My most recent article for The Atlantic — this one about splitting and hatred in politics — went live this morning. You can find it here.
If you came to the site expecting to find my latest post about gratitude and scarcity, I’ve taken it down. I think it came across in a way I didn’t intend, as if I were “guilting” people. For those of you who felt that way, I’m very sorry.
During my last break, I didn’t make an announcement here that I’d be spending less time on the site during my vacation, so I’m letting you know I’m going to take a break from posting this next week. I’ll try to keep up with forum discussion and new comments but bear with me. I’ll be back with a new post after the Thanksgiving Weekend.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
I had an email from another therapist this week, asking whether I’d written anything for professionals who work with people who suffer from features of borderline personality disorder. She had recently been “fired” by one such client and felt upset about it. In fantasy, I imagined that it had happened in a very angry way, the client speaking to this therapist in abusive language and then storming out.
I’ve have been “fired” in just this way by a number of deeply troubled clients over the years. Broadly speaking, they would be considered “borderline,” although I hesitate to use that term because it has such pejorative connotations, even for mental health professionals. These clients often begin therapy with heightened expectations; they express commitment to the work and idealize their new therapist. Something will then happen in the course of the treatment (I’ll have more to say about what that “something” is) and the client will abruptly turn on the therapist. Often this means the end of treatment.
I’ve now opened the first topic thread on our new discussion forum, accessed either by clicking on the Forum tab in the menu above or the Join Our Discussion Group link next to the image of my book. In order to participate you will need to register. After you’ve registered, but before you can actually view the thread, I will need to manually assign you to the discussion group participants; it doesn’t happen automatically. I receive emails notifying me when someone new registers and I’ll try respond as quickly as I can.
In this first thread, we’ll be discussing the Introduction and first chapter, then in subsequent threads we’ll take up each of the chapters individually. This forum is a place for you to ask questions about what you’ve read, respond to the ideas I put forward and to share your experience with the exercises. Why Do I Do That? adapts the methods of psychodynamic psychotherapy to a guided course in individual self-exploration — that is, for people working alone — but I’ll be here to help as you go along. Engaging fully in the exercises is crucial if you’re to benefit from the experience.
You may have noted that there’s a new “sticky” post that shows up at the top of page. It’s a request that site visitors support the work I do by making a one-time purchase of my book. I’ve also added a link to some Guidelines for Submitting Comments that will show up in the Leave a Reply form at the end of each post. It makes clear that I’m no longer able to answer comments that ask for my professional advice or guidance.
It occurred to me that many of you might assume this book is simply a compilation of old posts and see no reason to buy the book since you’ve already read the material online. While I used some of what I’d written here on the site as a starting point for different chapters, more than 60% of Why Do I Do That? is entirely new material. And then there are the exercises. If you’re interested in learning more about the book before you decide whether to purchase, I’ve uploaded a detailed synopsis which you can read by clicking here.
During one recent session with a new client, he wondered aloud if I would respect his fairly conservative religious beliefs or seek to impose my (presumably) more liberal values. A day or so later, one of my long-time readers sent me an email asking how I deal with issues of faith in psychotherapy. It felt to me as if the time had come to address an issue I’d long wanted to write about. When I focused on what I wanted to say, it aligned with some other thoughts I’d been having about my friend Peggy Payne’s 1988 novel Revelation, recently re-issued as an eBook on the Kindle platform.
For the record, I consider myself agnostic, feel no need to persuade people to my point of view and have no quarrel with those who hold strong religious beliefs, as long as they don’t seek to impose them on me. In principle, my approach is to respect my client’s spiritual needs as something largely separate from their psychological and emotional needs.
On the other hand, I find that people’s relation to God, though unique and different from their relations to other people, is a relationship nonetheless and often problematic in ways that can be understood on an emotional and psychological level. For example, whether a Christian’s view of God stems from the Old or New Testaments often says quite a lot about the severity of their superego. A look at the ways someone suffers under the sense that God disapproves of or is angry with him or her can link to underlying self-hatred. That doesn’t mean the person’s relationship with God is fictional or merely an illusion. Rather, just as our projections of internal aspects of ourselves often distort our views of the people we know, it may also color our perceptions of God.