The Psychology of Self-Destruction: An Interview
Christian Counselor Spokane
The following is a transcript from an interview between Richard Hill at MindScience TV and Dr. Brent Potter on the topic of the psychology of self-destruction.Richard Hill: Well, hello, everybody. Here we are at MindScience TV with another interesting interview. I’ve been waiting awhile to talk to Brent. Brent Potter is a fabulous author. He is a clinician and has been for the last 19–20 years, I think. He is also very much involved in Laingian psychoanalysis. So everybody go out there and look up Laing if you don’t know him because he is a fascinating guy. But it’s my great pleasure to have this conversation with Brent about his absolutely fascinating book amongst other things, which he will tell us a bit more about right now. So, here we go.
Good day Brent, that’s how the Australians say it.
Brent Potter: It’s fantastic. It’s great to be here, thanks.
Richard Hill: Look, you brought this book out in – it was about a year ago now, I think.
Brent Potter: Right.
Richard Hill: Let’s– tell us a bit title because it’s a fascinating title. I didn’t want to sort of give it away fascinating title, and actually there’s a lot of really current importance, it has become a little bit more heightened right at this present time for a number of reasons. So, let’s have you, let have me shut up and you talk a bit.
Brent Potter: Well, the book is called Elements of Self-Destruction and its edited version of my dissertation when I was at Pacifica Graduate Institute. And what I was interested in doing there is I had been working in community mental health, private practice, etc., but I’ve really been working with some pretty distressed clients, and so I have that background. And then I remember I was studying through my comms and so I had to memorize a lot of the DSM and was going through all that for the test.
And I remember thinking to myself, you know, if I could boil down these diagnoses to a few common features what would those be. And I thought for a while, well, they’re all kind of obsessive and they are all kind of compulsive. These seems to be common features of anxiety kinds of a depression, psychosis, and so I would think about it that way and then it occurred to me that there are lots of behaviors that we all have that are little bit obsessive, little bit compulsive, but are not labeled as a mental illness at all. In fact, those very qualities are applauded, and let’s say graduate students or people who write obsessively or do any athletics or a number of different things with those features, that’s applauded.
And then, I thought, you know, what is the thing that really makes these something that others want to diagnose, and it occurred to me that it was destructiveness that these things had to have a common feature of some kind of self-destructiveness going on or self-destructiveness projected outwards is violence. And so from there, I just kind of – it was an intuitive idea and I just kind of ran with it and sure enough I think that I was on to something. So then I started to unfold it, because the phenomenon of destructiveness sort of like a lot of different phenomena it can either be everything or nothing. It’s like looking at being, you’re looking at psyche, you’re looking at these different things, and so I was like how I impact this or how do I look at this, and so I found out that the only way to really look at it was through different lenses. And so, one of them was historical and religious, so I was interested in – you know, that people always have to deal with this phenomenon of destructiveness or if that makes sense, and if so, how? And so, I went back and I looked at religion in particular, because religions tend to perhaps less so these days, but in the past really kind of provide containers for peoples’ lives on how to live and what to do and not do.
Richard Hill: I look at – try and look everything very holistically like everywhere down from the body down to the cellular level and I do work with the DNA and what we call psychosocial genomics, and this nature of the biology, it seems to be almost a part of an organizing principle of the complex systems, which we look in, is that we hold it together and proceed, or we decide it’s not being held together and we get rid of it, and right down to the cellular level, where we turn off survival in preference for the management of other parts of the body. So this destructiveness is everywhere.
Brent Potter: Right. Yeah, well, I think that all of these are attempts at survival, I mean, everything that we consider self-destructive is an attempt to survive in a paradoxical way, and there are a lot of different ways to think about it, I mean, one– I’ve got three more books coming out. One of them is on Borderline Personality Disorder that I co-authored with Jacqueline Gunn, and in there, you know, one of the things that I look at is it’s kind of like Theodore Millon who did led the research team for access to and establish personality and all that.
He is kind of– he used a few different metaphors, but one that was particularly interesting to me is immune system. So, for example, the immune system essentially is designed to ward off and to get rid of the bad invasive things, and it keeps the body healthy, but with something like an autoimmune disease, the blood cells don’t know whether to attack the good or the bad or both or sometimes everything, and that’s kind of like I think that that’s where trauma in personality disorders, and other forms of distress can kind of be thought of that way where it’s like it’s an attempt to survive, but after a while, it’s difficult to differentiate the good from the bad so to speak, and so everything is kind of attacked equally and there are a lot of different ways to think about it, but they are all attempts at survival, they are all attempts at aliveness.
Richard Hill: I think this love of the immune system is really interesting to this degree where I went into the all the background of the biochemicals and that was a bit crazy, but it was very informative, but I was fascinated to see the immune system. Its first response is just to get rid of everything that doesn’t look right.
Brent Potter: Right.
Richard Hill: Then its second response is to then get specific and double check that all those things are actually appropriate to get rid of, and you just have this tiny little mark that isn’t there and immune system just goes to, so this idea of self-destructiveness as a viable option is what I find really interesting, and is that something– I imagine that’s something that you are addressing through the book that sometimes it seems like a good idea?
Brent Potter: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I address it, and I don’t argue also in the book that it is inherently a bad thing either. It raises the hope. Because the first thing that comes to mind obviously is suicide, and the more like apparent ways that people self-destructing as I was looking at that, especially in the history of like religion and culture raises a lot of ethical questions, it seems like almost at every turn or any way that I would look at the different lenses, whether it’s history, religion, schools of thought, psychoanalysis, regular psychology, whatever, you know, that it always bumps up against to kind of ethical edge or it tethers on a kind of moralism where if there is a temptation to be drawn and let’s say, well, this is good or this is bad or this is right or this is wrong, and I did the best I could to just kind of stick with the experience without labeling it either way, I mean, to just try to be faithful to it.
Richard Hill: That’s one of the things that I got a little idea called the win or lose at will theory, but essentially what it says is one of their problems is right and wrong, and good and bad, which leads to the concept of fault and blame, which leads to the avoidance of responsibility because we’ve made responsibility instead of the growing capacity to respond is actually who’s at fault and who pays, who loses, who suffers, and so it’s not that we want paid, you know, certainly I’m sure you’re not and I know you’re not advocating that there is nothing wrong with suicide and all that, it’s just that– first of all, let’s just look at what it is.
Brent Potter: Right, yeah.
Richard Hill: And not get stuck, yeah.
Brent Potter: Yeah, and I say that repeatedly in the book that it’s really important to look at it squarely in the eye, and just descriptively before we get, so that way, at least we have all the information before we go into some place of how do I feel about that and then how do I conduct myself based upon my beliefs or morals around that. I think it’s important first to look at the whole phenomenon itself, and so we have all of the information before making those kind of moral decisions, and also, moralism in general is something that’s a red flag for me, because with moralism, usually it falls along the lines, and James Hillman and R. D. Laing were both followed this kind of or talked about this kind of reasoning where there’s me and then my group and we’re good, and then there’s people out there, and if we’re good, then they’re necessarily bad.
Richard Hill: That’s right.
Brent Potter: And so if I am good and they are bad, I am good and they are evil, then that limits my ability to relate in the sense that we have to destroy things that are evil. James Hillman talked a lot about that R. D. Laing definitely talked a lot about that. And so moralism leads to a kind of bifurcation or literalism in thinking and is something to be avoided, I think.
Richard Hill: Was it Jonathan Haidt talking about this now. He does a lot on moralism–
Brent Potter: Oh, really?
Richard Hill: Yeah, he’s talking about the extreme polarization of opinion that’s going on where that central area where even those who have very different opinions could have some point of, okay, well, I agree with that that we’re polarizing, particularly the political arena and the sociopolitical arena, so that everybody who doesn’t have my opinion is wrong and everybody who does have my opinion is right, and there is no middle ground.
Brent Potter: Coincidently, I’m always right, though, in the equation.
Richard Hill: What is the wonderful gag of the boss sitting at the things. I’ve gathered all the experts here just to make sure you give me good advice, but realizing of course that I’m right, yeah. But Jonathan Haidt says that he’s got a lovely talk called, We Need An Asteroid, maybe we need an asteroid be falling on the earth and maybe we’ll just find some common course for survival.
Brent Potter: Well, Heidegger said only a God can save us and he meant that in all seriousness and he didn’t think– I’m not sure that he felt like there was really any hope for it. I don’t share that opinion, but something I’m interested in writing more about in the future is because it keeps coming up at any time there is something with an affective charge to it. I’m seeing more and more that the mind, perhaps the American mind in particular, really bifurcates. It’s just goes good, bad, right, wrong, and this very very powerful, literalistic, simplistic, thinking when in fact in my experience anyway in working with clients, and you know, reality is multi-variant. It’s all kinds of shades of gray and it’s not just objective reality like things that are hard and extended in space. It’s also affective emotion or reality, it’s psychic reality, it’s social reality and there is a kind of pathos going on right now with a very ill world and the mind’s capacity or incapacity actually to tolerate ambivalence and difference and variation, and I see that more and more that these two kind of pathology seemed to mirror and resonate with each other, but it’s very powerful. There is everything that’s brought up with an affective charge, guns, abortion, war in the Middle East, anything that has an affective charge– education, it doesn’t have to be that extreme, education, everyone has an opinion like that and they are on one side and they are automatically against another side and there is absolutely no– it’s like thought is murdered in the process. And I don’t think that this is just people’s capacity or incapacity. I think it’s a real kind of disturbance or destructive mood in the world right now.
Richard Hill: Yeah, I’ve few discussions on this. One of the thoughts– I’d like to have your thoughts on this, but we’ve taken away the capacity and the interesting contemplation, you know, in consideration in the time of pause after something where we sit cross legged and allow the meaning to come to us, so the meaning as you say is just– you’re with me or you’re against me, you know.
Brent Potter: There are a lot of politicians that say that. I was going to mention that you hear that a lot in the political discourse, either you agree with me or you are anti this or that. Yeah, I read a lot about that in this first book and I read about it I the one that follows, two, I’m really interested and Heidegger and Bion both talked about this in different ways. Heidegger really especially in his waiter work was interested in looking at the destructiveness in the world which has to do with kind of a technological disclosure of things. And Bion really looks at the same phenomenon but he is doing it from the point of view of the mind. He is a psychoanalyst and so it’s interesting. I kind of parallel those two in the book to see how they both kind of track each other even though they did not know each other. But it has to do with the attack on thinking.
Bion talks about where the capacity for thought isn’t just waxy like it’s just humming along, not really doing much, not thinking is actually anti-thinking. The way the mind attacks itself and takes itself apart, and then how we see that outside of how we are taking things apart. I think it has to do with capacity. I think it has to do with a quality of experience and that’s where Heidegger and Bion both are with qualitative reality which they consider fundamental and quantitative is not considered like really real in the philosophy language.
Richard Hill: That’s really interesting, yeah. And thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to read up on Heidegger and Bion because that’s really interesting, the stuff, and everybody, I’m not going to explain it. Everybody go read his book, you know, go read Bion’s book, but what’s interesting is too what you are doing here with this philosophical introduction, and the Gilchrist books just brings that to mind of The Master and His Emissary. It’s very philosophical and very much going into culture and very much, you know, very neurobiological, so for neurobiology people out there. It’s really important for us once we get the biology going and understanding it that if we haven’t been into philosophy, I think it’s really important we go there which is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you.
Brent Potter: Well, yeah, as a phenomenologist from that perspective, you know, we see basically the body which would include the central nervous system as an expression of our existence as a secondary or– I don’t want to say secondary, that sounds kind of Cartesian, but sort of following Medard Boss, our bodies and our brains are, you know, that’s an expression of our existence, and so the qualitative– the reality is qualitative, where there is a sort of ontological meaning and ground to that and then, you know, we have physiological expression of that.
And so, following from that, my interest in whether it’s borderline personality disorder or psychosis or any of these phenomena, is I don’t believe that they exist in the individual’s minds, specifically somehow located in chemically imbalanced or otherwise malfunctioning brain organ. I see them as social constructions and as existential ways of being in the world, but I don’t deny that they cause people distress. And so whenever I’m looking at something like anxiety, depression, psychosis, what’s often labeled as personality disorder, I always look to the cultural narrative of it, and I always find something fascinating.
There is a whole entire story around every single one of these phenomena that are out there. If you read it in the context of history and culture, there is a story to it that explains how it arrived here to us today in 2014, but it does not exist as an objective fact like gravity or something objectively present in nature. It’s a social construction for the most part. And it represents ways that people are in the world that are disclosed to them by culture, to say otherwise would be to say that people create these things ex nihilo somehow out of nothing, and I just find that really unconvincing, and so in a lot of ways, I’m interested in seeing how people take up these possibilities that are disclosed to them or don’t take up these possibilities, and if so, why, and I think that the broader context within the kind of social, cultural, historical view is pretty convincing that there is a lot to do with trauma and protracted developmental stress and what that does to people. So all these areas connect together, but I look at it always from a very qualitative perspective, never from simply somehow a neurological malfunctioning of some kind.
Richard Hill: Yeah, and I think this is one of the areas I’m very involved in is interpersonal neurobiology, Dan Siegel and Allan Schore are interesting to follow. One of the things which I really latched on to was this idea of engaging with the whole system as a complex system that when you have behavior, you have biology and you have neurobiology, and when you have neurobiology and biology, you have behavior, and all these things aren’t causal, they aren’t in a line and the point of a complex system is you just– wherever you poke it, you’re going to have some engagement with the system. So, even if there’s people out there who is saying, “Oh, you know, of course, there is neurobiology,” yeah, of course, there is everything, and that’s the point, there is everything, and what is interesting to me is that we need to take a moment to pause and focusing on one particular point for a little while, not just go poking….
Brent Potter: Well, rather than if someone comes to see me rather than rolling in there with the assumption that biology causes behavior or that this person talking to me is somehow the product of neurochemical-electrical activity, you know, I can look at them as a whole person and I see these things as not just somehow accidentally fitting together, but someone’s existence or Heidegger called it Dasein, that someone’s Dasein is already a fundamental unity pointing towards ‘Being’, which includes all the things that he outlines and I outline and that– but that person is you are right, is fundamentally whole and if they come in even with something that could be considered a somatic complaint or something like that, the idea is instead of having an agenda or trying to put my views of people on the client, what I’m doing is I’m beating them where they’re at and I’m sticking with their experience. So if the way in is a somatic complaint, then I stick with that experience or if it’s a mood, then I stick with that experience, or if it’s a series of unwelcome recollections, startle response or something that might be PTSD or something that I stick with that experience, the idea at least in the way I do it is to stick with the clients themselves without– like Bion talked about approaching every session without memory desire or understanding, and I don’t want to take that too literally, like you just don’t understand anything, but I think the point is getting at is like you go in and try to see the person anew each session and try to work with the whole person.
As a matter of fact, I work with a non-prescribing physician, Christine Bradley, and she does a brilliant job of attending to the domains that I just don’t cover in my work with people, but the idea is to use a holistic approach with people and I dare say some of my colleagues Vanderway says this, but it’s like, I don’t know the psychotherapy is it’s not magic, and I don’t think it’s for everyone. Quite frankly, I’ve seen people improve drastically with nutrition. I’ve seen in adolescent populations, there are programs like in Washington, animals is natural therapy, where they are out in there with horses, I have seen drastic improvement happen there. There is improvement sometimes through spiritual experience, religious experience. There is just a whole variety of things and we have to stick with the symptoms, attend to the person as a whole entity, and I think that that’s the best way to go, without any prejudice that one theory or one modality is somehow superior to the others.
Richard Hill: Yeah, very Ericksonian I suppose. Milton Erickson was the early one on this type of aspect and Ernie Rossi, who very kindly has me under his wing a bit, but he talks about The Symptom Path to Enlightenment. I kind of modern verbalize that I call it problem is the message. These sorts of ideas, yes, you could see I’m a bit more straightforward, but these sorts of ideas of approach where actually the other person is providing the information about themselves as different from us stepping forward into this wonderful as a therapist, be it doctor, be it whatever, saying, yes, I have, I have the cure for it…
Brent Potter: I’ve got it. Right.
Richard Hill: And it’s amazing how– I just did something recently and I was actually admonished a little bit by somebody in the workshop saying that, you know, I’d left the client not attended to them and so I had to go in and do this and do that, and I was very nice and polite, but what I wanted to say was, oh, wow, thank you so much for saving the day, you know.
Brent Potter: Thank God you’re here, otherwise…
Richard Hill: Yeah, you know, God knows what would have happened, and interesting, interesting stuff.
Brent Potter: Well, I think a kind of the trajectory following, and it’s not just Bion and Heidegger there, there are others. Jung was really adapted this to and, you know, there is kind of like Keats’ notion of negative capability, where there is a kind of– they had a sensibility about them of being in the unknown and a real sense of that we’re kind of always in the unknown in some ways and to not have to feel the compulsion to fill a space with meaning, to fill something with meaning, to just be in the unknown, whether it’s with a client or whether in just one lives his or her life, there is an emphasis there and that really seems to be something that’s unique to them and just completely ignored today how to be in the unknown. And, you know, with contemporary, especially STEM, natural science models, there is such a rush to fill everything with research and meaning and my opinion and, I mean, you just have to turn on the TV or listen to the radio whatever and it’s people just rushing in to fill in space with just banter and, you know, what about the unknown, and like you mentioned what about contemplation, what about taking them in, what about breathing, what about– I recommend yoga to some of my clients and I’ve started kind of doing a little bit of it myself. You know, just the spaces of breathing of not thinking so much is just in our society just obliterated these days, and along with it, of course like the humanities, literature, art, all of that stuff because it’s not productive and doesn’t, you know…
Richard Hill: Yeah, psychoanalysts are talking a lot of that now talking about yoga as a part of the thing which is interesting of a trauma reduction, and the somatic therapies, people like Peter Levine and Pat Ogden they’re tapping, listened to lot more and people are still saying, oh, we can’t touch people, which is just weird, but…
Brent Potter: [laughter].
Richard Hill: [chuckle].
Brent Potter: R. D. Laing said, I think people stop acting insane when you stop treating them like they are insane. It’s about, you know, whether their clients are not just treating them the same way with the same way that we would treat anyone else and, you know, that involves an occasional hug or some kind of somatic intervention and that’s perfectly reasonable.
Richard Hill: Patch Adams is very much like, you know, if you are sick, come stay with me for a couple of weeks and we will sort something out– just always interesting.
Brent Potter: Laing did the same thing…he brought patients home…
Richard Hill: Yeah, I’d like to hear a bit more about the Laingian stuff, I mean, in the 70s and 80s, you know, Laing was a huge sort of presence. I can remember it really well, I didn’t pursue it, I mean, you did, which is beautiful. What are some of the thoughts I mean in relation to the book, but also just this Laingian idea, it’s a real way of doing things, I’m interested.
Brent Potter: Yeah, he was fascinating. He has always been with– there’s a section on him in the book, I think called understanding schizophrenia and psychotic culture something like that, whether I’m explicitly talking about him or not, he is a quiet background presence always in my writing. I knew I was going to be doing something in psychology, like even in sixth or seventh grade, I remember asking my mom, you know, because I was always interested in dreams, I was kind of an introverted kid. I asked her, I was like, wouldn’t it be interesting if there is someone, what are dreams, and like you can talk to someone about, and she was like, oh, they are called psychologists and so I got the phonebook and I went to P and just started calling people on the rotary phone back, and a few of them answered and one of them said, I don’t know about all of that, but there is this guy Sigmund Freud that you should look up and I did that and I started reading Freud.
And then next kind of moment was important for me because I learned a lot about Freud in psychoanalysis and I’ve found it really engaging, but I have this idea, you know, what if we just treated people the same way that we wanted to be treated and brought it, like we remember the rules that like Freud talked about, like I was a kid, but we just kind of are with people and it wasn’t until I was at Ducane and Dan Berstein there gave us the divided experience that I was in my little apartment then in the bathtub reading the Divided Self and I read it twice in the bathtub, I read it twice there. It’s the only time that’s ever happened. I was just so fascinated with because he did that, precisely and just so well that it just– it was like a bell rang, it was like my experience first with Freud and I took that with me and then really just started reading more and more of him, and I’ve spoken with some of his former patients, I’ve spoken to some of his family, a lot of his colleagues over gosh– a long time now, just kind of them pursued of because, of course, I never met him, I was born in 1975, I am 39.
Richard Hill: Youngster?
Brent Potter: In pursue of– trying to figure out who he was, but everyone says the same thing. And this is really interesting at least to me that people say when I talk to R. D. Laing even if I was in a busy room or a party, it doesn’t matter what the context is. They said, it felt like it was just he and I in the universe.
Richard Hill: Wow.
Brent Potter: Everyone, everyone that I talked to, and these people don’t all know each other. Of course, it’s been a smattering of people that pop up, so in a sense, it’s kind of a good informal study that way, because I could just say, what was he like and they all say that he had the ability to just connect with someone in such a way that they believe that it was just him and them and they shared a special connection and he could do that apparently, almost instantaneously. And I think that it’s that quality that really was kind of his genius and his talent in the field, and I think that people who have, even if it’s not to that degree, but that sensibility about them, that genuineness of connection, and it’s slippery. It’s something that can’t be measured in like STEM science or natural science, but it’s a quality that also can’t be faith, and I think that clients especially or others, can. pick that up pretty quickly. It’s like whatever that is, you know, Freud struggled with that. He ended up calling it transference, but if you look at the old literature, he early, early, early on you can find him talking about telepathic transference. He was trying to explain this mysterious connection in relationship that happened that apparently he was good at as well. At other times, he used given the technology of the time the old phones to talk about transference, you know, the old ones and so it’s a mysterious quality, but I think that it’s that quality of Laing that speaks through all of his work. That’s kind of who he– one of his largest talents and gifts I think.
Richard Hill: Yeah, I think Milton Erickson also was people talked about that with his…
Brent Potter: One of his students was a teacher of mine. Actually, I’ve never thought about this, but he said when he first met him, he like knocked on the door or something to that effect. You could ask him, his name is Ron Alexander.
Richard Hill: Oh, I know Ron, yeah.
Brent Potter: He said, he – oh, there we go, right on.
Richard Hill: [laughter]
Brent Potter: So he said he knocked on the door and that’s like the last thing he remembered until he sort of came to again that this– he had such a way of– it’s like hypnosis could be induced immediately somehow.
Richard Hill: They call it– Rossi called it the general waking trance, and you know, just this sort of thing where you can see it when your client is really in touch with you, and sometimes it take you several weeks to do it. Laing and Erickson do it in a finger snap, how fascinating. Although, perhaps we do and we don’t know, but certainly these things are a nature of– again the organized, you know, the complex system, it just organizes itself and it does what it does because it does it. It doesn’t do it because something is done.
Brent Potter: Right, right, and in the same sense you very well talk, you know, how, you know, mind and body are not separate, they are unity in the same way that as individuals who are unity so are we interpersonally, and I think that people like– it sounds like Erickson, Laing, or Freud probably had somehow a special gift for dialing into that really quickly and I think probably I would be curious to know if Erickson was this way, but Laing had a massive caring capacity. He really care, he was passionate, and he had a huge heart. I suspect that Freud did also was true also…
Richard Hill: Yes, absolutely.
Brent Potter: Right, right.
Richard Hill: I mean, one lovely example with Erickson was there he was sitting in his wheelchair with second onset of polio which he suffered from with a woman who is saying I’ve come to you because you are the best trauma therapist in the world and I’ve got this terrible trauma and I can’t cope, and he just said, madam, I got to tell you I’m not the best trauma therapist at all, you are, and could you please just share with me how you have coped all these years with all these terrible things that have happened to you, and I’ll see if I can contribute something to assist. This is just so like, wow, you know, talk about turning the tables and delivering self-efficacy and Van Buro would have been proud, you know, but it was before Van Buro’s time.
Brent Potter: Beyond it as we don’t really see that today very often that. Some of the early stuff on Laing going and sitting for countless hours and remember back in the day apparently, you know, the curtains would be drawn in these words because there was a light sensitivity due to the medications or they be in cells and he would go and sit with them in silence for hours and hours and hours with just that silent connection whatever that is, and you know, by all accounts there were some really interesting things that came out of that experience, that kind of attention to the client come– the person’s experience, not even client the human person coming first and everything else being second.
Richard Hill: Yeah.
Brent Potter: Or down further the list, it was profound with him.
Richard Hill: I explained that in my workshops in about an hour or so and getting people up doing things and walking around and just learning how complex systems are really simple, complicated systems now they are different, but this idea that you can make very small impacts and have very large outcomes…
Brent Potter: Yeah.
Richard Hill: It’s such a– you know, and that just the idea coming from mathematics is a beautiful and encouraging thing.
Brent Potter: Yeah, that’s another kind of assumption is, you know, yeah, there are small things that really can produce a huge difference. It depends on the person, but it’s not– again, it’s another like thing that we don’t have to believe when 100% that, well, someone going to see a therapist is going to be expensive, it’s going to take a long time, it’s going to be– sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not, sometimes just a small shift in perspective and it’s almost miraculous how people, you know, can turn around this system so refer to it kind of takes care of itself, like you know, everything on that the planet seeks wholeness and wellness, there is nothing out there that including us as destructive as humans are that are seeking destruction for destruction’s sake. The attempts maybe somewhat convoluted and perverted and there is destructive outcomes, but everything inherently is kind of seeks to organize itself around wholeness and wellness. So small things can produce a huge difference I would say.
Richard Hill: Yeah, yeah, I mean, you just have to look at, you know, after four or five years of studying the DNA and how it expresses itself and how it’s organized and manages itself, I’m convinced exactly that just relax a little bit, and in fact the more you relax, the more the systems organize themselves in a wholeness that is beneficial. Sometimes it just goes for homeostasis and survives, but there really is every time you let go there seems to be a gratitude from the body, oh thank God you’ve got out of the way, and things reorganized themselves from right down within the middle of the DNA out to the entire social system, and who knows what that’s doing on a universal level.
Brent Potter: Oh, and what do you think about this is just an idea or I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about this, if perhaps one variable in the equation as it were– let’s say to get an individual or to help or to assist someone in becoming more aware or more in conscious contact with their connection to other things with their fundamental wholeness individually, bodily, socially from a more physiological or perspective would you say that that produces beneficial effects of some kind or…?
Richard Hill: Yeah, yeah.
Brent Potter: Seems like you are kind of eluding to…
Richard Hill: Yeah, absolutely, and I think we are saying it in the general experiment in this sort of psychosocial genomic manner that when people take those sorts of approaches and embrace themselves, embrace others, and embrace their environment, that we’re seeing the production of– the body then turns around and reduces its inflammation and it clears out its oxidative stress that, you know, coagulates the blood, I mean, it’s quite fascinating.
Brent Potter: Oh, yeah, because we said relax into it and like relaxing into something is a way of taking something up or perceiving something, and so it seems like there is some sense of conscious contact or more conscious contact or something like that, but then, do you think that the reverse proposition might be true than that the more we think of ourselves as not or the less conscious contact we have or the more we take ourselves up as, you know, brain, mind, body, or self and others or, you know, things that are more desperate. If things are a fundamental unity, both individually and connected collectively, then I would think that the reverse of that may be a source of pathos or pathology.
Richard Hill: Absolutely, and I certainly believe this in my understanding and feelings, but if we’re seeing it in the research–
Brent Potter: Really?
Richard Hill: –the body will move towards homeostasis to just survivable level in a disturbed state, but when given a relax, when given a comforted, when given an interpersonal opportunity, it will move beyond just homeostasis more towards wellbeing and wholeness. But it’s again this thing we talked about immune system, you know, when in doubt just survive, and actually the other thing that does seem to occur in the work I do looking at suicide, which I spend a lot of focus on is that then you move either into an excessively chaotic state or an excessively rigid state, and you then move into a state of where destruction on all levels from cell all the way up to entire being through suicide becomes a possibility, and that’s what I think I’m going to see when I grab a hold your book, I’m over the States in a little while so I’ll probably grab it when I get there.
Brent Potter: Oh, really? Where are you going?
Richard Hill: I am doing at the Erickson Conference, Milton Erickson Conference in California in LA in December, so I–
Brent Potter: Oh, really? You stay in touch with me, I am in Thousand Oaks. I actually – you said I lived in Seattle, I live in Thousand Oaks, California.
Richard Hill: Oh, okay.
Brent Potter: Right by Los Angeles.
Yeah, I was thinking about going to that. I got an invite for the notice or whatever, and I was thinking about, because I’ve had an interest in hypnosis and things like that, it has just never been developed in my work, and so he is someone who clearly is a luminary, Erickson who I just haven’t been able or didn’t track for whatever reasons. But, yeah, I’m interested, it sounds fascinating.
Richard Hill: Yeah, we can talk some more about it. I’m just looking at the old time ticking away, I want to just sort of gave into a bit of a wrap up, it seems that people have a better a 40- to 50-minute tolerance level for viewing. We can talk for hours and hours and hours, it’s so interesting.
Brent Potter: Yeah.
Richard Hill: Just– maybe in a bit of wrap up, one of the things, I mean, certainly your book it was talking about the nature of destruction, but that probably doesn’t, you know, cheer people up in enormous amount broadly, is there a particular message that you would like to point us towards or perhaps indicate something that your– particular point you’re making that encourages, you know, the sort of leads me to, relax and be calm and self-organized.
Brent Potter: I don’t know that it’s as easy as just as sort of one or two points or even, you know, like bullet point– I wish I could do that, but it’s, you know, it’s like, hey, there’s these three things, and then you never have to worry about anything again. You know, I think that one of the things that I try to point towards in the book is that if someone is experiencing some form of distress, no matter what that maybe or no matter in what degree that maybe that it isn’t just something that exists in the person’s mind, and I find that with a lot of the people that I work with, that there is a certain relief, certainly this isn’t the only thing, but there is a certain relief that one has when he or she says, you know, this madness is not a private madness.
This is something that is– there is a lot of destructiveness out there in the world culturally, socially, globally, and you know, I’m experiencing some of that– is a kind of like psychic background radiation if you will, but that it’s not just– any form of distress isn’t exist solely somehow in individual’s malfunctioning brain organ, and you know, the second thing I think is that it’s not neurologically based. I think that people tend to feel better about that, and especially these days, people are reading about all of the really disappointing information about psychiatric medication and what that does. The research around that is pretty heinous. I don’t think it’s too strong of a word, and so people want to know what really works, and you know, I think another thing that’s really hopefully helpful about that is that we know what causes mental– what becomes labeled as mental health concerns, and we get this from a whole body of research, probably the most recent and best being of course the adverse childhood event, the ACE studies that we know that developmental stress and/or trauma are what produces these things, and so that in my mind, and a lot of the people I work with find this helpful is that, we know what causes it. It is not a mysterious hypothesis floating around like the chemical imbalance theory, which has since been just tossed out, or some kind of weird mysterious thing.
We have some really good evidence that it’s development stress and/or trauma that causes not only this mental health, what becomes labeled as mental health disorders or something like that, but also chemical dependency and also what was interesting, particularly in the ACE studies, is a whole host of just diseases over the body that really are diseases unlike what’s in the DSM that really are physiological diseases are related. There was a strong, strong correspondence between ACE scores and that– so those three things really quickly, people I work with, they found those to be really helpful, and I hope, people will take some of that away and one idea I guess it all end on that isn’t discussed a lot, but that R. D. Laing talks a lot about this. He picks this up from Carl Jung the idea of metanoia, which is a Greek word. My Greek friends tell me it’s pronounced something more like ‘metania,’ but I don’t speak Greek, so it’s perfectly okay to call it metanoia according to our dictionary. So, basically what it means in it’s etymology is like a change of mind, but what they are looking at is it’s a process reaching wholeness, it’s a process, it could be called spiritual life existential process that’s seeking to reach its conclusion, that’s how Laing saw schizophrenia and every other form of distress. It tends to be how I see it. So I think people get some relief from knowing that self-destructive processes any form of distressing state of mind, is a process that’s larger than them, working itself through to its end and that’s where Laing, of course, got his idea for the Philadelphia Association, which is still around in the U.K., Soteria Houses, therapeutic communities where this process could work itself out without being interrupted necessarily by medicine or other modalities or interventions, ensuring of the research around these therapeutic communities is wonderful that they actually work really well to. So, that’s as brief as I can make it, sorry.
Richard Hill: Oh, no, that’s lovely. I mean I was just hearing…
Brent Potter: It’s hard to–
Richard Hill: Oh, no, it’s beautiful and you’ve really– it was really lovely, I mean, no you can’t capture it but if you can put it down to three bullet points, then life would be easy. What’s the wonderful thing I have a slide when I do my brain studies. If the brain was really easy enough to understand, then it wouldn’t be complex enough to be able to understand itself. So, but –
Brent Potter: Yeah, I know, and aside from the brain in some of my presentations I do, you know, it’s kind of like if the brain is undoubtedly one of the most complex things that humans have encountered, but if you think that’s complicated imagine network of social relationships or social reality, it’s just, it’s fascinating, I have to think about.
Richard Hill: Yes, if I wanted to summarize all lovely stuff you said, from interpersonal neurobiology, I mean, we are– our stuff is embodied, there’s no doubt about that, it’s relational, and it’s not always, but it’s not the nouns that we are looking at, it’s the verbs, it’s the activity, the expression, the nature of it, which is what you are saying the qualitative stuff.
Brent Potter: And I’d toss in, if I would toss in a nonreligious, non-New Age sense, I think that there is element of the mystical, not just biopsychosocial-spiritual, but when we say that we’re connected to something larger, you know, Bion talks about ‘O,’ the ultimate unknown, unknowable and all the processes that occur there in. Heidegger talks about ‘Being’ the possibility of all possibility, you know, there is a sense of if we are in the unknown and we’re a fundamental unity, then there– and I’m connected to that somehow, then there is I hope a sense of the mystical, and they’re also connected to the wholeness and not knowing, you know, a lot and how we are with that if we are in faith or if we are not in, you know….
Richard Hill: And that really does bring it around beautifully. So, I’m just going to say, thank you, hang on, we’ll say goodbye in a sec, but everybody, I hope you’ve really enjoyed that talk with Brent, it’s fabulous. Go and get his book, this wonderful thing, Elements of Self-Destruction, Amazon has got it there, and look into this. We’ve got to know so much more. So thanks everybody for joining us and thank you so much for being with us.
Brent Potter: Thank you so much. That was a great conversation, I really enjoyed myself. Thank you so much.
Richard Hill: Okay. Bye-bye, everybody.
Potter, B. (2012). The turning point. MindScience TV Interviews Dr Brent Potter: Author Lends Insights into the Psychology of Self-Destructiveness Copyrighted unpublished manuscript.
Potter, B. (2013). Elements of self-destruction. London: Karnac Books.
“Summit”, Courtesy of Pablo Heimplatz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lock”, Courtesy of Basil James, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Man in Field”, Courtesy of Josh Applegate, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Maze of the Mind”, Courtesy of Morgan Housel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License