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Encounter With Psychoanalysis December 31, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Encounter With Psychoanalysis.
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(In my late thirties I went through an excruciating life crisis, one, I now believe, that had been slowly brewing since childhood.  I had hit what I considered to be rock bottom in the realm both of intimate relationships and personal success.  As fate had it, I was referred for counselling to Toronto physician, Bernard Glazman, a general practitioner whose practice consisted entirely of Berglerian psychoanalysis.


When I first stepped into his office I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  My first impression of Dr. Glazman was slightly negative.  He didn’t appear to me to be a necessarily brilliant individual, and he certainly projected an image of traditional middle class.  When he told me that in a sense I was at first going to have to take on faith what he was teaching me, I was sceptical to say the least.  For reasons I cannot remember, I decided to commit myself to the minimal period of therapy he insisted was necessary before taking a decision on whether to continue or not.  Fairly early on in therapy, well before my “contract” was up, I got the shock of my psychological/emotional life.  It came in the form of a revelation of how I and not others was the major source of my own suffering. 



What follows is a review of Bergler’s “Divorce Won’t Help” (a book that helped change my life – this coming, ironically, from a man with three divorces!)


I need to add a disclaimer.  Dr. Edmund Bergler, having escaped from Nazi Germany, practiced in New York in the 1950s and enjoyed both popularity and notoriety.  He was known for two areas of specialization: treating writers with writer’s block and treating homosexuals.  It is the later that has brought him notoriety, more in our time than in his own.  He believed that homosexuality was a form of neurosis and that it could be “cured.”  Naturally, his name is anathema to the gay community.  The notion that homosexuality is an illness has been virtually unanimously disclaimed by the community of mental health professionals.


Because I am a gay positive individual and have a long time involvement with the gay and Lesbian community and gay liberation, being an advocate of Berglerian psychoanalysis presents a problem for me.  Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet with the novelist Bernard Wolfe, who had been a patient of Dr. Bergler in New York.  Wolfe, who at the time I met with him in Southern California was in the twilight of his life and career, had also been a secretary to Leon Trotsky during the latter’s exile in Mexico.  I asked him about Bergler’s questionable position with respect to homosexuality.  Wolfe’s response was that Bergler was a socialist and a humanitarian, and he opined that in light of the movement for gay liberation, he is confident that Bergler would have revisited and revised his stance if he were alive today.


This gives some comfort, but the stigma of his crusading attitude towards curing homosexuality probably can never be completely erased.  I learned about Bergler and homosexuality after I had been well along in my therapy and was enjoying significant benefits.  I have concluded that Bergler’s unfortunate mischaracterization of homosexuality as a disease need not nullify his fundamental findings with respect to psychic masochism)


Divorce Won’t Help: A Review


The book’s title, Divorce Won’t Help, is meant to indicate that problems in marriage often stem from psychological problems, and that simply changing partners without understanding the source of the conflict is not likely to yield future satisfaction.  But this work is much more than a practical marriage manual.  It introduces us to the monumental and almost universally ignored work of the Viennese psychoanalyst, Dr. Edmund Bergler, who was amongst the last wave of young students and disciples of Freud in Vienna (1930’s).


Although Bergler considered himself to be an “orthodox” Freudian, he both broke with and is shunned by the orthodox Freudian establishment.  He felt that the psychoanalytic profession fixated itself on Freud’s earliest findings, particularly that of the dynamic of the Oedipus complex, while ignoring Freud’s later interest in the earliest stage of unconscious psychological development, i.e., that of the first eighteen months or the period characterized as that of orality because the major contact between the infant and the outside world is via the mouth (an interest that was also taken up by psychoanalysis theorists Melanie Klein and Anna Freud).


Bergler believed that adult neurotic behavior, which he referred to as the “clinical picture,” was a result of “compulsive unconscious repetition” of the outcome or resolution of unconscious internal conflict experienced in the oral stage, that is, the first eighteen months of life (this he referred to as the “genetic picture”).  He claimed that such neurosis was universal – that it occurs to one degree or another in everyone – due to the unusually extended period of human infant dependency.  He called this phenomenon “Psychic Masochism.”  He describes adult neurotic behavior in three steps which he refers to as the “Mechanism of Orality.”


Bergler’s principal concern was not with abnormal psychology or deep psychosis, but rather with what he considered to be a ubiquitous form of self destructive behavior, having its origins in the unconscious “libidinization of pain,” a result of the inevitable destruction of “infantile megalomania” that occurs at birth. According to Bergler, as a result of this interruption of intra-uterine Utopia (where every need is satisfied instantly and automatically), every infant develops an unconscious image of a bad punishing mother, regardless of the quality of actual maternal care.  In other words, no matter how caring and efficient a real life mother, it is not humanly possible to instantly satisfy the infant’s demands (to be nourished and kept comfortable and free of pain, frustration, etc.).  And in addition, and even more perplexing, the well-intended acts of feeding, cleaning and attending to the infant are inevitably perceived (i.e., misunderstood) as aggressive and punishing.


Bergler further explains the dual role of the unconscious superego: the “Ego Ideal” being that behavior or persona the infant is “taught” (by parents, teachers, etc.) to strive for; and the “Daimonion” (a term first used by Socrates), which is that part of the unconscious superego that accuses and punishes, and is the source of unconscious guilt.


Psychic masochism has to do with a five layered structural process by which unconsciously motivated self-destructive (painful) behaviour that occurs on the conscious level is experienced as unconscious pleasure.  It has to do with the unconscious wish (in relation to the libidinization of pain) to be punished by a “cruel mother image” and defensive behaviour resulting from the subsequent unconscious guilt.   Because the dynamic occurs mainly at the unconscious level, the true masochistic origin (motivation) is not perceived by the suffering individual, who is only aware of the conscious pain.  To the suffering neurotic, his pain appears consciously to be “caused” entirely by an external source (this phenomenon Bergler calls “the basic fallacy”).  This, of course, makes the curing of the pain all that more difficult, since its source is hidden.  Only by what Bergler calls putting the individual’s neurotic behaviour under the “psychoanalytic microscope” can understanding and healing occur.  This is not, however, to deny that individuals actually suffer from external sources, but instead to show how in neurotics, because of their unconscious psychic masochism, the degree of suffering, if not a result of outright distortion by the unconscious, is out of proportion to any particular external cause.


Berglerian therapy follows standard Freudian methods, that is, dream analysis and interpretation of unconscious sources of conscious behavior.  To escape Nazism, Bergler migrated from Vienna to New York, where he practiced for nearly three decades (until his death in 1962) and wrote dozens of articles and books and trained other analysts.  However, his work has been ostracized by the psychoanalytic establishment, and is virtually unknown outside of New York and Toronto, where a handful of Berglerian psychoanalysts continue to treat patients with success.


Since so much of adult behavior can be seen to be self-destructive, it may well serve us to look at the work of a theoretician whose entire lifetime work was dedicated to understanding its cause.


Mechanism of Orality


1.     The individual provokes a situation in which they are refused, rejected or unjustly treated.


2.     Quite ignorant of the fact that they themselves have brought about this defeat, the individual fights in righteous indignation – seemingly in self defense – against the person he imagines to be responsible.


3.     He pities himself ad nauseam: “Such injustice can only happen to me!”


The initial provocation (1) and the unconscious enjoyment of defeat (3) are entirely unconscious.  Conscious are the pseudo aggression accompanying the righteous indignation (2) and the self pity and commiseration (3).



Five Layer Structure of Psychic Masochism


1.     Unconscious wish to be refused, abused, rejected, etc. by the image of a bad refusing mother.


2.     Daimonion reproach because the Ego Ideal does not contain a bad refusing mother image, rather a good giving mother image.


3.     Denial of the masochistic wish to be refused.  Assertion of a contrary fury and aggression against the image of the bad mother and retaliation.


4.     Daimonion reproach for fury and aggression and retaliation because the Ego Ideal does not contain a child that retaliates but rather a child that gives back.


5.     Pleading guilty to the “lesser crime” of fury and aggression and refusing back (3), never recognizing the “greater crime” of masochism (1).  In punishment for the guilt, the aggression is turned inward causing suffering with the resultant self-damage, which manifests itself in the signs and symptoms of illness and disease.


(Note to the Reader: I have written a much longer piece describing my own

experience as a patient in therapy.  This is in the form of a letter to patients, which is used by Dr. Glazman in his practice.  You can request a copy of this letter by writing to me at rogerholla@aol.com)


Gay Marriage: OUR MUTUAL JOY December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights.
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Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.

Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

The battle over gay marriage has been waged for more than a decade, but within the last six months—since California legalized gay marriage and then, with a ballot initiative in November, amended its Constitution to prohibit it—the debate has grown into a full-scale war, with religious-rhetoric slinging to match. Not since 1860, when the country’s pulpits were full of preachers pronouncing on slavery, pro and con, has one of our basic social (and economic) institutions been so subject to biblical scrutiny. But whereas in the Civil War the traditionalists had their James Henley Thornwell—and the advocates for change, their Henry Ward Beecher—this time the sides are unevenly matched. All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.

The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: “The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition.”

To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else’s —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. “Marriage” in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God’s will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call “the traditional family” are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between “one man and as many women as he could pay for.” Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn’t God say, “Be fruitful and multiply”? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either. The biblical Jesus was—in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise—emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels. There will be no marriage in heaven, he says in Matthew. Jesus never mentions homosexuality, but he roundly condemns divorce (leaving a loophole in some cases for the husbands of unfaithful women).

The apostle Paul echoed the Christian Lord‘s lack of interest in matters of the flesh. For him, celibacy was the Christian ideal, but family stability was the best alternative. Marry if you must, he told his audiences, but do not get divorced. “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): a wife must not separate from her husband.” It probably goes without saying that the phrase “gay marriage” does not appear in the Bible at all. 

If the bible doesn’t give abundant examples of traditional marriage, then what are the gay-marriage opponents really exercised about? Well, homosexuality, of course—specifically sex between men. Sex between women has never, even in biblical times, raised as much ire. In its entry on “Homosexual Practices,” the Anchor Bible Dictionary notes that nowhere in the Bible do its authors refer to sex between women, “possibly because it did not result in true physical ‘union’ (by male entry).” The Bible does condemn gay male sex in a handful of passages. Twice Leviticus refers to sex between men as “an abomination” (King James version), but these are throwaway lines in a peculiar text given over to codes for living in the ancient Jewish world, a text that devotes verse after verse to treatments for leprosy, cleanliness rituals for menstruating women and the correct way to sacrifice a goat—or a lamb or a turtle dove. Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?

Paul was tough on homosexuality, though recently progressive scholars have argued that his condemnation of men who “were inflamed with lust for one another” (which he calls “a perversion”) is really a critique of the worst kind of wickedness: self-delusion, violence, promiscuity and debauchery. In his book “The Arrogance of Nations,” the scholar Neil Elliott argues that Paul is referring in this famous passage to the depravity of the Roman emperors, the craven habits of Nero and Caligula, a reference his audience would have grasped instantly. “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all,” Elliott says. “He’s talking about a certain group of people who have done everything in this list. We’re not dealing with anything like gay love or gay marriage. We’re talking about really, really violent people who meet their end and are judged by God.” In any case, one might add, Paul argued more strenuously against divorce—and at least half of the Christians in America disregard that teaching.

Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument). Common prayers and rituals reflect our common practice: the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer describes the participants in a marriage as “the man and the woman.” But common practice changes—and for the better, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Bible endorses slavery, a practice that Americans now universally consider shameful and barbaric. It recommends the death penalty for adulterers (and in Leviticus, for men who have sex with men, for that matter). It provides conceptual shelter for anti-Semites. A mature view of scriptural authority requires us, as we have in the past, to move beyond literalism. The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.

Marriage, specifically, has evolved so as to be unrecognizable to the wives of Abraham and Jacob. Monogamy became the norm in the Christian world in the sixth century; husbands’ frequent enjoyment of mistresses and prostitutes became taboo by the beginning of the 20th. (In the NEWSWEEK POLL, 55 percent of respondents said that married heterosexuals who have sex with someone other than their spouses are more morally objectionable than a gay couple in a committed sexual relationship.) By the mid-19th century, U.S. courts were siding with wives who were the victims of domestic violence, and by the 1970s most states had gotten rid of their “head and master” laws, which gave husbands the right to decide where a family would live and whether a wife would be able to take a job. Today’s vision of marriage as a union of equal partners, joined in a relationship both romantic and pragmatic, is, by very recent standards, radical, says Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, a History.”

Religious wedding ceremonies have already changed to reflect new conceptions of marriage. Remember when we used to say “man and wife” instead of “husband and wife”? Remember when we stopped using the word “obey”? Even Miss Manners, the voice of tradition and reason, approved in 1997 of that change. “It seems,” she wrote, “that dropping ‘obey’ was a sensible editing of a service that made assumptions about marriage that the society no longer holds.”

We cannot look to the Bible as a marriage manual, but we can read it for universal truths as we struggle toward a more just future. The Bible offers inspiration and warning on the subjects of love, marriage, family and community. It speaks eloquently of the crucial role of families in a fair society and the risks we incur to ourselves and our children should we cease trying to bind ourselves together in loving pairs. Gay men like to point to the story of passionate King David and his friend Jonathan, with whom he was “one spirit” and whom he “loved as he loved himself.” Conservatives say this is a story about a platonic friendship, but it is also a story about two men who stand up for each other in turbulent times, through violent war and the disapproval of a powerful parent. David rends his clothes at Jonathan’s death and, in grieving, writes a song:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
You were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
More wonderful than that of women.

Here, the Bible praises enduring love between men. What Jonathan and David did or did not do in privacy is perhaps best left to history and our own imaginations.

In addition to its praise of friendship and its condemnation of divorce, the Bible gives many examples of marriages that defy convention yet benefit the greater community. The Torah discouraged the ancient Hebrews from marrying outside the tribe, yet Moses himself is married to a foreigner, Zipporah. Queen Esther is married to a non-Jew and, according to legend, saves the Jewish people. Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, believes that Judaism thrives through diversity and inclusion. “I don’t think Judaism should or ought to want to leave any portion of the human population outside the religious process,” he says. “We should not want to leave [homosexuals] outside the sacred tent.” The marriage of Joseph and Mary is also unorthodox (to say the least), a case of an unconventional arrangement accepted by society for the common good. The boy needed two human parents, after all.

In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace. The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, cites the story of Jesus revealing himself to the woman at the well— no matter that she had five former husbands and a current boyfriend—as evidence of Christ’s all-encompassing love. The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann, emeritus professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, quotes the apostle Paul when he looks for biblical support of gay marriage: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.” The religious argument for gay marriage, he adds, “is not generally made with reference to particular texts, but with the general conviction that the Bible is bent toward inclusiveness.”

The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference—all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow. Terry Davis is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Conn., and has been presiding over “holy unions” since 1992. “I’m against promiscuity—love ought to be expressed in committed relationships, not through casual sex, and I think the church should recognize the validity of committed same-sex relationships,” he says.

Still, very few Jewish or Christian denominations do officially endorse gay marriage, even in the states where it is legal. The practice varies by region, by church or synagogue, even by cleric. More progressive denominations—the United Church of Christ, for example—have agreed to support gay marriage. Other denominations and dioceses will do “holy union” or “blessing” ceremonies, but shy away from the word “marriage” because it is politically explosive. So the frustrating, semantic question remains: should gay people be married in the same, sacramental sense that straight people are? I would argue that they should. If we are all God’s children, made in his likeness and image, then to deny access to any sacrament based on sexuality is exactly the same thing as denying it based on skin color—and no serious (or even semiserious) person would argue that. People get married “for their mutual joy,” explains the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center in New York, quoting the Episcopal marriage ceremony. That’s what religious people do: care for each other in spite of difficulty, she adds. In marriage, couples grow closer to God: “Being with one another in community is how you love God. That’s what marriage is about.”

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good—and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God’s knowledge of our most secret selves: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for “Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad.” Let the priest’s prayer be our own.

With Sarah Ball and Anne Underwood

© 2008