DK: We are providing alternative ways to look at the problems of living and being such as depression, anxiety, problems with children, marital problems. We are attempting to provide a counter-balance to the culturally dominant patterns that tend to medicalized problems of living. This is something I wrote for psychotherapists and other clinicians, but even though it is a bit obscure, I thought it give general readers something to think about.
I want to use a homemade developmental schema to distinguish between a psychotherapy that acknowledges and nurtures, attends to “I”, and a psychotherapy that operates as a cultural agent in support of social adaptation (Keith, 1996). I am drawing this distinction for the sake of illumination. I would like to review an idea that evolved out of conversations with my colleague Carl Whitaker, and comes from Keith’s Catalogue of Flawed Explanations (Keith, eternally in preparation).
I am an adult playing the duplicitous social word games of adulthood. Calling them “games” is not to trivialize them. For example, I am not a physician, I am a person who was trained to play the game of physician. Psychotherapy is one of the games. I play some of these games with passion, energy, and dedication. Some, I play with awkwardness and pain; some, because of shyness or ineptitude, I avoid completely. In my role as parent, I teach my children to play these games of social adaptation. Being a good player is crucial to survival and to healthy, satisfying living.
Writing is an interesting game. As I work on this essay, I find myself alternating between two levels of consciousness. Most of the time, I am writing with you, the audience, in mind. In the perpetual television of my fantasy, I see you as critical and disapproving, but gradually shifting to understand me. But there are other moments when I become truly Self-absorbed. You fade from awareness, and I am using the writing to explore, to push some edge of growth in understanding the idea of I-ness.
However, there is another component to me. I am more than a tricky social game player. I am a printout of earlier programming by my family. The software at my core, installed in the dream period of infancy, developed in my family living during my preverbal infancy years when I was the victim of the world of my family, the world of adults. I have virtually no memory of this time or these experiences.
When I arrived as an infant in the adult world, my mind was a developing work in progress. I had no memory or veto power. I lacked the ability to think about what was happening to me. My self-esteem comes from this period, out of my being loved by them. It was also in that period that I was irreparably wounded by what they were unable to do for me out of their anxiety, their fear, out of their sense of inadequacy. The programs installed at that point have been or can be little altered. During this period, I was emerging, but there was no individuation. The chronic undifferentiated schizophrenic in all of us can be found here. Likewise, those mysterious problems often referred to as “genetic”, as “chemical imbalances”, or character defects are related to these programs, which are virtually inaccessible to reason-based language.
Then, when I reached two years, I became something of a problem. I began to individuate. I learned to say “no.” And it was not clear if my demands were based on need for food or on need to dominate my world and my adult servant/tyrants. By two and a half, three, my programming for adulthood was underway. I then started to learn these duplicitous games. I learned different ways to say “no.” I learned to protect my innocence through self-justification. Particles of memory began to appear. By the time I was three the training was in full swing. I learned not to bite just because I was upset. I learned to be polite. I learned duplicity in the name of adaptation.
Today most psychotherapy is done in the realm of social adaptation, teaching us how to get along in the world. But the psychotherapy that the mass culture is not very interested in, and I am fascinated by, attends to the software that makes up the Self. I do not think of this software as changeable, but the therapy aims at gaining more access to it, making more of the Self accessible. It helps get more access to the Self. Experience does this as well.