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Psychology


On Acting Like A Child: The Valuable Lesson of Regression

In his Introductory Lectures to psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud used a very simple analogy to explain the relationship between the id (our animal instinct) and the ego (our common sense). He described it to be like the relationship between a rider and a horse, which sounds simple enough. The animal is the id, the rider atop the animal is the ego. What was, and still is, unpopular about this analogy is that, for Freud, the horse—not the human—is the one in charge. Much as the rider may have the pretense of guiding the horse forward, to the destination he or she…

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Kicking the Dog: The Not-So-Subtle Art of Displacement

Kicking the Dog: The Not-So-Subtle Art of Displacement

This begins a short mini-series on the wide world of defense mechanisms—how you and I do our very best to cope with the realities of pain.

We all have our defense mechanisms. In psychodynamic terms, these are the ways our egos fend off stressors—situations or circumstances or, you know, very very rarely, people that conjure realities we just can’t handle. Sometimes these stressors waylay us with personal condemnation, sometimes they demolish a sacred belief we hold dear, sometimes they are random, traumatic events. Other times, the stressors aren’t bad: there’s an exciting new career opportunity or it’s a busy time of…

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"I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!"

“I hate you Dad! Oh, I mean Reverend!”

An old girlfriend of mine—let’s call her the Girl from Ipanema…no, on second thought, we better not—had a type when it came to men: blond hair and blue eyes. That worked out well for me—for awhile. Then a ghost showed up—taking the form of an ill-fated previous relationship with a man who looked remarkably like me. That, children, was when I was introduced to the wonderful world of transference.

Frank Lake describes transference in his book, Clinical Theology:

The displacement of feeling from one object or person to another, and particularly the process by which the patient shifts feelings and attitudes primarily…

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The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey's Gospel Madness

The Preacher Goes to Fashion Week: Jim Carrey’s Gospel Madness

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
    vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

God, in his mercy, sends preachers. Some are well-educated and institutionally-approved folk serving the faithful in fine old churches, but in these last days we should take no alarm that the same Lord who spoke through Balaam’s ass might again choose an eccentric instrument. His preachers are not necessarily welcomed even under ordinary circumstances – indeed, the urgency of the need and the warmth of the reception seem often enough to have an inverse relationship. Again, this should not surprise, because the preacher’s first word is a word of law,…

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Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

Accidental Killers and Cities of Refuge

“There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. An exhaustive search yielded no research on such people, and nothing in the way of therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, or therapists who specialize in their treatment…”

Thus opens the second section…

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A Welcomed Interrogation

A Welcomed Interrogation

John le Carré knows spy craft. A master of espionage fiction, he also once served as an intelligence officer in Britain’s MI5. In a recent interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” while promoting “A Legacy of Spies,” le Carré discussed the art of interrogation. He expressed his firm conviction that the “rough stuff” we hear about today (say, waterboarding and torture) is “quite useless,” not to mention immoral. Why? People under such pressure and pain will basically say anything to make the pain stop.

“I’ve found that trying to understand people, trying to befriend them, trying to indicate that…

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Rollo May's One Paradox of Courage

Rollo May’s One Paradox of Courage

An important (if not challenging) definition of courage from existential psychologist Rollo May, brother of writer and addiction counselor, Gerald May. This comes from Rollo’s famous book, The Courage to Create—a title dedicated to Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be—and this section is a description of what May calls the paradox of courage. Courage, as he sees it, goes far beyond strong wills and resolution. It comes from the French word “coeur” or heart. It means something akin to being “full-hearted,” and therefore is incomplete without its ugly counterpart, fear or doubt. Replace “courage” with “belief,” and you have a…

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"Mark Yourself as Safe"

“Mark Yourself as Safe”

Greetings from the heart of Houston, and the heart of Hurricane Harvey. For the past few mornings, I’ve woken up, glanced at my phone and the multiple flash flood warnings that came through overnight, and scrolled through a few dozen pictures of whatever fresh hell visited my city the night before. Then, I write some post for family and friends from all over the country who are worried about us: “Checking in as safe, dry and grateful in Houston this morning.” We have been spared the worst of the devastation in our little pocket of Houston. Our house has not…

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Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death

Architects, Madmen and Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death

Freud, Kierkegaard, and the drug lord Heisenberg…A free peek into the Love & Death Issue, which people continue to tell us is their favorite issue thus far. Here is Ethan’s piece on the classic, Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death. If you subscribe to the magazine, and add the code JESSEPINKMAN in the notes section of your order, we’ll send a free copy to a friend of your choosing.

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone…

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The Real (Suppressed) You

An amazing little passage from Frank Lake’s book on pastoral care. This could be filed away under “what not to do” in moments of great suffering. Lake discusses the human need to have negative feelings, that therealities of rage, anxiety, loneliness or grief should not be kept hidden or suppressed. In the realm of church groups, though, or really any other kind of group, Lake notes that these negative feelings are often seen as problematic and unattractive, even unacceptable. They are often, in these circles, evidence of a lack of faith, a lack of self-esteem, a lack of personal grit. When we are this person, the suffering one in need of a listening ear, we are aware that this is a risk, putting ourselves out there like this. Lake, like Brené Brown, argues that it is a huge act of bravery to be vulnerable about these unseemly emotions.

Sometimes, though, the pain is too great and we just have to share. And instead of finding friends who have faced the same demons, we find strangers who seem not to know what we’re talking about. There are awkward silences, darting glances, pained faces, a quick change of the subject. Someone in the group gets the group “back on track,” and our negative feelings–the thing that derailed the conversation–are cast aside as if they were never spoken to begin with. Here’s Lake:

The effect of this put-down on the anxious sharer is devastating. They feel the group life they have come to depend on and their acceptance in it are tottering on the brink of disintegration. They have shared the worst that they fear to be true of themselves and the group quite plainly did not want to know.

Next week there is a crisis: do I go again or do I stay away? If I do go, who is it that goes? The chastened/corrected John or Mary, resolved never again to risk being disgraced, resolved to act the cheerful charismatic cover-up to the evident satisfaction of all? But that is not the essence of renewal but of the old religion. However skillfully last week’s well-shamed sharer contrives…there will be anger hidden.

Isn’t this, after all, the defining character trait of “religion,” why it so often carries connotations of phoniness, grandiosity, and abstraction? And isn’t this what Jesus came to save us from, from our contrived sense of personal wellbeing? Throughout the gospels, Jesus seems to ask the question of the wounded ones he encounters (and, by extension, of us): where is the real you, not the corrected you? Where is the wound? Everything that is hidden will be brought to light, and released, made new.

From the Archives: What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation

From the Archives: What I Didn’t Do On My Summer Vacation

Lately there’s been a considerable dearth of David Zahl on this site, wouldn’t you say?! So here ya go. The following article goes out to anyone strapping a cargo shell to the roof of his or her car this weekend. From our archives, this one remains as prescient and timely as when DZ wrote it back in 2013:

It’s official: leisure has gone the way of the leisure suit. At least according to an excellent “long read” by Jenny Diski in The New Statesman, “Learning How to Live”, which explores the question of why we find free time so terrifying. If…

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The "Centre Point" of Paradox

The “Centre Point” of Paradox

I suffer from what psychologytoday.com calls ‘polarized thinking’ (self-diagnosed). This is a way of seeing the world in ‘either/or’ terms. When I judge something — which happens, let’s face it, all the time — it’s either this or that, good or bad, right or wrong. It’s not some of this and some of that — and certainly not all of both. Though it often means being hard on myself and others, thinking in a polarized way helps me simplify the more complex aspects of the world, while staying comfortably seated in my judge’s chambers.

For example: if I hit a green…

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