Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Here is the million-dollar question: How can we live an authentic life? How can we find, or in fact, actualize who we are? In the second chapter of the D. B. Stern's book, ``Partners in Thought,'' I have found an interesting and exciting possibility for an answer to this question. It goes like this. You find, and actualize, your true/authentic self by engaging in ``genuine experiences.''
Well, Stern, being a psychoanalyst, mainly talks about ``genuine conversations.'' He defines them as the conversations that are experienced by conversation partners, not lead/conducted by them, and in the process the involved partners let go of their control on the path of the conversation and their wishes to influence each other and instead let the process take them to a common truth and understanding, and lose their selves in the process.
Based on my experiences with conversations and also practices like Kyudo, I think this idea is more general than just conversations. I think many other activities can also be done in a genuine/authentic way, and by losing yourself in the process you can find/create who you are.
A practical difficulty is that you cannot force ``genuine experiences'', they just happen. You can prepare for them (and pray that they appear, lol), but because part of the process is letting go of the conscious control, it means that you cannot force them.

Now that I think more about this, my idea is not really new. In the book, ``Play and Reality,'' D.W. Winnicott proposes a very similar answer to the question. He argues that we find and actualize our selves through ``playing'' which are essentially activities that we let ourselves to be fully spontaneous. I think there is a great deal of similarity between Winnicott's concept of play and Stern's concept of genuine conversation.

Next, a quote from the beginning of the chapter 2 (on page 25) of ``Partners in Thought,'' from a German philosopher, H-G Gadamer:

We say that we ``conduct'' a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Thus a genuine conversation is never the one that we wanted to conduct. Rather, it is generally more correct to say that we fall into {a genuine} conversation, or even that we become involved in it. ... Understanding or its failure is like an event that happens to us. ... All this shows that conversation has a spirit of its own, and that the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth within it---i.e., that it allows something to ``emerge'' which henceforth exists. ---Jans-Georg Gadamer (1965/2004, p. 385)

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Today, after ten months of maybe a year, for the first time I suspended my whole morning routine deliberately and without feeling any guilt :) I am beginning to feel a freedom in my life that is new to me, like I'm breaking out of some of my mind's prisons, lol
This evening, I felt the need to go to the "BookNook" [link] our local second-hand book-game-video store. I found and bought a book, ``Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay,'' by Mira Kirshenbaum, which is a guide for relationship decision-making. So, I am back to the subject of decision-making, no surprise here given that in the next few weeks I would like to make some important decisions. 

Relatedness: Expression or Essence

One of the books I finished recently was ``Playing and Reality,'' by D.W. Winnicott. I am sure that I quoted parts of the book on this blog, but I cannot find them! Anyway, Winnicott was among the pioneers of the idea of ``relatedness''. He has famously said that ``there is no such a thing as an infant,'' meaning that an infant exists in the nexus of his/her relationship with the caregiver(s). Here is a more extreme version of the idea: that our relations are not simply ``expressions'' of our mind; rather, our mind is distributed among our relationships. That is, we are our ``relatedness''. 
This hypothesis, I feel, has far reaching consequences. For one thing, it completes the circle of my experiences in the past year. I started this new round of experiences (in April 2012) with the goal of understanding sexuality and eroticism [see Another Chapter ... and Fusion!?] and one of the books that I started my journey with was David Schnarch's, ``Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love & Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships,'' and in the next couple of months I quoted from the book repeatedly. An idea started to emerge that one way of learning who we are, or in fact, creating who we are, is through our close relationships [see Reflected Sense of Self and Finding Your True Self Through Relationships]. Now this statement has a whole new level of meaning: we literally create who we are via our relationships. A couple of nights ago, at a Persian fund-raiser at "Deljou" gallery, I was reading the ``Partners in Thought" (see the following quotes) and reached a moment of clarity.

... For those who depend on the concept of unconscious fantasy {traditional/mainstream/Freudian psychoanalysis} clinical relatedness is like the image projected on a movie screen: it contain what you want to know, but if you want to affect the image in any permanent way you had better ignore the screen and go find the film.
I believe, on the other hand, that the possibilities that, if actualized, open experience in just the way intended in psychoanalytic treatment, are quite literally the possibilities of clinical relatedness. ... The possibilities between them are not contributed by a separate source of meaning---i.e., fantasy---that shapes and influences relatedness to conform to its image. The possibilities between analyst and patient are instead the unformulated possibilities of relatedness itself.
This is what I mean when I claim that meaning, at least the most psychoanalytically relevant meaning, is embodied in relatedness. ... relatedness is not merely an expression of mind---relatedness is part of mind. This is one of the most important areas in which it makes sense not to conceive mind as unitary, not to conceive it as contained in the brain or the head, or even as located somewhere inside the person, but as distributed. The future of meaning is embodied in relatedness. ...
Enactment is a kind of extreme selective attention, a set of perceptions of the other, and of oneself in relation to other, that are so rigid that no other possibility can be imagined, at least temporarily. ... Need stifles curiosity by shining light only into certain corners; it requires continuous effort, and the kind of intentionality that I have claimed goes beyond consciousness, not to succumb to this selectivity, to stay open to our capacity to allow alternative perceptions to form in our minds. ...
Because both the analyst and the patient are involved in the relatedness that grows between them, offering help of this kind requires that not only the patient, but the analyst, find a way to accept a greater freedom to experience. ... We work toward a wider range of affects, thoughts, and perceptions that allows us to feel and sometimes formulate meanings that have remained outside our capacity to live. --- pp. 22-24, Partners in Thought

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unformulated Experience and Mentalization

In the period of my blogging-inactivity, between late July and late September, I started a journey in Psychotherapy/Psychoanalysis that is still underway. One of the first books I read was ``Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development of the Self,'' by Peter Fonagy, Gyorgy Gergely, Elliot L Jurist, Mary Target, 2002. [See this post: New Books, and the following few which contain some quotes from the book.] The most important concept in this book is the idea of ``mentalization'', that is, the process that let us symbolize our experiences and be able to think about them and process them. 

One of the most fundamental ideas in the new book I'm reading, ``Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment,'' by Donnel Stern, is that our experiences are "unformulated" (or unmentalized) in the beginning. Here is how ``mentalization'' and ``unformulated experiences'' are related:

... Unmentalized experience is ``raw'' in the sense that it has not been symbolized. Mentalization is symbolization of one kind or another, and it makes thought, feeling, and the life of mind possible.
... The task of mentalization, broadly defined, is one of the greatest challenges of infancy and, in intrapsychic views, pre-exists the development of repression, which can only come about once experience of a certain degree of structure has been created. .... Experience that is not symbolized cannot be thought, nor can it be repressed, because such experience can never have been conscious in the first place.
Not-me, and all experience that has remained unformulated for unconscious reasons, therefore converts something important in common with unmentalized experience: it has not been formulated and the expelled from consciousness; rather, it has never been symbolized at all. And therefore, as in theories of mentalization, the task of treatment as conceived in this book is to make formulation possible where it was impossible before, and in that way to expand the limits and capacities of the self or mind. ... --- pp.20-21, Partners in Thought

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Not-me and Trauma

For many years, I have been looking for some form of trauma in my past that would explain my sudden mood changes, and the nervousness, anxiety, hopelessness and depression that I would feel every every once in a while. My therapist have been telling me that they are not necessarily associated with a trauma though. The following quote came at the right time and pretty much convinced me not to search anymore. Moreover, the (fictional) patient described here is quite similar to me :)

... Trauma is indeed often central in the creation of not-me; but not-me can also be outcome of much less easily observed psychic processes.
The fictional patient I just discussed, for instance, might have grown up worrying that, if he were demanding about the satisfaction of his wishes, he would have hurt or overwhelmed a parent whom he believed to be weak and emotionally inept. To demand too much from a loved person who is nevertheless perceived in this way could provoke the sense that one's own demands are hurtful enough to others to be intolerable to oneself. Such a person might come to feel, too, that his angry reaction toward the parent's perceived weakness was also not-me, since it might very well seem to the patient that the parent would be hopeless in the face of the patient's anger, resulting in guilt and shame on the patient's part. Under the right circumstances, such guilt and shame might come to seem intolerable. The patient might also worry that he would enjoy causing the parent pain, for example, and might be unable to bear the guilt provoked by the formulation of this recognition.
... the relational origins of not-me are not limited to observable, traumatic events. ---p.19, Partners in Thought

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Not-Me, Dissociation, and Enactment

I have started a book, ``Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment,'' by Donnel B. Stern and I am quite absorbed in the insights from the first chapter.

I mean dissociation to refer to the process by which, for unconscious defensive reasons, either the patient or the analyst, or both, fails to potentiate some portion of the verbal, nonverbal, or subsymbolic meaning available in the interaction of which they are part.  ....
The unconscious motive for dissociation is conceptualized differently from the unconscious motive for repression. ... what moves us to unconscious defense in the theory of dissociation is the need to avoid assuming a certain kind of identity. The unconscious purpose is to avoid the creation of a certain state of being, or self-state. ... the person one must not be ... is someone who felt disappointed, bereft, frightened, humiliated, shamed, or otherwise badly hurt or threatened. ... What we defend against is not any single feeling, fantasy, thought, or memory {as is typically assumed in the traditional theories of repression} but a state of identity, a way of being. I refer to this dreaded state of being, after Harry Stack Sullivan (1954) and, more recently, Philip Bromberg (1998, 2006) as not-me. Quite literally, this is the part of subjectivity that must not be me.
But of course life does not necessarily cooperate with our intentions ... Circumstances---interactions with others---sometimes conspire in such a way that the dissociated way of being threatens to erupt into awareness. ... The only course of action left to dissociator who needs to protect himself from such imminent danger is the externalization of the way of being that one must not take on oneself---the interpersonalization of the dissociation. Enactment is the last-ditch unconscious defensive effort to avoid being the person one must not be, accomplished by trying to force onto the other what defines the intolerable identify. --- pp.13-14, Partners in Thought
My understanding is that "enactment" is closely related to "projective identification", i.e., the idea that we project the unwanted part of our self onto others so that we can destroy an external object instead of engaging in an endless internal fight.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On Guilt, Shame, and Authenticity

First: Routledge Journals have announced "Unlimited FREE access to all Routledge Behavioral Science Journals throughout February!" [Link]

Second: I have been browsing through their psychology/psychoanalysis journals the past couple of days and I came across an article, ``Toward Greater Authenticity: From Shame to Existential Guilt, Anxiety, and Grief,'' by Robert D. Stolorow in International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.

 Here are some quotes:

... “authenticity”  literally means “ownedness” or “mineness.” Our existence may be authentic---non-evasively owned---or inauthentic---unowned or dis-owned. In inauthentic existing, we understand ourselves according to the conventional interpretedness of the “they” (das Man)—the impersonal normative system that governs what “one” understands and what “one” does in one’s everyday activity as a member of society and occupant of social roles. One exists as a “they-self” (p. 167), rather than as a differentiated, self-responsible individual.
For Heidegger (1927), authentic existing is coextensive with existential guilt, which is the condition for the possibility of ordinary moral guilt. Existential guilt is a being answerable or accountable to oneself for oneself. ...
Authentic existing, claimed Heidegger (1927), is disclosed in the mood (Stimmung) of anxiety. ... In authentic existing, we own up to death as our “uttermost” and “ownmost” possibility—“No one can take the Other’s dying away from him” (p. 284)—a possibility that is con- stitutive of our intelligibility to ourselves in our futurity and finitude, and that always impends as a constant threat. ...
Just as existential anxiety is disclosive of authentic existing, it is shame, in my view, that most clearly discloses inauthentic existing. In feeling ashamed, we feel exposed as deficient or defective before the gaze of the other (Sartre, 1943; Stolorow, 2010). In shame, we are held hostage by the eyes of others; we belong, not to ourselves, but to them. Thus, a move toward greater authenticity, toward a taking ownership of one’s existing, is often accompanied by an emotional shift from being dominated by shame to an embracing of existential guilt and anxiety. This is a shift from a preoccupation with how one is seen by others to a pursuit of what really matters to one as an individual—from how one appears to others to the quality of one’s own living.
Such a shift toward what really matters to one as an individual must not be equated with narcissistic self-absorption and self-centeredness. What really matters can be one’s love and caring for another or others. In authentic existing, we must own up, not only to our own finitude, but also to the finitude of all those whom we love and to whom we are deeply connected. ...
... Existential anxiety anticipates both death and loss. Just as, in existing authentically, we are “always dying already” (Heidegger, 1927, p. 298), so too are we always already grieving. The extent to which we can move toward more authentic existing depends significantly on whether the con- texts of our living provide a relational home in which the emotional pain entailed in such a move can be held, borne, and integrated (Stolorow, 2007). --- pp. 285-287, Toward Greater Authenticity

Friday, February 15, 2013

James Blake's Retrograde and ...

Through NPR music [Link] I found this video clip for James Blake's song, ``Retrograde,''. I love both the music and video:

The next video clip, I found by accident, and more than anything I find the video quite funny :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Mastery and Knowledge

Two quotes from the ``Imagination from fantasy to delusion".

At first, Noy (1969) explained, ``the primary process in art were considered to have the same function as in dreams---to provide the best modes for transforming drive energy in order to discharge it, through the limited channels allowed by the rules of art.'' Over time, however, ``this view of art as a sublimated wish-fulfillment changed gradually to the view which regards art as an ego function in the service of ego mastery.''  ...
... If the concept of mastery developed from the insufficiency of the initial view of the ego as ``an agent whose role is to control drive discharge in consideration of reality and the superego,'' if the ego came to be viewed as inducing ``stressful situations {to} arouse new stimuli'' for it to seek to control, then there is an underlying assumption of feedback in the development and activity of ego function that supports my own thinking on art and agency in an important way. ``{B}esides its function of  solving conflicts,'' Noy elaborates, ''the ego is always active in creating new ones, in order to be forced to solve them again, an activity which is understandable only as an attempt to train and improve its functions of control and synthesis.'' --- pp. 18-19, Imagination from fantasy to delusion

Others too have spoken of the ``knowledge drive,'' as both Novalis and Ludwig Feuerbach called it, in terms of the primacy of drive. For Feuerbach, it is the certainty of the attainability of truth that motivates the search for knowing, itself a source of mental satisfaction and  thereby happiness. Knowledge, moreover, is for him a means to agency. Feuerbach's linking of the drive to know (the search for truth) to both agency and happiness is strikingly close to Freud's conceptualization by virtue both of pleasure inherent with it and the control and ownership it brings. ...
The drive to know is a primitive need to represent what is absent, to fill in what is not there, and a process of imagining it gives rise to many forms, one of which is fantasy. Dreams, ideas, concepts, and images are among the other forms the instinct for knowledge may take, but all exist not in opposition to reality .... but as a means of adaptation to it. .... Indeed, fantasy---one form taken by ``knowledge drive''---subsumes an awareness of reality and a desire to correct it. Its many functions, the innumerable dynamic services it renders, range from the reduction of anxiety and the maintenance of psychic stability to the guarantee of pleasure, the renewal of a damaged self-esteem, and a defense against conflict. --- p.29, Imagination from fantasy to delusion

Friday, February 08, 2013

Imagination, Art, and Psychoanalysis

I have started a new book, ``Imagination: From Fantasy to Delusion,'' by Lois Oppenheim. The introduction appears fascinating and full of new references. Here is an excerpt:

The creative endeavor ... is rooted in the neurobiology of humankind. Indeed, creativity, its identification of the self to the self and consequent augmentation of agency, depends upon the physiology of the faculty, imagination, through which it emerges. Listen to David Beres (1960): ``Without imagination, reality is only sensed and experienced; with imagination, reality becomes an object of awareness. With his imagination man participates in reality, alters it, and even to some extent controls it'' (p. 334). If creativity in art is akin to analytic treatment, it is that the analyst, as Abrams (2004) has said, is a ``servant of creative adjustment.'' As Abrams sees it, analysis is not a matter of ``resultants'' but of ``emergents,'' not a matter of exposing structures of the past but of tapping into the ``forward pull'' of the patient's creative, as reorganizational, capacity. ... And I would contend that the ``transformational potential'' of the art is not dissimilar. Art destabilizes the absolute quality of the self ....
... The objective of this inquiry into imagination is thus to be seen, on the one hand, as an exploration of the commonality between art and psychoanalysis ... and, on the other hand, as an inquiry into the transformational power of creative processs, of that process for which, in both psychoanalytic practice and the making of art, representation is pivotal: Once imagined, subjective experience is necessarily altered allowing for the unique opportunity for the blind spots of self-perception to diminish.---pp. xxv-xxvi, Imagination: From Fantasy to Delusion

Note that in this quote analysis refers to psychoanalysis, and so on.

Freedom, Religion

A couple of days ago I read a discussion between some friends regarding religion, worship, freedom, and slavery. In Farsi and Arabic, the t...