Jung At Heart blog

Ice Cream in the Afterlife

My former mother-in-law died almost 7 years ago.. She was 90 and died  just 6 weeks after her husband. Hers was a long life lived quite well She and I were not fond of one another. We thought the one thing we shared was love for her son and our children. But there is something else we shared -- a long history of being at odds with our bodies.

She was tiny -- barely 5 feet tall and her weight hovered around 100 pounds. But she was always anxious about food and eating and her body. I used to joke that she would have a psychotic episode if her weight went above 105 pounds but in hindsight I can see and feel how much that was not a joke. She was afraid to have ice cream in the house for fear she would eat it all. She never let herself really enjoy a meal in a restaurant -- her fears led her to always order dry broiled fish, salad with no dressing and vegetables with no sauce or butter. Food was her enemy and she dared not allow herself to enjoy it much for fear it would overwhelm her. Her appearance was everything to her. She could not even come down to breakfast without her full makeup and complement of jewelry on. She would not go out of the house in anything other than high heels. This necessitated surgery on her feet more than once because she would not give up the heels. 

Exchanging words...

"Exchanging words is the essence of psychotherapy." Nor Hall

When I meet with a new patient, I always have a slight anxiety before this new person arrives -- anxiety and also anticipation Will we "click"? What new doors will open through this person and our work -- because this process changes both of us, though not to the same degree. So there is that tingle of the new and unknown as I answer the door or respond to the call on Skype. And then, once in my office, we sit down and I ask, as i always do, "What brings you here today?" and we begin.

It is a curious process, therapy is. I have no visible tools. No questionnaires. No workbooks. No pills or potions. I bring with me over 35 years of sitting and listening in the same way plus my own life experience and a lot of reading. The journey is never the same with any two people. Which is why I never get tired of it, never weary of starting again with "What brings you here today".

When psychotherapy works, it is not magic. I go about my business, and I know how to attend to my work. I observe. I listen. I take in. I accept the person as he or she chooses to present in my office, with as little or as much as they disclose. I attempt to the best of my ability to bracket my own issues and unfinished business, my own insecurities, trusting myself to the moment and the occasion of our meeting.

Why depth psychotherapy?

Someone asked me recently if I really thought that longer term depth psychotherapy was really necessary. Necessary? I don't know that I can determine that for anyone other than myself, but I can say it is valuable for the person who wants to learn more about her dreams and how she came to where she is in her life, what forces are operative in her, understanding which may allow her a wider array of choices moving forward. 

Jung said, "Generally speaking, all the life which the parents could have lived, but of which they thwarted themselves for artificial motives, is passed on to the children in substitute form. That is to say, the children are driven unconsciously in a direction that is intended to compensate for everything that was left unfulfilled in the lives of their parents. Hence it is that excessively moral-minded parents have what are called "unmoral" children, or an irresponsible wastrel of a father has a son with a positively morbid amount of ambition, and so on."

For example, I remember all the time I was growing up the very clear sense that I was to go to college. Nothing was ever said about it, I just knew. My parents were both very bright people who had many of their own ambitions nipped in the bud when they married in their late teens and in the depths of the Depression. Neither of them attended college nor did either of them achieve the dreams of their youth nor did either of them do anything about that as they grew older and opportunity was greater. Their unmet desires to go to college, to be something were transmitted directly to me so that I never even questioned whether or not I wanted to go or that I would. Fortunately for me, this instance of parents' unfinished business is a benign one and one that served me well. But it is not always thus.

How Long?

People often ask me how long therapy should last. Usually I say it should last as long as it is working. And I often go on to say a lot more about that because no one can determine how long therapy goes on except a given patient and therapist working together to decide. Certainly managed care companies can't really know, though they can set arbitrary limits. 

I hate when site I liked disappears — today it is a site by Jean Hantman, someone I used to enjoy reading when there was an active listserv for psychoanalytic studies. She is on the psychoanalysis side of depth psychology, which means we have somewhat different notions about some things, but I always find her interesting reading and her ideas to be at least provocative. Here;s what she says about what is enough therapy:

You aren't finished therapy:

--if your love life isn't harmonious (if you want a love life).

--if you don't enjoy your work.

--if your children aren't doing well (if you have or want children).

--if something (besides genuine propriety) holds you back from saying whatever is on your mind.

One of these women is not like the others

IMG 3625

The photo is from the Lane Bryant site today. They are having a sale on underwear so I went to look. As I scrolled through, something jumped out at me -  while most of the models shown were like the one on the left, the heavier looking models were all shown without heads. 

Now showing fat women without heads is not a new phenomenon. You have seen her, or others like her, many times, the "headless fatty", a term coined by Charlotte Cooper in 2007. When journalists run stories on television and in print about the evils of obesity, there she is, a fat, usually a very fat woman on the street or the beach or in some other public place. In such stories fat people are almost without exception shown without heads. Why are they headless? Because anyone who looks like this would/should be ashamed to have her face show? Because it allows the viewer to see her as an object and not a person?  

We see photos all the time of people in public spaces such as athletic events, political rallies, or street scenes. But when the goal is to show a fat person, what we are shown is a person with no head.  Curious about this phenomenon, I contacted a photographer who had taken headless fatty photos used in a  newspaper. I asked him about this practice of omitting heads of fat people in news stories. He replied that it is a "sensitivity thing...Not showing heads gives the generic overweight person's look but is not showing, that X specifically, is a fat person. If there was a story about one specific person being fat, that would be different.”. Well who really is this sensitivity for? The fat person in the photo, who is deprived of her individuality by removing her head? She already knows she is fat as she lives with that reality every day. Or is it to allow the viewer to see that person as an object rather than a human being? Perform a Google image search using search terms like “obese” or “fat” or “fat person” and you will see among the images at least a few that you have seen before in newspapers and magazines. These familiar images show fat people, often in ill-fitting clothes that reveal their rolls of fat and make them look awkward. They are rarely shown participating in active movement or doing anything that might show grace or ease. What you see in the headless people are bodies out of control for there is no head, no brain to take charge and reign in appetite. The Headless Fatty is without voice, without mind, able only to demonstrate the assumed consequences of appetite and gluttony. 


New combination writing/personal growth group for writers of all abilities opening soon. Learn about and register for Writing From Inside Out here.

Writing our story

Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies-for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text-as into the world and into history—by her own movement.  – Helene Cixoux

Stories are how our ancestors wove the fabric of meaning and existence as they made their way in their lives. Telling your story helps you to explore yourself, your roots, and your journey through life. Think about taking out your notebook to begin. "One day, this is what happened..." can be a beginning. There are so many beginnings. "Once upon a time" is a powerful beginning. The beginning is the hardest part for most people. Whatever beginning you choose, whether you start with today or the day you were born or some other time is the beginning for your story. As you wind back and forth, from present to past, from who you are now to how you got here to where you are going, write the story you are living.

Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams and Reflections:

Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only “tell stories.” Whether or not the stories are “true” is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth.

The goal of all life, the end point, death, is what lies in front of us. In the third act of life it looms larger than it has before and is much more a part of consciousness. To be fully alive is to know that death lies ahead.

Between here and death, there is a lot of territory. Work to be done to deal with things left undone, to reconcile ourselves to our past, to seriously consider the story we have been living with an eye especially toward any changes we want to make in the remaining years.

It’s the relationship...

Many, maybe most people believe that therapists “do” something which makes patients feel better because it is hard to believe that it is the relationship between the therapist and the patient which is the healing factor.

If I go to the dentist because I have pain in my mouth and the dentist doesn't help, I likely will seek help elsewhere, and that seems reasonable. But I look to the dentist to *do* something to make me feel better. The dentist does not usually, at least in acute situations, require of me that I do more than be cooperative and hold my mouth open. But psychotherapy is a different thing altogether. Therapists do not perform procedures upon patients in order to relieve their suffering. We might sometimes wish we could and certainly patients wish we would, but it just isn't that way.

In any depth psychotherapy, the therapist does not tell the patient how to solve problems. The focus of treatment is exploration of the patient's psyche and habitual thought patterns. The goal of treatment is increased understanding of the sources of inner conflicts and emotional problems. This understanding is what we call insight. Now insight without action is pretty useless. But the therapist doesn't say to do this or that but instead might ask how this new understanding might be put into action in the patient's life.

Twitter, Trump and Fat Space

Over the weekend, after days of jabs and complaints  on Twitter about the news that was released following President. Trump’s recent physical, Jon Cooper, Chairman of the Democratic Coalition, called his 239,000 followers to tweet using the hashtag #MarALardass. By Monday morning the hashtag was at the top of the trending list on Twitter. Cooper’s followers enthusiastically embraced the hashtag and there followed more fat shaming, crude anti-fat humor than I could count. I and a number of others began to post responses to the worst of the fat bashing, only to be met with a chorus of justifications because of Trump’s history of lying and body shaming others. It was disheartening to see so many people whose ideas and views I mostly agree with post with such nasty glee about fat. Today a blogger and fat activist responded on Medium with “#MarALard*ss and the Left’s Fat Problem”. Please do read her post.

Fat is one of those things I can't talk about as if these issues do not effect me. In fact I must say I don't really trust someone who has never been fat yet claims expertise about what being fat is like and what the struggles are. So that lays one of my biases right out there. 

Baby It’s Cold Outside

It is a snowy day here in Maine. In the northern part of the state they had record lows — one town was at -24F this morning and that is air temperature, not wind chills. Right now it is above zero at a not exactly balmy 24F and big fluffy snowflakes are floating about.

Inside I look at this and suddenly it doesn’t seem so wintery!


© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.