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Covid and Complexity

Wednesday, October 14, 2020
Glendale, California

Covid and Complexity

We human beings struggle mightily with the endless complexity of our world.

It arouses anxiety.

To cope, we tend to categorize, i.e. Democrat versus Republican, Black versus White, Theism versus Atheism.

The Covid pandemic painfully exemplifies wrestling with our complicated worlds.

What are the truths?

Covid-19 is caused by an identifiable virus, individuals’ immune systems may over-react to it, those with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable, it spreads between humans and, rarely, from surfaces.

Now, consider these variations on the theme of just one person contracting the illness:

  1. Some are exposed to high viral load and show no symptoms;
  2. Some inhale small amounts of the virus and end up dying of Covid;
  3. Some with pre-existing conditions contract the virus and never get sick;
  4. Some healthy 28-year-olds can die from Covid-19.
  5. A 90-year-old with multiple medical conditions can contract Covid and develop only mild upper respiratory infections.

Threatened by the complexity of the world making us insane, we humans simplify.

Consider how many people seek refuge in binary poles of the Covid controversy:

Some haven’t left their homes since March, wash their vegetables for hours, cook their parcels in microwaves, and wear masks even while alone outdoors on a windy day.

Others eschew mask-wearing, and they pack cheek-to-jowl at protests or Trump rallies or crowded restaurants.

Embracing complexity requires immense anxiety tolerance.


Wanton flight into categories is a terrifically dangerous tendency, responsible for much of the evil in the world, the tribalism, the us versus them thinking.

Almost finished with slogging through James Joyce’s Ulysses (speaking of complexity), I end with this wonderful excerpt from the 17th chapter entitled, Ithaca:

the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Joyce, it seems, embraces complexity with ease.


The Perfect Paradox of Identity

Saturday, May 9, 2020
Glendale, California

The Perfect Paradox of Identity

On the one hand, most psychologists and philosophers agree that, to function effectively as an adult, you need a cohesive sense of identity.

The narrative should be coherent, have a certain stability, and include other features: 

  1. It typically consists of sets of nouns tied together with verbs—big surprise. 
  2. It includes commonly understood social constructs like father, son, wife, or architect, physician, or carpenter. 
  3. Identity might change at times, i.e. “I was out sick with a fractured leg,” but other historical aspects of the narrative would persist unchanged, i.e. “I am a 48-year-old, Latino physician male, married with two sons, and I work in a free clinic in Hacienda Heights.”
  4. Your narrative is understood by those around you. They similarly identify you by job, social role, geography, perhaps ethnicity, etc.
  5. In fact, social relationships serve a little-known, unconscious function—reassuring us that we still fit in the net of human reality. Every time you visit with a friend, you’re assessing clothing, mannerisms, gestures, and other signs of identity; you’re unconsciously ensuring you have not strayed too far from the crowd.

On the other hand, these identities are absolute fictional constructs, scripts, or sets of make-believe ideas.

Let’s take a closer look at the description of the Hacienda Heights physician just offered:

The narrative offers no clue regarding his value system. It suggests a male gender, but could be hiding the reality that he was a female who underwent gender-reassignment surgery a few years ago. Latino, ok, but influenced by Mexican, Honduran, Spanish, or Costa Rica ancestry? What if one parent was of Hungarian descent?

You get the point.

Every identity, then, is always partial, incomplete.

It’s a form of acronym.

It’s also, mostly, a lie.

We create them out of found objects, cultural concepts embedded in the language we learn.

And, identity evolves.

The occupation, Chief Technology Officer, did not exist a half-century ago. Now most people understand what it means.

More importantly, we exist as human beings.

We are verbs, not nouns.

This results in the alienation identified by existentialists like Albert Camus or Jean-Paul Sartre.

Why alienation?

Because as you sit here reading this post, you’re engaged in an intentional activity. And, if you bring your awareness to the fact that you’re reading, right now, the “fact” of you having been reading is already past.

Also, if you’re creating a profile this afternoon, the words you’ll use to describe yourself—kind, intellectual, fun-seeking, desiring a stable relationship—bear little resemblance, well…


We are unfolding.

These ideas bring to mind the unbridgeable gap between the objective and the subjective.

One psychoanalyst wrote, for example, that there will be an increased understanding of the neuro-physiology of memory, but there will be no equation or chemical formulation of MY memory.

In other words, neuroscientists work arduously to capture how you attend to these words, what memories they stimulate, and what mood they elicit.

If you turn away from the page for a second, look to your right, take a deep breath and then remember what you just read, then where does that memory live?

Many argue, and I concur, that memory lives in the individual phenomenal experience of the unfolding self.

It cannot be captured, measured, or weighed.

Neuroscientists won’t be able to find it.

It’s a memory retrievable only by you.

A gap always exists between your experiencing any moment—


and your recollection of it.

Even if elicited by another person, as in, “remember when we used to drive to the beach when we were in high school?”, the memory is uniquely YOURS.

Should we be surprised at such an irreconcilable paradox?


Contemporary physics has yet to determine the fundamental unit of matter in the universe.

The field does not know whether light is a particle or a wave.

It uses irreconcilable means of measurement, e.g. Newtonian concepts versus Einstein’s relativity theory, to study physical phenomena.

Contemporary biology remains stymied by the many factors contributing to development beyond genes. Some hoped that initial strain of information would explain everything, but it does not.

And so the endless mysteries of life march on.


Covid: Living in the Pre-Industrial Age

Sunday, April 12, 2020
Glendale, California

Covid: Living in the Pre-Industrial Age

Probably not the best time for a history lesson, but this bizarre period of “sheltering in place” brings the industrial revolution to mind.

Until then, most people worked from home. Centuries before Zoom or Skype existed, our ancestors worked on farms or in artisan shops within their homes—making clothing, shoes, books, and other items.

The idea of Mommy and Daddy heading off to the office was absurd.

It didn’t exist.

What is called the Industrial Revolution, formally known as the First Industrial Revolution, describes the period of transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and America. Historians identify that massive change as occurring from around 1760 to the early 1800s.

Processes ranging from machine production, chemical manufacturing, and iron smelting emerged, quickly eclipsing these artisan-like businesses. Steam and water power operated the machines, ultimately giving rise to the mechanized factory system. The evolutionary leap brought with it an unprecedented rise in population.

Those of you reading while taking a break from sewing masks or other PPEs might experience a burst of self-esteem when you learn that textiles were the dominant industry of that first revolution. It then morphed into factories making all kinds of things and facilitating the ongoing  exploitation of workers.

With our populist, arguably narcissistic viewpoint here in America, you might have thought the US led the way. Not true. The UK created most of the patents associated with machine production—at least during that initial industrial shift.

Almost every element of everyday life was affected by it—much like we’re experiencing with this Covid-19 crisis these days—but in the reverse. Many economists believe it heralded the gradual increase in the standard of living around the globe—a trend continuing to this day although, perhaps, not any more.

Risking boring readers, so I shall be brief, aren’t you curious about the second industrial revolution?

Wanna guess?

Steel is typically identified as the first of several new areas for industrial mass-production characterizing the Second Industrial Revolution. A method for the mass manufacturing of steel was invented in the 1860s. Sir Henry Bessemer, yes, a Brit (!), invented a furnace capable of converting molten iron into steel.

Our industrial regression is not without its gifts:

We are certainly benefiting from the remarkable reductions in air pollution in the many great cities of the world.

Presumably, shut-down factories are sending less toxins into the waters.

Traffic has come to a near stand-still.

Sadly, I doubt we’ll see any reduction in population, except for those who succumb to Covid-19. A contemporary philosopher offered this brilliant concept:

There are two businesses in life:

The business of making money and; the business of making love.

Nearly one-third of the global population are now struggling with the former.

For young couples sheltering in place, hmmm, sheltering could become a new word for, well, you know what.

Expect a Covid Population Surge in Winter of 2020.

Meanwhile, hope this lightens the heart of some of you who, like me, are working mostly in a basement downstairs.

How I miss the fifteen-minute barrier of the drive home!

Instead, working underground like some kind of a human mushroom, my days end with my closing up the laptop, filing away papers, making a few notes and then running up the backstairs of the house.

Only seconds later, and with no room for a mental channel change, I proclaim:

Honey, I’m home!


Watching the Ego Flicker

Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Chiang Rei, Thailand

Watching the Ego Flicker

Validating either the mystical, the unconscious, or both, I began engaging in two new daily behaviors starting on:


They began out of nowhere.

I resumed practicing Zazen, a form of Zen sitting meditation, for 1/2 hour per day.

I began eating a plant-based diet, which has intrigued me for some time.

Viewing one documentary (The Game Changers) and observing one of my two Darling Davids take up the plant-based diet, may have initiated the new habits.

But, I can’t know for sure.

The change also brings to mind Karl Jung’s wonderful idea:

We don’t find our habits or interests.

They find us.


As a result primarily of the meditation, I have had, each day, witnessed perhaps one or two seconds of the flickering of the ego.

What is the ego?

It is our identifying ourselves as a “somebody.”

It is the sense of the “me” or the “self” or the “I.”

The ego is, shockingly, a delusion—a point the Buddha himself made nearly 3,000 years ago.

A delusion?

Yes, a fiction, a set of noun-like descriptors highly influenced by social factors, by the Big Other.

We follow an unwritten set of rules. We socialize with others, in part, to unconsciously assess if we are following the rules correctly.

For me, I identify myself as a psychologist, father, husband, friend, sibling.

Those are all simply social roles; they have nothing to do with being.

Ideally, we flow into those identities with a certain lightness, not taking any of them too seriously.

We are our beings, not our social roles.

Here’s the point, and I repeat myself:

For one or two seconds a day, I have enjoyed the slightest, quickly-passing sense of the ego vanishing.

I felt it, too, when walking with elephants today.

It was majestic, other-worldly.

It is a flashing sense of the one-ness, a connection with the totality of the universe.

Of course, it’s not Nirvana.

A few months of daily meditation, and/or eating a Vegan diet, will hardly bring you there.

And, anyway, it’s a central tenet of meditative practice that you, well, simply concentrate on one thing.


You strive to bring your mind back from its many distractions, including seeking peace, Nirvana, or whatever. Those are all desires outside of the moment. Meditation is the focus on the moment.

You simply concentrate.

The Buddhists speak of it as a form of investigation, not involving faith or belief.

In the case of Zazen, the focus is on the rising and falling of your breathing, the movement of your abdomen as you breathe.

As I’ve noted in prior posts, the idea that we identify ourselves as existing within a sac of skin is insane. Your arm could be surgically removed, and you’d survive. But, deprive you of air for even five minutes, and you’re dead.

Why not identify more with the air around you rather than your body?

Because you’re conditioned to see yourself as just that—a self, an organism existing in a sac of skin. It’s another of the innumerable social rules we follow—how to behave, how to dress, how to speak, etc, etc.

The ego is a social convention.

In case any readers are interested in meditative practices, I write to simply share this sputtering disappearance of the ego.

It’s remarkable.


Are We Humans a Virus to the Earth?

Sunday, December 29, 2019
Palm Springs, California

Are We Humans a Virus to the Earth?

After several days of escaping the city into the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail, a foolish walk along Palm Canyon Drive—Palm Springs’ main shopping street—brings dark comparisons of human beings to viruses to mind.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, a virus is defined as:

an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

Let’s skip the nucleic, protein, or microscopy parts.

Instead, let’s consider the effect of our behaviors here on our host planet, Earth.

We humans consist of sets of living cells—organs, blood vessels, muscle and bone enwrapped in skin—yet another organ.

We need the earth to survive.

It is, quite literally, part of us.

We humans, specifically known as homo sapiens, have been residing on this planet for only around 100,000 years. Given the earth’s age of 4.5 billion years, we’ve barely arrived. If the earth’s age represented 24 hours, our species would have only existed here for less than one second.

Nonetheless, we’ve multiplied like crazy.

We now have some 7 billion of our kind roaming around, mostly in cities. Until the end of the 20th century, we humans mostly lived in rural areas. We did a lot of farming. Then, as technology developed and fewer jobs were available in the country, humans moved mostly into urban areas.

This trend continues throughout the globe, even in places like India and China. Cities are turning into megapolises—defined as cities overlapping into one another.

Delhi, India, the new air pollution center of the world, has more than 19 million people.

Shanghai, China, has more than 24 million people.

Whether concentrated in cities or not, we humans radically exploit the “living cells” of our host, Earth.

Earth has a limited number of “cells”—existing in plants, and animals and forests and all kinds of living things. It also limited amounts of inorganic matter, from oxygen to carbon, from uranium to water, and more.

We need those organic and inorganic materials to survive.

We have, thus far, in our relative one-second of presence, done enough damage for the analogy to a virus to clearly apply.

Anthropologists have concluded that we live in what they call the Anthropocene era. It is defined as:
The period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

This tiny vacation community two-hours out of Los Angeles, Palm Springs, with its forgettable 50,000 inhabitants, shows signs of the same superficiality, the same wanton disregard for our gentle, blue-and-green planetary host.

We talking monkeys walking down Palm Canyon Drive see many of the same sights seen in any main street in the developed world.

Noisy, traffic clogged streets intermittently worsened by testosterone-poisoned idiots revving up their un-muffler-protected cars or motorcycles, loudly and frightfully speeding by .

Those streets are lined, or should I say littered, with standardized, box-shaped shops ranging from Rite Aide to CVS, from Restoration Hardware to West Elm, from Chipolte to Burger King, and from Coffee Bean to Starbucks. 

Signs of new construction, evident in those grotesque little trailers, sporting hard hat warnings and jutting-out, rusted shanks of rebar, appear everywhere. They look like cancerous metastases, assuming similar structures regardless of country.

These are still more evidence of wildly multiplying cells, exploiting and destroying our host planet.

Perhaps places like Palm Springs thrive because they exist near gorgeous natural areas. Just to the west lies the San Jacinto Mountains, towering majesties of beauty. And, just to the north, stretches of desert extend into the mountains all the way to Big Bear Lake. You can hike the Pacific Crest Trail from here to Big Bear, or all the way up to Canada, inviting psychotic denial of the Anthropocene era.

(However, standard hiking guides point out how areas damaged by recent wildfires and floods have created more destruction than ever before in recorded history).

Talking monkeys can visit here.

They can imagine themselves as not-viruses.

They can take refuge in magical thinking, particularly since, on the way into Palm Springs, one passes fields of wind farms promising above-ground energy.

These are weak and insufficient signs of change.

They are almost certainly too late.

Just in the past few months, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) updated its predictions of just how damaging the Anthropocine era promises to be.

Side point:

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. It creates environmental assessments which take up to six years to produce, prepared by more than 2000 scientists from all over the world. The report is not about policy or politics—it’s only about science. In fact, the IPCC is expressly barred from making policy recommendations.

When the IPCC concludes that—to a 90 percent probability—global warming is caused by human activity, it is not exaggerating.

In fact, it is rather conservative in its predictions. 

The latest report will make living in denial more difficult than ever.


Because only six of the major points made in the IPCC’s most recently updated report should permanently impair your capacity to fall asleep at night.

That report must be viewed as a call for action because, absent extremely aggressive interventions, we human monkeys will in fact destroy our host planet just like viruses in humans can cause death.

In this case, however, death is almost certain—the end of the human species—unless aggressive action is taken NOW.

Here are the six major conclusions of the latest IPCC report:

  1. We humans must limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, not the 2 degrees to which most countries strive. Limiting warming to 1.5 °C compared to 2 °C has clear and considerable benefits, such as significantly reducing the risks of water scarcity, ill-health, food insecurity, flood and drought, extreme heat, tropical cyclones, biodiversity loss, and sea level rise.
  2. Only “deep and rapid emissions reductions from all economic sectors” will allow global warming to remain below 1.5 degrees C. We are on pace to hit 1.5 °C global warming by 2030. Imagine: That’s only ten years away. To stay below this level, we humans will need to reach net zero emissions around midcentury. We must immediately initiate carbon dioxide removal mechanisms. While the transitions in energy systems, land, transportation, infrastructure, and industries would be unprecedented in scale, they also need to be unprecedented in rapidity.
  3. Radical reductions in use of oil, hydrocarbons, black carbon, and other ‘super-pollutants,’ will vastly increases the chances of staying below 1.5 °C. If the emissions of non-CO2 pollutants are not curbed, there is a 66% likelihood of surpassing the 1.5 °C threshold. 
  4. Waiting to cut emissions will have severe, irreversible effects on the planet. How? Long-term warming scenarios depend upon carbon dioxide, a gas whose emissions build up in the atmosphere. Even temporarily overshooting 1.5 °C will have irreversible impacts on our natural systems, including biodiversity loss and pushing past various climate tipping points.
  5. Failure to reverse, or at least mitigate, global warming will result in literal catastrophe. Vulnerable communities will be affected by food insecurity, income loss, health impacts, population displacement, and increased international conflict.
  6. More ambitious efforts, certainly more than any currently planned, will be required to remain below the recommended 1.5 degree C increase. Even if all countries fulfilled their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as outlined in the Paris Agreement (from which Donald Trump has stupidly withdrawn), it is highly likely the world will reach 1.5 °C warming by mid-century and remain above this threshold through year 2100.

These findings require we talking monkeys to break-through our universal, psychotic levels of denial and take action NOW.


Here are just a few ways you can personally prevent the dire IPCC warnings from coming to pass:

  1. Get rid of your hydrocarbon-burning vehicles. Trade them in for hybrid or, better, all electric cars;
  2. Begin using refillable containers to purchase all food items, from vegetables to cereals;
  3. Boycott highly polluting fast-food outlets, like MacDonalds or Burger Kings, which create immense amounts of solid waste;
  4. Consider having only one child, or none, preventing the virus from spreading in a way certain to destroy our host, the planet Earth;
  5. Join Greta Thunberg’s call for Friday strikes in schools and workplaces. Protests absolutely exert influence over politics. Serbians ousted a dictator through nonviolent resistance, and Egyptians followed in kind ten years later. In 2018, teachers throughout West Virginia went on strike during a nine-day protest that resulted in a 5% increase in pay. It inspired additional teacher strikes in other states. The teenage survivors of the Parkland high school shooting created a national movement holding government officials and and businesses accountable for measures to increase responsible gun control. Protests and, especially, STRIKES work!

In other words, the time has come to ACT.

One of Greta’s more compelling questions has been to ask, of all of us talking monkeys alive today, why we failed to take action to prevent the destruction of our planet?

Whether living in denial in Palm Springs or Pasadena, California, or in Shanghai or New Delhi, the time has come to:


The era of denial and dissociation has come to an end;

We have now entered the era of ACTION.

Ignoring taking decisive steps towards reducing global warming will affect generations to come.




Psychoanalyzing An Employee’s Betrayal

Sunday, September 1, 2019
Glendale, California

Psychoanalyzing An Employee’s Betrayal

The most painful of interpersonal trauma—betrayal by spouses, relatives, or friends often leads people to seek help from psychoanalysts like me.

Of all people, it was Sigmund Freud who identified the three major sources of pain in life.

Anyone can be felled by a sudden injury, develop a life-threatening illness, or be rejected, abandoned, or otherwise hurt by another human being.

In Freud’s view, this latter type of pain, namely the interpersonal one, was the worst. 

It makes sense to me because love helps with these other misfortunes.

Disruptions in the area of love itself seem, indeed, to be the most painful.

Evil may be understood as a uniquely human breach. In other words, deadly cyclones, earthquakes, or floods are tragic. And, yet, none of them involves one person doing to another what the perpetrator knows would pain the victim. Evil involves malice aforethought—knowledge of how the injured party will be affected.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of interpersonal evil would be the banner over Auschwitz’s work yard which read:

Work shall set you free. 

That was a total and complete lie, really a form of sadism.

In this posting, I dissect a much more benign example of evil, namely a betrayal of an employer by an employee.

Not as painful as the straying spouse, or the sudden ending of a friendship. However, the colleague who consulted me to work through his employee’s sudden and unexpected resignation exemplifies a more unusual form of betrayal. Also, it allows an opportunity to demonstrate how psychoanalysts, or psychotherapists of any ilk, might work with such a case—one involving possible racism, unconscious hostility or guilt, enabling, or other complex interpersonal themes.

Here’s the painful story:

My colleague, a Caucasian, male, Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in his mid-40s who I shall call Dr. Doe, had employed a part-time administrative assistant throughout his career as a psychotherapist. His first admin aide worked more than eight years. The employee gave him more than two-months’ notice when she quit. She trained her replacement. His second one worked only two years but also gave him notice and trained the next employee. The first two assistants were African-American.

As far as he could tell, Dr. Doe paid little heed to the race or ethnicity of the person he employed. He tended to hire people referred to him when he let out the word that he was looking for an assistant. He considered himself too fearful of hurting people to interview effectively. His most recent assistant—who quit after four years of employment without giving any notice whatsoever—was a Latina who I shall call Ms. Lopez.

One other relevant detail:

Dr. Doe, likely related to his own sensitivities, tended to be unusually generous. Although part-time administrative assistants tend to make around $20 per hour, Dr. Doe gave regular raises to his one employee. He paid the one who abruptly quit $35 per hour—a factor that may play a part in the betrayal. Also, he provided two-full weeks of PTO. He was extremely flexible with schedule, wanting his assistants to work only three half-days in his office and the rest at their homes.

In the month prior to the resignation in question, Dr. Doe began negotiating with Ms. Lopez for a reduction in her hours. He had less need for the assistance. He understood the significant reduction, from 20 hours per week to 10, might provide a financial hardship. Dr. Doe began discussing the reduction in November, hoping to have a new employment agreement signed by both parties by the first of the new year.

Dr. Doe and Ms. Lopez exchanged emails during the last two months of the year. She requested an hourly increase to $38 per hour—a full, $3 per hour raise. He considered the salary excessive, particularly since he had raised her rate from $33 to $35 at the start of the year.

Their email discussions reached a “paralysis,” the specific word Ms. Lopez used, during December. Dr. Doe wrote up a “final” employment agreement, noting he had tired of negotiating and thought his offer was fair. He indicated that he hoped she would accept it.

I read the emails, as well as the termination later he later received. I too thought Dr. Doe was kind and fair in his email exchanges with Ms. Lopez. But that was my interpretation. Dr. Doe’s and Ms. Lopez’s interpretations would always be more important than mine.

Meanwhile, at Ms. Lopez’ request, Dr. Doe provided her with an excellent letter of reference. (I reviewed it, and it was glowing and included specific, behavioral examples of her work.) He offered, repeatedly, to connect her with his colleagues who might her help—providing a way to help her make up the lost hours and income.

Dr. Doe had, for many years, depended upon his administrative assistant to do all of his billing and, most significantly, to complete complicated insurance forms for him. She worked 8a to 12noon, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Because half his practice involves working with children, he also asked Ms. Lopez to call parents to confirm or change appointment times for psycho-diagnostic testing or play therapy sessions. Dr. Doe had little working knowledge of his own billing program.

On the fateful Wednesday, Dr. Doe left the “final” employment contract for Ms. Lopez with a post-it reading, “please read, sign, and date.” Ms. Lopez came into the office, worked with a smile on her face, and asked him to sign the usual insurance forms before she left. Dr. Doe noticed the new employment contract was not among the documents. He chose to remain silent on the topic, assuming he and she would talk through the issue on Friday.

Earlier that morning, and fearing she might react to his “final” offer, Dr. Doe left Ms. Lopez a message noting he’d be free between 10a and noon in case she wanted to talk with him. Ms. Lopez left without comment at noon, as usual.

Around an hour after she left, Dr. Doe looked through his inbox and found a sealed envelope addressed to him. He opened it, thinking it might be a note left by one of his patients or their parents. Instead, it contained Ms. Lopez’s key card to the parking garage and the key to the suite.

It contained no note.

Dr. Doe immediately texted Ms. Lopez, asking,

are you resigning?

Feeling acutely annoyed, Dr. Doe added, a few minutes later,

PS. If this is your resignation, please forget that letter of reference I wrote for you.

Dr. Doe received no reply from the text.

The following day, a Thursday, his biller emailed him a copy of an email he had received from Ms. Lopez which read,

Please send your statements directly to Dr. Doe. I no longer work for him.

Dr. Doe waited until Friday to see if he heard from Ms. Lopez.

He did not.

Late Friday evening, Dr. Doe sent an email he entitled “closure.” It recounted the events of the prior two days, interpreting the biller’s note as a resignation, and wrote that he accepted Ms. Lopez’ resignation. In describing his reaction, he noted he felt,

stunned and saddened.

Dr. Doe left me a message that Friday night. I called him right back, and we met the next Monday.

During our initial session, he described feeling angry, hurt, and frightened. He was obsessing over the situation. The “unprofessional, even mean-spirited nature of the resignation” enraged him; he felt saddened by the loss of a woman with whom he’d had at least a courteous if not friendly relationship for four years, and; he feared for the future of his practice, particularly because he had relied so extensively on Ms. Lopez, like he had with prior assistants.

In unpacking the situation with him, we started, per usual, by looking at his part in the situation.

Proclaiming victimhood has become particularly popular in contemporary American culture.

Sometimes individuals are truly victimized—injured in a car accident, for example, dumped by their boyfriend or fall prey to a chronic medical condition like diabetes—to name just a few.

None chose their fate.

But they play a significant role in how they deal with their victimization after the fact. The person injured in the car accident can work aggressively to recover, the woman rejected can explore signs she missed or some part she played, and the diabetic, ideally, also works aggressively to adhere to the treatment regimen, i.e. eating healthily, monitoring blood sugar levels, etc.

Also, of course, psychoanalysts work with only their patients’ worlds.

As one of my early supervisors, Jim Grotstein, put it:

Patients present dreams during their sessions, dreams of their lives. If they happen to present a real dream for interpretation, then that is the dream within the dream of the session.

Depth psychotherapists exert extra caution when attempting to interpret anyone’s behavior save the patient sitting before them.

All psychoanalyses are necessarily incomplete, but here are a few of the themes Dr. Doe and I uncovered:

First, Dr. Doe shared with me a handwritten note which Ms. Lopez left in his office waiting room early the Monday morning of our first session. In it, she recounted her own version of the prior few days. Ms. Lopez remembered the post-it attached to the employment agreement as reading,

Sign this and then file it away.  I’m done talking about this.

Later in the note, Ms. Lopez wrote, referring to the post-it,

I found this very threatening. 

She also later referred to Dr. Doe’s,

volatile and aggressive nature.

Dr. Doe explicitly denied that he had written anything on the post-it other than,

Please sign and leave us both copies.

Apropos the dream analogy, we’ll never know exactly what that post-it said.

(The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan famously said,

all communication is mis-communication.)

I had known Dr. Doe for years, mostly through professional association meetings. He seemed somewhat of a moody guy but certainly neither volatile nor aggressive. Nonetheless, we carefully considered the possibility that he could come off in a more angry way than he knew. We covered relationships with his wife, his one son, his friends, and his other relatives to look for other examples of anger. I saw none, and he saw none. But, unconscious anger or even just irritability still remains a possibility for him to consider.

Second, we explored possible racism on Dr. Doe’s part. He would be considered, to use the common, somewhat racist phrase (true irony), a white man of privilege. However, as a progressive liberal, he certainly did not consider himself a racist. He pointed to his generosity in salary, parking, and yearly bonuses as examples of his not only not being racist, but helping those less advantaged than him.

Much talk abounds these days of unconscious racism and sexism. To my knowledge, none of this has been empirically validated—the unconscious part, that is.

It is certainly possible, however.

I left Dr. Doe, after our total of four consultations, more aware of this possibility and more open to exploring it and thinking about it.

Third, and most powerful, was the possibility of enabling a sense of entitlement in Ms. Lopez. One of the more noteworthy elements of the case was Dr. Doe’s rather obvious over-generosity. Together, we uncovered an unconscious theme of his tending to over-give, to build up resentment at same, and then to become angry at whoever had benefited from his largesse. Interestingly, as you’ve already surmised, this lit up the first theme, namely him potentially sporting more anger than he knew.

We both concluded that his enabling a sense of entitlement at least contributed to the abrupt dissolution in the employment contract. It was noteworthy, for example, that their yearly discussions of salary increases had never had this level of animosity to them. In fact, no animosity had ever occurred previously, at least overtly and at least according to Dr. Doe.

Nonetheless, the fact that Ms. Doe had asked for an almost ten percent raise, from $35 to $38 per hour, after he’d raised her from $33 to $35 less than a year earlier, was surprising. He explained, and she understood, that he could not be expected to make up for the hours she was losing. He reiterated his offer to help her find part-time work with colleagues. It remained possible that Dr. Doe had contributed to a sense of entitlement which, when denied Ms. Lopez, elicited such anger in her that she quit in a huff.

Closely related to this entitlement theme, Dr. Doe and I also considered the fourth possibility that he had missed envious rage building up in Ms. Lopez. She was aware of how much Dr. Doe transferred from his business account each month. She knew the type of cars he owned, the vacations he took, and the restaurants where he ate.

Here, we risked veering into Ms. Lopez’ psyche, like we did with the entitlement issue. It seemed relevant, nonetheless, because our focus remained on what Dr. Doe might have missed. He considered this a possibility. Ms. Lopez had never overtly expressed any envy or jealousy. Also, Dr. Doe thought his generosity would have overshadowed it. In any event, it too was left open as a possibility for Dr. Doe to contemplate.

Fifth, and I am now clearly peering into, or at least hypothesizing, about Ms. Lopez’ mind, her behavior might have been motivated by an unconscious sense of guilt.

Ms. Lopez had, in terms of the overt nature of their employment contract, a fantastic deal. When she’d first started working, the 30 hours per week he paid her rarely required the full 20 hours of work.

Perhaps she felt guilty at exploiting him, even unconsciously, all those years?

Interestingly, when he reduced her hours from 30 to 20 per week, at around the two-year mark, they had no difficulty. But this might also explain the unconscious guilt theory. That level of reduction reduced Ms. Lopez’ guilt.

However, the more recent negotiation, reducing hours from 20 to 10, could still have left Ms. Lopez feeling, albeit unconsciously, guilty at the level of her compensation. She asked for a salary nearly double the market rate for admin assistants, still had a reserved, underground parking space, and could expect handsome bonuses at years’ end.

Like any theory of an unconscious motivation, particularly in a party not in the consulting room, it remains just that—a theory, a hypothesis, a possibility.

I consider it plausible.

Only Ms. Lopez herself can or will figure that out some day.

The final thing which left both Dr. Doe and me puzzled was the degree of anger demonstrated by Ms. Lopez. She was well aware that the timing of her departure would unsettle, if not outright frighten, Dr. Doe. A highly sensitive man, the episode upset Dr. Doe sufficiently to keep him up at night, ruminate about what occurred, and make an appointment to consult me.

Also significant was the potential self-destructive nature of the act for Ms. Lopez herself. If she were to apply for another admin assistant position in the Covina area where Dr. Doe practices, the going rate would be around $20 per hour. She’d be taking an almost 75 percent pay cut! Also, she could hardly expect a letter of reference, or even a friendly phone call, from Dr. Doe to a future employer. This fact supports the various hypotheses of pent-up rage, envy and jealousy, or thwarted entitlement as motivating Ms. Lopez’ behaviors.

As I bring this unusually lengthy posting to a close, I emphasize the always-incomplete nature of psychoanalytic work. Also, intellectual knowledge of an unconscious pattern alone has an extremely limited effect on change.

Reflecting on our four sessions, I believe the insight into Dr. Doe’s overly generous pattern—one intending to make up for the loss of love he experienced early in his life—was the most growth-enhancing theme for him.

Ms. Lopez was never my patient, and the hypotheses about her are only guesses and only relevant in terms of helping Dr. Doe.

Hopefully, Dr. Doe will reflect on how he may be more aggressive than he realizes, will consider the possibility of racism in his attitudes, and will be more aware of how his lifestyle could elicit envy and/or jealousy in others.

Most importantly, I hope he ceases, or at least reduces, this cyclic pattern of over-giving, followed by expecting love and admiration, followed by increasing annoyance. Here, Dr. Doe risks enabling many others, including friends and relatives. He left clearly aware of the pattern, even pained by it. I expect he’ll be back because four sessions barely broke the surface on this well-worn if rather common pattern.


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