Wednesday 20 August 2008

Transference? You wish, Emile

I've never been particularly fond of relentlessly happy and upbeat people. I don't find them inspiring or contagiously effervescent, merely draining and suspicious. It's not that I begrudge them their happiness – in fact, I'm happy for them, in an unhappy-happy kind of way - it's just that we don't really click.

If we accept, on a very basic level, that there is some likely truth in those theories dealing with the narcissism of depression – and I think that we should – then it seems fair to wonder about the narcissism of exuberance, too. Unless you are staggeringly self-involved or have a heart of blackened granite, how on earth is it possible to pass through life in anything other than a frazzled state of despondency? Exactly, it's not. So take that, you happy, balanced fools.

Not that this has anything to do with anything, but the following entry from The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable stopped me happily short; word for word, then, we have: “Emile Coué.....French psychologist who propounded a system of psychotherapy using usually optimistic auto-suggestion; the sentence “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better” was to be said 15 to 20 times, morning and evening.”


It may be necessary, I suppose, to introduce the occasional bleakly pessimistic auto-suggestion, lest the mind grows lazily accustomed to the optimistic variety and begins to fail to respond. There is no reason to believe, after all, that the principle of habituation does not apply to those ceaselessly repeated positive reinforcements.

(All together now: every day, in every way, I know that this isn't working. Feeling "better" or happy isn't a right, mind you, and what's wrong with life-sadness, anyway? Phew, this suddenly feels cathartic. I just wish I had more than the afternoon slot in which to say these things out loud...) 

This isn't to say, of course, that conscious auto-suggestion doesn't work for some people - lots of people. But how do they do that? How do they trick themselves into believing their own words? Which part of you has to die before an optimistic auto-suggestion may pass through your system unchallenged?

You feel better.
No, Emile Coué, I do not.
At least tell yourself that you feel better.
Okay: I. Feel. Better.
Does that feel better?
Are you sure you're trying?
Are you sure you don't think I'm religious or six?
I sense hostility.

How (and why, really) would you silence the voice that mocks your assumptions and pounces, with greedy agitation, on the information flying into your head? Is this even desirable? Why deprive yourself of the chance to feel quite radically hopeless – one of life's peak experiences? Maybe we enjoy our sadness, Generic Dr Boffin. Maybe we're addicted and need to drink heavily from this big, dark, miserable well. It's not like our lives have stopped as a result of the addiction, either. We are happily despondent, quite comfortably glum; we are The Functioning Sadoholics and we are legion.

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