The Toilet Function of Friendship (and Other Relationships)

Do you have any friends who “unload” or “dump” on you, who dominate phone calls or monopolize dinners together by talking about their problems forever and showing no interest in you?  Do you dread these encounters because you always feel “shitty” afterward?  Welcome to the toilet function of friendship.

When Freud first developed the “talking cure,” he recognized that his patients experienced emotional relief after psychoanalytic sessions during which they discussed their difficulties; what he didn’t at first understand was that many of his patients were unconsciously using those sessions as a way to evacuate their pain and unhappiness rather than to gain insight about them.  I’m not sure that he ever truly recognized this phenomenon, though he did grow more pessimistic about the possibility of psychological change over his lifetime.  Many other theorists have since described this problem; many psychotherapists have the experience of very devoted clients who come into the office overflowing with pain, who fill up the session with endless words about what’s bothering them, go away feeling relieved then come back for the next session and do the same thing all over again.

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Narcissistic Behavior and the Lost Art of Conversation

[NOTE:  Narcissism and narcissistic behavior are a primary focus of this website; all posts on that subject can be found under the heading Shame/Narcissism in the category menu to the right.  If you’d rather read a more clinical discussion of narcissistic behavior, you might prefer this post on narcissistic personality disorder, or this one on the relationship between narcissism and self-esteem.  If you want to learn more about the basic signs and symptoms of NPD and how to recognize them, click here.  More recently, I’ve also written about aspects of normal or everyday narcissism that apply to most of us.]

 

Most people are narcissistic.

I’m not using that word in the clinical diagnostic way, or in the everyday sense of vain or conceited.  What I mean is that most people are almost exclusively focused upon themselves, their personal interests and their own emotional needs for attention. A certain amount of preoccupation with oneself is normal and healthy; it becomes a problem when you’re not truly interested in other people or ideas and only want to talk about yourself.

Here’s a fairly common experience for me:  I’m at a party or social gathering, speaking to someone I’ve just met, or an acquaintance I haven’t seen in a long while.  I’m asking questions, inquiring about the person’s background or catching up since we last met. Fifteen, twenty minutes pass … we’re still talking about the other person.  I get the feeling that I could be anyone; I’m just a receptacle, a mirror or an audience.  I provide needed attention to the other person; he or she has no interest in getting to know the man who’s listening.

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Hatred in Politics

In an earlier post on love and hatred, I briefly discussed how religion and politics often provide us with sanctioned outlets for our hatred, reflecting the processes of splitting and projection.  The current election cycle is a perfect example.  While Fox News and the Tea Party movement dominate televised discourse with their hateful attacks, in private liberals are often just as hateful.  I’ve had friends shout me down for saying I could empathize with parents of underage daughters who felt they had a right to know if she were having an abortion.  Within certain circles, to suggest that there might be reasonable limits to abortion-on-demand is to question the Faith and to arouse hatred.  I’ve known Democrats who wouldn’t even consider dating a Republican.

Given the enormous challenges we face, the political arena is a place where we ought to be having reasoned discourse about what’s best for our country; doing so depends upon the ability to think in the presence of intense emotion, a very difficult thing to do.  Intense emotion is the enemy of thought, whether it’s a sentimental glow that blinds us to harsh reality, or hatred that makes us unable to see the other side of an issue.  Many of the conservative voices in our country today are fanning the flames of hatred in order to squelch any realistic debate about the direction of our country and the sacrifices we’ll all have to make.  For many of them, their sole aim is to win.

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