Many people feel deep down that they are incurable. No wonder. We have tried to work with ourselves - to make more money, to lose those few pounds, to find love, to give love. And nothing works.
The problem is that we are "incurable" and our marriages and relationships are incurable or so many believe. Occasionally, there's a glimmer of hope, but most of life we feel is out of our locus of control. Yet I often wonder, what is the psychological purpose of such a belief?
Do we want to feel incurable? What do we get out of this curious state of feeling?
Pity the poor friend of mine. Pity more his unending line of girlfriends. Bright, intelligent, looks like a Greek god, but forever repeating his early life. He "can't" find happiness with a woman. Woman after woman ends up being the "wrong" one and he feels he "must" get rid of them. Someone in his group suggested that he not a victim, but rather a slayer. He bristles at the idea, but he does after several decades of repetition believe that there is something in him that is the source of his misery only that he is, sadly, incurable.
Another friend of mine is a perennial loser. Kind she is as the day is long, as hard a worker as there ever was, but she goes from job to job, project to project always on the short end, walking out with nothing or very little. She feels mildly cheated in every business situation and decided at some point to spend the rest of her life in a sulk.
She wears her poverty as some kind of virtue, but in reality, there is a problem. She can feel it. It's like having a low-grade fever. You know it's there, but you can pretend it's not. She told me that she went recently to her (new) analyst and told him that she didn't want to come because she was afraid to confirm what she already suspects: she has an incurable disease. She was born under a bad sign and is fated to have nothing or next-to-nothing.
To her surprise, her analyst confirmed for her that she was "terminal," but that she should consider coming to treatment as a contribution to general science. She was enraged, though she knew he said it somewhat in jest. "You may be hopeless," he said, "but you can make an important contribution to the field on how we might cure someone as incurable as you."
My friend told me that something stopped in her when he said that. She could not think of herself in quite the same way anymore. Over coffee one morning she told me that she thinks that she had an investment in seeing herself as incurable. "That is the way my mother saw herself and me."
We both started to notice how much of the world seems invested in its own intractability. Years ago I remember listening to a friend of my father's, describe race relations in this country. He talked with a lot of intelligence about it, but I could not help but notice how much pleasure he took in the "intractability" and "irreconcilability" of the problem. Too much pleasure, I think.
*Acknowledgment to Ncaps learners and faculty and to the late Hyman Spotnitz, MD