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My time is not my own now except in small spoonfuls that are not long enough to sink down into. It is taken up by the children, by a procession of welcome godmothers, and grandparents, by lots of tears from Lola B as she endeavours to do the most difficult thing – to give up an animal on which she has lavished so much love for another. Rarely do we voluntarily give up someone we love: mostly we hang desperately onto people that we love as if life would cease without them. Death forces it upon us. Sometimes the person we love decides they no longer love us and so the decision is made for us. But leaving behind something we still love must be one of the most earth shattering pains.
Evenings have also often been taken up with a series of concerts. We all went to sit on cushions at the feet of this remarkable lady.
Julie Fowlis has a glass-breaking voice that melds so beautifully with the violin that it is almost impossible to tease one apart from the other. She sings gaelic songs, some from North Uist, the island of her birth, others from other highland and island places, some from Ireland. She is accompanied by her husband on the bouzouki, and by two other fiendisly talented musicians playing violin and guitar. Her songs tell stories, croons of sad wives left widowed by their fisherman husbands, they tell of every day events, of tales magnified in the telling, and of potatoes and butter and everyday things. Julie Fowlis is beautiful, natural, and can play the bagpipes like a man. I don’t imagine there was a man in the audience who would not have liked to spend an evening with her and visited by her smile, nor a woman who would not have liked to be her.
Lola B’s godmother came with us. She has learnt to speak gaelic like a native and is about to embark on her own journey to North Uist to live in the tiny white cottage she has bought there, and to perfect her own singing of sad songs and harp playing. Afterwards they exchanged smiling greetings, in gaelic, and Lola B looked on, impressed.
I came across this long description of the analysis of a very successful business woman. It relates, amongst other things, to my recent Prada post; to recent encounters; to thoughts about how I used to be when I was a practising solicitor, a partner running a small commercial law department – before my daughters were born; to Carol Gilligan whose writing gave me the title of this blog; to my mother’s lack of any outward feminity and her dismissal of many “feminine” character traits which I manifest; to my own struggle with her legacy, not wanting to be, outwardly, a woman like her; to the guilt and insecurity I have tried to overcome; to the resistance I felt, and the fear of becoming like her, a fear that plagued me when I became a “mother” as she was a “mother”. It also relates to a post I read recently on one of my favourite blogs – some thoughts on gender dysphoria, a specialism of one of my best friends. She has written several articles about her experience working with transgender patients, and I’m going to post one of her first articles here, just as soon as I get back to my main computer.
I’ve edited this article so should explain, by way of background, that the psychoanalyst also practises in the field of business organisation. I decided against editing the article to shorten it, but if you are not interested in the process of pscyhoanalysis, you might want to skip down several paragraphs to where the story of Karyn begins. Karyn has a husband called George, and a business partner called Margaret – which confused me until I re-read the article properly …
Reflections from Practice: The Interface of Psychoanalysis and Organizational Role Consultation
Kathleen Pogue White
I have been working at the psychic integration of two practice areas psychoanalysis and organizational role consultation. And, I am finding the practice areas mutually informing in useful ways.
Rooted as I am in learning from experience and applying learning from experience, however, I am aware of a hesitancy to make explicit the learning that comes from psychoanalytic practice (and test out the possibilities) in reflecting on the practice of organizational role consultation.
When ideas spring to mind that are generated from the accumulated experience of working as a psychoanalyst that might apply directly in role consultation or to consultant team reflections, I experience anxiety. The fear is that, ideas, if expressed, could potentially violate what feels like a taboo. It is as if the learning might be so deeply personal as to have little applicability beyond observations on personal development. The knowledge that theory and competence are advanced from what is learned in practice abandons me.
The converse is not true; learning from the practice of organizational consultation has profoundly effected my understanding of psychoanalytic practice — psychoanalytic contracting, locus of authority in psychoanalysis, the learning partnership are some examples. And, I find these ideas relatively simple to articulate in professional psychoanalytic settings
While I am curious as to whether the experience of constraint is self-generated and idiosyncratic or whether it is generated in some unconscious aspect of our culture of consultation, I want to face down the constraint, and try to articulate the cross learning from the practice areas.
Actually, I was inspired by Bob Gutman at ISPSO last year in London. His excellent paper explicating application to his practice area of architecture and architectural education brought to mind that our theory of consultation can be informed by developments in the practice areas of the diverse native disciplines that comprise our group: social science research, economics, architecture, education, the law, creative arts, psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology, etc.
To start facing down this constraint that I experience, I would like to describe similarities, differences and overlap in the two practice areas of psychoanalysis and role consultation as I experience them, and present a case from which I would like to draw some inferences about the learning transfer between the two.
In terms of similarities between them, there are two which seem, obvious:
1. Use Of Self. One uses oneself rather like a tuning fork in both — a place of resonance against which data takes on meaning which can be tested and refined and applied to the problem at hand. While the locus of psychoanalytic inquiry is “tell me about your mother,” and in role consultation, it is “tell me about your authority,” one is available to understanding both the roots of the problem as well as it current manifestations in both practices.
The practices are similar, as well, in that
2. Work in the Dyad. Psychoanalytic and role consultations are fundamentally exercised in a dyadic task relationship where utility is measured by successfully developed relatedness in the two person system. However, the dyadic contexts or backgrounds are different. In role consultation, one holds vivid the organizational context in which the role occurs, and since (authorization) to do one’s work derives from outside the dyad, either tacitly or explicitly, one may wish to and need to engage with those who people the context. In psychoanalysis, one holds vivid the familial organization in which the person evolved. While one engages the person’s context intellectually or countertransferentially with a range of feelings, the actual people don’t enter the sphere of the consultation.
1. Task Boundary. What differentiates the two processes of experiential learning are the task boundaries — the psychoanalytic task being recovery (where desire for recovery is driven by personal imperatives), and the role consultation task being shift in role (where desire or requirement is driven by organizational imperatives). The differences in the task boundaries seem quite clear, although, results may be indistinguishable: recovery in psychoanalysis often leads to shifts in work roles; and the outcome of role consultation can be the benefit of recovered well being in the client in the context of organizational developments.
2. Authorization. By reason of task, the nature of authorization of the consultant differs as well in the two practices. Where the psychoanalyst is free to think and to say whatever deepens reflection (guided, of course, by constraints of the professional frame), the role consultant is constrained by contract focus and different terms of social propriety (e.g., where it would be quite appropriate in the psychoanalytic role, it might be a breach of propriety to inquire into sexual fantasies of a role consultation client, for example — even though these might be quite at the heart of stated role difficulties and account for some aspects of surrounding organizational chaos).
In one role consultation recently done, the team came to understand that heightened sexual fantasies and destructive enactment by one member of the client group were psychic strategies used to counteract experiences of vulnerability at feeling under-skilled in his executive role. In a process of “role profiling” that led acknowledging some of his real deficits, he could build-in supports for skills development. The role work produced a libidinal shift without direct inquiry into or interpretation of psychological dynamics. With libidinal energy shifted from narcissistic preoccupations and attached to task, the high risk situation and chaos were ameliorated in his situation. The person felt better as did his people and strategic developments in his sector of the organization could begin.
3. Confidentiality. Another difference in the practice areas that is recently coming to mind concerns the nature of the boundaries of confidentiality.
While confidentiality is a time honored tool of dyadic task system in role consultation and psychoanalysis, the boundaries of confidentiality differ somewhat in each practice area.
In psychoanalysis it is expected to remain inviolate, except where there is explicit permission by the patient in extraordinary circumstances. Information derived, assumptions and hypotheses made are applied in such a way as to develop a shared reality between the analyst and patient in pursuit of recovery.
Where role consultation is conducted in the context of larger organizational intervention, principles learned in the role work might be shared — necessarily — for the benefit of a larger system diagnosis. If role consultation is a secondary task, confidentiality can be extended only in a limited way. The role consultant has to use critical judgment as to what advances the diagnosis and what is unnecessary divulgence. Up front contracting for this “almost confidential” work is critical and likely to be different, case by case.
4. Action. There is a fourth area in which the practice areas differ, and that regards “action.”
The role consultant is free to employ any suitable methods at hand, design interventions to help the client up the learning curve to “shift.”
The psychoanalyst is constrained against taking direct “action” on the theory that preservation of the opportunity for irrational enactment in the transference/countertransference matrix is the tool of choice to help the patient up the learning curve.
This constraint against direct intervention for preservation of the transference can become a defensive fox hole for the analyst if it is taken to mean that the inquiry must remain rarefied and exclude penetrating inquiry into patients experiential world as against their world of fantasy.
In role consultation there is an expected outcome in accordance with a negotiated design with the client or client system. In psychoanalysis, there is no design for the shape of recovery; it is part of the wonder of in the work of psychoanalysis — that there are endless designs for shapes of self available in the human spirit to emerge from the work.
There are two areas of overlap in the practice areas that make role effects in psychoanalysis and role consultation indistinguishable:
1. Idealization. In both roles, consultant has to work against idealization and attributions of “expert” where these are defensive. One would expect mutual “hopefulness” to be present as a necessary condition for successful contracting to give and receive service; however, “irrational hope” concerning the “expertise” of the role consultant or analyst can be problematic, signaling as it might, a passivity, an off-loading of responsibility for change processes: we hear it often when patients want a “cure my psychology” and clients want “fix my organization.” In both practices, one takes up a bit of the teacher role to set the conditions for collaboration, learning partnership, etc. Of course, one is able to do this bit of teaching if one is not struggling with “irrational certainty,” in oneself. Whether irrational hope in client/patient “induces” irrational certainty in either practice role, or the other way round, there is surely an expected interaction here, which often can have an unwanted consequence:
In consultation, in the middle of the first phase, when we are merrily doing the contract, even preparing for the first intervention, we can be stunned to find the client disappointed (or, in some cases, furious) about unmet expectations; one can find oneself having fallen a great distance in client’s esteem (and the de-idealization can be a rather rude awakening).
While a shift in valence is painful in any event, it may be more so for the lack of expectation of it.
It seems to me that misalignment of expectations is an inevitable part of developing relatedness; as the relatedness develops and task understanding deepens, latent intentions become manifest or conscious intentions sharpen or expand. It seems to me that the question is not “will a shift in valence occur” but rather “when will it” occur.
In my experience in role consultation the shift in valence occurs when one goes beyond the dyad and into the larger system; in psychoanalysis it occurs when the analyst is demystified and the patient takes over the management of the recovery.
Of course, one has to work against grandiosity during periods of idealization in both practices, and one has to regulate the self-esteem when it changes — hopefully changes, in either role.
2. Deep Knowing. The second area of overlap in psychoanalysis and role consultation practice concerns the depth and source of knowing “the other.”
Both the role consultant and the psychoanalyst can come to know client/patient at penetrating depth. Both can see the character or personality availability to organizational dynamics or family system dynamics. In my opinion, the skill base for this capacity is quite the same.
The role consultant and analyst use an understanding of human psychology — derived wisdom from experience of personal, adult development struggles to connect to client and patient dilemmas.
The difference in practice between psychoanalysis and role consultation concerns what one does with what one knows.
In role consultation, deep and specific understanding of the client’s dynamics are held to the background, used to inform discussion, design and contracting efforts. A role consultant would not say to a client “your narcissistic disorder is a de-authorizing agent in the problem with team formation in your system,” but rather, would take the client’s particular idiosyncrasy into account in consulting processes (and laugh at his jokes).
The psychoanalyst is contracted to develop deep knowledge and to use it explicitly.
With these similarities and differences in the two practice areas of experiential learning in mind, I would like to turn to the case of Karyn and Karyn and Company. I am presenting this case for two reasons: to consider the psychological roots of role dilemmas encountered by a woman in authority by telling the story of her analysis, and the story of her learning and my learning in it;
and, to reflect on dilemmas of the intersection of psychoanalytic and organizational role boundaries as these were confabulated in the story.
Karyn, a white women in her 50’s — tall slim, tailored, lovely — came for a consultation for analysis. She was tired, listless, burning out, feeling irritable and mildly depressed; she was unclear about her career goals. In the midst of a mid-life reevaluation, she was somewhat alarmed to find an inclination to dropout and grow tulips. Karyn was then the co-owner and corporate president of a thriving enterprise in the communications industry. She is the co-founder of her organization, and since its beginning, 14 years ago, she has been working steadily — the long hours, late nights and weekends — on its development. She considered herself powerful, a driver, striving and ambitious, and competitively quite successful. However, her success was not as satisfying as it once had been. She remembered the days when she would get deep satisfaction as she measured herself against male rivals, former superiors and peers — she said — “every drop of black ink shows the bastards.” Her competitive striving, once sustaining, now felt hollow. “Something was missing.”
Also, during the consultation, she reviewed the history of her 20 year marriage to George, reevaluating their joint decision to forgo parenthood. Despite the stresses of two business careers, the couple had developed an emotional partnership and were good friends to each other; they were connected to their extended families, had an active social life and kept up with their community and religious commitments. The marriage seemed like it should be satisfying; it was difficult for her to account for the experience of conjugal emptiness. And about their childlessness, Karyn described having discovered in her first analysis the difficulty she had in identifying with her mother’s deadened subjugation to the needs of a large family of children, and to the needs of a dominating, tyrannical, though quite dependent husband. As early as doll playing years, Karyn had preferred to play “store” (her father owned a clothing store) — buying, trading, bargaining and stashing away pennies. She became father’s favorite “son;” she ran the business for him for a time before her marriage and career.
Karyn had no model for managing other’s dependency needs without loss of the sense of self (her first analyst gave birth to three children during the course of the analysis, but apparently, that model hadn’t been sufficient!). She had decided in that analysis (and similarly, George, in his) that she was not inclined to childbearing nor to child rearing. The couple determined that they would create alternative means to satisfy their generative striving; they would work creatively. (Her husband owns a business in a related field, and until recently, the couple spent a great deal of their time together brainstorming and problem-solving each others business problems).
The decision has not been trouble-free. From time to time Karyn and her husband reconsider the idea of adopting an older child; they have sought consultation about this on two occasions. However, the conflicts about their childlessness have been external from the pressures from friends and family.
The pressures, notwithstanding, the couple continued to affirm their original decision. While there always has been a feeling of sadness around the edges of her adult life, Karyn has felt that her life choices, including this one, reflect a true sense of herself, both her limitations and her capacities. Nonetheless, “Something is missing.”
The consultation led me to think that this was a mid-life re-evaluation in a male-identified woman who was having late-stage, generative striving that were no longer being satisfied by her work.
I made the assumption that the “something missing” was a deadened self-aspect. I assumed that she had developed a workable psychic consolidation, where she dissociated the experience of emptiness and loss through intense work-related activity, commitments and over-functioning. As her energy waned, supports for the dissociative mechanisms eroded and troublesome feelings were coming conscious. I assumed that there were other life dynamics and psychic dynamics at work that were driving the erosion of defenses.
I admired Karyn for the acknowledgment of a developmental halt, for wishing to restart her developmental engine at this stage in her life. I felt identified with her; I liked her very much and felt energized by the prospect of our working together.
We began the analysis four time a week. Because she was experienced in the role of patient, we established a traditional frame easily. She worked with her dreams, linking current experience to past experience and acquainting me with her internal world and historical imagoes.
Comfortably in pursuit of an understanding of what was “missing,” I was intrigued by developing a picture of her relationships with parents and siblings, her early sexual fantasies, her obsessional preoccupations, etc. I became a benign object in the transference, it seemed — our relationship was most like the one she had with her paternal grandfather, who didn’t speak English, but with whom she spent many easy hours being baby sat.
Given this experience of who I was to her in the transference, it shouldn’t have done so, but it came as a surprise to me when she said towards the end of the first year that she was bored by our work, bored by the re-visioning of her history and retelling her fantasies. She felt that she was doing with me what she does in life — figuring out what “works” and doing that perfectly.
We laughed in recognition when I made the observation that I had been unaware of her boredom, perhaps, because she was being a “perfect” picture of myself being a good patient. This countertransference insight led me to understand that we were engaging in a “pseudo-analysis;” that, likely, we were enacting the “something missing.”
I asked her “if we weren’t being “perfect” at good patient and good analyst, what would we be talking about?”
When we talk about my partner, she said, we wouldn’t take it to be a window to my past, we would talk strategy! We would be using these tools to help me think about the future. What should I do about my work? Why am I burning out. What would I do with myself if I retire? What alternatives are there that I can’t see? George can’t help me — like everybody else, he thinks I’m perfectly happy with my competent life. Margaret (her partner) can’t help me — my confusion would threaten her future. If we weren’t being so good, we would be helping me to think!
Now, I am not unaccustomed to mentoring women patients in their work roles during an analysis. In my professional life time, the expansion of women’s power and authority in the world of work has been explosive. I have given myself permission to work directly with womens’ articulation, adaptation and psychic integration of the new learning required of them in the expanded opportunities.
The learning has been on several fronts:
development of personal authority beyond traditional roles;
self-esteem shift to include conscious awareness of feelings of aggression, competition, and envy (and tolerance for others’ competition and envy); learning to enjoy ambition, success, money;
learning to be at risk and accountable;
learning to recognize and to develop strategies for using transference responses to their gender, and to manage their sexuality in role without managing away their femininity.
However there is one area that seems to defy easy adaptation to changing opportunities for some women. It is difficult to find syntonic solutions to disturbances in the relational field that the changed opportunities have wrought.
Carol Gilligan provides a frame for this problem area that I find compelling. She puts forth an hypothesis in her body of work that says that women’s development is driven by relational imperatives — care taking of and nurturing in the relational field are at the center of women’s self identity.
She continues her hypothesis to say that adolescence precipitates a relational crisis for girls — that is, a self crisis for girls, where there is a necessary struggle to resist the psychological temptation to disconnect from feelings in order to preserve and to protect relations from the intense experience of love, lust, hatred, envy, longing — that is, from the ordinary stuff of relations that girls are socialized to experience as anti-relational.
Where girls are unable to resist the disconnection from feelings for the sake of relational preservation, there is a psychological wounding and concomitant suffering from loss of self aspects — loss of authentic feelings; loss of connection to the body; sometimes, loss of reality, but certainly, loss of the very meaning of relationship.
Where girls are unable to resist the disconnection from feelings, they may be pressed at adolescence to take on images of perfection as the model of pure or perfectly good woman; the woman whom everyone will promote and value and want to be with.
The loss of self aspects and the disconnection from true relatedness as a strategy to preserve the relational field may be a dynamic that gets exacerbated in adolescence in women, but I dare say the roots of relational crises in girls and women may be imbedded in earlier experience.
So, here was Karyn describing disconnections from major relationships and libidinal withdrawal from her work, asking for concrete help in these areas in which I had developed a frame for thinking and had developed some experience in professional role and personal life.
So, accountably, the opportunity to work with Karen in this way filled me with dread. Regressive, defensive thoughts sprang to mind. I felt that I was in the wrong role to do strategy. Because of my organizational background and the nature of her industry — I felt pulled to do strategic thinking with her. But what would this have to do with psychoanalysis; and what with the “something missing.” My internal good standing as an psychoanalyst felt threatened, as well; no matter which direction I took. If I expanded the inquiry to think directly, not analytically about the dilemmas before her — I would be acting out. If I made standard resistance interpretations, I would go against my deeply held value that the patient is often right, knowing intuitively what is needed for their psychic development.
I considered taking my dread and anxiety for consultation. I could hear Dr. Favorite Senior saying, “She invites you to shore up a schizoid consolidation. She wishes to defeat the analysis; interpret her resistance.” Or, “you have a narcissistic, grandiose wish to be all things to her. You wish to defeat the analysis. Consider your resistance; perhaps you’re bored with psychoanalysis — altogether”
Anxious about this continuum of possibilities, I didn’t go for consultation and I contemplated the obvious — perhaps I should refer her for business consultation or I should terminate the analysis and do the consultation myself. I equivocated privately about this dilemma for a couple of months. I overcame my sense of dread with an internal reassurance that while I was helping her to think about the reality of her situation, I would be developing a picture of who she was and how she functioned. We both had a highly developed analytic-frame-in-the-mind with which to hold onto the primary task of recovery of the “something missing.”
My need to develop these rationalizations, the lack of fluidity in expanding the boundary of the inquiry, and my experience of trepidation got catalogued as data.
I shifted the inquiry from elaboration of early childhood fantasy to a closer focus on the operations of her company. I found that the organization had two structures — a formal one and an informal one.
Formal Structure. In the formal structure the organization provided support services — public relations and media relations for small communications organizations, especially where there were mergers, acquisitions and divestitures.
The company consisted of two partners, 6 senior staff, 11 associates and an administrative staff of 7 — all women. There was a long term clientele and a growing list of new clients – predominately male. The company enjoyed a good reputation on a wide network, as the partners had come up through the ranks in the communications world.
The company was financially solid, although they did have a rough period during the 80’s when the communications industry experienced near-catastrophe itself.
Informal Structure. The informal structure of the company, on the other hand, was quite different. I found that Karyn and Margaret, because of their success as entrepreneurs in their industry, were much sought after by other women colleagues who wanted their advice, coaching, and direct support in their careers and in businesses enterprise. The partners responded to this interest in them with great vitality; they generated sophisticated creative strategic interventions in this work with colleagues.
They consulted to women’s issues of accretion of power in their institutions. Held small group seminars on the topic.
They developed strategies for financial recovery of a woman’s small business. Helped her find the right consulting firm by interviewing potential consultants with her.
They strategized the maintenance of corporate credibility, when a women intended to balance her staff in favor of more women that men
They coached their women on personality traits – temper, passivity, appeasement tendencies, timidity; as well as their dressing for power (it was not unusual for them to shop with a woman friend where they would help her buy clothes that could make the right statement at a critical presentation)
The also coached one woman to launch sex discrimination suit — the first in this woman’s industry and remained her shadow consultants during the many months of high profile, stressful proceedings.
Their women were free to call on them any time, business hours or otherwise. They were in great demand, and often heard after some success “I couldn’t have done it without you.” Despite the pleasures and rewards of gratitude, Karyn and Margaret were doing this informal work at the expense of personal time, and time for reflection. Along with the concerns of their own business, they were swamped. Karyn, in particular, had recreated her mother’s sense of drowning in others’ dependency; in her case, it was others’ work dependency. Her primary work task was being drained of energy and vitality, and Karyn simply wanted to withdraw.
I made the direct suggestion in the analysis that Karyn and her partner consider what were the impediments to expanding their business to include a Consultation Service; that is, what were the impediments to legitimating the function to which they were naturally inclin ed, for which they had some talent, and for which they had a clientele.
“You mean make it real.” Karyn thought this was an idea worth pursuing and asked me if I could talk with the partners as they elaborated this potential.
Dread returned and my anxiety intensified. I think my suggestion to diversify the business had an instruction imbedded in it — “Would you please fix this, and let’s get back to traditional psychoanalysis!” I think I dreaded what I might discover. In order to think this through with them, I would have to hear the stories of the many women in a less derivative way and I thought I might find the stories distasteful — stories of women who were feeling depleted, feeling inauthentic; women who were idealizing and frightened of male authority; women who were approval seeking and hurting. I thought it would be hard to bear. In the company of one woman at a time attempting to create or invent herself — as is the case in psychoanalysis — an identification is in place that makes the pain of visiting these experiences in myself tolerable. In the company of many women in the struggle of self creation, I worried that I would be swamped with feelings of sadness for myself and sadness for them that it is such a struggle. I was worried that I might find this aspect of their enterprise distasteful, and I wanted to protect Karyn and myself from this possibility.
Worries, notwithstanding, We terminated the analytic work. We reset the frame: Wrote a letter of intent, outlining timing and content of an assessment, redid the fee structure, and changed the billing from Karyn to the Co. I went to their place of business to do the assessment.
I worked with the partners as a pair to elaborate the impediments, as they saw them, and to work out the meaning of a potential expansion of the business. Some of the questions that emerged for them were:
They had some concerns about the political meaning of shifting from sisterly sharing on the old girls network to charging fees for service; they feared that they might lose credibility and be seen as base, unfeeling and opportunistic.
As well as a necessary differentiation in the partners’ roles, and an expansion of personnel, there would be the additional work of codifying their experience of consulting intuitively in order to market it. They would have to make it real, and were somewhat worried about an insufficient skill base with which to proceed.
They also worked on the question of whether they have a market beyond their immediate collegial network and their referrals.
Who else might need or want the service?
Who else was providing the service, formally or informally, and how would they figure this out? Who was their competition? (It hadn’t occurred to me until this writing that I was her competition.)
What help would they need?
This part of the work with the partners was rather easy and straightforward elucidation of strategy. However, when I observed several of their coaching sessions to understand first hand the intuitive methods of role consultation they were using, my worries were realized; I found Karyn’s style of coaching extremely distasteful. She was vituperative, attacking and assaultive.
For example, a Corporate VP for public relations came for advice because she was suffering an erosion of credibility. She had “unwittingly” become the confidant of the members of her executive team, including the Chief Financial Officer confounding her work task by intervening in interpersonal difficulties. She was fatigued and frightened that she had been indiscreet in matters of confidentiality, particularly of her own. She realized that in a current political skirmish, she was going to lose control of her budget. She wanted to resign before she suffered the indignity; she felt that she couldn’t bear it. She felt humiliated, that she had been so naive in role.
In response to the story, Karyn says “Ach! Women. Can’t take it on the chin! You stay in there. we’ll figure out how you get your budget back.”
In assessing her client’s situation, Karyn told her that in her anxiety to gain acceptability on the team, she had used her womanly wiles — providing comfort and empathy — and had gotten herself converted into some version of mother/wife/sister by her colleagues, and had become an easy target for competitive gambits in a predominantly male setting. She had hoped to gain a greater position of influence, status and power by making herself emotionally indispensable to the team.
“This is a woman’s gambit,” Karyn told her. “Stupid! Not only did you make them envious, you lost your effectiveness. This `empathic readiness’ BS is dangerous.”
As part of the assessment, I had interviews with her clientele to get their picture of the service. I asked about the harshness. Basically, what they were aware of was the relief to have penetrating attention to the detail of their real-life development issues. “That’s just Karyn. She hasn’t been wrong where it counts.”
As this was the end of the assessment phase of work with the partners, I suggested that if they were to diversify the business to include consultations service, they might take their own council and hire someone to help them elaborate and refine their intervention strategies. I suggested some training possibilities, gave them Carol Gilligan to read and referred them a team of three consultants, two women and one man; the team contained role consultation, leadership development and technical capabilities among them.
I wrote a working note framing my concerns about the efficacy of her abusiveness with future clients unknown to her in language of needing to develop a skill base in their consulting style. I sent my bill and was paid.
Karyn and I returned to the 4 times a week analysis, and I began to work with her on the abuse of the “womanly wiles.”
I told her that I noticed how angry she seemed to be at her clients’ “woman stuff.” I told her that I had a dream during the assessment, and that it had brought up a memory for me:
When I was about four years old, I told my father that I didn’t want to be a mommy, that I was going to be a priest when I grew up. He was a little alarmed. He told me to wait and see how I felt when I was a little older, but he didn’t think that girls could be priests. “Why not? I don’t want to be a `ucky’ mommy!” “That’s not my little girl,” he said, and asked me to hand him the newspaper. I had told my dearest parent, my pal, my daddy that there was something deeply disturbing about being a woman-to-be, and he had wanted no part of this part of me. And so it was gone forever.
In the company of women, I had recovered a relationship to my woman self which had long been forgotten, not recovered in two analyses – neither with a male analyst, nor a female analyst. I had steered through my various life passages with something disconnected.
I asked her if she had such an experience. Karyn recalled a story that her mother told her — that Karyn had fainted at the sight of an undressed mannequin when she was “real young” (mother didn’t ever say the age). “I don’t remember this, but I do remember a bad feeling – like being very sick to the stomach when I saw my pregnant mother nude (being the oldest of 6, she had many of these opportunities).
She felt that her mother’s body was grotesque — all that hair and fat and flab. She dreaded the day when she would have those things on her chest, heavy and horrible. She hated the whole idea; She hat ed her mother for being that way; she hated her mother for making her a girl. She remembers hearing parents having sex and hearing her mother laughing and thought “she’s just pretending.” She thought of her mother like a marionette, being jerked through life according to someone else’s will — having babies, having sex, being agreeable, being dependent, being mindless of all the greedy need for her.
She hated her vulnerability, hated her need to make a cold and distant man feel indispensable. She hated the untruth of being a woman.
Karyn was incredulous at the discrepancy between what these memories revealed of her inner state and the conscious picture she held of herself. She was incredulous to find hateful feelings towards her mother; fears of feeling vulnerable and hatred of her own feelings of vulnerability; hatred of her mother’s body, disgust with her own body-to-be; hatred of her dependency and longing for a reliable dependent relations — all masked and dissociated. She understood the power of the psychic assault that had been needed to accomplish the disconnection of herself from herself in the fervor with which she tried to stamp out these feelings and experiences in her women clients. “I didn’t want them to feel so scared. I was trying to yell some strength into them.”
Karyn had immersed herself in the company of women in her informal structure in search of her woman self. The intensity of her immersion in this conflict was the main drain on her energy and the source of the burn out.
This set of insights launched the real psychoanalysis.
It became clear to me what had occasioned my dread and anxiety in the countertransference. Karyn and I had a deep identification as a women who had made an early disconnection from feelings about woman-ness (in my case, to preserve my relation to my father as an ideal little girl; and in her case, to preserve her mother’s ideal image of herself in Karyn, and therefore, their relationship). Far from the pseudo-analysis, authentic work and connection with Karyn would require a reconnection to disturbing feelings in myself and I would have to contend with disturbing feelings that would emerge in the transference. I felt unsure of myself in the absence of an experiential road-map.
And indeed the transference was hateful and vilifying.
This was an intense period in the work, where we each were feeling quite vulnerable. Being in relationship to her while she recovered these feelings awoke more of my own memories. I felt vulnerable to the precision of her insights about my limitations, and I felt sad about her losses and my own. Karyn had made herself vulnerable by risking the ruination of our relationship in feeling and expressing feelings of hatred towards me.
I think that tolerating the unaccustomed feelings of vulnerability between us was key in Karyn’s work of recovery. As our relationship did not deteriorate, her long ago developed hypothesis that she had to be out of herself to maintain the ties, eroded.
She developed an understanding of the strategy which distanced her from hateful feelings and led her to develop a persona of a strong, competent, reliable, courageous person on whom one could rely, but whom no one would never know.
To maintain her strategy, she had to forgo deep intimacy, feelings of vulnerability, and, certainly she could not have risked the necessarily vulnerable times of childbirth and child rearing. — as these feelings might swamp her consciousness.
These self-insights produced a protracted period of mourning. The period of mourning and reintegration lasted for approximately 2 1/2 years. When we terminated the analysis, Karyn and I were both more conversant with the “Something Missing”– connection to troublesome feelings about being a woman.
(The team worked with the company for about the same period of time. Last I have heard, the consulting business is in place.)
I have learned a great deal from my experience of working with Karyn and Karyn and Company. I want to focus on three bits of my learning.
1. There is transfer of learning from psychoanalytic practice to role consultation practice.
In her work Women, Girls & Psychotherapy: Reframing Resistance , Carol Gilligan says that women who struggle with resisting the psychological temptation to disconnect from feelings as a strategy to preserve the relational field, often find themselves in therapy for one form or another for emotional, political or organizational trouble. I would add, find themselves in role consultation.
We are all familiar with the idea that power striving in some women may be an antidote for feeling empty and disconnected, where they can use potency and competence as defense, a reaction against feelings of vulnerability, something akin to identification with the aggressor. At one time I would have described these women, myself included, as male-identified women — that is, women who had primary identifications with idealized or troublesome paternal attributes. I would refine that, now, to say that the dynamic is better described as maternal, counter-identification, where women develop traits of aloofness, distance and disconnection (not unlike stereotypic male attributions) in pursuit of relational preservation. This distinction is essential in working in consultation with women in authority, as I think is expressed in the following brief vignette:
A woman executive in the financial services industry hired me to work with her senior team. In a period of explosive growth, she was hiring managers who, once on board, became tentative and dependent on her explicit directions. She found this intolerable — she wanted them to form into a team and get going.
Senior team members thought of her as distant and impossible, and basically wanted to stay out of her way. With an eye on assisting with team formation, I found myself coaching new hires “around her bossy, aggressive personality,” on the theory that they were experiencing frustrated dependency striving towards a male identified woman in the context of an intensely evolving task system.
I was wrong.
It occurred to me she was attempting to establish and to maintain relatedness with her people by using role consultation like an adapter pin. I would be the communications link and her surrogate in task relatedness. I took from my experience with Karyn an awareness that I needed to refocus the role consultation to determine what relational preservation strategies might be alive in this situation. I gave her the hypothesis about dilemmas in the relational field that women may experience and asked her to discuss with me what impediments she saw in working directly with each of her seniors and with them as a group. This set of discussions was useful; it became clear that she was protecting them and herself and their future together by not exposing her feelings dependency on them at the critical juncture. I continued to work with this client by consulting to the executive team, which did form and which included her.
The job was less about providing the relatedness link, but naming this relational problem and helping her develop risk-diminished strategies to work with the problem.)
The confabulation of psychoanalysis and role consultation in my work with Karyn has drawn a sharp picture for me the ways in which the two practices are mutually informative.
I think that I abandoned the analytic frame or confabulated the roles of analyst and role consultant in this case because I held the analytic role inflexibly. To the extent that I subscribe to the notion that psychoanalysis is dead or dying, might be the extent that I had held the role in a deadened way. In the role consultation, I was able to perceive — fully — some aspects of Karyn that had not been available to me in the analysis. I take this to be a comment on a self-imposed constraint against massaging the boundary of the analytic inquiry. Analytic curiosity about her clientele, I think would have yielded the same understanding that I abandoned the frame to be free to pursue.
When I ask myself the question about why I didn’t continue the role consultation once I had made observation that might have been useful in their designing process, I conclude that I hadn’t authorized myself sufficiently as a role consultant to “know what I knew” from Karyn’s abusiveness deeply.
I had enough data to “know” from Karyn’s vituperative projections onto her clients that she was attacking relatedness, and that she was operating from a female counter-identified place; I had my dream and memories to support that conscious observation.
I could have coached-down her vituperativeness.
With humor and common sense language, I could have given her an hypothesis to consider about this difficult aspect of herself being expressed in the way she was relating to her clients.
I could have generalized from my own memories the reasons why she might he having these difficulties. (I certainly have done all this subsequently with women — and it does not take deep analysis for these conversations to produce insight and role shift.)
I could have…Well, I could have done a number of things, but the fact that I resumed the analysis is the third point of my learning.
3. Task Interdependence is a Distinct Characteristic of the Practice of Psychoanalysis.
There is no doubt that the task of Karyn’s recovery had not yet concluded when we returned to the analysis. But a deeper truth is that I was also in the process of recovering lost aspects of self in the analytic task with her. And it was not concluded.
In my quest to differentiate the psychoanalytic and organizational role consultant roles so that I can better integrate them, this experience sharpens one of their critical differences:
A byproduct of the intensity of analysis is a task interdependence that develops between the patient and analyst. “I can help you recover to the extent that I am recovered; your recovery may awaken unrecovered self aspects in me while we are in the task relationship.”
This bit of contracting is unnecessary to the task of role consultation, and it does not become, as psychoanalysis does, a “safe house” for the personal development of the patient and the analyst.
Stephen B Poulter, The Father Factor: How Your Father’s Legacy Impacts Your Career, Prometheus Books, 2006.
The Time-Bomb Fathering Style
This style of fathering is characterised by fear, intimidation and emotional instability. It may have a positive side for the affected children – they often develop a critical ability to read people and situations. In order to survive their childhood and avoid their father’s enraged outbursts, they learned quickly how to judge mood and actions – purely as a survival mechanism.
Some children who survived this emotional maelstrom have outstanding people and social skills. They have excellent intuitive abilities concerning the issues surrounding a particular person or situation. They can sniff out unspoken tension in any work setting or personal encounter.
“The unconscious underside of this fathering style is the child’s constant effort to keep the peace and read the father. This peacekeeping behaviour causes a child to skip many of the normal and natural development steps of growing up. Many of these children become “parentified children”. The term describes the unnatural role that a young child takes in becoming the emotional, mental and responsible adult in the family. Parentified children don’t have a typical childhood or adolescence – they don’t rebel or skip school or act rudely to a teacher. These children are so obsessed and worried about being good and responsible that they don’t indulge in normal developmental teenager or young adult behaviour. These children have a tremendous amount of self-imposed stress about being five minutes late for school or missing one homework assignment in a semester.”
The reason for this extreme psychological response is the immense fear that these children have experienced on a daily basis. When they become adults, they find it very difficult to recall with much clarity the severity of fear, panic and terror they felt when growing up. … Unfortunately these adults carry a very heavy emotional ball and chain of guilt whenever they have to say no or not please others.
Normal mental health and proper emotional development are based on the degree of emotional safety and consistency that a child experiences as he grows up. Where children are not “safe”, they will have to deal with overwhelming anxiety. Adult behaviours often have their root in this anxiety. As an adult you will got to any length to avoid these terrorising feelings.
I prefer chamber music to large orchestral works just as I prefer intimate gatherings to large crowds . I already knew that, but the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra was performing on my doorstep, with their starry much-feted young Venezualan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, and we had tickets, so I went along.
A large symphony orchestra is quite a sight. I couldn’t help whispering aloud “Wow!” as I sidled to my seat, my eyes fixed on the cornucopia of instruments laid out for us. One by one musicians filled every inch of the large stage, with a dozen violin spilling over into the space in front of the cellos at the right hand side of the stage. I counted thirty three violins, trying not to count any of the violas by mistake, and eight double basses. This was an orchestra at its biggest. Two huge church bells several feet high stood waiting at the far left of the stage.
Once all the musicians were on stage, expectation quietened the audience. Not a seat to spare in the auditorium. Only two spots were empty – there was as yet no leader of the first violins, and the conductor’s podium was an empty space. We waited, and waited and waited and waited. And waited, and nothing happened. People began to shift in their seats. We wondered if we might venture a word or two to our neighbours. Then the first violin arrived. More waiting. This was ridiculous.
Eventually the prima donna parted the second violins which closed together behind him, and he took up the baton. Dudamel. Short. A mop of untidy dark curls. No apology, no explanation. No music. I wondered what kind of twenty-seven year old could command an orchestra. I wondered what experience he could add to the performance of those many practised musicians. He took over the orchestra at short notice last year, and is now its principal conductor. Next year he becomes the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He is supposed to be one of the hottest little things around according to the New York Times.
I was not gripped. I was still feeling manipulated by the time he had made us wait. The first piece passed without anything memorable happening.
The second piece, Peacock Tales, is a new composition by the Swedish composer Aho. It was composed especially for Martin Frost, a clarinettist in his early twenties who has a formidable reputation. The piece begins with a beautifully clear simple notes that rise and fall and rise. The tone of the clarinet is exceptional. Haunting, and lingers in the memory long after the sound has disappeared, like a fragrance.
Part way through the piece, when we were distracted by the main orchestra, we suddenly notice that the clarinettist has donned a Venetian mask and is moving around the stage Michael Jackson fashion. Quite why he does this I never understand, but I notice that his odd behaviour has substantially changed the nature of what we are watching. It is no longer music, but theatre. And the thing is, the theatre is not very good. At best it is Central Park on a Saturday, Covent Garden in the evening. But it is not worthy of our attention. Or rather, I am visually driven and am easily distracted by visual cues. I compared notes afterwards with a good friend who knows a hundred times more than me about music and performers, but receives all her information first through her ears and only secondly through her eyes. She found that the theatricals enhanced the music: I found that they took something away from the music.
With interview with Martin Forst
You can judge for yourself. Or you can read this review of a performance a day earlier in Edinburgh. You might like to contrast the less than fulsome review with this considerably more positive profile of the conductor which appeared in the Guardian prior to the event and which bigs him up more than he may deserve. Dudamel conducted a native Venezualan orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival last year, an event described by Richard Holloway (a favourite theologian of mine who now fronts the Arts Council in Scotland) in hyperbolic terms thus:
“It became a sort of watercooler event. People were asking afterwards, ‘Were you there?’ There was probably more kindness in Scotland for about three days afterwards. It enthralled, softened, delighted, chuffed people.”
I wish I had been there, because last night’s first half left me needing caffeine not water.
I waited a long time for Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, to hear those massive church bells struck. Each was played a couple of dozen times. That was it. I hoped that the percussionists did not get paid as much as the violinists. I’ll have to find out if they do.
This is the Fifth movement, the movement which contains the church bells:
And this is a link to a very interesting programme about Berlioz and the Symphonie Fantastique. Through the language of the symphony Berlioz tells the story of the passage of a love struck young man’s obsession with a girl – an autobiographical groan that grew out of Berlioz’s love-at-a-distance for an Irish actress, Harriet Smithson. He wrote this to a friend after his encounter of her stage presence:
“…[L]et me tell you, you don’t know what love is, whatever you may say about feeling it deeply [for your friend]. For you, it’s not that rage, that fury, that delirium which takes possession of all one’s faculties, which renders one capable of anything. You would not be the man to lose yourself in pleasure over the person you love. In that you are lucky, and I would never want you to experience the unbearable suffering to which I have fallen prey since your departure.”
Convinced that his love is unrequited, the young man drugs himself to dull the pain and so the Fifth Movement is full of the comfortable horrors of opium. Berlioz wrote this programme note to accompany this final movement which uses the godly bells to strike at the apogée of the nightmare:
“He sees himself at a witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters of every kind who have come together for his funeral. Strange sounds, groans, outbursts of laughter; distant shouts which seem to be answered by more shouts. The beloved melody appears once more, but has now lost its noble and shy character; it is now no more than a vulgar dance tune, trivial and grotesque: it is she who is coming to the sabbath… Roar of delight at her arrival… She joins the diabolical orgy… The funeral knell tolls, burlesque parody of the Dies irae, the dance of the witches. The dance of the witches combined with the Dies irae.”
Our neighbour here is a herbalist. I had to push past a giant stand of valerian to get to their door, and his explanation of the sleepy properties of this drug prompted me to remember the three-part account I had recently read of experiments by a young Cypriot American, Constantine Markides, with salvia divinorum, an account which Berlioz’s infatuation brought to mind.
“For the first time I felt that I had come up against a tangible spirit. Not a benevolent spirit, not some interlaced-fingers-on-belly chuckling Buddha, but a cackling psychopath, a destroying angel […] All I now recall of this demon are circular saws, razors, teeth, blades—all of them spinning and whizzing with a geometric fury, nearing within millimeters of my body, threatening to slice me if I moved the slightest. At the same time, a weight was crushing me down. I could not budge. Even if I could, these saws would grind me up into mincemeat. A violent end awaited me if I even took a breath. I did at one point sneak a gulp and I remember exulting in the fact that I had managed to trick this demon, to swallow without getting carved up.”
Drugless unrequited obsessive love is pain at its most exquisite. Opium did nothing, apparently, to take the edge off its power to wound. Our neighbouring herbalist had tried salvia divinorum too, when he was a young man of less than thirty, and when he wanted to be a writer. He wondered how he would experience the drug now that he is just forty. He might have well have asked whether the emotions of a twenty year old were those of an older man, whether the high and lows of passion are dimmed by age.
Berlioz fell in love with Harriet Smithson after seeing her as Shakespeare’s Orphelia in Paris in 1827. He sent her numerous love letters, but none were answered. When she left Paris they had still not met. His musical love letter premiered in Paris in 1830, but Harriet did not hear it until 1832. She realised that she was the object of the symphony and the composer and actress finally met and were married in 1833. They were divorced nine years later though the marriage was apparently happy to begin with.
I can imagine a performance of the Symphonie that brings those terrible emotions of obsessive love alive, but this was not it. At least not for me.