Passive Agressiveness

A colleague who runs a clinic recently attended a management seminar.  She described one point about passive-aggressiveness in the work place, and the seminar leader’s instructions were to ask the employee 5 different ways why that person was behaving in a passive-aggressive manner.  Sounds on the surface like a reasonable plan.

But it’s not.  Here’s why: Continue Reading →

Defenses: All unconscious

Here is a quick bit of food for thought: our defenses all have to work unconsciously.  Our psychological defenses protect us from thoughts or feelings, or being aware of things that might be very troublesome for us.  In order to do so, the mind decides to trick itself.  Obviously, the only way that would work is to keep the ‘trick’ an unconscious process.  Thus, when we project our feelings (attribute them to some one else, and disavow them in ourselves), or when we deny an issue or use a counter-phobic defense (for example deciding something is thrilling rather than terrifying in order to manage our feelings) – these processes have to be done unconsciously – or they would not work.

Defenses: Acting Out

Here is a snippet from our Clinical Camp!

 Acting Out

Acting Out is a term often used by parents or teachers to mean misbehaving. However, for psychodynamic therapists this is a much richer concept. Psychodynamic therapists believe all behaviors have meaning AND that unwanted thoughts and feelings which are unresolved will find expression through unconscious means.   Thus, acting out means that unresolved thoughts and/or feelings are being expressed in some way – however- this is outside of the awareness of the actor! For example, a person who feels she is guilty over some perceived misdeed may conduct herself in a way that results in her getting into trouble (sometimes repeatedly). This way, the guilty feeling can be somewhat satisfied by being punished over and over. Since the original ‘misdeed’ is never dealt with, she is unconsciously compelled to repeatedly get herself into a position of being punished.  Acting out is a defense in that the problematic thought or feeling does not gain conscious acknowledgment, but finds expression in behavior (outside of the person’s awareness!).  One clear example is the ‘Freudian Slip’ in which a person says something which is really on her mind, without any conscious awareness she is about to do so (revealing some true and often problematic thoughts or feelings).

Development – everyone at once!

We used to think that people were ‘done cooking’ at 18 years old.  Since they were adults, they ‘must’ be completely developed.  In recent years we have come to understand that the brain is still in development until our mid-20s.  Also, since our society has become more complicated, we have extended our concept of adolescence until well into the twenties.

However, have you ever thought about your parents, for example?  Are they fully developed?  Many theories of developmental psychology hold that we all are ‘in development.’  What it means to be a person who is 25 years old is very different from what it means to be a person at 40 or 50 years old.

In a family, for example, everyone – parents or guardians, children, grandparents, etc are all changing with new situations.  Let’s say you are a high school senior, you are going off to college, and you are the youngest sibling.  Not only is this a huge accomplishment for you, but this has meaning for your parents or guardians (and all of the family members).  Now, for example, your moms are alone in the house.  Perhaps they have not been alone as a couple for nearly 20 years.  The fact of your no longer being a ‘high school kid’ signals also that each parent no longer has a young child.  What does this mean for each of them?  How do they restructure their time now that there are no children in the home?  Just as graduating has meaning for you, so does it for every member of your family.  We are all growing and changing with new ages, new developmental milestones or developmental tasks.

Psychological defenses and one’s subjective sense of self and others

The current state of ‘knowledge’ (one facet of post-modernism) is that everything is open to further discovery.  Current physicists and psychotherapists both understand that there is no ‘ground-floor’ to reality.  Upon further examination, or with new tools or newer theoretical models, we may find things are again not as they seem.

This description is particularly apt in thinking about psychological defenses.  Our minds develop psychological defenses to protect us from ‘knowledge’ or ‘truths’ that might be very painful or conflictual for us to consider about ourselves.  In essence, our mind is playing tricks on us and altering our sense of self,other and reality.

For example, a person who is passive-aggressive (p/a) typically is so because he or she is afraid of their own aggression.  They typically think of themselves as ‘a nice person.’  Others, however, often end up annoyed by this person who ‘is just trying to be helpful.’   The aggression is still there, but instead, the p/a person induces others to feel his/her aggression.  They, in turn, get to feel wronged/misunderstood/that the world is just so harsh.

A person who relies heavily on projection, disavows a particular mental content/thought/feeling and instead attributes it to another. This other person becomes feared/criticized/condemned by the projector.  “Why are you such a …. (racist/homophobe/cheater)?  The projector still has to deal with these thoughts or feelings, but now they are not a troubling inner experience, but rather become contained and personified by another person.

We all have defenses, and they are there to protect us.  When we rely on them too much, they skew our perception of ourselves and others – sometimes in quite predictable ways.  The process of psychotherapy is one in which a person comes to terms with difficult thoughts and feelings, and thus comes to a place in which she or he can rely less on defenses and therefore not alter their perception to such a great level.  In the process, in learning to come to terms with oneself, a new form of peace and wisdom is found.

See also our entry on Acting Out.


SF Clinical Camp 2014

We introduced SF Clinical Camp last year to fill a void – allowing motivated, bright teenagers to learn more about themselves and the world.  This is NOT treatment, but rather a fun and educational experience for teens.  We learn about Freud; subjectivity and defenses (and how defenses impact our subjective sense of self).  We learn about dreams and slips of the tongue.  We also learn about culture, the impact of culture on the individual and the family; about individual and family developmental models.  We finished up with a pretty sophisticated look at one possible psychological function of Facebook.

This year we have an added bonus!  The Chair of the Psychology Department at SFSU has agreed to speak to our campers about research in psychology.  Moreover, interested campers will have an opportunity to participate in research (with their guardian’s permission), and to learn about any study in which they participate.  Lastly, campers can apply to become members of the Society for Research on Adolescence!

This is a very exciting new development for SF Clinical Camp.  Campers are not required to participate in research.  However, it is exciting to have this as an opportunity!