La psychanalyse du vendredi

Thank you for all of your instruction and guidance in my education and my post graduation plans. While your classes at first intimidated me, the challenges they present have become a pleasure, and in the end, I find they have been defining of my time at Vichy State. Your attitude and expectations have always encouraged me to go beyond the conventional and, most importantly, to think, think, think.

–from a nice note I got today

Intimidated. But the thing is that I am intimidated, and if I am intimidating I think it is because I am myself terrified due to having been terrorized. Still, despite being terrified I must manage not to feel terrified because this way I am intimidating and it does not serve me well.

On my teaching thread (I am in an online discussion group on teaching under my real name) a full professor in the UC system is telling me that smart means scary and the issue is fragile egos. I think this is a useful comment. I tend to think I am some sort of criminal: I have done terrible things to people that I do not understand or remember. But it may be that I have not done anything except be smart.

Since I think I have done something awful that I did not realize was awful and do not remember, I am on edge all the time, hoping not to commit the crime again and concerned I may be told I have. This feeling that I may be accused of terrible things at any time, that there may be no defense, and that there may be terrible torture sessions ahead, is quite undermining to say the least.

The worst of it is half believing I am truly monstruous and do not know it. If I consider the possibility that mine is just a case of “smart means scary” then I might be able to relax more and actually be less scary.

I tend to think my impression that we are in a prison camp has to do with things that happened to me earlier on and that I have not shaken. While that is true in part, there are significant aspects of current real life which actually have these characteristics. Someone told me yesterday, for example, that we were constantly under a new threat or new state of siege. This is also worth understanding.

In psychotherapy we were encouraged to “look at ourselves,” to remember that things that are wrong are usually wrong within ourselves, and we were told that political critique is nothing but “blaming others” and “not taking responsibility.” I did not realize at the time that these phrases were not therapeutic phrases but were taken out of a 12-step handbook, and that the therapist was a 12-stepper (I was not familiar with this wicked movement) and was modeling his role as therapist on that of his “sponsor” in CODA or whatever branch of 12-stepping he was in.

What intimidated the therapist was that we were smart, and we were already self-aware. I decided to keep an open mind and did not quit as soon as the other friends I had, and who had been referred to the same person, did. As a result of this he was able to convince me that something was very deeply wrong with me. But I think it was just that I was smart. I think that now, the combination of being smart and also being convinced that this is a terrible moral sin, and being preoccupied with the idea that the smartnesss must be chopped down somehow the way a lethal and difficult to control animal might be chained, is disfiguring.

“…how we learned to limit ourselves” is a quotation I can explain and want to remember. It describes my experience in psychotherapy but also in the non-R1 zones of the academic world. It is a sin to be who you are; the reason it is a sin is that it hurts people. I have dreams in which I am searching for my victims, the people I have maimed and killed, because I am convinced they must exist, I have been told so. But perhaps not– perhaps they are just the people who were intimidated because I was smart, not because I was mean, and perhaps they are not maimed or killed but hale and healthy and engaged in torturing me.

So this is how I will now reform. 1. Consider the possibility that “intimidation” is the problem of the intimidated, not my problem. 2. Consider the possibility that I might not actually be mean, I might just be smart. 3. Act with confidence. Act as I do when I know I have backing. Since I have no backing, imagine myself as my own backing. Stop believing it is true that I have hurt someone terribly and must make it up to them by destroying myself. Stop believing that even a minor, civil disagreement means I will be dragged to torture chambers. Stop reacting with fear; be the person I suddenly transform into when I am in larger cities or universities, places where I feel adequately safe.

Honestly. I think I really am intimidating and I think it is because I am so intimidated. (And: amusing side note — that same psychotherapist was always haranguing, out of the blue, about how we had to “get more honest.” I had difficulty understanding this because truly, I am about the least duplicitous person I know and have even been told, not inaccurately, that I am “sincere to a fault.” But can you believe that I, willing to psychoanalyze myself in the open like this, ever took seriously the psychotherapeutic intimation that I, who am amazingly honorable, might be “dishonest,” “not taking responsibility,” and “not willing to consider the possibility that I might have faults” … ?)



8 thoughts on “La psychanalyse du vendredi

  1. P.S. on topic of real world vs this world and having to have a foot in both:

    A colleague in sciences was pushed out. Big publisher. Had one piece published and then discovered there was an error in data, and withdrew piece. University apparently decided it was some kind of academic dishonesty, something like data manipulation. I asked someone else what was happening, was this normal or true, and they said that “in the real world” discovering an error and withdrawing the piece would not be considered dishonest.

  2. Other people to consult generally: 2 in dept x and 1 in dept y. Remember this. Also dept z, the one who is on that committee, although this person may not be senior enough to know what I need to know. Still: worth a try. Reach Out.

  3. ALSO of note: one day a couple of weeks ago I noticed I was feeling safe. I am not the type to feel unsafe so noticing that I was feeling safe and that this was really pleasant and unusual and important was surprising.

    Conclusion: in this town and this university, I constantly feel unsafe. I don’t notice it, or I discount it because I am not concerned for physical safety and the feeling of being in danger dissipates anytime I get outside the city limits. But the fact is, evidently, that I don’t feel safe here. In fact, I feel like a rabbit or other small animal, running along in the underbrush and trying to survive unseen, panting under some grass when really scared, when not, as I keep famously saying, a torture victim in their cell between sessions and who has begun to believe they actually are guilty.

    (I fantasize about being in a war zone: if I were in a war and knew it, it would be dangerous and bad but at least we would KNOW it, and I could say all right, it is dangerous and we must be courageous, as opposed to do as I do now, which is to tell myself that the place should not be dangerous and that if I feel it is, then I must be imagining it, and I must be malicious or insane.)

  4. I agree that students are intimidated by smart people, or as I sometimes think of it, they are intimidated by someone who models being a thinking person, and seems to require it of them. But after years of teaching I still find the “deer in the headlights” looks from some of my students disconcerting. It makes me want to flee the room.

  5. Gosh, yes, one can get a reputation for being “scary” just by expecting others to use their own brains.

    I find this in work where we have a regular churn of new graduates who have to pick up the detail of a complicated system ‘on-the-job’, and lots of them later tell me that I am intimidating to begin with, although I just want them to meet me halfway, as I’m really very helpful! I’ve taken to telling potential applicants on open days: “The key quality is adaptability. We don’t care what you know; we care that you can learn. Quickly. *serious face*” I figure it’s best to be upfront about it, at least.

    1. Yes! Actually, telling them it is this way on the job would be a good response to certain kinds of complaining. 🙂

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