[Editor’s note: the following is an interview with Bernard Apfelbaum written by Connie Cox and first published in the Berkeley Barb in two parts (1, 2). In addition to merging the two into one piece, I’ve also removed superfluous introductory text in the 2nd part and corrected typos.]
Part 1: Freud No Chauv
Freud was a male chauvinist, a culture-bound Victorian, and/or a “dirty old man,” Everybody knows that.
Ironically enough, however, he also managed over the course of his life to pull together a way of looking at human nature that transcends or belies all of these biases. Hardly anybody knows that, which is why this interview came to be written.
Bernard Apfelbaum is a practicing Freudian psychoanalyst who has had an office on Telegraph for fourteen years. He started his training under Tim Leary, who at the time was a proponent of Wilhelm Reich and Otto Rank. The interviewer is familiar with the issues to be discussed and in fact concocted the interview as a way of giving them a wider audience and hopefully stirring up some dialogue with the community.
The rallying point is women’s lib, explained by my status as a woman and the tentative conviction that it may very well be Freud-the-thinker who is going to save us from Freud-the-male-chauvinist. As well as from a lot of other oppressive baggage.
The first thing I wanted to know was how Dr. Apfelbaum felt about being interviewed for BARB. He said he’d rather it was the New York Times, but besides the psychoanalytic journals, it’s all he’s been offered so he’ll take what he can get. (We’d rather it was Freud, but…the Ed.)
The next thing I asked was, “How do you justify being a Freudian analyst in the midst of current anti-Freudian popular opinion?”
He answered, “Psychoanalysis is the least known and most misunderstood way of understanding human behavior, in spite of being thought of as most well-known and understood. And while the version of psychoanalysis that exists in the public mind has nothing to offer anybody, there are powerful insights in the unfamiliar version that people need to know about.”
C: Okay, I want to get into that. But first I want to know what you have to say about this: in an article on the small group experience in a women’s lib publication, Lynn O’Connor reports what I think has become a philosophical framework for much of the women’s movement.
The idea is that women have long suffered from self-blame and that psychotherapy traditionally reinforces this, while what women really need is to recognize the external causes for their suffering and to redirect their rage away from themselves toward these causes.
Lynn reports that in the initial phase of the small group, women discover that many of their problems are common to all women, where before they felt personally at fault, and realizing this fact gets rid of a lot of self-blame and creates a new sense of strength.
But she goes on to say that in testing this new confidence in their life situations, “instead of the new admiration and respect [they] had expected, [they are] met with anger, rejection and laughter.”
It’s at this stage that women’s lib — or at least the groups Lynn is writing about — decide that changing yourself is futile: “…there are no personal solutions…” to the male supremacist conditions women encounter, she says, so “the small group becomes a self-conscious collective defining its goal in terms of the violent overthrow of male supremacy — or anything which stands in the way of that goal.”
It seems to me that rather than at this point abandoning all self-exploration as futile, this is where it could begin with real power. While I feel that action to change society is essential, I also feel that the problem of dealing with external conditions is really an internal problem ultimately. That is, how effectively you deal with the external conditions depends on your level of self-understanding.
Maybe nobody would argue with me about that as a theory, but there is still the problem that it’s easy to feel that more self-understanding just isn’t possible or that it couldn’t mean anything against women’s real condition of oppression.
My idea is that if we can really achieve confidence in our rightness, there are personal solutions as well as political ones. In fact I can’t see the one existing without the other. Internal and external experience mutually illuminate each other and the development of effective power within one realm of experience increases the potential power of the other.
It’s been well-argued how changing external conditions changes the internal. What about the other way around?
What if we could laugh back, or learn to out-argue, or retaliate in some other ways when we encounter the personal putdown or rejection?
A man acts as if he knows he’s right when he laughs at or puts down a woman’s protests. He’s rarely encountered a woman who just knows he’s out of his head when he acts that way.
However justified we think we feel, we’re usually intimidated by his seeming certainty and get defensive, which is a clue that we’re still susceptible to self-blame, that our newfound sense of rightness is precarious, rather than a proof that a sense of rightness won’t change anything.
So I see it as a problem of building a strong ego, of becoming so sure of yourself that you don’t feel defeated or defensive when you are put down. If political activism can do that for you, fine, but I’m skeptical.
But it is what I think “analysis,” or just an understanding of analytic concepts can and should do for people. And it’s also my idea of your idea of analysis, which is why I’m interviewing you.
Dr. A: Right. Well, what I’d say to that is that self-blame is what people suffer from — not only women. Even though sometimes they deal with it by blaming others, this can still be the same problem.
And this is what psychoanalysis is all about. What it focuses on is the person’s guilt, self-hate, self-blame, whatever you want to call it — as the problem he needs help with.
C: Would you say that if women could really authentically blame male chauvinists, for instance, they wouldn’t need analysis?
Dr. A: Yes.
C: But obviously this isn’t any simple problem, like it could be cured by reassurance or agreement or an attempt to convince. After all, analysis takes time.
Dr. A: Not necessarily. It can take five minutes. But you’re right, it’s not simple. “Authentic” is a big word and the blame problem is what I expect this interview is going to be all about.
C: One more thing before we get into the theoretical issues. Since a lot of people do feel that analysis — or anything that focuses attention on the self — is inherently self-punitive, that is, works to reinforce self-blame rather than alleviate it, it seems there must be some basis for this.
Dr. A: Yes, another reason for this interview is that psychoanalysis has been getting a consistently bad press lately. I would expect anybody reading what’s been said about analysis in the past few years — not counting Phillip Rieff’s books — to think of analysis as a disease rather than a treatment.
And I think there is a basis for this. Let me take a case in point. The October Playboy had an article on “The Crisis in Psychoanalysis” that presented the version of psychoanalysis that’s vulnerable to this criticism.
It’s the best example of this I’ve seen recently. It was written by a journalist who thought he was defending psychoanalysis against its critics.
In it a case is briefly described that we can use as a takeoff point to answer your question as well as to say something about the present state of analysis.
This woman — call her Jill — came in to see an analyst complaining of frigidity. The analyst decided that the trouble was that she married a man like her father, really wanting to screw her father, but that she shrank back from it because she felt unbearably guilty about this “incestuous” wish. That’s all we’re told.
C: That sounds like typical Freudian gobbledygook. But harmless enough, so far.
Dr. A: It’s supposed to be an example of how Freud saw symptoms — in this case “frigidity”— as ways of warding off infantile, maladaptive, destructive wishes — in this case the “incest” wish. Now Freud once did think this way: the symptom, that is, the inhibition against sex with her husband — call him Jack — is caused by a bad wish. If the wish can be given up, the inhibition disappears.
C: So this analyst would try to get her to renounce the wish to make it with her father? And this supposedly will cure her of her frigidity?
Dr. A: Right. And this all sounds innocent, maybe even a little “scientific.” But Jill’s getting the blame even though it comes in antisceptic clinical form.
She’s supposed to enjoy sex, to respond warmly to Jack. If she doesn’t then there’s something wrong with her, like “incestuous wishes” or whatever. Which is exactly what she thinks.
C: Okay, this is the self-blame women’s lib is talking about, and it is clear that her analyst is reinforcing it.
Dr. A: Here’s a couple uptight in bed. They agree there’s something wrong with her, and so she goes to the analyst who then finds that, just as she feared, she indeed is the one with the bad attitutde.
What makes this kind of blame particularly insidious is that it’s so hard to see. We all agree with it and so does she. We want her to like sex. We feel she should.
Her shrinking back from it puts us all uptight and we blame her for it.
C: It’s this kind of thinking that makes the “fuck sex” reaction of some women’s lib groups pretty understandable.
Dr. A: Sure. And it’s a good battlecry because it’s trying to knock us out of our set, to shake up our fixed beliefs. It’s like being able to hate your mother, a luxury we’ve only been able to enjoy since Freud.
C: How does it happen that two analysts who call themselves “Freudian” see this sort of thing so differently?
Dr. A: Freud’s original view was very convincing and that’s why Jill’s analyst looked at her as he did. For the first 20 years of his work Freud thought that people got inhibited because they have bad, antisocial impulses.
The problem is that Freud never really came out and repudiated this view, though he developed a whole new way of analyzing people. So, many analysts still hold some version of the old view.
The old view is simple, commonsensical, and medical: if we can just trace down and eliminate some hidden blockage then Jill will be freed to do what we all know she should. It’s strictly a case of oh-doctor-I-can-walk-again as soon as she gets positive toward Jack, and all three of them are very pleased.
So the old analyst knew what he wanted and didn’t have much patience with people who weren’t ready to let it all hang out. The old psychoanalysis got to be seen as a game of catching people whenever they slipped and revealed bad wishes.
The old analyst was a kind of private eye, a super-sleuth who hunted down seemingly innocent associations on the track of the forbidden wish. This assault on the patient’s good opinion of himself, his self-esteem, earned the old analyst his reputation as the head-shrinker, the shrinker of swelled heads, the ego-deflator.
According to the old view, Jill feels guilty and gets hungup because she wants to screw Jack. His resemblance to her father really excites her but she feels it’s wrong to get excited that way.
Incidentally, it’s terminology like “guilt about incestuous wishes” that makes psychoanalysis so spooky. To an analyst this means Jill can’t tolerate or enjoy rivalry or competition with other women. So she feels guilty if, when she enjoys making love, she has the flash feeling of “Oh wow, I bet my mother never had this kind of a trip.”
The trouble with focusing on Jill’s feeling guilty because she wants to screw is that it bypasses what is so obvious we find it hard to see, her guilt about not wanting to screw Jack.
C: But that guilt is supposed to get ironed out once she gets her head straight about the incest wish.
Dr. A: But it doesn’t because that would only confirm her view of herself as somebody that needs to have her head straightened out — somebody whose reaction against sex is bad, wrong, and without purpose, without any validity.
Like there are men reading this who are thinking that a good fuck by them would save Jill her trip to the analyst. Feeling smugly superior to Jack, they’re ready to get in the saddle. A good fuck wouldn’t hurt these women’s libbers either, they’re thinking. After all, don’t women, deep down, crave being dominated? In other words, Jill’s uptightness about sex is just silly. We all know sex is beautiful and she’d better believe it.
Like the old maid scared there’s a man under the bed. We all know she really wants to screw, is even dying for it. Smug in our sense of biological destiny, we don’t have any idea why she’s scared and we don’t care, it makes us nervous anyway, and that’s why we laugh at it.
This is a cautionary joke, just as “old maid” and “spinster” are cultural enforcers, along with “frigidity” and “castrating bitch.” Jill has no right to be turned off.
And there’s the bind. If she’s not free to be turned off, she’s not free to be turned on. It’s like she’s got this big responsibility to come through. Maybe to help us all to hang on to our fantasy that sex is beautiful.
The male chauvinist who is ready to turn her on with a good fuck actually takes none of the responsibility, risks no failure. If she doesn’t respond, she’s just hopeless. This, incidentally, is the basic position of the new instant-cure therapies. This means that the idea really is that all she should need is a good fuck — which takes us back where we started from.
Jill would even still have the responsibility if she tried to make it with a nice guy who tries to take all the responsibility. This is the guy who dutifully accepts the injunctions of the sex manuals to stop blaming Jill, to stop being selfishly out for his own fun, and to make an effort to crank old Jill up.
So he toils over her bod, trying to press all the buttons and turn on all the valves, managing to squeeze out a few endearments in the effort to overcome his guilt that now he’s turned off and is using “techniques” — after all, sex is supposed to be “natural.”
Jill gets super-frigid trying to respond, knowing if she fails to, his suppressed impatience will really be formidable now that he no longer can justify it. So she still has the responsibility.
And it can be no different with a more detached operator, like the BARB-ad man who lives to turn women on, and who advertises his patience.
C: Okay. These are all mistakes that can be made in handling Jill’s problem. Now, how would YOU go about unraveling it?
Dr. A: It should be clear by now that I’m saying that Jill is frigid because she can’t reject sex rather than because she can’t accept it. If she could really dislike sex, she wouldn’t have to frigidly submit to Jack’s advances.
If we didn’t get so uptight about anybody’s not being turned on, it would be obvious that frigidity and coldness indicate submissiveness and compliance. It’s basic to the general compulsion to turn oneself into an object, sexual or otherwise, for the other person.
As by nodding and smiling in social situations, acting stimulated, looking interested.
The social laugh would be just as condemned as the imitation orgasm if we were less committed to mutual reassurance-rituals.
Suppose Jill could kick Jack out of bed: there’s nothing frigid about that. But wait a minute, you might want to say, that’s not the way she’s supposed to not be frigid! All that means is that she really didn’t want to screw all along, just as Jack and all the boys down at the bowling alley suspected. In fact, she’s bound to have had fights with Jack where he accused her of that very thing.
Don’t we all know about cockteasers, about women who get men all ready to go and then act innocent? Don’t we all know about wives who take out their hostilities on their husbands by refusing to screw, refusing to let them have the release that nature requires?
This takes us back into the Manifest Biological Destiny argument, the White – and Black – Man’s Burden. He’s only responding to the Call of Nature, and to deny him his outlet is like blocking the path to the toilet. What woman could act so perversely without malevolent intent?
PART 2: BITING THE HAND THAT FEELS YOU
This is Part Two of an interview with Dr. Bernard Apfelbaum, an analyst who is a psychologist in private practice in Berkeley. He’s been laying out what psychoanalysis has to say about who’s responsible for our hang-ups—whether we get the blame or society does.
C: We ended last week with you saying that the woman who’s accused of being a tease, who gets men turned on and then acts innocent, rather than needing to stop teasing, needs to stop being innocent, and be deliberately teasing. And that the woman who’s accused of “taking her hostilities out on her husband,” by refusing sex with him, needs to be able to be more directly hostile. And that Jill, who frigidly shrinks back from Jack’s sexual demands needs to be able to reject him more openly.
Dr. A: Yes, but the basic idea is simple. When you’re guilty about an impulse, you still act on it, but in a half-assed way. Like the sexual exhibitionist, who is typically shy and withdrawn, except for his one brief moment of exposure to the schoolgirls in the park. He might feel terrible about it and try to swear off. But look what he’s swearing to then: he’s swearing to try to be totally shy and withdrawn, So what’s the effect? His irresistible urge to unzip gets more irresistible.
His problem is that he feels so terrible about being exhibitionistic, about showing off. So he has to be able to show off more, not less. His irresistible urges are caused by his trying not to show off, his guilt about showing off at all. When the urge builds up and breaks through his inhibitions, when he can suddenly say, “Look at ME everybody!” his guilt snaps back, only stronger. This sets him up for the next round.
C: And this is the same cycle Jill goes through in trying to be responsive to Jack.
Dr A: Right. She feels guilty about rejecting Jack at all. So she desperately tries to get turned on, straining every muscle to relax, and when she’s touched, she jumps. So we all tell her to relax. Then we wonder why she can’t. Is she stubborn or something?
Now what I’m saying is that rather than frigidly shrinking back from Jack, Jill needs to reject him even more. She’s frigid because she’s guilty about being frigid.
C: In other words, fire is caused by smoke?
Dr. A: This does fly in the face of common sense and centuries of folk wisdom.
C: Okay, analysis reverses common sense cause-and-effect. People who can’t get anything done can’t because they feel guilty about not getting anything done.
Dr. A: Right. Our common sense tells us that guilt is realistic. But Freud’s view was that people who can’t remember to write letters or return library books, or who can’t get themselves to clean their rooms or add up a column of figures or learn a foreign language or whatever, are blocked because they’re too conscientious, too unsparing of themselves.
C: Rather than being too self-indulgent or lazy as many people would see them, they’re actually only too willing to turn themselves into robots and this is what they’re resisting by not being able to do anything at all.
Dr. A: They’re like Jill. Desperate to make it, they can’t allow themselves any feelings of not wanting to, even though this is just what they (and we) accuse them of. At the slightest suspicion of any real impulse in themselves to balk, withhold or tease, they turn on themselves and attack themselves for being nothing but stubborn and mean. They never enjoy the effect of their blocks and lapses, even though they get accused of that too. Any more than Jill could enjoy frustrating Jack.
C: Doesn’t any other therapy see it that way?
Dr. A: No, they stand four square with common sense. The best example is Fritz Perls, who says guilt is nothing but projected resentment. Albert Ellis, Eric Berne and other tough-minded nothing-butters are equally unforgiving. The first was Karen Horney, who said if these people are so guilty why the hell don’t they straighten out and then they won’t feel guilty. She saw that guilt is never realistic but she failed to grasp the significance of this. She just thought it was phony. It’s like she felt too conned by guilty people.
C: These shrinks get just as impatient as everybody else then. That’s the impatience of people who get things done with people who can’t. They just can’t believe in “can’t.”
Dr. A: Yeah, they can’t tolerate it. It makes them mad. They want to complain. They want to say, would Jill feel guilty if she wasn’t guilty? Why feel guilty anyway? If you feel guilty, then straighten out and you won’t be. Try harder. If you don’t try harder, then you must not really want to, and so you have no right to feel guilty. Their gut-level feeling is that guilt is the feeble excuse of the weak.
C: What about the type who does get things done, the one who is most likely to accuse the non-doers of the attitudes you’ve mentioned. Aren’t you letting him off the hook? It seems to me he may have the same symptom, only he handles it by just going ahead and being the robot and assuming others should do the same and like it.
It’s tricky because it’s not clearly a symptom and this type wouldn’t consider it a problem to take to an analyst, but the fact that the idea can exist that being a doer means giving in to external demands instead of acting spontaneously—this is certainly what it means to the non-doer—implies that for a lot of doers this is also what’s going on.
Dr. A: Yeah, and of course it’s the doers who’ve given in to their conscientiousness who resent those who haven’t. Some non-analytic therapists are more good-natured about the non-doer, like Eric Berne. Like the others, he sees guilt as not real, but as a con-job to dodge responsibility. But he only punishes and bullies with laughter.
Perls is angrier. He really hates weakness. If you’ve seen those Gestalt Therapy films, you’ve heard him say to go ahead and confront people. If they get hurt or resentful, “they’re not worth knowing anyway.” They’re weak, so who needs them! Perls has set the mental health movement back fifty years, but he really only represents common sense winning back the ground it lost to Freud.
Freud’s ability to break out of our common sense set was not only an intellectual leap, but required the ability to tolerate self-hate in himself and in other people. Most of us can’t. We get super impatient with anybody who’s self-hating, immediately making them hate themselves more.
C: This is what Perls does to people. My impression from the Gestalt films was that everybody was scared to death of him and unable to admit it or do anything but sit there hating themselves for being scared, while he just kept forcing them to try to overcome the fear, and refusing to see what they were really afraid of, or that it had any validity. They just shouldn’t feel that way. His attitude seems to be that it’s natural enough in a way, but a sign of the worst in human nature, something to be gotten rid of.
Dr. A: In the films he tells a very soft-spoken woman that speaking softly is always a sign of hidden cruelty. He’s squarely on the side of her self-hate. The good thing about Perls is that he wasn’t polite. Other therapists can do the same thing, only more politely. Perls is relevant in another way. He was a Freudian training analyst of the old school, and, though he saw all its severe limitations, that was still his basic set. In fact telling this woman she’s really cruel out-Freuds the Freud of the early days. Telling anybody they’re really anything is the old-style psychoanalysis that Freud worked his way out of.
In Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Perls says that the good boy is a spiteful brat underneath. Like that’s what he really is. Seeing other people’s actions as masking simple hostility and spite serves the same purpose as conspiratorial political theories. It’s also based on the same assumption, that people and governments are able to act in their own interest. It’s based on the idea that if you didn’t want to do a thing, you wouldn’t do it, that people always do what they want. That’s an unassailable half-truth. The other half of the truth is that people never do what they want.
C: So you’re not worried about people dodging responsibility, escaping blame?
Dr. A: The trouble with Perls and with old-style psychoanalysis is that people already blame themselves. As I said before, they hate themselves all the more for their hang-ups. That’s why it took so long for man to see past the ego. Not because of the fear of forbidden wishes, of unconscious antisocial impulses, as Freud first thought. But because people have always been panicked by their hang-ups. Now psychiatry has made this worse instead of better.
People nowadays are always defending themselves against imaginary analysts who are eager to accuse them of bad impulses. Like a lot of what’s said today in defense of homosexuality. It’s all protest rhetoric. The Gay Lib people fall into having to insist that sex has no emotional goal, but is only a reflex you can trigger in different ways. This more-than-one-way-to-skin-a-cat position has to be defensive. They feel accused by psychiatry, and as I’ve said, they’ve got good cause, the trouble is that they’re then forced into a position of denial. It’s like we can’t begin to cope with our problems if we’re attacked for them, only if we’re forgiven for them. That’s much harder to do, but that’s the analytic goal.
C: Actually it sounds easy when you put it that way, and that brings up the question, what’s the point of going into all the specifics and details of how you punish yourself when it seems like maybe just experiencing being liked or approved of or forgiven by somebody else could be enough? Is a head trip really necessary?
Dr. A: Let’s take Jill. How would a cold woman feel with a warm analyst? Warmed up? Thawed out? It sounds that way if you can groove with those metaphors. But they’re the ones with the built-in moralizers, like “frigidity.”
Suppose I’m right and Jill needs to be free to be rejecting, to “fuck sex.” Would she then be thawed out by a warm analyst? Not likely. She’d react by feeling even more strongly that she should be warm too. She’d feel colder. She’d suspect him of putting on the warmth, of being conscientious, since this is her bag.
A cold and rejecting analyst might even do her more good. By contrast, she might feel warmer, or by using him as a model, freer to be rejecting herself. But of course mainly she’d just feel rejected and that wouldn’t help much either.
C: So an attempt to like the person better than he likes himself doesn’t work because it doesn’t get through for one reason or another.
You’re saying Freud’s first version of analysis really wounded the patient, made him more self-hating, and that his revised version of analysis tried to make him less self-hating. But this has not been done by analysis — going into specifics and meanings — and can’t be done by just providing models of a warm relationship or whatever.
Dr. A: Yeah. There was a whole generation of so-called neo-Freudian analysts, led by Sullivan, Fromm and Horney, whose idea was to create an accepting atmosphere in which the patient’s self-respect would flourish. They believed that being shrunk was not what the patient needed, not the cure, but that being shrunk was what they suffered from, the disease.
Their idea was, and is, that if they could help Jill become more independent, self-respecting person, her frigidity would disappear.
C: I think they’re absolutely right about that. But what you’re getting at is that this can’t happen, that Jill can’t become a more independent, self-respecting person until she’s confronted the meaning of her frigidity, which was after all the complaint that brought her to the analyst.
Dr. A: Because that’s the point at which her conflicts about independence come to a head. Also beware of the idea that if she’s more independent, she’ll then be more turned on sexually, instead of more turned off.
But the neo-Freudian idea is very persuasive if it’s your only alternative to old-style analysis. Certainly psychoanalysis in its first phase was a weak tool. In fact it was probably the early analysts’ sense of weakness that made them beat up their patients. For which they’ve been themselves beaten up by all kinds of critics who show how catching-up people and accusing them of bad wishes doesn’t do anybody any good.
Unfortunately, many people, including many Freudian analysts still think of analyzing in this way. Since this is how they do analysis, these analysts see it as their duty to protect their patients from analysis — which they call “uncovering therapy” — severely limiting its use, and doing something more reassuring with most of their patients.
Neo-Freudian analysts have the same worry. They want to protect their patients from old-style analysis, but their revisions of analysis aren’t as thorough as Freud’s own was. They often do what seems to me to be a watered-down diplomatic version of classical analysis.
The problem is that Freud revolutionized psychoanalysis in the 1920’s, but many Freudian analysts have been satisfied to stick with his original views, and he himself never made clear just how thoroughgoing his revisions were. In fact his work is a brilliant tangle of ideas that still intimidates and paralyzes analysts as well as laymen, despite the popular image, partly fostered by Freudian analysts themselves, of a psychoanalytic establishment snug in its orthodoxy.
In reaction against the old know-it-all attitude the neo-Freudian analysts can be overly cautious about drawing any conclusions. They substitute a kind of vagueness for the old analytic putdown. The trouble is that putting people down is much harder to avoid than it seems. What Freud ultimately did was to zero in on his patients’ impulse to put themselves down. If that impulse isn’t checked, they see everything that’s done to them as a putdown anyway.
But the neo-Freudian’s would try to avoid making Jill feel more guilty. Maybe they do help her to feel assured in a general way since she half expects to be accused of lesbianism, psychosis, and incurable unwholesomeness. The main drawback is that they’re still likely to share her hope that she’ll come around in the end, seeing any new receptiveness toward Jack as a gain on Jill’s part, and half-sharing her belief that this means she’s a real woman after all.
It’s just not part of their way of analyzing to see the guilt as the central problem. These analysts have given up the old Freudian sex morality, but they’ve adopted a “closeness” morality that at least equally condemns frigidity, though in more humane and less clinical language.
C: So they don’t get the point that Jill needs to be able to dislike sex without that being thought of as a hang-up, that her hang-up is that she can’t dislike it.
If anger about sex is what she has to express, then isn’t there a case here for non-analytic therapies that would help her get-the-anger-out, like by pounding pillows in the Wilhelm Reich style?
Dr. A: That’s like the old analyst’s strength or mental-health morality. Now Jill’s got to kick Jack out of bed. She owes it to herself. On that basis, Jack might not even mind. It might be fun. And suppose Jill still can’t get mad at Jack? Suppose she’s being frigid with the therapist too, pounding pillows limply, racking up another failure. I’ve said before that people who are intolerant of their impulses are just as hard on themselves for not being free to act on their impulses.
I’d even say that people hate themselves the most for being uptight, and this is why the Reichian or any other letting-go therapist can be so hard on them. I see him as coming on with all the power of their self-hate making them reject their uptightness all the more, unwittingly confirming their sense of inadequacy.
It’s up to her to be able to hang loose: Life can be fun. So this kind of therapy is unlikely to turn out revolutionaries. In this same vein it teaches people to obey commands under the guise of teaching them to be free. Also the letting-go movement in general is teaching everybody to have the same thoughts under the guise of teaching them not to think at all.
C: Do you include encounter groups in that movement?
Dr. A: No, that’s part of the whole social revolution we’re in. Personal and social relationships are getting less bureaucratic. For example, speaking of sex roles, men are even in danger of losing their private language. The use of taboo words by men only is on its way out, along with the Latin Mass.
So I don’t want to discourage encounter groups. However, like all social groups, encounter groups have their norms, their morality: the encountering approach is simply against frigidity in a much more direct way than Jill’s analyst.
The danger here is of Jill zooming over into compulsive sexuality. This produces the typical case of the so-called frigid wife who suddenly sheds all her inhibitions, often on the advice of her family doctor, only to find her husband gets impotent. This has convinced a lot of people that men want women to be frigid. And you can see how it really looks that way.
C: Your mentioning a minute ago that women can learn to have orgasms reminded me that that’s how behavior therapy works. What would Jill get out of that?
Dr. A: Behavior therapy is mostly hypnosis, and there’s no doubt that hypnosis can remove symptoms. There’s a lot I could say about that but I’d have to bring in another case, and so we’d better leave that for another interview sometime. I’ll just put in a reminder here of what I said before about symptoms preserving options, about symptoms being an inadequate way of doing something the person needs to do.
Behavior therapy works like any therapy that’s strictly limited to removing symptoms. The person is reassured that his hangup doesn’t mean anything. Jill is afraid sex? Okay, then she just needs to learn to not be afraid of it. Behavior therapists have this amazing philosophy that you can learn to not be nervous or anxious about anything.
So she’s being taught to accept sex very gradually, to get used to it, on the theory that you can get used to anything. But she’s also being taught to accept sex only on her own terms. If she tenses up, it stops. What’s interesting about this advice is that it comes within a hair’s breadth of teaching her to be able to reject sex when she feels like it.
But it doesn’t make it because she’s being taught to filter her feelings, her rejection, through symptoms. This is what happens when you succeed in convincing people that their tension is meaningless, like an illness. They then treat the tension as the message, learning to have symptoms as a way of having unacceptable feelings.
A new understanding, if that’s what insight is, is all that can make a self-persecutory ego more self-loving. But the process of absorbing any new understanding like analysis, is always nip-and-tuck since a self-persecutory ego can make any new understanding seem vindictive.
As I see it, people who seek therapy are suffering more from our moral dilemmas than most people. Non-analytic therapies find ways to help them get relief by finding better ways to evade these dilemmas. Analytic therapy works to solve these dilemmas. That’s why analysis is so difficult for both people involved — in sharp contrast to simpler therapies that can be carried out by any intelligent person with good instincts and a little training.