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Addendum re: psychoanalysis

August 6, 2010

I looked up the term “well defended”, and (how rare this is, these days!) the internet had nothing pithy or pointed to offer. I realize that I–though I believe I know exactly what I mean when I employ the term to describe someone, and also know that it is, in fact, a term bandied about by Freudian analysts–do not quite know how best to explain it. (Remind me of my inadequacies the next time I lament the great loss to American scholarship caused by my failure to go on the academic job market, will you?) This sort of thing used to happen a lot when I was teaching English (with no qualifications whatsoever save my nationality) abroad. “I am not understanding meaning of word, ‘get’,” one of my students would say.

Um, I’d say. It means, like, take. Or something. It’s the present tense of…got.

“Got!” another student would happily exclaim. “I got rhythm, baby!”

No, wait, actually it’s the past tense of have, I’d say, riffling desperately through the Czech-English dictionary. No, no, that’s wrong. The past tense of get is got.

The students would cock their heads at me, then all chime in at once. (The concept of Raising One’s Hand did not seem to exist behind the Iron Curtain.) “What is meaning of ‘get sick’? ‘Get into the groove’? And ‘get happy’? And what means ‘get out of here’? ‘Get lost!'”

“Please,” said my favorite student, a soft-spoken man who, four days out of five, wore a t-shirt that said, in English, “100 Percent Cream-Free Wildlife.” “What is ‘get it’ meaning?”

Apparently get means everything–or at least something different every time, I’d say, laughing. Get it?

They didn’t.

Anyway, I’m about to get gone for a week. Tomorrow morning my boyfriend, his daughters, my kids and I are driving north to a rented cabin on a lake. It’s kind of a big deal–we can’t really afford it, but we’re going anyway, and it’s the first mutual vacation the six of us have taken together. As I type this the four kids are playing Monopoly in the living room and eating the odds-and-ends lunch I fixed for them; I’m pretty sure all four have been talking constantly since they woke up. (My kids are champion talkers–the summer my younger son was five, he was only quiet when he was actually under water–but my boyfriend’s kids, to my great amazement and amusement, talk so much and so loudly and so fast that even my kids look a little shellshocked at the end of the day.)

Before I met them, I wondered whether I’d like my boyfriend’s kids; I never expected to like them as much as I do. I also didn’t expect my kids to like my boyfriend as much as they apparently do. So we all lucked out in that respect. But the jewel in the crown is the way his daughters and my sons get along–all four of them, in every permutation. I know I’ve alluded to the kids’ compatibility before, but I’m constantly astonished by it. I would never in my wildest dreams have dared to hope for it. I know we are lucky beyond belief. I know it, and I’m so grateful for it, and so charmed by the four of them, out there in the living room bankrupting one another and squealing and giggling and squabbling and teasing, like cousins, like friends.

There will be no internet this week, for any of us. There will be poker and bingo and fishing and swimming and boating–we actually bought a six person inflatable boat using my boyfriend’s credit card reward points (much excitement). The kids are all psyched to play charades, believe it or not. We’ve tricked them into thinking this kind of thing is cool. (Kids! Such suckers.) I imagine the bigger ones won’t fall for this sort of thing for much longer–they’re both starting high school in the fall–but for now, we’ve got their nerdy little numbers, for sure.

I welcome all suggestions for ways to ward off the evil eye–we’re too lucky, and I know it. I suppose it could rain the whole time or we could all get the flu or worse, much worse. Something can always go wrong. And there will certainly be snits and fights and lots of boring grown-up work–the meals, think of all the MEALS! And Monopoly, in my experience, brings out everyone’s inner vicious capitalist pig–if they keep playing like this, there are bound to be tears. However. For now, I’m sitting very very still, trying not to attract the attention of some jealous, vengeful deity. Life’s too good, friends. I’ll see you in a week.

P. S. My favorite use of the term “well defended” occurs in Adam Gopnik’s stunning essay “Man Goes to See a Doctor”. It’s reprinted in the New Yorker collection of Profiles (Life Stories, I believe it’s called.) I wanted to link to it, but the New Yorker has only a teaser available, unless you’re a subscriber willing to log in. I would quote the relevant passage, but I really just want you to go read the essay. It’s brilliant. And then go read The Treatment by Daniel Menaker, and tell me whether you think he’s writing about the same shrink, in disguise.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2010 9:55 pm

    Hi there. I’m a psychotherapist who does psychodynamic work (I’m not a psychoanalyst though I have done some training with them). I really enjoy your blog. And this talk of defenses is right up my alley. When you get down to brass tacks, a defense is anything that prevents the experience of emotion or interpersonal closeness. So “well defended” would suggest someone who is very cut off from their experience of emotion, and/or from the experience of interpersonal intimacy.

    There is a whole taxonomy of defenses (intellectualization, projection, sublimation, etc.), but you can dispense with the whole lot by just keeping in mind the notion that a defense is functional – anything that keeps feelings and closeness away is defensive. Simple!

  2. August 11, 2010 10:33 am

    Ah! Well defended – I get it, I think.

    Will now stop imagining your therapist as a moated fortress.

  3. Apple permalink
    August 11, 2010 1:18 pm

    I hope your vacation is wonderful. It sounds fabulous. Have a great, great time. You definitely deserve it.

  4. August 12, 2010 6:29 am

    Ok – I think I finally get it!

  5. leigh permalink
    August 13, 2010 1:52 pm

    I just want to say: I really love your blog and so, so, so enjoy your writing. I can’t remember how I got here, but I’m glad I did. Somehow reading you feels like lounging on a summer afternoon.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      August 15, 2010 7:32 pm

      Thank you. I’m amazed and humbled and astonished.

  6. Sarah permalink
    March 12, 2013 7:05 pm

    leigh is right. it is true, it does. even three years later!

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