Saturday, 7 August 2010

The illusory perfect self and the prodigal son

I am spending the weekend out at Crêt Bérard which is a retreat and training centre of the Swiss Protestant church. It is set at the opposite end of lake Geneva and I have a lovely room with a balcony overlooking a field of wheat almost ready to harvest and looking out towards the alps. Idyllic, varied, cultured and certainly restorative. Just taking the short train journey here was a real pleasure.
I'm interpreting for a session on "Emotions and healing" led by American psychologist Virginia Klein. It's the third year I've done this. Ginny tries to get people to understand their feelings by identifying the feelings of self-hatred that can inhabit us and by describing this in terms of how as very young children we use our imagination to create "perfect self" - who can "please" our parents, "calm them", make them stay together, stop them being ill etc. Ginny keeps asking us - who is telling you to be a good girl? who is telling you you can save everyone? who is telling you to be perfect? all powerful? totally adapted? That perfect self inside you is an illusion created by an imaginative child but we carry these perfect selves around with us, they can become a destructive voice of self-hatred within us - making us feel we either have to be "heroes or zeroes".

I'm not sure I agree with the method completely but it helps people get in touch with their feelings and analyse them quickly and that has to be a good thing.

At the end of the Saturday evening the director of the Crêt Bérard centre Pierre André encouraged us to read the parable of the prodigal sons by trying to identify the different kinds of perfect selves that were operating for the father the older and the younger son in the story.
It was an interesting way into the text and helped us to see some of the emotional energy between the characters in the story, the adapted older son who submits to his father's idea of what family should be, the younger son's illusion of being all powerful and being able to remake his life all on his own ... It is only when the younger son finally comes home that any emotion is expressed at all.


J. K. Gayle said...

Klein's method sounds intriguing, your translating makes it just fascinating, Jane, and I absolutely love reading the parable of the prodigal son -- what a fresh way to interpret it so personally!

Jane said...

It was so interesting - Klein is not a Christian and did not know the story herself so it was also fascinating to hear her appropriating the story in her own way without it being a "much loved" text for her. Very refreshing!