I noticed the other day a help wanted ad for a “behavioral health specialist” — it makes as much sense as that car in the middle of the field. Back in the old days, when I was at the beginning of learning to do what I do, there was no such thing as a “behavioral health specialist” nor a “behavioral health center”. We aspired to be psychologists and psychotherapists and to work in mental health clinics or in private practice. In the years since the advent of managed care, “psychology” and “psychotherapy” have fallen out of favor for more corporate and scientific sounding terms like “behavioral science” and “behavioral health specialist”. Think about it — these terms call up notions of scientific specificity.
Now I don’t know anyone who dreamed of becoming a behavioral scientist or behavioral health specialist when they grew up. There is something about the coldness of the terms, bespeaking laboratories and machines that doesn’t lead to the images that terms like psychology and psychotherapy can create. The word psychotherapy comes from the Ancient Greek words psychē, meaning breath, spirit, or soul and therapeia or therapeuein, to heal or cure. Thus the psychotherapist is the healer or nurse of souls. That feels dramatically different from “behavioral health specialist.
The realm of the psychotherapist encompasses dreams, wishes, fantasies, art, passions, emotions, thoughts, relationships, myth, metaphor, fairy tales. Like the Roman god Janus, psychotherapy looks in two directions — backwards into the past and forward into the desired future.
I remember talking with a behaviorist when I was first in graduate school. He told me he was not interested in how people describe themselves or their lives because “self report is unreliable”; he was only interested in observable behavior. Now admittedly this is a pretty radically behaviorist stance but it is the ground for behavioral science just as the ancient Greek psychopompos, guide of souls, is the ground for depth psychotherapy.
A Baptist preacher and a Russian Orthodox priest may both be Christian clergy with some common beliefs and a common point of origin, but their ways of performing their sacred roles have diverged enough that they hardly seem part of the same faith. So it is in mental health with behavioral health specialists and psychotherapists. We have a common root but the branches we each occupy have become so far apart that it becomes harder to discern that we are part of the same tree.
When I was nine, we lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mother, not an easy woman, thought I would never become a desirable catch, as I was too preoccupied with books. Her poking, prodding, and criticism did not work, so she enrolled me in a ballroom dance/etiquette course. As it happened, that same year, the University of New Mexico was mounting a production of Euripides’ “Medea”. They needed two nine-year-olds to play the sons, but it was thought that nine-year-old year old boys were too rowdy to take the discipline to be in a play like that, so they came to the dance class to pick two girls. I was one of them.
I remember being fitted for the costume, being taught to walk like a boy and to scream like a boy. I did not know what the story was, but it was fun learning those things.
I finally saw the play all the way through the day of the dress rehearsal. I remember standing in the wings watching. The meaning of the play rolled down the aisle like a dark cloud and swallowed me as I realized she kills her sons. In a moment, I understood what role I was playing. I can remember the hair standing up on the back of my neck and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I woke up the next day with a fever and by the end of the day, it was clear I had the measles. I missed the whole run of the play.
Fast forward many years to graduate school. Medea continued to fascinate me so I decided to write my dissertation about her. I was struck by how modern her situation seemed. Imagine Medea as a girl, star-struck by the hero, Jason. Her name means cunning or knowing. She is the niece of Circe, granddaughter of Helios, daughter of a king. A powerful woman, a priestess of Hekate. Yet, when she sees Jason, described as good-looking, tall with long blond hair, a Fabio of his day, she becomes infatuated. Jason represents the glory and civilization of Greece, adventure. In order to help him to survive the tasks given him by her father as the price for obtaining the Golden Fleece, she must choose love over duty. In turn, in order to secure her help, Jason swears to marry her. In choosing Jason, Medea breaks the tie to family and home to go with Jason to a land where he is hero and she a barbarian.
Jason wants her, needs her, in order to successfully complete his quest. He is willing to give her what she wants—that feeling of being wanted and a place to hide her power and control. In agreeing to marry Medea, Jason gains everything—his life, the Golden Fleece, his safe return as a hero. In one version of the play, the Nurse raises the important question: “Why must a woman seek a man who seeks his special gold?”. Men with this kind of commitment, more to their quest than to the woman, seem unlikely to match the devotion of a woman like Medea. But she feels wanted, needed and so surely, perhaps she thinks, he must be the one for her.
I hear variations of this story again and again in my office from smart, competent women who spend their days wanting to be wanted and being disappointed time and again. To a degree I lied it myself when I was a young woman. Too often the women seem to see themselves as trophies or dolls on the shelf and convince themselves that whoever chooses them must be the right one, because after all, he is choosing her. And too seldom see themselves as also in position to choose, not merely to wait until being chosen.
Following from Lacan, who asserted that women want to be wanted more than they want to be loved, women too often seek to be desirable rather than to be fully known. Polly Young-Eisendrath explores this “wanting to be wanted” not as the normal outcome of female development but as a problem in her book, Women and Desire: Beyond wanting to be wanted.
“The compulsion to be desired and desirable undermines self-direction, self-confidence, and self-determination in women from adolescence through old age, in all our roles, from daughter to mother, from lover to wife, from student to worker or leader, whether or not the affliction is conscious.
Wanting to be wanted is about finding our power in an image rather than in our own actions. We try to appear attractive, nice, good, valid, legitimate, or worthy to someone else, instead of discovering what we actually feel and want for ourselves. In this kind of conscious or unconscious arrangement, other people are expected to provide our own feelings of power, worth, or vitality, at the expense of our authentic development. We then feel resentful, frustrated, and out of control because we have sacrificed our real needs and desires to the arrangements we have made with others. We find ourselves always wanting to be seen in a positive light: the perfect mother, the ideal friend, the seductive lover, the slender or athletic body, the kind neighbor, the competent boss. In place of knowing the truth of who we are and what we want from our lives, we become trapped in images.” (Young-Eisendrath, Women and Desire: Beyond Wanting to Be Wanted, p.3)
That image is of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. We see he has two faces in order to look ahead to the future and to look back to the past. New Year’s Dayis the province of Janus, as we look back on the year just past and forward to the new year ahead.
If you are inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I am sure you already have a list of things you are vowing today that you want to do or accomplish in the year ahead. You have no doubt done this before and likely will do it again. If you are like me and most people I know, those resolutions tend to fall by the wayside in the twists and turns of daily life and by year’s end, they too often have become something to feel guilty about — the weight not lost, the gym rarely visited, the projects languishing in a corner somewhere.
I stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago, when I realized that resolving the same things year after year because I had not met what I had resolved the previous year was no accident, it was meaningful. Most of the time the resolutions were about something I thought I ought to do or change in order to become some cultural approved version of being a better person. When my ex-husband and I realized we had never gotten past day 6 of Miss Craig’s 21 Day Shape-up Program, on any of the half dozen or more times we started it, I knew that we never would — because we didn’t want to do it!
So this year I suggest you try something different. Don’t make one of those resolutions. Instead, starting today, try paying attention to what you feel, including what you feel in your body. Give yourself the gift of your attention and loving care. Maybe write in your journal about what you are feeling today — about where you are in your life, about the year just ended, about what you have learned this year. Use the camera in your phone and take a selfie to see yourself today. Take a bubble bath. Or go for a walk. Cuddle with your pet — and/or your partner, your kids. Make a cup of tea and survey the landscape of your life and see what you like and what you don’t. Give to yourself.
I used to have a section of this blog devoted to knitting. I am an avid knitter and always have multiple projects in process. Then someone suggested to me that I should focus just on professional material or maybe it was that I was feeling self-conscious. At any rate, I took down the knitting portion.
Then I remembered this quote from Marie Louise von Franz on knitting :
Everybody who has knitted or done weaving or embroidery knows what an agreeable effect this can have, for you can be quiet and lazy and also spin your own thoughts while working. You can relax and follow your fantasy and then get up and say you have done something! Also the work exercises patience…Only those who have done such work know of all the catastrophes which can happen — such as losing a row of stitches just when you are decreasing! It is a very self-educative activity and brings out feminine nature. It is immensely important for women to do such work and not give it up in the modern rush. (The Feminine in Fairy Tales, Spring Publications, 1972, p. 40)
She makes it clear to me that knitting, like painting or writing, has its place in this process of self-discovery that I am so much engaged in, for myself and with my patients.
Knitting, among other things, is one way I understand my work and my life. My office is at home, in the middle of my domestic life. I have a basket of yarn in my office — because I think it is beautiful. I also have there art supplies on the table I use when I attempt to paint. I used to fantasize having a house that had a big kitchen with a fireplace and I would see my patients there, in front of the fire, sitting at the table and drinking tea. Because for me the kitchen is the place of transformation. There are things in my professional life that I want to explore more deeply. But those things have grown out of ordinary life — aging, figuring out what it is to be a woman, working at my story, embodiment, dreams all of it.
When I was in my 20’s, in the heydays of second wave feminism, I always felt I had to hide my interest in things domestic. To acknowledge having a domestic life — cooking, knitting and the like — was all but a betrayal of what we women were striving for: to be taken seriously as thinkers and doers and not be relegated only to hearth and home. I don’t think my friends in graduate school then even knew I loved to cook or that I knitted and crocheted and sewed. And when I got married, it was a point of honor that I do half of the work around the house and not a bit more.
But that was then. And in the course of growing older and growing up more, I seem to have lost that need to split my life as I did. Maybe this is the gift of third wave feminism to women like me — that we can bring the parts of our lives together. And in mending the splits in our lives, perhaps we can move toward mending splits in our husband’s and son’s lives as well.
As Jung says:
Individuation means becoming an “in-dividual,” and, in so far as “individuality” embraces our innermost, last and most incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as “coming to selfhood” or “self-realization.” (C.G. Jung, CW 7, para. 266)
Here in Maine we have just 8 hrs and 50 minutes of daylight today, the shortest day of the year. As I write this, just after 1 o’clock with overcast sky, the light is a little dim. Lights turned on. It’s a good day for candles and knitting or reading or just being cozy as we await the return of the light.
Some years ago I read Harry Guntrip’s Schizoid Phenomena, Object Relations, and the Self. I often think of something he wrote in that book, that many of us would rather be bad than weak. Now that seems paradoxical at first but think about it — it is often more satisfying to believe that we, in our “badness” ,create the behavior in others that bothers us, because that way, if we become good, then they will change too.
If my mother treated me badly because I was bad; if my lover is abusive because I am not good then all I have to do is change, become good and then I will have the mother I wanted, the lover who will cherish me.
But if I have no control over my mother’s behavior or my lover’s abuse, then I have to live with knowing that I cannot change them, that I have to deal with who they are as they are.
To accept that I cannot determine the behavior of others means I must be more aware of my own choices and what drives them. I have to surrender my illusions about my power to control others.
I am a journal keeper.
For the last 45 years I have started most days the same way I did this morning
A cup of tea, a cat on my lap, my journal and my pen. I write the date, then any dreams I remember from the night before. Associations to the dream. The maybe just what I hear and see — this morning there was birdsong, and the water in the harbor calm and unruffled by wind. And it is not snowing! My journal is a container for my thoughts and feelings, wishes and hopes, dreams, continuing work in analysis. A reader would not learn much if anything about my outer life or events in the world around me. My journal is very interior.
I am a bit picky about my journals. I want unlined paper so that my handwriting can vary with mood and feeling rather than be constrained by lines. I want the blank book to be attractive so that it signals that it is something important to me. Others I know use spiral notebooks or loose sheets of paper or type on their computer. But for me, I am more inclined to write and maintain my journal keeping practice with the kinds of journals I hav chosen. I always write with a fountain pen. I like changing ink colors, the way the marks made by the pen appear on the paper. There is something tactiley pleasing to me in the combination of fountain pen and good paper. This is just what works for me and says nothing about how others should tend to their own practice.
After 45 years writing this way, even though there have been a few periods of not writing, needless to say I have a lot of filled journals. What on earth do I do with them now and what do I want to happen to them when I die? That is a question I wrestle with a fair amount. Because they are so interior, there really is nothing to inform historians or archivists and I am far too little known for my papers to be of interest. What about my kids, you might ask. As much as they love me, I really can’t see them being particularly interested in what I have written in journals.
I have found something I can do with a few of them. I can re-purpose them as art journals. A bit of matte medium and clear gesso and I can make pages that I can then use. Here is what I have begun –
At the rate that I work in this one, I am unlikely to do much more than complete this volume, much less make a dent in the pile of use volumes I have. In the meantime this feels good. And every morning I start by writing and soon will begin yet another volume.
I first saw Magritte’s “La Memoir” or “Mnemosyne” on a book jacket 20 or more years ago. She is an arresting image, Memory with a wound to her head. Is it memory bleeding out? Will memory be lost if the wound is not bandaged and the blood flow stopped? Or does she show the wound to the head that any of us has from one or another childhood insult or injury? Does the effort to re-member heal the wound and thus stanch the bleeding? Save the memory? And what about the bell and the leaf — are they bits of memory? Has she forgotten? Did she ever know? Are we all surrounded by artifacts of memory that if we can only see them will allow memory to heal?
With Magritte’s Mnemosyne, we can consider the possibility that the blood is an image, a memory, memory sticking the colorless face of the woman, the only sign of life we see of her. As mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne would give birth to spontaneous impulses toward speech, song, art, dance, poetry, and other manifestations rendering the numinous visible and experiential — not just spoken of but enacted, enacted here in the splash of red on her head.
Think about a vivid dream you have had. When you write, it becomes something other than the dream. It becomes a text, an adaptation of the dream, but the dream, consisting of images, cannot be fully and accurately captured in words. The same with memory. The experience remembered is not a record, faithful in every detail. The memory is particular to the rememberer. Even in a family, the same event can and often is recalled differently by parents and children, even by siblings.