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What smarty-pants psychoanalysts say about shoes that defends my obsession

This shoes thing won’t let me go. For over 20-years I have been unable to do heels. I had foot problems. I was a Pisces who was more suited to swimming than walking. I was imbalanced. I couldn’t stand the pain. I was constitutionally incapable of walking in them. High-heels were just for special occasions. I needed a man to wear them, as I needed someone to lean on in order to walk in them. I could wear them for only brief periods of time. Valet parking was a must if heels were going to be worn. Only now I can walk blocks in them. I can wear them all day. I wear them alone. And I don’t need to valet park in order to wear them. So what’s happened? I have the same feet. If anything, I would imagine with age that I would be less likely to be able to tolerate four-inch heels than more. The only way I know how to make sense of this is to look at it symbolically as it can’t really be explained physically.

According to J.E. Cirlot in A Dictionary of Symbols, shoes are often symbolic of the vagina. Cirlot points to Cinderella as a story that uses shoes to symbolize female sexuality. Not surprisingly Freud saw the shoe or slipper a “symbol of the female genitals.” In symbolism, the shoe has is largely associated with fertility customs, marriage and romance. For example: The custom of tying shoes to the newlyweds car, which is symbolic of the sexual union.

The Erotic Foot” makes this interesting argument that might explain my new passion for shoes that perch me higher, “The high heel and the position it creates for the foot is a strong sexual stimulus. The feet are plantar-flexed (not perpendicular to the leg as they are in a relaxed position). This is the position emphasized for the foot in any centerfold picture. It is also achieved in the sexy crossing of legs where one foot teasingly flexes forward. The extension of the foot, pointing of the toes, particularly with a circular movement, is a strong body language signal saying “I’m available.” So perhaps my choice of foot wear speaks to my availability.

The Jungian analyst and writer, Marie-Louise Von Franz describes the symbolism of shoes in the following manner: “If we start from the hypothesis that the shoe is simply the article of clothing for covering the foot and that with it we stand on the earth, then the shoe is the standpoint, or attitude toward reality. There is much evidence for this. The Germans say when someone becomes adult that he “takes off his childish shoes,” and we say that the son “steps into his father’s shoes” or  “follows in his father’s footsteps” – he takes on the same attitude.” In that vein, it is interesting to note that the moment I knew that my marriage was over came through a pair of shoes that no longer fit. The running shoes went wrong made me aware that I needed to leave my marriage. And within a month of leaving my marriage my ability to wear high heels returned. (It is also interesting to note that He-weasel would still be taller than me in most heels, so it wasn’t out of consideration for him that I chose not to wear them). If we look at the running shoe as a shoe that should have allowed freedom of movement, speed and support and that it no longer did and how the running shoe has been replaced by a shoe that is less practical,less supportive and  more beautiful—we can see how the shoe might, as a shift in attitude and a differing standpoint then I had before. My decision might have not been practical and it left me less supported and yet my life is feeling more beautiful, and more my own.

In April( a month after the seperation), when I bought my first pair of high-heels as soon as I stepped into them I noticed feeling more powerful, sexual, visible, and much more feminine. In them I have to walk slower and more carefully but walking in heels creates a kind of deliberate awareness that I never had when walking in flats. Heels slow me down and as I am in this state of transition and am using action as a way to tolerate my anxiety, the heels work as a counter-balancing agent to my impulse to run-run-run as fast as I can.

Also important to my heel obsession is how during the same time I have given flats the boot, I have had two pretty big falls. Both falls were so signifigant that I might be left with a long term scar to remind me of them. The first fall was so scary that it almost stopped me from running. A month later when I fell again I got back up and didn’t even assess my wound before getting back into the game.  I don’t know exactly how this relates to the heels, I suppose it makes the attraction to the heels feel even stronger and more important. If I am falling and feeling a bit unstable then the fact that I am choosing 4 1/2 inch sandles and not orthapedic shoes tells me that the psychic significance of this object choice is even MORE significant. I am willing to risk the fall in order to have the heights. I suppose one might rewrite that sentence and say, “I am willing to risk falling/failing in order to have this elevated life.”

I still don’t know exactly what my ability to walk in heels is all about….but I am seriously enjoying the question, the seeking the answer, the resulting ruminations and, of course, the shoes themselves. I wanted to share with you a few things that sparkle with meaning for me as I explore this topic:

1) The blogger, Dorothea, who writes the brilliant blog, Another Door, had this to say on the subject: “You can walk in heels now because you aren’t carrying all that old weight on your shoulders, throwing off your balance. You can walk in heels now because it’s like being on tip-toe and you want to be the first to see what’s coming over the horizon. You can walk in heels now because you know that if you fall down, you can get right back up. You can walk in heels now because your legs are strong from all that running (running toward, not running away from). You can walk in heels now because you are excited about taking up as much space and attention in the world as possible.” I think she is absolutely right.  Actually, in all things I think she is absolutely right. She is a brilliant writer and you MUST read her.

These shoes.

3) This fantastic quote that follows by, the author and psychoanalyst, Christopher Bollas which does a FANTASTIC job explaining my current obsession with heels.  However, if you find reading psychoanalytic literature to be tedious, here is what Bollas says in a nutshell: We need an object to release the self into expression. What that means for me is that  at this point in my life, I need high-heeled shoes in order to become myself.

If you do like psychoanalytic reads or would like a highfalutin explanation for your shoe love then read on. Now, I am handing my blog over to Christopher Bollas, famed psychoanalyst(Please, when reading, replace the word “object” with “high-heeled shoes”. The management thanks you for your cooperation).
“Certain objects, like psychic ‘keys,’ open doors to unconsciously intense — and rich — experience in which we articulate the self that we are through the elaborating character of our response. This selection constitutes the jouissance of the true self, a bliss released through the finding of specific objects that free idiom to its articulation. As I see it, such releasings are the erotics of being: these object both serve the instinctual need for representation and provide the subject with the pleasures of the object’s actuality…

Those objects and experiences, keys to the releasing of our idiom, free us to experience the depth of our being and of the interplay between the movement of our idiom, driven by the force of our instincts, and the unconscious system of care provided by our mother and father. We are forever finding objects that disperse the objectifying self into elaborating subjectivities, where the many ‘parts of the self’ momentarily express discrete sexual urges, ideas, momories, and feelings in unconscious actions, before condensing into a transcendental dialectic, occasioned by a force of dissemination that moves us to places beyond thinking.…

… Do I select objects that disseminate my idiom or not? For example, do I pick up a novel which I don’t like but think I should read — but through which I shall not come into my being — or do I select a novel which I like, into which I can fall, losing myself to multiple experiences of self and other? Do I have a sense of this difference of choice? What if I don’t? What if I do not intuitively know which object serves me? If I don’t know then my day is likely to be a fraught or empty occasion. Neuroitic conflict eradicates, at least for a time, potential objects.… Or I may choose an object because it is meant to resolve a state of anxiety or to recontact a split-off part of myself housed there. In other words, pathology of mind biases the subject toward the sleection of objects that are congruent with unconscious illness.…

The ego chooses not only what aspect of an object to use but also what subjective mode to employ in the use.…

We can learn much about about any person’s self experienceing by obseriving his selection of objects, not only because object choice is lexical and therefore features in the speech of character syntax, but also because it may suggest a variation in the intensity of psychic experience that each person chooses. If we live an active life, then we will create a subjectified material world of psychic significance that both contains evocative units of prior work and offers us new objects that bring our idiom into being by playing us into our reality.”
From, On Being a Character: Psychoanalysis and Self Experience, 1992 by Christopher Bollas

 

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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