Category Archives: jekyll and hyde

"What’s she like, eh?"

Growing up as a Navy kid, always just passing through, obliged to travel light, I took to collecting figures of speech–especially animal metaphors–along with my menagerie of stuffed animals. England in the early ’60s was a particularly rich hunting ground: “Get them, swanning about!” “Don’t try to weasel out of it!” “Listen to me, rabbiting on!” “He just wolfed down his dinner!” “She just catted up on the pavement!” I could go on like this till the cows come home…

Back in the States, in collegiate Animal Houses, young people were busy horsing around, pigging out, or bird-dogging another’s girlfriend (thereby qualifying as a snake-in-the-grass). These examples are all negative attributions, whose underlying belief is that a human’s “best behavior” should be angelic, rather than beastly. The field of Ethology begs to differ, finding ever more examples of animals behaving in ways heretofore believed to be uniquely human. Many species demonstrate altruism for vulnerable members of their “reference group”; and recent studies have confirmed dogs’ intolerance for favoritism, and primates’ capacity for premeditated stone-throwing.

It is my view, after more than three decades of clinical practice, that humans deny their “animal” urges at their own peril–especially their urges towards aggressive (antisocial) behavior. Ever since the publication of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the notion of a wolf-man has become a common metaphor for a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing hypocrite, whose conscious persona is self-righteous, but whose unconscious antisocial behavior is acted out–when the moon is full, or the keg is empty. “Who knew?” the shocked neighbors of the homicidal maniac du jour are inevitably quoted in the media. “He/she seemed so nice.”

In several clinical settings, civilian and military, I have been the designated “Wizard” (a Marine Corps term), to whom hapless individuals, who have violated their own (or society’s) code of conduct are sent for Anger Management counseling. I began with a current theoretical model that holds that anger is a secondary emotion, arising in response to a primary irritant–most often either humiliation or fear. To use a Cockney idiom, something you do “Gets right up my nose!” My animal metaphor for this was our purebred but long-haired German Shepherd, Lili–the runt of a litter ten–who was oh so meek and mild at 4 months, but by 6 months showed signs of what dog trainers call “fear aggression.” As my “Angry Young Men” [not all young, not all men] Group pointed out, humiliation and fear aren’t the only irritants. There is (the tort lawyer’s bread & butter) pain & suffering; and there is (Lili’s pet peeve) intrusion. She’s tall, dark & shaggy–occasionally mistaken for a wolf–fearing only the vet. What gets right up her nose is the intrusion of other dogs and/or delivery vans into “her” territory.

[To be continued in the next post…]

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"Hashi" (Say what?)

The title above demonstrates the Metalingual speech function [first discussed in the Funny Bone post]. I say the Japanese word for “bridge” [not necessarily on the River Kwai], and you ask for clarification [unless you are Lili, in which case you obediently procede to the nearest bridge]. After mastering all our dog trainer’s Japanese commands [many of which Lili also mastered], I came to believe that I could train Lili to do anything, as long as I could find the word for it in a Japanese dictionary. I have created a monster. We decided that it would be cool [in summer, and warm in winter] if we could get Lili to shut the front & side doors behind her, since she had already figured out how to let herself into the house from the outside, but would leave the door ajar. Ten minutes of successive approximation, using the command “Shimaru,” a clicker, and high-value treats [dried lamb lung, I regret to say], and she has become Carlton, Your Doorman, biffing away at an open door as many times as it takes to slam it shut. This skill loses its charm when one is ferrying in several loads of groceries from the garage, and finds the door slammed firmly in one’s face. There are other commands to avoid this…but I digress.

When I am doing psychotherapy, or even hearing/reading people co-opt clinical terms to signify something entirely different from their original meaning, I get all Metalingual about it. My first bete noire is “schizophrenic.” No, it does not mean “in two minds” about something, or acting in two mutually inconsistent ways. That would be to feel ambivalent about something, or to experience cognitive dissonance. DSM-IV criteria for schizophrenia require delusions and/or hallucinations. If one means to signify a Jekyll & Hyde switcheroo between two radically different behavior patterns, that would be a Dissociative Disorder. See, now you can stop a conversation cold in its tracks, by asking a speaker who throws around the term “schizophrenic” just what they think they mean by it.

Another co-opted word is depressed. Do you mean, like, “bummed out about something that just happened,” or that you blame yourself and think you deserve whatever bad thing just happened? [That was Freud’s original distinction in Mourning & Melancholia.] Like, are you sad that the Cubbies lost, or do you think you made them lose and everyone should hate your guts? It makes all sorts of difference to a clinician, what you mean by “depressed.” [Notice how Phatic I am, when trying to understand what the other person means to say? It helps keep the lines of communication open.] Since another early definition for depression was “anger, turned inward,” it is useful to play our old parlor game, “What gets up your nose [about the thing that is ‘depressing’ you]?” Did you brag to your out-of-town friends that the Cubs were going to win, and now you feel humiliated? Did you put your money where your mouth is, so now you are feeling the pain & suffering of a financial loss? Was it a large wager, and now you fear that the bookie is coming to have his pound of flesh, if you can’t pony up? Until you do the wolf-work of figuring out what is eating you [“What’s up your nose?”], you are stuck in that bad place, where amygdalar overload robs your hippocampus of the ability to come up with any good coping strategies, and your pre-frontal cortex can’t stop you from “doing something stupid.”

I also need to know what you really mean, when you say you “feel guilty.” It’s a Rorschach word, signifying quite different things to each “guilty” person–depending on his or her fear of divine and/or karmic retribution, or earthly punishment, or the humiliation of loss of face [for not having lived up to one’s own code of conduct]. Play the parlor game, yourself, and identify the irritants of guilt, for you. I have no doubt that as I write this, in some neuropsych lab, college students’ brains are being scanned with fMRIs, like hi-tech lie-detector tests, to see who experiences what kind of “guilt”–in what area of their brain–upon learning that they have just fulfilled Milgram’s grim prophesy for mankind: that we would all act inhumanely towards another, if given a compelling enough reason to do so.

My final example: disappointed. Everybody would be out cold on the frathouse floor, if the game was to take a drink every time you read/heard that, in the face of egregious behavior [their own, or others’] someone in the news is “disappointed.” What on earth does it mean? Miffed? Perturbed? Crushed? Desolated? Mad as hell? About to act out aggressively and antisocially? Suicidal/homicidal? In every follow-up article about a shooting-spree-ending-in-the-death-of-the-shooter, someone who knew the shooter says that he/she was “disappointed” about something that had recently occurred. So are we all, I dare say; but we don’t all go ballistic about it. Substitute a more descriptive word, the next time you catch yourself using “disappointed”: and you will be well on the way to “knowing, and training, your wolf.”

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Filed under Freud meant..., gets right up my nose, jekyll and hyde, pragmatics, secret code

"In hindsight…"

I am somewhat reluctant to pick on her, maybe because of her team’s name, but today’s quotation in the NYTimes from a suddenly notorious college soccer player is exactly what I am on about, in this blog: “I look at it [the replay of her controversial, but mostly un-carded game] and I’m like, ‘That is not me.’ I have so much regret. I can’t believe I did that.”

Remember, way back in one of my earliest posts, I recounted the retrospective musings of two female college applicants, who had been caught doing the same antisocial deed. One made a sincere attempt to understand “what got into her,” to provoke her to violate her own [and society’s] code of conduct. The other simply offered the Werewolf Defense: in so many words, “I have no idea. That is not me.”

To which I would reply, were I speaking to either that long-ago applicant or to today’s Girl Gone Wild, “That is, potentially, all of us, kiddo. Especially if we are unwilling to ‘do the wolf-work’ of reviewing the regrettable event, until we come to understand what got into us [up our nose].” If you look up accounts of that fateful game, you will see several clues, as to what “got up the nose” of this young athlete. In one instance, which led to her most aggressive response, her opponent executed a crafty “crotch grab” [as one sports reporter terms it]. Let’s do the wolf-work, shall we? Ya got yer intrusion, possibly yer pain, and I would guess some humiliation goin’ on. Three precursors to anger, delivered in one, surreptitious movement, probably not visible to the ref. Maybe not even illegal, if seen. The point of this exercise in wolf-work is not to justify the player’s angry reaction, but to understand what prompted it. Not for you or me to understand it, sportsfans. For the suspended player to understand it, herself. So she doesn’t have to go through the rest of her life like a werewolf, crying “That is not me.”

How many of us find it totemic, that she was playing for the Lobos?

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The Hoon Report

Thanks to the personable young British Formula One racer, Lewis Hamilton [whose shenanigans in his Mercedes-Benz AMG C63 “road car” two days before the Australian Grand Prix cost him a slap-on-the-wrist fine of “just under 300 pounds” for “acting like a hoon”], those of us in the Northern Hemisphere have learned a new epithet, that we can hurl at “aggressive drivers” who set off our limbic system alarms with their risky moves. Mystery shrouds the derivation of this Antipodean term [which originally referred to any “young person who engages in loutish, antisocial behavior,” but has more recently become a “semi-official term” for street drag-racers, as in “Australia considers anti-hoon legislation”]. I have two theories. One, that “hoon” is merely a contraction of “hooligan.” Two, that it comes from the objective case of the Gaelic word toin [as in the Irish imprecation, Pog ma hoin], and so originally meant “ass.” [As in “Quit acting like a hoon, you silly ass!”] Not all that farfetched, considering that the First Wave of “immigrants” to the Land Downunder were predominantly Irish. [If you don’t get the quotation marks in the previous sentence, look up meaning 4 of “transportation” in Webster’s, innit.]

Anyway, here is Fionbharr [Finn to his friends], a San Francisco rescue, to keep not-so-solipsistic-Seamus company in the new place. If Finn were, indeed, writing a blog, it would seem to be coming right out of his hoin, now, do you see?

Back to Hamilton, though, who serves as Formula One’s “ambassador for [its] global road safety campaign and has given speeches in Westminster [Parliament] on the subject.” Through his lawyer, he issued a statement to the Australian court [and the rest of us], that he had suffered “embarrassment, humiliation and distress as a result of the episode.” We’re going to consider if Hamilton has truly “owned his wolf” in a moment; but here’s how it played in court. “Magistrate Clive Alsop said he would not convict the 25-year-old because he was ashamed and remorseful. However, he added that Hamilton’s behavior was unacceptable. ‘This isn’t about somebody’s character, this about somebody in a responsible position behaving like a hoon.'”

But, do yah see, now, Magistrate Alsop, in my book [well, blog], “character” is exactly what this is about? It’s all very well to acknowledge that having one’s car impounded two days before the Oz Grand Prix is “embarrassing, humiliating, and distressing.” That’s being sorry you were caught. It does not address the question: “What got up my nose, that I decided to violate the rules of the road [and the core values of the road safety campaign for which I am a high-profile spokesman]?” As with all the grabbed-from-the-headlines cases I cite, I realize that once the accused has “lawyered up,” the odds of such public self-disclosure lengthen considerably. But we, the mere readers of the story, can ask the up-your-nose question on their behalf [and vicariously, on ours]. For unless “out-of-character” behavior is understood, it is likely to recur.

As with the ponytaail-yanking soccer player in the post “In Hindsight,” perhaps the question does get asked and answered, in private, after the news media have cleared off. Having served a 2-game suspension, that young lady is back playing for the Lobos. Maybe she has done her “wolf work,” and has figured out how, in that aggressive sport, to avoid acting like a Red-Card-level hoon.

As for my boy Hamilton, he won the Belgian Grand Prix yesterday, by “driving safely and keeping out of trouble.” Even though Chris Rock laments that “There is no rehab for stupid,” there may be rehab for acting like a hoon. Let’s hope so, anyway, since we’ve all been there, if we’re honest with ourselves.

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Filed under jekyll and hyde, understanding shenanigans