Empathy: A Foundation for the Complexities of Love

Empathy, Mutual Recognition and Feelings of Love

I truly hope that readers won’t mind my writing this message that attempts to convey some sense of tranquility. One of the most wonderful opportunities made available and nurtured by writing on the internet is that there arise moments of inspiration which can beget an artistic container enclosing, and a liminal space that relates to, differing personal and public interests with a variety of perspectives. In my case, the art of blogging or writing on the internet evolved or transmuted into a focus upon creative blog composition. My earlier compositions were somewhat lengthy expressions of my understandings of and perspectives on contemporary psychoanalysis, clinical psychology, art, photography, diversity (including the rights of persons in the GLBTTQSA community and other ethnic/minority groups), politics, multimedia and music.

My current blog compositions tend to be short and condensed, but which at the same time embrace several layers of meaning. For example, this composition simply consists of a photograph, this descriptive and interpretive introductory text and a 60-second short-film. A later post might consist of just a single thoughtfully chosen photograph. Regarding this particular composition, in the midst of our current climate of heatedly divisive national political discourse, worrisome economic stressors, environmental and energy concerns and ongoing involvements in international crises, I thought that it might be helpful to offer readers a small oasis, a few moments of thoughtful calm and, perhaps, serenity.

Empathy is a one-minute short film that was a Regional Winner in the 2008 British Academy Film Awards. It is a film of elegant simplicity, which demonstrates how people of different generations can briefly be united by even small gestures of empathic mutual recognition. Empathy reveals how even very young children are capable of showing their passions from an early age. In this short film, the brilliant young actor is able to convey a deeply touching sense of truly heartfelt empathic compassion from which many of today’s adults could well learn.

Empathy: A Foundation for the Complexities of Love

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Double Bind and Paradoxical Communication: A Hazard to Mental Health

Double Bind and Paradoxical Communication: A Hazard to Mental Health

The world of electronic communications exponentially opens the door to some very interesting comments. For example, I recently read a statement that exhorted its readers to focus their attention upon the need to ensure that something had to be “squashed.” “Squashed?” I thought to myself. I don’t hear that word too often in everyday life. It seems like an attitude that opposing elected political figures might develop, or what one nation would attempt to do to its enemy (declare) in a state of war.“Squashed”—crush, suppress, stifle, subdue, forcibly squeeze something into a tiny space. The conclusion of the entreaty was somewhat of a shock: “With warm regards.”

Squash, crush, stifle, subdue—with warm regards?

I thought, “What is this kind of statement?”  Then, I realized, it’s the form of communication known as the double bind. Like a road sign that you’re looking at that says: “Do not read this sign.” You cannot do both what it asks and implies simultaneously. The double bind or paradox gives the illusion of space between the opposites, but the space isn’t really there. The effects of such paradoxical communication can be devastating, especially to those already experiencing disturbed emotions.

Unless the more vulnerable are helped to be able to untangle or unravel themselves from being trapped within the double bind or paradoxical communication to which they are exposed, they will become consumed by doubt, which will in turn reinforce enactments of repetition-compulsion. This, I propose, is the real path, simply stated, to the development of repetition-compulsion states, designation of which has been so elusive for many years.

The only way out of such traps is an inter-subjective approach, which is why models based upon behavioral techniques boast of great promise, but never really work. In fact, the latter techniques only make matters worse, since they add feelings of guilt and shame to the already present sense of anguish about being trapped.

The French Quarter: A Reminiscence

Historic Apartment Rows in the French Quarter

The French Quarter

Very late last night, actually in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself repetetively searching for an image of a tiny, tiny house.  Finally, a sudden thought of New Orleans’ French Quarter emerged (along with a curiosity about how or why that had occurred).  Searching through my memories of last week, I began to realize the context within which this seemingly uncanny recollection had come into view.

Participating in a free-flowing discussion with a small group of adolescents, at a certain point our conversation shifted to issues related to achieving a stronger sense of one’s own particular vocational wishes, opportunities or potential choices.  These interactions included considerations about the differing, unique paths or journeys that individuals might take during that process.  In my own mind, I was thinking (associated with the element of freedom that we have, despite the constraints of “given realities”) that any choice that we make inevitably is accompanied by a sense of sacrifice and loss regarding the paths not taken.  That sense of sacrifice is amplified by an acknowledgment that those paths not taken are extensively unspecified and indeterminant.

One of the adolescents, knowing that I had originally come from a deeply antebellum part of the South, asked me whether I was happy that I stayed in Chicago after completing my training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst.  I responded that I was extremely pleased that I had stayed.

But, if you could go back and make that decision again,” I was asked, “where else would you have most greatly enjoyed living and doing your clinical work?”  Emphasizing that this was, of course, within the realm of wishful thinking (as emotions about Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel” surfaced in the background), I said that I probably would have chosen to settle into the French Quarter, describing some of the many imagined enjoyable experiences of living quietly in a tiny courtyard apartment there. They all laughed in a cordial way and observed, “But you have so many things, even here in your office, it’s so cluttered, though in a warm and pleasant kind of way!”  “And you can just imagine what it’s like at home—clutter, clutter everywhere,” I answered, “but it manages to provide an atmosphere in which I actually can work in very creative ways.”

For me, the most important point to be taken from the overall commentary presented here is how the initial lack of any conscious sense of understanding about how or why my focus upon finding a satisfying image of a “tiny, tiny house” shifted to a thought of The French Quarter.  And, of course, the reference to a “tiny” courtyard apartment in The French Quarter during the reported group conversation of last week enabled me to unravel some of the previous ambiguity about the how the seemingly unassociated flow of ideas did contain a meaningful connection.

Perhaps all of this might strike some readers as an overly-long account of a seemingly minor event, but from a different perspective it might be understood as one particular example of the many, diverse ways that we all create in our attempts to organize the “clutter” with which we are continually confronted during the experiences of our everyday lives.

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