PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued
Some psychotherapists might have taken Alvin’s reaction to his freedom of choice as an existential problem to be handled by means of non‑directive reflections about the stream of cognitions Alvin could have produced around this issue of who he ‘really’ was. Felicity, however, had acquired too much impatience from his early years with his mother to tolerate much of that sort of unnecessary delay. Consequently, he began to talk about the other part of the problem which, not unlike most of the homosexuals Felicity had treated, had emerged in Alvin’s psychological test results -‑ his introverted, obsessive or ruminative traits.
As a group, obsessive people tend both to seek for the ‘real’ truth, and to be subject to self‑protective defenses which prevent them from confronting the truth, or even real issues. While this bears on other stories more than this one, part of this phenomenon needs passing comment here. A major part of obsessive people’s problem is that they are so engrossed in words that they are unable to grasp the semantic or meaning errors they frequently make in using words. Justifying his own pedantry to himself by noting he was talking to a pedant, Felicity took off on a tangent and began to instruct Alvin about the limitations of words. Isn’t it lovely how we find excuses for what we were going to do anyway?
Felicity told Alvin that the problem he was experiencing in trying to decide who he really was lay in his use of the verb ‘to be’. Nobody is anything except what he defines himself as and what he chooses to become. To equate himself with a homosexual or a heterosexual by saying ‘I am’ or ‘I am not’ is to deny all other possibilities of existence to which he clearly has access. It is true that each of us is whatever he is at any given moment in time; it is true that each of us has had all the experiences he has had by any given moment in time; it is also true that each one of us, considering his future, will not be what he is now, but is open to be whichever of innumerable possibilities he may choose. It is true that every choice made is artificial -‑ that is, that it is an artefact made by the person making it. But that will be true of any choice no matter what it is. The question is not who you are or anybody else is, but rather which of the many identities you have available you will adopt now or in the future. That is one of the great wonders of being a human being. We can be whomever or whatever we want within the limits provided by nature and the limits we choose to place on ourselves. Felicity was surprised that, having delivered himself of this remarkable intelligence in what for him was a very vital way, Alvin seemed to grasp the idea.
Alvin slumped into thoughtfulness. Finally he sat up with unexpected decisiveness. He said he thought he agreed with what Felicity had said but, just to be sure, he wanted to think about the whole issue at length. Felicity agreed. It was no surprise to him that Alvin’s obsessive nature would demand some temporizing in thought. He also knew that obsessive thinking could easily lead to bewildered confusion which could be upsetting, or even severely depressing. And he had already discovered that Alvin could create a serious risk to himself when depressed. Consequently, he suggested that Alvin and he get together briefly on a weekly basis while he was thinking about it, if only to give Alvin a chance to share his thoughts with someone else in order to help him clarify them. Alvin said he liked that idea and, in a manner consistent with his introversion, he left the office still deep in thought.