Brent Potter, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist with 20 years of direct clinical service. He is the Director for the Society for Laingian Studies. Brent is the author of numerous articles whose topics include: innovative and effective mental healthcare models, analytical psychology, humanistic psychology, existential-phenomenology, psychoanalysis, the psychotic register of the mind, character and personality disorders, chemical dependency and child / adolescent mental health concerns. His first book, ‘Elements of Self-Destruction’ is out via Karnac Books and he has three forthcoming books.
Workshop Title: The Hallowed in the Hollow: Meaning in Self-Destructive Processes.
Damage is a part of life. Spiritual and religious luminaries of bygone eras are purported to have lived without damaging themselves or others. The rest of us, throughout history and into the present, knowingly and unknowingly inflict harm upon ourselves and others, to lesser and greater degrees, as we make our way through this pilgrimage called life. When we hurt ourselves or others, more often than not, we feel remorse. At a minimum, a ‘red flag’ goes up in our minds after seeing a person’s reaction that we probably just said or did something offensive and/or stupid. At other times, we are just blatantly destructive and feel quite justified about it in the heat of the moment. It is only after we calm down that the gut-churning “Oh my God, what did I just say (or do)?” effect kicks in. We then, hopefully, do the right thing by arranging a time to utter those most humbling of words: “I am sorry.” If you can identify with one or more aspects of what I just wrote, then you are among the majority. It seems that the majority of us do quite a bit of injury, of various sorts, because we apologize quite a bit. (According to a survey of 1,100 people conducted by Esure Car Insurance, the average person apologizes a shockingly 1.9 million times in his or her lifetime.)
In Elements of Self-Destruction (Potter, 2013) I seek to answer the question of why humans, who are motivated towards survival and aliveness, engage (individually and collectively) in so many behaviors that are abjectly destructive. In this book, I take the next indicated step: explicating the phenomenon of reparation. Damage and reparation are central themes of human existence. The word ‘sorry’, in its etymology, means “distressed, full of sorrow.” Today, the word has become watered down, used on countless occasions from accidentally bumping into someone, to expressing regret over heinous crimes and everything in between. Like my previous work, I believe that clarity can be provided by getting to the roots of the phenomenon. To this end, I will reach back in the history of depth psychology beginning with Sigmund Freud and following the thread into the work of Melanie Klein. Melanie Klein, among other pivotal discoveries, noted our capacity for destructiveness towards ourselves and others. More importantly, she accented the centrality of reparation for mental health. Acceptance of the truth, ‘inner’ and ‘outer’, is essential to this process. I go on to explicate the phenomenon of reparation around the themes of truth (aletheia), faith (pistis) and transformation (metanoia), especially as they appear in the philosophical works of Martin Heidegger and the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. I look to these thinkers, as they dedicated, in their own ways, sustained and dedicated attention to such themes and also to their origins. I then continue following the phenomenon of reparation as transformation (metanoia), tracing the phenomenon sequentially in the works of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Martin Heidegger, C.G. Jung and R.D. Laing. These thinkers have a surprisingly high degree of reflection upon and import into common, everyday lived experience. My work concludes with a critique of psychiatry, cognitive-behavioral and manualized approaches to psychological distress. I then present modalities and programs, utilizing a metanoia perspective, that are rising to replace them.