Thursday, August 18, 2005

Third-Way Psychology

[Cross-posted at AmbivaBlog]

Mark Satin at Radical Middle celebrates two psychologists -- and fine writers -- who bring a centrist sensibility, both tough and tender, stand-up and searching, to the argument for the examined life:
[Robert] Karen’s . . . elegant essay "Shame" was featured in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1992. . . . [H]is latest book [is] The Forgiving Self: The Road from Resentment to Connection (2001) . . . .

Karen worked as a journalist in New York before settling on psychology as a profession; Terrence Real spent his entire 20s messing around and writing unpublished fiction. Now he’s a member of the senior faculty at the Family Institute of Cambridge, Mass., and author of two books that are richer and more moving than anything you’ll find on the contemporary fiction shelves today . . .

I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression
(1997) [follow the link to see the awesome reader reviews this book gets from men], and
How Can I Get Through to You?: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women (2002) . . .

[T]heir written work is driving at exactly the same things, the same hard psychological truths we need to know now. (Is it only a coincidence that both of them write beautifully? Karen writes like Chekhov, quiet, delicate, haunting, and Real writes like Dreiser, his prose driven by huge gusts of emotion you can only marvel at.

(And is it only an accident that both of them share personal stories in their books, a practice still somewhat frowned upon by Important Professionals from the Northeast? Or that both of them end books watching over their dying fathers and mourning the connections that were never made, never there?
Here are just a few of their good ideas (much more at Radical Middle):

Third way. Satin writes:
Both Real and Karen reject the extremes of the dominant culture. Real strives to avoid both "manipulation" and "accommodation." Karen . . . laments both the "political correctness of the left" and the "moral righteousness of the right." Real’s guiding vision is pure radical middle:
Now more than ever, in this uneasy time of transition, men and women in our society must be encircled by a third force, larger than partisanship to either sex, a vision beyond blame, nostalgia, or platitudes about immutable differences. . . . This is not feminist work, any more than it is “masculinist.” It is the next step for all of us.
(I've been hearing a lot about Terrence Real and his bracing road map to that "next step" from my close friend Dalma Heyn, who quotes him in her forthcoming book about the last stumbling blocks before the next step, Drama Kings: The Men Who Drive Strong Women Crazy.)

Fathers and Sons. There's been much theorizing on both the left and right about what boys need from their fathers -- some arcane transmission of masculinity. Terrence Real has one shockingly simple word for it. "Affection."

An End to Victim-Think. "Karen argues that 'we collude in or have some sort of responsibility for much of what befalls us.'"

Embracing Complexity and Ambivalence. Satin again:
Real wants us to acknowledge that closeness will always trigger discomfort, even trauma -- it’s "inescapable in close relationships" -- and that we need to learn to give our partners "space to recoup."

Karen says that "openness to complexity" is a big part of personal growth, not to mention mental health. His book on forgiveness teaches that a "totally forgiving posture is neither possible nor desirable" . . .

Real says we never really resolve grief, we simply learn to live with it. [Whew! At long last, we can get some closure on closure!] He also says we get "something" in a relationship but not "everything," and that the question we need to be asking ourselves is always, "Are you getting enough?" If you are getting enough, then you’ve got to learn to mourn what you’re not getting -- not resent your partner for not having it to give.

Karen is equally accepting of ambivalence and imperfection. You’ll have ambivalent feelings in any relationship, he says. Not everything can be therapized away. The "ability to live with ambivalence -- with both love and hate but with the love predominating -- is perhaps what most distinguishes the forgiving from the unforgiving personality."
At the end of the piece, Satin makes a provocative leap from psychology to politics, claiming that only "a psychology that’s in love with complexity, ambivalence, and connection" can undergird a politics of listening, negotiation, and inclusion.

Call it . . . nuance with cojones.


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