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Necessary illusions


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Pathological Narcissism, Psychosis, and Delusions

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Necessary illusions
Kevin T. Barry

Journal of Pastoral Counseling. (Annual 2000): p113.

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and in science....
He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. The sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as feeble reflexion, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious, To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.

Yehuda Elkana, "The Myth of Simplicity", in Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives, edited by Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982) page 240.

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Disillusionment refers to the dynamic process involved where the core illusions of an individual are lost or disrupted. For many, expectation and disappointment follow in alternating patterns. Idealization and devaluation often precede illusion and disillusion to the extent that the issues of early life consisted of basic needs being excessively frustrated or gratified, the ground for illusion and disillusion is sown. Even in situations where needs, for the most part, were met and the oscillations remain less extreme, the themes, though less central and less damaging, require the review of these processes as an essential part of therapy.

Individuals maintain illusions about themselves and their world that sustain them and serve as organizing principles. The loss of these illusions in the cold light of day requires some psychological evaluation of the impact of the disillusionment. Young children need to believe in Santa Claus, we are told; or, parents need children who believe in Santa Claus. Parents are seen as omnipotent and omniscient. Freud's anecdote about walking with his father and witnessing an anti-Semite knock his father's hat off into the gutter and his father's lack of "reaction" was a central part of Freud's self-analysis. Healthy development requires the gradual dismantling of omnipotent fathers and other illusions. Gradual loss is suspected not to be as devastating, and is adaptive. Being forced to relinquish a needed illusion is often traumatic. A struggle against the currents of reality preserves illusions and may be maladaptive. The very act of giving up an illusion, the mourning of the loss, and the working through of the disillusioning process creates a level of anxiety that is difficult to live with for very long. Judith Viorst's classic, Necessary Losses offers the thesis that the way loss is handled is a central component to healthy human development. A similar case could be made for shame or many other themes, or the developmental task of letting go, or the revising of once necessary illusions.

Delusions are false beliefs held in spite of validating evidence. When beliefs held are patently false, and the tenacity with which they are held is great, madness is often inferred. Illusions, in stark contrast, are interpretations of experience not shared by everyone and form the very ground of religious belief. For young children and the psychologically immature in the religious sphere, according to G. Allport in his Psychology of Religion, religion is wish -fulfilling, magical, and egocentric. Religious growth like growth, in general, requires the believer to keep up with the intake of experience. Growth is the very process of disillusionment.

Psychology grew up itself, although in a fitful way, by moving away from a romanticized vision of childhood, "Heaven lays about us in our infancy" Victorians were told by Wordsworth. The idealization of the romanticized version of childhood of Wordsworth had Victorians hoping to end up in the nurseries of heaven. The death books and other literature where children and other innocents hoped to land in mansions precipitated the harsh cultural reactions of a Sigmund Freud. Of all the places known to the human imagination, Freud did not expect to end up in a nursery.

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The German language uses the same word for disappointment and disillusionment. The optimal rate for disillusionment is a gradual one where the way is paved for the smooth and gradual reorganization of the belief system. When it is abrupt or traumatic, the reorganization is a major effort that may not be achieved, and the belief system in it's entirety may be rejected. Core illusions can best be lost at the appropriate time. A person's ego functioning needs to be strong enough to sustain the puncturing of an illusion, either prematurely or excessively. The two-year old's omnipotence is shattered as she becomes aware of her vulnerability and her relative helplessness. If she were to increase her investment in believing in the omniscience and omnipotence of her parents, she would restore her feelings of safety and security with them. The loss of the oceanic pleasures of infancy, "The Fall" metaphor, may be replaced by an effort to find that "special someone" in a relationship where all one's needs are to be met, in life first-and in therapy in particular. An illusion may return where the separation from the all-giving mother has been undone and the return to paradise has happened.

Certain illusions need to be relinquished with their sense of safety and well-being; sometimes the act is wrenching. Investments in holding on to phase appropriate illusions and the fight against surrendering them passes for loyalty and commitment. Self-esteem often is connected to others. The loss of an illusion is tied to loss of self-esteem. Feelings of vulnerability limit complete loss of an illusion at times. Many anticipate anxiety with what they may have to contend without illusions: a lesser view of self, and a greater sense of vulnerabilities and limitations. The best way to avoid illusions is to not want anything too much.

Adolescence

One of the central themes of adolescence centers on the sense of safety and security that gets lost as comfortable and familiar images all around get shattered. The adolescent despair and cynicism that often follow are endemic of a group trying to take hold of a vision for their personal future, as the adult world never ceases to amaze them. With about half the families divorced, and other fathers being emotionally absent or unavailable, the typical adolescent, (if there is one left) goes this journey alone. The opportunities for disillusionment are particularly acute for a group where hopes run high. Reality is seen as a subset of the possible. Anything is possible. Bad events can't happen to me. Their own feelings of invincibility shadow in stark contrast the images of the flaws and foibles of the adults around them. A peer group is selected as an identifiable reference group of which they often are not a member, but are able to connect with. This group dilutes the effects of the family and saves the adolescent from some of the harmful effects of certain families. Emotions are in conflict as the vacillation goes from exhilaration to agony for a group working out its sexual identity as it feels being mistreated by adults. Adolescents retain their feelings of immortality and invulnerability as they smoke, drug, drive recklessly, drink to excess, and sunbathe. Suicide is sometimes selected by those seeking relief from the pain of their trauma.

The "personal fable" constructed by the adolescent includes erroneous beliefs about self in relation to the world. Adults continue to supply in public scandals turmoil and disillusionment to a group that already considers itself misunderstood. Vulnerability is often felt by an adolescent in its full intensity in the vicarious identifications by proxy. Heroes replace disillusioning parents. The realization that we are relatively vulnerable in a complex world is not always welcome. It compares with the earlier disillusioning experience that we were special. The adolescent remains inscrutable.



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Feb/4/2018, 6:39 am Link to this post  
 
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Re: Necessary illusions


Normal developmental mourning, or "low keyedness" in Mahler's thought, starts as being able to tolerate sadness when a toddler is aware of separateness from the caregiver. This stage is the precursor for the oedipal period, adolescence, middle age, the loss of a spouse at the end of life. Mourning starts at this first stage and grows in incremental stages throughout life. For some the pain of mourning and the avoidance of the strong feelings of the process is so great that the opposite path is chosen as they insist on renewing, rediscovering, or returning to this lost illusion in total disregard of reality. Physical illness confronts our sense of our immortality. Spouses have to relinquish the belief that the consort can become neat, or organized, or more sociable. The loss of illusions in developmental mourning includes the recognition of the pain and the coming to terms with the new reality. As we have to live within our means, we have to live within our dreams. The ego needs a prolonged recovery time before it can allow for further experiences that are anxiety producing. Loss requires mourning. Appropriate efforts require coming to grips with the hopes, dreams, and longings and the sense of acceptance of a future that will not come to pass. Detachment from the possible illusions will evolve and be devalued and corrected. Old illusions never die; they just get replaced by their assistants.

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Nostalgia plays a role in illusion and disillusionment. Selected events and remembrances of the past are painted with a gentle brush even by those who may have first seen the past through rose colored glasses. The "good old days" when the air was clean and sex was dirty are pined for as a simpler, stress - free, and unencumbered time of unlimited promise. The idealism of adolescence and young adulthood is the formator of dreams of what is possible and resolvable and reconcilable in the areas of relationships.

Depression often follows on the heels of lost core illusions and the disillusionment that is experienced. To the extent that oneself is seen as exalted, idealized, and illusory, one's specialness sets up the crash that follows. One's vulnerability and depression ensue as illusions about oneself are let go in relation to others in the world. Depression is often the lack of sustaining illusions and lots of disillusionment. Just as external supplies may feed the feeling of well-being, when these are not there, disillusionment follows. When self esteem is lost, mourning follows; depression comes next.

Despair after a loss is often over ourselves-being alone now without the loved one, money, power, or status The investment of our self esteem in the loved object is the forerunner of depression. Dependent people are more likely to see the loved one as necessary for survival. What is often lost is a state of the self for which the object is the holder. Working through is the process of abandoning the pursuit of lost ideal states and the replacement with new ideals that are ego and reality syntonic. Depression is the loss of unsustainable illusions. Once an illusion (such as a happy childhood) is given up energy is freed up for ego functioning. A recent author who is better left nameless reported that he had a miserable childhood and that worse than the ordinary miserable childhood was his miserable Irish Catholic childhood. Those who bothered to read the rest of the book probably hoped along with the author that once the illusion was surrendered, creative juices and vitality returned to the depressive author. The rest is publishing history.

The Narcissist

The narcissistic personality needs to preserve and sustain illusions about self in relation to the world. The following nearly fictional account summarizes one version of the self-absorbed inaccessible narcissist. Is there another kind? Yes!

   I am unique, different from others, special, and don't need others. [The
   self reflects and is its own reward.] I need you to realize how fortunate
   you are to be near me and with this opportunity to listen to me so I can
   feel I have done some more good. [Others are necessary to supply
   narcissistic supplies. There is a withdrawal into self needs and the lack
   of genuine connectedness with others. He (the odds are it's a he) is
   impervious to disillusionment because he harbored no interpersonal
   illusions- as a rock or an island he will feel no pain as an impenetrable
   fortress immune to the impact of others. He can't be disillusioned anymore.
   He'll never fall in love again. A defensive armor covers the wounds of
   failure in haughtiness, self-absorption, and self-reference which can be
   off-putting.]

Another version offers a facade of charm and vitality and pseudo-interest and lacks depth and mutuality and comes across as obnoxious and malevolent.

Either the defenses (Kernberg) or the needs and wounds (Kohut) must be reached in treatment. Narcissism serves the purpose of maintaining cohesion, a tight, defined, positive view of self. Whether they were overindulged or deprived, narcissistic individuals are not mutual in relationships and are convinced that "the world owes me a loving." The ultimate disillusion for the young child has to be given up. He is no longer omnipotent and he has to wait; he depends on the whim of his parents. If he realizes he is not self sufficient he will survive.

Illusions are false beliefs embraced to hang on to a sense of self cohesion. Defenses continue to keep people feeling well and immune from the truth. Feeling special, a person can be easily set back when the bubble is burst. Over-blown reactions to minor setbacks end love relationships; often, these are repeated again and again. Some do not learn from experience and externalize "the blame", not understanding that caring includes being trustworthy.

An adored caring counselor can be dropped for keeping a client waiting 20 minutes after a traffic jam. A patient can phone in to cancel a session as his favorite department store runs a sale on shirts. A therapist's outrageous sense of self importance may be shattered as the client feels he wasn't perfectly understood fed by his grandiose illusions.

To some "Being in love with love" fulfills a narcissistic need. Feeling the strength of attraction one has to another provides narcissistic satisfaction. Being in love with love is common in many love relationships as the love for another is gratifying as is the feeling that one has as a function of feeling love. A song may phrase it as, "I love how you love me." Too long for a song title, but more accurately, "I love what I feel when you're near me because when I'm near you I feel what I call love." The illusion of specialness requiring reciprocity can also persist in parenting and in individual therapy-a narcissistic plunge. If I like a person, the person has to like me back. Narcissistic personalities engage in "splitting" where there is an oscillation between idealization and devaluation of self and others. The self image is kept intact by keeping the bad feelings projected out onto someone else. Rarely all bad feelings are owned in a masochistic fashion to keep an object intact whose hostile behavior needs to be understood rationally. The self is self-inflated but includes the swings of idealization and devaluation. Illusion keeps the self together in the theories of Mitchell, Winnicott and Kohut. Grandiose illusions are central in development. When these can be related back to a core illusion of a patient for a temporary time period, insight and growth follow. Core illusions also wax and wane in development and can never be completely explained away. In the short run, illusions stay "necessary" because they spare us emotional distress and enable us to keep on "keeping on"; no discouraging word should be heard if they on occasion conflict with reality and are shattered against it. The therapist in working with a narcissistic personality disorder creates a relationship within which the client can mourn his pursuit of illusions of perfection for self representation, particularly the maladaptive.

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Marriage

Marriage is an area susceptible to idealization, devastation, and, in the final stages of its dissolution, contempt for each of the parties involved. Marriage is looked to as the principle source of unfulfilled expectations. Searching for the special someone or someone who really understands me offers safety, security, and permanence. If marriage wasn't looked to as the principle source of happiness, fewer marriages would end in tears. When a love object is idealized disillusionment follows. Changes in behaviors or perceptions lead to a failure to deliver the unrealistic, undeliverable, expectations. Acceptance that things are different from what was previously expected is central to marital growth. Expectations not being met may lead to a sharing of thoughts and feelings and may fuel ongoing communication.




---
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Feb/4/2018, 6:39 am Link to this post  
 
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Re: Necessary illusions


The reassessment that occurs around midlife rests on the unearthing of how much was based on illusions. Long held beliefs and assumptions held for a while are often seen as not true. In many marriages, problems unsolved in one generation get passed on to the next generation. As individuals in a marriage avoid differentiation, their dysfunction remains able to be willed to their children. The number of illusions can be reduced - some will remain.

Midlife

A content analysis of the greeting card sections of our favorite store reveals the themes of midlife: a waning of physical attractiveness; reduced possibilities for others to notice the attractiveness that is left; loss of energy and nerve; declining athletic ability and sadly a loss of interest in sex.

Typical advice from Twelve Step Programs centers on the injunction: In midlife it's good to let go of things, since all these things are going anyway. The realization comes to many that they cannot achieve all they hoped for and planned for and cannot hold on to all that was achieved. There is a necessary mourning of the loss of illusions about self and aspiration and coming to terms with disillusionment over lost dreams.

Midlife is a period where themes are re - run in similar fashion to the first loss of illusions that happened in adolescence. "What age are you inside?" we can ask. Many adults see themselves as younger. To maintain a younger self image crimes and hair products abound. The acceptance of limitations rather than an attempt to be "forever young" in outlook prepares one for death. Illusions of invincibility, immortality, and invulnerability are shattered repeatedly in midlife and after. The events of later adulthood take over in marital conflict, career changes, and difficulties with children. High schoolers are envied by certain adults and represent a version of what once was. [Considerable distortion is involved in most cases.] In high school reunions the infantilization of youth remains a strong feature as the dwelling on the past. Whether the season was a championship or not avoids the anxieties regarding the present or the future.

Adults never cease to disillusion the adolescent. In the darkly funny film American Beauty, Jane tells us "I need a father who's a role model.... What a lame-o (referring to her own). Somebody should really put him out of his misery."

Lester, her father, gets everyone in the film angry at him at times by speaking the undiplomatic truth. He quits his job as a corporate slug where his main efforts center on masking his contempt. A lot of his efforts is meant to encourage others to notice him and he returns to his "first job" at a burger joint where responsibility is at a minimum. His wife, Carolyn is narcissistically pursuing her career; her ambition has consumed her life and she aggressively withholds all her energy and affection from her relationships. Jane is halfway sweet as she works through her adolescence "What freaks you and dad are" Mom reassures her; you can't count on anyone except yourself, "Mom, I don't feel like a Kodak moment" "You are so spoiled - you have everything! When I was your age, I had to live in a duplex!"

Her father knows best and would like to reassure her that adolescence will too pass but he doesn't want to lie to her; she would think he's a loser and she would be right.

Lester. So, Janey how's school?

Jane. OK

Lester. Just OK

Jane. Spectacular. What do you expect, you can't just be my best friend just because you have had a bad day.

Lester. I'm sorry I haven't been more available. You don't always have to wait for me to come to you. Then we could be pals.

Jane. Could he be any more pathetic, like he's been in a coma for 20 years? There is nothing worse than being ordinary," she muses.

Lester. You better watch yourself, Janey, You're going to turn into a real !@#$ like your mother.

Jane. What a sad old man you are.

Accurate insight comes from Ricky, her boyfriend, who evaluates her girlfriend Angela. "She's not your friend, just someone you use to feel better about yourself." "I'm not a freak." Angela tells him. "Yes, you are and your boring and totally ordinary and you know it."

Therapy

Therapists do not bring about adjustment or improvement. The mutual work of the client and counselor may bring about change. Not too many want to really work at getting better; many want to just be better. Clients want to change; they fear change. Anxieties about hurt and fear of what may happen in the process remain. In the therapeutic room, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the hour. The very hostility to therapy on the part of some may mean that the person doesn't like the therapy's attack on the illusions that the person holds dear. Hope is a necessary work in therapy but so also is despair. Letting go the impossible dreams and illusions is central to the work. The over-glorification of the past or the excessive hopefulness of the future ignores the present and is defensive.

The disillusioning of the therapist is an essential part of therapy. Most therapists are fortunate to have their imperfections break through like an attack of vicious acne. Difficulties along the way make it all the more difficult to keep the therapist idealized and to maintain the illusion of the return to a father before the "fall." Illusions of what the therapist will provide for them along with realizations that cannot be attained evoke the oscillation of illusion and disillusionment. Counselors help clients raise "stuff" to the surface and revise this in stages. The core illusions often center on one's beliefs about the past that let clients see their counselors as people similar to others from their past. To clients with a present, and often a vivid present, life's available satisfactions are all within reach; for all else the therapist is a disillusioner. Clients engage in therapy wished for unmet early experiences while at the same time mourning and accepting its unattainability. Gradual disillusionments can be fostered by a therapist. Therapy sometimes can only help the patient understand; it may not always cure. Illusions about treatment triumphs are replaced by a disillusionment with the limitations. Omnipotent therapists need to be re-illusioned as therapists doing the best they can. Midlife is the time many do serious therapy when lots of their illusions and disillusions can be broken down. Certain patients do not allow themselves to have dreams, wishes, fantasies, and illusions. They need to be encouraged to have an life with its wants, hopes, and strivings.

Even the once disillusioned need to dream. Midlife remains perhaps the best time; young people look forward; the old look back; the middle aged look around.

By Kevin T. Barry, Ph.D.
Iona College

Barry, Kevin T.

Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2000 Iona College Graduate Department of Pastoral and Family Counseling

---
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Feb/4/2018, 6:40 am Link to this post  
 


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