The current racist atrocities in the U.S. and the worldwide demonstrations of rage, whether expressed peacefully or violently, have heightened our awareness of our complacency about the impact of centuries of violence visited upon Black lives. We recognize that racism is deeply entrenched in American history, reinforced by current systems and policies, and experienced by its victims, day in and day out.
The Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center is committed to educating ourselves to the harm and pain caused by systemic racism; to scrutinizing ourselves and our organization for racist ideas and practices; and to taking active steps towards becoming a more fully antiracist presence in the world.
As professionals who study the development of the mind from infancy, we know that humans are born with an ability to project unwanted feelings and blame outside themselves, onto others. Under optimal conditions, this ability is modified as the child develops both a conscience, and also a larger capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings. And yet, a tendency to attribute our own undesirable qualities onto others persists lifelong.
We also know that young children readily absorb their families’ ideas, attitudes, values, moral code, and behavior from the beginning. The transmission of this knowledge occurs through instruction at home, school, and cultural and religious institutions. Equally important to explicit teaching is nonverbal, or implicit, communication of information. Racist beliefs and biases are internalized unseen, like the air we breathe.
The mind of a child is fertile ground for sowing feelings of racial superiority or inferiority, as their identity is formed and consolidated over time. Racial identities tend to endure, unless they are modified by antiracist experiences and by discovery of one’s own conscious and unconscious racial beliefs. Equating differences with inferiority paves the way to discrimination. These truths apply to our own families and ourselves, including the most seasoned of psychoanalysts.
The members of the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center acknowledge that a belief in white superiority has thoroughly permeated society since the destruction of American Indian cultures and the theft and enslavement of African people. Inevitably, American psychoanalytic training programs and the broader mental health community have been, and continue to be, participants in the culture of racism. We recognize that we have furthered the interests of the white majority, even as we also affirm the inherent dignity of all people.
We acknowledge our complicity as flawed individuals in perpetuating racist attitudes, practices, and policies within the training, membership, outreach, and leadership functions of our organization, as well as within our individual clinical practices.
We acknowledge our failure to apply psychoanalytic theories and modes of therapy to the racial biases that exist in us all.
We acknowledge that aspirations and ideals alone are insufficient to establish us as evolving antiracists.
And, we acknowledge that we as a psychoanalytic center need to actively study racism, both conscious and unconscious; to identify racist practices and policies within our organization; and to bring antiracist actions to bear on our recruiting, teaching, mentoring and supervising, and clinical practices.
We believe that psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapies are powerful instruments for promoting deep self-awareness and opening new avenues for personal growth, development, and change. We hold that sincere and continual reflection on our racial values will:
Yield a more fair and equitable distribution of the mental health and educational resources that we steward;
Reduce racism within the walls of our classrooms and consulting rooms, and;
Establish the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center as a safe place for the open examination of our racist blindspots and antiracist ideals.
We acknowledge antiracism as a moral imperative, and we commit to both urgent and persistent actions to implement this pledge.
We gratefully acknowledge the following for their leadership in framing antiracist statements that are relevant to a psychoanalytic center such as ours: The Psychoanalytic Center of the Carolinas (PCC), Christine Erskine, LCSW, President, and Dorothy Evans Holmes, Ph.D., Training and Supervising Analyst and advocate for antiracist change within psychoanalytic centers and institutes; Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis (WBCP); and the American Psychoanalytic Association (apsa.org).
There are a myriad ways of filtering the current universal experience, some of which address the commonality of the experience, others addressing the individual and idiosyncratic aspects to the experience. This pandemic affects everyone, though particular circumstances externally very widely, just as the particular personalities and histories vary widely. We are looking for connection through the universality of the experience. But we are also learning that that discounts terrible social aspects that can influence outcome- wealth, race, and geographic location particularly. The following discussion is offered not to deny being black or poor makes one more vulnerable, less protected, than being white and with means. I am going to look at the internal processes that are universal in this, to look at the common thread to the experience that, if we identify it, can help us know how to address it in the future.
Much has been written about child development, about the various stages that children go through on the way to becoming adults. One way of thinking about this is to understand what we mean by stages. As children grow, they are receiving new information from inside their bodies as their biological and physiological selves develop, and new information from the outside as their brains and neurological pathways develop. Structures and organization within the personality develop around this information and around feelings and conflicts of each stage. The new information propels growth, and results in progress, but along the way destabilizes what structures and organizations have developed according to the earlier information and feelings in place. So new information, new experiences, upset the apple cart for a while, until new organization and understanding emerge. Development is the process of organization, disorganization, reorganization. Or put another way, it is the process of stabilization, destabilization, re-stabilization. This means that when things change, anxiety and confusion can reign until a new order comes into being.
The pandemic has disorganized our external world, our internal worlds are struggling with these changes. Just like in child development, where children are in flux as they move through childhood, we are in flux as we move through a world that isn’t operation on the known principles we had assumed were constant. This means we are feeling uncertain, unable to predict things, unsafe.The world isn’t what we want it to be or what we thought it was. And the changes emerging from this will mean we change in how we feel and function in the world, long after the pandemic is in the rear view mirror. We are seeing things in our culture and world that don’t work, when we had lived as if they did work. It has focused us to feel more acutely the global and local changes that are highlighted during this disaster. Our systems failed, our sense of our country and our society have altered, and our sense of our own place in the world are altered.
But jut as in developmental process, this dislocation and disorganization will yield to a new organization, internally and externally, that can take into account the new information in front of us. Hopefully, we will tackle the problems this has laid bare in a way that is effective, humane, honest and responsible. This is what development has always meant- that we change and evolve, we adapt and accept the alterations, and they become integrated into who we are. This is the challenge for us as individuals and us as a society.
Dr. Shengold, an esteemed psychoanalyst who in two books vividly described the terrifying impact of long term abuse and neglect of children as “soul murder” died on January 16, 2020 at his home in Stone Ridge, NY. He was 94.
Remarks and summary provided
by Joanne Naegele, psychoanalyst.
To have an Analytic Flicks discussion on Downton Abbey on October 20, 2019 at the Cleveland Psychoanalytic Center, Sunday evening, from 7:30PM-9PM was too unique of an opportunity to pass up. And I wasn’t alone in this opinion. Participants came from far and wide, Avon Lake, Bay Village, Highland Heights and well as from Cleveland Heights and Shaker. There were 8 of us. Some, as a group, had watched every episode of Downton Abby in the six-year weekly TV show. The last episode was in 2015, four years ago. Others had “binge watched” a year or two of the episodes before going to the 2019 movie. We all agreed. It was like “visiting family.”
“The Royals Are Coming! The Royals Are Coming!Get ready for more raised eyebrows and pursed lips as Downton Abbey arrives.” So, the movie reviewer, Jeannette Catsoulis, (NYTimes, Sept. 20, 2019) introduced the film. The TV series was created by Brian Percival. The screenplay writer is Julian Fellowes. The director of the movie is Michael Engler. The film runs 123 minutes.
I saw the movie on opening night at the Cedar Lee Theater. At that showing, people in the audience were dressed as if the year was 1927. Some wore “dresses dripping with beads and fringe, and hats that resembled sequined helmets.” Some men were in herringbone-tweed formal suits with ties, in a throwback to the 1920’s. It was great fun!
What is the appeal? You
are taken through London in 1927, via the delivery of a letter hand-stamped by
the king, traveling by letter-carrier, by train, by the Royal Mail delivery car
to Downton Abbey. It is thrilling to
see. The cars! The countryside! The Castles!
The pageantry of it all!
To have “Downton Abbey” as a movie is to get a glimpse of and to be re-immersed in the “warm bath of privilege.” There is a fantasy of a “benign aristocracy, grateful underlings and a ‘noblesse oblige.’” But what fun they have in this film, and the audience did too, laughing, cheering, applauding at certain parts. We were glad to see the characters again. Maggie Smith was back as Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. She was given some of the best lines, some real “zingers,” such as, “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” In the movie she is determined in her scheming to secure a family inheritance. In the plot, Maggie Smith has a long-standing beef with Lady Maud Bagshaw, (Imelda Staunton), one of the queen’s ladies in waiting. “Harry Potter” followers recognized the actress as Hogwarts Headmistress Delores Umbridge. The Butler, Mr. Carson, (Jim Carter), returns, entirely as “himself” as he struts down the long walk to the castle. “You can count on me, M’Lady.” He is asked to come out of retirement for a very special occasion, to “oversee the polishing of every silver fork,” since the new butler, Mr. Barrow (Rob James-Collier) is deemed too inexperienced for the job. And what is the occasion? As the plot of the movie reveals, “Excitement is high at Downton Abbey when the Crawley family learns that King George V and Queen Mary are coming to visit.” The year is 1927. There will be a lavish meal, a fancy parade, and a grand ball in honor of King George and Queen Mary. It is an Upstairs/Downstairs peek into aristocracy. (We are all voyeurs, looking for a glimpse into the intimacies and sexual lives of others…) Upstairs is Robert Crawley, the Earl of Granthem (Hugh Bonneville) and his wife, Cora Crawley, the Countess of Granthem (Elizabeth McGovern). In the movie Lady Cora dispenses her usual calming looks and soothing advice, still oblivious to her husband’s seeming preference for the company of the dog. The Crawleys’ two daughters are present, Lady Mary (Michele Dockery) and Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael.)
When the royal household staff
arrives, the Downton servants (The Downstairs people) are informed that the
king and queen travel with their own chefs and attendants—and their help will
not be needed. This sets the stage for revolt,
an impromptu scheme and other shenanigans. Mrs. Patmore, the cook, (Lesley
Nicol) is there and straight-speaking, spontaneous Daisy is with Mrs. Patmore in
the kitchen. Daisy is engaged to Andy, a butler, but Daisy is postponing the
date of their marriage. The valet Mr. Bates is back (Brendan Coyle) with his
wife, Lady’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt.) They are both up to real mischief and
have a sharp eye for what goes on.
There are some new faces in the movie, including Tuppence Middleton, whose character is a love interest of the Crawley’s son-in law, the handsome widower, Tom Branson, played by Allen Leech.
In the discussion
of the movie, the point was made that it was only a matter of time before this
way of life is unsustainable. In actuality, for centuries British aristocrats
had hosted kings and queens in their extravagant homes. Queen Elizabeth II has
even visited Highclere Castle, the setting for “Downton.” There is a history to
this. George V came to the throne in
1910, and the custom of the traveling monarch enjoyed a renaissance. From the Middle Ages to modern times, one
thing stayed constant. If the King and
Queen wanted to stop in, it’s impossible to say no. As in the “Downton” movie it came at great
expense, and preparation would upend the family’s life as the house became, for
a short time, the seat of the royal court. (See NYTimes article, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, Film,
page 13 for more.)
We are all voyeurs. Everyone agreed that there is a
pleasure in being a voyeur, especially in peeking into the more intimate life of
“The Royals.” There are secrets, revealed in the ending. Romance is brewing, with Lady Maud Bagshaw’s
real daughter from the romance of her life with Jack Smith, Lucy Smith. She has
caught the eye of the handsome widower, Tom Branson. There is an attempted
assassination of King George which is foiled and never makes the news. Those
who had watched every episode filled the rest of us in on the “backstories,”
that is, what had happened to the family members in past episodes. This enriched
understanding the movie.
That two homosexuals could be open
(relatively) and happy about it, in 1927, brought interesting discussion.
Even though Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for his homosexuality in 1895, and
his life was ruined, it wasn’t until 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalized
in Britain & Wales. Not everyone
seemed to realize that this was a punishable crime, not so long ago.
We ended the discussion after 80
minutes, hoping there would be another film! If you are reading this blog, please
share your ideas.
Dr. Nanette Auerhahn had been notified that she has won the
2019 award by the Committee for the Elise M. Hayman Award for a paper that she
co-authored with Dori Laub, M.D. The
paper is titled “Probing the Minds of Nazi Perpetrators: The Use of Defensive
Screens in Two Generations”. The award,
carrying a $4000 prize, will be presented to Dr. Auerhahn at the Congress of
the International Psychoanalytic Association to be held in London from July
The paper, which explores defenses used by Nazi
perpetrators, describes walled-off, dissociated states that allowed atrocities
to be committed outside normal thought process by persons who had no particular
character pathology. The study used Dr.
Auerhahn’s own clinical material plus years of material accumulated by Dr. Dori
Laub with whom she has worked for several decades, beginning while a doctoral
student at Yale University. Dr. Laub
died in June 2018, after which Dr. Auerhahn completed the paper. In their work with children of both
perpetrators and survivors, both analysts were able to help their analysands
integrate evidence of screened off atrocities into their narrative when they
were recognized and interpreted.
An earlier version of this paper was presented by Drs. Laub
and Auerhahn at a meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New
York on February 14, 2018.