‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part twenty)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on January 10, 2019 @ 6:58 pm


As we have already observed the view that hearing voices is not necessarily a pathological symptom has already been discussed, as it happens diagnostic tools such as DSM and ICD historically require at least two symptoms only one of which might be hearing voices, so hearing voices alone is theoretically insufficient reason to have a mental health diagnosis. The Hearing Voices Network on its ‘About’ page on its website writes “Hearing voices has been regarded by psychiatry as ‘auditory hallucinations’, and in many cases a symptom of schizophrenia. However not everyone who hears voices has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There are conflicting theories from psychiatrists, psychologists and voice hearers about why people do hear voices . We believe that they are similar to dreams, symbols of our unconscious minds.” If we turn to Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams he famously used his own dreams as source material, and for that reason I shall endeavour to do the same with my own voices (whilst as with Freud leaving some details of a personal nature out). Freud writes:

“Thought is after all nothing but a substitute for a hallucinatory wish; and as it is self-evident that dreams must be wish-fulfilments, since nothing but a wish can set our mental apparatus at work. Dreams, which fulfil their wishes along the short path of regression, have merely preserved for us in that respect a sample of the psychical apparatus’ primary method of working, a method which was abandoned as inefficient. What once dominated waking life, while the mind was still young and incompetent, seems now to have been banished into the night – just as the primitive weapons, the bows and arrows, that have been abandoned by adult men, turn up once more in the nursery. Dreaming is a piece of infantile life that has been superseded. These methods of working on the part of the psychical apparatus, which are normally suppressed in waking hours, become current once more in psychosis and then reveal their incapacity for satisfying our needs in relation to the outside world.
The unconscious wishful impulses clearly try to make themselves effective in daytime as well, and the fact of transference, as well as the psychoses, show us that they endeavour to force their way by way of the preconscious system into consciousness and to obtain control of the power of movement. Thus the censorship between the Ucs. And the Pcs., the assumption of whose existence is positively forced on us by dreams, deserves to be recognized as the watchman of our mental health. Must we not regard it, however, as an act of carelessness on the part of the watchman that it relaxes its activities during the night, allows the suppressed impulses in the Ucs. to find expression, and makes it possible for hallucinatory regression to occur once more? I think not. For even though this critical watchman goes to rest – and we have proof that its slumbers are not deep – it also shuts the door upon the power of movement. No matter what impulses from the normally inhibited Ucs. may prance upon the stage, we need feel no concern; they remain harmless, since they are unable to set in motion the motor apparatus by which alone they might modify the external world. The state of sleep guarantees the security of the citadel that must be guarded. The position is less harmless when what brings about the displacement of forces is not the nightly relaxation in the critical censorship’s output of force, but a pathological intensification of the unconscious excitations while the preconscious is still cathected and the gateway to the power of movement stands open. When this is so, the watchman is overpowered, the unconscious excitations overwhelm the Pcs. and thence obtain control over our speech and actions; or they forcibly bring about hallucinatory regression and direct the course of the apparatus (which was not designed for their use) by virtue of the attraction exercised by perceptions on the distribution of our psychical energy. To this state of things we give the name of psychosis” (p.567-568)

                If we want to give a more contemporary association with modern voice work we might think of the work of those who have found success in Voice Dialogue, as has already been mentioned,, developed for voice hearers from the work of Hal and Sidra Stone, the Talking With Voices therapy developed by psychologists such as Dirk Corsten, Eleanor Longden and Rufus May. In this form of dialogue alienated selves, often including one called the Inner Critic, are invoked, this facet of our multiple selves is supposed to come into our lives early to stop us in advance from feeling such issues as embarrassment (or fear of sanction) or danger, a role as discussed earlier that Freud’s Superego might play. The Stones’ work suggests that this tendency becomes, in many ways, stronger from observing others, however at this moment in the analysis it is sufficient to suggest it is an early ‘watchman’ and hallucinations stem from the attempt of the unconscious to be heard by the conscious, a momentary overpowering of the preconscious (or not so momentary in some cases). In this sense this relates to the relation between latent and manifest content discussed earlier. According to Freud, in dreams the voices try to fulfil a wish, but the ‘watchman’ (the secondary agency) suppresses it, and so the unconscious has to learn to express itself in code, in symbols, in metaphor. If this is the case it should be possible to unpack a psychotic experience using the methods used in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Much work has been done here previously by psychoanalysts, but so much by people who have struggled with psychosis, although it should be noted that Eleanor Longden is a voice hearer herself. There are implications here, Freud stated that he did not believe that the psychotic had enough insight, although Klein and Lacan continued the work on psychosis with varied levels of success.
In Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams he used his own dreams on the basis that he wasn’t neurotic. I am using my own experience of voice hearing and thought insertion on the basis that I am psychotic. However, we will both use the current discourse of our time to try to examine these phenomena. In my case the philosophy, psychology and neuroscience has changed and become more complex adding to (and occasionally disproving) the discourse available to Freud at the time.
Back to Freud’s theory though, Freud wrote “In the course of my psycho-analyses of neurotics I already have analysed a thousand dream; but I do not propose to make use of this material in my present introduction to the technique and theory   of dream-interpretation. Apart from the fact that such a course would be open to the objection that these are the dreams of neuropaths, from which no valid inferences could be made as to the dreams of normal people, there is quite another reason that forces this decision upon me. The subject to which these dreams of my patients lead up is always, of course, the case history which underlies their neurosis. Each dream would therefore necessitate a lengthy introduction and an investigation of the nature and aetiological determinants of the psychoneuroses. But these questions are in themselves novelties and highly bewildering and would distract attention from the problem of dreams. On the contrary it is my intention to make use of my present elucidation of dreams as a preliminary step towards solving the more difficult problems of the psychology of the neuroses. If, however, I forgo my principal material, the dreams of my neurotic patients, I must not be too particular about what is left to me. All that remains are such dreams as have been reported to me from time to time by normal persons of my acquaintance, and others as have been quoted as instances in the literature dealing with dream-life. Unluckily, however, none of these dreams are accompanied by the analysis without which I cannot discover a dream’s meaning. My procedure is not so convenient as the popular decoding method which translates any given piece of a dream’s content by a fixed key. I, on the contrary, am prepared to find that the same piece of content may conceal a different meaning when it occurs in various people or in various contexts. Thus it comes about that I am led to my own dreams, which offers a copious and convenient material, derived from an approximately normal person and relating to multifarious occasions of daily life. No doubt I shall be met by doubts of the trustworthiness of ‘self- analyses’ of this kind; and I shall be told that they leave the door open to arbitrary conclusions. In my judgment the situation is in fact more favourable in the case of self-observation than that of other people; at all events we make the experiment and see how far self-analysis takes us with the interpretation of dreams. But I have other difficulties to overcome, which lie within myself. There is some natural hesitation about revealing so many intimate facts about one’s mental life; nor can there be any guarantee against misinterpretations by strangers. But it must be possible to overcome such hesitations. “Tout psychologiste,” writes Delboeuf [1885], “est obligé de faire l’aveu même de ses faiblesses s’il croit par là jeter du jour sur quelque problème obscur.” And it is safe to assume that my readers too will very soon find their initial interest in the indiscretions which I am bound to make replaced by an absorbing immersion in the psychological problems upon which they throw light.’ (p.104-105) As we have observed  with regards the unconscious and the relevance of Freud especially the Interpretation of Dreams, Freud argued that dreams are usually concerned with the previous day but that the censoring part of us means that the part that needs to speak, inform us of our needs, has to do so in code. For our first attempt let’s take some ‘voices’ I hear in one particular day, according to my diary they include statements such as: “Colour blind” “Join the army” “Get a job” and Criticisms of my right to be claiming benefits by a gossip. Let’s work backwards, I had been timesheeting my week to see what I activity I was doing at the time. Given the voices were partially about benefits the n with regards anxiety dreams it seems quite straightforward. In 5 days I pulled 63 hours of child care (including for one of my children who has High Care DLA), house work (affective labour!), PhD work and publishing business, so evidently my right to claim carer’s and have it topped up (as the income generating work is Therapeutic Earnings for only about 5) is legally justified. However, I would like to do more evidently, my business at the time was looking as though it was is close to taking off, but I couldn’t physically put more hours in. This then this was very frustrating. So, then my feelings about myself move from a ‘poor me’ to a ‘bad me’ (in the Richard Bentall sense), and so I seem to have invented as nemesis who is a ‘naïve realist’ but very right wing and prejudiced inner critic. At other times I hear many voices/ alienated inner thoughts and many of them argue with her defending me (as an expression of the solidarity I see out there, however when knackered, miserable and depressed my ego defences fall she ‘walks in’, to do so of course I have had to invent a character/ construct who, symbolically speaking, when confronted with an open door will blame the fact that the door is open for her act of walking through it) but this voice just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ it, even when confronted with her harassment, she defends her right to an opinion, when its pointed out that she is entitled to an opinion but not to harass someone with it, to which she either responds with disrespectful fundamental attribution errors, straw men and ad hominems or she resorts to ‘poor me’ statements, like “silly me”, “oh, it would be my fault” etc . With regards the ‘dream-day’. This period would be around 2014 during the intense period of austerity brought in by the coalition government, around 6 months to a year before the 2015 election that would be one by the Conservative government. So, my social media feed for example would be full of news about the latest example of the punitive austerity regime, as I knew members of both Disabled People Against the Cuts and Recovery in the Bin (this was around the time this second group was formed). If this is manifest content however what could the latent content be. Well, given I was hoping my business was going to take off, perhaps it was a desire not to feel criminalised by the propaganda at the time. As it happens one of the reasons I had moved to the town I was in was the cheap rent, I had done so fed up with being turned down for rentals whenever I moved, I had previously ‘recovered’ and worked full time, so although I had a relapse, I was hoping to be able to use the place as a base to get into paid work where I would be free to move wherever I wanted without having to be worried about the stigma of housing benefit. As it happens writing this later, I am still living in the same place, my mental health having turned worse after my daughter’s birth is improving but I am still unable to work full time. I now get voices that say ‘move’, there are multiple possible reasons for this, but one is the continuing frustration of not being able to ‘avoid’ the stigma if I move. I do not get this voice every day, so the question when I do get it (typing this did not trigger it) is whether there is anything I can trace the day before that would have led to it popping up the next day.
Otherwise the behaviour of the female voice though seems to be similar to games played by those from my childhood who wanted me to ‘be in the wrong’ no matter what I argued, using different strategies to get me into trouble rather than them. A sibling power game. Yet this is an aspect of my own frustration, I am not in regular contact with this family member(s). There are two factor involved here, one my frustration is to do with my limited power, for my unconscious to ‘explain’ the perfectly normal and reasonable frustration of the amount of care and affective labour that I (willingly) do but that (admittedly) frustrates my other dreams that are put on hold, so as Freud argues the secondary agency brings up previous patterns of frustration, or frustrating behaviour. With regards the dream day, we must be honest and remember I am married, my partner also puts in many hours, due to my poor mental health does more of the hospital visits and is exhausted. From observation both myself and my partner often ‘revert’ to habitual behaviour (as opposed to refreshed ‘self-aware’ behaviour) and as my partner who is the same gender as my grandma, mother and sister who all used similar games (although to no extent as severe as the voice behaviour) so she in small-scale, microaggression struggles we have in raising our children exhibits this behaviour as a self-defence mechanism when feeling sensitive and powerless. But, again, in no way as extreme as the voice construct’s behaviour. That I guess is exacerbated by my own ongoing frustration combined with my sensitivity to the hostile political environment. On top of this I also get names of certain ex-girlfriend’s (some more than others) mentioned during periods that this voice comes into play. Although this may involve listening to certain music of my youth (for example) the day before (and I have observed this time interval) rather than the behaviour itself. The last aspect is the presentation of gossip, and in a classic Freudian reversal, whilst the manifest content in part related to certain periods in my late adolescence/ early adulthood where I was the victim of malicious gossip, in fact perhaps it exhibited mine and my partner’s isolation. Not just social isolation but in part the lack of social support we were getting (for our mental health and our daughter’s care needs) due to the service cuts. And my clamouring for some practical support when we were struggling.
In the next post I will continue examining some of these voices, plus examine another voice experience with a more structured narrative than the occasional statements mentioned here.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace