Friday, November 8, 2013

Smoking cigarettes as a means to do away with others and self

A man in his early Fifties who lives an isolated personal life, though gregarious when he goes to local stores or is siting in doctor's' office lounge or in other public places, treats his two cats as his family, reported that since he quit smoking he is having visual images of killing himself.

So the smoking was preventing his suicidal thoughts to emerge in his consciousness. For an impulse to turn into action it must first makes it way to consciousness - there are of course exceptions - and this was being blocked by lighting up of the cigarette. The pleasure that ensued from filling his lungs with warm smoke blanketed out the dysphoric destructive thoughts.

But before we go some more into the metapsychology of this defense, let us examine a little of his life history.
The patient's parents were old fashioned 'Church of Christ' followers from the South, who had migrated to Detroit when he was 9. The family culture was to quote the Bible frequently and to punish readily if  the children deviated from the straight and narrow. This made the core of his heart God-fearing. Though in his late teens and early twenties he lived recklessly and indulged head over heels in wine, women and songs with nary a thought of the afterlife.
 
He had a stormy Oedipal Phase, emerging out of it with typical death wishes towards the parents, stronger towards the father than the mother, consistent with Positive Oedipus Complex.  These death wishes were further accentuated during the Latency Period, because he faulted his parents for giving him his slight built - he is otherwise a good looking man - and his Southern manners, both of which invoked bullying from kids in school.

When he first began driving he had a horrible car accident which killed one of his buddies and left  another paralyzed from waist downwards. There were four teenagers in the car. His girl friend and he were in the back seat. A friend of his was visiting them from the South and was on the front passenger side. As a joke this Southern boy started making racial comments  to a Black man who was driving alongside. The man pulled out a gun and came after them, causing them to take off at a dangerous speed. While trying to escape through a dirt road, the car careened out of control, flipping multiple times, leaving the visitor from the South dead and the driver paralyzed. The patient and his girl friend escaped with minor injuries. 

His sense of guilt was markedly accentuated by this event and his death wishes had worsened. There also was now a tremendous need to repeat the trauma of the accident. It was a typical "Repetition Compulsion" to a devastating Traumatic Neurosis.

These death wishes and the guilt that followed  now shaped all his conduct. His life mostly became the game of getting into aggressive stances with people on the slightest provocation and then profusely apologizing to them for not behaving like a 'Christian'. He became a massive people-pleaser to cover up his death wishes towards everybody he came across. In his dreams, he was forever doing away with people, even committing mass murders, and in brutal fashion, recreating the bloody scene of the car accident, sometimes directly sometimes in displacement. His people-pleasing ways of praising whoever he came across, being kind and helpful to one and all, were of course every now and then punctuated by threatening to fight with them. He was very sensitive to being taken for granted, slighted or mistaken for a sissy when he was trying to appease people.

His adolescence and early twenties was marked by the emergence of a remarkable talent in singing. He formed his own band, which was highly successful, and for a while it looked like he would be a rock star. He had a big following, slept with innumerable women, and lived as if there was no tomorrow. 

During this music phase of his life he took a break for 2 years to join the Navy. He was shipped out to Middle East and was assigned for most of his stay there in the war torn Lebanon. Here he witnessed more turmoil and bloodshed, which, while stressful, also satisfied his urge to re-witness and abreact the trauma of the auto-accident.

His career, however, in the army did not last long. For he always felt restless in it, with an urge to be doing something else and finally checked himself out of it feeling like a failure.

He returned and formed another band. And once again just as he began to get successful with his music, disbanded it, cheated upon his wife which destroyed his marriage, and became a loner.

These failures, which were unconsciously engineered by him, and were as a punishment for his death wishes, caused him tremendous unconscious rage at the unfairness of it all. And this rage found an outlet in excruciating headaches. His whole life now centered around nursing his headaches, imbibing narcotics, alcohol and marijuana for its cure, and getting into oppositional defiant attitude towards authorities.

And he smoked all the time.

Analysis revealed that his smoking too primarily was an outlet for his death wishes. Whenever the death wish emerged  to get even with his parents for his Oedipal grudge, and all others who were the new editions of those original enemies, he would light up a cigarette. And then the warm smoke and the irritation that were generated in his lungs gave him the satisfaction of their burning; as if he was roasting them in hell-fire. Since the warm smoke also destroyed his body there was also the element of his burning with them which served as a self-punishment for the wish.

When he quit smoking these death wishes were no longer finding satisfaction in bodily self-destruction and could emerge undisguised and as plain visual images of killing himself.

He would see himself running in to one of his swords - he had more than 30 of them, along with all other quaint weapons of destruction - or taking a long needle and sticking it through the rib cage straight into the heart. A method of suicide that would puncture his heart and cause instantaneous death and spare him from pain. He declared only the fear of going to hell - for God forbids suicide - and the fear as to who will take care of his cats prevented him from doing the deed. 

When the interpretation was made that these imagery of suicide were punishment for death wishes against his parents, the patient pooh-poohed it on grounds that his father was already dead, and he loves and respects his mother more than anybody else in the world, so for him to harbor such a thought towards her was ridiculous.

But then immediately proceeded to confirm the correctness of the interpretation by recalling that the other day somebody in the grocery store knocked his mother with the cart, and he was so furious at that person's callousness that he went up to him and demanded that he apologize to his mother otherwise we are both going to jail. He could not directly see his own destructive impulses towards his mother but could see it in the action of others. 
 
I even suspect that when people light up a cigarette, it is because some frustration has occurred in the present, or memory of some frustration in the past has been stirred up in the present, and the need to burn the person or the circumstance that is causing the frustration, impels one to do so. The blowing out of the smoke is in a way blowing away the person who has caused one pain in to oblivion. This blowing away is not unlike how one clears one's throat or indulges in a hacking cough to mentally get rid of somebody of whom one wants no part of.

Cigarette smoking is amply suited to do away with one's enemies. It is quick, it does not cause any immediate pain, the warmth of the smoke gives one pleasure that overrides the pain of the memory, and the action of blowing away the hated person is visible as the emerging smoke, and it makes one feel masculine and in control.

The tendency in some cultures  - which strongly prohibit aggression against others - to indulge in self-immolation when they cannot destroy their enemy appears to be governed by the same mental mechanism.  While burning themselves they are also burning the hated enemy with whom they identify. The psychology of anorexia nervosa is also identical. The girl does not eat - as a reaction to the feeling that she was inadequately nourished by her mother - and sees the fat in herself as a symbol of her mother, and destroys herself and the hated mother (through identification with her) by getting rid of every piece of fat and then every other piece of herself by not eating.

Another patient of mine, who incidentally is the childhood friend of the person whose case history we are using to illustrate here the motive behind smoking, and was his "roadie" during their glory days, after reading this blog, remarked that the psychology of bulimia can be explained on same line. Here the ambivalently loved person is eaten to incorporate into oneself and then spit out as a mark of its rejection.

I remarked to him that perhaps the phrase to chew them alive and spit them out expresses this concept in its visual concrete form. 

2 comments: