chapter  16
5 Pages

44

To Thine Own Selves Be True
WithSome Reflections on Dissociation, Reality, and Psychoanalytic Listening1 (1994)

What if this man were in analysis! How would we see the nature of his problem? W hat happened to him that day in school? Is he psychotic? After all, he does hide from his children. Is he "borderline?" Is the therapeutic issue one of shame and pathological narcissism? If so, what is the process through which we might hope to comprehend what he feels as an adult, much less know what he felt as a child? What kind of transference can we expect? I am starting here, because I want gradually to approach the topic of what we imagine we are doing when we do psychoanalysis; what our image is of the human being we are listening to; and what our conception is of the mental apparatus and the personality structure that we are applying our technical skills to engage. In what way was this m an's emotional response adaptive to the event, how did it become pathological, and how does one listen to such a man so as to determine why his emotions overwhelmed him and to find a way to help him? Consider what Nesse (1991) has to say about emotions:

[E]motions are set to maximize Darwinian fitness, not happiness, and . . . natural selection has molded each kind of bad feeling to help protect against a specific threat.. . . Emotions adjust a person's response to the task at hand. In that sense they are similar to com-

puter programs, which adjust the setup of the computer to carry out a certain kind of task. . . . The behavioral, physiological and cognitive responses that help a person elude a tiger are different from those that help woo a lover or attack a competitor. Thus, fear, love and anger are highly distinct psychological subroutines gradually shaped by natural selection to improve the person's ability to cope with each challenge. . . . When a tiger bounds towards you, what should your response be? Should you file your toenails? Do a cartwheel? Sing a song? Is this the moment to run an uncountable number of randomly generated response possibilities through the decision rule?. . . . How could you compute which possibility would result in more grandchildren? The alternative: Darwinian algorithms specialized for predator avoidance . . . and upon detecting a potential predator, constrain your responses to flight, fight, or hiding [p. 33].