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Recession and its discontents

Deepening Intimacy in Psychotherapy: Using the Erotic Transference and Countertransference
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This article was published in dr. rosiello's sedona times psychology column in 2008.

When economic times are good they can mask emotional frustrations in our lives. In this period of national and local economic changes, we find ourselves dealing with issues we want to deny, or we feel faced with changes we never anticipated.

Money is a great equalizer because having it usually means that we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves: we can feel powerful when we spend it, we can feel altruistic when we donate it, or we can feel love and acceptance when we provide our family with it to meet their needs.

Money covers over emotional issues that become more prominent or exploited when it is less accessible or available. If there is less money for activities, and less money to spend on acquisitions, the mind finds more time to dwell on issues we’ve ignored or denied, sometimes for years or decades. Maybe we’ve been in denial about the state of our marriage and spending money has allowed us to focus externally, i.e., ‘let’s go out tonight,’ rather than internally, i.e., ‘who is this person I’m married to?’

"Still, the husband feared that asking his wife to adjust or change their living standards would result in her leaving him." ~fr

One couple I treated for many years has consistently gotten into emotional trouble and finally divorced because the husband resisted letting his wife know, until he could no longer hide it, that they were in financial debt. He would let them live on credit for a few years before he would tell her they were broke. The husband worked in finance and whenever recessions hit the national economy, his business was hit hard. He sometimes lost his job or at least some chunks of his income. Still, the husband feared that asking his wife to adjust or change their living standards would result in her leaving him. He thought she would walk away from the marriage because he wasn’t ‘enough’ for her, a fear he had held since childhood after his mother had left the family. In the end, the wife eventually did leave her husband. As he predicted and feared, she could not tolerate the economic shifts in their living standard, but more importantly she could not feel any level of trust as a result of her husband’s economic betrayal of her. It was the economic shifts in their marriage that became the last straw. The real issue for the end of the marriage was that the husband’s income had covered his deep-rooted emotional insecurities, and his feelings of low self-worth created an inability to trust that his wife was a partner in their economic difficulties. The husband’s income allowed him an ignorance of what was truly important in the marriage. If you ask him why his marriage fell apart, he’d most likely say his wife couldn’t adjust to the financial changes in their income, which on some level suggests ‘the recession,’ as opposed to ‘inner world discontents.’

Any notion of a potential change implies a potential loss and vice versa. For those of us who moved to Sedona, while we gained the pleasure of living in a wonderful location, we have at least lost our original home. We may have welcomed this change when we moved here, but it was still a loss, and loss, be it good or bad, is still a loss with its resulting emotions. Loss or the threat of loss creates fear and fear that is turned inward, toward the psyche, becomes a discontent and can become a depression. Being depressed isn’t a shameful emotional state; it’s just the mind’s way of dealing with loss or the threat of loss. People don’t fear when their body indicates there’s been a loss of food when they feel hungry. Instead they find something to feed themselves. So why do people fear when the mind gets hungry from an emotional loss (i.e., in this case instigated by a financial loss/recession)? We need to feed both our body and the mind. One method of feeding the mind is in the exploration of it and the journeying through changes completed or about to be faced. This is the therapeutic process. Of course, individuals often say that they just don’t have the income during times of a recession to go to therapy. I’m sure that’s true in many cases, but sometimes the cost of not going incurs a greater loss than that of going to treatment.