to cognitive underspecification that can take a variety of forms – inattention, incomplete sense data or insufficient knowledge. Secondly, they may be due to the existence of some locally appropriate response pattern that is strongly primed by its prior usage, recent activation or emotional change or by the situation calling conditions.

Some sentences are just susceptible to the process of banalisation: the replacement of archaic or unusual expressions with forms that are in more common use. In other words, the errors were due to strong habit substitution.6

Image via Wikipedia

Meaning, Wisdom and Everlasting Life

There may well be some truth to this. But cognitive psychologists tend to overlook the possibility that aspects of secular, holistic and theological explanations may actually work best together.7

Many researchers dismiss slips, mistakes and accidents as flukes brought on by stress, distraction, patterning, sleep deprivation or malnutrition. But people like Dr. Charles Brenner believe that parapraxes have profound implications:

In the mind, as in physical nature around us, nothing happens by chance, or in a random way.8

Perhaps one way of differentiating attitudes toward parapraxes is to ask whether we learn something of value from them. Are they just glitches in the machine or is something greater going on?

For me, thinkers like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett move through life like horses with blinkers. They see themselves and their world as nothing more than a complex outcome of biochemical processes originally formed by chance. Not unlike robots equipped with sophisticated AI, Dawkins and Dennett may learn how to avoid the next bump in the road after stumbling over the first one. And they may learn how to maximize pleasurable activity.

The full human being, however, is so much more. From life’s lessons we acquire enhanced spiritual meaning and wisdom, which far surpasses the mere avoidance of stumbling blocks and pursuit of ephemeral pleasures.

Image via Wikipedia

¹ Sigmund Freud, Psychopathology of Everyday Life. London: Penguin, 2002 [1901].

² Freud postulates innate drives for sex and aggression, which later came to include Sabina Spielrein‘s thanatos, or death instinct.

³ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip

4 See my PhD, p. 283-284.

5 Usually seen as somewhat flimsy science, even among scientists.

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip

Just as Intelligent Design attempts to fuse Darwinism and Creationism, several explanations may better approximate reality than only one.

Charles Brenner, M.D. Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis. New York: Anchor Books, 1957, p.2. This worldview matches my own and perhaps the meaning of the ancient Greek word Kairos – things happening “at the right time.” Kairos in the New Testament (composed in Greek) means at “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos

Related » Parapraxes, Accidents and Necessary Mistakes

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 6 Marketing Insights Pulled Straight from a Psych.101 Textbook (grasshopper.com)

 Three lessons to fix America and prevent global decline (scroll.in)

 Doctor’s Diary: How to treat nightmares (telegraph.co.uk)


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Reversal – Beyond the clever machine

300-2In psychoanalytic theory, reversal is a Freudian defense mechanism.

A broader idea than turning against the self, reversal takes place when the ego converts an instinctual impulse into behavior appearing as its opposite. The miser becomes a philanthropist, the pervert a prude, the hater a lover.¹

Remember that Freud bases most everything on the instincts of life (eros) and death (thanatos). So reversal involves aspects and combinations of both waking and dreaming life:

The expression reversal into the opposite refers to the transformation of an idea, a representation, a logical figure, a dream image, a symptom, an affect, or the like into its opposite.²

Freud’s entire model is predicated on the belief that the psyche behaves like a clever machine or, in more contemporary terms, an adaptable computer program. For Freud, a variety of internal attempts are made to reduce anxiety and increase overall functioning. Sometimes the “program” works well. Other times it gets buggy (neurosis) or caught in a downward spiral where the machine crashes (psychosis), requiring a reboot.

Reversal is just another example of the clever machine trying to make things optimal, given its paradoxical life/death nature.

My main critique of this view is that all of the regulating is done within the machine. Even dreams that play with, combine or synthesize different moments in space-time are seen as originating from within the neurological system (mainly brain processes).

Compare this view to most religious and mystical traditions and it seems to fall short. A recent example, given the time of year, is how the three wise men in the New Testament are told in a dream to not return to King Herod³ after they find the Christ child. So the three wise men go home another way (Matt 2:12).

Granted, this is a religious story and we have no way of publicly demonstrating its truth. But it does suggest possibilities: Dreams could come from God or otherworldly agents beyond the clever machine. The brain could simply be reading a story, just like a media player plays a video or a radio plays a station. Not many would say a video player actually directs a movie or the radio writes the tune.4

Being a materialist atheist, Freud would not have seriously considered this perspective. And  I think that this, despite his obvious genius, was his greatest shortcoming.

¹ We see this with some religious people who talk about love but underneath harbor hateful, violent thoughts that sometimes erupt into deadly action.

² See http://www.encyclopedia.com/psychology/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/reversal-opposite

³ Beforehand, Herod lies to the wise men, saying he wants to honor instead of kill Jesus.

Freud’s student Carl Jung mentions the latter analogy, well before the idea of “channeling” becomes mainstream.


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Repression – Freud’s master defense mechanism

defend-444565_640We’ve probably all heard the psychological term “repressed” without stopping to think where it comes from.

The idea of repression usually turns up in sentences like, That bible thumper is so repressed, he can’t get it on with anyone. And in other insinuations like Billy Joel’s lyric, You Catholic girls start much too late.¹

I’ll talk about these examples a bit later but first, let’s understand what Freud meant by the idea of repression.

Freud believed that repression is widespread, leading many Freudian psychoanalysts to call it the “master” defense mechanism. Repression apparently occurs when anxiety provoking impulses or ideas are banished to the unconscious by the ego or superego.

  • Primary repression takes place when instinctual impulses are blocked before they reach consciousness.
  • Secondary repression occurs when camouflaged versions of an initial impulse are relegated to the unconscious.

An example of secondary repression would be a respected religious figure’s inability to remember a dream image of himself as an axe-murderer. The image generally would represent thanatos or the death instinct and, specifically, a desire to depose a threatening object (Freud’s use of ‘object’ includes other people). This violent desire is inconsistent with the dreamer’s conscious self-image, so the dream image is repressed.

Repression can be healthy when preventing the ego from being overwhelmed by anxiety. But it becomes unhealthy when fears and neuroses are never dealt with. Unresolved neuroses contribute to psychological rigidity and, in some instances, may impair overall functioning and quality of life.²

Image via Tumblr

Image via Tumblr

That’s the theory in a nutshell. With regard to sexuality, from a theological standpoint it’s hard to know when someone is merely repressed or if they’ve been called to celibacy, a perspective Freud could not understand. Also, some geneticists and physiologists theorize that people with low to non-existent sex drives are simply put together differently.

So the next time you hear a sexual joke about that “frigid” so-and-so, maybe think again. For all we know, the so-called “repressed” person might simply be different from most and possibly operating on a level that many are too conventional to appreciate.³

¹ Billy Joel, “Only The Good Die Young” on the album The Stranger.

² Freud began as a neurologist before founding psychoanalysis. For some decades supposedly “scientific” psychologists generally discredited his views but more recently neurology is turning its gaze back to the idea of repression and other Freudian concepts. This time, instead of flatly debunking Freud’s ideas, some researchers find them at least partly compatible with modern research. See:

³ Andy Warhol and saints from different world religions come to mind.


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Freud’s Reality Principle (German: Realitätsprinzip) – Is that all there is?

Hanging man artwork, in Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In Sigmund Freud‘s personality theory, the reality principle is a learned psychological function that seeks to gratify instinctual desires (id) through adaptation to the external world.

The reality principle exists in a state of tension with the innate pleasure principle. The instinctual id always wants instant gratification. The rest of the psyche (ego, superego) limits and directs the id so that its incessant demands are appropriately expressed, both personally and socially.¹

That is Freud’s theory of normality. Sadly, however, we often we hear in the news instances – and lawsuits – where the id reigns supreme by eclipsing or habitually overshadowing the rest of the psyche. And if an imbalanced person happens to have power over others, say in the workplace, sometimes they can get away with abusive behavior and, perhaps, other crimes for quite some time before victims come forward.

I have great respect for Freud as a true pioneer in trying to systematize the psyche. However, my main critique of Freud’s view has to do with his understanding of external “reality.” For Freud, external reality is limited to the material and the social. Freud was openly hostile to religion and religious ideas. This hostility put him at odds with his star pupil, Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology also became a leading force, especially among writers, artists and depth psychologists interested in more than just sex, aggression, secular life (Freud’s eros) and death (thanatos).

¹ I took a memorable first-year humanities course at York University directed by a Freudian analyst, Dr. Don Carveth. Although soaking up the professor’s wise words as far back as the early 80s, I remember the general theory very well. Reading Kendra Cherry’s excellent summary also helped to flesh out this short entry » https://www.verywell.com/what-is-the-reality-principle-2795801, as did Charles Rycroft’s clear and concise » https://www.amazon.com/Critical-Dictionary-Psychoanalysis-Penguin-Reference/dp/0140513108


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Regression – Childish vs. Contemplative

coloring time

Jenn Vargas – coloring time via Flickr

In Freudian psychoanalytic theory regression is a defense mechanism in which the ego partially or fully revisits an earlier phase of libidinal¹ development.

This process is generally viewed as a backward step, one brought on by unresolved anxiety that challenges ‘normal’ functioning. It is also maladaptive because the person re-experiences anxiety clustered around an infantile stage of psychological development. In very real sense, one becomes fixated at an earlier developmental stage and aspects of the world are interpreted though the lens of an anxious child.

Not surprisingly, regression can contribute to negative personality characteristics. In the extreme, we get the paranoid, the grandiose, the manipulator, the pathological liar, or some combination thereof.

That’s the down side of regression.

However, consciously chosen regression – for example, creative play, reading childhood books or listening to old records – need not be maladaptive. Returning to earlier pastimes and pleasures in a controlled way can be therapeutic. It helps to integrate the total personality and possibly leads to increased awareness, experience and wisdom.

As a personal example, one of my favorite controlled regressions is listening to music from different periods of my childhood and young teen years. When I listen to my old favorites now, it’s almost like I psychologically ‘travel’ and connect with aspects of my former self. This can lead to an increased appreciation of where I was at within a given era. But this isn’t something I do on a regular schedule. For me, the right time to revisit and reflect simply arises, and discerning that time is more an art than a science. And when the time isn’t right, old tunes just sound like old tunes… stale, small and uninspiring.²

Hanging man artwork, in Husova street, central Prague, Czech Republic, a work by David Cerny intended to depict Sigmund Freud.

In a nutshell, the main difference between healthy and unhealthy regression depends on whether one

  • consciously participates in opportunities to remember, feel and reflect

or

  • unconsciously plays out old neuroses, over and over like a broken record

I touched on this in a piece influenced by the late, great sociologist Max Weber, “Childish or Childlike?

But not all childish people are necessarily fixated to something from early childhood. This is just a theory. Some believers in reincarnation, for instance, believe that we can be fixated to trauma occurring in past lives. On the other hand, geneticists would probably say that some people are simply born sensitive or anxious, and their anxiety and the resulting distortion of ‘reality’ has little or nothing to do with early childhood or past lives. Meanwhile, philosophers ask “what is reality?”

My point is that we should consider various perspectives but never get caught up in a single one, because that’s a kind of fixation too.

¹ Libido commonly refers to sexual energy or the supposed “sex drive” but for Sigmund Freud and his followers, the meaning is far more nuanced. See

See also

² Or as The Bard put it, “stale, flat and unprofitable.”