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How inhibitions work

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S is a person I know. A man in his 50s, S is a city dweller with a love of the countryside and a weekend house in a beautiful part of the flatlands close to his country’s capital. The region is focused on a small city to the northeast of the country, known for its wine and its easygoing lifestyle. S is a regular visitor of the city V, and on this particular occasion he was planning to meet C, a local woman who shared the same practical interests with him.

The night before the agreed date, S and C exchanged the usual couple of messages in the evening, and at one stage C  asked S whether the arrangement for the next day was still standing. S, however, was so exhausted from a previous week at work that he had fallen asleep and did not respond to that message until the next morning. As the time of their lunch was nearing the next day, S sent several messages to C asking her for the exact location of her apartment so that he could pick her up, as agreed, however C suddenly went silent. Realizing that something was happening, most likely that C was having second thoughts about their lunch, S wrote to her that he would cancel the reservation at the restaurant out of town, and would still come and have lunch at another restaurant in the city center, offering her to come by so they could meet.

C remained silent. S had his lunch alone, working on his computer, which he had brought along having suspected that something of the sort might happen. After an hour and a half, when S was already on his way back, he received a message from C asking if she could ring him. S ignored the message.

A few hours later, in the dead of night, his phone rang, and the meek voice on the other side of the line introduced herself as C. She offered a lame excuse for not being there when agreed, something along the lines of having to help her friend, and asked S if she could drive all the way to him and get to know each other in his house. S politely declined, avoided questioning any of her reasons, and offered C a way out of the situation by saying that he understood that people could have second thoughts, that it was not too much trouble for him to drive to the city V, because he regularly did so, and that they might meet some other time under more regular circumstances.

After a brief interlude, C repeated her proposal to come over. S refused again and ended the conversation.

It was clear to S that C had planned the whole situation so as to cause their encounter to happen in the anonymity of the village at night, with no witnesses, however given that she did not know S, she could not make an open proposal to this effect, and thus agreed to meet with S over lunch, in broad daylight, in the city. S was not after sex, which was apparently what C was after, and had no inclination to secrecy. In addition, S was not going to be intimate with a woman he did not know. However, S told me the details of the experience because he was intrigued by the drivers which had led C to such behavior. These drivers included desire, obviously; however, they also included inhibition.

C’s desire was strong, otherwise she would not act so adventurously towards an unknown man. She had checked S up online and as he did not hide his identity she had every reason to be confident that she would be safe and comfortable with him, however it was still a big step out of the socially acceptable behavior to go along with someone totally unknown, and unseen, with the idea to spend the night together. C was not psychotic, at least not obviously. She was well behaved, soft spoken and well regulated in her affect during speech. However, C was inhibited from acting out her desires in public: she did not want to be seen, either because she was married or otherwise committed to another person, or because she was apprehensive about the social reception of her appearing with S.

C’s inhibition went hand-in-hand with her desire: she wanted to break out of the rules she had imposed on herself, however in an extreme way that was unacceptable to S however, for some reason, her inhibitions prevented her from honoring the more ‘normal’ or regular agreement, where she would simply meet with S over lunch so they could decide whether they wanted to have a relationship or not. The latter scenario was far less committing and dramatic, with no definitive consequences (simply a lunch), while the former scenario was extreme and full of tension. Seemingly paradoxically, C was inhibited from engaging in the relaxed scenario, and quite prepared to rush into the waterfall of the extreme scenario.

Another client of mine, A, had a different experience at roughly the same time, with complementary meanings associated with inhibition. A had been in touch with a woman who he was attracted to, by the name of M. Their contact was also mainly online. The way A had become attracted to M was by M’s open attempts to draw his attention. They had met a couple of times, however only within a group, never alone, and their conversation was flirtatious, where both equally fostered this tone. M had also stood A up several times when they had agreed to meet, but continued to contact him occasionally. On that particular day, M wrote to A over a formal matter, and they got into a fight, which ended by A calling M on the phone and talking to her openly about his day and what had made him nervous. M responded mildly and remarked that she could also be on edge and that they could now have a relationships where each of them could be nervous to the other with no inhibitions.

After the conversation ended, a couple of hours later, M sent a message to A saying that she had been ‘screaming with laughter over the conversation they had had that day’.

M had consistently avoided being physically alone with A. She did not want their flirtation to stop and reacted negatively when it cooled down, however she kept it from becoming physical. Their conversation was increasingly intimate, in terms of their emotions and personal sensibilities. It turned out that their last quarrel strongly resembled sex: it was characterized by rising tension, partly due to the fact that they did not meet, which caused A to become less interested, so M used the online communication to periodically revive his anticipation that they would actually meet alone. This was never going to happen, so M needed to keep A interested by being witty over the phone or the internet.

Whenever M paused her communication with A in order to keep things from escalating to the point where a physical meeting would be at stake, A started to lose interest in M, because of the lack of stimulation and an obviously dissatisfying relationship. Thus M needed to occasionally stimulate A by contacting him, however without being willing to follow through with a meeting. She found it difficult to maintain her wit in direct telephone conversation, so she avoided it whenever she could, allowing herself the convenience of messaging. A, on the other hand, did not like messages, and he tried to talk to M on the phone, while finding himself increasingly distant from M as time went by.

M exhibits desire which is even stronger than that of C. Her last conversation with A was in fact an exercise in what could be described as mental sex, with tension and exchange of emotions through the seeming quarrel (in fact, their quarrel, although was fraught with implicit threats, was enveloped in gentleness, just like sexual strokes, which may seem violent, but are controlled by a care for the other). The end of the mental process was M’s orgasmic ‘screaming’, as she put it, (screaming from laughter) over the whole conversation. The phases of the process were obviously subconsciously sexual.

Given the described dynamics, what prevents M from having sex with A? She is inhibited. Thus she engages in the form of mental intimacy which requires more wit and more thought than physical sex, with similar results of tension and release.

Our structure of inhibitions is a social construct. The two women exhibit sexual inhibition in two very different ways, within the same culture and within a similar age group. C is 44 and M is 35; C  has no inhibition in physical sex, however she has a strong social inhibition. M, on the other hand, has an inhibition with physical sex, however she is extremely sexual mentally and at the same time very brave in taking social risks, because she has no qualms leaving written traces of her exchanges with A.

The way our inhibitions work is learned, as it shapes our self-perceptions. C probably sees herself as socially conservative, however she is in fact sexually very free, although she does not show it openly in her social circle. M, on the other hand, probably sees herself as frozen sexually, however she is extremely sexual, far more than an average person, and willing to take risks. It appears that the two persons cultivate a public persona which, in this regard, is directly contrary to who they really are. Inhibitions here reflect how the mechanism of repression operates.

My point here with the experiences of the two clients, S and A, is that the desire which we repress remains alive, and the repression leaves the scar of inhibition. The inhibition is located on the surface of the act of repression: it is the conscious trace of the repression, and the person then consciously identifies with that inhibition as the symptom of their missing object, or their lack, as Lacan would call it.

In C’s case, it is the repression of her sexuality which leaves the scar of inhibition of her sociality: she has no problem standing S up in the most flagrant way during the day, just as she has no problem offering inappropriate intimacy to S, whom she has never met, the same evening. She identifies with her inhibition, which is metaphorically expressed in her behavior during the day (‘in broad daylight’), and she acts out her desire at night (‘in the dead of night’). C considers her main identity to be the one which she exhibits during the day, while she conveniently plans the anonymous exercise of her other, sexualized identity at night, when nobody can see it. In other words, her Persona, to use Jung’s concepts, is that of the C during the day, her shadow is that of C during the night.

M, on the other hand, has repressed her sexuality, most likely as the result of trauma. However, the structure of repression with regard to inhibition is the same as with C: M’s desire is still alive and untamed in her subconscious, and it finds expression in M’s acting it out through conversations, which are sexual in their deep structure, easily orgasmic once she has become sufficiently familiar with A to relax to the point of climax.

Like C, M also identifies with her inhibition, and her public Persona is that of an intellectualized woman who does not put forward her sexuality between her and the world; rather she uses her wits, or, as her acquaintances sometimes say, ‘her brains’. However, M’s shadow is her identity in the subconscious, and that is the identity of an orgasmic, extremely sexual woman, quite the opposite of how she sees and describes herself.

We work with inhibitions by helping the person meet her Shadow, not by violently drawing the subconscious into the conscious, but by encouraging the Shadow to come out through acceptance. Neither C’s, nor M’s Shadow are prohibitively negative or destructive: in fact, their Shadows are their sexuality, their libido, which is the lifeforce itself, the source of all creativity, both biological and intellectual.

The philosophical way to work with the Shadow is to cultivate it and appreciate it, rather than treat it as a danger, or as a weaponized part of one’s personality. To the contrary, we encourage our interlocutors, especially when we deeply care for them, and we often do, to love their Shadow, to understand that their Shadow is likely the most beautiful part of them, and that they can accept their Shadow as the core of their personality and act it out increasingly openly and assertively. This would lead C to exercise her sexuality in a socially more integrated way (instead of using such a clandestine and extreme manner), and it would lead M to allow her physical sexuality, which is as dynamic and sparkling as her mental and verbal sexuality, to surface more often and more readily.

The described small steps, facilitated by an encouragement of the Shadow, can make for a tremendous difference in the person’s quality of life.

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