As any of you who have been following me know, I have been working on and am in the process of finishing a book about fat. Rooted in analytical psychology, in it I challenge the notion that it is the fat patient who must be changed to fit into a thin world. I also look at fat and our culture, about the fat complex our culture is gripped by and how to respond to it. It grows out of my life as a fat woman, my work as a Jungian psychotherapist, and my experience as a patient in analysis.
Almost every approach to working with the fat patient in psychotherapy involves somewhere the notion that problems she brings will improve immeasurably if and when she loses weight, becomes less fat or even better stops being fat at all. But what happens if we begin to think instead that her fat, rather than being a response to trauma, what if her fat is itself a source of trauma? What if we begin to look at the effect on the psyche of being visibly different, visibly part of a stigmatized group?
Recently the following appeared as part of an article, 5 Baffling Lies Society Told You About Fat People:
I was about to write a new post last weekend when I got lost in yet another revision of my book manuscript — just how do other writers decide they are finally finished and satisfied with what they have done anyway? And then the next day, a request that I make some changes go the chapter I have submitted for a book on Jung and feminism. The next thing I knew the week was gone.
It’s like that these days. I blink, turn around and poof! another week, another month, another year gone so quickly. Remember when you were 5 or 10 and summer lasted forever? Or Sundays when you were in college - Sunday the day that could be interminable? But as we get older, time seems to speed up and — well, you know how that goes.
Meanwhile, after a very warm September — the warmest on record — and a very slow start to our autumn color, at last the glorious reds and golds have appeared, and right on schedule as this weekend is the usual peak foliage time in my part of Maine.
As we move through fall into winter and savor the warm colors we see now, keep in mind what Jung reminded us of:
Since July I have been haunted by this image:
This computer generated image of a little girl whose body washed up on the shore of Boston Harbor has been on the news again and again as the search for her identity went on. We knew she was a toddler, a beautiful little girl. Surely someone missed her, someone knew her, someone would come forward to identify her. Three months passed. Fifty million people saw her image — online, on the news, on the billboards in the Boston area. But no one said anything. No one could tell us who she was..
Every time I saw that little face — and because I live in Maine, just a few hours north of Boston, I saw her often — I felt a deep sadness for this lost and nameless child, a most profoundly abandoned child.
Yesterday we learned who she was. Her name was Bella. She was not quite 3. Her mother was arrested as an accomplice in her murder. Her mother’s boyfriend arrested for causing her death. Neighbors were interviewed and expressed puzzlement that they had not heard or seen her, yet they did not contact the police, even though her image was all but impossible to escape. They chose to believe the mother’s story that she had lost custody of Bella, because that was easier than believing that Bella was dead, that her mother knew that and was implicated in her death. We know she had grandparents, that they adopted one of her siblings yet they remained silent. Because no one wants to believe that a mother would not protect her child.
In the last post, I told you about the wonderful book, The Last Asylum, by Barbara Thomas. It’s one of those books that has stayed with me and leads me to think more deeply about the things she writes about — madness, analysis, healing. Today I am thinking about surrender.
Thomas came to analysis wanting her analyst to take care of her, much as she wanted and got friends to take care of her. She wanted him to give her answers, to tell her what to do to feel better. It took a number of years for her to come to the place of accepting that he could not and would not tell her what to do or give her answers or take care of her. What he could do was help her to find her own answers but in order to do that she had to surrender.
This brings to mind a day when my daughter was 4 and had an epic tantrum. The kind of tantrum where I sat on the floor holding her, careful to keep my head out of the way of her flailing and hurling of her own head and let her be in that state, let her cry and yell and flail and just lovingly hold her so that she did not hurt herself or me. Finally she stopped yelling and the storm subsided into tears and then calm. I let go of her and she turned and said ”Mommy, why did I do that?” Just as Thomas railed her analyst until she finally let go, my little girl had to do the same. Though of course there were many times in her childhood that she got angry with me or her father or brother, many times she felt us thwarting her desires, she found words to express those feelings and there were no more epic tantrums. In a way this is what Thomas describes. She had to go through that long struggle to get her way, to get what she wanted in order to get what she actually needed. She had to reach the pint of surrender in order for her to get that.
Every twice in a while I read a book that really touches something in me and sometimes even better, such a book touches me both personally and professionally. Recently I had the good fortune of encountering and reading Barbara Taylor’s The Last Asylum: A Memoir of Madness in Our Times. I found it via a reference to it in an article in a Jungian journal. I am always intrigued by patient accounts of psychoanalysis so I immediately got the book. And it certainly did not disappoint. Both her account of her analysis and her discussion of the place of the asylum and the consequences of its loss are very well written and engaging. I recommend this book to anyone interest in analysis or the mental health system.
Barbara Thomas is an excellent writer. She tells of her personal experience in a spare but very evocative way, making it possible to understand a great deal about her analysis without getting bogged down in a lot of personal detail — indeed a rare feat. I literally found it hard to put down. I continue to reflect on things I gleaned from this book and have enthusiastically recommended it to many people.
I often hear patients apologize for complaining about things in their lives, as if complaints are invalid and unnecessary. I carry in mind something I remember from a book I read about 30 years ago, Sylvia Brinton Perera’s Descent to the Goddess. I probably ought to read it again as I don’t remember too much else from the book. Anyway, here is this one very memorable quote:
Complaining is one voice of the dark goddess. It is a way of expressing life, valid and deep in the feminine soul. It does not, first and foremost, seek alleviation, but simply to state the existence of things as they are felt to be to a sensitive and vulnerable being. It is one of the bases of the feeling function, not to be seen and judged from the stoic-heroic superego perspective as foolish and passive whining, but just as autonomous fact -- ‘that’s the way it is.’ Enki’s wisdom teaches us that suffering is part of reverencing.
What a terrific antidote to the chipper face so many of us put on in an effort to avoid being seen as even momentarily negative.
I have written before about how long therapy takes because it is a question that comes up fairly often. Recently a patient wrote this to me and I think it captures very well the impossibility of answering that question with any certainty. In fact, “It depends.” is probably the best answer.
I thought today that the effect of therapy sessions is akin to the effect of water dripping slowly on a rock. Any individual drip on the rock may seem to have no impact. Any individual therapy session may seem to similarly have had no or only superficial impact. But add time and repetition and the cumulative impact of all those drips create a channel in the rock and remove layers of sediment, uncovering hidden depths and textures in the rock. Similarly, the cumulative effect of all the therapy sessions creates a channel into the soul, revealing depths of the personality that weren't visible before. But, one session or even dozens of sessions probably isn't going to reveal much by themselves. It's time and repetition it seems to me.
If you are a believer in evidence based treatment in mental health, here are a couple of links that likely will raise some doubts for you:
Surprise! I am back. Chapter written. Finishing work on book in progress. Time and inclination to write back.
I came of age when second wave feminism was actively raising awareness of the sexism that was, and sadly still is, rampant in the culture. I got married the first time just weeks before the very first issue of Ms.magazine appeared. The idea of dividing household chores, that all of that should not be my sole province was new and the notion that I could retain my own name was a new one, though that one didn’t come until after I married. It really seemed like we women would arrive at true equality in those heady days. Roe v. Wade and reliable contraception meant reproductive choice was ours. The EEOC meant we could have redress when we experienced discrimination in employment. Heady times.
Sigh. We failed, for the most part, to reckon with the forces that worked against us. So we found ourselves in 2015 having to fight to retain the gains we made over 40 years ago.
The GOP primary debate this past week made it clear that misogyny is alive and well in the wake of Donald Trump’s remarks about Rosie O’Donnell and one of the moderators, Megan Kelly. And the focus of all of the candidates on Hillary Clinton rather than their own vision of what they would bring to the presidency.
That is a question I engage with every day — with patients, with things I am thinking and writing about, with my personal work. What does it mean?
So what does it mean that I have not posted here in 4 months? Because it means something.
Well, i continued to work on my book. And did a bunch of knitting. Reflected a lot on the joy and beauty of my new granddaughter. Watched the snow fall — and fall and fall, all 130+ inches that we got this past winter. With all the snow, we hunkered down and mostly stayed home, binge watched different series on Netflix, read a lot of books and dreamed of spring. Which finally came.
But mostly it means that I was in one of those deeply introverted times that happen now and again. Time when writing just didn’t feel right. Time to reflect and look within, to work on dreams, to be with myself.
And now with the turn to spring and soon summer, I emerge and Jung At Heart returns to life.
In the days ahead I want to muse a bit on embodiment and identity. On the quest for perfection. On identity politics. And whatever else comes along. I hope you’ll join in.