Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Looking for Your Inner Truth

If you had to choose between appearance and reality, which would you choose? If you had to judge a person based on the appearance he had crafted to go out in the world or based on what is truly in his heart and soul, which would you consider to be the most important?

Does your truth lie within, whether in your heart, your soul, or your mind, or does it lie in outward appearances, in your clothing, your fashion sense, or your behavior?

Do clothes make the man or woman, or do they express something about the man or woman? Should we think inside/out or outside/in?

After all, our therapy culture has so thoroughly habituated us to think inside/out that we find it strange to try to think any other way.

If you know someone who is consistently getting things wrong, do you think that he can change that behavior without getting to the source, the roots, the inner spirit that is moving him?

Is bad behavior an expression of some unresolved mental issue, or is it just bad behavior, something that can be corrected by retraining?

In principle, psychotherapy wants to explore the psyche, thus the mind or soul. It wants people to look inside themselves to find hidden truths, the ones that are directing outside behavior.

The process assumes that appearances deceive, that they are mere superficialities that sometimes rising to the level of symptoms that point to hidden truths.

And most of us, if not all of us are on the side of hidden truths, profundities, and deep feelings.

And yet, we know what a person looks like with far more certainty than we know what he really feels. And we know how a person conducts himself with far more certainty than we know his motives and intentions.

Think about this: we in the West think that who we are is something hidden deep within: our mind, our heart, or our soul.

In China, they think that who you are is your FACE… that is, your external appearance, the part of you that you show the world, the part that allows others to identify you, and a part of you that you NEVER see directly.

Does this mean that we are more inner directed than the Chinese? Perhaps, it does. Does this mean that the Chinese have a better sense of what it means to be a social being? Likely, it does.

It is fair to say that there is more to Western culture than navel-gazing. The impulse to look inward, to introspect comes down to us from Romantic poetry and from psychotherapy.

Much of Western culture is still, and has always been, concerned with appearances, with propriety, with decorum, and with good social behavior.

In the West the Industrial Revolution produced massive social dislocations and pervasive social anomie. Some responded by working to reconstruct the social order, to create new rules of etiquette and new forms of political and economic interactions.

But, society’s grounding was uncertain. So some groups of people turned inward, to look for what they had in their hearts and souls. Unable to define themselves by their social being, they started to believe that they were their heart and soul.

Whether you call it your heart or your soul or your mind, your inner being is necessarily private. It is yours and yours alone-- which does not mean that it is you and you alone.

You are the master of this inner being and you are the ultimate authority on what it thinks or feels. Your inner thoughts and feelings and fantasies are not subject to public scrutiny; no one really knows them as well as you do.

At least, they were until Freud arrived on the scene. Freud’s work was based on the strange idea that he knew your mind better than you did, that his technique would allow him or one of his followers to know what you wanted better than you did.

To say that this is disrespectful and manipulative is to state the obvious. Yet, Freud and his followers managed to persuade people for over a century that they knew our minds mind and that we did not. More than that, they convinced us that our true inner being was filled with Freudian desires and motivations.

It will surely go down as one of the greatest confidence games in intellectual history.

Had you asked Freud why you did not know your own mind, he would have said something to the effect that your  heart’s true desires are so ugly and depraved, so contrary to your appearance as a respectable bourgeois, that you have been working overtime to repress them, to keep them out of consciousness, to refuse to accept them as your own.

And yet, when a psychoanalyst tells an unwitting patient that he harbors an Oedipus complex, the patient, who presumably had spent a lifetime refusing to face this horrid truth, shrugs his shoulders.

Beyond the fact that it is so well known that it has become a banality, the Oedipus complex does not horrify, does not provoke resistance, and does not make anyone defensive.

Most educated intellectuals will be thoroughly unmoved by this ultimate Freudian truth. And yet, they will accept it; they will embrace it… because they know that having an Oedipus complex makes them human, and that knowing about it makes them superior to the rest of humanity, the happy many, I would say, that ignore this truth.

Psychoanalysis may not make them feel better, but it will make them feel that they are better than everyone else. 

As it happens, when it comes to inflicting psychological pain, to provoking a defensive reaction, the worst thing you can do is to find fault with someone’s appearance.

You think that the two or you are in love; you think that you love each other for who you really are, not for what you look like. But, if it should happen that one tells the other than his or her appearance is sadly defective, to the point where it is becoming increasingly impossible to be seen together in public, well, then you will see some real resistance, often leading to mortal combat.

As Elizabeth Bernstein puts it: “In our minds, a romantic partner is supposed to love us unconditionally and find us attractive even if we're wearing a burlap sack. Criticism from a sexual partner can cut to the quick.” Link here.

If you don’t believe that appearances are important, Bernstein recommends this: “Ask my brother-in-law, JJ. When my sister, Rachel, recently asked him how her outfit looked, he answered, ‘Like something a grandma would wear,’ and added that he couldn't picture any of his female classmates in law school wearing it. I wish you could have seen the look Rachel gave him. She didn't speak to him for the rest of the day—and brings this comment up every chance she gets. ‘So much for honesty,’ JJ says.”

We all believe, as we have been taught, that such matters are mere superficiality. Why would anyone care if her hem is irregular or if his tie sports a stain? It doesn’t’ mean anything; it doesn’t say anything about who either of them are. 

And if it does?

Now, the real question: what do you do about a partner who does not know how to dress appropriately for this or that occasion? Is it a symptom of some inner disaffection? Should you rush out to a therapist to find out what it really means?

If you do, you are making it personal, an expression of one person’s feelings for the other. Doing that will put yourself on the royal road to relationship failure.

If it is a bad habit, a pattern of behavior that has been ingrained through decades of slovenliness, then it might simply require some wardrobe coaching.

Nagging will not do the trick. Attempting to dress the other person will also arouse the worst kind of resistance. But when you are embarrassed to be out in public with someone, it is surely a problem.

Given the hypersensitivity of the matter, fixing it is not that easy. But often enough, the inability to do anything about it can threaten a marriage. 

So what should J.J. do when his wife Rachel wants to wear a dress that is going to make her look like a grandmother? 

Easy... he should let her wear it, most especially to a function where all of the other law students will be dressed differently.

Assuming that Rachel has not discovered the latest fashion trend-- point which J.J. will hardly be competent to judge-- how much time do you think it will take Rachel to look around the room, compare her dress with that of the other women in the room, and draw the correct conclusion.

Given the chance most people do want to get it right.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman
RE: Dress Code

....[someone] who does not know how to dress appropriately for this or that occasion? -- Stuart Schneiderman

The height of sophistication is not caring what other people think of the way you long as you aren't arrested for indecent exposure. -- unknown

What we wear is based on what we think of ourselves. I wore dress blues [less ribbons] to sing the Messiah with the Denver Civic Chorus. Most of the other men wore straight black formal attire. Dress blues were the most formal attire I had. Besides, I was not ashamed of what I was and what I was doing.

What others thought of me was THEIR—as we say in the Army—'Personal Problem.'


[Fashion: A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey.]

Chuck Pelto said...

P.S. There's something of a difference between "not knowing" what to wear and "not caring what people think about what you wear".

Antigone Amplified said...

This >>>"You are the master of this inner being and you are the ultimate authority on what it thinks or feels".

Fascinating post- I enjoyed reading this, thanks :-)