Friday, August 21, 2015



Some new information is just clutter or comes from a dubious source anyway, but when serious and careful science turns up a lot of facts that eventually lead to a new understanding of the world, everything can demand a reconfiguring, and that can lead to a revolution in the way of doing things, often one overdue. Every small habit a person has developed over the years can be challenged. The way we eat, dress, and treat each other are now in the middle of several slow revolutions.

The most fascinating problem to me is the necessary reconciliation between psychotherapies based on introspection and cultural definitions (What IS violence? WHY are people depressed?) and the fMRI and tissue studies of the brain, not just defined as a blob-in-a-skull, but as an information system throughout the body and through empathy between people. Freud’s insights have been confirmed, enlarged, and knocked clear off the couch. Now we have a whole new set of questions.

I woke up this morning trying to think through the difference between being conflicted and being bipolar. This is because of reading about anxiety according to the work of Joe LeDoux, whose book “Anxious” is an explication — not a cure for anxiety so much as a map of how molecules interacting create cells that record danger so that the body can react, then using various internal sequences and processes to create an emotional state that our culture calls “anxious.” The message is not that we’re taking the wrong pill or ought to be doing Tai Chi, but that fear and anxiety are complex, not necessarily related, and part of being a human still more unconscious mammal elements than any lately defined DSM intellectual constructs, mostly based on the lives of a specific class of entitled people sitting as a committee.

DSM-5 Panel: Gambling Disorder

Bipolar is one of those sort of literary diagnoses like paranoia and narcissism. I mean, they are plot elements for novels: fancy names for an array of emotional states that are unpleasant but that the culture likes to sling around as shorthand and that — once named — they see everywhere. Bipolar is supposed to be moods alternating through time for some biological reason. For a while you’re really “up” and even a bit over the top (mania) and then for a while you go “down” and become depressed to the point of paralysis.

Conflicted is more old-fashioned, with two internal forces (either thought or emotion) that are present at the same time, grappling. The alternation is only because circumstances will favor one side or the other at any given moment, but not because the other side is gone. The constant conflict may irreconcilable, lifelong. Half of it may be ecstatic or erotic, while the other half is torment, unendurable. This can be produced by the state of the body (tortured) or may create a state of the body (impossible longing). Consider the child abused by a parent, a kind of Xian archetype that ends in crucifixion.

Clues have been sought through split-brain studies which discover that two sides of the organ have assigned kinds of awareness. Or through dissociation, which is a reaction of the mind/body when under extreme duress, like abuse or sexual violation that challenge the identity. The conscious mind can organize a sub-category. This leads to the idea that an identity is not one permanent “object” but rather a constantly rebuilt and fluid body of understanding. We’ve known that people can have multiple personalities and that authors or actors can “inhabit” fictional personas. But a conflicted person who claims one side or the other can be disconcerting. They can strongly assert opposites.
Inner conflict, which is always uncomfortable, driving towards resolution, can become unbearable. People may try to act out the conflict or seek situations that will duplicate the problem. Think of “Hurt Locker,” that vivid movie. It’s not just about adrenaline addiction.

The bomb disarmer in his armor. 
“The Hurt Locker.”

One would think that if a person could get close enough to the individual and take one side or the other, whatever seems healthiest or resolvable, that would solve the problem. But it’s a little like disarming a bomb, easily taking the situation enough out of balance for an explosion. Not everyone is brave enough to intervene, or they may be getting involved in an effort to resolve their own inner oppositions. Maybe they’re just wrong.

Another problem is secrecy, esp. when dealing with families. “Conflicted” may be the family dilemma, like those who demand “respect” in a culture that despises poverty or ignorance or divergence from the norm. It becomes an inheritance, but one constantly suppressed, always growing more powerful and more toxic. On the other hand, it can drive achievement. But the very fact of the achievement can cause the conflict to return, like a strong wind rekindling embers.

Life itself, quite apart from any physical or familial or psychological issues, is irreconcilable. We love those who abuse us; we fuck those who infect us; we eat what will destroy our bodies; we die. We die. We die. Sometimes for no good reason and in spite of all the efforts of others. AND we abuse those we love, we infect those we fuck, we destroy our bodies and spend a lot of money doing it. But even if we were the most irreproachable people on the face of the planet, we would still die.

Fritz Perls

The therapist Perls, who had managed to escape from a lot of things, was fond of creating a dialogue by placing two chairs to speak aloud each side of a conflict, the client actually moving from one chair to the other or imagining a representative of the problem in the other chair. Perls did NOT sit in either chair. He did NOT become the controller and resolver. He watched the conflict and sometimes he listened the conflict into at least accommodation.

My interest in Crime Solution Investigation programs is that tiny clues and traces can sometimes bring resolution to some question of justice. This is a good thing for writers to think about. (Therapists are hopeless.) But justice will not keep anyone from dying. A conflicted person is not helped by justice. There is really no cure except to just keep going and to practice mercy when one can.

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