NCSPP

Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

POTENTIAL SPACE: JANE REINGOLD, MFT

TRUTH AND LIES: BARBARA SULLIVAN ON FREUD, JUNG, AND BEYOND

We are fundamentally truth-seeking and truth-evading beings. We lie to evade distressing truths. These statements were the central theme of Barbara Stevens Sullivan's presentation at "Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung: Collaboration, Polarization and Post-Modern Analysis," a conference hosted by the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco last November. In her paper, "Truth and Lies," Sullivan stated, "the drive to see the truth and the drive to protect oneself from pain meet a given person's particular capacity to bear his suffering, and the result is a compromise between truth and lies." Sullivan proceeded to lay down the historical foundation of these thoughts through the evolution of theoretical work from Freud to Jung to Bion.

Sullivan talked about the shift from a 19th century ethos of certainty and the concept of a knowable world to a time when the discovery of atoms blew apart any sense of a finite set of "Eternal Laws." She spoke of a philosophical evolution over time that challenged the centrality of Freud's pleasure principle and the notion that we are thrust toward truth through our confrontation with reality. In contrast to Freud, Jung asserted that truth could not be fully represented by facts of an internal reality, that the energy of the psyche could not be defined, and that the quest to find one's true self was an instinct he called "the individuation drive"; in the Jungian model, one is in a process of always becoming. Bion, furthering the trend toward deconstruction, talked about truth-seeking as a process of navigating internal and external worlds called the "K link." Sullivan explained that this type of knowing is about being open to the truth of the moment, "in the full recognition of the impossibility of ever knowing that truth fully."

Sullivan also reminded us that all humans distort reality. To tolerate this level of truth-seeking is to understand that nothing can be known definitively. Although there is a feeling of safety associated with certainty and knowing, Sullivan stated, "the quest for safety leads us to stomp out our own growing edge, because that edge, that aspect of the self that can develop, is a vulnerable, unformed creature that is capable of growth precisely because she is not yet solid and knowing. If I am right and sure, I have nowhere new to go. I have arrived."

Finally, Sullivan argued that reality cannot be pinned down with certainty since all experience is inherently emotional. Referring again to Bion, Sullivan characterized emotions as the link between our conscious selves and our unconscious depths, as well as between people. Our ability to tolerate the unknown and seek, to truly be curious about ourselves, is also dependent on our attachment models and our ability to tolerate inter-dependence. "Who am I? Is there a stable me?" Sullivan asked. As we define ourselves, we are always changing. As we struggle with becoming ourselves, we are also able to hold possibility, curiosity, and a deep understanding of this painful process for our patients. As Sullivan said, "Our life-work of becoming who we really are is work against Nature, but it is our nature to be at war with our nature." Sullivan's work reminds us that our own work as therapists is located in our capacity to share our patients' questions, challenges, and possibilities for the development and pursuit of an ever-changing truth as it is sought -- and evaded -- in our ongoing work.

Jane Reingold, MFT
Impulse Staff Writer