What Would Freud Say: Eliot Spitzer
We were sitting around the Shabbas table last week, FD, me, Little One, the Chef, my S-I-L, and my nieces and nephews, chewing the fat (they have the best pistachios and almonds in Israel) and something came up, some profound political topic, I believe it was the behavior of a major political figure and I blurted out,
What would (name of a 1st century religious-political figure) say?
Confusion reigned. We generally don't talk comparative religions. But I'm pretty much an equal opportunist. They're all good if the rules stop people from acting along the lines of natural instinct, which tends to get us into trouble.
This is all an introduction, you know, to Freud. Freud went with the basic human animal for his model of human psychology. He was a medical doctor.
I've been working on a new paradigm. A paradigm, you might know, is a model based upon tested theory. But there's testing, and there's testing, and in the social sciences, theories aren't always tested so much as adored.
Thomas S. Kuhn, author of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) explained to us that as science progresses, what we think of as The Truth, falls away to silliness the moment we find evidence to the contrary. Then we believe in a better truth, a different paradigm.
For example, not all that long ago people used to think that the world was flat.
The interesting thing about psychiatry is that models of The Truth, what we might call psychological paradigms, never seem to die. No matter the progress, the psychological sciences hold fast to any logical theory, which is why if we're not eclectic, we're nothing in this profession.
But if we can talk several psychological languages we'll survive.
When it comes to Freud, none of it ever dies. He proposed a good, plausible, sexy paradigm of human psychology, and no matter how slick the cognitive behavioral therapies, the genetic markers, the twelve step programs, the desensitization therapies, imagery, flooding, gestalt, self-relaxation, hypnosis, EMDR, or family disengagement,
Little Hans, Oedipus and Electra, it seems, will never lose their grip. They should, but they just won't.Hans was one of Freud's many case studies, a more than slightly scatological young man obsessed with cheese. You should have learned about Oedipus and Electra in your Greek mythology classes in 7th or 9th grade.
When I went to graduate school in the late seventies, Freud's psychoanalytic school still had a firm hold on the clinical social work profession. We were severely doused, ensconced, enamored with Freud, his daughter Anna, and another physician, Carl Jung, the dayanim of psychiatry. (Dayan is Hebrew for judge, but probably works as head honcho. Hero might work in English.)
Eric Erickson, another developmental stage theorist, totally got it that there's an association between toilet training and guilt and shame, so he was my hero.
Any parent who sees the look on the face of a 2-3 year old with a full diaper knows what I'm talking about here.
There are other great historical psychological theorists and I don't profess to know them all. I'm eclectic, as you know, and am not ashamed to admit that I keep Gestalt and Attachment therapies in my pocket and might ask children to draw trees and houses if I need to kill time. If you want good reading, check out Piaget or Theodore Lidz (The Person), icons of their day.
Strangely enough, the names Jay Haley and Sal Minuchin, family theorists, geniuses of relational systems and how they should work, didn't even make it to recommended reading on the syllabi at the University of Illinois in the seventies. They're still second stringers, I believe.
My father-in-law, (O"BS), a family doctor, told me that it would probably serve me well to learn some family therapy along the way. He was a very wise man and I have a son who reminds me of him every day.
Why bring this up now? The pundits keep saying, when they talk about Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, recently indicted for soliciting the services of a high-priced prostitute,
What was he thinking?So I have to wonder, What would Freud say?
Yes, even though his paradigm has melted away for me like good chocolate, when I think of sex and human behavior, certain Freudian ideas come flooding back. We family therapists smile at Freud and Jung (although that Jungian concept, the collective memory, really appeals to me) and solidly reject the idea that the therapist should be an omniscient nod behind a screen, smoking a cigar, optimally.
But when it's about sexual attachments, it's Freud I turn to for an explanation, and I think you probably could use one, too. So let's trot out some of that old-time psychoanalytic lingo. I'll wait while you go and make a sandwich and grab a little Diet Coke if you want. Food is an object of attachment, if you talk Freud, beginning with breast milk.
Freud might say that using prostitutes for sex, or even using pornography, is an indication that a person is seeking an object attachment* to a two-dimensional woman/man (in the case of pornography) or a three-dimensional woman/man (a prostitute) who won't say no. Having this Good Mother/Good Father resolves nagging rejection/abandonment or castration fears. The object attachment can't say no and doesn't want to, which makes him/her the Good Dad/Mom, and the buyer the good son/daughter for visiting often.
Let's learn more language, shall we? You need to know these things (we haven't really begun, but at least you've got the idea that we never quite get over that first year or two of life). You need to learn more of this language, if only for the crossword puzzles.
Three elements comprise Freud's basic paradigm of the human psyche: the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. (Even at the turn of the century, super had marketing appeal).
Post-Freudian theories have used the number three. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, divides the human personality into three elements, as well: (a) affect or emotion, (b) behavior, and (c) cognition, meaning thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. But let's just look at Freudian stuff today because the cognitive behavioral rationalists wouldn't know what to do with Mr. Spitzer.
For those of you who somehow got through life knowing nothing about Sigmund Freud, let's begin with the guilty part of the human psyche, since I'm Jewish and guilt is our basic frame of reference**. It's the superego that dishes out what we might call guilt. The superego is the policeman/rabbi/grandmother/nice second grade teacher in our heads.
The superego is the structure in the mind that tells us that helping little old ladies across the street is good. Tripping them and taking their purses is bad.
The ego, on the other hand, is the part of the mind that watches everything, even the superego chastising the id, the part of the personality that can't stop the human from behaving with passion and drive, the part that got Eliot Spitzer into trouble.
In a nutshell, it's the id that's responsible. We have to blame the id for Mr. Spitzer's poor judgment. Always, always, always blame your id. You have nothing to lose and you'll be right.
It's more respectable, however, to have a highly evolved ego, one that can control the id. Having a highly evolved ego isn't the same as being egotistical or conceited. The ego observes the drives (the id) and even observes what it, the ego, will do about those drives. The ego does its best at trying to control them, and if it can't, has to integrate behavior, both good and bad, into a cogent sense of self, if that's at all possible.
The ego is the self, It's one's identity.Whereas the superego meets out unadulterated guilt. It's the part that says, I'm bad if I . . . hurt someone's feelings.. .steal from someone.. . cheat on my wife/husband/the IRS.
We think that having that critical little voice, the one that bops us over the head with You really are bad if you do that prevents crime. For example, in Switzerland, no one checks your bus pass. You can get on the tram without buying one. No one will check. You're on the honor system. The superego is more than religion, the Swiss get that. It's morality and law woven into one.
The ego has to tolerate the You're Bad messages, the mental lashings, and has to somehow integrate badness into the personality. It's much harder being the ego than the superego which merely judges, or being the id, the out-of-control, it-feels-good-so-do-it part of the personality.
The id is basically a foil to the superego. One lives off the other. The superego has to contend with our lust. We have two lusts, actually, one for aggression (anger) and one for sex (love). The id is just energy, the force that make us behave in certain ways. The id says, Punch his lights out!! or Kiss her! Freud called these drives for sex and aggression libido, but knowing that libido is a three syllable word, he condensed it to a shorter, sexier word,id.
The id says, Do it! Guilt is stupid!We live in a libidinous world. Like I said, Blame the id whenever possible.
Pure energy and self-indulgence. But without it we wouldn't have works of art. We'd probably live in caves. And the Eliot Spitzers of the world wouldn't be the forces for good that they are when they're not diddling around. It takes a certain amount of aggression to get things done like Mr. Spitzer has in the past as a political reformer.
How much psychobabble do we want to get into today? So the id is made up of two energies, or drives, aggression and sex, then what is anxiety? It feels like energy to me.
Anxiety is conflict between the superego and the id. But it's not either, it's not superego, it's not id. It's part of the ego, really, a psychological state. I'm anxious. I breathe fast. I'm anxious.
So just a little more before dessert. You need one more big word so the next time you're at lunch you know how to proceed.
You need this one. Egodystonic.
Egodystonic is an old word, an older concept, really, and it refers to the idea that a person's sense of self (ego) is violated or pained when caught in the act of doing something wrong.
Remember, when the basic drives for sex and aggression, libido or id, get us into trouble, it's your superego that catches you in the act, which sparks psychic conflict and anxiety that the ego has to figure out how to manage.
Freud could have left the rest for commentary, once he laid out these ideas but he got completely caught up in the childhood sexuality business with Oedipus and Electra, like I said, and we'll not go there today. Maybe never, in fact, although I can't promise.
So when a woman comes to therapy because she's thinking of having an affair because her husband isn't paying enough attention to her, yet the thought of having an affair makes her hate herself, that thought is said to be ego-dystonic. The better developed the sense of self and superego, or conscience, the more the pain or ego-dystonia.
So if Mrs. Dolphin swims out to see someone other than Mr. Dolphin, then her tryst does a number on her sense of self, changes who she is, and not in a good way, either.
Mr. Dolphin, however, who might be staying up late looking at other women's breasts on the Internet or calling call girls, isn't calling me. For him, an interest in pornography is not ego-dystonic, not enough ego-dystonic enough to get help. It does feel this way, I'm sorry, politically incorrect though it may sound.
Which is why marriage therapy should probably be the mode of operandi and corrective paradigm for Mr. Spitzer, not psychoanalysis, should Mrs. Spitzer decide to keep him.
Now, when you're sitting at lunch and someone asks, What would Freud say?, a question that that will be burning up the Internet within a few hours, you can say,
It's totally ego-dystonic for some, you know, but not for others, which is a shame, really.We'll get to the ducks, who I understand are monogamous, another time.
copyright 2008, therapydoc
*All Freudian attachments are basically about breasts as objects of desire; it starts young.
**Guilt is thematic in Judeo-Christian world views.