Sunday, 5 February 2017

levinas all alone

Levinas tells us (p. 42) that:
It is banal to say that we never exist in the singular. We are surrounded by beings and things with which we maintain relationships. Through sight, touch, sympathy and cooperative work, we are with others. All these relationships are transitive: I touch an object, I see the other. But I am not the other. I am all alone. It is thus the being in me, the fact that I exist, my existing, that constitutes the absolutely intransitive element, something without intentionality or relationship. One can exchange everything between beings except existing. In this sense, to be is to be isolated by existing. Inasmuch as I am, I am a monad.
Someone once related to me the following experience:
As a child I looked at my outstretched hand, and thought to myself that 'it is mine and no-one else's'. I then realised that, in a profound sense, I was truly all alone.
The two thoughts seem similar to me. They are both profound yet nonsensical. Can we specify the nonsense, and rescue the profundity from it?

The conceptually strange passage is that from 'I am not the other' (or 'this hand is mine alone') to 'I am all alone'. In the normal sense of the phrase, to 'be all alone' is but one possibility of human life, and the phrase gains its meaning through its contrast with the alternative possibility of 'being with others'. It certainly doesn't gain its meaning through semantic opposition to being others! 'I am only ever myself; I am not you' is but a non-informative tautology, a vacuous rehearsal of the meaning of 'I' and 'you'. 

That I cannot be (what Straus called) Allon is, I suggest, (what Wittgenstein called) but a 'grammatical' truism. Left cannot be right, here cannot be there, before cannot be after. We may of course switch the designata of these essential indexicals: I and you change place; now I am speaking, I am the one to use 'I', and I designate you 'you'. I move over there; what was left is now right; we change the time frame. Yet the concepts do not thereby lose their essential exclusivity, which in fact is still entirely presupposed by the descriptions of the new situations. But this exclusivity hardly makes for something we should want to call an essential solitude of left, here, now, or I. If anything - and I propose that perhaps it's really nothing rather than anything, nothing but a shadow of a shadow - what this grammatical exclusivity shows is just how very deeply I and you belong together.

And yet. And yet. ... There is, I believe, something profound to Levinas's, or the child-looking-at-her-hand's, thought, something which my deflationary analysis ignores. The profundity reminds me a little of what I suspect lies behind the answer to a common thought experiment: do you ever wish you could actually be someone else? Most everyone says that they'd rather be themselves, even though they freely acknowledge that certain others have more of what they wish they had for themselves. And it also reminds me a little, in a different way, of Ian McEwan's little girl Briony who sits (p. 35) looking at her hands in her lap which:
appeared unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.
Such thoughts are profound, but are not, I believe, profound because they offer us a descriptive revelation of the human condition. Instead they offer us a powerful evocation of a passing state of deep alienation. (That we may fall into this state is essentially important to being human, but this of course is not to say that what we say in such states are truthful pronouncements about what really must, underneath it all, always be the case.) Thus Briony, caught up in inner reflection, has become alienated from her hand which now appears external to her, appears as a fleshy spider. Briony has, as it were, become some inwardly retreated faculty of pure will - and not a living agent. Someone who thinks that her body is aptly described as her property is in a similarly alienated state: she mistakes what she fundamentally is for something that she merely owns. So too is someone who starts to think of 'existence' as a predicate - so that even the being of a thing starts to be considered merely an attribute of an 'it', which 'it' now recedes into an extensionless and empty point.

Levinas, looking lonely
What Levinas' thought - that our very being, our un-interchangeable existence itself, renders each of us 'all alone' - voices by expressing is, I believe, a truly important state of mind. What he gives voice to is the kind of thing we are disposed to say when (to borrow Wittgenstein's pictorial metaphor) certain of the cogs have already become disconnected from the mechanism. That the cogs may thus disconnect (I'll spell out the metaphor further in a moment) is an essential feature of our humanity - that we are beings who lose ourselves, who are always (in the Biblical metaphor) 'falling', prone to deploying alienating defences which preserve-whilst-yet-uprooting our going-on-being. Yet it seems to me that Levinas' thought hardly describes the fundamental and universal feature of human life - as if, underneath it all, in the roots themselves, we are all alone. (I'm reminded of people who say things like 'You are born alone and die alone'. ... 'Well...', the deflationary me always wants to retort, '...I bet that, at least in the first part of the story, your mum was there as well'.)

Notice your countertransference to Levinas' writing: I'd guess that it's one of abjection or pessimism. Doesn't this point to the fact that it - the writing - takes something which we can feel within our life (i.e. loneliness) and expands it incoherently to the frame of life itself? Isn't this the kind of hypostatisation which makes for metaphysical thought in general - thought, that is, which has tacitly disrespected its own conditions of possibility? 'Ontotheological' thought, as Derrida has it, which attempts to expand half of a dichotomy into an ur category and then, with a knowingness which betrays - whilst also attempting to shore up - a fundamental insecurity, to derive the other half from this putatively originally primary ur phenomenon? (Thought which lacks humility, which wants to derive life from thought rather than have thought arise within a life that is always larger than it.) Don't we also encounter such a countertransference when we read other authors who have attempted to contend with death/separation anxieties by biting into death itself whilst alive - I'm thinking particularly of Lacan's deathliness or Schopenhauer's miserabilism? (We may also think of the writings of such novelistic flรขneurs as W G Sebald and Teju Cole who carry with them the loneliness of the isolate photographer, alienated from life through their observational stances.)

Yet isn't just such a state of mind, and just such a thought (that we are, fundamentally, because of what it is to exist as such, 'all alone'), an essentially important part of the human condition? The fact is that we are beings who are prone to existential despair. Those who are not thus prone are experienced by us as shallow; the abyss is the dearest friend that reflective thought knows. So, sure, I'm with Heidegger, and against Levinas, in thinking that mitsein is the condition of possibility for both friendship and solitude. Yet that we are prone to feel the terrors of aloneness (i.e. fundamental attachment anxieties, which I take to be equivalent to death anxieties), and to contend with these by trying to think ourselves as essentially solitary, in a hopeless attempt at auto-vaccination is, it seems to me, itself a fundamental feature of the human condition, of our ineluctable terrors and the narcissistic defences we deploy against them.

Wittgenstein, also lonely
From an alienated, abject, standpoint - a standpoint in which, say, 'being' becomes framed as a predicate, a standpoint in which the body becomes framed as a possession - various questions which are not intelligible yet beset us and become pressing. From this standpoint their unintelligibility is heavily disguised from us. If (like some philosophers) you feel that the fact that something seems to make sense to you is enough of a guarantee of its meaningfulness, then you'll probably miss the music here. (But let's leave such irredeemably narcissistic folk to spin their own endless fairytales.) Such questions include the one about 'would you become someone else if you had the chance?'. We tend (incoherently) to say 'no!' rather than (as we ought) 'shut up!' both because we intuit the loss of life/being within the question, but also because we, retreated as we sometimes are even behind our own being, struggle because of this to acknowledge the rampant unintelligibility of the question.

As Wittgenstein says (p. 56):
Don't for heaven's sake be afraid of talking nonsense! But you must pay attention to your nonsense.
What we have here is a possible meaning for the controversial concept of 'important nonsense': not nonsense which points beyond itself to some ineffable truth, but rather nonsense the speaking (if not the (in-any-case-non-existent) content) of which conveys something important about the human condition: that we are essentially prone to a radically dirempting alienation which disintegrates selfhood (Dasein) itself. Without our feet on the ground, without the cogs connected up to the rest of the mechanism, what we say will be language that has 'gone on holiday', language that only appears to express intelligible truths. That we are motivated to talk thus tells us something important about ourselves, even if what we say does not.

Levinas, I assume, was lonely. (Just think: he wrote the notes that eventually became these lectures whilst living as a prisoner of war manual labourer, his father and brothers killed by the SS, cut off from fellow intellectuals.) And, taking my assumption as right, I propose that (his) loneliness gets inscribed into the very fabric of (his) thought in something like the following way: We all need recognition and love. We need the recognition that is love. Or, to render the thought with more finesse: we need to be able to feel the pain of the unavailability of love and also to know the balm that can come from possible love. We need to be able to think of ourselves as the possible object of love, even when this is not forthcoming. This capacity to experience ourselves as lovable, even if we are not currently loved (and hence more vulnerable to loneliness), is essential both to true joy and to true sadness. Yet there are times when we fail to stay open to this possibility. We call these times 'losing hope'. This hope is not best thought of as a wish; it is rather the remaining thinkable for oneself of a possibility. The possibility of love. And then we lose touch with the possibility of love and of not being loved by becoming one with the latter, living in a world which now is framed by solitude. We give ourselves over to it. Lose our self-possession. Possibility becomes inevitability. What ought to show up in the lichtung instead becomes part of its very fabric. Loneliness becomes unconcealment rather than unconcealed. Fatalism takes over as a deathly salve for the terrors of abandonment. The world itself becomes hopeless, loveless.

Levinas famously wrote 'If one could possess, grasp and know the other, it would not be other.' But why would anyone want to do that? (Well, we do want to know and be known, but I take it that we are supposed to read Levinas here as offering a hyperbolic sense of 'know' as 'know everything about'.)  Well, he would want to do that if he was what we call insecurely attached. To enjoy that state of being we call 'secure attachment' is to be able to enjoy the company, love, friendship, of the other; it is to be able to be with her; it is to not be vulnerable to panic and trema. It is to trust that she will go away and come back. Only the terrified person wishes to 'be' the other  - this is the primary defensive yet experience-emptying use of identification: 'if you can't meet them, become them'. Yet as Levinas phrases it, our very being is, he alleges, a fundamental isolation. But we know this isn't a coherent thought - our being is the condition of possibility both of isolation and of its actual antithesis: friendship. The religious person can defend against the terrors of the loss of love by imagining it ever-present. The irreligious person can defend against the terrors of life (including the death of God) through a kind of Schopenhauerian pessimism which inscribes loneliness into the heart of Dasein. As Nietzsche had it (quoting roughly), 'great philosophies are but the confessions of their originators, and species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography'. Only such a piece of driven unconscious autobiography could render invisible, I believe, the glaring logical fallacies of:
Through sight, touch, sympathy and cooperative work, we are with others. All these relationships are transitive: I touch an object, I see the other. But I am not the other. I am all alone. It is thus the being in me, the fact that I exist, my existing, that constitutes the absolutely intransitive element, something without intentionality or relationship. One can exchange everything between beings except existing. In this sense, to be is to be isolated by existing. Inasmuch as I am, I am a monad.
Levinas mistakes the 'cannot' in 'you cannot exchange existing between individuals' as the impossibility of something yet thinkable. He says that being is intransitive and lacks intentionality, as if he were thereby saying something about the nature of being, rather than merely noting that we have no use for talk of a 'transfer of being'. To say that being is intransitive is akin to saying that numbers have no mass. It's confusing because it makes it look as if we are saying that numbers are weightless, whereas really we ought to say that numbers neither have a weight nor are weightless. Their weightlessness is not like, say, the weightlessness of air, for something could (I think?) count as the weight of air, whereas nothing does count as a transfer of being. 'Being' is not a predicate and thus, while in some or other very thin sense a verb, is not helpfully described as either transitive or intransitive, as referring to what has or lacks relationship, or to what enjoys or doesn't enjoy intentionality. What we really encounter here is just a disguised remark on the grammar of 'existence' and 'I'. To cite Wittgenstein once more, here we meet with a whole 'cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar'.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

analytic doubts

Last week I heard Phil Mollon offer his animadversive tergiversations on Kleinian / object-relations transference interpretation. To my mind he rather threw the analytic baby out with the iatrogenic bathwater. In this post I thought I'd get clear on what I think about such matters. It's hardly gonna be an argument; perhaps it's a position statement.

So here's a maddening disastrous collusive and iatrogenic practice that analysts and their patients can get caught up in. The patient brings something that's on his mind - something in a dream or an experience in a current relationship or a memory - and the analyst inexorably offers a 'transference interpretation'.  The transference interpretation shifts the attention away from the original object of the patient's concern, and points to what is allegedly going down between patient and analyst. The patient receives no help in thinking about his original problem, and is now saddled with three further problems. The first is what to think about what the analyst says. The next is what to do about the original problem which may now get lost. The third is what to do with the analyst.

Here's what I understand as the rationale for the analytic practice. Sometimes what we say really does unwittingly speak of something or someone else. Thus in the midst of chatting loosely, associatively, dreamily, with you I find myself talking about the aggravating colleague situation I met with last week. Yet, embarrassingly, it is obvious to anyone other than myself that what prompted these associations was really what I was feeling towards you. The setting of psychoanalysis - the couch, the associative mode, etc. - make this more likely still. And the value of promoting the conditions for transference and for working to understand (interpret) it is that it reveals deep preoccupations and defences of the patient which being unconscious and hence undiscerning will tend to get plastered on the analyst too, and provides an opportunity to work on and work through these in an emotionally, experientially, live way.

The problem, as I see it, comes when transference interpretations are offered not on those sporadic occasions when they're called for, but as a matter of course - i.e. inexorably. The notion that the patient is always communicating something to their analyst about their (feelings about their) analyst becomes a regulative ideal of analytic practice, a kind of axiom against which interpretations are offered. And this, to my mind, is clinically disastrous. It is in fact nothing other than an example of the kind of suggestion which analysis is supposed to be in the business of countering. It damages the patient's self-possession, distorts the power dynamic of the therapeutic relationship, encourages a spurious self-alienated stance in the patient who can all too easily now begin 'thinking' about the non-obvious matters the analyst imputes, risks adding years to analyses which now are tasked with working through iatrogenic problems merely kicked off by the dodgy analytic procedure, etc. etc.

The position Phil Mollon took seemed to be that we do well to 'minimise transference' ... along with some other suggestions - to de-emphasise the curative value of the therapeutic relationship, and position oneself as a kind of interchangeable mechanic in an external rather than internal relationship with the patient. These latter suggestions appear equally disastrous to me - given what we know of the essential value of an involved, warm, real, containing, therapeutic relationship to therapeutic progress, one in which the patient's underlying problems can surface and be worked  through. But the former seems odd too - for what could it mean? I think that what Phil must have been getting at, really, is minimising the kind of spurious and dementing and iatrogenic transference interpretations as described above. Yet this has nothing very clearly to do with minimising transference per se. Thus if the patient reacts with annoyance and frustration to the analyst who relentlessly and unhelpfully and spuriously shifts attention to the relationship in ways which do not speak to the patient, this is not a matter of negative transference but, by definition, a healthy reaction. (What however is something we might think of as a manifestation of transference is this patient's failure to tell the analyst to fuck off! To resist the spurious transference interpretation, to regain self-possession in that way, can be a valuable achievement of the analytic patient.) The only thing that true transference-minimising could mean, I think, is something like encouraging a kind of relationship to the therapist of the sort one sometimes encounters in CBT: i.e. something external, merely collaborative, focused on issues in such a way that as-yet-un-acknowledged preoccupations don't get a look-in, overlooking of the subtle and perhaps-even-not-so-subtle emotional and moral dynamics of the therapeutic interaction. And what, other than a wish to enact an avoidant attitude to authentic courageous transformational intimacy, could be the point of that?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

be not afraid

You are feeling anxious. When you ask yourself ‘why?’ all sorts of things come to mind but, then again, such matters do tend to come to mind when you’re anxious.

But then you change what we could think of as your tone of voice. The ‘why?’ question now becomes not an attempt to understand something, but a gentle challenge. ‘Why be afraid?’ ‘What is there to be feared here?’

Such questions are rhetorical, and all the more powerful for that.

The biblical injunction – ‘be not afraid’ – is another such form of intervention. It’s a call to courage. It's an en-courage-ment.

Psychotherapists are naturally wary when someone says ‘Don’t cry’. We fear the repressive damage such injunctions can do. We hope instead to promote a kind acceptance of feeling.

But sometimes the gentle injunction might be just what’s needed. It needn’t always be an invitation to repression. Instead it may be a loving call to courage.

Courage, recall, must be taken. With it we step up. This is an existential act – i.e. an act of self-fashioning – and not a matter of some pre-determined quotient of impulse lurking around in the mind.

Monday, 9 January 2017

probity and personhood

The concept of an insincere or untrustworthy or fickle person makes sense. But only up to a point. For if one never kept one's word then what has the outward form of someone's word could no longer meaningfully be taken as such. This is the situation we meet with with serial liars. They have no integrity, and the effect of this is that their words - and their word - no longer mean anything. Such people sometimes fool themselves that their word yet means something - that they really are promising something when they utter words with a promissory form. Perhaps they 'feel an intention' inside themselves. Perhaps they imagine they can just 'know' this from within. Yet, as Wittgenstein says, 'an 'inner process' stands in need of outward criteria'. Such a person truly is just kidding himself; yet if he keeps at it eventually he won't even be a person kidding himself. He will have lost his soul.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

integrity as the lynchpin of integration

Orval Hobart Mowrer
The concept of the pathogenic secret and its significance to psychotherapy belongs, in the twentieth century, to the troubled and now largely forgotten American behaviourist Orval Hobart Mowrer. Influenced by Harry Stack Sullivan, Mowrer disagreed with Freud that neurotic guilt was at the core of much psychopathology, instead proposing real guilt as the driver, and de-repression through confession (in Integrity Groups - this was the 60s and 70s...) as the therapeutic solution. Mowrer modelled psychopathology as addiction, and it's perhaps unsurprising that it's in the field of addiction recovery that his work still has some influence.

What does it mean to model pathology as addiction? It means, Mowrer's pupil Bixenstein tells us, that the sufferer indulges in short-term pleasures whilst making herself unaware of their cost. In the kind of psychoanalytic terminology which Mowrer rather eschews, we might say that she represses, or splits off from, her awareness of the cost of her pleasures.

A defence subserving this latter unawareness, one we often encounter in the clinic, is projection. I  can't tolerate my guilt and so I project it into you - i.e. I make you out to be the bad one. Needless to say the projection may in fact - contra Mowrer - be of both real and neurotic guilt. A typical situation is one in which a patient is caught up in projecting the castigations of their superego, or so inexorably reads what the therapist says through the lens provided by the superego that (what is imagined to be a retaliatory) projection can almost feel like a moral duty.

Such projection is most effective when it is subtle, and it is subtle in ways which, I think, make clear just how the integrity group or 'pathogenic secret' concept has little chance of tackling it effectively. Just think of: a partly raised somewhat quizzical eyebrow whilst the therapist speaks; a minutely dismissive shrug just after the therapist speaks; a supposedly urgent question asked for which no answer could be satisfactory; amusement at something the therapist says or does which hovers on the in-between of laughing-at and laughing-with; requests made which exploit the inevitable ambiguities regarding what is reasonable to press for, thereby inviting slack-cutting and the latent queering of the moral pitch of the interaction; frustration at the therapist's incomprehension being expressed which would be utterly reasonable were it not for the fact that information which would have been rather helpful has been held back; conveniently construing the therapist's sincerity as tiresome earnestness so as to avoid the disturbing felt obligation to reciprocate the former; the subtle disowning-of-accountability (e.g. in a strategic use of psychiatric illness labels) in a push for not-quite-warranted-sympathy in how a story unfolds; etc; etc. Think of the sotto voce nature of many of these interactions - how they may be engaged in with a degree of plausible deniability - how the letter of what the patient says may yet be impeccable - how swept along by it one inevitably is. Think of how upsetting it is to have one's loving kindness gently trampled on and how, thank you but no, it's really not par for the course in this relationship just because it has this financial element to it.

The addictive buzz for the patient of such micro-abuse is akin to what we also find with schadenfreude - a sense of vulnerability and haplessness and culpability is relievingly located elsewhere - in the micro-agressed therapist. You are the clumsy insensitive dolt, not I, and if I perpetrate my aggressive relocation of doltishness not so much through the verbal content but, perlocutionarily, through the twisting of the tonal form of our interaction, then hopefully I can get you to suck it up into your self-conception in a way which allows you and I to let me off the hook (and you feeling shit). (A Bionian take on projective identification.) Yet such interactions nevertheless carry the typical cost and share the ongoing dynamic of addictions: they spoil the soil-structure of the relationship, making it unavailable as a collaborative loving resource to be internalised, and the sense of guilt or shame which is projected yet always lurks since it will painfully return unless the defence is maintained. In fact it increases, since the patient now suffers not only his original projected guilt or shame, but now also the additional guilt or shame at having micro-abused the therapist. Without an alternative ethic for relating, the projective besmirching spirals - this is the driver of the addiction to projective identification.

Consider the amalgam of neurotic and real guilt and shame one often finds in such interactions. Here is what in good (if idealising) humanistic spirit one might want to describe as the fundamental situation: at root the patient struggles to tolerate her vulnerability in love and connection. She so readily imagines shame being the apt emotion for so many of her ordinary reactions. She imagines - where by 'imagine' I mean simply the dispositional phenomenon of being inclined to expect - that she in her actual feelings - of upset, disappointment, anger - will be met with a lack of sympathy and understanding. She imagines that she will be met with self-negating criticism, with a 'pull your socks up', or a 'well what did you expect?', or a 'that's typical of you!', or a 'isn't this all rather self-indulgent?' or a 'I hope this teaches you a lesson', or a 'so you shouldn't have got your hopes up should you?', or a 'well clearly you were getting too big for your boots', or a 'stop being a cry baby', or a 'stop attention-seeking', etc. This is neurotic shame that stems from the superego, and is the kind of shame which the therapeutic relationship is designed to deactivate. Yet so powerfully does the superego force its damning message into the fabric of perception itself, thereby generating the negative transference, that the patient experiences such shaming for feeling coming from - or more often lurking unexpressed within - the therapist. And in response to this the patient goes on the manipulative attack. This manipulative attack must be subtle, since otherwise the superego-imbued-'inner'-therapist will add further scorn. Yet it is real and, to the extent that the patient stays in touch with an awareness of the possibility of a different therapist, of one who cares, one genuinely wronged by such put downs and performative beratings, her painful experience of guilt and shame increases.

Before turning to therapeutic solutions let's put one more consideration on the table - concerning how such a superego prevents integration. The goal of therapy, as I understand it, is to allow the patient to suffer/enjoy the full range of her feelings. It is in and through our feelings that we grasp the significance of our significant situations: I grasp what it means when you show me kindness or love, I grasp the significance of the fact that you no longer love me, or that you didn't love me as I had hoped, or that you have been spending more time with someone else, or that nature/fate/God has truly smiled on me with the health and opportunities I enjoy, or that I've been unkind, or that you've traduced my good will, or that I just won't be getting the promotion I longed for, or that you really have died and won't be coming back. We can't meaningfully grasp these things 'with our head' since what that would mean would simply be that we can make the apt reflective inferences when pushed; instead we must grasp them 'in our heart' which means that our reactive dispositions must change. We must experience the vulnerable joys and pains of opening up to another or of knowing that they have closed the door on us. The feeling is the adjusting to the ever-changing realities that befall us, and the task of therapy is the expansion of ego capacity - i.e. the increase in our welcome tolerance of all our feelings (which tolerance is not the same as condoning all the impulses such feelings may engender!). Yet it can be hard to adjust thus, to let the feeling course through the meaningful lived body; it so readily gets shunted off into the merely physiological body, or displaced, repressed, sublimated, projected. But what it most powerfully gets suppressed thus by is an inner critic - the voice which says that the feelings in question are shameful. This is the superego's potent contribution to the failure of integration - i.e. the failure to have ego capacity to suffer all, rather than merely that part condoned by the superego, of one's emotions.

In response to all of this the therapeutic task ought to be clear: it is the replacement of one ethic with another. Replacement of a competitive antagonistic point-scoring ethic with one of loving care, acceptance and cooperation. Replacement of this both within the therapeutic relationship and within the mind of the patient - in how he treats himself. The therapist smiles uncondescendingly, welcomingly, sympathetically, honestly, on the patient's feelings; the patient can now begin to internalise this acceptance, to make space within her soul for more of her pain and delight. Shame and guilt become welcome as opportunities for learning and growth; sadness welcomed as an opportunity for adjustment to loss and for valuing what one had; anger welcomed as a signal that one may have been wronged and a helpful prompt to assertively potent thoughtful reaction and self-rescue; envy welcomed as a clue as to one's forgotten or unrealised ambitions. Emotional feelings, in such an ethic, are calls to us to be, and reminders of the being of, our true selves.

But how can the therapist achieve this if they are the target of projective attack? Isn't that the dilemma we often face? I don't mean so much when one is struggling to not respond in kind, but rather when one's notwithstanding kindness itself will be abused or experienced as shaming or received with scepticism - rather than internalised as the herald of a healthier ethic. (Well, but... don't we already know something of this from the parenting situation? When the toddler is angrily, 'selfishly', unyieldingly carrying on, the parent's job is to be firm and clear and boundary-maintaining and non-retaliatory, to judge when the time is right for waiting this out and when right for thinking about it together.) The therapeutic task, it seems to me, is here several: i) to understand the psychodynamics of the projection, ii) to clearly acknowledge within herself the quality of feeling that patient is projecting, iii) to hold onto the thought of a different ethic, a different way of relating as a real possibility for the patient and between patient and therapist, iv) to firmly yet without retaliation describe what the patient is doing in the interaction, along with a description of the significance of the projected feeling to the patient, and a comprehending-distance-providing description of where this habit of reaction might be coming from in the patient's history, v) a reminder of the cost of adopting this competitive antagonistic ethic to the patient, and vi) a reminder of the possibility of another way of relating, vii) an invitation to the patient to make a step - to take a leap of faith that there exists another way of relating and that there exists, beyond what the negative transference makes available (and this really will be a leap of faith, so all-pervasive is the transference), a different kinder more understanding therapist to be related to.

The therapeutic task, one could say, is to agitate, firmly, kindly, honestly, for a change of heart. Which means the patient withdrawing their projections and apologising. The therapist must be able to hear this apology and take it - and not dismiss it casually with a 'oh that's all right' or a 'don't worry it's all in a day's work'. No, the therapist must be able to hear the confession in a way which acknowledges its deservedness, for without this they will not be able to offer forgiveness: they will not be able to let the patient know that he is no longer resented, that the apology has been accepted, that good relations are restored.

I've met morally deprived patients for whom the above procedure - the restoration of love, and not just the calling of a truce or a conveniently repressive forgetting, after a time of projective distemper - was a revelation. So entrenched had their families of origin been in a tit-for-tat point-scoring blame culture that the very idea of real forgiveness was more bewildering than anything else. Yet what could be more valuable? Not only is the patient then able to cultivate greater ego capacity and a kinder self-relation, not only are they able to have a trial relationship conducted according to a different ethic, one which they will hopefully be able to go on and generalise elsewhere, but furthermore the patient will now be able to swap their depression-engendering guilt for a valuable pride. Not the sinful pride of having an inordinate opinion of oneself, but the valuable anti-depressive pride of knowing that one has done the right thing, that one is making the best of a bad job, or making a good ethical fist of matters, suffering well, taking on the chin what is there to be taken, living with dignity.