regression in service of the ego: a psychosomatic origin


When we speak about the return of the repressed, we are addressing a condition that is very closely associated with the repetition compulsion.  In other words we are talking about a condition that repeats itself despite the fact that there is no etiological reason for the repetition.  

Take the case of an illness that started in a rather benign fashion.  Let’s use the condition of a kidney stone.  What we know about kidney stones is that they are nearly as painful as child-birth.  Now let us move to a situation where the pain of the kidney stone remains despite the fact that the stone is removed.  Add to this mix a recent traumatic event like the adoption of a foster child too late in life for it to be comfortable for the mother.

Here we have the makings of the return of the repressed.  What is repressed is repressed because it has been relegated to a position in the mind that is not easily assessable.  What make it assessable to ordinary consciousness is a situation that although is not a kidney stone, it has enough of the characteristics of a kidney stone to go searching the unconscious for a past event that created that kind of pain.  The mind is attempting in a psychosomatic condition to explain the presence of a pain that ought not be there.

The return of the repressed is the returning to consciousness, in a disguised manner, some previous pain but now associated with a current event.  We hook material from the vast unconscious by looking for items that exist in that warehouse that can explain a current event.  

In this case we have a recent adoption of a foster child (pain of child birth).  The pain of child birth merges with the pain of the kidney stone until the consciousness mind does not know the difference. While the kidney stone has long been passed, the associated memory of child birth now remains in the unconscious associated with the process of adopting and caring for an older more difficult child.

As the organism begins to understand that it can not tolerate the disruption at age 66 of having a new baby, the organism fights the knowledge, because the fostering papers are signed and the new baby is at home.  it become clear that to care for this child will be impossible.  Every time the patient realizes that she will not have the courage to keep this baby, the return of the repressed comes forward filled with ancient incapacities, overwhelmed with ancient feelings that she could not cope with in the past.

In other words what was a kidney pain, is now a perpetual pain of giving birth…without the baby ever really being born.  Conflict over disappointing spouse and child mount in such a way that indicates that there is not an  easy way out of the situation.  The “birth” canal is blocked, the baby is never born, but the pain of giving birth is incessant.

You would think that the understanding of this psychosomatic condition would bring about some relief, but the knowledge that the repressed exist does not in any way alter the repressed from finding a crack in the pavement through which to attack the mind/body.

The body is being attacked with pain because pain is the body’s instinct to alert the organism that something is very wrong.  If you were to be able to put your hand in the fire and not feel the flames burn, you would disintegrate before your very eyes.  The pain of the burn makes a request of the mind to withdraw the hand from the flame.

But think further for a moment, what if a phantom pain is not being effective in warning the organism that it is burning alive.  The pain would continue and intensify.  Now if you add to this mix that the cause of the pain is not being removed you have a situation where the body is yelling—stop, stop, stop, but no one is listening.

The pain is saying you must make a change now–give birth, pull your hand out of the fire.  Do what it take to stop this insult on the body.  But to stop the insult on the body means to disappoint loved ones, the spouse and the newly adopted child.  So the very thought of making the change that needs to be made in order to eliminate the pain, brings about a conflict that rises the stress level and it is the stress level that then activates the pain.

In short the mechanism of pain to danger has become distorted in a new way…the pain of the original kidney stone is not the cause; but the distraction becomes informed in a new way that a new cause of danger is lurking.  In this case the complete conflict that it causes everyone to have to unmake a decision that everyone had counted on being a permanent decision.

Even though the problem is being addressed and this understanding is beginning to be seen with clarity; nonetheless, the source of the pain is still not eradicated.  The conflict is no longer, “I will have to do this which I can not do for the rest of my life and it may kill me”; the new conflict is, “I will be inflicting pain on people that I love when I have to  tell this child that that he will not be able to live here with us.”

So to recapture, first the kidney stone, then the foster adoption, then the cognition that,”I can not do this.”  This is followed by rummaging through the unc. to look for a similar situation to explain the pain….the child birth canal is blocked and the pain of giving birth continues as long as the child is not born. In this case, as long as the child is still there to remind the unconscious that the only thing that will change the situation is for the resolution to include that the child is delivered back to the center from which he came and a new home needs to be found….(the hand is pulled out of the fire)

From the very beginning the route that the pain took never changed, only different triggers set off the pain.  In its current manifestation as long as the boy has not been told and the situation does not change the “stone” pain will continue.

In the return of the repressed, every thing that ever made up loss and pain and abuse and suffering comes back to the surface to both overwhelm the organism and also to flood it with pain to remind it that unless the condition is not fully addressed the old circuitous route will remain in operation.

Consciousness and insight alone are not sufficient to bring about a cure.  What is needed is a complete belief that I am doing this to myself instead of doing what I need to be doing.  Once the pain route are activated by feelings, overwhelmed, fear, contrition, sorrow, grief, the pain will remain at the mercy of the emotional condition.

In the early 20th century when Hysteria was first confronted, the rate of hysterical conversion was astronomical compared to what it is today.  What cured the planet of hysteria was a common belief that it did not exist as a condition of the body but existed as a creation of the mind.

Such is true for the conversion of psychosomatic pain to a return to homeostasis.  


ich-besetzung (ego cathexis)

I got a call from a dear friend this morning.  She was upset, and spoke about a lonely Thanksgiving as her kids were not around to share the holiday with her. I felt her concern and I understood what it is like to feel that desperate sense of lack that accompanies the missing of something that we want so very badly to happen in our lives.

I was fortunate this year to have the full compliment of my family with me for the holiday.  That fact alone, however, does not eliminate the feeling of lack.  As I awoke this morning and the deep grey New England rain was covering everything in a blanket of damp, cold and colorless images, I was aware that I had grown a new dependency in my life.  Like all the other dependencies that I have had to cope with, this one felt warm and seemed to be providing my needs nicely.  But, I was also aware that like all other dependencies in the past, it too had the possibility of de compensating  into a vast sea of emptiness, characterized by fear, worry and a generalized feeling of low-level depression.

I hate that phrase, “low-level depression.”  It makes it seem like a perpetual fever that just will not quit. Like when the fever is not high enough to keep me in bed, but low enough so that I have to work feeling miserable…We have all been there, so I am pretty sure this description will not feel new.   Be that as it may, returning to the new dependency–I have grown throughly dependent on a circle of friends.  I find myself double thinking everything I am wanting and even much of how I am thinking and that doubt seems permanently lodged and the only thing that resolves it is a nod of approval from this circle of friends. two-thirds of the way through my life and suddenly I can’t tie my shoe without wondering if there is a more spiritually fit way to do this.

Having trained as a psychoanalyst has had it disadvantages, the least of which is not that i was educated to feel that i needed to depend on my healthy, well analyzed ego for the right and the next right answer to everything.  Well, that wonderful little formula breaks down at exactly the time in life when one is in crisis.  This wonderfully analyzed ego is worth shit when a situation comes along that requires the self to regress in service of the ego.  “In service of the ego,” what in god’s name is that.  Just when you need it most, the ego decides to return in time to an infantile stage of development. And, suddenly, you can no longer tie your shoe without a consultation that runs roughly one-hundred and fifty bucks an hour. Or, as I have been discovering recently, I need to be reminded by someone who is Not-Me that as recent as yesterday i had figured out a way to live that was very much in concert with nature, the universe, and my dog.

So, why do I need to be reminded?  From what i have been able to tell thus-far, I need to be reminded because when a circumstance happens that momentarily blocks my view of the sun, I can not remember where the light was coming from. If you were to step down, using a long ladder, and you were to descend into a deep well; the further down you went the smaller the circle of light at the top would become, until it was a pin-hole of light followed by utter and total darkness.  The dark light of the soul is despair.  That mood of discouraging conditions that is characterized by having no hope.  The darkness of hopelessness is despair.

Even the smallest pin-hole of light prevents despair, but once you pass that point in the down ward move just beyond where all light fails, you can not see your way out of emotional, mental, nor spiritual darkness.

The reason that I need my spiritually fit friends is because they are not in the pit or the well, with me at the same time.  So, they can still see the light even though, it is failing to reveal itself to me.  I think what I am discovering is that in the process of becoming spiritually fit the most important dimension is to surround ourselves with other people making the same spiritual journey.  They will hold our hands and they will think for us at moments when we have forgotten that we knew the way out.  While my ego is regressing for some reason that it finds very important, my friends who are accompanying me on this journey through inter-being will guide me up the ladder until, I can once again see the light.

My newest dependency is to my dear circle of people willing to guide me when I lose sight, and in exchange, i am willing to guide them when they lose sight.  We are forming a village, a community with a common mission.  Finally, were I to discover in the future that this dependency on my circle was becoming an addiction, well, all that I would really need to do would be to find a new twelve step program, perhaps, Triple AAA, Addiction to Addictions Anonymous.

The Myth of Sisyphus: regression in service of the ego

_1010421I awoke with my mind already in high gear.  Even before stepping out of bed my thoughts were scrambled and my feelings were in a state of chaos.  Nothing appeared right.  And everything appeared tinged with a sense of fear that I would not be able to do my life correctly. There was no one specific thought that dominated the noise in my head; but rather, a series of thoughts that each had me grimacing with fear & worry.  My energy was entirely out of touch with my being.

Mostly it sounded something like this:  if I am this miserable now, how bad must I have been earlier so that this awful NOW is my Karma.  I have a frown on my face and I am reluctant to allow myself to smile. Often, when the ego is so rapidly moving to a tune of urgency, I am unable to stop the process or slow down the merry-go-round enough to get off.  In those times, I have to deliberately awaken to a separate reality.  I need to regress, if you will, in service of the ego.

I might for example try to listen to some music, or listen for the silence at the end of a Zen chime or gong.  While listening to eight minutes of cello and piano music that I had previously composed and recorded I am bombarded with egoic thoughts  My ego might drift in and out of telling me that I have to rush through this exercise because I am wasting time becoming relaxed.  My ego might threaten me with phrases like:  this music is embarrassing, what would so and so think if he saw you listening to this childish exercise, & you are being ridiculous, do something productive.  I have to battled each one of these phrases with a simple nod and a smile that I am noticing just how eager my ego is to disturb my peaceful state of mind.

In short time, I find that I like the sensation in my body.  It is becoming comfortable and none of the previous thought and feelings of worry are present.  And if one of these thoughts do crop into consciousness, I simply smile at it and say, sorry, I am not going there.  It really feels like a struggle between my being–my consciousness, and my ego.  If I stay comfortably ensconced in the lullaby of being, I discover that if I do not need to engage in a fight with my ego, my ego backs down.

I might compare this to road rage.  When I use to feel that a car was encroaching on my territory I would engage with that car in a battle of who is the strongest, the most persistent.  Through out these bouts of road insanity, I was carried out of my stream of consciousness into a location in my head that demanded I fight and stay the course and above all stay deeply involved with the thought that I was right.

The egoic presence is a warrior ever standing guard and waiting for the moment to engage.  It is forever scanning the world to look for something to judge badly and by so doing think that it has the upper moral hand.  The ego, the part of me that i mostly know by my first name, Al, is confusing what it needs to stay dominant with what my organism needs to stay content and peaceful.  The ego grew with the same pace as my physical development.  It was the perceiving, organizing, protecting, defensive aspect of me that kept me safe, that is, kept my identity safe.  As the chore of keeping my identity safe became confused with the chore of keeping my organism safe, my ego developed its current practice of keeping my identity, my thoughts and emotions and opinions safe from encroachment.  In other words, it became engaged in keeping my ego identity safe and forfeited the job of keeping my organism safe  There is a phrase we use in psychoanalysis called, “regression in service of the ego.”  This phrase was developed in 1952 by a then prominent psychoanalyst, Ernst Kris.  Essentially he talk about a feeling of elation that is used as motivation in the creative process.  He speaks of this sensation as feeling as if it comes from outside, from an as outside agent.  His thought was that this was some kind of psychotic regression to some pre-egoic condition.  I have a different take on it. My feeling is that it feels like it comes from outside the self because it is coming from the wider consciousness that is actually outside the prevue of the ego…Or, I might say it comes from the soul of the self rather than from the rational ego.

There are many folks who feel a need, so desperately, to keep their identity in tact that they lose all contact with the higher principles of peace and contentment and happiness.  The ego in its uncanny fashion differentiates  itself from the wider sense of self and  diminishes the value of contentment in the face of maintaining its own righteousness and place of permanence in the psyche.

Creativity and sensitivity to one’s experience of freedom and joy are activities that are built, or discovered, outside the agency of the ego.  In that way we often hear people talk about channelling another source, or being inspired by a muse.  In fact the source of creativity is the self, but the self that lives outside the ego.  The ego need not be dismantled in order to tap this source.  It is just that one needs to learn to NOT rely on old egoic positions and instead be ready to capture ideas that are free floating and less tied to convention. The source is the divine in us.  It is the great “I AM” of creation and we exist as co-creators.  It is not up to the universe to bring us joy.  It is our task, indeed our purpose in life, to bring joy to the universe.  We live in the paradise that we create by flowing down stream, or we are condemned like Sisyphus  to be rolling the bolder of life  forever uphill.