Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Theatre of the Absurd Therapy

Carl Jung believed that the characters of our dreams were all aspects of ourselves that he called ‘archetypes’.  The dream world was a theatre of the absurd play that we scripted ourselves in our unconscious.  This was when the ‘unconscious’ was really being ‘discovered’ or ‘conceptualized’.  A new dimension of being, depth, was indeed being explored by the psychiatrists of the day.
The ‘conventional wisdom’ of the world we lived in was that there were a number of objects or players and that these were atomistic in relation to each other by some kind of physical and emotional bondage.  In the therapeutic construct of Theatre of the Absurd Therapy this ‘cast of characters’ in the ‘personal drama of life’ was indeed a ‘construct’ or even a ‘projection of the unconscious mind’.  We selected from the whole array of individuals we encountered a group of people with complementary needs to work out some ‘knot’ of personality or character to advance in understanding and free ourselves from ‘blockage’ often established in the original childhood dichotomies and triangles of childhood and family. In Theatre of the Absurb Therapy the fundamental question of what is dream and what is not dream is left unanswered and our very lives are considered for 'dream analysis'.
As Jung would ask who the players are in the dream world, today one would ask, who do these people in one’s life represent and how do they play out in relation to the unresolved conflicts of childhood.
A gospel song goes, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" so people are by the very question of the song asked to consider who they were in that primal Christian drama.  Most people, given where we are in our movement developmentally along what Anna Freud called ‘lines (or dimensions)  of development’ would be somewhere on the narcissism to altruism dimension.  In this case rather than seeing themselves as Pontius Pilote or the actual soldiers who crucified the Lord, we often ‘secretly’ see themselves as Jesus or his followers.
When the Hollywood urban silliness story Bambi was shown to the Inuit children they cheered when Bambis mother was killed because to them the death of a deer meant food rather than starvation.  They didn't by into the anthropomorphism of the animals any more than a farmer kid trained in 4H clubs who raises his cow or pig and kills it to understand early the greatest of mysteries of life and death. In the church, especially the urban church, we gather at the alter to accept the 'body of Jesus' and collectively reenact the ancient 'cannabalism' of the king, what James Frazer described so well in "The Golden Bough".
The developmental dimension from the ‘exclusive’ paranoid dimension ,what Martin Buber has described as “I and It”, to the 'inclusive'  dimension of "love and faith", Martin Buber's  “I and Thou”, requires in colloquialism to accept the need "to get down off the cross because someone else can use the wood”.  The baby demands centre stage and many an individual today wants far more than what Andy Warhol called the 20 minutes of celebrity.
In theatre of the absurd therapy each individual in the individual therapy session is encouraged to look at some ‘play’ , a mini vignette of a days interaction and see how they are ‘reliving’ their unresolved childhood drama and how they are ‘projecting’ onto the characters of a truly minor conventional daily event the ‘drama’ of childhood.
My licensing body as a physician is the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  In the Theatre of the Absurd they would represent a parent, or the archetypes of Jung, an emperor or King.  They are the traditional patriarchal parent, hierarchal and militaristic.  Whereas the family is a subset of society, so the College of Physicians and Surgeons “Registrar’ must answer to the Provincial Minister of Health who must in turn answer to the Premier (note the number one position).  Each doctor in adult life is in this drama of a minor ‘complaint’ process faced with a re enactment of their childhood drama.The registrar is the parent who in turn has their parent the Minister of Health who in turn has their parent the Primier.  This military hierarchy is the natural fall out that follows any nations that 'win wars' which is why some argue that the 'losers of wars' have a greater opportunity to find a new structure of relationships as Germany has done post WWII when clearly their militaristic hierarchical bureaucracy fell out of favour.
Jared Diamond, the great anthropologist, in his latest book Traditional Societies compares the original blue prints of the family and society that were in play for 80000 years of mans existence to the recent hundred year or even decade of 'experiment in relationships' that is scrambling today to catch up with the rapidly expanding science and technology of the day which is leaving politics far behind in it's wake and threatening by the widening gap to create another war so stupidity can rebound into fashion.  
This Theatre of the Absurd constructs go on with anyone in relationship to any ‘power’ in their life which they ‘struggle’ with.  Metaphorically, this can be disease, government, the boss, whatever, represents the ancient dimensional struggle of baby to king, the dimensional development of powerlessness to powerfulness.  Therapeutically in the theatre of the absurd therapy one writes a letter to their cancer, for instance or writes an obituary for their boss, as if the boss were themselves and not 'the other'.  Much of the Theater of the Absurd therapy is directed at looking at how one scripts their part as the central actor and what roles and influences they give to the 'bit players' in their lives.  Ultimately the actors are empowered by considering that they have written the script.  As the natives would say, to understand, one must walk a mile in anthers moccasins so the person moves out of the black and white cartoon reality of the the immature to where the polarized characters of their more mature script are seen as truly human and not 'dehumanized' by fear or anger.  It was said Hitler was good with children and people even liked Eva Brawn the most evil woman of all of modern history.
The insight we gain in seeing how we play out this primal drama is seen in how I imbue, in the case of the College, a group of individuals simply conventionally doing their jobs applying rules and protocols to situations.  A patient complains and the College notify doctors, doctor responds, and College arbitrates the patient doctor relationship giving a decision. .  This ‘triangle’ would occur in any ‘human resources department’ and union ‘grievance’ situation, any court, any ‘complaints department’ of a retail store. The universality of this series of events or ‘plot’ is seen as a  child faces a complaint from father and takes their complaint to mother who speaks to father and gets back to child or child faces complaint from mother and takes complaint to father who speaks to mother and gets back to child.  The fancy names of the players are all that are changed in the theatre of the absurd drama. Carl Jung would call these names simply 'archetypes'.  Joseph Campbell in his work with myths reduced the potential scripts that were the principal 'plots' of life drama.  The family, especially, this original triangle,  is the origin of the greater society despite the combinations and computations.
On the one hand, the ‘protocol’ or ‘factual events’ of a particular drama aren’t that original and the plot is almost universal as the triangle.  Much of this was worked out in Transactional Analysis when these interactions were called ‘games’.  The question is the ‘emotion’ or ‘drama’ that gets attracts to any interaction because the ‘drama’ is the essence of the ‘theatre of the absurd”. Harvards Judith Herman, the leading authority on 'trauma' therapy, in her classic book Trauma and Recovery encourages patients to write the 'trauma story' first as a 'police report' devoid of emotion then add the emotion and discuss the emotions in therapy. It's not the 'facts' that are in dispute usually but the meaning, and quality and responsibility and intent and lack of intent associated with the facts. In the courts it's the 'emotional' level that separates the facts of 'woman shoots dead another woman' into woman slaughter or murder.
Every player in the interaction is bringing to the script the ‘emotion’ or 'meaning layer' carried over from how they ‘played’ their original theatre of the absurd in ‘childhood’.  The ‘anger’, the ‘frustration, the joy, the sadness, the fear are not to be found solely in the events of today but are coloured largely by the unconscious events of the ‘drama of childhood’.  How each of these is ‘played’ in our roles in the ‘family of origen’ is acted out in the emotional life of the experience of today.
My drama with my ‘boss’ the College, the ‘parent’ of my adult life is an example for my patient whose ‘parent’ is his ‘disease’ which ‘ontrols’ him, her ‘poverty’ which controls her or dominates her, the ‘religious conviction’ or another’ the tax man of another.  Ultimately sometime in therapy I have to find out if we are to truly progress to the greater depths of relational recovery ,who am I in the patients 'drama of the absurd' family reenactment.  Most counsellors, doctors in general, hide int he safety of the boundaries that are being militaristically defencely enacted today with what Transactional Analysis called the "I"m right, you're wrong' "I am the parent, you are the child" new 'matriarchal' 'soft sell' of the old  'patriarchal' hard sell of 'professional militaristic relationships'.  "I'm your mother' is what these doctors or superiors say 'softer' than the old "I'm your father'.  Ultimately this is only 'trust me, I'm the doctor' in a different tone of voice.  But is the doctor in therapy the mother to the patient, the father or is the patient able to let go of their principle centre stage position of mother, father or baby.
Should the patient begin to bleed to death in the interview I'd naturally become the parent surgeon and save their life but in the theatre of the absorb the therapist doesn't 'parent' the 'child' because ultimately if one isn't invested in the incredibly deceitful but highly lucrative perpetuation patient model, keeping the person 'sick' by reinforcing their 'child' role, the child should leave home and the reenactment of leaving therapy becomes a reenactment of how children left their primal home.
In my absurd adult world the patient who was sexually abused by their parents projects their childhood victimship onto the parent and falsely accuses adults about them as sexually abusing them and turns to various institutions to rescue them as adult.  The institutions then re entrench the childhood drama and indeed 'victimize' the adult who remains in the paranoid state and never works through the childhood sexual abuse or rape but continue to do unto others what was done unto them. The cycle of violence never stops as these victims of violence wreck the world about them as adults with the violence they suffered in the home.  Refugee camp survivors bring the refugee camp experience to the work place no different than the increasing number of released convicts bring their jailhouse behaviour to the workplace.
Among my psychiatric colleagues the most terrified psychiatrists literally throw pills like pebbles at their patients fleeing from any contact but the extension of a prescription pad and calling themselves psychiatrists when really they're junior neurologists or glorified orderly nurses putting chemical straight jackets on their "One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest" patients rather than actually trying to know them and understand them. These same colleagues used to lobotomize their patients at high profit in the good old days of the truly parental psychiatry when the CIA doctors (see Dr. Colin Ross)  reigned and the matriarchal/patriarchal institutions were the latest fashion in lifes theatre of the absurd.
But as I describe my colleague, such, in the gospel song, Were you there when they crucified my lord? I'm judging myself as Jesus, the good, and my colleague as Herod the king who killed the innocent.  Dr. Jay Lifton, who brilliant psychiatrist who wrote the seminal text, Nazi Doctors, described the need to 'dehumanize the enemy' and 'alienate them.'
So the woman comes into my office and describes her 'ex' as the 'monster'. She will remain perpetually trapped in her paranoid childhood experience of reenactment of this likely historic trauma as long as their are those who can 'capitalize' on her 'victimship' by offering to rescue her. These 'rescuers' , called lawyers, advocates, activists, bureaucrats, counsellors doctors etc 'feed on her tragedy'.  A classic study of feminist counselling following divorce showed that the counsellors involvement delayed the 'remarriage' by 5 years but in no way 'altered' 'choice or outcome'.  This gave rise to one psychologist describing the North American 'industry of collusion' as 'caregivers and victims.
Recently on a trip to Mexico City I was told that in a particular neighbourhood,  if I was robbed I shouldn't call the police because the police, so poorly paid, would consider that as I was an 'insured gringo' the police would come and take whatever the thieves left since "the gringo was going to have to make an insurance claim anyway".
So much of what occurs to the true 'victims' is re victimization as a person is passed down the historic native 'gauntlet' falling from the grace of leadership to being beaten by everyone in the village till they take up their new position at the bottom of the pecking order. The various 'caregivers' in this scenario are just taking their 'bit of the action' in this particular, rather, Kafkaesque, theatre of the absurd drama.

This is the essence of what Freud called ‘repetition compulsion’  but the absurdity is found in the way everyone is ‘using’ everyone else in their need to ‘work through ‘  or ‘unravel’ the knots of their childhood.  The ‘events’ or ‘facts’ or ‘plot’ of the situation over and over again is on the ‘surface’ ‘conventional.  What is significant is the ‘emotional’ overlay and the ‘personalization’ of interaction.
I give my example today and strip the ‘pompous’ language and the ‘reframe’ the ‘cast’ of ‘characters’ into the fairly ‘universal’ selection of possibilities that Jung described for all human interaction with his ‘archetypes’.  The simplest of these is always the child with mother and father or the child and one parent, what Freud most considered central in his work and gave rise to some of his more famous examples such as the ‘oedipal complex’.  The street gang leaders say 'you're not respecting me, whenever they feel anyone is moving into the 'centre stage' of their little theatre in the big theatre of life. The theatre of the absurd therapy is always looking at how the big fish in little ponds are always little fish in the cosmos of all of history time and galaxies.  The theatre of the absurd therapy would say, 'don't sweat the small stuff and 'every thing is small stuff'' as one of it's 'themes'.
In the Theatre of the Absurd the realization is that august folk who go by exalted names like Presdient and Prime Minister, Judge and Pope and General and Queen, rock star or billionaire,  all in their day to day lives are just reenacting mini plays from their own childhood.  Today Putin and Obama are involved in what essentially is a pissing contest but indeed is mythologically in the theatre of the absurd drama an argument between mom and dad.  The rest of the world are ‘children’ in the family of states.  The biggest question for Putin, of course, is whose going to be the bitch at the end of the day.Obama meanwhile is struggling with the emotions of his childhood and perhaps fears of  master and slave.  Personally I'm usually aware of the cannibal tendencies of the primal amphibious fishy origins of the species.  In the Orubunga origins of the original dyadic relationship I'm always asking am I getting my ass bit or am I biting, the psychoanalytically trained therapist constantly moving in and out of the observer observed position of transference and countertransference considerations of every second and minute of existence.
To be 'psychologically minded' is to tolerate the 'tension of opposites'. Psychologically mindedness is as rare as 'common sense' despite the assumption of the ubiquity.
The recent 'global warming debate' could only occur in the relatively 'scientifically illiterate' media because it is only in 'ignorance' that one can create war and fear and sell newspapers.  In the theatre everyone recognizes the 'divas' and expects these prima donnas to try to 'upstage' the rest of the cast.  Among scientists there is only the politics of funding each researcher from the one who is interested in the amoeba to the person fascinated by the mating behaviour of the spotted wood tick 'knows' their subject is the most important and critical to the human race at large just as every media glory hound wants their story to be the story of the day.  It still goes back to who we learned to play in the kindergarden, how we related to brothers and sisters in our family and what behaviour our parents modelled whether they were drunk, stoned, high, or CEO's or ministers or soldiers or plumbers or prostitutes.
In an individual employer employee situation I am the parent who entrusts the child with responsibility in the example of ‘theft’ in the workplace. I ask myself ‘did I steal from my parent’ and ‘did the employee steal from her or his parents’ .  Robert Bly in Iron John following on the work of Joseph Campbell who also studied Jung sees the need for the boy child to ‘steal a locket of hair from the mother’. Thieves in general are children in this sense who hate their parents and in turn hate the state.Rehabilitation efforts are presumably aimed at bringing this delusional male thieving being out of their past and into the present where they no longer ‘need’ to ‘steal a locket of their mothers hair’ but can live as adults among adutls rather than perpetually reacting the childhood dramas. In contrast female thieving is related to a different childhood territorial control issue and the aforementioned prima donna boundaries of the kindergarden sand box (perhaps - since the literature on female deviance is infantile compared to the advanced work on male deviance seen in the work of Bly and others.  Feminist literature maintains the girl as victim and the boy as victimizer.  It's the classic solution to all errors in the former communist states, failure was the fault of the capitalist pigs, whereas success was the product of the great genius of the communist regime.  This is seen developmentally in the 2 year old child, unable to accept authority and responsibility or that freedom is not license but comes with equal accountability for failures and success. Communist leaders and feminists don't fall on their swords.   The psychologist Robert Hare describes sociopathic and psychopathic 'dramas' in his corporation classic psychology book, "Snakes in Suits' where he describes the dramas in the workplace in terms of what others would call the 'bad child' or the child without empathy.
I explain this to ‘players’ exploring their own ‘plots’ by demonstrating how a story can be told as a ‘police report’ or a ‘passion play’.  In showing the ‘cast’ how my own life ‘dramas’, a minor conflict with a superior or a minor conflict with another car on the road where ‘road rage’ becomes the norm, the absurdity is obvious, however the ‘trick’ of ‘insight’ then is to have the ‘player’ look at the ‘details’ of their own lives and ‘decathect’ the drama they are in at this moment and remove the ‘emotional overlay” (anger, indignation, resentment, rage, fear, sorrow) and see it from the perspective of the ‘absurd’.  It's no different than showing someone how to tie shoe laces. See this is how I do it, now you do it.
The ‘absurd’ is that there are billions of us on a tiny planet moving around a sun in a vast galaxy in which we will shortly die and are essentially living in the past rather than experiencing the present.  Using an analogy from the computer world, the reason our depression exists, is because our desktop is full of older folders and our RAM is full of ancient history. We need to remove ourselves from the insanity and gain perspective so that we can ‘let go’ or even ‘trash’ some of the folders which keep us in these never ending  loops of childhood ‘passion play’.
One of the most important of these passion plays is the ‘victim victimizer’  or ’sado masochism”, ‘parent child’ one. In psychiatry this speaks to the ‘locus of control’.  Psychotic people project their ‘powerlessness’ on the world arbitrarily demand that they play the ‘victim’ in every drama and actually believe that their ‘reason’ is their ‘poverty, their past accumulation of injuries, their race, their gender, their ’specialness’, their’ chosenenss’  etc.  It doesn’t matter because the role of ‘victim’ was ‘chosen’ before the ‘present’. It’s a ‘hair shirt’ a person wears everywhere. It’s heard in the whine of ’self pity’ that the person uses. They present and sound like a beggar in all interactions and carry all the hostility of the entitled but deny that they are anyone but Jesus the child.  They are the baby in the room and they mean to hold that position in all interactions all the time.  They will kill you to remain the victim. That’s the absurdity and insanity of this incredibly powerful passion play.  Virginia Satir tried to get to the 'body' of this by doing 'human sculptures ' in groups to show how this person walks into any room and takes up the position of beggar and victim forcing everyone around them to be the 'de facto' victimizer.  These are the false accusers who by their non verbal behaviour project their rage and anger onto the other players who forever are dancing about this prima donna.
A father told me his three year daughter go a princess dress and simply would never let it be washed wearing it night and day. Another told me a similar tale about his son getting a sherif badge. This was why Carl Jung described these 'roles' as 'archetypes' and felt that they were part of what he described as the 'collective conscious' and 'collective conscience'.  (Today us iPhone users would call this the 'iCloud'.)
The ‘empowerment’ of such a person comes from them moving out of the role of ‘baby into the role of ‘old person’.  The baby screams all day and all night so that they’re unnerving to be around whereas the old person dying is truly the victim of parent death but know even wailing won’t change the ‘facts’ of existence.
A technique of therapy then is to ask such a person about what they want written on their obituary and to discuss their death with them rather than to live in their litany of self pity and constant search for a ‘champion’.  The collusion counsellors will have such people repeat ad infinitum their tales of abuse upon abuse without ever questioning 'why do bad things always seem to happen to such as good person like you'.  In the church, we just hum, "were you there when they crucified my lord' so the prima donnas can't deny they are killing God in their abdication of responsibility and their 'standing by watching, not doing anything' because simply 'if a child is being killed and you are just watching, you're like the media, part of the problem in that sense, not part of the solution' (or are you?).
The baby cries for a ‘rescuer’ or advocate or ‘activist’ or God.  The wailing piercing begging cry of the abandoned child is for the perfect mother. When Jesus says, “My God why has thou forsaken me”, you can hear the baby asking Mary where are you when I need you.  Jesus is abandoned by the watching mother. (What was mary saying well Jesus was on the cross - "I told you to play it safe", "I told you to shut up" "I know you are God", "I'll poison that Pontius bastard myself"....what was Mary saying?)
 The drama plays out forever around innocence and responsibility. The societies collectively explain this primordial drama of the Absurd  with attributing responsibility to the child by saying it’s “karma’ (there is no innocent child in this family or culture) or the ‘child is wholly innocent’ in another culture or the child is evil. The question in therapy and for the insight of the individual ‘trapped in their past’ is what was the ‘belief’ of the players in the scrip towards the ‘baby’ .
What follows is that all the piercing screaming crying temper tantrums and major pouts, anxiety and depression can be seen in the ‘memory’ of the player for the primal drama of childhood.  It's the dream world of Carl Jung and his archetypes but in the waking dream of life.
I do it. You do it. We all do it.  It’s called the human condition.  Buber called it “I and It’.  The ultimate challenge is ‘loving your enemy’.  We say that as long as we ‘fight disease’ we are in the struggle.  If ‘fighting disease’ hasn’t worked, try ‘letting go’. In martial arts the way to beat an enemy’s hold is to utterly relax at the right moment so they have no resistance and we slip away from danger. It’s the ultimate guerrilla warfare where the key is disappearing into the night.  In the theatre of the absurd therapy one finds any means to reframe a situation to ‘untangle” what ‘R.D. Laing so poetically called the “knots’ in our lives. The coping mechanisms of the past are seen as no longer serving the present but change is difficult because change always involves letting go of the known and embracing the unknown.
In the micro cosm of the ‘macro cosm’ of my life I can hear the out of tune kazoo in life’s symphony in the opening note.  The counter transference and transference occurs with the swagger of a walk the nod of a superior head, the raised eyebrow of judgement and a myriad of details that tell one of a persons original conflicts with mother and father and with their own children and grandchildren in later life.
Laughter is what ultimate heals in the theatre of the absurd therapy. Shared laughter.

1 comment: said...

Excellent article Bill.