I find psychoanalytic theory appealing because its mission is to investigate and interpret the unconscious psyche to re-imagine self-perception and integrate unconscious revelations into the conscious self-construct. In other words, the goal of psychoanalysis is to call into question the self-image of the analysand, as it has been fashioned by the ego, in attempt to conform to the desires of surrounding others.
“Meaning..is tied up with our self-image, with the image we have of who and what we are. In a word, meaning is related to the ‘ego’ or ‘self’ (two words I use synonymously in this book) to what we view as part and parcel of ourselves; hence, meaning excludes that which does not fit in with our own self image.”Bruce Fink, A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis: Theory and Technique
As subjects, self-perception is established by the things we hear others say of us, the unspoken implications of the interactions of others with us, and our inferred perspective of the opinions others have toward us. We define our selves in accordance with how we think others define us, sometimes accurately, sometimes not. Regardless of our precision in estimating the opinions of others, our subjective interpretation becomes the founding premise of the ego, and the ego cannot bear contradiction.
As I have mentioned in prior posts, Hegel’s philosophy distinguishes contradiction from opposition. Our tendency as thinking subjects is to avoid contradiction at all costs, boiling it down to opposition. For some reason, opposition–adversity–feels far more comfortable to us than unified paradox. Maybe the ego is responsible for this shortcoming.
No matter the reason, once the ego defines a subject, it resists any evidence calling such definition into question, as “meaning excludes that which does not fit in with our own self image” (see Fink quote above).
I will illustrate the principles through another self portrait. On the day I took these pictures, I told myself countless times, “I am getting fat,” yet what was I really telling myself?
I was telling myself “People will think I am getting fat because I have not successfully maintained my ultra-thin image, because I have not successfully restrained my appetite for cheese and sugar.”
My self image includes an unwavering requirement to sustain an impossibly slender physique; in part, because from an early age, my parents took pride in their “tiny” daughter’s below average stature; in part, because I gleaned from my surrounding community the immeasurable value of the slender female. No matter the factors contributing to my ego’s definition of what Julie must be, my conscious existence has resisted any evidence to the contrary. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that I have struggled with an eating disorder since the age of twelve. It stands to reason that when my body naturally developed curves, which called into question my rigid identification of myself, I labored to thwart that development through dietary restriction and compulsive exercise. My ego could not handle the evidence that perhaps, I am not meant to be a super skinny human–that perhaps, while I am short and small framed, my body composition is destined to be far more Tinkerbell than Wendy.
While I have said repeatedly on this blog that I am not engaged in formal psychoanalysis, I find I am able, in some respects, to engage in analysis as an analysand through the study of psychoanalytic theory. I believe it is time for me to question the authority of my ego–the conscious part of myself that determines to force my curvy body into bean pole spaces. It is time to tear down my self-image, and to re-build, integrating the lessons transmitted through my unconscious drives.
My conscious decisions often lead to dietary restrictions. My unconscious irrupts when I feel deprived, which leads me down winding trails of overindulgence and self-defeat. I think it is high time that I accept the hungry part of myself, the part of myself that enjoys eating things like Basil rubbed Fontinella and drinking the likes of coffee and Sauvignon Blanc. Maybe if I permit myself flexibility, if I loosen the hold of my ego-identification, then I can end (or at least, mitigate) the ridiculous fluctuations between want and greed.