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Not all it is hyped up to be,
This review is from: The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves (Paperback)
Jewish Hampstead psychoanalyst tells us simple doctor’s stories about home truths. South Kensington bookshop has it number one on its personal recommendations shelf with a small scribbled note about illuminating stories.
Some of the stories gripped me, some washed by me. They all seemed quite simple, like limpid water, yet ran through my hands and my memory. Even though several are titled carefully with the moral of the tale, to help you: ‘a passion for ignorance’; ‘the bigger the front’; ‘how negativity prevents our surrender to love’. There are some useful home truths here.
These are patients who Grosz saw often five days a week, often over years, delving deep. He often goes back to the trauma of childhood, memories unearthed gradually – a child not being allowed home from boarding school when she was having a breakdown; a child who takes on the projected anxieties and problems of the parents, is the problem child when the problem may be the parents.
Some of the stories include:
• The boy beaten as a child, who called out to his mother to stop, who now retreats to the imaginary safe house through a magic door inside his head
• The man who says he has to accept being alone – that when he becomes part of a couple he wants every excuse to escape, feels he’s disappearing, dying, losing his mind, but nevertheless is lonely and needs the psychiatrist to talk to
• The woman who does not want to face up to the fact that her husband is having an affair – who wants the psychiatrist to pin the problem down
• The man who stays with his wife despite finally acting on the knowledge that he is gay – his wife is his friend
• The man who flirts with danger in response to his wife having a baby – because he is jealous of the closeness his wife and baby share.
Grosz’s accounts very much include the psychiatrist and his reactions to his patients. He is there throughout, even if he is keeping quiet and sitting behind the patient so they cannot see his face. He even tells the story of taking his father back to the villages he ran away from Hitler – the many ghosts, his father’s silences, the unbearable that you do not want to transmit to your children.
Grosz has behaved ethically – he has discussed his text with each of the patients described – partly to ensure anonymity. But in the end, the very personal nature of the doctor’s observations as well as the intimate knowledge of the patient, makes it seem even more strange than ever that psychoanalysis is based on a one-sided transaction – one way revelation. The patient wants to ask the other human being in the room a question, she wants to know what he is thinking, but that is not allowed because this is psychoanalysis, not friendship. Only in the book is there the payback – we see and hear both people in the room.