Monday, February 27, 2012

Analysis of a PTSD Nightmare

A young girl in her early twenties reported the following nightmare:

A man is feeding another man spaghetti with a fork and pushes the fork all the way up in to his throat causing  blood to come out. 

She added, "Isn't it stupid for a grown man to feed another man spaghetti and then hurt him like that. It was such a dreadful nightmare. I don't want to even think about it. It is part of my PTSD. I always get nightmares because of my PTSD. You know that I was sexually and physically abused as a child."

"How old were the men in the dream?"

"The man who was pushing the fork was older the younger one must be my age."

"Anything else you can tell me about them?"

"The man who was being made to eat the spaghetti had red shirt. He was sitting on a chair. Coming to think of it his hands were tied behind the chair. The man who was pushing the fork one could not see his face clearly. It was covered by a hat. I could just see the beard. It was a goatee with streaks of gray."

"Do you know anybody who sports a goatee with streaks of gray?"

"Yes, my aunt's boyfriend. The one who sexually abused me when I was 9. He had a goatee just like that. So I guess it is him who is pushing the fork. But that cannot be entirely correct. For that crack-head was thin and gaunt. The man in the dream had kind of fat face."

"Do you know anybody who had a fat face who behaved towards you like your aunt's boyfriend?

"Yes, my mother's first husband. He did not abuse me sexually but physically. So I guess, the two men who abused me have turned into this dream man. And yes both of them had black hair and so does the fork man."

"Why is the man wearing a hat?"

"The both wore cap to cover their black hair. In the dream I change it into a hat that is covering their face because I could not stand looking at their faces."

"Why is the other man wearing red shirt?"

"I don't know."

"Is it connected with the bleeding that the fork caused in the second man?"

"No. But once I got black eye which made me see red. When I was in foster care, a girl punched me in the eye and made me see red."

"Is the other man yourself?"

"I don't know. Could be. But why would I turn into a man in the dream? Though got to admit. Red is my favorite color. I like bright colors - red, blue, yellow and pink. The shirt was really bright red. So it could be me."

"Is the red taken from spaghetti sauce?"


"Why does the spaghetti come in to the dream?"

"I love spaghetti. It is my favorite. But why would I want to be a man in the dream? And why was my hands tied behind in the chair?"

"It is because while the sexual abuse was taking place you must be thinking, if only I was a man and not girl this kind of subjugation and abuse would not be taking place. So there was intense wish to be grown up, and a man who could not be subjected to abuse."

"But I don't think like that anymore. But yes when the abuse was taking place, I would think if I was an adult and a man I would have knocked these idiots out with a punch and put a stop to what they were doing. But I haven't thought like that in years."

"But you still do in your dreams/nightmares. The fantasy to get even has not left you.

"You think the penis has become the fork and it's poking into your throat is depiction of oral sex. Did the aunt's boyfriend subjected you to that?"

"I don't want to talk about it. But you can assume that it did happen. The red is also taken from the bleeding that occurred when the idiot pushed himself upon me when I was just 9. My body was not ready. I had not even started my period, my chest was flat. So I guess I was more a boy then than a girl then. And the pain must have given me the same red as when that girl walloped me in my eye. But I don't want to talk any more about it. It makes matters worse. I rather forget about it. How come you are not like other psychiatrists who don't want to listen but give me pills so I stop thinking about the abuse and stop dreaming about it at night? Give me medicine that will stop it, instead of analyzing it, which makes me tired."

"Why is your hands tied behind?"

"That does not make sense either. Nobody tied me. But they made me immobile by putting their weight upon me."

"Perhaps being tied means you had no choice over the matter. So whatever happened to you, you were not responsible."

"I don't think that way. But I am really really enraged with my mother who was so man crazy she just abandoned us to all these perverts. I punch holes in the wall when I think as to what she allowed to happen to us. Also when it happened he forced me to lie on a table. He did not tie me in a chair. Perhaps the chair represents my mother. As if it was happening not to me but to my mother. For she deserved it not me."

"We still have to resolve the issue of spaghetti. Why would he be feeding you spaghetti?"

The girl could not come up with any association to it except that that was her favorite food. But I wondered if it was not the wish fulfillment aspect of the dream. The dream was reversing the extremely unpleasant memory to a palatable one.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A dream showing the wish for a reversal of one's life trajectory

An Indian-American housewife, mother of two pretty girls, comfortably settled in the suburbs, working at a place where she is well liked, outwardly having achieved everything that she could desire from the American dream, dreamt the following:

I am back in my hometown in the house in which I grew up. I am in my brother Z's room. There is a closet on the wall. Which is so weird because nothing like that was in that room or for that matter in any of the houses in India in those days.  And this gets even more strange, because hidden inside the closet is a passage that leads to a stairwell and flights of steps.  

In the room are my childhood friends. They are leaving. And here it gets real funny for they make their exit not from the front door as they normally would have, but by entering the closet and climbing up those four flights of steps. 

She immediately declared the dream to be nonsensical, and her two girls and her husband - who were sitting on the table along with a few more family members - chimed in that the dream is indeed absurd.

Only some elements of the dream could be analyzed since her children were there, but having subjected to analysis few of her dreams in the past I could decipher the overall meaning of this dream as well.

The analysis began by asking her as to why the closet is on the wall. And why she is back in her house of childhood.

"I don't know. It makes no sense. And why would that stairwell crop up inside that closet! It is silly. As to why I am in that house? Because I grew up there and I really loved that house. It was a statuesque house and stood apart from others in the neighborhood. It often comes in my dreams. My happiest memories reside there."

This was immediately interpreted as a desire to return to her mother and its safety. House usually symbolize people and most often one's mother or wife. The Sanskrit/Hindi word for womb is garbh, which is derived from grah (house). Therefore it  did not look too far fetched to consider the closet in the wall as the representation of the womb- a special space within the house (mother) -  and it was natural to conclude that  the dream had to do with some wish fulfillment that was piggybacking on the familiar primal fantasy of returning to mother's womb.

But what was that wish that could only be fulfilled by returning to the womb? And why was the closet/womb in her brother's room? And what could those four flights of stairs symbolize?

She answered, "Before the room became exclusively my brother's both of us shared it. Then as we grew, he being older and a boy, got the whole room to himself. But when he left for States, the room became mine."

Her brother is her only sibling, barely 2 years older than her. She had always admired and emulated him.

So here was the theme of exchange. What was once his had become hers.

Was she aspiring to be like him? Was she going back to the womb to switch places with him?

But these constructions could not be explored because it was not a therapy session, just an informal request to analyze the dream. Presence of her children and other relatives required caution in requesting complete free association.   

So we shifted the focus upon another element of the dream.

"Who were those friends?"

"Just friends. Childhood friends. No one in particular. I visited many of them on my recent visit to India."

One could immediately sense resistance to bring up the dream thoughts connected with this part of the dream. Apparently there was mixed feelings about meeting those friends.

After taking some time off from the dream which were spent talking on matters unconnected with it, she overcame the inner objection and returned to the dream, "Actually there were just two friends. A brother and sister, who lived near our house, and who would come and play with Z and me.

"And now I know where those flight of steps are taken from. They lived in a four storey building near our house. It had a stairwell just like in the dream. And to reach their flat they would climb up on them just like they were doing inside that closet in my house."

Then she added that while in India - it was her first visit since she migrated to the US seven years ago - she had occasionally compared the lives of those childhood friends to hers and had wondered if she would have been better off not migrating, despite all the material comfort she gets in the States. Life is more diverse and so many more activities happen there.

No further associations were asked of her and no interpretation was made. But knowing that flights of steps and climbing up on them in dreams is almost always an allusion to sexual intercourse I wondered if the dream was not an attempt to change places with that  visiting pair of brother and sister and with her own brother by bringing all four of them into her mother's womb.

Was she bringing that pair of brother and sister and her own brother all in a simultaneously occurring reproductive activity  - the four flights of steps standing for the four of them - in which her wish to switch places with them was finding fulfillment? While this could not be confirmed this appeared to be the most likely  interpretation.

The person she must have desired to change places most had to be her brother - her childhood hero, who had come 10 years earlier than her to the States and had done very well - for the dream takes place in his room. But there was also a desire to change places with her childhood friends as well, sharing the destiny of each one of them.

Interestingly this was in sharp contrast to her behavior in the waking life where she shows no envy and no desire to be like others, and is happily adjusted to her lot in life. Dreams do bring out the deepest wishes of our psyche which are so successfully under control while we are awake that we often cannot even guess of their existence from the actual daytime behavior.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Psychoanalytic perspectives on the Upstate New York girls tics and yoga-posturing

The other day I saw on Anderson Cooper show a report on a dozen or so teenage girls, all from the same  high school of an upstate New York town, exhibiting a mysterious ailment that looked like caricature of Tourette's Disorder. The illness consisted of making strange jerky movements with arms, legs, and torso and  vocalizing frightening sounds. The actions were abrupt, random, semi-purposive, and emerging without any discernible motive. They did show some abating, if the context demanded, like while directly answering questions to the interviewer on the Good Morning America show, but they returned if the focus was upon the movements and not on what they had to say about it.

The girls showed a striking lack of shame at the grotesqueness of their movements. It reminded one of  the la belle indifference of hysteria.  This is is sharp contrast to Tourette's where the patient is highly ashamed of his tics and abusive vocalizations.   If anything there was a show being made out of the misfortune. Adding fuel to the fire were the "cheerleaders" of these girls  - the parents, the media, the environmentalists - who all were rooting for the problem to be some "real" physical disease, perhaps the work of some mysterious  contagion.

It is a contagious disorder no doubt. But the contagion is not some virus, bacteria or environmental toxin, which the trouble makers would love it to be so they can assign blame, sue, and make big bucks, but the contagious tendency of the hysterics to copy each other.  And the motive behind such copying is always to attract the same attention upon oneself which the rival hysteric is getting.

What is compelling these girls - or rather the girl who first started the hysterical performance for others just got on the bandwagon - to seek attention is not clear, and it will never be quite known unless she submits herself to psychoanalysis. We do know that it began a few months ago, spread rapidly to at least a dozen other girls, and has now even affected a teenage boy and a grown woman. As for the psychopathology the way the girls move their arms, constrict their eye muscles, flip their bodies and grunt out sounds, it is undoubtedly an imitation of Tourette's.  But  forTourette's disorder to emerge in late teenage years, in a cluster of girls, all from the same small locality and in such a short span of time is medically impossible. Tourette's is overwhelmingly a disorder of the male sex.

So what is behind these girls hysteria? What compelled that first girl to hit upon the creative idea - for hysteria is caricature of art - of going Tourette? We do know that hysteria is an attempt to gain attention. Interestingly it is not just to gain any type of attention. It is to attract attention in a manner that deflects it from some other part of the body. And those parts are the genitals. In hysteria there is fright of genital sex.

Hysterical women are uncomfortable with their genitals. In fact they show great coyness in even using the words connected with the sexual process. I knew of one hysterical woman who had such a phobia of genital organs that far from mentioning anything about it she could not even touch the private parts of her own children, including an ability to put diapers on them. We should not be fooled if a subsection of hysterical women can talk big about sex, dress provocatively, behave like a tease and tell and enjoy sexual humor. It may all still be a front - counterphobic mechanism - to deflect attention from genital sexuality. And they may even act promiscuous and polymorphously perverse, but the motive still remains in making a flamboyant show of non-genital sexual parts of themselves to deny their genital frigidity. In some women there may be exaggerated frankness in talking about shameful bodily function but on deeper examination this shows to be an attempt to replace the genital with the excrementitious. Recently I came across a hysterical patient who could not talk enough about her bowels and its C diff infection, giving minute details of how the disease was affecting her. And she looked as a person who was so much into the scientific and clinical aspects of it that she had completely conquered her shame about these matters.  But in my mind, based upon her other behaviors - she would come and do some yoga exercises in my office which were veiled display of making love in which she [unconsciously] played the role of both the sexes - there was no question, it was to cover up her sense of shame associated with her genitals and their function.

"But don't we all have shame associated with our genitals and its function?" you want to retort.

That is true but all that you are saying is aren't we all hysterical, some more others less. The germ of hysteria is present in all of us. And here lies the answer to the riddle as to why the sanest folks can so easily become part of mass hysteria. In fact different forms of muted mass hysteria is such a cultural norm and so ubiquitously present that it makes it virtually impossible for us to accept that their roots lie in sexual repression.

And here I cannot resist the temptation to analyze one such mass hysteria that has gripped the US in recent years - the mass fascination with yoga.  Besides all the physical benefits of strengthening the muscles and cardiovascular system there is a clear sexual motive here. The yoga postures (positions) are a dramatic and flamboyant display of non-genital sexual parts of the body - pushing them as if in your face to deflect attention from the genitals. It is no coincidence that as baby boomers entered the twilight of their lives, and could no longer display with impunity the directly sexual aspects of themselves, as they could at the height of the sexual revolution, they  found in the art of yoga a  means to proudly display the non-genital sexual aspects of themselves. Though one cannot help but notice that while the primary intention is to deflect attention from the genitals the original genital impulse keeps making inroads and the yoga posturing becomes in some ways an invitation for people to sexually approach them from new angles.

It strikes us here whether having sex in all different positions - the aasans of Kamasutra - which is unique to mankind and not found in any other species also does not have its source in a struggle between the genital impulse and a hysterical aversion of it. As if mankind is incapable of making love in a simple fashion because of all the cultural and superego inhibitions and can only achieve it through all manners of contortions, distortions and perversions. The giant porn industry and for that matter the whole entertainment industry depend upon this hysterical nature of humans. The difference between yoga and porn posturing being that in former the prominence is upon the non-genital aspects of sexuality while in porn the display of genitals take the center stage. The performing arts straddle between the two. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two dreams showing oppositional defiance in an obsessive-compulsive patient

A Single man in his mid-fifties, a devout Christian, who would give the shirt off his back to the needy, who is always apologizing for imagined transgressions and cannot thank enough for every consideration shown to him by others no matter how small, whose thoughtfulness towards his co-workers knows no bounds including buying card and cake for every single one's birthday, who often charges the customers at the bookstore, where he sometimes is on the cash register, less than the tag price and to make up the difference puts money from his own pocket in the till,  reported following two dreams in quick succession.

Dream 1. I dreamt that I left the back door of the bookshop open.  On finding my lapse the boss took me to task severely.

The patient added, "The dream was so real that I rushed to the book store early next morning and took a sigh of relief on finding the door locked though I knew all along it had to be that way since I am not even in charge of opening or closing that door."

Dream 2. I am in a concert. I am unfolding chairs for my co-workers. I hear people laughing at me and my boss is upset. Without realizing I had unfolded and placed those chairs facing away from the stage. 

Without going into the associations which were scanty anyways,  I could decipher the meaning easily. Knowing the patient for over 20 years made the task easy.

While the patient is picture of humility and consideration towards his co-workers, in his unconscious there are thoughts to insult and get even with them, a legacy of his childhood when he was bullied by other children.  He grew up in the Sixties, when long hair and lush sideburns were the rage. But not to his father,a barber, who hated seeing his business taking a nosedive due to the trend, and who  gave his sons - patient had a brother - hair cuts worthy of skinheads, and no doubt as a means to exhibit some control over the matter.

The father was cruel in other ways as well. He was quick to lose temper and any attempt on part of the sons to act with him with any equality was dealt with a quick physical punishment. He had arrogated himself to sanctimonious superiority with the sons especially since his humble station in life contrasted sharply with the patient's extraordinary talent with drawing, especially drawing cartoons.  To make matters worse the mother was anxious and agoraphobic and very fearful of all the lurking dangers of the world, which she worried would fall upon her sons and instilled fears in them about separating from her and taking chances. Added to this was the constant indoctrination at the church that Jesus loves those who avoid confrontation and turn the other cheek. All these factors had combined to sap the self confidence of the two boys, and their ability to defend themselves from their cruel peers. They had been subjected to relentless teasing and sometime brutal physical violence as children. The adulthood was marked by failure to approach any woman who took interest in him on grounds that she would be better off with some other man. If any rival appeared in the picture the dread of competition and confrontation, because every confrontation with the father had led to defeat and punishment, had caused him to invariably withdraw from courting the girl in favor of the other person on the rationale that he would make a better husband. The bottled up rage for facing defeat in hands of others, who were inferior to him, for the patient is extraordinarily talented and a most honorable and decent gentleman,  now emerged against his co-workers, who had become the substitute for the bullies of his childhood, and the boss who now represented his father.

Both the dreams were obvious attempts to cause harm to the bookstore and thus to all those who worked there. There were legitimate grounds for wishing ill to those people. He was the senior most person there but got the least respect and the lowest pay. He had joined long time back when all that was required was a high school degree. The co-workers had joined after their college graduations and had started at higher pay scales. He had special grudge against the boss who just did not like the patient because he dresses up in clothes more befitting the Sixties era, sports long side burns, brings down his hair over his forehead as Beatles did, appears somewhat grungy and a relic of the hippie era. The boss had another reason for disliking him because despite his desire to please everybody and offering to do every one else's job in addition to his own he makes subtle mistakes that irritates his boss out of proportion to their impact upon work.

The dreams were continuation of this tendency to cause trouble to his co-workers and boss in a passive-aggressive manner. Leaving the door open was to cause theft in the store.

The second dream was also of revenge. When asked why the concert. He said maybe it was not concert but a gym.

Why gym? He said that the college had its graduation ceremonies in the gym, and he was unfolding the chair for the co-workers to watch the students graduating.

Patient had resented watching students far inferior to him in talent getting diplomas. His co-workers were paid   higher than him because they were graduates while he was not. Also a few days ago he had received a letter of rejection from Disneyworld at his attempt to get a job there as a cartoonist. He suspected that his lack of education beyond high school had played a role in the rejection.

His turning the chair facing away from the stage was expression of contempt at the degrees of his co-workers and of the graduation ceremony itself.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Addiction to weather channel - an interesting manifestation of OCD

A woman in her mid-thirties, who suffers from Down's Syndrome, was brought to my office to be put on medications to stop her "ornery and feisty behavior".

Questioning led to the revelation that she is a "weather nut". Her caretaker - she lives in a Group Home - and her cousin, who came to the session as well, to explain her problems, claimed that the epithet was justified because the patient is constantly searching for news on storms, thunders, lightening and other natural disasters and then worrying about the havoc these events are causing. She is glued 24/7 either to the TV or the  radio or the newspaper for reports on weather and its aftermath. The cousin  who had brought her to the office said you can do only so much to prevent her from watching the TV or listening to the radio and getting upset over the terrible weather conditions. If you do too much to prevent her from worrying about disasters happening to others she goes in to panic and then becomes mean and fightsy.

The patient was immediately diagnosed as suffering from obsessional neurosis, and the cousin, a little surprised and impressed, confirmed that she is obsessive. She demands everything to be straight, in line and neatly organized. She had other quirks of obsessive-compulsive problems as well.

One wonders if the people who are glued to their radio and TV to get the latest report on the weather are not using it to block out the fear of disaster coming to themselves by worrying about it happening to others.  We know that obsessional neurotics worry about their ability to cause destruction by merely thinking about it, and therefore are highly vigilant to not think in those lines.  In order to not indulge in disastrous thoughts, but unable to stop them, they often find an interesting compromise. They allow their mind to think of all kinds of destructive thoughts, but instead of owning up to their authorship, they see it as being caused by others, including  nature. This projection acts as a balm to the sense of guilt. The reasoning goes like this," It is not I who is thinking (causing) this destruction, it is nature that is doing it. I am innocent. Yes I do watch all kinds of disasters happening at the hands of cruel nature, but primarily to prevent it from happening, not to cause it. If you will see me in front of the TV watching all those people getting killed by lightening or hurricane or tsunami it is not to derive any pleasure but to feel bad for those people. I even pray for them to survive and sometimes send donations." The affect of pleasure as a rule is overlaid by the affect of remorse and contrition.

I will not be surprised that folks who listen to talk stations all the time or addicted to news channels may also not be suffering from a milder variation of this obsessional neurosis. Here too, the purpose is to be on lookout for some bad thing happening somewhere and to identify with those unfortunate people and to feel bad about it as if somehow one is responsible for it, even if very minutely.

A friend of mine, who did residency with me in Norfolk, where he had quite a few friend, moved to another state where he was very lonely. The loneliness drove him into obsessive worrying, and he began spending all his lonely hours listening to news. Only when he went to India and got married and found a new and more pleasurable outlet of making love to his wife did his libido found freedom from the obsessional neurosis of  worrying about all the assorted problems of the world. Problems about which he could not do a thing anyway. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giving the bird on a public platform and the psychology of stage fright

Reading about the Sri Lankan singer's obscene gesture - see the excerpt below from a blog on the Internet - I wondered about its psychological roots.  

M.I.A and the middle finger malfunction!
Quite a bit of he thunder however was stolen from Madonna by the middle finger of M.I.A or Mathangi”Maya”Arulpragasam the British singer of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, if reactions in the western media are a measuring device to gauge its impact.All “MIA” (Missing In Action)did was to raise her middle finger in a seemingly spontaneous manner with lips mouthing an alleged expletive during Madonna’s performance of “give me all your luving”.A wag on twitter called it a middle finger malfunction!

”Flip the bird” is what they call the act of raising the middle finger as a rude,obscene gesture.Maya’s middle finger “uplift” and the ensuing blaze of negative publicity
She was born in Hounslow,London on July 18th 1975. Her father is Arulpragasam an engineer who was a founder member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students(EROS) which later evolved into the Eelam Revolutionary organization (EROS) He is called Arular and wrote the Tamil novel”Lanka Rani” based on the 1977 anti-Tamil violence. 
MIA or Mathangi Arulpragasam known as “Maya” is a Rapper, vocalist, singer-songwriter, record producer, visual artist, activist, photographer, fashion designer, model. Her musical compositions are classified as being a combination of different elements from genres like alternative dance, electronic,world,hip hop,alternative rock etc.

Now the analysis:

Two motives are easy to conjecture. M.I.A is a Srilankan Tamil who deeply identified with the cause of the Tamil Eelam - the creation of a separate nation for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Their efforts,  after decades of struggle, which spanned the entire life of the singer, ended with a brutal genocide, the heinous character of which matches that of the Nazis. So the primary  motive for showing the finger had to be a gesture of defiance against the world for its indifference towards - if not secret enjoyment of - the genocide. 

The second motive of course had to do with it being her only chance to make it super big.  It is not every day that an aspiring female artist, especially who is neither White nor African-American but a South Asian, gets to be on the Superbowl half-time show.  Now or never; either she was going to be catapulted to thunderous global chatter or drawn back in to  obscurity, wresting no more than 15 second of fame, as Madonna's extra, at her tryst with destiny. And she grabbed the moment. 

The courage to be able to move that middle finger let alone make that gesture while being watched by hundreds of millions of eyes shows that the woman has guts.

But beyond these two obvious reasons there are always  deeper unconscious motives to such behavior, the analysis of which may explain as to why so many of us have such a crippling fear of appearing on stage. 

The desire to be famous, to be in the limelight and the center of attention, to watch others go gaga at one's performance, has its roots in wanting to reverse our lot with that of our parents. Not the parents of today, but how our parents appeared when we were tiny tots; from our prehistoric childhood, when our universe was nothing but a miraculous creation of our all powerful father, and everything that was lovely and worth admiring was the extension of the most beautiful woman in the world, our mother. 

In our earliest childhood our parents appear to us as the grandest people in the world, virtually king and queen, whose every action looks divine. But as we grow older, and our critical faculty sharpens, no doubt because of the repeated disappointments life metes out despite the presence of our parents, we begin to compare them with others, and it goes without saying, to their disadvantage. Little by little they start to lose their grandeur and appear no better than the average Joe. In fact worse. For taller you are, the harder you fall.  And we rarely ever forgive them for this great let down. And as if to make up for this earlier false overestimation of their real worth our fault-finding faculty is always on a lookout for an opportunity to even the scales; to teach them a thing or two.

Without forgetting that the original attitude of great respect and love for the parents (filial piety) persists side by side, it is this desire to grievously insult them if the opportunity arises that lies behind "stage fright". For if they happen to be on the ground and looking up at us, as we once looked up to them with awe and respect, then it offers the perfect chance to show them the contempt that they were once so quick to display to us. For when our parents take that precipitous fall from our grace, society/public/social institutions take the significance of the parents. And it is this wish to say something really defiant, blasphemous, insulting, abusive, sexual to the gathering of people - parent substitute - which, one is afraid, may inadvertently escape, despite one's best efforts, that causes fear of being on the stage. For behind public performance and public speaking lies a nagging concern that instead of doing the right thing in society one may say something wrong or make some terrible gesture. It is the fear of behaving like "M.I.A." that keeps many talented people from ever reaching their full potential. Though they have no knowledge in their conscious mind that behind the desire to please the multitudes and be their darling lurks the fantasy to horribly insult them. 

For by flipping the finger at the world she was also serving her parents and society - the society of those Tamilians who were butchered, raped and treated worse than slaughter house animals, while the world   watched and just let it happen.

Flipping the finger from the stage at public deserves a few more psychoanalytic comments. Stage is the place where one puts up one's show to the public/society. If public/society takes over the significance of one's parents then the desire to appear on stage has its origins in putting up a show for the latter. Once again a reversal of the situation of childhood when we were the eager spectator and they were on the pedestal.  

Now there is one show of our parents that we desired to see more than anything else. The show which the Hindus call ras-lila - the song of Krishna consorting with gopis. Really an artistic religious rendering of the father making love to the mother. It is the desire to see the father's genital organ in action - which later would become the rationale behind all pilgrimages: to get the darshan (viewing) of Shivalingam and other deities in their glory, with the elaborately carved temple and its chambers representing the mother - to witness the parental intercourse which later in reversal becomes the motivation to put up one's own show for the public.

And one of the motives for seeing the parental intercourse is to compare one's own prowess with that of the father. And here one finds oneself severely short. The father in all respect outclasses the little Oedipus - the principal reason why the oedipal phase in the boy comes to an end. One simply cannot compete with the father at that tender age. Reluctantly the boy gives up the parents as love objects and enters the latency phase. But not without sustaining a permanent narcissistic scar of inferiority. Here we come upon, as if by accident, into the clue that explains the notorious inferiority complex of mankind and it's preoccupation with lengthening of the male sexual organ.

And it is to reverse this nagging sense of inferiority which lies behind all spectacular deeds and shows, including such flamboyant ones as pyrotechnics, stunts, jumping from great heights, climbing the tallest mountains, playing the guitar like Led Zeppelin, and bending it like Beckham, they are all trying to prove to the father that see, in public eye, I am uniquely superior to you. Just like the father once appeared as the most unique person in the world the son is showing him that he is even better.

Flipping the finger - symbol of erect penis - is also in the same series, and here one cannot help but notice that by showing his penis to the public the son is also making an attempt to overcome his castration fears. It is in its own way declaring, "I don't give a shit for you any more. The power which had impressed me so much once, I am harder than that now, and can stand my own ground."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A dream expressing contempt of men

A housewife in her late thirties reported the following dream:

I am screaming and yelling at Mike to not start it again. Then I start hitting him on the chest. Finally I tell him to just forget it, I am leaving. I walk down a narrow set of steps which is green. When I reach down I tell my dog Shadow, "Come I am leaving." 

"Who is Mike?"

"That is the strange thing about the dream. I don't know any Mike. Or at least any Mike who looks anything like the Mike of the dream."

"How does the Mike of the dream look?"

"He is a heavy set man. With a blue t-shirt. Navy blue. Has a 5 o'clock shadow."

"Where is the blue t-shirt taken from?"

"Gary my husband wears navy blue t-shirt. In fact navy blue t-shirts is what I see him most in. And he is heavy set."

"Where is the 5 o'clock shadow taken from?"

"That belongs to my step-father, Ted. He is old now, but when he was young, he often sported that 5 o'clock shadow."

"Anybody else you can think of who goes to make up the figure of Mark?"

 "Yes my Dad. He is heavy set too. Gary and my father look alike. They are both aggressive. They are both big men. They both love dogs. So I guess all the three men who had the most influence over my life are subsumed under the figure of Mike."

"Why are you yelling and hitting them?"

"Because I am so fed up of men. They have done nothing but controlled  my life. My father would hit me when I would not do all the work there was to do at the house. It was not my fault that his wife left him, and I looked like my mother, and he was stuck with me. It was simply not fair to dump all that house work on me, and then yell and hit me, when I could not do it to his satisfaction. He had no sense that a 13-year-old girl cannot possibly remember and do everything that is required to be done in a house.

"And I cannot forgive my step-father for sending my mother to her grave, when she was barely 65,  by controlling her every move. He gave her no space to breath. And my husband is no better than Ted, for he is doing to me what Ted did to my mother. I feel so suffocated in my house.

"What is so interesting is that in real life I always freeze with fear in the presence of these three men, and it is they who control me. But in dream it is I who is hitting them; and that Mike guy, whoever he is, is just standing still and doing nothing. So it is really a wish fulfillment, as you claim all dreams are. I am just turning tables on these controlling men, and they have no say in the matter as I have no say with them in my waking moments."

"Why did  the dream  give this composite figure the name of Mike?"

The patient thought for some time and said,"Oh my God. I totally forgot it. But I did know someone called Mike. A boy named Mike Castelli who made my life hell from age of 5 till I got out of elementary school at 12. He would hit me at every opportunity he got. He would tease me when I would get off the bus. He would throw snow balls at me and once smeared a new fur coat of mine. I hated him."

"Why those steps come in the dream and why are they green?"

"The green is my favorite color. It is so soothing. It comforts me. When the world gives me too much trouble I always escape in to my bed and cover myself with my favorite pastel green comforter."

Since climbing up and down stairs usually is a substitute for sexual satisfaction, it was assumed that the green passageway was the genital passage. So it was the fantasy of returning to the womb, such a common fantasy of mankind, which she was using to get some peace from the bullying world of men. After getting even with them, she was retreating into the safety of her mother's womb.

But the girl rejected the interpretation and said more than my mother's womb I was returning in to my own self. "My mother was as harsh to me as my dad.  From my earliest age I hated her and had learnt to be my own mother."

"I think the green passageway phylogenetically represents your mother's womb. Though you are right you have become your own mother so you are kind of withdrawing within your own self."

The time ran out so we could not analyze the dream further and get to the bottom of why she was telling Shadow, the dog, Come I am leaving. But Shadow, was her faithful companion, shadowing her day and night for 18 years. He fulfilled some of her need for male companionship. He had recently died, and it had caused her intense pain and bereavement. In the dream her wish for him to be alive again was getting fulfilled.

Friday, February 3, 2012

An Oedipal dream in an anxious girl

An intelligent young teenager, accomplished in many areas, especially music, but who unfortunately suffers from crippling anxiety, revealed the roots of her illness in the following Oedipal dream, which she reluctantly recalled and only when asked to tell any dream that she could remember from past or present.

I dreamt this a long time back. I was not even 7 then.

My brother Nate has something wrong with his eye. He goes to Joshua, our older brother for help. But Joshua instead of helping hurts his eye even more. 

The dream was so old and laconic that she could hardly give any associations to it. But the girl being a good sport tried to fill the gap by giving more details of the dream itself.

It happened in the laundry room, which is strange. For only my mother and I do the laundry. The boys never even go to the laundry room.

So here was the clue that the dream was about her mother and herself, only displaced upon her brothers. And if we take their ages in to consideration, Nate was representing her, and Joshua, the elder one, her mother.  And what was happening in the dream between the boys could be assumed as the essence of the conflict between her and her mother.

The girl did not object to or agree with the interpretation, and added

 it was dark outside. Perhaps it was evening. 

This was interpreted as an allusion to repression. Darkness, night, obscurity, fog often represent the shady underworld of the unconscious where one thing can easily represent another, and sinister and unthinkable alterations can happen. Perhaps even sex change can occur.

"What exactly was wrong with the eye? And how did Joshua further hurt it?"

"The eye was inflamed and red. And Joshua swatted upon it, how one may kill a spider on the wall."

Now we know the spider is the typical symbol of female genitals. Was the girl taking the complain of her genital being red and inflamed [open wound/proud flesh], and hence defective/sick, to her mother for repair/correction and the mother instead of helping was swatting upon the problem and making it worse?

That the problem was shown as happening between the brothers instead of between her and her mother was acknowledgement that this defect of her genital can only be resolved if she takes it to men instead of keeping it between two women. The Oedipal shift which the girl has to make, giving up the mother and substituting the father as the primary love object.

Her anxiety was a reflection of this transition too. With shift of her libido from mother to the father there arose in her the death wishes towards the mother - mother becomes the chief target of the girls aggression/death drive/thanatos, whether justified or not, once the girl makes this transition - and it was fear of the loss of her mother's love, if only she would get a hint of how she (the daughter) nurtures such evil thoughts towards her (the mother), was what was sparking the anxiety.