How do we first begin to experience love? Perhaps as babies, as early psychoanalysts Fairbairn and Guntrip believed, the only way we could feel loved was by having our needs met. The language of bodily transformation was the language of love. Mommy feeds us, changes our diaper or picks us up and we feel satisfied. This feeling of satisfaction and security may be the early equivalent to feeling loved. Love becomes represented by how satisfied and safe our caretakers make us feel; how easily and well they transform our bad feelings into good ones. As a result, I believe that we continue throughout life believing on a primal level that our loved ones show us that they love us by meeting our needs, and as a result, how well they meet our needs indicates how lovable we are. This is the way we reason, early in life.
Do you ever feel hunger, craving or yearning gnawing at your soul? I do and I know many others who do as well. The “condition” may noiselessly exist, only subtly tinting our lens of experience. Oftentimes though this hunger is the loud and demanding engine that drives our lives so that we are always craving, reaching and suffering. Buddhism even has a whole realm of existence dedicated to this concept: the realm of the hungry ghost. Hungry ghosts are depicted as having large stomachs and extremely constricted throats, disabling their abilities to take in nourishment, and eternally sentencing them to unsatisfied and insatiable craving and longing. Psychoanalysts W. Ronald D. Fairbairn and Harry Guntrip also addressed the dialectical relationship between longing and fear, and our tendencies to adhesively attach ourselves to unsatisfying relationships and actions, making it impossible to trust and take in true nourishment. We are born with a powerful and healthy life force that drives us toward human connection. Through early disappointment and trauma, this healthy force becomes twisted into insatiable desire and craving and we replace healthy connections (with both ourselves and others) with activities and relationships that quickly soothe the pain, but do not transform it. If you feel this way, you are not alone. According to Lama Surya Das, when a student asked Thich Nhat Hanh, “What is life like in the realm of the hungry ghosts?”, he replied, “America”. Turn on your television, open a magazine or start-up your computer and you will see all the shiny remedies to your pain and loneliness.
To preface, I am not Anthony Weiner’s psychotherapist, psychologist, psychoanalyst, or hypnotist, but I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the facets of this mega faux pas and use this event as a “teachable moment”, a way of exploring psychological ideas.
Now, I do not know Congressman Weiner, so I don’t profess to know AT ALL, what was and is going through his mind. Even if I did know him, I’m sure there is such a panoply of potential explanations and rationalizations for his behavior that we could theorize for days and weeks and months, and still not know. Any understanding of his psyche will only occur within the private and secure bounds of his own therapy, painstakingly discovered through a dedicated and authentic process. We will never know. Hopefully he will articulate, for himself, a narrative that will help him express and rework these longings, fears and compulsions. I don’t know him, and I am not trying to figure him out– my friends and patients will tell you that I tend to believe it is a futile exercise to make any attempt to decode the meaning of a another man’s behavior. Let’s just use our imaginations and play and try to learn about how the mind works.