In the analytic setting, patients enter with multiple complex transference reactions which are activated by predictable stimuli and which serve as the core of their weltanschauung or worldview. Since these transference reactions and the related worldview are intimately interwoven through the character, they are quite difficult to alter. The inertiai quality of the meta-stable, maladaptive transference (along with other attributes of the character, such as the person's typical defensive style) are why Freud coined the term resistance* to explain the puzzling reality that when patients were shown their maladaptive patterns they continued to persist in repeating them. Often, the process of interpretation turns into a marathon where little by little the neurotic construct is chipped away. The analyst points out where and how the patient's maladaptive patterns appear, including most usefully within the treatment; sometimes the resolution occurs slowly as the particular character structure fades away but occasionally there is a dramatic moment of insight. An example:
Mr. P was a brilliant Ph.D. candidate who entered treatment after his Ph.D. committee chair told him he was risking failure if he did not become more actively involved in his work. In the first few weeks of his treatment we learned that he was the only son of a successful, highly competitive Academic, and a brittle, alternately distant and intrusive "hausfrau." His father was absent for long periods of time and during those times his mother turned to him for comfort and solace, often in ways which made the young boy acutely uncomfortable, though he never knew just what made him so uncomfortable. When his father was around, his mother ignored him and catered to his father. His father was quite competitive with his young son, whose genius was identified quite early in his schooling. As a boy my patient could never quite do well enough to escape comparisons with his father, who had always done something equivalent but more difficult.
By the time Mr. P entered treatment, he had an interesting adult history. He had had a series of unhappy romances, which often failed when he found himself unable to commit. He had initially planned on going to Medical School but for unclear reasons did so poorly in Organic Chemistry that he had to change his plans. He was curiously reluctant to explore why and how he had failed Organic Chemistry, the key course in a pre-med curriculum.
It was during the second year of his treatment that the salient events took place. It had become clear that Mr. P was intensely competitive with me, though he denied it at every turn. His competitiveness was revealed by his characteristic response to almost any comment I offered. For example, when I noted that his current relationship was on the way to failing because his was once again finding it difficult to fully commit himself to the young woman in question, he responded, "you are right of course, but you should know that just because she seems right for me that doesn't mean you know everything about her. In fact, I think she isn't as attractive as I once thought." In other words, whatever my interpretation, it was never on target but always was met with a "yes, but" revealing the limitations of my knowledge and understanding.
As time went on I became convinced that Mr. P, for reason of which he was completely unaware, was committed to failing. Despite all his anguish when he fell short of his conscious goals, he always managed to do just enough to undermine his incipient success. I began to point this out. When I would notice him setting himself up, I would mention that if he, for example, blew off the graduate seminar he was scheduled for it would increase the likelihood of his failing. He gave me inumerable opportunities for such interpretations. Finally, after several months of this, as events were approaching a crescendo in his school, and after a more than usually trivial "yes, but" I commented that it seemed to me that he was now committed to failing at his therapy. If he managed to destroy my words to him with his typical "but" he would render me powerless to help him work out his problems and guarantee failure. He would fail with me and fail in graduate school. He was atypically silent for quite some time and then spoke in a quite, quavering voice, "I have been committed to failing my whole life. If I fail here I will have nothing and will never have anything.' This was the first time Mr. P had ever shown emotion in the office. It was a profound moment, which he later called the beginning of his analysis.
This began the core of Mr. P's work in therapy. We were able to do a great deal of work in understanding the roots of his self-destruction and ultimately he was able to gain his Ph.D., find a reasonably healthy relationship, and move ahead with his life.
In my conception of the process whereby Mr. P gained greater mental freedom and unshackled himself from the unconscious strictures that had crippled him, I thought of the maladaptive structure "commitment to failure" as akin to the camel in the fable. Each interpretation by itself was too small to slow or stop the camel, but eventually, as enough straws were piled onto the camel's back, the dysfunctional pattern, the neural network if you will, suddenly collapsed; a period of disorganization ensued and a new, more stable, healthier structure was able to emerge from underneath to take its place.
In my example the camel is a dysfunctional structure. However the same sudden collapse of current structures can occur in a more disturbing direction. An inadequate human being, blessed with decent intelligence, offered all that this nation has to offer, continually falls upward in a politically correct environment. Yet even while he is falling upward he is constantly adding straws to his camel's back. In his case the camel is a pseudo-normal persona; this false self becomes increasingly burdened with the straw of radical, hate filled, Islam, until the false self collapses and his true self emerges, ready to perform his Islamic duty and become a hero to the Ummah.
There is one more place where such a collapse of a meta-stable construct is going to occur. Each Muslim terror attack is an interpretation, a straw on the back of the multicultural "diversity" camel. When the executive function prefers to redouble its resistance and defenses against reality, the pressure form underneath builds with each additional straw.
[I am not implying that I know which face of the terrorist is his "real" self versus his "false" self (a complex question to begin with, in terms of all the integrated selves that make up who we are). That is for the Forensic Psychiatrists to determine. The available evidence suggests he does indeed see himself as a (radical) Muslim first, not an American.]
Sadly when meta-stable structures collapse there is no way to predict in advance what new structure will take its place. Americans have weathered many difficult crises in our almost 250 years. We have come close to collapse on more than one occasion and have come to the worst on one occasion. I continue to believe in the common sense and reservoir of reason in the body politic and that the most likely outcome of the collapse of the PC structure will be a wave election next year and a new President in 2012. Unfortunately as long as our elites continue to behave in ways removed from reality, insisting we should be more concerned with fantasized Islamophobia than with the murder of our brave young military men and women, anger will percolate below the surface, intensifying with each additional straw.
*This is not a technically correct definition of resistance but captures the process elements better, for my purposes.