A couple of weeks ago I had a dream that a woman wanted to poke my eyes out with porcupine quills. I don’t know why she wanted to use porcupine quills but the result was distressing. I woke with a start and jotted the fading memory down on a piece of paper.
It’s been hard to keep my mind off of the stuff that stresses me out. Whether it’s money woes, or friendship woes (do I see my friends enough??), to weather troubles (Curse you, Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder!) to health woes (why don’t I exercise enough?? Should I take echinacaea to sooth this cold??) It doesn’t matter what it is, it’s been making me suffer. This suffering has plagued me for weeks. Hard to feel grateful when there’s a beacon light fixed on the ills that I don’t like to think about but do on a regular basis anyway.
Doesn’t sound too different from your own life, does it?
Of course not. We all do this to ourselves. That’s why you’ll find so many memes on the topic.
What if I were to tell you that this suffering is a bad habit formed at an early age and the only way to get through it is to acknowledge that it’s a habit and consciously move on from it?
That’s the only way to be happy.
Happiness is hard work.
But hard work pays off in the end.
In 1995 Radiohead released ‘Just’, along with one of the most captivating music videos of the 90s, arguably ever. In it, lead singer Thom Yorke cries:
You do it to yourself, you do / And that’s what really hurts / Is that you do it to yourself / Just you and no one else
In the video, a man lies prone on the sidewalk of a city. The subtitles illustrate the number of people trying to help the man get up, but he won’t let them. He lies there in the recovery position, staring listlessly at nothing. At the end of the video the crowd of bystanders coaxes him into admitting his problem. We never find out because, at the last moment the subtitles disappear, and we’re left in suspended disbelief.
Why is he lying there? Because he’s suffering. And yes, he’s doing it to himself. Can you believe it’s been twenty years since that video came out?
This habit forms at such an early age that we stabilize on it without even knowing it. Some of us have a hard time shaking off that habit. Most don’t even know that it is a habit. A lot of our misdirected anger and frustration comes from stabilizing on this negative stuff. It leads to bad things. Genocide. Racism. Rape culture. All the bad things in life can break down into this deep-rooted wish to suffer.
Where did this all come from? How do I know this? This is not my own theory. This belongs to a long-forgotten psychoanalyst named Edmund Bergler. Few people know of Bergler’s theories because the psycho-analysis community didn’t like his theories on homosexuality. Apart from that stuff, his other theories still hold water. Bergler was an Austrian-born psychoanalyst who studied under Sigmund Freud in the 1930s. He was one of the first generations of psychoanalysts to come out of Freud’s tutelage. He focused on subconscious masochism — our wish to suffer. He fled Austria and settled in New York City before WWII, where he wrote over twenty books and hundreds of articles. We don’t see his name come up much anymore, though.
Bergler’s books are no longer in print. You’d be hard-pressed to find them outside of an academic or reference library. The psycho-analysis community threw the baby out with the bathwater. No one has studied Bergler in a long time.
But again I ask the question why? Probably because Bergler wanted us to own our own shit.
Own your shit
A lot of what Bergler wrote in the 40s and 50s still pertains to today’s zeitgeist. We are a generation of subconscious sufferers. Our predecessors told us to seek our dreams to be happy and the money would follow. We’re fixated on the suffering from not attaining our dreams. Our collective suffering is turning into anger, cynicism and apathy. What are we setting ourselves up for if we don’t know how this works?
I shudder to ask.
Yet I am only one voice and this is only a small blog about seeking my own happiness. I cannot force anyone to see that they are subconsciously suffering any more than I can poke a person in the eye with a porcupine quill. I’ll continue to talk about it, though.
And if anyone has any leads on some cheap copies of Bergler’s books, leave a note in the comments because I’d love to get my hands on a few of them. There’s gold in those books, guys. GOLD.