A Headshrinker's Guide to the Galaxy

Psychoanalytic wisdom for everyday life

Is Feeling The ‘Crazy Sad Stuff’ The Way To A Silver Lining?

A psychoanalyst looks at the film, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Note from Dr. Kunst: It is my pleasure to share with you a post by my friend and colleague, Dr. Sandra Fenster.

Does every cloud have a silver lining? Sometimes it doesn’t seem so. David O. Russell’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ does its best to find one – in an endearing, heartfelt, hopeful, and real portrayal of complicated emotional matters like Bipolar Disorder, OCD, and reactions to loss. The movie has just one drawback. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is, itself, a bit manic.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved the movie. But, as an analyst – I came away thinking: what happened to the sadness? Remember when Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) tells Pat (Bradley Cooper) he has to accept all parts of himself, like Tiffany does - even his ‘sad crazy shit”? What’s Pat’s response? “Are you fucking nuts?” The purpose of the manic side of Bipolar Disorder is to push sadness as far from awareness as possible. The movie does the same.

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The problem is – Pat has no help with his sadness and he relies heavily on his ‘Excelsior!’ strategy. In Latin, excelsior means ‘higher’; ‘ever upward’; ‘more elevated’. Not an unreasonable goal. But, Pat believes that staying positive is the only way to control his illness and “get a shot at the silver lining”. That’s actually not true. Being positive might sound like hope. But, having to keep your mood elevated can be a manic running from feelings. Real hope involves working out your sadness.

That’s easier said than done for Pat – especially when the well meaning but rather inept Dr. Patel says things like: “You need to recognize these feelings coming to you. So when you get these feelings, you need to get to a quieter place, and be at peace with yourself, however you can.”  He’s right about Pat needing to slow down and feel that ‘shitty sad stuff’. But Pat can’t do it alone.  And Dr. Patel sends him away to a place that is not his office.

Wouldn’t this make Pat feel that his sadness is too ‘crazy’ even for Dr. Patel? The next thing we know, Dr. Patel has run off into Philadelphia Eagles mania. I know this is comedy – but there isn’t anything funny about a therapist sending his patient to be alone with his feelings. Nor is it funny for him to join up with the very ways Pat, himself, escapes from sadness. A therapist should provide a place of all feelings. If Dr. Patel had, Pat might have discovered his sadness isn’t crazy at all. 

Pat and Tiffany (with the compelling and believable performances of Cooper and Lawrence) do find a silver lining. Through the hard work of the actual and metaphoric dance they do together, they learn how to have an honest and loving relationship. In the real world, though, this kind of happy ending usually comes with the capacity to grieve your losses. 

Holidays are a time when old losses, or recent ones, are unavoidable. Give yourself the gift of feeling your sadness. Find friends, family, or even a therapist who is not like Dr. Patel. Sad feelings aren’t crazy – they just need someone who listens, really hears, and understands. Otherwise, the silver lining can get lost in a fog of lonely depression. Every cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes it’s just too difficult to find alone.

Copyright 2012 by Sandra Fenster, Ph.D.

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Visit Dr. Fenster at www.drsandrafenster.com

Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, working with adults and couples in her private practice in Pasadena, CA.

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