Thursday, October 25, 2012

Michael Eigen - Soft and Hard Qualities

"Soft" and "hard" are universal expressive qualities that inform all our experience. We sense their interplay in the margin of our awareness throughout our lifetime. Their varying dissociations and interpenetrations color and texture our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and actions. They permeate objects of concern at every level of our existence and are subtly woven into the atmosphere of subjectivity as such. Without them our psychophysical existence would be more bland and dimensionless.

This theme is given a distilled representation in the Taoist yin-yang symbol, the Tai-chi-tu. But even this most coherent symbol of polarity-in-unity is too geometric to do justice to the subtle, interpenetrating flow of these qualities in moment-to-moment living. To be sure, hard and soft often do set each other off. They may oppose or complement each other in rather clearly distinguishable ways: viz., the erect penis and adaptable vagina, hard-headedness/soft-heartedness (or vice-versa), and the like. But even (especially?) in sexual intercourse it becomes most difficult to know clearly where the softness and where the hardness, as they melt into and permeate one another, ineffably fluid. The rock gradually dissolves in the water, but the water can no longer be described simply as "soft."

The qualities "soft" and "hard" are virtually omnipresent building blocks of personality. At each moment of development the self senses both itself, its capacities, functions, and objects in terms of soft and hard resonances. Its organizational capacities are partly steered by an implicit awareness of the soft-hard contours of sensed mental and physical realities. Blocks and distortions in the perception of these qualities and their shifting emotional meanings both reflect and perpetuate developmental deficiencies. Many individuals often are relatively insensitive to or misinterpret these vital cues of psychic movement.

The therapeutic task of helping patients to "experience their experience" is aided by the therapist's sensitivity to the incessant and complex interplay of soft and hard currents in mental life. These currents may act as moment-to-moment cues of psychic possibilities, which often go unheard or unheeded. Most patients tend to run roughshod over them or distort their meanings in accord with persistent, rigid patterns. Individuals are usually filled with too much anxiety noise to truly feel and value the subtle expressive forces which ever form part of the background of existence. Occasionally patients make inflated use of background qualities and turn what could be "news of difference" into chronic, narcissistic shields. The creative recognition of the flow of softness-hardness qualities also may threaten areas of affective flattening built up as protection against dangers associated with psychic fertility.

In the present paper I record some aspects of the struggle involved in keeping oneself open to fresh perceptions of the meaning and use of softness-hardness cues in personal development. I focus on the appearance of softness-hardness qualities in dream life and how these qualities reflect actual or potential shifts in self-feeling. The patients involved often tended to disregard or ward off experiencing the genuinely new nuances of self-feeling to which their dreams might give rise. It was largely up to the therapist to sustain the integrity of the dreamer's attempt to create perspectives outside well-worn destructive circles or stereotypes—until the patient could increasingly own this function. The meaning-making processes described here do not claim to be the only or "right" ones. Any number of possible avenues might have led to development. What is perhaps most important is the personal faith and investment in meaning creation itself, a communal process in which we stimulate each other's appetites for meaning and creative shifts in self-feeling."
(pp. 267-268)

Michael Eigen (1980). A Note on Soft and Hard Qualities. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 40, pp. 267-271.

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