On a clear day in May a man strides into the Post Office to shoot his ex-boss and 17 other people. Members of the news media ask him why he did it. “Because they fired me!” he answers. Yes, he was fired from his job, and so are millions of others; but those others don’t go back and kill their boss. The recent firing was at the tip of the killer’s mind. Down deep, in the unconscious, were repressed memories of having been yelled at, beaten and locked in a cellar by his dad when he was a young boy. At 27, he no longer remembers this, but the feelings are still locked inside him and ready to pop out at the slightest trigger. His ex-boss was the trigger.
Today psychoanalysis has been largely dismissed and Freud’s greatest discovery, the unconscious, is merely given lip service. Even the psychoanalytic community seldom mentions the unconscious anymore, nor do we explore the deeper roots that underpin news events such as the one just mentioned. The old debate about whether mental illness is the result of nature or nurture has swung in favor of nature. People become deranged, enraged, fearful, mixed up, deluded or depressed because of their genes, we are increasingly told, not because of anything that happened to them in their lives.
As a licensed psychoanalyst I am concerned about this trend away from psychodynamics and the unconscious, because I see it as a trend away from the truth. The unconscious is about things we don’t want to know, things we don’t want to remember and things we don’t want to know we don’t want to know. An alcoholic doesn’t want to know that he is an alcoholic or why. But by knowing it and understanding it he can get control of his alcoholism and move on.
This blog will look at the deeper truths behind the headlines, uncover the research that nobody is considering, offer the conclusions that people are avoiding and provide constructive ways to solve the common conflicts that have plagued us.
Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.