kortina.nyc / notes
14 May 2024 | by kortina

Real // I Don't Want to Talk About It

I think I heard about Terrence Real’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It in David Attia’s Outlive.

It’s a very intense – but very good – book about male depression.

Notes and quotes…

2416 When a parent traumatizes a child, he is in a state of shamelessness. If the injurer felt appropriate shame, he would contain his harmful behavior. The shame a parent does not consciously feel will be absorbed, along with other unconscious feelings, by the child. Pia Mellody has called these transmitted states carried shame and carried feeling. They are the means by which the wound, the legacy of pain, is passed from father to son, mother to son, across generations. Carried feeling and carried shame are the psychological seeds of depression.

Projective identification is the term modern psychiatry has given to the phenomenon of carried feeling. Psychoanalytic theory emphasizes the projecting person’s repudiation of his own feelings. The process is described as one wherein a person injects into another the disowned aspects of his own personality. When my father took a strap to me he beat into me his unacknowledged misery. My father hated and punished his own weak, dependent child in me, and I absorbed into my psyche both the hated and the hate-filled parts of him. I took on his sadness, depression, and rage. In the jargon of psychiatry, I “accepted” his projection. Like many of my patients, I can dimly remember the actual experience of that absorption. As my father raged, out of control, I can recall feeling, like Billy, terribly sad, almost nostalgic. In the midst of his brutality, I most strongly sensed, even as a young child, the urgency of his fragility, his pathos. I felt sorry for him. As a therapist, whenever I hear a depressed man tell me that he feels sorry for one or both of his parents, I know I am in the presence of carried feelings. A healthy parent, barring some true catastrophe, does not bid for his child’s pity.

The paradox is that at the same time the child internalizes carried shame, he also takes in the offender’s rage, his shamelessness. All traumatic acts are simultaneously disempowering and falsely empowering. No matter how badly a caregiver treats a child, he also models, through example, a shameless way of being in the world. His actions say to the boy: “You, too, can behave as I do when you become a man.” In this tragic moment, the very forces that betray the boy, forces he most often finds abhorrent, come to live inside him.

4075 At about the turn of the century, the structural changes brought about by the industrial revolution reached into the heart of American families and changed their shape forever. In the previous age of family farms and cottage industries, households were organized equally around the tasks that served the group’s well-being—cooking, education, tending the ill—and also the tasks that produced goods—gardening, raising livestock, making clothes. There was no great distinction between family caretaking and family production. While philosophical role distinctions did exist—women, for example, were the tender souls most suited to care for the sick—in practical terms, the activities of men and women, adults and children, even family members and servants routinely overlapped. The daily life of the household was marked by enormous fluidity in roles.

With the industrial revolution, production moved out of the home, and men moved with it into the growing urban areas. As men took on the role of wage earner, women and children became ever more dependent on the man’s salary. It is at this moment that many of the divisions that we now take for granted first sprung into being: the division between work and leisure; between the domestic and the occupational; between public and private life; and the rigid polarity of sex roles. All of these divisions had previously existed to varying degrees in society’s rhetoric. But now, for the first time, they dictated actual behaviors affecting the daily functioning of family life. Men and women’s “separate spheres” moved out of the realm of salon philosophy to shape our most routine and intimate transactions.

From that time of rigidification to the present day—despite women’s entry into the work force—the socioeconomic status of most families has been determined by the status of the male. To the degree to which the man succeeds, the family prospers. To the degree to which the man fails, the family suffers.

I believe that from the point of this great division, women and men began to engage in a deal, unconscious and nearly ubiquitous, a deal whose tracks had already been laid down by centuries of philosophy, but whose actual daily operation had never before been a palpable fact. Men agreed—for their and their family’s well-being—to abdicate many of their deepest emotional needs in order to devote themselves to competition at work. Women agreed to abdicate many of their deepest achievement needs in order to devote themselves to the care of everything else, including their working husbands. I call this deal the core collusion. It is at this juncture that the roles of man-the-breadwinner and woman-the-caretaker were born. A women accomplished her new, critical role as the husband’s ministering angel by seeing not just to his physical needs, but to his psychological needs as well. As psychiatrist Matt Dumont has written: “It does not matter much whether the returning male is a miner or a professor; his wife, knowingly or not, has the culturally defined task of reading his face for signs of dispair and doing her level best to get him back out there again the next day. Women are the cheerleaders of industrial society.”

4240 When a depressed man steps up to the task of practicing full relational responsibility, he not only transforms the dynamics of his disorder, he also shifts to a more mature stage in his own development. I speak to men of this shift in life orientation as the move into fathering. Fathering, as I speak of it, can, but need not, involve the biological begetting of children. Fathering need not involve children at all. Fathering occurs when the essential question a man lives by changes. At the heart of the quest is a question. In The Quest for the Holy Grail, the young hero, Perceval, crosses the Wasteland, finds the hidden Castle of Wonders, meets the wounded Fisher King, and sees the awesome spectacle of the Grail. Everyone waits with baited breath for the young knight to ask the right question and free the king, the castle, and all of the people of the realm. But at the tale’s beginning, the hero is too immature. Overwhelmed, he leaves the castle in disgrace, having failed. It takes the rest of his journey—the rest of his life, by some accounts—before Perceval is granted a second chance.

4242 The essential shift in question that marks a depressed man’s transformation is the shift from: What will I-get? to: What can I offer? Entering into a fathering relationship—to a child, a mate, an art, a cause, to the planet entire—means to become a true provider. Recovery demands a move into generativity.

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