Adam Phillips

Adam
Phillips
1954

British Psychotherapist and Essayist

Author Quotes

A story is told of Alfred Adler, one of Freud?s early followers, who once interviewed a prospective patient at great length, taking a detailed family history, and getting as elaborate an account as possible of what the man was suffering from. At the end of this three-hour consultation Adler apparently said to the man, ?What would you do if you were cured?? The man answered him, and Adler said, ?Well, go and do it then.? That was the treatment.

How has it come about that we are so bewitched by our self-hatred, so impressed and credulous in the face of our self-criticism, as unimaginative as it usually is? And why is it akin to a judgement without a jury? A jury, after all, represents some kind of consensus as an alternative to autocracy? We need to be able to tell the difference between useful forms of responsibility taken for acts committed, and the evasions of self-contempt? This doesn?t mean that no one is ever culpable; it means that culpability will always be more complicated than it looks; guilt is always underinterpreted? Self-criticism, when it isn?t useful in the way any self-correcting approach can be, is self-hypnosis. It is judgement as spell, or curse, not as conversation; it is an order, not a negotiation; it is dogma, not overinterpretation.

Loneliness is the inevitable cost of looking after ourselves.

The only satisfactions available are the satisfactions of reality, which are themselves frustrating.

We consent to the superego?s interpretation; we believe our self-reproaches are true; we are overimpressed without noticing that that is what we are being.

All love stories are frustration stories. As are all stories about parents and children, which are also love stories, in Freud's view, the formative love stories. To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn't know you had (of one's formative frustrations, and of one's attempted self-cures for them); you wanted someone, you felt deprived of something, and then it seems to be there. And what is renewed in that experience is an intensity of frustration, and an intensity of satisfaction. It is as if, oddly, you were waiting for someone but you didn't know who they were until they arrived. Whether or not you were aware that there was something missing in your life, you will be when you meet the person you want. What psychoanalysis will add to this love story is that the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams; that you have dreamed them up before you met them; not out of nothing - nothing comes of nothing - but out of prior experience, both real and wished for. You recognize them with such certainty because you already, in a certain sense, know them, and because you have quite literally been expecting them, you feel as though you have known them forever, and yet, at the same time, they are quite foreign to you. They are familiar foreign bodies. But one thing is very noticeable in this basic story; that however much you have been wanting and hoping and dreaming of meeting the person of your dreams, it is only when you meet them that you will start missing them. It seems the presence of an object is required to make its absence felt.

However much you have been wanting and hoping and dreaming of meeting the person of your dreams, it is only when you meet them that you will start missing them. It seems that the presence of an object is required to make its absence felt (or to make the absence of something felt). A kind of longing may have preceded their arrival, but you have to meet in order to feel the full force of your frustration in their absence.

Love and hate ? a too simple, or too familiar, vocabulary, and so never quite the right names for what we might want to say ? are the common source, the elemental feelings with which we apprehend the world; and they are interdependent in the sense that you can?t have one without the other, and that they mutually inform each other. The way we hate people depends on the way we love them, and vice versa. And given that these contradictory feelings are our ?common source? they enter into everything we do. They are the medium in which we do everything. We are ambivalent, in Freud?s view, about anything and everything that matters to us; indeed, ambivalence is the way we recognize that someone or something has become significant to us? Where there is devotion there is always protest? where there is trust there is suspicion.

The past influences everything and dictates nothing.

We discover these unloved lives most obviously in our envy of other people, and in the conscious 9and unconscious) demands we make on our children to become something that was beyond us. And, of course, in our daily frustrations. Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken. The myth of our potential can make of our lives a perpetual falling-short, a continual and continuing loss, a sustained and sometimes sustaining rage; though at its best it lures us into the future, but without letting us wonder why such lures are required (we become promising through the promises made to us). The myth of potential makes mourning and complaining feel like the realest things we eve do; and makes of our frustration a secret life of grudges. Even if we set aside the inevitable questions - How would we know if we had realized our potential? If we don't have potential what do we have? - we can't imagine our lives without the unloved lives they contain. We have an abiding sense, however obscure and obscured, that the lives we do lead are informed by the lives that escape us. That our lives are defined by loss, but loss of what might have been; loss, that is, of things never experienced.

And reality matters because it is the only thing that can satisfy us.

If you want to be with somebody who gets you, you prefer collusion to desire, safety to excitement (sometimes good things to prefer but not always the things most wanted). The wish to be understood may be our most vengeful demand, may be the way we hang on, as adults, to the grudge against our mothers; the way we never let our mothers of the hook for their not meeting our every need. Wanting to be understood, as adults, can be, among many other things our most violent form of nostalgia.

Lovers, of course, are notoriously frantic epistemologists, second only to paranoiacs (and analysts) as readers of signs and wonders.

The people we fall in love with we find singularly captivating, as are any of the people (or ideas) that inspire us, for better or for worse.

We have the magic of art that we may not perish of the truth.

Anger, then, is only for the engaged; for those with projects that matter.

In broaching the possibility of being, in some way, against self-criticism, we have to imagine a world in which celebration is less suspect than criticism; in which the alternatives of celebration and criticism are seen as a determined narrowing of the repertoire; and in which we praise whatever we can.

Monogamy is a way of getting the versions of ourselves down to the minimum.

The superego is the sovereign interpreter? [It] tells us what we take to be the truth about ourselves. Self-criticism, that is to say, is an unforbidden pleasure. We seem to relish the way it makes us suffer [and] take it for granted that each day will bring its necessary quotient of self-disappointment. That every day we will fail to be as good as we should be; but without our being given the resources, the language, to wonder who or what is setting the pace; or where these rather punishing standards come from.

We make our lives pleasurable, and therefore bearable, by picturing them as they might be; it is less obvious, though, what these compelling fantasy lives - lives of, as it were, a more complete satisfaction - are a self-cure for. Our solutions tell us what our problems are; our fantasy lives are not - or not necessarily - alternatives to, or refuges from, those real lives but an essential part of them. As some critics of psychoanalysis rightly point out, a lot depends on whether our daydreams - our personal preoccupations - turn into political action (and, indeed, on whether our preferred worlds are shared worlds, and on what kind of sharing goes on in them). There is nothing more obscure than the relationship between the lived and the unloved life. (Each member of a couple, for example, is always having a relationship, wittingly or unwittingly, with their partner's unloved lives; their initial and initiating relationship is between what they assume are their potential selves.) So we may need to think of ourselves as always living a double life, the one that we wish for and the one that we practice; the one that never happens and the one that keeps happening.

As though frustration were an unbearable form of self-doubt, a state in which we can so little tolerate not knowing what we want, not knowing whether it is available, and not having it that we fabricate certainties to fill the void (we fill in the gaps with states of conviction). The frustration is itself a temptation scene, one in which we must invent something to be tempted by.

In Freud?s story our possibilities for satisfaction depend upon our capacity for frustration; if we can?t let ourselves feel our frustration ? and, surprisingly, this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do ? we can?t get a sense of what it is we might be wanting, and missing, of what might really give us pleasure.

Nothing I know matters more Than what never happened.

The tickling narrative, unlike the sexual narrative, has no climax. Is the tickling scene, at its most reassuring, not a unique representation of desire and, at its most unsettling, a paradigm of the perverse contract? Does it not highlight, this delightful game, the impossibility of satisfaction and of reunion, with its continual reenactment of the irresistible attraction and the inevitable repulsion of the object, in which the final satisfaction is frustration?

We make ourselves out of the demands others make of us, and out of whatever else we can use.

Author Picture
First Name
Adam
Last Name
Phillips
Birth Date
1954
Bio

British Psychotherapist and Essayist