James Grotstein, in a talk at UCLA, explained that as an analyst, he is not trying to help people regulate themselves better. He is trying to create dysregulation since that is how you get at material that is over-regulated. He says that many people regulate their feelings and thoughts too much, and this prevents them from knowing themselves intimately. The job of the analyst, then, is to help the patient become dysregulated so that this buried material becomes available for understanding.
Grotstein is a marvelous speaker, humorous, thought-provoking, and extremely sophisticated. I thought a lot about his idea of dysregulation as the “royal road to the unconscious” (which was Freud’s description of dreams). I decided a distinction could be made between regulation and repression. This is a subtle difference but one that is profoundly important in personal development.
In common use, “regulate yourself” suggests that you control socially unacceptable behaviors and emotions, and so it carries a connotation of repression. But in reality, that connotation is not necessary. One view of regulation is the pause that allows reflective assessment of our own inner thoughts and emotions and our own inner states. That reflection gives us the chance to choose in a thoughtful way how to respond to our own inner experience. In other words, it is the dialogue of me and me. Do I accept the thought or emotion at face value? Or is it a reaction to something else? Does it stand for a different, less conscious inner experience?
Depending on my assessment, I can accept the meanings attached to my perceptions as real reflections of the outside world or I can recognize that they are somehow shaped by my inner needs and experience and are only peripherally reflective of that to which they seem to respond. I agree with the view put forth by Bhaskar at Oxford and others that although we cannot directly know reality, since our knowledge is mediated by our senses, we can come closer to it: We can be more accurate in our understanding of ourselves and our world.
This gives us two benefits: We can gain an unusual degree of intimacy with ourselves and we can respond more successfully to the outside world. The process that creates such a path and that develops our capacity for this kind of deep reflection is greatly enhanced by the empathic participation of another person who is committed to facilitating this growth. That is why long term psychotherapy is valuable. Not as a tool to make us functional, but as a process to provide an ongoing reflective awareness of our experience and simultaneously to deepen our capacity to trust another person. This makes intimacy possible with ourselves and with others. And intimacy enriches life.