Podcast # 13 Self Worth, Marriage & Community


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.
Recording: . . . radio.

Dr. Jerry: Good morning. This is Dr. Jerry, The Psychotherapist’s Corner, 1490 WGCH. This morning, I’d like to continue some of the things that we were talking about last week, namely in terms of, “What do we mean by a marriage consciousness, and what does that got to do with our lives, and the life in the community? What do we mean by a demo-cratic consciousness?” So, we talked about that a little last week and I want to continue that now. Okay.

And, again, what I’m trying to say, and I say this to myself and to all my listeners, the point of psychology is not to have answers. The point of psychology is to open up continually throughout our life, so that we can continue to learn. A society that can’t learn is really dead, is stagnant. And when we get into a situation where we’re no longer learning, where we see our shortcomings and our lack of knowledge as defects rather than as opportunities to continue learning, when that happens, we’re in danger of getting stagnant.

So the best understanding I have of psychology is, that which helps us to keep open, that which helps us not collapse in to the mirror, as the Queen did, that which helps us feel real and effective. All right, we were speaking last week about what we call “marriage consciousness”. That’s, what did we say, it is the capacity not just to think of one’s self, alone, that is as relating to one’s spouse as another alone person, so to speak, but really to change one’s inner perception of one’s self.

In past talks, I spoke about how it’s necessary to put oneself in another person’s shoes. Not all the time, but certainly with our spouse, or with our good friends, with people we work with, particularly if we’re having areas of tension with them.. If we can, if we’re able to step back for a minute and try to momentarily put our self in their shoes, a lot of times that will just open us up a little and a lot of the passions that be aroused in us may recede.

We have to be able to identify with people if we’re really ever going to have any comfortable relationship with them. Comfortable relationship. It doesn’t have to be a profound relationship, but it has to be a comfortable relationship.

As I mentioned, marriage and close relationships are not easy to navigate. Each of us brings our own personal history, our culture, our family background and all of the little personal idiosyncrasies that we have. We actually bring all of that to any relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that. That makes us individuals….that’s like the adjectives, the color, it’s like the beautiful color of the leaves in the fall. Each tree is a little different. So our personal idiosyncrasies can compliment each other. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, we just have to be aware of them.

Besides our idiosyncrasies, of course, we have areas inside our self, and I have tried to focus on this in our talks, that we forget, that we repress. Remember in our first talks we had, I spoke about Barbara Streisand’s song “What’s too painful to remember, we simply forget, we simply choose to forget,” well that’s what we mean by repression. That’s what we mean by the unconscious. There’s not a great mystery to that.

What we do not like about ourselves, what causes us anxiety, we will simply push out of our awareness. And, unless we’re aware of that, and try to address that, and try to understand what’s going on, we’re going to have difficulties relating to people.

But recall last week I spoke about any two people having differences. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship. I’m always rather suspicious of any kind of perfect relationship. Human beings have differences. That is not cause for despair, or resignation. It really is a cause for growth. They can be worked out. They can be talked about. Isn’t that really what we mean by community? Community isn’t just living alongside of each other, of course it’s that. But community, the human community, is talking and working out and understanding each other. That’s really the definition of it.

And that’s what I really mean by “democratic consciousness.” That is, that we’re not just a bunch of 350 million citizens living along side each other. If that’s all we are, we’ve lost something. When we handle marriage counseling, when my wife and I do marriage counseling, we are trying to address some of the difficulties that human beings have that they, particularly, that they are not aware of. All too frequently they no longer can experience a marriage consciousness, the spouse is experienced as over against, so to speak, not another side of myself, as it were.

It’s easy to just deny that people have difficulties. I’ve had a few, frankly, colleague friends who maintain, amazingly to me, that their marriage was absolutely perfect, that their relationship was perfect, that they never had any difficulties. Well, I wish such a couple good luck. I very rarely found that in my 30 years of marriage counseling.

The other alternative to, “My marriage is absolutely perfect,” is “We have too many fights, we’re going to get a divorce.” I personally think neither of those extremes really works. I think a better way to go is to, each of us, periodically, to understand what we’ve talked about before, namely that there is such a thing as “everyday unhappiness” that life just brings along, and that the different personalities, different tastes, different histories, have to be made conscious. And each of us has to try to recognize their personal input. And that will help lessen the every day unhappiness which living with a person sometimes brings along.

Along with that, though, what I also want to focus on the reality that we only feel real and effective when we’re doing something, not just when we’re defending ourselves against something where we can experience creativity and generosity in our lives. And creativity, as I’ve said before, doesn’t mean you’re a great artist. Creativity can be how you make the meal. Creativity can be in how you do the garden. Creativity can be in how you do the work. And generosity, goes along with this…to be creative is really also to be generous. Both of these categories, creativity and generosity, are intrinsic, I believe, to our experience of self worth.

And our personal experience of our self worth is the foundation for a good relationship. And, as we know, I’m sure, I mean, self worth is not how much money we have. I’m talking about an inner experience of our self that enables us to have a relationship. A lot of the tension that couples experience is because one or the other feels their self worth threatened. Or they come into a marriage very damaged, because of their own personal histories, their experience of self worth. That’s, that is really one of the core issues in resolving marriage difficulties. And when they know who they are, with calm assurance, they can very frequently negotiate a lot of the other difficulties.

In a capitalist society money does indicate a de facto social standing. But it really has nothing to do with self worth. And it’s important that we remember that. Self worth depends on one’s capacity, I believe, to experience personal and intellectual honesty….in one’s capacity to put one’s own needs aside, on occasion, in order to help another human being.

Self worth, if you think about it, shows itself through a lot of acts of kindness and good manners, and with an attitude of generosity towards the world. And I’m purposely mentioning every day virtues, if you want to use the word virtue. You know virtue is from the Latin “virtus”, meaning strengths, so a virtue is a strength that we have. And it’s the everyday strengths of kindness and good manners and generosity that will strengthen us, so that we know who we are.

Any good relationship, friends or marriage, really should help enforce the self worth. Just as, and I keep making this comparison, just as a democratic society should enforce the self worth of in its citizens through its dedication to fair opportunities for the growth of all of it’s citizens. It’s the same kind of thing. People will get along much better when they experience their self worth and experience that others recognize that.

Now, let’s go back to marriage for a minute. Too frequently, when a couple begin counseling, they are all too ready to indulge in accusing each other. They come in with a list, sometimes very consciously but very frequently unconsciously, a long list of each others faults and misdeeds. And the first few sessions, a lot of times they just have to get all this stuff out. Now, sometimes such an initial attitude is understandable. Because they often feel because their self worth has been in eclipse. And when our self worth is in eclipse, when we don’t feel the other person respects us, or recognizes our needs, we get hurt, we get angry; we get reactive to that other person. So that’s what I mean by it’s understandable.

And again, sometimes the concept of virtue is used to hit people over the head. “Oh, that’s not a virtuous thing to do.” A virtue is strength that we develop inside of our self. Self-condemnation is very rarely helpful. Why? Because self-condemnation doesn’t help us understand our self. It really alienates our self. So, even though, initially, it’s not very helpful for a couple to have a long list of accusations, a person has to be allowed the chance of saying it. They have to be allowed a chance to hear what they’re saying, before they can get beyond that.

Now, obviously, and we have spoken about this a lot in these little talks that I’ve had with my audience, in order to benefit from any kind of counseling, in order to benefit from any kind of friendship, each person in the friendship, or the marriage, has to give up the fantasy that they are right. And that sounds very easy. “Oh, I should recognize that I’m not right all the time.” It sounds simple. It is not easy to give up the fantasy that one’s right. It is possible, and it is important to do it, but it’s not easy.

The opposite of generosity, I think, the opposite of good manners, compassion, creativity, the opposite of that is, “I’m right.” Now, “I’m right’ doesn’t give me self worth. It just makes me very defensive. It’s very close to the Queen, “I’m the most beautiful.” It’s the same kind of thing. So, it’s pulling back from that absolutely universal, and we all suffer from it, I suffer from it, everybody suffers from it, but one has to quietly and slowly recognize when the passions subside a little bit, you know, it’s possible, “I’m not right.” It’s possible that maybe I have to listen to another person. And it’s possible that maybe I really am influenced by things that I have forgotten, but which are influencing me anyway.

And again, that’s all that we mean, and I don’t mean to over simplify this, that’s all that we mean by depth psychology. It’s made, at times, to sound very obtuse and very mysterious. It’s not. And when I’ve spoken about the Psychotherapist’s Corner inside each of our lives, inside each of our minds, is to recommend that a few times a week, if possible, we sit quietly and think about our self and our reactions to things.

All I’m saying is that we sit quietly and realize that, “Wow, you know, I suddenly remembered something from my child hood,” or “You know, my gosh, I’m yelling at the people I work with the same way my dad used to come home, telling me he was yelling at the people he worked with. Wow. Not, “Oh, I’m right and he was wrong, but I’m right because they do such-and-such”….none of that stuff. It’s just a quiet capacity to think about our self.

Now, let’s go back to marriage for a minute. Giving up the need to always be right is a little more possible if a person can remember that a marriage implies a new consciousness. That’s what I’ve been talking about. When an individual no longer defines his or her self, by themselves, so to speak. What do I mean by that? When a husband or wife can stop saying “my husband is always doing such-and-such,” and then the husband will retort, ” but you always do such-and-such…always, all the time. You drive me crazy when you do that.”

If eventually you can change that to both spouses are able to say, “You know we keep running into the same difficulties over and over again when we’re living together in this area, we keep running into the same difficulties, when we, in our living together, we get into this area,” that changes, that indicates a really interesting switch inside. Of course the issue is just as real. Of course the issue still has to be addressed. Of course personal exploration has to be studied. But it’s a different way of experiencing your self.

It’s not,… “I’m caught in this legal thing called marriage and I have to make it work for me.” That’s what I’m getting at. We have to try to make it work for us. It sounds easy. It’s not easy. It’s just possible. And so that, that simple sentence that we are together in a relationship that takes time and a lot of self work is obvious. Now, we can also ask, “Why should we do this? Why should a person develop a marriage consciousness? What is Dr. Jerry talking about, a democratic consciousness? Why should we define ourselves with another, rather than just by ourselves?”

And we could say that in marriage we are frequently prodded to do this for the children. That is, in order to provide a safe, and caring environment for children. Ideally, when we have children, we should stop looking in the mirror. The Queen couldn’t stop looking in the mirror, so she couldn’t take care of Snow White. She had a kill her. And when we are overly, when we are overly narcissistic, in a sense, we, unconsciously, we are killing off our children.

Had the queen turned her attention to taking care of Snow White, with all the difficulties that that involves, she might have had a whole different experience of herself. What is the reward of having a social consciousness and a marriage consciousness. But let me stop for a minute now………

Dr. Jerry: Welcome back, The Psychotherapist’s Corner. We’re talking as I mentioned “Why bother? Why bother with a marriage consciousness? Why bother with a community, democratic consciousness?” And I raise that question now because it’s very clear in our society, in particular, and many psychologists and philosophers and social commentators have made note of this, for better of worse, and not that we’re bad people, but we are living in a very narcissistic society. In a society where our individual wants and desires are elevated to a point of, very frequently, ignoring the common good.

But that’s really deceptive. The advertising, the movies, everything is focused on, what something or someone can do for one’s self…. Over and over…that is… I have a right to such-and-such and such-and-such. You see ads, “You have a right to such-and-such.” And I always say, “Isn’t that remarkable. You don’t even know who you’re talking to. How do we know they have a right to such-and-such?”

Narcissism, and what’s behind narcissism, very frequently, is the need to feel powerful, the need to feel, quote, “That I’m right. And, I’m powerful. And therefore I have achieved, I am no longer vulnerable.” Now, if we have repressed a lot of our anxieties from our childhood, if we have repressed a lot of the painful experiences that we’ve had growing up, I understand why a person has a strong commitment to being powerful and right, and controlling everybody. Unfortunately, that’s not going to help us.

How is it not going to help us? Just as society, as we know, has to put some kind of boundaries on sexuality and aggression, a society should also help us, force an awareness, that we have to put some kind of boundaries on greed. We have to put some kind of boundaries on excessive individualism. Why? Because to the extent that we don’t connect with a fellow human being, to the extent that we’re not able to cross-identify, to that extent, if you think about it, we are little less real.

Remember, I’ve spoken a great deal, quoting Donald Winnicott, the English pediatrician psychoanalyst, and his prayer, when he said, “Oh, God, may I be alive, when I die.” He wasn’t foolish, he was very intelligent, a very deep thinker. He wasn’t just playing with words. What he was saying is, many of us go through life existing. We don’t go through life alive. What I’m saying to you this morning is that one of the elements that makes alive possible, which makes feeling real possible, is our experience of connection.

Let me clarify that…that is our recognition and our fostering connection. We know, for instance, as I’ve mentioned a few times, we know from quantum physics, that there’s no question that every atom in the universe is related to every other atom. That has been established. That is no longer a question. The technical term for that is entanglement. Entanglement. We human beings seem to have a capacity to try and step outside of that obvious fact about existence, and pretend that it’s not true.

And yet, when we do recognize it, when we can develop a marriage consciousness with our partner, with all the difficulties which I haven not whitewashed, that that may entail, when we can recognize that, “I have to live along with other people in a society, even if I disagree very strong with their opinions, that, when I can do that, and try to understand where they’re coming from, I will feel more real. I will feel more connected with my fellow human beings.” And that feeling, and out of that feeling, one has to develop generosity to sustain that, I will be able to feel that my life is real, not that it’s just happening to me.

So, that’s really what I’m, I’m been trying to get at in a lot of these talks that we’ve had. That to make it clear that psychology is not just something that we do inside our heads. It’s really something that we do between people. That’s how I understand psychology. And when I talk about social consciousness and our experience of connectedness, I’m not, quote, “Making nice.” And I’m not being idealistic. Because, if we don’t have this capacity, a society rots away from the inside. And this lack of connection is as serious as any psychological illness, frankly, that I can think of.

So, just hold that, think about that in your own lives, and here I’m not talking about even marriage counseling, I’m talking about when you’re at work, for example, if you have a fellow worker or a boss who’s just a pain, so to speak. Of course you’re going to be irritated at their behavior, or at their response to you. But when you’re able to step away for a while, try to figure out, is there a way that maybe I can understand where they’re coming from? It’s not always possible. But if you could try to do that, you would not experience yourself simply on the receiving end of a person you can’t get along with, you might actually understand that you might have some things in common.

I’m saying all this because it seems to me we have to live productively in society or we don’t live at all. If we don’t feel that we’re alive, really, then what’s the point of it all? And, as I’ve mentioned, being alive, that experience, “I’m alive,” is essential to experience of self worth, of living with a sense of generosity. How can we be generous towards other people? How can we be generous towards ourselves? How can we be generous towards the world? We have to practice all these things, it gives us self worth and one of the rewards of self worth is we fell alive. We don’t feel as if life is merely happening to us.

One last thing, I only have just a few minutes more, I just want to leave you with and maybe we’ll end up with it next week… and it’s really just the same thing I’ve been saying… I’m just hitting it from another angle, in order not to get caught in that need, “I’m always right” kind of syndrome, which is the same as the Queen’s, “I’m always beautiful.” It’s the same thing, “I’m always right, I’m always beautiful,” it doesn’t make any difference.

In order to do that, we really need to develop a capacity to negotiate. A capacity to negotiate with our self, within our self, that’s really what therapy gives us, capacity to negotiate with our self, with our history, capacity to negotiate with the world around us, capacity to negotiate with friends, our boss, our spouse.

I want to go back to Donald Winnicott, because he said something that’s really obvious, almost funny and yet profound at the same time. Winnicott said, “The capacity to negotiate is not a quality of the insane.” The capacity to negotiate is not a quality of the insane. Meaning, that if a person can’t negotiate, we have some very serious concerns about their mental stability. Mental stability doesn’t mean rigidity, mental stability means flexibility. That’s what mental stability means. It means that I’m flexible. It means that I don’t hold onto everything in my life with a level of rigidity that doesn’t allow any negotiation.

So there’s a kind of psychological fundamentalism, there’s political fundamentalism, there’s religious fundamentalism. Any fundamentalism that hinders negotiation is really not our friend. Because it doesn’t help us live in the world. It doesn’t help us cross-identify. It doesn’t help us step outside and look at our self. Had the Queen been able to negotiate, she could have said, “You know, I’ve been beautiful for many years, and wasn’t life wonderful to give me such good looks. And now the mantle has passed over to Snow White, and I can enjoy her beauty.”

In that little twist, in that little giving up of personal power, she would have found out what it means to be alive, what it means to be a mother, what it means to be real. It sounds very easy, as I’ve said before, it’s not easy, but it’s very, very important. So, let me leave you with that thought. That, on the inside, we have to think about ourselves and try to understand the factors that make us do what we do, and the factors that keep us from being generous and kind, if there are factors that are doing that.

On the outside, we have to develop a capacity to negotiate, particularly with those whose pinions or thoughts we may not like. On the other hand, that’s the way to developing a community consciousness…a democratic, better. I don’t want to say community consciousness…a democratic consciousness. The kind of respect I give to other human beings who are in the same boat with me…in the same situation with me. Thank you very much folks, we’ll talk again next week. This is Dr. Jerry, The Psychotherapist’s Corner.


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