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Archive for the ‘Meaning Making’ Category

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Is the unlived life worth examining?

Nothing I know matters more
Than what never happened.
— John Burnside, ‘Hearsay

9780374281113_p0_v1_s260x420I once had a psychoanalyst ask me to write out in detailed form the way I wish my life had gone. I am not sure why he asked me to do that, and at the time I was even less sure.  I do know that I was at once both resistant and energized by his invitation which I ultimately did not accept.  When I think back to my work with this well-meaning analyst,I suppose many of my hours with him had sounded a lot like the following: “If we had only stayed in Seattle and not moved to Los Angeles.”; “If only I had been able to stay near Mirjam and Paul( my Nanny and her husband) and not move two states away from them.”; “If only I had been allowed to stay at Montessori and not been forced to attend Parochial school.” It’s funny to think back to that time and see the point my analyst was trying to make. He was, I suppose, trying to get me to see the impact of my unlived life and discover who it was that I longed for and what I imagined those roads not taken would have lead to. I imagine that he thought that I was marred by regrets which is strange as I don’t really experience myself as a person who regrets much. But was my analyst onto something? Was my unlived life worth examining?

Adam Phillips’, author, psychoanalyst and my latest intellectual crush, has an answer for that. “It seems a strange question until one realizes how much of our so-called mental life is about the lives we are not living, the lives we are missing out on, the lives we could be leading but for some reason are not. What we fantasize about, what we long for,are the experiences, the things and the people that are absent. It is the absence of what we need that makes us think, that makes us cross and sad.”

In his latest book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, Phillips explores the unlived life and how it impacts our lived life. The book jacket offers the following description of Phillips’ exploration:

All of us lead two parallel lives: the life we actually live and the one that we wish for and fantasise about. And this life unlived (the one that never actually happens, the one we might be living but for some reason are not) can occupy an extraordinary part of our mental life. We share our lives, in a sense, with the people we have failed to be – and this can become itself the story of our lives: an elegy to needs unmet, desires sacrificed and roads untaken….Adam Phillips demonstrates that there might in fact be much to be said for the unlived life. …he suggests that in missing out on one experience we always open ourselves to the potential of another, and that in depriving ourselves of the frustration of not getting what we think we want, we would be depriving ourselves of the possibilities of satisfaction.

This is, I imagine, and I imagine my old analyst would agree, is something I know a little about.

There is the me that was an only child who moved from Seattle at three and moved to Los Angeles and whose parents were career focused and not child focused. There is the me who had traumas and dramas mar her childhood. And that me that went on to marry and not have children and become who I am today. But what, I suppose, makes all of the pain of that biographical narrative so much more painful is that I hold in my mind the story of “what should have been” and  ” the unlived life that I should have had”. That, truth be told, is much the pain of infertility and the resulting grief that lingers today…it is the feeling of missing out and having in my head the alternate life I would be living if I had only had the baby.  I share my life with the Tracey that I have failed to be. There is the me that exists and then there is the me that went to Sarah Lawrence and who is a mother and who has a huge and loving family ( the me that doesnt’ exist).

In answering the question of why do we spend so much time imagining another ( or unlived life) Phillip argues that we are by nature frustrated creatures and that is because our expectations and fantasies are more than can possibly be met by the world. He goes onto explain that one of the ways we cope with that frustration is to fantasize about what we need and what is missing. It is Phillips’ assertion that fantasizing about what we don’t have is not merely an act of compensation but that it gives us insight into what we want to do with our lives. The fantasy gives us information about what we want to do and how to give our selves some sense of satisfaction. Phillips’ encourages us to use our fantasy life to seek what is truly available in the world. He goes onto say that by really knowing our frustration that comes at the intersection of lived life and not lived life that gives us a better sense of what we really want, so  it is important to look at that wished for life for clues

A very interesting point that he makes and one that I need to pay special attention to is that the fantasy of the unlived life can make the lived life seem disappointing as there are no boundaries in the fantasy life and there are always boundaries, rules and limitations in the lived life. “reality isn’t disappointing, it is just reality.”In my unlived life I had that baby and I live in Lake Bluff and I write in my free time when I am not being the best mother I can be. Yes, giving space for that unlived life makes me sad. When I really walk around that life it is both lovely and horrible in the pain that it constilates, but when I really move into that fantasy there is something I wanted psychologically and symbolically, as well as literally,and some of those things can happen and some of those things can’t. In the fantasy I am the perfect mother and I have the perfect baby and I am perfectly happy. I know the reality would have been very different and I am perfectly okay with that.

Phillips argues that Capitalistic culture promises to endlessly supply things we want, that if we have a need that Capitalistm promises to produce something that will fill that need( interestingly that in the height of my trying to conceive I used to dream of going to Land of  Nod or Pottery Barn Baby and buying my own perfect baby as well as all the nursery furniture). Phillips makes the case that “the effect of this forced feeding( by Capitalism) is that we never can think about what we might want.”

The surprising point that Phillips makes is that frustration is more enlivening than happiness. “I think that our frustration is one of the best things about us….at its best our frustration, for example, can lead us into the knowledge  and the acknowledgment that we need other people, say, and that there is a limit to what other people can give us and we don’t have to, as it were, murder them because they are so frustrating….And if frustration were more culturally acceptable…it would be more talked about.” We are capable of more satisfaction in our life and that can  looking at our frustration and seeing what is act
ually possible.

As much as I love Phillips, and I do, I find him to be a bit of a frustrating read ( and for Phillips that would likely be a compliment) he writes in a free-associative style that leaves one feeling completely unsure of what they just read( and I KNOW that Phillips would love that critique). Let me be absolutely clear,  I am not in this post recommending that you rush out and buy his book ( but you might well enjoy it). What I do hope is that you might feel inclined, after reading this post and some of the scaffolding bones that make up the body of Phillips argument, to examine your unlived life and see what exactly frustrates you about it? What in the frustration offers for potential REAL fulfillment in your REAL life?

I WANTED a baby. I wanted to have a family. I wanted to create a life for myself and for the longed for baby that I didn’t have created for me. While I can’t create that baby, I can, if I chose, create a life in which I have more opportunities for love and connection and nurturing, which I imagine is at the crux of the desire for a family.  I don’t have all the answers about the meaning of my “unlived life” but I do think it is definitely worth exploring further. And I can see already that just in posing the question that there is an opportunity to be somewhat less frustrated, which is strangely a bit frustrating.

“Missing Out” reviewed in the New York Times

Excerpt from “Missing Out”

Radio Interview with Adam Phillips

 L.A. Review of Books on “Missing Out”


Journaling: It’s like a blog only it’s not public

It’s been a long time since I seriously kept a journal, a long time. Today I cracked open an old journal that I began back in October 2007. I only wrote three pages in this THICK and unused journal. You know why? Because I began this journal the same month that I began this blog. Well, in my list of summer goals( yes, I have summer goals) I have decided to add journaling to the list of activities I would like to accomplish this summer.

The list includes the following:

1. Get a ping pong table.

2. BBQ more ( I am crazy for grilled vegetables and I am not crazy enough to keep paying the $10 a pound that Whole Foods charges me for them).

3. Take tennis lessons. (The French Open really got to me).

4. Swim, and get a swim cap that I can fit all of my hair into.

5. 1,3, and 4 are all about the goal of trying to have more fun. I work a lot and I love my work. I love my work more than I can say. That said, I could and should try and do something other than go to dinner and watch House Hunters as my sad excuse for leisure activities. I can’t espouse balance and self-care to my clients if I am not going to make the smallest effort to attempt it myself.

6. Get a summery fragrance. I am thinking of trying Bobbi Brown’s Beach. I love that it smells a little bit like Coppertone suntan lotion. A sprtiz of that and a Popsicle on the patio and I will have the makings of an instant summer-tastic staycation.

7. Read something trashy. Maybe I will stop my Spring-time survey of personality disorders and I will read The Hunger Games or this Shades of Gray that my hairdresser told me about.



Journaling will come back to me faster than my forehand(it has been over 20 years since I attempted tennis). I know how to do this, serving on the other hand is something I never really mastered and likely won’t. I journaled since I was seven and I got my very first diary with a key on it. I have decades of experience writing only for me and not for an audience. I journaled through decades, and disasters and experimented with forms and formats. I read the journals of Nin and Plath and I kept writing and dreamed that someday all this writing would turn into something more and that my life would to( much of my journals involve wishing for some other time and some achievement that would make my life worthwhile).

Only with the journal I won’t get any comments,  like I do on the blog, as no one will have access to my private and tangential rants—and that is both good and bad. In my private writing I tend to allow my complexes and opinions to be absolute. I write in the language of splitting, “I hate this” and “I love this” are key phrases in the discourse of my diary. However when I blog I tend to be more objective, even in my subjectivity I know you are there. And knowing you are there changes things and it mostly makes me a better writer and a better person to not let the ranty part of myself  have too much room. Um, why exactly did I want to journal again?

Well, in a journal I can be insanely honest. I can write things that I don’t want you to know about me. I can write without wondering who will read what I just wrote and what they will think. I can give voice to my petty fears and baseless anxieties and I won’t have to worry about having to warn someone that I don’t REALLY feel that way and that I am just venting. It actually sounds pretty good and maybe even important( I have a few rants in me at the moment).

I suppose that I do need a place to let my thoughts have free reign and not have to edit. Therapy is a great place for that, however it is only one-hour a week. Maybe I even want to have a hissy-fit or two on the page and then move on.

Recently I was watching “Girls” on HBO( And I do love that show) and one of the characters had her diary violated. Her roommate’s boyfriend read her journal and he discovered all kinds of things, not the least being that her roommate (his girlfriend) is not in love with him. When confronted with the black and white facts of her journal, the wounded boyfriend makes the case to his girlfriend, “it is a journal; no one lies in a journal, that is the fucking point.”

But he is wrong. People do lie in journals. People overreact in journals. People spew. I spew. I dramatize. I say that I hate things and that I love things and I catastrophize in a journal. On the first page of my journal I have the following disclaimer: “If I am dead and you are reading this please know that I wrote in this journal when I was bored, anxious, depressed and possessed by complexes. It is best not to take this as a real and valid document of my feelings. If I told you in my non-journaling life that I love you it is best to believe me. If I wrote in this journal that I wanted to leave you and run away to the Himalayas— it is not true. Seriously, ignore everything in here that you are about to read and just remember that I love you. Okay?”

Intellectual crush #3: On Pleasure and Frustration

I miss James Hillman. I really do. I just saw a friend last week,  a fellow therapist, who is the person who talked me into talking to Hillman the last time I saw him. The minute I saw her I greeted her with the following, “I thought of you when Hillman died.” I know that “hello and “how are you” are more customary, but this woman greeted me with the same, “I know, I thought of you too.”

When you love someone as deeply as I love Hillman it can take awhile before you are willing to fall in love again. You may even defend against love and swear you will never-ever-ever find it again. But one day you do. One day you are reading a book and you find that you must immediately go to and order every other book that this person ever wrote. And, dear readers, I have found such an author. Let me introduce you to Adam Phillips. Adam Phillips, the author and British psychotherapist, is a genius. I had several of his books in my bookcase for several years and I hadn’t read them. Just recently I began to read “On Balance” and I lost mine and I started Googling him( which is a bit ironic as Adam is a conscious technophobe who eschews cell phones and emails in favor of a less wired and more inspired lifestyle).and I found this interview that I have watched more times than I care to admit. But trust me, watch this and really think about what he says and it will change you( well, it changed me…and it made me fall in love with thanatos all over again). This is a whole lot of important stuff in only six minutes and eight seconds. If you can’t be bothered to watch it and rather read, then I quote from his New York Times Interview in which he discusses the Psychoanalysis of pleasure and frustation:

One of the obstacles is the demand that we be happy, that we enjoy our lives. I think it’s a huge distraction, and it’s very very undermining, I think. So, living in a quasi-hedonistic culture, I think it’s a big problem. It’s wrong because, if we are to make this crude, in the old days whenever that was, there was an internal injunction to be good. Now the injunction is to be happy, or to be enjoying yourself. And the reason this is a distraction is because life is also painful, in other words—and it’s a very simple thing and its very obvious—and it starts in childhood—which is that if someone can satisfy you, they can also frustrate you. This is ineluctable, this is structural, it is never going to change. This means that everybody has to deal with ambivalence. They are going to have to deal with the fact that they love and hate the person they love and hate.

What we are continually being sold are possibilities for pleasure…as though all we want to do is get away from the pain and increase the pleasure. I think this is a very impoverished view of what a life is, even though every life has something to do with the pain and the pleasure. But there’s a difference between evacuating pain and frustration and modifying it. And what we’re starved of now is frustration. There isn’t a really powerful account of the value of the state of frustration. It’s as though we are phobic of frustration. And as soon as there is a moment of frustration, it has to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child—she does that stop her child from having an appetite, because the appetite is so frightening.

I think that it would be possible to have pictures of good lives that are not set up to make one fail. So that a more realistic idea, as opposed to ideal, is one that is genuinely attainable…Ideals create a sort of fight-or-flight. Either you run away from it, you get rid of it, and produce a new one, or you comply with it, or you battle with it. I would be interested in people producing fictions that are discussable, that are realistically possible, rather than humiliating. Because the other thing about cultural Ideals is that they are set up to humiliate us. So that the fictions would be non-diminishing, they would be genuinely possible, but they would keep alive the idea that we don’t know who we might become, and that who we want to be is very important.

Giving up on happiness. Accepting frustration. Fictions that are possible. If someone can satisfy you they can also frustrate you. Brilliant, huh?

That said, I still miss Hillman.

More on Adam Phillips:


“Why you are “Too Much for Yourself”

On Why You Are a Fundamentalist

How to cure nightmares( both a period and a question mark)

From the time I was ten until twenty-seven I had the same nightmare every single night. It was, I can tell you, a real nightmare. The nightmares were made worse when my parents’ physician prescribed sleeping pills to give my parents a good nights sleep. Yes, my parents’ physician gave me( a 10-year-old girl) sleeping pills so I would stay asleep through the night. You see, my nightmares were an annoyance to my parents. What was an annoyance to them was a terror for me. The usual pattern of a nightmare is you have it and then you wake up. Maybe someone comes and sits with you and tells you everything is okay and coos to you kind words about how you are safe and nothing can hurt you. That is not what happened to me. My pattern was have the nightmare and then stay stuck in the nightmare thanks to the pharmaceutical wallop I was given each night before bed. And so instead of waking  and escaping from the terrifying man, who was trying to kill me, via waking, I would keep dreaming( or more accurately, nightmaring) and my parents sleep went undisturbed.

I quit having the nightmare when I was twenty-seven. I remember the last time I had it. I woke up from the nightmare and I had had it. I was sick of this guy chasing me and threatening me and telling me he was going to kill me. I was sick to death of it. I woke up from the dream and said the following, “go ahead, kill me”. And that was it, that was the last time I had that nightmare. As soon as I gave the monster permission to kill me he lost interest in the chase.

Well, my friends, for the last six months I have been having a repeating nightmare. The details and locations of the nightmare change from night to night but the theme of the dream is EXACTLY the same. In the dream Keith has left me or is leaving me.  And each time I have the dream I wake feeling sad and scared and shaken. He is usually right there next to me in bed when I wake from these nightmares. Sometimes he isn’t and then I get really freaked out. I had ANOTHER one of these doozies last night. When I woke up he wasn’t in bed and I felt extremely scared and anxious and almost inconsolable.  He was only twelve-feet away and working at his desk, but in my post-nightmare haze it felt like he was in Siberia and I was in the nether-regions of the Moon. When he heard me crying he got in bed and told me he was right there and it was just a dream, only that didn’t help. It’s a dream I have almost nightly. It’s a dream I am SICK to death of. It is a dream that my analyst and I keep trying to analyze away. My fantasy is that if I could only crack the code of the dream and figure out exactly why I am dreaming it then it will stop tormenting me.

For a while I thought it was an anxiety dream. I was afraid that he would leave me. I finally found love and I was afraid I would lose it. I worked that interpretation through to its logical conclusion, only the nightmare came back the very next night. Keith suggested that perhaps it was the banana I was eating before bed that was causing the nightmares( Keith tends to blame bananas for everything from mosquito bites to nightmares. I am not exactly sure what bananas did to him, but they are for sure a culinary scapegoat). I quit eating the bananas the nightmare remained. Then my analyst asked if I was perhaps leaving him and my dream was making it the other way round? Well, there’s truth in that. When I feel scared and my attachment issues are activated I do find that I want to run away. I want to be the one who is leaving and to not be left. And I am REALLY in this relationship and being REALLY in it makes me feel vulnerable and afraid that he might leave me( my waking anxiety about this tends to go to, “he’ll die and I’ll be alone”). Whenever that feeling hits the surface I want to put my running shoes on and run away and protect myself from the pain of losing him.

This morning when I told Keith how sick and tired I am of having him leave me every-night. He told me, “I wish I had a pill for you to take and make it go away.” I told him I wished he did too.

Today I will go see my analyst and I will talk about this dream again. I will tell her that we have to figure it out. I will implore her to give me an interpretation that will satisfy my psyche and liberate me from this “Groundhog’s Day“.

I do wonder if doing what I did with the other nightmare would work with this one. Only I can’t bring myself to say out loud, “Go ahead and leave me.” I just can’t do it.

Freudians are sexy; Jungians are not ( at least not this last weekend)

I spent Friday night with Jung and Saturday morning with Freud. That sounds kind of bad. It sounds like I get around, at lease theoretically speaking. Doesn’t it? And the truth is, I do. I am a bit of a psycho-dynamic polyamorist, meaning I love Freud and Jung and Lacan and Winnicott andFairbairn and Bion and… But I am not writing today about my theoretical polyamory. Today I am talking about sexy. Sexy isn’t something you think a lot about when you think about psychology but it was something I have been thinking a lot about.

Friday night I attended a documentary about Sabina Speirlein and the audience was heavily weighted with Jungians. And the look of the attendees was decidedly “not sexy”. Most of the attendees were over-50 woman who rejected hair color with the same vehemence they might reject a prescription for Prozac or a cognitive intervention. The room was so gray that I felt like I was attending an AARP convention in the midst of hippy-dippy-granola-town-goat’s-milk, USA. Then there was the matter of their clothing: again with the gray. And with the gray there were the ubiquitous shawls and the ethnic inspired jewelry, a’la Chico’s, and the VERY comfortable shoes. I have never seen so many comfortable shoes in one place—there was not a single pair of platforms in the entire pavilion. The lady in gray who sat next to me during the screening was so comfortable in her Mephistos that she took them off. She sat next to me in a public place in her bare feet. I was aghast at her barefooted boldness. I sat there in my red J Crew suede pointed-toe penny loafers and silently judged her for exposing her feet in a public place( yes, I have some naked feet issues and these issues are amplified if the naked foot in question has never been pedicured) and scanned my mind for the appropriate DSM-IV diagnosis that would fit such shocking lack of public decency.

Beyond the drab clothes, gray hair and comfortable shoes there was just a general vibe of croniness(The crone is the archetype of the the old wise woman), haginess and witchypoo-ness to the event. These Jungian women seemed to actively embrace these archetypes and I don’t think they would in any way bristle at me describing them as a crone or a hag.  As I am a gal who loves her chemically assisted hair colour, Botox, fashionable attire and heels high enough to enter the realm of Icarus, I felt very out of place and, to tell you the truth, in such crone-filled environments I often feel more than a little unwelcome. I sometimes get the feeling that if you look like you make too much effort on your appearance that the Jungian crone women will decide that you are lacking in depth. That may not be the case but I can tell you that it certainly feels that way.

When I was working on my graduate thesis “The genesis of shame: The fig leaf of fashion and its place in psychotherapy” and I would tell women analysts in the Jungian community in which I trained that I was writing on the topic of clothing I received some pretty harsh judgements.  Clothing was looked at as immaterial to the field of psychology and judged as a surface interest and not one that should be given serious academic consideration. It’s interesting to note that five years after completing my thesis that the very same institute offered the course, “Clothes in the Analytic Relationship: Not For Women Only”. It was bittersweet to see that the topic was finally being considered. I attended the nearly sold out event and was somewhat pleased to see that the women who did the presentation had not approached the topic with the depth of analysis that I had. I was also amused and somewhat irritated by the participants cooing question to the presenters, “This is such a rich therapeutic topic. Why hasn’t anyone written on it before?” Grrr!!!!

Okay, sorry for the tangent, back to sexy. So Friday night was extremely un-sexy. That’s not entirely true. The documentary on Sabina Spielrein was kind of sexy in that she was an amazing women who contributed much the the field of psychoanalysis and she slept with Jung and she had the balls to call him out on his bad behavior and then spilled the beans to Freud and went onto become a psychoanalyst. Sabina was sexy. Jung not so much and the attendees of the documentary were definitely not sexy.

Saturday morning I attended a lecture on the Greek Philosophical Roots of Psychoanalysis. I was expecting for the class to be fascinating and insightful and it was. What I had not expected was that the teacher was going to be so sexy. She really was. She had long hair that she tossed back away from her face to great effect. She wore an amazing and figure flattering dress that I would have loved to have. She gesticulated passionately with her long and manicured talons. Peep toe platform pumps revealed red pedicured toes. She was undeniably sexy and super smart. As I sat in the audience discovering how Freud had likely been influenced by Aristotle, I found my mind reviewing some of the female Freudian and Post-Freudian professors I’ve had and how most of them looked extremely embodied, sensual and as if they probably had a pretty amazing sex life( that could just be my projection however there has been a kind of wildness to their hair, some serious heels and a leather skirt or two that all seem to say that their knowledge of sex is more than just clinical).

As Dr. Sexy Freudian lectured I found myself comparing and contrasting the differing representations of femininity that I experienced at both events and I felt MUCH more at home at the second. As I contemplated the differences I imagined that the gray/drab/Mephisto wearing women were a kind of asensual-intellectual that rejected sexuality and embodiment in favor of the world of the mind. and that the wild-haired and skirt and heel wearing Freudian’s clearly had a life in which they managed to be embodied, sexy and smart(Dr. Sexy has a PhD and a PsyD and is a psychoanalyst and an artist and she speaks Latin and she has crazy-sexy style and she is funny).

When the lecture was over I went up and thanked Dr. Sexy for her lecture. What I didn’t thank her for was her willingness to be feminine and sexy and smart(not choosing one at the expense of the other) nor did I tell her how personally meaningful it was to discover such a well-dressed role model.  I really wished I had thanked her for being who she is as witnessing her being herself was even more awesome than anything I learned about Aristotle ( and I did learn some good stuff about Mr. Golden Mean).  I am sure she over the years she has received some guff for being so glamorous but she didn’t let the guff stop her.  She could quote Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle with ease, all while looking like a Russian Jaquelyn Bissett and that is seriously impressive. And no woman, no matter how high her IQ, wouldn’t like to hear that she inspires and looks great while doing it—at least no woman I know of.

Labels that lower your worth or J Crew as Bad Faith

Okay, so here’s the deal, most of us…me included….like our labels. No, I am not talking about Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci–although those are some nice labels. Actually my labels of choice are more likely to be JCrew, Kate Spade, Diane Von Furtstenburg and Tory Burch. But those are not the labels I am talking about. I am talking about identity labels—-labels such as “mother’, “daughter”, “therapist”, “wife”, etc.  We work hard to achieve those labels. We go to school for some of them. We go to counseling to maintain others. We pay $100,000 for a party that announces we are now a “Mrs.”.  These labels define us and when we lose them we can feel like we have lost our purpose in life.
This last year I lost some labels and gained some new ones. Being someone’s wife give me some social cache and comfort. And as I was no one’s mother, being someone’s wife made me feel like I had at least achieved one developmental milestone that made me seem like I was on the adult-who-plays-by-the-rules track. And in losing the label of ‘wife’ I had some undeniable existential angst, ennui and meaningless. However, ultimately in losing the label I gained more freedom to be who I really am.

Jean Paul Sartre, the father of Existential philosophy and the only philosopher to ever admit being chased by a crustacean( a bad mescalin trip), and the other fab four of the existential philosopher club ( Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and Heidegger) ask their readers to dump these labels(being-in-itself) faster than you might ditch a questionable Prada knock off. But why do they want you to ditch them? They think it’s bad faith. What’s “bad faith”? “Bad faith, according to Sartre, is “the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns their innate freedom to act authentically.”

Let me have Sartre explain bad faith in his own words: “Consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand.” Sartre is not singling out waiters,  it’s just likely the example that came to mind as he spent so much time hanging at out Parisian cafes. Sartre is using them to attack the notion of over-identifying with a role( what Jung might call Persona identification) and how that over-identification with a role limits our freedom.

Satre expands his analysis to those who work at the Piggly Wiggly: “A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer, ” Sartre continues. “Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer, just as the soldier at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with a direct regard which does not see at all, which is no longer meant to see, since it is the rule and not the interest of the moment which determines the point he must fix his eyes on (the sight “fixed at ten paces”). There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.”

Did you read the fantastic book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog?  If not, you should. In it there is a character, Renée, who is the concierge of an upscale Parisian apartment. She works to  conform to the expectations people have of a concierge. She is fat, cantankerous, and is seemingly addicted to TV. She hides the parts of her that do not conform to the cliche of concierge.  Renée is  secretly a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. Renée is a perfect example of Bad Faith.

When I started my blog I wanted a place to talk about things that I couldn’t talk about as a therapist. I had interests and passions that were not considered “depthful” or appropriate interests for one who was working on accessing the unconscious. My interest in shoes, clothing,  skincare, and aesthetics were considered surface and not part of the expected interests of one who was a depth psychotherapist. La Belette Rouge gave me a place for me to break from the role of therapist and in having a place for that part of myself I began to value it more and was able to incorporate more of myself. I found that the more I wrote about these interests the more authentic I became and less and less felt the need to act out of an expectation of the role of therapist. I am a therapist who loves depth and discourse and philosophy and I also love skincare and shoes and leopard print and being girly. Sartre would like that about me, I think.

Sartre was so committed to this notion that one shouldn’t be identified by labels, and that to do so is to treat yourself as an object and not as a being, that he refused to accept the Nobel prize. He knew if that he accepted the prize that was accepting a label and to accept a label is to limit your freedom. That is putting your money where your mouth is. I think if I was JPS, I might have tried to write a book of philosophy that argued it isn’t bad faith to accept a Nobel prize.

So what labels are you over-identified with? Do you find that these labels impinge your freedom? Oh, and just to bring about of whimsy to this post and negate the entire premise of this thesis, what clothing label do you most identify with and why? For me, JCrew continues to be the brand that I most identify with. Why? I suppose they are about classics with a twist. That’s me. I like things that endure and yet aren’t stuffy. I’m Episcopalian ( definitely classic with a twist). I prefer classical literature to modern novels—-mostly. I like designs that promise to be in style in twenty years and that don’t take themselves too seriously. That said, I also buy clothes from unexpected places (Target, etc)—which I think means I am not so over-identifed with a label that I am committing sartorial Sartrian bad faith.




About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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