28 Dec 2005

Suicidal Perfectionism

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ShrinkWrapped associates the neurotic inclination of the intellectual left toward vehement opposition to any measures to protect America from International Terrorism as similar to patterns of self destructive behavior previously seen in patients of his. In both cases, the pathological behavior, he finds, is grounded in the narcissistic pursuit of perfection

Many years ago a young woman entered Psychoanalysis for chronic problems she was having in maintaining her relationships. She announced at the start that she was an ardent feminist and that her feelings about this were not subjects for analytic review. Early in her treatment, her primary interest seemed to be to initiate arguments with me over male perfidy and oppression of women. It was not easy to maintain my neutral position in the face of near constant attack… The breakthrough came when she casually mentioned toward the end of one session that her ankle was bothering her and she was annoyed (she was almost always annoyed about something, I might add) that she wouldn’t be able to jog that night. Since I knew that she was living in a marginal area of Manhattan and this was at a time when crime was at high levels and much in the news, I had concerns that her jogging might be putting her at risk. When I asked her where she jogged, she confirmed that she jogged in a relatively dangerous area. Her response to my comment to that effect was that women should be allowed to jog wherever and whenever they wished without fear of men and that nothing and nobody, including me, was going to stop her from doing what she wanted.

I was greatly relieved that it did not take long for her to recognize that her angry feminism (which had roots in long term feelings of disgust with her mother and envy of her brother’s exalted position in her family) was inadvertently providing her with a rationalization for dangerous and self destructive behavior. I should point out that both of us agreed that she and every other woman should be free to jog wherever and whenever they wished, but reality required that until such time as this Utopian ideal could be arranged, prudence dictated that she jog at a different time and place as was her wont. When, as often was reported in the news in those days, a woman was assaulted and badly injured near the area she had been jogging, she responded with an anxiety attack; she was stricken with the thought that it could have been her and that there was an unconscious part of her mind that had been inviting just such an outcome. This was the true beginning of a very successful analytic treatment.

This patient from many years ago comes to mind now in the context of the recent flood of “leaks” of intelligence which have been appearing in the New York Times and other MSM outlets. The idea of elevating one’s ideological and/or intellectual ideas above the needs of self-preservation were clearly traceable in my patient to her unconscious needs for self-punishment. She risked her life and well-being for reasons having nothing to do with her conscious motivations (which didn’t make sense on their face).

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