Monday, May 06, 2013

Conflicts and Mental Constraints, Part 6: Choice and Agency

This morning, I was cutting my nails using a Hello-Kitty nail clipper that my dad brought me from his trip to Japan 35 years ago. It reminded me of my dad. I "saw" that he has been alone most of his life because he has not been used to sharing his emotions with anyone. I missed him very much, so I called him in the afternoon and we talked for a while. As I was listening to him, I was saddened by the realization that, most of his life, he did not imagine choices. I am exaggerating, of course, but there was something sad there in our talk.

We have to create the ``transitional'' space for making choices. That is the space between harsh realities/constraints of life and our imagination, where we can choose if we let ourselves to do so. Creating that space also gives us a sense of agency: I make choices, good or bad, hence I am. That sense of agency is the exact opposite of depression. Depression is less about being sad: Sadness is a natural feeling. Depression is more related to the sense of desperation, not having choice, being hopeless and helpless.

Here is D.B. Stern's approach to the question of choice and agency:
... The repetition compulsion, in other words, is not necessarily maintained by a rigidly enacted conflict between conscious and unconscious aims, but by the absence of the conflict we need to be able to experience if we are to sense the availability of choice. ....
Conscious internal conflict is necessary because, if we are to back away from what is happening with the other to create the opportunity for reflection, for "seeing'' the events in question, we need more than one perspective. ... Without an alternative perspective to set against one's previous single-mindedness, a new perception is simply impossible to accomplish. ....
The creation of internal conflict is also the creation of a sense of initiative. Desire in the absence of a conflicting alternative is nothing more than compulsion, and compulsion negates the feeling that one is choosing one's own life. In deconstructing enactment one therefore escapes a certain kind of psychic slavery. ...
The most important outcome of a successful analysis is the firm and unthinking conviction that one's life is one's own, that oneself and no one else is living it. Frequently this feeling that one's life is the creation of one's own mind---which in dryer terminology we can describe as the sense of agency---arises from our access to the experience of conflict, because when we are able to face the necessity for choosing the perspective we will take on the problems that face use, we are able to feel our own hand on the tiller [Footnote 1: It bears repeating, though, that the perspective from which we choose are not constructed on a merely conscious basis. The availability of perspectives is a matter of internationality far deeper than conscious decision making. The range of interpretations (experiences) we allow ourselves is a function of a curiosity that goes beyond what we can decide to be interested in. I want to avoid any implication that agency is only a matter of the growth in our capacity to make conscious choices. Our sense of agency arises from our perception of our freedom to experience, a perception that is often created, ironically enough, by our surprise at what comes to us unbidden ...] ---pp. 101-102, Partners in Thought
I love this phrase ``... a matter of intentionality far deeper than conscious decision making.'' Wow! The footnote part above has a poetic quality that moves me deeply. Incidentally, I was sitting outside the coffee shop I frequent, Atlanta Coffee Roasters, when I was reading this part first. After a few days of raining, sky cleared and there was this amazing mixture of colors, blue and white and gray, and I realized that my therapy has been successful!

Mumford & Sons: I will wait ...
I want to add a random song here that I like.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGKfrgqWcv0

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