Letters to the Editors: On the War

Dunn, S., 2003. Letters to the Editors: On the War. Reformulation, Summer, pp.5-6.


Letters to the Editors

On the War

In the weeks leading up to the war in Iraq, like many people, I found myself feeling tense, despondent, preoccupied, grey. Speaking with friends and colleagues, it was clear that I was not alone in my reaction to political events. I reasoned that if the situation was affecting my mood and motivation, there was every possibility that it might be having an effect on that of my patients and supervisees.

So I began to ask. The result was a wealth of therapeutic understanding, and a tremendous opportunity for both personal and relationship growth for all concerned. I was dramatically reminded that reciprocal roles and procedures are not merely played out inter- and intrapersonally, but between the individual and his/her community, both locally and globally, and between global communities as well.

One patient, whose longstanding depression centred around existential issues, found first a seeming confirmation of his early powerlessness, and a global mirroring of his own more personal, ‘Why bother?’ We spent the session on what the war brought up for him, and he left that meeting determined to talk to everyone he knew about it. For a week, this provided him with a ‘cause’ and a reason to get out of bed, only to sink into depressive lethargy once more on encountering deliberate, avoidant indifference. We were then able to explore a newly-discovered long term neurotic pattern of ignoring and avoiding his own personal needs and values, needing always to lose himself in some greater ‘cause’. This exploration has been both moving and real, and continues to be distinctly fruitful and helpful.

A young woman with fertility and parenting issues wept as she talked about how the issues around the war brought up her own ambivalence around bringing a child into a world in which it seemed to her that life is held too cheaply. This led us to a valuable discussion around hope and hopelessness; her fears for her own mortality and that of her potential child.

I discovered that the impending war constellated issues of bullying and cowardice for two young men I was treating. We began a vital process of exploring, understanding and adjusting deeply held values (developing exits) so that each of these men could begin to consciously construct more satisfying lives for themselves; carving out a middle ground of ‘hero’ between ‘bully’ and ‘wimp’.

A barrister rediscovered her rage following the million-strong protest march and the government’s indifference. We found an opportunity to look at her long and deeply held grief around not being heard, first as a child in her family, later as a young woman by her first husband, then at the bar, and now finally, not hearing herself in her own need for personal justice and self-compassion.

The state of the world and the constellation of events leading up to, and including the war in Iraq and its worldwide political and human result, brings up much for all of us. We find ourselves face to face with the challenges of living and being and feeling in the world as it is, with its pain, brutality, injustice and tragedy; but also its beauty, compassion, fragility and potential. The challenge is one both of resisting the fall into a bottom-half-of-the-egg hopeless/powerless/worthlessness and as well, fighting the urge to climb into a top-half-of-the-egg New Age idealised hope of what the world ideally should be, a stance which can only be sustained with ample lashings of avoidance, denial and crushing judgement.

It seems we live in a ‘borderline world’, globally resonant with our own personal procedural splitting. The experience of discussing the war and its implications with my patients, and relating the results of these discussions back into their own personal history and issues, contained vital lessons for me. It is now more clear than ever that the goal of finding a satisfactory way of understanding and living life in the ‘Good Enough Ordinary World’ is not a matter for my consulting room alone, but one that might well be considered by those who would lead us, and by each of us, when next we are called upon to vote.

We live in power-ful times, in which we can feel power-less, unheard, contemptuously dismissed, ignored, controlled in response to a powerfully controlling ‘other’ – all feelings which resonate with our personal histories. I am vividly reminded to bring the larger world into my relationship with my patients, not as a way to air our politics, but as yet another facet of learning to live in the world in a more satisfying and authentic way.

Sophia Dunn

Full Reference

Dunn, S., 2003. Letters to the Editors: On the War. Reformulation, Summer, pp.5-6.

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