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. 

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