I haven't done a free associations post in a long time, so I think I'll go for it today. If you're unfamiliar, this type of post typically morphs into something interesting (to me) and entirely unexpected. So here goes.
From temperatures well below zero on Sunday and Monday, we're up to 38F. Downright balmy. I was walking the dog at about 8am (I'm in the first week of three weeks vacation) and listening to NPR. The sun was out, with not a cloud in the sky, but the news person kept reporting cloudy skies with a chance of some sunshine in the afternoon. Hmm... no window in the studio? Not a cloud in the sky, and it's been sunny all morning.
There's still snow on the ground, but the permanent winter salt dust along with higher temperatures leaves us with mostly clean but wet sidewalks. Except there are still a lot of slippery spots that aren't readily visible. I saw two nasty slip-and-falls this morning and almost had one myself, which turned into some stern self-warnings about not ruining our vacation with broken bones or a TBI. I tend to think of the worst first.
Both of the fallees were women, which is manifestly irrelevant, but I'm going to assume that it's not irrelevant at some deeper personal level because I mentioned it. One was a middle-aged lady who fell just outside the Lincoln Park Zoo. She was grateful that I helped her up. Banged her knee, but she seemed okay. The other woman was an early 20-something who got off with bruised pride and a lot of dirty slop on her beautiful Canada Goose coat. I say bruised pride because she seemed embarrassed, which I understand, but who the hell would think anything less of another person for slipping on the ice?
But it isn't really about what others think. It's about normal narcissism, especially as it manifests among many younger people. It's about being seen losing control, and, for some people, the fuss itself is embarrassing because it stirs denied shame associated with feelings of neediness. I could probably break all that down a lot better for you, but I'm just free associating in this post, so you get whatever passes through my mind as I write.
Speaking of Canada Goose, I find myself annoyed because I heard that people getting mugged for their Canada Goose coats is now a thing. Because of this concern and depending on where I'm going, I sometimes switch off to my North Face jacket, which actually seems to keep me warmer than the CG coat. Why do I have both of these coats? Because I got the Canada Goose jacket as a gift shortly after I bought the North Face coat, and I like them both. Both brands are ubiquitous in Chicago, practically an urban winter uniform: dark grey/black North Face winter coat, or dark blue Canada Goose jacket.
When it comes to attire, many of us are sheeple. We want to fit in, which is also about our needs for love and acceptance, both of which fall under the umbrella of narcissistic needs. But needs for love and acceptance aren't bad needs, or they aren't bad up to the point when they're so compensatory and demanding, that they adversely affect relationships. On the other hand, if you had no need for love or acceptance, you'd also experience problems in social adaptation. There's also a whole evolutionary side to conformity, but never mind. You should just understand, I don't necessarily use the word narcissism pejoratively, though I realize that if you're not steeped in psychoanalytic thinking, you might be more inclined to assume it's always a negative term.
Other words like that–other words that may sound pejorative, while not necessarily being so? How about "primitive"? Primitive sounds bad, and sometimes it is, but in the context of the human psyche, it just means developmentally early or archaic, which could also sound bad, but we all have primitive, archaic and narcissistic elements to our psyches.
Do you want to see more primitive and archaic manifestations of your own psychic life? Pay attention to your dreams–both the thought processes (the magical thinking) and the contents themselves. As your own creations, dreams are expressions of your your mental life, unbridled by the everyday defenses that hold more troubling elements of your interior life at bay. And as your own creations, all of the characters inhabitting your dreams are in some sense parts of you. They may also be representations of other people, but they're still your thoughts about other people, amalgams of you and your perceptions of others, and sometimes they're just troubling thoughts about yourself, kept at arms length. I should add that they can entail troubling unconscious perceptions of others, but not necessarily perceptions of the particular character portrayed in the dream. For example, a dream about your sister, could be about your spouse or a friend, but in the particular matter at hand, your sister was a suitable stand-in that keeps a troubling unconscious perception of your spouse away from awareness. Okay, I'm going down the rabbit hole with all the permutations of character, so I'll stop there.
Here's an interesting aspect of dreams revealed in psychotherapy. Often enough, but not always, they're difficult to interpret. That's partly because memories of dreams, like all of our memories, are revisions, not the the raw dreams as they were experienced in the moments of their creation. Moreover, since dreams often deal with matters we don't want to know about, both the patient and the therapist erect defensive barriers to seeing the meaning of dreams. So it can be challenging if not impossible to always see through to the troubling underlying matters that went into the creation of a particular mental fairy tale, which is one way to think about dreams. They are fairy tales that we write in our sleep. Fairy tales often deal with scary matters that are easier to explore when displaced in a magical story ostensibly not about the child's (or the parent's) own anxieties.
It's a wonderful experience when the light bulb goes on and you realize what's behind a dream, but the light bulb doesn't always turn on. That's okay because here's what I've seen in therapy: I've had patients who do little more than report their dreams, and even without much interpretation, they get better. Sometimes they say they don't know how the dream-sharing helps, but they're sure it's making them feel better in everyday life.
While dream interpretations can be extremely helpful, I'm convinced that feeling better by telling dreams isn't just about dream recall and interpretation. It's about telling the dreams to another person who is deeply interested in those dreams. The sharing of dreams, even without interpretation, seems to provide an auxiliary digestive system for primitive, painful elements of psychic life, and I think it happens just in the telling and holding of the dream by another person who is sincerely interested, inquisitive and open to discussion about the dream. It's kind of like sharing fairy tales with children. No need to interpret the fairy tales, but the interested sharing between parent and child can tap into archaic, sometimes frightening images and thoughts, taming and reintegrating them with loving parental reassurance.
Well that's enough public free associating for today. The next part is my own analysis of what I've written, which I generally keep to myself, because it usually turns out to be deeply personal.