The Psychopathology of Every Day Life by Sigmund Freud

I recently led a discussion with the Beverly Hills Great Books Group on the above work by Sigmund Freud. The leader of the group had invited a college class from Los Angeles to attend the group.   After reading what Freud had to say, in conjunction with my own training as a clinical psychologist, I realized that most of what I had prepared to offer to the group was not going to be positive.  My hope, however, was that I would stimulate some interesting discussion, especially with the students attending, by the Socratic method of questioning.  Unfortunately, only one student made it to the discussion.  Indeed, this probably changed the dynamic of the meeting because those who attended were for the most part, devotees of Freud, a factor I had not considered:  That is, people that attend a lecture about a past famous figure will probably be followers of that person.

Prior to formally discussing the work, I told the group that this particular monograph was difficult to discuss from a psychological or philosophical framework because in essence Freud was writing it to state his case for how the unconscious and repression operate within a normal population.

I began the talk by stating that Freud was really the first one to establish what we may consider a school of psychotherapy.   I then proceeded to ask the group what they believed to be the most important factor that influences the treatment process during psychotherapy.   Some people responded but no one quite had the answer I was in search of: The quality of the patient/therapist alliance and not the school or theory of psychotherapy.  In this sense, the psychoanalytic school that Freud founded was the first practicing school of what we now would call psychotherapy.  I had hoped that by establishing this fact it would make it easier to point out the many shortcomings in Freud’s view of looking at the human mind. However, I was badly mistaken.

I then proceeded to talk about repression and the unconscious pointing out that the main issues Freud was addressing in his monograph were really these two points, and how they affected forgetting and verbal errors that subsequently came to be knows as Freudian slips.  I made the observation that Freud’s idea of the unconscious was not novel and gave the example of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was written in 1886 before the Psychopathology of Everyday Life and Freud’s major work on dreams and the importance of the unconscious had been published.   A participant responded that Freud was the first to treat the unconscious as a means of treating people, a comment of which I agreed.  

Other Freudian believers argued that he was a great scientist.  But was he?  Although most of his works may be considered literary masterpieces, I countered that I did not believe his theories would meet the standards imposed by scientific criteria.  After all, the steps of the scientific method are the following:


Ask a Question

Do Background Research

Construct a Hypothesis

Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

Communicate Your Results






Although Freud may have made observations of human behavior, he really did not go through the procedure of testing his observations, that he wove into theories, by doing experiments.  This criticism is not a new one and has been often made vis-à-vis the social sciences, among which psychology is included.

I then proceeded to discuss the fact that modern linguists see verbal mishaps much like a banana peel in the path of a sentence or accidental shifts of linguistic units.  I pointed out to the group that linguists have shown that language is connected by three networks of the brain: semantic, lexical and phonological.  When Ted Kennedy said the “breast and the brightest” this could simply be a slip known as an anticipation or forward error and not a Freudian slip.  According to Daniel Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard, two conditions that increase the risk of making a Freudian slip are: 1) The thought you’d rather suppress and 2) A stressor, a distraction, time pressure or a competing mental agenda.  I further pointed out to the group that people who are sleep deprived, under the influence of alcohol or some other drug and/or are aging are more likely to make verbal slips than others.

When challenged by some of the audience members to define unconscious, I defined it the way Fischer and Pipp did: “The unconscious is a type of process or way of constructing perception, memories and other kinds of cognition that changes systematically with development.  It is not a portion of the mind.”  This is a much less static view of the mind that Freud had postulated.  One participant contested what I had said because she asserted that Freud had changed his views later on.  But did he alter his view of the id, ego and superego the determinants of human behavior with the ego being the only part of our mind that is within our consciousness?  I don’t think he abandoned these concepts that he believed shared portions of the mind.  These ideas are very much heuristic but by no means can be taken to be empirical.

I concluded my comments by citing the work of Daniel Siegel, who has written two important works:  1) The Developing Mind and 2) Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology.  Siegel states that the “mind is both embodied and embedded in our relational worlds.  It is created in both the body and interactions with others and our environment.  This emergent process arises from energy and information flow across time.  Mental life is an emergent, self-organizing process of this embodied and relational flow of energy and information.”  One of the Freudian devotees in the audience then asked me what you call a psychologist that studies the brain.  I replied a neuropsychologist.  He did not challenge me on my response.  However, I met with much resistance (and not the type that Freud spoke of) to the examples I provided in how present day thinking has disputed many of Freud’s theories.

At the end of the talk, the student that attended the discussion group (who had never come before) walked up to me and thanked me for the information that I had presented.  She was perhaps not so stuck in her thinking like some of the regular participants who have been out of school for some time.  Great damage to our clients can be done if you fit each and every one of them into a Procrustean bed.  When therapists  apply psychoanalytic methods to every client they see, they may lose both a flexible and personalistic appproach, two ingredients that contribute to the quality of the therapeutic relationship.





Michael Kinsley’s Failed Sense of Success

Michael Kinsley’s Failed Sense of Success


I recently read Michael Kinsley’s recent article in the Bloomberg View titled:  Mitt Romney’s Failed Definition of Success.  In this article, Mr. Kinsley attributes Romney’s success due to his being “born to a rich family.”  Mr. Kinsley, in his effort to give a thorough dousing of Mr. Romney and his Republican mates, goes on to attribute success to external factors such as one’s birthright, something you may have gotten from the government or, and finally, simply to pure luck.  As psychologists, we have labeled the internal locus of control as the inner ability of an individual to be motivated to strive for a better life by virtue of self-determination.  However, according to Mr. Kinsley, success is driven by what psychologists have labeled the external locus of control, where the individual has little or no control of the events in his life.  Rather, these events are controlled by outside forces such as luck or, as you may have, fate.


Of course, to some degree Mr. Kinsley’s argument makes sense.  Thus, I can say that I was lucky that I was born in America and not in some other country like Tibet or Bangladesh.  And, it is true, that I had no way of influencing where I was born or to whom my parents were.  But from there to say, as Mr. Kinsley appears to do, that the subsequent successes of an individual have little or nothing to do with that person’s self-drive or self-motivation, I  would maintain is oversimplifying the reality that each one of us confronts in our daily lives.  Certainly, at best such an attitude, that implies an individual’s lack of control over any of the events he/she may face, does not say much for human nature.  With this perspective, free will and the self-determination of an individual contribute little, if anything, to the development of his or her character.


Now let us look at some concrete examples.  Was Michael Kinsley, a democrat, lucky when W.F. Buckley asked him to MC his wonderful show:  Firing Line?  Certainly, Mr. Buckley did not pick Mr. Kinsley because he was a democrat.  He picked him for a number of reasons, some of which, probably were that he had an intelligent and insightful mind and was highly articulate (as, of course, Buckley was).  Mr. Kinsley would probably argue that he was lucky to be born with such “native intelligence.”  But I would argue back by saying that native intelligence, if not cultivated, will have little use in today’s society.   By cultivating what intelligence he had, Mr. Kinsley made a decision, and it is this decision that is rooted in an internal rather than an external locus of control.  President Obama presents us with another very good illustration of where the individual seeks control over his environment rather than chance factors.  Accordingly, I ask was Mr. Obama lucky that his father was from Kenya, and was it mere luck that brought him, a black man, to the highest office in the most powerful and perhaps greatest country in existence today?  Somehow I doubt it.







On Gaddafi’s End

Muammar Gaddafi’s demise brings back a memory etched most deeply in my mind related to the late dictator’s influence on the nation of Libya. It was 1974 and, I was concluding a trip through Europe, staying in Copenhagen. A native of Copenhagen suggested I visit Bornholm, an island off of the coast of Southern Sweden owned by Denmark. It was a trip that was hardly direct but I was up for the adventure: hitchhiking from Copenhagen to Ystad and, from there, taking a ferry to the island of Bornholm.

At my arrival, I met three American males about my age who were about to leave Bornholm. They suggested that I rent a motor scooter and take a trip around the perimeter of the island. They also told me that the youth hostel was a good place to stay inasmuch as it was clean and not too noisy. I followed up on both of their suggestions.

When they left, I realized that, at that time, I was the only American on the island. The youth that were staying there for the summer, some of whom were working, invited me to participate in the community meetings they would have each morning. When I told them I didn’t speak Danish, they told me not to worry as the meetings were conducted in English. However, they did not explain the reason this was so, leaving me quite puzzled. I wondered why young Danes would speak in English, a language that was not their native tongue. I had recalled, some weeks earlier, on this same trip, at the University of Amsterdam in Holland, I had heard some Dutch students at lunch speaking in English with one another. They told me that they enjoyed practicing speaking in English. So, naturally, I immediately thought that the Danes wished to speak in English to improve in their ability to express themselves in English.

However, when I attended the meeting the next morning, I discovered that there were both Danish and German youth all speaking in English. Bornholm was a favorite vacationing spot for Germans often thought of as a Northern Riviera. Inasmuch as I was the only one present that spoke English as a first language, although, I was a guest, I had no difficulty understanding what was going on.

After the meeting I noticed a German youth speaking to a Danish youth in German, but the Danish youth replied in an angry tone telling the German to speak in English. This interaction caused me to ask the Dane if he could speak German. He said “yes.” So I asked him why he didn’t speak to the other fellow in German. He said that “we Danes all speak German but that the German do not speak Danish;” he continued by saying that “we Danes still feel anger toward the Germans due to WWII when Germany occupied Denmark.” Suddenly, the irony dawned on me: A Jewish American male visiting from far off being accommodated in his own language, in part because of what had happened in WWII, and namely, what had happened to Jews. A further irony was my awareness of the King of Denmark, who, rather than giving into the Nazis, unlike other European nations, refused to hand Danish Jews over to them.

During the three days I spent at Bornholm, there was a black male who worked at the hostel I was staying at that appeared to be staring at me in a most unfriendly way. Since he appeared to be doing his job and was polite to everyone he came in contact with, at first, I simply thought I was imagining what I was seeing. But whenever I came back to the hostel, those eyes would beam down on me like lasers with anger and what felt like hate. Inasmuch as I have tendencies to be overly sensitive, I began to dwell on what I might have done to this man, who appeared to be well-liked by the rest of the staff, that was causing the apparent hostility between us. And so, the final day of my stay, as he stared at me relentlessly, I approached him and asked him why he appeared so angry at me. He looked at me and with blood in his eye asked me: “Where do you come from?” Without giving me a chance to respond, he said: “You have no home or place that is yours. You are a stranger.”

When he asked me again where I come from, I decided to give him as concrete an answer as I could, perhaps to add levity to the situation with the hope of decreasing his anger and replied: “My mother.”
He looked surprised for a moment as I repeated, more clearly, “I come from my mother.” He looked at me and said: “No you don’t, you’re a Jew.” When he said that, my first impulse was one of relief inasmuch as I understood that I had not committed any action causing his ire. Somewhat shaken, I asked him where he came from. His response was Libya and that Colonel Gaddafi was his leader. The little I knew about Gaddafi was that, as a leader, he was not particularly friendly toward Israel or Jews, in general.

What happened afterwards is memorable. He offered me a beer and suggested we go for a walk and talk. I have no idea what I did to cause this with the exception of offering my mother up as my birthright and, who knows, perhaps a peace offering. And so we walked and talked and, at the end, shook hands just prior to my departure from Bornholm. Perhaps in seeing me in the flesh, I no longer represented the ENEMY but was now, like him, just another human being and, to my amazement, a human connection appeared to dispel a lifelong ingrained stereotype.


The Rational Man in a Sea of Irrationality

The recent fight over the deficit problem between the democrats, as represented by President Barack Obama, and the Republicans, as represented by Speaker of the House, John Boehner gives us both a look at our leaders today and the problems we face as a country.   As a mediator, I always try and assist the opposing  parties in seeing how an agreement will better their lives even with compromise.  In reality, no one gets exactly what they want in a mediation unlike the result of a trial where the defendant either wins or loses his/her case.   However, both the Republicans and the Democrats appear to believe that they each  hold the solution to the complex problems we as a nation face making the game they are in:  Win-Lose.

David Brooks’ recent article, The Magic Lever, published in the New York Times on July 12, makes a very cogent and timely point: “Bankers, Democaratic Keynesians and staunch Republicans have one thing in common:  They all believe they have identified the magic lever.  They believe they can control their economic fate.”   Mr. Brooks then goes on to point out the fallacies of such oversimplified thinking.  

Not long ago one of the biggest ideologues, Alan Greenspan, confessed to Congress, that his belief in minimal government intervention with no regulations imposed in the private sector, is the best way to run an economy had been proven wrong.   Being a fan of Ayn Rand myself, this was difficult news for me to bear.   Unfortunately, an economy where there is no interference from the government, does not take into consideration the human motivation of greed and deception.  And so the bubble of greed and deception, as seen in past subprime mortagages, exploded, causing the present crisis that so many homeowners today are facing. 

On the other hand, John Maynard Keynes, who supported strong government interventions, was once asked what do we do in the long run?  Mr. Keynes was said to have replied;  “In the long run we’ll all be dead.”  Of course, the long run, in his mind, did not include our children and their children. 

Perhaps our leaders should ask that famous question  posed by Fisher and Ury in their classic work, Getting to Yes: “What is the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”  One of these alternatives is not raising the debt ceiling.  Is it worth clinging to one’s views and not compromising with the outcome being America very possibly defaulting on its debt.  I don’t think so and neither does David Brooks.  What I like about Mr. Brooks is that when there is an impending crisis, he refuses to take the easy way out:  That is to blame the other side.  Rather, he sees the muddiness of, if you will,  Reality, and through this muddiness, understands the importance of compromise.   The truth of the matter is that the current complexities of the world will not get simpler in the future.  Given this fact, perhaps we all should step back for a moment and recognize that the economic assumptions made by our political biases may not always be correct.  Mr. Greenspan learned this.  It would be a step forward in the progress of the present conversation on the debt ceiling, if more of our leaders, that include both the President and Mr. Boehner, would allow their crystal clear vision of the future take on a few grains of realistic mud.

1984 Revisited

1984 Revisited

The events of the past few weeks in the Middle East are a welcome counter to the very famous book, 1984, written by George Orwell.  Orwell began the book in 1944, completed it in 1948, and it was published shortly after in 1949.  It is the bleak tale of a Winston Smith who lives in the ruins of London, subsequent to a global atomic war.  He is approximately 39 in the year the story takes place.

The society that Winston lives in is tripartite consisting of the Proles that make up 85% of the population.  The Outer Party, of which Winston is a member, and finally, the Inner Party, that totals less than 2 % of the population.  But it is this latter part of the population headed by Big Brother that rules the country with an iron hand.  The Inner Party is privy to information that the other two segments of society cannot access.  The manner in which the Party presides over the populace is by distorting language using such slogans as WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, AND IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.


Unlike 1984, where information to the people is both stifled and distorted, the Internet allowed Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager for the Middle East and North Africa, to show how an Egyptian businessman, Khaled Said, had been beaten to death by the police.  He was killed by the police because he had been trying to show police corruption on YouTube.  Just as in 1984, the Inner Party ruled by lies, Egyptian authorities tried to cover up the cause of death of Mr. Said.  However, Mr. Ghonim was able to show the visual evidence of Said’s face from the morgue and then, subsequently, he posted the pictures on a Facebook page.  Facebook, as we all know, has some 500 million members.

Attempts by Hosni Mubarak to prevent the masses from having access to the Internet were too late.  The message had been received by the people.  Whether or not open access to the social media will result in a greater democratic world remains to be seen.  However, what is clear is that it will be more difficult for those in power to hide acts of corruption given the ease and speed in which information can be passed through cyberspace.

The New Order of Wealth

Last week on 60 minutes, Scott Pelley interviewed Melina Gates.  As is common knowledge, she is married to the wealthiest man on the planet, Bill Gates.  But as Mr. Pelley pointed out she was not adorned with any fancy diamonds or extravagant dress.  When she was asked about this, she simply said that fancy clothes and jewels are not a priority for her.  Rather, she and Bill are interested in using their money in ways that would minimize human misery such as wiping out malaria in the countries where it existed and reducing infant mortality by importing medical technology to the countries that need it most.

I have little doubt that Melinda really believed in what she was saying.  What I found quite ironic, however, was seeing a woman unmoved by the opportunity of having  whatever precious stone her heart desired.  Though the extrinsic value of such a possession is obviously great, I  wondered what exactly is its intrinsic value, that is the value the bearer of such a gem gives to it.  To Melinda, the intrinsic value of such an item would not be great.

I can only imagine that wearing a piece of fine jewelry might make a woman feel good about herself.  Certainly, as a status symbol it may reflect the position in society this woman has attained.  This was the theme of that very famous short story, The Necklace, written by Guy De Maupassant in the 19th century, the ending of which I shall not reveal.  But really have things changed much at all now that we are in the 21st century?  I doubt it.

Melinda does not have to wear a diamond necklace to be invited to an important social event like the protagonist, who in Maupassant’s story, believed would bring her acceptance.  No, Melinda knows she will be accepted and it is perhaps this realization that makes such an adornment almost a superficiality to her.  This is not to denigrate Ms. Gates’ intentions for without a doubt there are women that have wealth that I am sure enjoy diamonds.  But it points more to the fact that she is able to look beyond something that she can have, at the toss of a hat, in trying to achieve a much more significant goal: Increasing the welfare of the human race.

Are Melinda and Bill Gates’ contributions  an anomaly or do they represent a shift in the way people view their wealth? It is too early to tell.  But perhaps with the help of that other billionaire, Warren Buffett, the status of materialistic things such as sports cars, jewels or mansions will become less valued in the future.  This would be a shift perhaps of greater import than the changes brought on by the information age that have created the huge  pockets of wealth in today’s society


The Wealth of Curiosity

I am a new member interested in sharing my views of the world with those of us that still have a keen curiosity.  Years ago when I was assisting in raising my godson after his father passed away, I will never forget all of the questions that he would ask me, from why is the sky blue (a question I could not answer) to why different stores looked the way they did.  While driving with him,  I barely could travel one block in the car without him asking a question.  Until I realized that this was a way in which he was attaining information and learning about his surroundings, at first I found his questions a bit annoying.  But afterwards, I encouraged him to ask and seek information without giving up on the questions as a means for him to understand more about the world in which he lived. 

I believe his inquiring mind is a thing that so many of us lose with age.  It is a key that all of us possess as children but later lose as adults.  Perhaps the answer to many of the problems in current society is the openness that we can discover once more as adults in the seeking of new knowledge and information.  One tool to accomplish this goal is through the Internet, and more specifically, through blogs of this nature.