My Freud

ABSTRACT: _This paper is about what Freud means to a psychoanalyst today. The essence of what Freud and psychoanalysis mean are illustrated by showing how such meaning is itself generated by our personal experiences and how it guides our lives in ways often hidden from us. What Freud means socially, interpersonally and intra-personally is also briefly explored. _


Freud means different things to different people. To some he was the originator of psychoanalysis, to some a pioneer in explorations of the mind, to some the father of Freudian slips and to some he revealed the truth of incestuous maternal love. I wish to give a very personal account of what he has come to mean for me as a way of personally acknowledging my indebtedness to him. I do not expect the views expressed here to be views of other psychoanalysts, including those presenting today, though of course it might.

We psychoanalysts are a strange bunch. We are mostly profoundly atheistic and rational, yet we believe that our lives unfold a kind of destiny, written in complex codes in our earliest years. My destiny was of course to one day train and work as a psychoanalyst, but the codes for it were so obscure that I didnt have the faintest idea of this destiny. My formative years were spent in a very British style boarding school, where the spirit of the dictum spare the rod and spoil the child still held. It is true that not many spoilt children emerged from such institutions. The rod churned out only generations of damaged children on whose obedient shoulders the Raj luxuriated. Being raised in such a climate it is not surprising that my earliest readings centred on heroes like Biggles, who managed to survive against the severest of odds. And survive I did, in a manner of speaking, though the seeds of that experience would influence me in a way that has relevance to this presentation, which will become clearer later. From there Somerset Maugham caught my attention by unflinchingly describing the human condition in all its monstrous oddity and tragic frailty that cut across all structures and classes of society. Maybe he was my first psychoanalytic teacher and perhaps through example, he encouraged my first faltering steps into Medicine. Maybe I first came across the name of Freud in one of his novels, though of course I didnt have a clue what the name stood for. So one day when I was shopping for medical text books in a bookshop I noticed a man in dark rimmed round spectacles staring at me from a paperback. I returned the stare and discovered his name was Freud. I thought it was about time we got introduced so I pointed him out to the friends I was with, telling them that is what I would like as my birthday present. They very generously pooled their meagre funds (we were as poor as church mice) and Ernest Jones Life and Work of Freud was mine! Thus began my lifelong association with this man. Though I must admit that when I first read that book, all I understood was the integrity, determination and courage of the man and how he kept being betrayed by his closest associates. A subsidiary hero of this book was Ernest Jones, the author of the biography, who stood steadfastly and loyally by the side of the great leader. I understood absolutely nothing about the nature of his findings or their implications. It was only much later when I was studying psychiatry that quite by chance I stumbled on the collected works of Freud and again I dont know why; I started reading his clinical cases. I am quite confident he would have died a premature and untimely death had I started reading his metaphysical works, but fate decreed otherwise. My attention was riveted by the vibrant aliveness of his patients and the acuteness with which he observed and described them, such that I could hardly put the book down. I was absolutely fascinated with this way of looking at human beings. It was such a far cry from the dehumanized descriptions of patients that I had come across in my studies in psychiatry. Who these people were was regarded as totally irrelevant; for all that really mattered was how their symptoms could be categorized, for it was on that categorization that a range of therapeutic interventions hinged. By now I suppose my destiny was quickening in my veins and I knew I could never be a physician of the brain. I knew that I had to move towards being a healer of the mind as I instinctively knew Freud was. From there it was a short step to starting my personal analysis and eventually to training in psychoanalysis. I give you this very brief and truncated account of my personal history to show the role that Freud played in guiding my destiny. What I have tried to illustrate is that the mind seems to grope in certain ways and in a certain direction, long before it is able to articulate what it is searching for. This is probably what we psychoanalysts call the unconscious. I say probably because classic descriptions of the unconscious do not carry this connotation of destiny, where something in us seems to know what we want, such that it keeps choosing the correct limb of every crucial bifurcation, even though we dont know why we do so. All we can experience is a kind of blind stumbling towards something.

However it makes little sense to say that something in my mind stumbled towards psychoanalysis, for the term psychoanalysis is an abstraction and the mind can hardly be said to be struggling towards an abstraction. But every abstraction carries within it a range of meanings and every meaning is grounded in certain very concrete human experiences. So it is not surprising that psychoanalysis itself has different meanings for different people. I wish here to describe the meaning that it has for me and the part played by Freud in that meaning. Meaning, as I said is a composite term and it is composed of numerous individual experiences. However there is one set of experiences that are central to my attraction and my understanding of psychoanalysis, but unfortunately I dont know an English word that adequately covers this set of experiences. Probably the closest word is sympathy but this word carries a penumbra of associations as Bion would say, that tend to distort the central meaning I wish to communicate. There is an Urdu word that better conveys this meaning. This word is humdard, which of course means nothing to anyone in this audience. So let me explain. The word humdard is composed of two sub-words, hum and dard. Hum means me, or us, or the same as or together with, while dard just means pain. So the word hamdard means my pain, our pain, the same pain, together with you in your pain or together with me in my pain. So you can see that the word sympathy is a poor substitute. What makes it worse is that even if one was to use the full phrase, and say we are together in pain the expression would be experienced as heavy, inept and clumsy. While the word humdard is light, gentle and courteous similar to the English word compassion, which of course literally means together with you in your passion or feeling, but which unfortunately also carries a connotation of inequality. For one tends to be compassionate towards those less fortunate than us. I am labouring this point because it is central to what I wish to talk about. For what is of central importance to me in psychoanalysis is this issue of being together in pain. It is central both historically and contemporaneously.

First I will talk about the historical dimension of being together in pain. The historical significance is that there would have been no psychoanalysis had it not been for Freuds self analysis. It is through his self analysis, or analysing and understanding his own pain, that he was able to understand the suffering of his patients. For me everything else that Freud said and did is of subsidiary importance. It took enormous courage to say in effect that psychiatric patients that were held in such enormous contempt by the general public were in essence the same as him. Of course he didnt say this explicitly, but it is there implicitly. This is no small matter for even today within psychiatry and sometimes even within psychoanalysis, there is a tendency to distance ourselves from our analysands who are regarded somewhat disdainfully as those poor damaged individuals as compared to us well balanced persons. This attitude comes very naturally to people like me that have grown up in the Indian sub-continent. On the sub-continent it is a very prevalent attitude, encouraged by the enormous disparity in wealth and cemented in by the caste system which distinguishes immutably different classes of human beings. For reasons that are unknown and mysterious to me, I have always felt very uncomfortable with this attitude. It is difficult for me to say so because it is the right thing to say and you would expect me to say so, even if it were not true. But it is nevertheless true for me. I still do not properly understand why it should be so. The only explanations that come to my mind, and they are likely to be only partial explanations, are 1) because of my boarding school experiences that I alluded to at the start. And 2) that for complex reasons I spent much of my childhood when I was at home, in the servants quarters. Living with these less fortunate people I got to know them better than perhaps the members of my own family maybe because once I was behind their curtain of obedient politeness, they were relatively more transparent emotionally. I got to know these servants in all their petty, vindictive, envious and small minded ways including the ways in which I was used by them for their own selfish purposes. But I also got to see them in all the complexities of their pain, much of it occasioned by financial hardship, which of course my parents were responsible for. I also got to experience their enormous generosity of spirit. For instance my personal ayah or maid that raised me from infancy, knew absolutely nothing about my wonderful attributes, yet she loved me devotedly and unconditionally. I too knew her intimately from the smell of her unwashed body to the large mole on her round cheeks and I too loved her dearly for everything that she was, including what my mother called her laziness and inefficiency. When I went back to boarding school she would tearfully tie an amulet on my arm with a prayer for my safe keeping. In that amulet she would put a rupee coin, which in those days would have been more than a days wages in an extremely marginal subsistence. Because of her generosity and the connection between us, I felt every pang of her pain as if it were my own, for she loved me as if I were her own and I loved her as if she were my own. I think we knew each others pain, though neither of us said a word about it. So this business of them poor creatures versus us fortunate humans is very alien to me. Perhaps even today I spend more time in the servants quarters than I should, for I think I am probably more moved by the generosity and courage of my analysands than I am by many of my contemporaries. Maybe my destiny was stirring again in my veins, for by a curious twist of fate, in a matter of hours, I was demoted from my very privileged status. When I migrated to this country, I was stamped wog boy, thereby officially confirming my position in a class that I might till then have been an honorary member of. It was Freuds courageous kinship with the most disturbed members of his society that gave us psychoanalysis. It is my unavoidable and deep kinship both with Freud and with the most disturbed members of our society in an unbroken line of continuity, which makes me a psychoanalyst today.

That was the historical significance for me of being together in pain. The contemporaneous significance of this experience is that psychoanalysis as we know and practice it, is based totally on this business of being together in pain. For on this fact is built the whole edifice of psychoanalysis in particular identification, empathy, transference, counter-transference and all the everyday transactions in pain that are the daily business of any psychoanalysis. I believe the perceptiveness and understanding of any psychoanalyst is based upon the extent to which she is open and receptive to this process. It cannot be taught. How patent these channels of communication are, is determined very early in our lives in very complex ways and no amount of reading, lectures, seminars, supervision or training can create them. If they are there they can be encouraged or put to better use, but they can not be generated if they are not already there. Psychoanalysts are creatures that are born that way. They cannot be created.

To recapitulate what I have been trying to do so far. In addition to describing the meaning of my Freud and how he served as a beacon guiding my first faltering steps towards realizing my destiny, I described the very personal space that Freud occupies within me. This space could be called the intrapersonal space. Then I described the space that Freud occupies in my relationships, especially my professional ones. This could be called the interpersonal space. I now wish to describe the space that Freud occupies in this group, or any group. Or if you prefer, the space that Freud occupies in you, in all of us, the social space. Of course most of you would have your individual Freud having a certain meaning in your minds and you too might be able to trace that origin in the ways that I have just done. But there is a certain Freud that is common to all of us, though we may not call him by that name. Even those people that are hostile towards him, his theories and the practice of psychoanalysis, still carry something of him within them, for they have really have no choice. As Auden so famously put it

_ if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,_

_ to us he no more a person_

_ now but a whole climate of opinion_

under whom we conduct our different lives:[[i]][1]

You see much of what Freud introduced into our way of thinking and our values now exists as part of our culture and we accept it as a matter of course and are generally unaware that he is the author of these ways and these values. For instance the fact that we are motivated by feelings or wishes that we are not aware of, or the pervasiveness of symbols in our everyday lives, from the concrete to the abstract, that are common to all cultures and nations can be traced back to him. But perhaps his most important contribution to our way of thinking is what I have been trying to highlight in this presentation, our common humanity. He demonstrated for the first time the essential continuity of who we are as people. This continuity exists within us. For instance the child and her experiences are repetitively encountered with increasing complexity and engagement, like an evolving symphony, every note of which has its precursors in the rudimentary beginnings, demonstrating our essential continuity of being. And this continuity also exists between us, for no matter how we appear or what we do as people, whether we are rich, poor or successful, or even if we are mad or merely eccentric, we share the same essential substance, which is expressed now in this way and now in that. This continuity is bitterly contested by every expression of national, racial or religious pride, by every ostentatious display of wealth, success, power or cleverness, by every attempt to prove that we are somehow different from other human beings that we shocked, outraged or humiliated by. Yet despite the shrillness with which we protest, or maybe because of it, at certain saner moments, we glimpse this awful truth, and no amount of clever argument can ever dispel this truth, for truth eventually triumphs Satyamev Jayate as the Upanishads say. We come to understand deeply, in a way that cannot be dismissed, that all human beings are made of the same substance, sharing the same desires, hopes and ambitions and suffering the same pangs of longing, anxiety, terror and despair. It is in this way that Freud has become a whole climate of opinion that we can argue, hate or feel pleased by, yet the climate is the climate, and all our protestations will not change one drop of it.

Since this presentation commemorates Freuds 150th birthday, I would like to spend the rest of this paper expressing my gratitude to him. In keeping with the structure of this presentation, I would like to express that gratitude at all the three levels I have been describing, social, interpersonal and personal. These levels are entirely arbitrary and I use them descriptively only to allow discussion. As you will see in the descriptions that follow, there is considerable overlap between them.

To facilitate my description, I will quote three more verses from Audens In Memory of Sigmund Freud. These verses are not only very evocative, true and moving but they serve also to underline the fact that emotional truth can be articulated with equal facility through different modalities. Psychoanalysis is just one such modality. We believe it is the modality that most comprehensively and economically articulates the complex truths of emotional life, simply because that is the task for which psychoanalysis was created. Over time psychoanalysis has developed and modified itself to encompass the increasing complexities of mental life that we have come to understand. But that doesnt of course mean that emotional life cannot be expressed through literature, art and music. Literature in particular uses the same verbal modality that psychoanalysis uses and it too has been developed to express our multilayered emotional life. Many of us have come to psychoanalysis through literature. Freud used literature, ancient and modern, to illustrate various facets of emotional life and that is what many of us continue to do. It is in that spirit that I quote Auden. So here are the three verses that I will follow up with a brief commentary on each.

_but he would have us remember most of all _

to be enthusiastic over the night,

not only for the sense of wonder

_ it alone has to offer, but also_

__

because it needs our love. With large sad eyes

its delectable creatures look up and beg

us dumbly to ask them to follow:

_ they are exiles who long for the future_

__

that lies in our power, they too would rejoice

if allowed to serve enlightenment like him,

even to bear our cry of Judas,

_ as he did and all must bear who serve it._

The first verse talks in general about that part of our experience called the night, that all of humanity is partly and periodically submerged in. This verse pleads for us to be enthusiastic over the night. This is something most of us find very hard to do. It is our common everyday experience that we are much more comfortable with daylight, when we can see things clearly and as bright as day. As night approaches that sense of confidence decreases and we become fearsome. For the most terrible things happen at night and it is populated by the hobgoblins of dreams, nightmares and insomnia. It is in exactly the same way that we are frightened of what is dark and unknown within us. We exult in what we know about ourselves and our sense of mastery in the things we do. But we are also aware of darker forces moving heavily within us that we have little or no control over. These forces often seize the day and force us into dark labyrinths that we often feel trapped and helpless in. So it is not surprising that we flee from what is dark within us. But Auden is pleading with us on Freuds behalf, to not feel terrified of the night, because there is also something very beautiful about the night. It is only at night that the clamour of the day subsides and our attention is not forcefully grabbed by our work, responsibilities and powerful ubiquitous advertising. We have the possibility to reflect on what is dark within us and the possibility to not feel terrified of it. It is Freud that has shown us how to, by demonstrating that the creatures of the night are common to all of us. If we can accept this fact, then there is the possibility that we might feel filled by a sense of wonder, for it is what is dark within us that seizes us most profoundly. It is expressed in all forms of art, which are all symbolic expressions of our inner emotional lives. For purposes of this presentation we can say that this first verse stands for what is universal and common to all of us. It is an acknowledgement of what could be called the social or cultural Freud.

The second verse talks not about the night in a general way but about the creatures of the night and the state of exile that they live in. They have been exiled by us because we feel so ashamed and humiliated by them that we disown them and say we have no association with them. They are no friends of ours and certainly not our relatives. Hence we dont recognize them when they present themselves to us in the guise of other people. We see them as having different identities from us, for instance we see them as belonging to a different social class, a different race, a different nationality or because they are on the other side of the couch. This second verse pleads for our love, because it only when we can accept these dark alien creatures, instead of feeling horrified about how different they are from us, that they stand a chance of being rehabilitated and included in the human race. It is only our acceptance of these alien creatures that can transform them so that they are seen in a truer more compassionate light. We will see the large sad human eyes that these and all human creatures have, regardless of their many failings. We will come to understand that they are not different from us after all. When we do so, then these human beings which represent the dark parts of us, will cease their long exile in the night of our ignorance. It is only the light of our understanding that can embrace them and bring them back into human habitation. If we can recognize them for who they are, we will not pull away from the mad, the sad and the destitute. We will offer what comfort we can for we know they are denizens of our inner worlds and in comforting them we know we give them the future they never thought they had. As the second verse suggests, it is our love that has the power to liberate. This second verse is an acknowledgment of the interpersonal Freud for he shows us how and why we can live in peace with people that are very different from us.

Now to turn to the Freud that is within us. You may be under the impression that because psychoanalysts are veterans of many a long march into the deepest of nights, they are as tough as old boots. But in truth of course the reverse is the case for the effectiveness of any psychoanalyst depends entirely on his or her sensitivity. If you have been following this presentation you would have come to understand that we are not a different kind of human, if you cut us we bleed, nor do many of us take a superior stance in relation to our analysands. This is not because we are more evolved or noble people. It is because we recognize that the suffering in our analysands is our suffering and that their long nights of despair are our long nights of despair. However, our analysands, like us, do not always see the value of liberating the very creatures that they have spent whole lifetimes trying to effectively exile. For like us, they too put a distance between themselves and what they disown. Thus every attempt on our part to accept those aspects of themselves that they are trying so hard to disown, is hated and bitterly resisted. Why would it not be for it seems that we are undermining a lifetime of trying to create and maintain that distance? So it is not at all surprising that our strenuous efforts are rewarded with little more than anguished cries of Judas. We are believed to be failing our analysands, for they have come to us for help, instead we seem to be undoing what they most value. In addition to this and associated with it, is the issue of failure. Every analysis has within it the dimension of failure and much of our everyday business lies in dealing with this sense of failure in our analysands. But again if you have been following what I have been saying, because we are of the same substance as our analysands, we are not exactly free of failure ourselves and these failures must manifest themselves in the analysis as well. In fact the peculiarities of the analytic situation magnify the failures of the analyst, so that every failure that outside the analytic situation would seem small, in the consulting room looms large and dominates the atmosphere. Much of the central ground of many a psychoanalysis is occupied by this dimension of failure, failure of the environment or failure of the individual. Both failures get concentrated and personalized in the person of the psychoanalyst and while psychoanalysts might intellectually understand this, when it actually happens it is often strenuously denied and defended against because it hurts and hurts so deeply. Our analysands come to us because something is felt to have failed. That failure can only be worked through our working through the real failures of the analysis. It is very painful, if not at times impossible, to accept the extent of our failure. What often makes it bearable is that the analysis has many other dimensions to it, many of which are very rewarding. But that is not always the case for we all know that there are the many psychoanalytic impasses and that there are many analyses that come to grief for complex reasons, when of course only the failure is realized, not its resolution. We are hated for the work that we have tried at great personal emotional cost to do, sometimes for many years, only to have the analysis end in recriminations and bitterness. We wonder what the point was of years and years of suffering. Please dont misunderstand me. I am not complaining or asking for your sympathy. I am describing these very real situations for a reason. That reason is that these situations lead up to my being able to pose the one question that must be posed. Why do we do this work? What madness motivates us to plunge repeatedly into such pain and despair? There is no simple answer to this question. But amongst the many possible answers there is one that is relevant to us here. It is as I have said that at some level, we in a very real way identify with the dark creatures of the night, both as personified by our analysands and with the dark creatures coiled tightly within them. Or perhaps we could say more accurately that we identify ourselves with their liberation. Auden profoundly understood this in a way that perhaps many of us dont fully appreciate ourselves. So perhaps you will now better understand the full import of these moving lines that I will quote again. Auden is talking about the creatures of the night -

With large sad eyes

its delectable creatures look up and beg

us dumbly to ask them to follow:

_ they are exiles who long for the future_

__

that lies in our power, they too would rejoice

if allowed to serve enlightenment like him,

even to bear our cry of Judas,

_ as he did and all must bear who serve it._

Learning to hear, understand and bear this accusation is my personal and grateful acknowledgment to my Freud, my psychoanalysis.