State and so­ci­ety are in­un­dated with pain

The ca­pac­ity to tol­er­ate men­tal agony must be de­vel­oped, writes FRAN­COIS RA­BIE

Business Day - - HEALTH & WELLNESS - Ra­bie is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in pri­vate prac­tice and a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg.

SA EX­ISTS in a con­di­tion of pre­dictable in­sta­bil­ity. The state func­tions along a sim­i­lar psy­chic tra­jec­tory as seen in the per­son­al­ity con­di­tion known as bor­der­line or­gan­i­sa­tion. Di­ag­nos­ti­cally, this means chronic emo­tional dis­reg­u­la­tion (poorly mod­u­lated emo­tional re­sponse), re­la­tional in­sta­bil­ity, strug­gles to man­age self-im­age; im­pul­siv­ity, in­tense anger and at times high anx­i­ety — symp­toms of a para­noid na­ture that could regress to psy­chotic ex­pe­ri­ences where ex­ter­nal re­al­ity becomes sub­verted in the ser­vice of fur­ther­ing a warped in­ter­nal re­al­ity.

The causes are many. A ma­jor fea­ture is trauma. Re­search shows this goes along with some type of mis­man­aged early emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, the ef­fects of which build over time so that op­ti­mal psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms are not de­vel­oped.

Con­di­tions such as poverty, so­cial up­heaval and per­verse ma­te­rial ne­glect also con­trib­ute to peo­ple grow­ing up with mal­adap­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms be­cause the ob­ject pro­vid­ing care — the mother or mother sub­sti­tute — is her­self psy­cho­log­i­cally over­stretched. The state can also be seen as such a mother fig­ure.

In SA, the gov­ern­ment sys­tem in­clud­ing paras­tatals, main­tains chronic in­sta­bil­ity. Why? Be­cause the bor­der­line per­son­al­ity un­con­sciously re­quires chronic tur­bu­lence and up­heaval. So­ci­ety too ex­presses bor­der­line pathol­ogy be­cause state and so­ci­ety act as mir­rors for each other.

Psy­cho­log­i­cally speak­ing, emo­tional tur­moil has be­come an “ob­ject of de­sire”, to quote the psy­cho­an­a­lyst Christo­pher Bol­las. Emo­tional up­heavals are com­fort­ing be­cause they are known.

Race is an ob­ject of de­sire. How can we live in a non­ra­cial so­ci­ety when the very idea of it is needed by the gov­ern­ment un­con­sciously to fuel bor­der­line pathol­ogy? This does not mean we should not have painful or dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions about race. How­ever, the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal power struc­ture de­fines the scope of the con­ver­sa­tion in such a way as to per­pet­u­ate patho­log­i­cal de­sire and con­nec­tion to race be­cause it has emo­tional lever­age.

The bor­der­line or­gan­i­sa­tion of the state came into sharp fo­cus dur­ing #FeesMustFa­ll. Due to the de­vel­op­men­tal se­quence coded for this per­son­al­ity dis­po­si­tion, psy­chic mech­a­nisms can come into play that fa­cil­i­tate a longed-for jour­ney where re­al­ity becomes dis­so­ci­ated from the in­ter­nal world due to high anx­i­ety and in­ter­nal con­flict.

The state, to draw on the work of psy­cho­an­a­lyst Wil­fred Bion, en­gages in K, where K (knowl­edge: emo­tional know­ing) is at­tacked to block re­al­ity.

WHEN stu­dents marched on Par­lia­ment and the Union Build­ings, the state demon­strated K with a de­fen­sive re­treat to fan­tasy and re­fus­ing to know some­thing. Most South African stu­dents can­not af­ford a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and are poor. This stands in per­verse con­trast to se­nior em­ploy­ees of the state, who live in a world of grotesque wealth.

To main­tain the split, the peo­ple with their hands on the lev­ers of power en­gaged in a psy­chic re­treat: Finance Min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene con­tin­ued with his bud­get speech, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was driven off in his mo­tor­cade and Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande cut a small fig­ure as he stood be­hind the iron gates of Par­lia­ment, over­whelmed by the sight of re­al­ity in front of him.

In ad­di­tion, the bor­der­line state en­gages in “pro­jec­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion”, in which trou­bling as­pects of the self are dis­owned and pro­jected onto an­other per­son. The more vi­o­lently you project, the more you fear re­tal­i­a­tion from the ob­ject you are pro­ject­ing into.

The state ex­ists in a mode of psy­chic re­al­ity, where it per­ceives an en­emy — con­crete, such as “the West” or “white cap­i­tal­ism”, or dif­fuse, such as any­body op­posed to the na­tional demo­cratic rev­o­lu­tion — as ex­ist­ing to scut­tle an im­age of SA that only the African Na­tional Congress can pro­vide. The pro­jec­tion ex­ists to dis­charge fear­ful and anx­i­ety-filled feel­ings.

Cer­tain psy­cho­log­i­cal the­o­ries place ag­gres­sion at the cen­tre of psy­chic devel­op­ment. Good enough devel­op­ment con­tains the ag­gres­sion, which opens up psy­cho­log­i­cal space for cre­ativ­ity.

When con­tain­ment fails — when the mother or ob­ject of care can­not ad­e­quately make mean­ing of the child’s in­evitable ag­gres­sion — fear and anx­i­ety take up the psy­cho­log­i­cal space. This is termed “an­ni­hi­la­tion anx­i­ety”, a process in which fears of be­ing over­whelmed, un­able to cope and of los­ing con­trol take shape and adap­ta­tion fails. This can es­ca­late to the point of fear­ing dis­in­te­gra­tion.

THE cur­rent po­lit­i­cal process seems to be ac­ti­vat­ing an­ni­hi­la­tion anx­i­eties for the state and the rul­ing party.

The link be­tween ag­gres­sion, an­ni­hi­la­tion and the ex­pres­sion thereof prob­a­bly has no bet­ter ex­am­ple in postaparth­eid SA than the Marikana mas­sacre. The fears the state faces re­lat­ing to its strug­gles to gov­ern found bru­tal ex­pres­sion when the po­lice acted as an ex­ten­sion of the se­nior struc­tures of the state.

South African so­ci­ety is awash with men­tal pain, as is the state. The ca­pac­ity to tol­er­ate men­tal pain must be de­vel­oped. If this can­not hap­pen, growth and the abil­ity to tol­er­ate con­tra­dic­tions and con­flict and ex­pand the ca­pac­ity for thought and re­flec­tion becomes im­paired. Men­tal pain is a psy­cho­log­i­cal guar­an­tee.

The state, in its cur­rent mode of re­lat­ing, is de­fen­sively try­ing to by­pass this men­tal pain and ex­ists in a state of al­most psy­chotic om­nipo­tence. The re­sult is patho­log­i­cal de­flec­tions lead­ing to pre­dictable in­sta­bil­ity — the bor­der­line mode of be­ing in the world. Ul­ti­mately, for re­cep­tiv­ity and cre­ativ­ity to oc­cur, vulnerabil­ity has to be ex­pe­ri­enced and al­lowed into the psy­cho­log­i­cal sys­tem. A jour­ney the state can­not at present bear.

Pic­ture: THE TIMES

Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande, left, stands in the psy­chic void be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity as he is faced with stu­dents protest­ing at Par­lia­ment.

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