Several years ago, Austen Riggs Center, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, held an international conference on the theme of the inner world in the outer world in honor of their seventy-fifth birthday. The Rapaport-Klein Study Group attracted Dr. Shmuel Erlich, a Sigmund Freud Professor of Psychoanalysis at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a supervising analyst within the Israel Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, to give his paper “On Discourse with an Enemy.” It is an excellent paper and was later published in “The Inner World in the Outer World: Psychoanalytic Perspectives” edited by Riggs CEO, Edward Shapiro MD for Yale University Press in 1997. I highly recommend this paper because it addresses the difficulties involved, often seeming insurmountable, in our attempts to integrate internal and external processes especially within the context of a highly threatening external situation, much as we have in the Middle East as well as in various war-torn regions of our world. Winnicott, among many psychoanalysts, recognized the utter strain involved in relating the two worlds, of unconscious phantasy and affects with that reality which is external and/or becoming external.
In his paper, Dr. Erlich quotes from Freud’s views on the question of why war (“Thoughts for the Times on War and Death”-1915), as well as from a symposium held in Israel on the “Psychological Bases of War.” He addresses the psychological need for enemies (similar to Julia Kristeva’s “Strangers to Ourselves”), quoting from Vamik Volkan’s theory of suitable targets of externalization and the Kleinian view on projective identification. External enemies bring about a temporary stabilization of a group, and hence an alleviation of tremendous inner anxieties. Erlich points to the processes of identification with an aggressor as a way of handling the terror and fear of an enemy or persecutor. Paradoxically, the anxiety stirred up in relation to the stranger-enemy provides a catalyst for the process of self-definition and identity. These are all very important processes impeding the establishment of a discourse with an enemy (I realize this account is focusing primarily on the intrapsychic and neglecting historical and sociological processes). My Finnish colleague, Martti Siirala, wrote about the collective splitting processes involved in racism, genocide and scapegoating (I highly recommend his 1983 volume From Transfer to Transference: Seven Essays on the Human Predicament in which he attempts to describe the processes involved in what we would today call the transgenerational transmission of trauma). Two Parisian friends and colleagues, Francoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudilliere, have addressed this encounter of psychoanalysis with historical catastrophes, trauma and madness in their 2004 volume History Beyond Trauma: Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one cannot stay silent published by Other Press.
I would like to quote from Dr. Erlich:
“Truly creative discourse with the enemy can come only with our willingness to immerse ourselves in the ‘potential space’ we both share, in which parts of the enemy and parts of ourselves are fused and intermingled. We may then be able to perceive, however briefly and fleetingly, the shared elements of our common humanity. One of the most creative acts we may be capable of is experiencing our enemy as a part of ourselves, while also recognizing his existence in his own right, as separate and distinct from us.”
New York University
Thank you for sharing your experience with Thicht Nahn Hahn. It is an issue that came up at our annual ISPS-US meetings immediately following 9/11. From what I remember, Claire Mundell raised the same point of America refusing to engage in a mourning process preferring to fall back on paranoid-schizoid defenses. I am re-posting the following points and research on the importance of compassion.
Tenzin Gyatso, the Dali Lama, noted:
“...these days we human beings are very much involved in the external world, while we neglect the internal world. We do need scientific development and material development in order to survive and to increase the general benefit and prosperity, but equally as much we need mental peace. Yet no doctor can give you an injection of mental peace, and no market can sell it to you. If you go to the supermarket with millions of dollars, you can buy anything, but if you go there and ask for peace of mind, people will laugh. And if you ask a doctor for genuine peace of mind, not the mere sedation you get from taking some kind of pill or injection, the doctor cannot help you. Even today’s sophisticated computers cannot provide you with mental peace. Mental peace must come from the mind. Everyone wants happiness and pleasure, but if we compare physical pleasure and pain with mental pleasure and pain [I have heard many a patient say they prefer the physical pain of self-cutting to mental anguish and dread], we find that the mind is more effective...Thus it is worthwhile adopting certain methods to increase mental peace, and in order to do that it is important to know more about the mind. When we talk about preservation of the environment, it is referred to many other things. Ultimately the decision must come from the human heart. The key point is to have a genuine sense of universal responsibility, based on love and compassion, and clear awareness.”
In a fascinating new volume of a scientific dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Western scientists (Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them ?: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama narrated by Daniel Goleman, 2003, Bantam Books), Tibetan monks have been subjected to various neuroimaging techniques (e.g., fMRI) in order to explore the effects of such processes as meditation, e.g., on compassion for all beings including enemies, on neural functioning. Richard Davidson, of the Keck Lab for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin, along with Paul Eckman at the University of California at San Francisco, were among the investigators. In brief, what they found was quite astonishing. Some of the many findings were that the startle response (to a gunshot) was completely suppressed [with implications for therapy of persons with PTSD as well as other affective disorders-personally I thought of the P50 evoked potentials observed in schizophrenia research-according to a meta-analysis of the neurobiological and neuroscience literature by R. Walter Heinrichs in his In Search of Madness: Schizophrenia and Neuroscience published in 2001 by Oxford University Press-showing this measure to be the most reliable in distinguishing persons with schizophrenia from controls, even more than any neurobiological finding such as ventriculomegaly].
The researchers also found that a compassionate state of mind shifts neural activation from the right middle frontal gyrus [associated with chronic states of dysphoria, eg, depression and anxiety], to the left middle frontal gyrus [associated with states of pleasure, happiness, etc]. Compassion, as the Dalai Lama pointed out is also good for the one who experiences and acts compassionately towards others. I believe this is what Harold Searles noted in his concept of patient as therapist and the need for the therapist to see and acknowledge the patient’s psychotherapeutic strivings, often underlying what seem to be destructive attacks on the analyst. His concept of the psychotherapeutic impulse (which we have adopted as our newsletter logo for ISPS-US) is quite in line with this new research. The therapeutic symbiosis has a profound stabilizing effect on our neurofunctioning (which could have been guessed based on evolutionary theory and research on altruism which is a corrective to a simple “selfish gene” approach--see Research on Altruism & Love: An Annotated Bibliography of Major Studies in Psychology, Sociology, Evolutionary Biology and Theology edited by Stephen Post et al in 2003 for the Templeton Foundation Press for an in-depth review of these issues--one pointing to the altruistic trend as non-reducible to simple self-protection. I think of the valor so many individuals displayed on 9/11 staying within the towers in order to comfort and rescue the wounded knowing full well at the time of the gravity of the situation).
The same destructive processes at work in ourselves at an individual level are also operative on a collective basis (see Finnish psychiatrist-psychoanalyst Martii Siirala’s work on collective splitting which he has applied to racism, genocide, even severe mental illness). War and attacks on other countries often arise from great fear and anxiety as well as collective ignorance. Hatred and violence breeds greater hatred and violence in return as we are currently witnessing in various regions of the world. It is interesting to note that in the neuroimaging studies of the Tibetan Buddhist monks in dialogue with hostile, confrontational and difficult interlocutors, the latter calmed down dramatically when encountering warmth and openness on the part of the monks [is this not what we see in psychoanalysis when the therapist is being containing and non-retaliatory when the patient is engaged in a process of emotionally violent projective identification?]
I would highly recommend the phenomenological research on recovery from severe and chronic schizophrenias being done by Larry Davidson and his colleagues at Yale University in New Haven. In his Living Outside Mental Illness: Qualitative Studies of Recovery in Schizophrenia published by New York University Press in 2003, Davidson has demonstrated the importance in recovery for the patient of having the experience of being able to care for another human being as well as feeling deeply cared for outside of more clinical, institutional forms of caring. This is in line with what such schizophrenia researchers as John Strauss and Courtenay Harding have been long advocating: the co-construction of a viable, functional and valued sense of self along with the opportunity for social inclusion (as opposed to social exclusion and stigmatization).
To conclude with a quote from Tenzin Gyato (1989), the current Dalai Lama:
“May all sentient beings, oneself and others, find constant happiness through love and compassion associated with wisdom.”
I would like to thank my friends and colleagues, particularly Drs. James Ogilvie and Sara Weber for re-stimulating my interest in Buddhism.
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