On Love and Death

Baudelaire presents love and death as intensely physical experiences, with nothing intellectual or abstract about either. He compares the death of two lovers to a flash of lightning in which they merge into a spiritual union, making their love eternal. Instead of separating, death brings them together in the perfect fusion and they are reborn.

The Death of Lovers (La Mort des Amants)

- C. Baudelaire, 1857

We shall have beds full of subtle perfumes,
Sofas as deep as graves,
And strange flowers on the shelves,
Which bloomed for us under more beautiful skies.

Until they are exhausted with desire
Our two hearts will be two immense torches
Which will reflect their double light
In our two souls, those twin mirrors.

On a evening of mystical blue and rose
A single flash of lightning will pass between us
Like a long sob that bids a last goodbye;

And later an Angel, through an open door,
Faithful and joyous, will come to revive
The tarnished mirrors and the extinguished flames.

The Graphic Nature of Anorexia, Bulemia, and Eating Disorders

The inner lives and fantasies of people with eating disorders can be graphically intense: "Describing his bulimia, Daniel conveyed a vivid perception of being full of inimical foreign bodies. When I started seeing him he was bingeing and vomiting up to six times a day. He was tormented by concrete bodily feelings, of being ‘all dirty inside’. Blocked sinuses and nose contributed to his perception. He said he felt ‘greasy’, ‘full of soot’, ‘disgusting’. Vomiting gave him very temporary relief. He binged on anything he could find or buy with his limited pocket money allowance. He bought mostly loaves of white bread which, he said, was ‘like blotting paper’. It soaked up ‘all the nasties’ that could then be got rid of by vomiting. After being sick, he felt temporarily ‘clean inside’. His mind became clear and for a few hours he could apply himself to his studies. Then ‘the buzz’, as he called it, would start again. When ‘the buzz’ started, Daniel was unable to concentrate. He would press the wrong keys on his word processor, sometimes erasing a file that he wished to put on the memory. He described ‘the buzz’ as ‘thoughts racing through his mind at 150 miles per hour’. It became clear that they were not thoughts he could think or talk about, but something more akin to flying debris..".

-- from Reflections On Some Dynamics Of Eating Disorders: ‘No Entry’ Defences And Foreign Bodies by Gianna Williams.

On the Dynamics of Panic Attacks

We all generally know what panic attacks are, but to be more specific: "A panic attack is characterised by the sudden emergence of entirely unpredictable and unstoppable episodes of intense anxiety. Its intensity is such that it leaves behind a sense of utter exhaustion. Usually the panic attack is accompanied by strong neurovegetative manifestations, such as palpitations, tachycardia, vertigo, body tremors, diarrhoea or excessive sweating and, most importantly, a sense of suffocation. (The symptom of suffocation convinced some biologically oriented researchers that the panic attack might be due to the onset of the choking reflex, normally activated by a lack of oxygen or by an excessive amount of carbon dioxide. One of the therapies consists, therefore, in supplying oxygen as a means of preventing the attack.) The panic attack always manifests itself psychosomatically, being a pathology that primarily affects the body.

-- from The psychodynamic of panic attacks: A useful integration of psychoanalysis and neuroscience. By Franco De Masi.

On the Mental World of Infancy: Defenses and Fears

"A group of pathological defenses has been observed in infants between three and eighteen months of age who have experienced danger and deprivation to an extreme degree. The early defenses, "avoidance," "freezing," and "fighting," are apparently summoned from a biological repertoire on the model of "flight or fight." Before there is an ego, pain can be transformed into pleasure or obliterated from consciousness while a symptom stands in place of the original conflict."
.... "When we speak of "defense" in infancy, something within us resists the word and its connotations. The infant is helpless in the face of danger. His parents are his protectors, and so far as they serve as protectors we are unlikely to see a baby coping with external threats or physiological stress unaided. Under all normal circumstances the infant will not experience helplessness for more than brief periods, because distress is alleviated or modulated by the mother, usually before tension becomes intolerable. Even in the early weeks and months of life, the normally reared baby begins to turn expectantly to the mother for comfort and the alleviation of distress or pain."

-- from Pathological Defenses in Infancy, by Selma Fraiberg.

Unconscious Fantasies as Defense Mechanisms

"Is it possible to demonstrate other ways in which unconscious fantasy contributes to the function of defense? Clinical practice indicates that the answer to this question is affirmative. It is not possible, however, to say that all defense mechanisms are mediated through unconscious fantasy. The use of fantasy in defense was described by Anna Freud in connection with the mechanism of denial in fantasy (22). Defensive uses of identification, undoing, and denial are readily incorporated into unconscious fantasies. One of the best known of fantasies, a fantasy which is oriented almost exclusively toward the ego function of fending off anxiety, is the unconscious conceptualization of the woman with a phallus. Although this fantasy serves as the essential condition for sexual gratification of the fetishist, the fantasy itself is primarily defensive in nature. The function of this particular fantasy is to reassure the subject against castration anxiety. It was in discussing this phenomenon that Freud described the split of the ego in the defensive process (33). He was referring to the contradiction between the accurate conscious conceptualization of the female anatomy as opposed to the unconscious concept which in fantasy endows the woman with a phallus. What the fetishist perceives in reality, he denies in fantasy. Certainly this demonstrates that unconscious fantasy may involve definite visual and verbal concepts. The fantasy of the phallic woman is a specific example of denial in unconscious fantasy and it is a common feature of many clinical entities, e.g., voyeurism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, some forms of homosexuality, and some special types of object choice in men.."

-- from Unconscious Fantasy and Disturbances of Conscious Experience, by J. Arlow.

The Analytic Process as Dynamic Field Between Two People

"What we notice most immediately about the analytic field is its spatial structure. Two persons meet in the same room, and are generally located in constant places and complementary positions within it. One is lying on the couch and the other is seated, also in a relaxed position, in an armchair next to and slightly behind the other person; any modification of this spatial structure, empirically adopted as being the most favourable, leads to substantial modifications of the analytic relationship itself. An analysis does not develop in the same way if the armchair is placed a metre away from the couch or if the couch is placed in the middle of the room instead of being next to a wall. Moreover, the choice of a certain position by the analyst already reveals a particular internal attitude toward the patients. These placements form a common space for the analytic relationship; but in the transference–countertransference relation, it undergoes important experiential modifications. Although both are in the same place as in all the previous sessions, the patient may ask the analyst why he or she has changed the position of the armchair, and moved it further away. At other times, patients may experience the distance between themselves and the analyst as being annihilated. The space of the analytic relation may also contract until it includes only the analyst and the patient."

-- from The Analytic Situation as a Dynamic Field, by Baranger & Baranger.

Love and Idealism

"We have this ideal of what love is and then these very, very unhelpful narratives of love. And they’re everywhere. They’re in movies and songs. And we mustn’t blame songs and movies too much. But if you say to people, “Look, love is a painful, poignant, touching attempt by two flawed individuals to try and meet each other’s needs in situations of gross uncertainty and ignorance about who they are and who the other person is, but we’re going to do our best,” that’s a much more generous starting point."

-- Alain de Botton

Young Love vs. Older Love

"We are strangely obsessed by the run-up to love. And what we call a love story is really just the beginning of a love story, but we leave that out. But most of us, we’re interested in long-term relationships. We’re not just interested in the moment that gets us into love; we’re interested in the survival of love over time."

-- Alain de Botton

On the Practice of Psychotherapy

On the practice of psychotherapy: “… Even if we are hard put to say exactly why this happens and not that, why or how this person benefits a lot or a little, we best follow Buddha’s advice and keep practicing. Keep on doing it… more keeps happening. Paths, dimensions, experience open. There is no answer, only more to do and feel." “No tricks. Just working, finding, feeling, thinking, communicating, keeping at it. Sometimes it feels like we’re monkeying around in the basement or sometimes working with the flow the psyche is. Psychic respiration, circulation, digestion. How a person affects another or affects oneself. Quality of attunement is only a start. It's a treacherous business. So much can go wrong anytime and if we are lucky, we work with what goes wrong. I think of Asian carpets weaving errors into art.”

-- Michael Eigen: Image, Sense, Infinities, and Everyday Life, 142-43.

Repeating Bad Patterns in Love and Life

"I keep getting involved with people who aren't good for me." "I often get depressed and lonely." "I'm always annoyed with my partner." "I can't keep the weight off." "I hate my job but can't seem to leave it." "I feel anxious a lot." ---------------------------------------- "We can view painful patterns as unconscious memories that we repeat as enactments. One of the aims of psychoanalysis is to produce a story of the past - a reconstructed life history - that makes the past available as a resource to be thought about rather than a persecution to be endlessly reenacted."

-- Adam Phillips

On Success

"It is particularly difficult to entertain alternatives in a culture so bewitched both by the idea of success and by such a limited definition of what it entails. The idea of the enviable life has now replaced the idea of the good life. There are, as we know, people around for whom being successful has not been a success. But there may also be people around for whom success itself is a distraction. Our ambitions - our ideals and success stories that lure us into the future - can too easily become ways of not living in the present, a blackmail of distraction; ways, that is, of disowning, or demeaning, present experience. Believing in the future can be a great deadener. Perhaps we have been too successful at success and failure, and should now start doing something else."

-- Adam Phillips

On the Hidden Rewards of Bad Actions

"In psychotherapy one always has to remember that anyone who is failing at one thing is always succeeding at another. The therapist, or counselor, is useful as someone who can show the patient the paradoxical nature of his acts. If I fail as a student to have a girlfriend, I succeed at keeping myself as someone who loves only in the family. If I fail my exams I successfully maintain myself as someone who is not ready for the next stage. If I can't write my essay, I can show myself to be capable of refusing a demand by a figure of authority. In this context the aim of the therapy is not so much to help people make more confident choices as to show them how many choices they are (unconsciously) making."

-- Adam Phillips

On Suicidality

We often associate suicide with those who have had a troubled past. We can say that these individuals are unable to forget the past, to escape its trauma. "The only way to truly forget the past is to dispose of it, to kill it, and the only way one can do that with any assurance is by dying."

-- Adam Phillips