Borderline States, Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Madness, Narratives, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Spiderman meets Allah


I recently watched the latest Spiderman film Homecoming. I was slightly disappointed by it. I enjoyed the Toby McGuire versions. I think because he portrayed more of the conflict he felt about being Spiderman. It seems to me that Tom Holland plays it as a teenager having huge fun as Spiderman but not really having to work overmuch about the implications of this role. But i’m a counsellor versed in psychoanalytic theory, so I may be expecting too much from the film! Although having so said, “Homecoming” does give a good portrayal of Peter Parker’s oedipal conflict .Tony Stark is an excellent father figure whom the young Spiderman has to deal with.

The piece of dialogue that struck me forcibly is this one. Peter wants his Spiderman suit back from Tony Stark who has confiscated it. (Castration anxiety anyone?)

Spiderman “I’m nothing without that suit.”

Tony Stark “If you’re nothing without the suit, you shouldn’t have it.”

(There is a lovely irony here since Tony Stark invented IronMan as his superhero alter ego. He needs his Ironman suit as much as Peter Parker but is unable or unwilling to recognise this need.)

I watched Homecoming around the time of the terrorist attack in Barcelona. The question of “suits” came to mind. As Spiderman Peter Parker can achieve all sorts of things that he cannot do as an ordinary adolescent. He needs to become Spiderman. (There are important questions here about potency and identity.) Like so many other people I wondered how a person can ram a truck into a group of people enjoying an evening out. (And at the risk of death by parenthesis, there are issues of envy here. How dare you be enjoying yourself when I’m not!) Could plain Mouassa Oukabir have driven his car into a group of people, aiming to kill as many as possible. Perhaps not. But as a disciple of a particular Iman, Abdelbaki Es Satty, Oukabir had a suit to wear. Like Peter Parker, it gave him an identity as a perverse “Superhero.” Presumably his version of Islam gave Es Satty a similar kind of suit.

In the closing scenes of Homecoming Peter is offered a brand new Spiderman suit, which he refuses, much to Tony Stark’s bemusement. “That was a test, right?”asks Peter. “Of course”replies Stark. So Peter Parker goes back to  being your average, friendly neighbourhood Spiderman. It seems he has found a way to resolve some of the issues he has with Tony Stark. And, more importantly, with himself. One wishes that “radical Islam” and all its kind could make a similar resolution.



Aylesbury, Borderline States, Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being


In our creative writing class last week we were asked to write a short piece about Time. for some reason the formula above cam e in to my mind. Im not sure whty. I don’t usually remember formulae. But it prompted me to do some thinking. Then i n the coffee shop recently i heard two people talking. One was talking to his friend about going on holiday.

“If it’s just the three of us, then we get along fine. We all slot into our roles and it works very well. Then my son comes along and everything changes .I’m not sure why. I guess we’ll just have to try and make it work.”

This reminded me of the Speed / Distance /Time  formula. Which them lead me on to musing about our psychic equations. The relationship between the different parts  of ourselves. The Ego / Id / Super Ego  combination of Freud’s work.  Or Melanie Klein’s two positions. Or Jung’s ideas about our shadow side. (All this whilst drinking my latte.) It was almost cold by the time I’d finished my reverie!) That we are  not single entities. We know this to be true in our bodies. They are designed to work as a system, not as separate little kingdoms. The speed / distance /time formula is also bot relationships within a system.

And the problem with systems is that they challenge our omnipotence.  Whilst my eyes know, logically, that they have to rely on my ears to help them, a part of them would love to declare UDI from the rest of the body. (Fortunately this doesn’t often happen!) So in the inner world. My love cannot function without an awareness of my hate. And vice versa.  My patients have to face this tension. My ability to help them comes at a cost to their omnipotence. By seeing me thee is an acknowledgement that they need help.

So, with all this as context, here is the piece that I wrote for my class.

Time is furious. She thinks that she reigns supreme. Controlling all galaxies, empires and lives. She measures our mortal span. Three score years and ten. She defines our galaxies .Defines the star Sirius, for example as being 8.6 light years from Earth. bt she cannot rule alone. If she is to be useful, she has to be  in relationship. In this formula she is defined by Distance and Speed. Much as she resents this fact, it is True. To be useful she must share with Distance and Speed. And they with her – which gives her some satisfaction. Distance needs her along with Time. Speed the same. In a perfect world, Time would be supreme. But this is not  the case. So like a haughty dowager,  treating Distance and Speed as her servants. Ignoring the fact that she is dependent on them. Thus keeping intact her fantasy of self-sufficiency. The doxology comes to mind. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Time is always relative.

In my preparation for this blog I found this quotation. I think it sums things up very well. (I\m only glad i found it  at the end of my work, not at the beginning otherwise I might have felt I had nothing new to say!)

“There is no Jesus without Judas; no Martin Luther king, Jr, without the Klan; no Ali without Joe Frazier; no freedom without tyranny. No wisdom exists that does not include perspective. Relativity is the greatest gift.”  (Chris Crutcher, King of the Mild Frontier.)

Borderline States, Counselling, Dreams, Hope, Madness, Mindfullness, Narratives, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being


advent7All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Extract from “Journey of the Magi”



The extract above is from T.S.Eliot’s poem  “Journey of the Magi”. I first heard it when I was at college and it has stayed with me. He captures the struggle of the Magi to  make their journey. These are  not triumphant warriors coming home. These are  men  who are tired. For whom the journey is uncertain. “Were we led all that way for Birth or Death?” That is a question that arises so often in therapy. “What am I doing here? I thought counselling was supposed to make me feel better.  I feel like shit.”

The Magi responded to a sign which they saw as significant. They were unsure what it signified, but they understood it to be important. The same is often true of my patients. They see a sign. A difficult marriage or relationship. Tensions  at work.  Perhaps feelings of depression and anxiety. These are read as signs. Signs that need to be attended to and understood. We only know that the Magi came from the East following a star. Bethlehem was an unknown destination. The  parallels to clinical work are obvious. We start from a different place. Frequently the place of our beginnings. Our place of birth. Those earliest moments of conception, pregnancy and birth which seem so far from our current places. Yet each time I see a patient we end up back at their beginning. The men whose fathers leave months after  their birth. The men whose mothers abandon them. The women who feel overwhelmed by their father’s expectations  of them. This is where the journey has begun. This is what has shaped their life to date. The woman who has had  six children with six different men. And each of her children taken into “care”. The successful business man who always has a lover whom visits regularly.  Whose wife pretends not to know and not to mind. These journeys are more like death than birth.

The biblical account of the Wise Men is only found in Matthew’s gospel. He places this visit at the end of his genealogies “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…” (Matt. 1:1) Matthew is telling his readers their history. As counsellors we don’t share your histories but  nonetheless draw on them in our work. (Unlike Athena who emerged fully armed from the skull of Zeus we have learned our histories the hard way with journeys that seem to have made the Magi’s travels look easy!) We share our patient’s journeys in many ways.We, to, have slept badly at times and have wondered where our journey will take us. To birth or to death?

My aim is to write more about Journeyings. Meanwhile I shall end with some Advent music. Enjoy, as they say!

Borderline States, Counselling, Madness, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Humpty Dumpty

humpty-dumptyFor a variety of reasons I’ve been thinking about Humpty Dumpty this week. He makes an interesting case study. What strikes me most is his sense of omnipotence. He knows he is an egg. He must know that eggs and walls do not go well together-no matter how one defines  “egg” and “wall” and “risk”. There is a refusal to accept his vulnerability-which, we assume, is why he is found sitting on top of a wall. Because his fantasy is that he is unbreakable. This belief almost has the power of a psychotic delusion which is usually defensive. I have lost count of the number of patients who believe themselves to be Jesus and to have special powers. (As one begins to unpick this idea it becomes apparent that the underlying belief is just the opposite. That they are of no worth to anyone. So in response to this depressing thought, they evolve the fantasy of being messaianically important.And who is to blame them?)

If we were looking at Humpty Dumpty clinically we might diagnose an underlying depression. Or at the least feelings of low self worth. It is an interesting phenomena that I have seen many women who have ben abused as children repeat that pattern in adulthood. They manage to seek out men who will continue that abuse-albeit not physically. This serves to confirm an unconscious belief in their own worthlessness. Is this part of Humpty’s grandiosity? That he fundamentally lacks any sense of self worth? The famous exchange between him and Alice in “Through the looking Glass” gives a sense of his thinking.

” ‘When I use a word” Humpty Dumpty  said in a rather scornful tone ‘it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.’ ” How much more grandiose can one get? To believe that the only meaning of a word is what I choose to give it at any moment. Centuries of meaning are thrown away and Humpty rules supreme. (How dreadfully humiliating to have to abide by someone else’s definition of something. Like “egg” and “vulnerable”!)

Given this omnipotence is was only going to be a matter of time before Humpty had a  great fall. There could be no other outcome that allowed him to keep his integrity. He could hardly go back to the hen-coop and regale his fellow eggs with his adventures. Nor was he going to become a successful egg in the human world.Sadly he felt that he belonged nowhere- which opens up the possibly of a differential diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. The tragedy of his great fall is akin to a successful suicide.  It is a pyrrhic victory. Suicide proves my omnipotence. “None of you could help me. In the end the only person I could count on was me.”

As a final thought here is Geisha performing her interpretation of Humpty Dumpty. Enjoy, as they say!

Borderline States, Counselling, Madness, Psychoanalysis, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, The Inner World, The unconscious


Every day brings news of a new violation. Yahoo answers tell me that , worldwide, one person is murdered every minute. (And we talk of animals being dangerous killers!) Today I was thinking particularly of the Paris killings and of the death of Becky Watts. I wonder if one common link between these two murders is Envy. We know that Nathan Matthews has spoken of his envy of Becky. It also seems probable that, at least in part, envy plays a role in the latest Paris killing (linked once more to Syria.) In each case there seems to be an undying belief that someone else is getting what is “rightfully” mine. Be that political recognition, wealth and prestige or simply more love. The etymology of envy is, simply, “feeling ill will at another’s fortune”. Melanie Klein, an early and highly influential psychoanalyst who came after Freud,  suggests that an envious attack is  launched on something good (see my piece last week about internal objects.). The attack is made simply because the object is good. That becomes a source of envy. This is compounded by a feeling of being left out. That everyone else gets / has all the good things except me. (A familiar feeling in families, friendships, marriages, organisation and nations to name a few.) Most of the time, most of us can manage our envy. Either by reminding ourselves of  the good things we have-both within and without. Or by doing something about the root of our envy. Many a thing has been accomplished by a person thinking “Well, he or she can do that. Sod it, so can I! (If envy leads on to reparation, then it can be a healthy spur .When it is allied to the death instinct, it can morph into murderous rage and hatred. Just watch a set of children playing. Or a couple of dogs with a bone.)

In clinical work, envy can be a spoiler. The patient becomes so envious of the therapist that they find any contribution intolerable. Rather being able to take in something nourishing, they are so incensed that their envy leads them to try to destroy the therapist and any good thing they might say or do. This might be one way of thinking about ISIS and similar groups. Their envy leads them to destroy the envied object rather trying to take some nourishment from it. One of the many tragic aspects of the killing of Becky Watts is that her step brother’s envy was not understood early enough. (Which is not to blame anyone or anything.) If he had been able to talk about his murderous envy in a safe place, it is just possible that this enormous tragedy might have been avoided.

Much the same might be said of ISIS and their kin. If we had understood their envy of us, we might have been able to prevent many deaths. And those yet to come. (Perhaps it’s time for the Prime minister to appoint a resident psychoanalyst to his team. Or a sub team of therapists working as  a parallel group to the cabinet, using their understanding of parallel processes to inform the work of the politicians.)

Borderline States, Counselling, Madness, Psychoanalysis, Psychosis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Schizophrenia, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being

Depression 1

This week I want to finish off the trilogy of Anxiety, Anger and Depression. (They are all part of the same family tree of emotions coming of the central trunk of fear of being annihilated.) Firstly, however, it will be helpful to define some terms.  The image on the left is of a mother breast feeding her baby. In psychoanalytic language the breast is known as an object and forms a central tenet in analytic thinking and writing. This gives rise to what is known as objects relations theory. The idea being that the mother’s breast stands for the whole process of nurturing, being fed, being cared about. The baby’s experience of the breast will include the smell of its mother, an awareness of her feelings, a sense of being the centre of the universe- albeit briefly! All these feelings are encapsulated in the word “object”. The theory goes on to suggest that this external breast- object- morphs into an inner representation. Thus the experience of being nurtured in real life is taken in by the infant as an inner experience. So the infant of an anxious mother will acquire a sense that the world is not a safe place. That he or she is also unsafe- that at any moment a disaster will occur which will overwhelm them. A child of a depressed mother may well acquire a sense of low self worth due, in part, to a mother who was too preoccupied with her own concerns to care about her baby.As the baby grows up it will find that it makes choices that seem to confirm their view of themselves.This can be expressed in all manner of ways .At the extreme end is suicidal depression running through to  paranoia and Manic depression. These are linked to the inner world and the individual’s relationships with its internalised objects.

Some examples:

Mike who finds it very difficult to hear anyone who does not agree with his view of things. (The fear being that everyone is intent on stopping him pursuing his dream career.)

Jane who cannot allow herself to be angry for fear that everyone will reject her if she shows he true feelings about something or someone.

Marie who is a compulsive carer who has to rescue anything or anyone in distress. Less from compassion and more from a complex mix of fear of her own anger and a terror of being unloveable.

In all these cases their actions and activity comes out of a difficult inner world. Their relationship with their inner objects is conflicted.  This makes the activity of living a  difficult one.

In part 2 of this blog I will focus on depression and one way of thinking about it.

brewast feeding mother

Borderline States, Counselling, Madness, Mindfullness, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Reflective Practice, Religion, Spirituality, The Inner World, The unconscious, Ways of Being


The image is of the Narcissus, who, legend tells us, fell in love with his own reflection. What has this to do with this blog? I set up this blog to write psychoanalytically about things that interested me. Over time I have covered quite a range from Jimmy Saville to ISIS. Then in February this year I needed major heart surgery and my gaze shifted inwards. I wrote a few pieces about my struggle to make any sense of my illness but have not written much since. I enjoy writing and am left with left with a problem. Since my focus is still predominantly inwards, do I cease  writing? Or can I say something about the experience of illness and recovery from a psychoanalytic perspective-without becoming narcissistic? I don’t have an answer yet but I’m going to write about me and see where that takes me.

One of the problems with an illness that comes out of nowhere is that there is no preparation time. One minute one is living one’s life quite happily. Suddenly one learns that all is not as it seems. That minor ache turns out to be a symptom of something very serious that has the potential to kill you. Suddenly the clock has struck thirteen and all that went before is questioned. not to mention all that might happen tomorrow. If thirteen can be struck once, then all the rules change. To use my favourite mis-quote from Gatsby “The rock of the world rests firmly on a butterfly’s wing.”

This, of course, is not unique to illness.On a personal level Rape, assault, burglary all challenge our sense of an inviolate self. On a national level, war must do much the same. Our boundaries are nowhere near as reliable as we had thought. The challenge is to find a way to live with the consequences of this boundary violation without losing all sense of self. (I remember when I left hospital commenting that I felt as though I had spent 10 days behind enemy lines, living undercover. By which I think that I meant I had to work very hard to keep my identity secure in a place where there were very few familiar landmarks.)

Freud suggested the idea of Signal anxiety and Primary anxiety. .The function the former being “… an alerting mechanism which forewarns the ego of an impending threat to its equilibrium. Primary anxiety being the emotion which accompanies the dissolution of the ego.” The writer goes on to observe that Primary anxiety may be seen as an inwardly directed form of vigilance. (A Critical dictionary of Psychoanalysis 1968)

Which seems to take us back to mine-and others- experience of anxiety being helpful at some level. Albeit wearing and exhausting at times…