Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ordinary Special Friends

A conversation with a woman who is a therapist (but not my therapist) bids me to revisit my notion of the "special friend."

Last time I posted on this subject, I complained that the perfect special friend could not be found. A "special friend" -- a term whose coining I neglected to credit to my friend Lucy -- is that other person, usually of the opposite sex, in whom one's heart places fond hopes for enduring companionship and intimacy.

Nobody liked my complaint. I was picky, narcissistic, immature, the comments said. Maybe so. Maybe the perfect special friend, like the perfect person, does not exist. (Or, maybe, as one commenter suggested, true love is on its way by the solstice ... hmm.)

"But why can't I dream?" I asked myself.

My Self got an answer from my therafriend -- I'm coining this one right now myself -- who argued that, according to the theory underlining a psychological treatment called "dialectical behavior therapy," every aspect of personality has a positive and negative value at the same time.

For example, it's been argued that I am a highly emotional person (a drama monarch, some say). The resulting behavior can be positive or negative: the same emotionalism that makes me charming and charismatic, also turns me petulant and imperious when a different stimulus is applied.

Intriguing theory. Here are my two thoughts on it.

First, I have since learned that DBT was developed by Marsha Linehan as a way to treat what psychologists call "borderline personality disorder."

Between you, me and the fencepost, BPD is simply a way shrinks have of saying "we don't know what's wrong with this person, but he or she is willing to pay hundreds of bucks for thousands of hours of sitting in our office blabbering away, so let's not let on that we don't know." Linehan, indeed, has a brisk business selling books and tapes on the subject.

In brief, all of us with the hangnail equivalent of craziness -- and aren't we all a little crazy? -- have "bordeline personality disorder" and could benefit from the idea behind the "dialectical" therapy. However, once you boil it down, it's essentially common sense, like everything else in the social sciences. Common sense writ large, in multisyllabic words, by people with fancy degrees, charging $200 an hour.

Secondly, however, it begs the question to what happens to ethics and morals. Under Linehan's dialectics -- is she a Hegelian of the Left or the Right, I wonder? -- the positive or negative value seems to be determined by the functionality of the behavior. If it works for you and for others, it's positive.

I'm charming, you're charmed. Positive. I stamp my feet or raise my voice, you're annoyed. Negative. Purely utilitarian: the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

But is that how we should live?

I don't know and your 55 minutes are up.
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