Wanting is Better Than Having

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It’s hard to admit such a thing, but I’ve always been disappointed in Christmas. Even as a kid. Oh, seeing my family is good. Opening the presents is fun. I would be remiss if I said I don’t appreciate the gifts. Giving my own makes me feel virtuous all over. But, when all is said and done, all is said and done. There’s nothing to look forward to for another year, Christmas-wise. The beautiful wrappings, which were exciting strewn under the tree, with all their colors and promise, are now reduced to clutter, garbage to be cleaned up and tossed into the bin. In a few days, the tree will go, too, and look pathetic leaning outside after its needles fled. Someone would lose their temper; not badly, but enough to put a gloom over the gaiety. The gifts themselves would not change my life to any great degree. I would still be an awkward lonely kid. When the Holiday break was done, I would still need to go to school and later, to work.

The best part of Christmas, I always thought, is the preparation and potential. I made my wish list, told Santa want I wanted and, until Christmas Day came, my desire was sharpened by anticipation. Except for untangling the lights, which was and is pure aggravation, trimming the tree is the highlight of the season. Each ornament evokes memories that had been packed away and forgotten. It’s no different these days, even though I’m no longer a kid. I’d just as soon skip Christmas because of the letdown it brings. Maybe if we actually got the original Christmas promise, peace on earth and good will to men, maybe if Christ actually returned, riding on the clouds of glory to wipe every tear from our eyes, I’d be satisfied; but all we get is a sugarcoated imitation.

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Addiction Takes Hostages

Some Things You May Not Know About Substance Abuse, Part 5

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The further people go into addiction, the more their lives center around it.

They discard all forms of recreation in favor of activities that include the addiction.

All of their friends become using friends. Non-using friends drift away and the addict is drawn to those who don’t judge because they, themselves, are doing the same thing.

Sometimes particular careers are chosen for their proximity to the drug of choice. Alcoholics become bartenders; potheads, musicians; drug users, drug dealers.

In some cases, intimate relationships end as the loved one finds that he or she is a low priority compared to the drug. They are replaced by one of two kinds of relationships: either the type where the loved one picks up after the addict and helps the addict escape the consequences, or the type where the relationship is all about use.

Things go like this until the person enters recovery, then he or she finds that all the things they love are connected in some way to use.

He can’t see his friends because all his friends use and are unlikely to support his recovery because it would challenge their own use.

The alcoholic bartender can’t return to work without being tempted to drink; the marijuana smoking musician has to watch what she does on breaks; the addicted drug dealer has to learn to sell something else.

Otherwise innocent forms of recreation, hobbies, or art may put the recovering addict at risk. A writer who cannot write without a bottle of scotch at hand is in trouble; a painter who seeks inspiration in LSD has got to find a new muse.

Even intimate relationships can be a problem if they were associated with chemical use. The wife who lovingly keeps your refrigerator stocked with brewskis, even though she hates your drinking, is as much of a problem as the breswkis themselves. The boyfriend who was your connection to a dealer may have to go as well as the dealer.

The general principle is this: first the drug takes you hostage, then it takes everything you love hostage. Even if you get yourself free, the drug still has the other hostages in its clutches. You want to be near them, but to go near puts you at risk.

Every recovering addict wants to go in and free the hostages. They want to save their loved ones who are still addicted. They want to continue writing that novel that was started under the influence of scotch, finish that painting, inspired by a meaningful trip, work at their job, see their friends. But, consider this: you’ve seen enough hostage movies to know, it’s dangerous to free the hostages. Be sure you are safe and secure before you try it.

Status: The Influencer of Influencers

Social status has a secret influence on your life. If you’d like to understand how, the first thing you must do is to get rid of the image you may have of those who shamelessly flaunt their status: the ruthless social climber, the top hatted mogul, the braggart with the golden toilet, the virtue signaling hipster, the TikTok influencer, and the guy taking up two parking spaces with his enormous truck. You may not be like them. For now, focus on the ordinary things you do every day in your intimate circle of friends, colleagues, and family. There, status plays an important role, a role which is the subject of Cecilia Ridgeway’s 2019 book, Status: Why Is It Everywhere? Why Does It Matter?

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Longing for Community

A steep dirt road somewhere in Allegany County, by Andre Carrotflower

I was on Interstate 86, heading east, returning from a road trip that took me across most of the country, when I entered Allegany County, in western New York. It was a place I knew well, but not as well as I might. I lived in Allegany County for two short years before I moved on. The mere sight of the place unexpectedly filled me with a longing to return. I’d just been through the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, across the Midwest, the Great Plains, up and down the Rocky Mountains, and back again on this road trip; but there was no place I liked as well as Allegany County.

Evidently, not many people agree with me that Allegany County is the best place between here and the Rocky Mountains. The population at last count was well under 47,000, spread over an area the size of Rhode Island. Few visit, and many residing a short distance away, in Buffalo or Rochester, never heard of the place. The economy is ailing and has been for a long time. It doesn’t even have a WalMart, or any other big box store, and few fast-food joints. It does have many greasy spoon diners that could not possibly have earned a health permit. Allegany County once enjoyed an oil boom. Rusted tanks and machinery are scattered across the landscape. Oil brought money, and money built big, fancy Victorian homes, now in disrepair. It has suffered the fate of much of rural America. Its only distinction is that its decline came first.

If you enjoy worn down old mountains, covered by trees, with the occasional open field, populated by white-tailed deer, then Allegany County would be your kind of place. You would call it beautiful; and it is, by those standards. I liked that about Allegany County, for I enjoy those things, too. But the beauty of the place does not account for my strong feelings. There are many other places just as beautiful, if not more. There’s no good reason why I feel as I do about Allegany County. I have a longing that’s inexplicable. At least until I explain it.

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Can You Unify the People in Your Head?

Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us, Part 7

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If you have dozens of people talking in your head at once, you’d want them to work together. Therefore, every form of psychotherapy seeks to integrate them. However, integration means something different when you’re at different stages. First, it means you want the subpersonalities to stay away because you don’t think you have any. Then, when you find out you have some, you want them to go away. In stage three, intergration means they do what you want. Finally, it means all the parts of you learn to get along.

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Engaging With Your Subpersonalities

Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us, Part 6

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When I began doing psychotherapy, oh, so many eons ago, the first techniques I tried that helped me engage with subpersonalities was Gestalt Therapy, the creation of Fritz Perls. You don’t hear much about Gestalt these days, since Pearls died, because the star power of its main proponent is what sets the fashions in psychotherapy. At the time, in the sixties, Perls was a star and contributed in no small way to the zeitgeist of the era. Gestalt therapy looks to enhance awareness of the present moment. Since subpersonalities are a part of this moment, the Gestalt Therapist will be working to illuminate them.

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Going Deeper with Jung

Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us, Part 5

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I had a sense of my own subpersonalities since I first realized my imaginary friends were imaginary, but it wasn’t till I started to read Jung, long before I thought of being a therapist, that the nature of these non-being beings became clear. Jung introduced me to the contents of my unconscious. He gave them names, told me what they were doing there, and what we might do together. Since becoming a therapist, I’ve moved away from Jung. He and his followers can sound a little woo-woo and I have an image of being a practical, no-nonsense, kind of therapist to uphold. A certain kind of underserved clientele flock to me because they think the mental health world is glutted with flakiness. I, personally, don’t have a problem with what is called flakey, but I would feel partly responsible if a client left my office saying, “I knew it. They’re all the same. These shrinks are nuttier than their patients,” and went back to drinking and beating his wife.

When I say I moved away from Jung, I mean I stopped speaking Jung. I still think in Jung, though, or at least my version of it. Because I’ve stopped speaking it, I might be a little rusty in writing this part. But John Rowan, who’s book Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us(1990) I am reviewing here, has inspired me to try. Perhaps by having delved into non-Jungian psychology I’ve gained a perspective on it. Perhaps I can see what they all have in common.

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Freud and the Fight of the Subpersonalities

Part IV of Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us

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Freud’s unconscious is a site of dramatic struggle between subpersonalities. The Id, the Super-Ego, and the Ego have been described as a gorilla and a schoolmarm fighting in a dark cellar, refereed by a nervous bank clerk. Deals are struck between the three, resulting in character and neurosis.

Welcome to part four of my series, in which I follow the argument of John Rowan in Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us (1990). Here, I’ll summarize the way Freud’s schools of thought approaches subpersonalities, the people inside us.

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Making Sense of the Voices in Your Head

Part III of Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us

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Let’s begin to take a look at the many kinds of psychotherapies that address subpersonalities. My guide on the subject has been John Rowan in Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us(1990). But here, I must leave him for a bit to talk about one therapy that has come to dominate the field since he wrote his book, Internal Family Systems Therapy.

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Where to Find Your Subpersonalities

Part II of Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us

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Where do we get the idea that there are subpersonalities inside us? We’ve always seemed to have it. Primitive cultures have been fascinated with altered states of consciousness and spirit possession. They are the stock in trade for shamans. Ancient people seem to have conceived of subpersonalities as gods and goddesses. They catalogued common kinds of subpersonalities as some psychologists do today to populate Olympus with what they thought were divine powers that sometimes possessed people to do what they wouldn’t normally do. Socrates had his daemon; and Plato talked about three parts of the psyche: the appetitive and spirited, corresponding to two horses, and the rational, a charioteer who attempts to control them. St Augustine seemed to build on this idea. He may have been the one who popularized the image of the angel and the devil on each shoulder, with you in the middle, choosing between them.

As we will see in later installments of this series, many psychologists have contributed to a body of research and speculation regarding subpersonalities, but where do ordinary modern people get the idea they have many parts? If you do have many parts, where do you find them?

John Rowan’s book on the subject, titled, Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us(1990), outlines six places to look.

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