Regulated not repressed

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.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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2 Responses to Regulated not repressed

  1. DrSteve says:

    Hello Nora – I wonder whether the psychoanalytic terms ‘repression’ and ‘suppression’ can be helpful here – the one is unconscious, the other conscious. Let’s take it that early on certain things are consciously suppressed and later become unconsciously repressed. (Freud said the superego is both conscious and unconscious. Neurology is hip to this and sees that while we’re learning a skill the memory of it resides in one part of the brain, later its resides in another.) OK, what is self-regulation in this regard? Is it suppression or repression? Both? It seems to me that clinical work might look different depending on one’s answer.
    Grotstein wanting to increase disregulation is great – with the right patients, don’t you think? Nancy McDougal says that the neurotic has his or her pot’s lid on too tight (therefore needing dysregulation); the psychotic has the heat turned up too high (thus needing regulation).

  2. norasblog says:

    Hmm. Well, suppression means to consciously curtail or keep from being expressed. Repression means to exclude from consciousness. And regulate means to adjust for proper or accurate functioning. Suppression and repression suggest that there are parts of ourselves that either we cannot tolerate knowing about or that other people cannot tolerate being exposed to. Regulation seems more neutral. It suggests that we can know about all the parts of ourselves (“visitation rights with the self”) and choose whether to express them outside of ourselves.

    If the therapist has in mind that this person needs to be less regulated (introducing “dysregulation”), it implies that you need to be unregulated to know yourself. Or perhaps that under the surface is a teeming psychotic mess. But I think the problem for the “neurotic” is not over-regulation but a deep sense that parts of him or herself are unacceptable. Dysregulation does not seem to be a prerequisite for self integration.

    For psychotics, the first step may depend on whether the person can function in the world at all. The environment may need to be regulated before the person can begin to develop internal sources of regulation.

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