Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Therapeutic Rudeness"

Back in the day, I wrote a book entitled: Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero. When Janet Malcolm reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review she entitled her review: “Therapeutic Rudeness.”

While I was delighted to receive a favorable review, I was somewhat taken aback by the notion that psychoanalytic treatment was an exercise in rudeness. In fact, however, Malcolm was right. As practiced by Freud and his followers psychoanalysis systematically breaks down politeness, decorum and tact, the better to use rudeness for a supposedly therapeutic purpose.

Once you are deeply involved in the field, however, the rudeness will feel perfectly normal. Nearly all of your relationships with your analyst colleagues will be marked by some degree of rudeness. After a time you will numb yourself to it and will learn to function within the cult-like organization where rudeness is the order of the day.

If civilization is a conspiracy to repress sexuality, then overcoming repression must require that you overcome propriety. That is, you should make an art of rudeness.

The problem is, rudeness is not therapeutic. The better you are at it the more you will find yourself alienated from other human beings. You cannot function effectively in society, in a relationship or in a business by being systematically rude.

You might function as a psychoanalyst, but still, if, as a psychoanalyst you do not ask yourself whether teaching people to speak incoherently and rudely, while treating them disrespectfully can ever really produce a therapeutic benefit you should pull your head out of the sand.

Analysts often wonder how they can go about transmitting their brilliant insights to their resistant patients. They ought to stop worrying. What they are really transmitting is rudeness, and that, unfortunately, is very easy to transmit. More so if you can render people more vulnerable to it.

Rudeness is contagious.

Melissa Dahl reports on the relevant research:

In a finding that should not surprise anyone who’s ever had a job that required human interaction, rudeness appears to travel throughout a workplace like a “contagion,” say researchers from the University of Florida in a new paper in The Journal of Applied Psychology. Someone acts surly toward you, and you spread that surliness to the next person you encounter; even a harshly worded email can be highly infectious, the authors write….

The idea that being around a jerk means that you are, in turn, more likely to act like a jerk is pretty intuitive, but, surprisingly, so far the scientific literature on emotional contagion, as the phenomenon is called, has mostly focused on the spread of positive behaviors. But, of course, negativity spreads from person to person, too. 

Dahl explained it in another article, also:

Several jobs ago, I sat next to a colleague who wasn’t shy about expressing his by-the-minute emotions — particularly the negative ones. He aired his frustrations with loud expletives and huffs, and, after a while, I realized that my own shoulders were as scrunched up with stress as his. It was as if I’d caught his bad mood, like a nasty office cold. 

One is slightly amused to think that being in contact with someone who is constantly expressing negative emotions—who lacks tact and modesty—is going to infect you with his negativity. While many psychoanalysts of the non-Freudian persuasion do not require their patients to free associate, they do encourage their patients express negative emotions.

How do you protect yourself from this contagion? Therapists, especially psychoanalysts have lit upon what the Stoics called apathy. They distance themselves from the negative emotion. Classical Freudians pretend that they are listening for communications coming directly from the unconscious.

And yet, the Freudian unconscious is a hotbed of insalubrious horrors. What can you do? For reasons that are not very clear apathetic analysts believe that they can feel empathy for their patients.

Dahl explained:

It makes intuitive sense that taking a third-party view, and thereby removing yourself from the situation (at least in your own mind) might protect you from picking up on the feelings of others, but it is indeed surprising that taking this perspective still allows you to at least appear empathetic and genuine.

Indeed, it is.

What we really want to know is, how do you protect yourself from this contagion? Is there a vaccine? Do you need to undergo advanced training in apathy?

Of course, you can change the topic of conversation. You can also throw a few positive emotions into the mix. After all, positive emotions are contagious, too.

But, consider this. If rudeness is contagious it is probably not equally contagious for all people. I would imagine that people who are polite to a fault will feel less inclined to catch anyone else’s rudeness. If they are polite and courteous under any and all circumstances, their good manners will be so habitual that they will continue to behave well no matter what rudeness they encounter.

Needless to say, this form of good character is more prevalent in adults than in adolescents. Thus, when you run rudeness tests on college students you will undoubtedly see a higher vulnerability to emotional contagion than you would with more seasoned adults.


Anonymous said...

Sam L. said...

Of course, what most of us run into is ordinary rudeness.

Sam L. said...

I think it's rude and likely unconstitutional, certainly highly discriminatory, for not having everyone in the graduation class as a valedictorian.

Ares Olympus said...

Rudeness might seem to be a subjective quality, and varided degrees of offense that deserve some differentiation. Drill sergeants are rude, but serving a greater purpose. It's not personal, and it is contextual.

If you are inclined to be offended you'll see rudeness everywhere, while if you're inclinded to be compassionate, you might not see it anywhere.

Perhaps there are "objective measures" for rudeness. Probably many engineers might seem rude to people used to getting sugar-coated communications, but engineers are practical people, and they call things as they see them, whatever the cost to social nicities.

I remember in the movie Shindler's List, a Jewish woman engineer was causing a fuss over the building of a wall or something, and she refused to let the work continue until it was corrected. The psychopathic commandant came over and she explained as clearly as she could why the work was wrong and should be corrected, and he agreed, and demanded it be done right. Then he had her shot.

So we learn its rude to talk brashly to your "betters", people who have the power of life and death over you. Of course its rude to be shot for speaking up as well. So we learn rudeness seems to contain a wide range of behaviors.

I wonder what's a better word? I'm partial to kindness, so you can be rude and kind, but only when necessary.

Anonymous said...

There is no empirical test for the presence or absence of so-called mental illness, disease, or disorder. Therefore one might judge that it is rude for a so-called therapist to judge others as defective by comparison to some set of norms or favored social roles.

A woman or man can appear very polite in his or her attempt to kill your experience of pain with kindness. That's how a contemporary therapist or life coach will try to kill your authentic experience of self - with kindness rather than rudeness.