Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Aggressive impulse at the root of easy distractability and multi-tasking

A 29 year old girl who came for Suboxone treatment reported that the reason she was addicted to Vicodin, and now kind of addicted to Suboxone, is because they attenuate her distractability. She claimed she can rarely keep her focus on a task long enough to complete it unless she is taking Vicodin or Suboxone. Every task undertaken, after sometime, is interfered by a creeping anxiety and premonition of disaster happening somewhere else, and her mind begins to search for some other project that she was supposed to do, and forgot, and which, if not immediately attended to, will cause problems and she abandons whatever she is doing to take up the new task. The cycle repeats itself with the new project, leading her to pick up yet another project, till there are so many open projects that she feels overwhelmed and gives up on all of them.
If she can't find something to do that has the potential to distract her in the outside world than she searches for pimples on her face and bursts them lest they grow too big and offensive and make her object of ridicule. When asked as to why others would they find the pimples offensive she said because they are ugly and it will invite them to attack her.
Now we know that Attention Deficit Disorder and Obsessional Neurosis are two sides of the same coin. The aggressive/destructive impulse, which these people are plagued with more than others, has to be suppressed and an impulse opposite in its intent [constructive in nature] has to be put in its place to keep the hostile impulse from getting hold of the motor apparatus. The hyperactivity of the ADHD child is a compromise formation between these two motor trends, to wit, destructive and constructive.
The easy distractability of ADHD patients is also a play between these two opposing impulses. The person is beseeched with an impulse to cause harm. This he suppresses with doing something constructive that will not only occupy his motor apparatus so the harmful impulse cannot take hold of motor movements, but also because by doing something constructive he hopes to please the person/s towards towards whom the destructive impulse was aimed at.
In this girl, the destructive impulses were directed towards her mother. In her conscious mind, she was completely unaware that she harbored extensive rage towards her mother.
Her mother was abused as a child, and had numerous mental problems herself, and she was mean towards her children. However, mother had also been in therapy all her life, and had taken the kids to her therapist to undo the damage her erratic and mean behavior was possibly doing to them. In these therapy sessions, the children had learnt not to hate their mother for her meanness on the rationalization that she was mentally ill. So the girl had learnt to not consciously feel angry towards her mother and also to believe that she harbored no resentment because she understood the roots of her mother's behavior. Nevertheless in her unconscious the desire to give tit for tat for her mother's meanness had persisted.
It was these revenge impulses, laced with furious rage, that sought motor actions and had to be kept at bay by doing some constructive project [that would please her mother].
Now in mild cases of obsessional neurosis, or where obsessional neurosis is sublimated towards useful goal, and this includes majority of mankind, for our world's do-gooders are no more than those who have harnessed their destructiveness to fuel the opposite impulse of constructiveness in such a fashion that the latter almost always manages to triumph over the former, the pathology is only apparent in that the person obsessively wants to do good - herein lies the psychology of hyperfocusing in ADHD.
But where the destructiveness is too powerful, as was the case in this girl, the constructive activity fails to keep the former in check for too long. The person gets a premonition that her good intention is going to be trumped by the evil one, which will result in some disaster happening [anticipation of punishment for the evil designs], and the conscious mind perceives it as a rising anxiety. And to take care of this anxiety she looks around for some project that was supposed to be done but which has not been done and which she deems as a potential candidate for causing trouble and she leaves whatever she was doing to take care of this new project. Herein lies the psychology of distractability. The destructive and constructive impulses are equally matched and the projects undertaken get interminably procrastinated.
The phenomena of multi-tasking arises from the same complex as well. Here projects are not abandoned but pursued simultaneously. When the anxiety arises about destructive impulse messing up the task at hand, the person, instead of putting additional energy in the constructive efforts, or abandoning the project and moving on to something else as the ADHD distractable person does, does not abandon the first project but takes on another, and then yet another, and juggles between all of them, and if he does it successfully then he is looked upon with admiration and if he messes it up he is viewed as a bumbling fool.
Now to her preoccupation with pimples. They symbolized siblings. She was trying to hurt her mother by identifying herself with her mother and destroying the mother's potential children. As if the desire to harm her mother had been displaced on to harming her mother's children. The penance for such fratricidal behavior was also expressed from the same act. The pimples stood for her children too, which she was destroying as a retribution for doing the same to her mother's children. It is interesting that despite her being at the peak of her femininity she had no interest in settling down and having children. As if all her interest in life had been consumed in managing this interplay between aggression and love impulses which strove to fight with each other in every aspect of her life.

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