Will You Join Me in My Fight Against the Scourge of Normality? (1.04.12)
And "since he does not perceive himself as a subject, he does not ask to be seen by the other," nor is he able to look deeply into the other. That italicized part is key, for these people have no conscious desire for true subject-to-subject contact. They cannot make real contact with themselves, and therefore, others.
In the past, I have posted about how quickly one may determine this capacity in the other, as it will be felt as an almost physical constraint that you cannot get past. The real tragedy is that you have to imagine what it is like for an infant -- who knows no such restrictions -- to be raised by such a constricted parent. In order to adapt to this kind of parent, the infant will have to gradually excise parts of himself, so that he too becomes a psychic stillborn.
I am aware of a vast difference between my parents' ability to know me, vs. my ability to know my child. I was very aware from an early age that my parents mostly interacted with an image of me instead of the actual me, and I think this is what saved me. Had I not been aware of this failure on their part, I too may have met the fate of the unborn. My son won't have that problem. But, of course, what he does with his birth is another thing altogether. Being vibrantly alive is not necessarily synonymous with being virtuous. It just saves you from being among the ranks of the living dead.
Here is how Bollas describes it: "At the most fundamental level, the normotic was only partly seen by the mother and father, mirrored by parents whose reflective ability was dulled, yielding only the glimmer of an outline of self to a child." This is an example of something that is as deeply problematic as, say, the need to vaccinate all children against various diseases. But because it is in the realm of the subjective, no one really talks about it.
Furthermore, it is not particularly dramatic, being that such children typically do not suffer material deprivation. The problem is that "neither of the parents is inclined towards the celebration of the child's imaginative life." And when they do enter play, it has a kind of covert sadism that terminates the play and brings the child back to reality instead of further into imagination.
Have you ever seen this take place? I certainly have. Again, we have already lost friends because we let our child play with imaginary guns to shoot imaginary bad guys. With relish. But to deny a boy his manly aggressiveness is a psychic castration. The aggression won't just magically disappear, but return in a disguised and dysfunctional form; I'm thinking of someone like Keith Olbermann, who just bristles with a kind of toxic, infantile rage. But he seems emblematic of much of the "new castrati" (as Vanderleun calls them) of the left. One could say the same of dailykos.
Now that I have a child, I am even more aware of how some parents interact with their children in such a way as to guarantee a psychic catastrophe. Frankly, it is quite painful to observe, because you naturally empathize with the poor child, who is undergoing a slow psychic death before your eyes. When the parent fails to respond to who the child actually is, the unrecognized parts become "negative hallucinations," or "not there" particles that float aimlessly around the psyche. Then, when the child reaches adolescence, he is suddenly thrust into "the horrifying dilemma of being unable to symbolize his pain." Predictable consequences follow.
It's not really a big mystery why humans are the way they are, and why they are such persistent underachievers. They just keep doing to the next generation what was done to them. True, mankind is "fallen," but there are nevertheless covert mechanisms through which the fall operates. It's not just magic.
There is a "dialectic of death" between the normotic parent and child, which conspires to suppress "the creative expression of the inner core of the self." Looking back on it, I believe this is why my first real relationship was such a catastrophe, because I was so "hungry" for this kind of contact, in a way that far exceeded the bounds of the relationship. Therefore, when the relationship ended, it was like the conscious experience of a psychic death that must have actually occurred previously, only unconsciously. In hindsight, I can see that this was totally inevitable. I'm just glad I got it out of the way at 18 instead of 40 or 50.
Bollas says that he does not fully understand "why some children give in to such a family atmosphere and become normotic, and why others do not." Psychology is not deterministic. For example, while most children are naturally traumatized by abuse, some children seem to emerge unscathed. Likewise, some children are just so temperamentally sensitive that they are crushed by the most benign empathic failures on the part of the parents. So a lot of this is no doubt temperamental, to differing degrees in different people. Some people are born with such a strong "destiny drive," that it seems that nothing can stop them from becoming what they were meant to be. Other people can be blessed with ideal circumstances and become nothing.
Many people escape normotic parents by becoming rebellious. One thinks of the drug-addicted child of a robot such as Al Gore, or the delinquent child of a fundamentalist preacher. But rebellion is not freedom; rather, it is a kind of knee-jerk reaction to unfreedom, which is what makes it so infantile and wearisome, like the entirely predictable lives of rock stars and other celebrities. It's hard to think of anything more pathetic than, say, the Rolling Stones, still singing their adolescent songs of rebellion at the age of 65 or 70. Creepy.
Bollas suggests that perhaps the children who escape normotic parents "find a way to be mirrored even if the parents are not providing this." I am quite sure that this is what happened with me. I found other models that served this mirroring function, and in looking back on it, I can see that it clearly wasn't a chance phenomenon, at least not totally. That is, my unborns were looking for particular exemplars to assist in their own birth. A fair number of people have testified that this very blog has been instrumental in helping to bring their unborns into the world, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Didn't Socrates consider himself to be nothing more than a humble midwife?
Here is another subtle point that I am sure is accurate: "I think it is highly likely that the children who give in to the normotic element perceive in the parents' way of being a form of hate that we might conceptualize as a death instinct." It is not necessarily the case that the child feels hated by the parent. Rather, "it may be more accurate to say that the child experiences the parents' attack on life itself, and that such a parent is trying to squeeze the life out of existence."
It is more the case that the intense frustration provoked by the normotic parents engenders a kind of hatred that can at times boil over. To this day, I still have the occasional dream in which my parents simply do not understand, which always causes a kind of unbearable frustration. Again, I hate to think what would have become of me had I not been consciously aware of this frustration early on, or if I had blamed myself for it.
I think of the British royal family, which seems like a vast, intergenerational conspiracy of psychic murder -- which in turn leads to all the crazy acting out. Princess Di was unwelcome in this environment, because her craziness was way too close to the surface, and unable to be tamped down by the royal death instinct. She was the wrong kind of crazy. In such a psychic environment, "parent and child organize a foreclosure of the human mentality. They find a certain intimacy in shutting down life together, and in mastering existence with the unconscious skill of a military operation."
Have you all seen the outstanding film, The Queen? I think it captures this beautifully. In fact, come to think of it, so too does the film Ordinary People, which uses the literal death of a child as a metaphor for the psychic death of the family. And just as in this post, the psychologist is the gallant superhero who slays the unconscious dragon.