EROS, FROMM, FREUD AND CREATIVITY
THE ANGRY WOLF
An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a schoolmate who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story."
I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so
much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does
not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy
would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times."
He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me; one is good
and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not
take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is
right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf, ah! He is full
of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He
fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because
his anger and hate are so great.
It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.
Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both
of them try to dominate my spirit."
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which
one wins, Grandfather?"
The Grandfather smiled and said, "The one I feed."
Freud emphasized the elements of the unconscious determinism of conscious thought troubled by repressions, defenses, and transference (Lothane, 1999). Erich Fromm and other psychoanalytic theorists guide us in recognizing both the obstacles and the potentials of unconscious material and processes. Like the poem above, the nature of man includes both destructive and creative elements. Psychoanalytic theories help to define these paradoxical forces, as well as directing possibilities for feeding the life producing and creative, while minimizing the destructive. Personality formation, growth, health, and maturity require recognition of both the obstacles and the potential.
Psychoanalytic theories force psychology to acknowledge that the reality of the human experience in its wholeness requires an accounting of the more illusive side of the science of mind that includes the “soul”. The soul is the individual reality of subjectivity in the psyche. The unconscious processes of the mind include the vital elements that separate humans from animals. A complete science of the mind cannot discount the irrational and subtle elements of vital functioning. Psychology would prefer to focus on the rational and the cognitive. Psychoanalytic theories force the science of psychology to maintain the recognition of the affective and the unconscious.
Whereas Freud conceptualized sexuality, libido, and eros as drives that lean more towards negative personality constructs, Fromm’s idea of “three healthy orientations – biophilia, love of others and positive freedom – converge in the syndrome of growth” (Feist & Feist, 2006, pg. 201). Psychoanalyst Susan Bodnar (2006) bases a healthy conceptualization of eros based on the work of Fromm. Bodnar (2006) suggests healthy expressions of eros as “deep physiological attachments (that) exist between people who are not biologically related” (pg. 45). “Eros in the therapeutic relationship can help recover dissociated elements of the individual, cultural, and political psyche” (Bodnar, 2006, pg. 45). Eros reconstructed as a generative potential in consciousness is an unspoken chemistry for healing and growth that can be cultivated in many different types of relationship.
Some examples of the biological, psychological and social chemistry of eros include the kinesthetic language or communication between athletes, close female friends who begin to share similar biological rhythms, and the symbiotic forms of attachment facilitated through mother and child in the nursing experience of feeding (Bodnar, 2006). The primary processes of biology and eros are intimately and subtly connected to the secondary processes that are more consciously recognized in relationships, social interactions, and verbal exchange. Sexuality is only one form of eros. Eros and love are also forms of the life instinct that produce authentic social and cultural relatedness. An over rationalistic and technological cultural atmosphere is destructive to the full potential and creativity of human relatedness. Eros and love provide relational boundaries in the mastery of aggression and self-destruction.
Whether it be in relationship to a teacher/learner dynamic, employer/employee, doctor/patient or individual personal relationships, it is relevant to cultivate a healthy atmosphere that promotes the relationship qualities of the human creative element of eros. “Eros, in the Marcusian (1955) sense is not unfettered nature gone wild. It is a carefully cultivated entwinement of pleasure and reality – the enactment of a life force in a socially constructed world” (as cite in Bodnar, 2006, pg 50). In order to produce healthy orientations, a practical daily exercise of feeding the potentials of eros will contribute to minimizing dysfunctional attachments and behavior. “Eros is primary process’s energic residue that expresses itself as sensuality, creativity, imagination, fantasy, and nonverbal relatedness” (Bodnar, 2006, pg. 52). Eros, as presented, is an avenue for fulfilling the summary of human needs stated by Fromm to be “relatedness, transcendence, rootedness, a sense of identity, and a frame of orientation” (Feist & Feist, 2006, pg. 193). Positive freedom is a spontaneous and full expression of both rational and emotional potentialities that can be promoted through a productive orientation of work as creative self-expression, passionate love of life (biophilia), and productive thinking that influences “people through love, reason, and example – not by force” (Feist & Feist, 2006, pg. 198).
Destructive applications of eros can be seen in an examination of the problem of narcissism. Gruba-McCallister (2007) applies the work of Fromm (1976; as cited by Gruba-McCallister, 2007) to “correct for the limitations of postmodernism, allowing for narcissism to be understood as both a spiritual and social problem” (pg. 182). Narcissism or the “empty self” (Cushman, 1990; as cited by Gruba-McCallister, 2007, pg. 183) must be understood within the context of societal and cultural contributing factors. In a system promoting capitalism the characteristics of selfishness, greed, and egotism are emphasized to such an extreme in order to sustain economic consumption that community, tradition and shared meaning (Hardin, 1968; as cited by Gruba-McCallister, 2007) are devalued. The marketing machinery must convince us that the only way to happiness and self-fulfillment is through this or that particular product.
Fromm contrasts factors that cultivate health with factors that induce or exaggerate illness as the difference of living from a sense of being or a sense of having. In living from a predominant sense of having, illness is cultivated by basing a sense of self worth and value on what I possess verses who I am. The being mode liberates and promotes health through cultivating a sense of worth from individual creativity, exercise of personal values and power, and seeking the fulfillment of individual potential. The having mode produces a narcissistic ego that consists of possessing and using people, places, and things only to “define and validate one’s self image” (Fromm, 1980; as cited in Gruba-McCallister, 2007, pg. 188).
Bodnar, S. (2006). 'I'm in the milk and the milk's in me': Eros in the clinical relationship. Psychoanalytic Dialogues , 16 (1), 45-69. Retrieved October 22, 2008, from PsycINFO database.
Feist, J, and Feist, G. J. (2006). Theories of personality. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
Gruba-McCallister, F. (2007, June). Narcissism and the empty self: To have or to be. Journal of Individual Psychology , 63 (2), 182-192. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from PsycINFO database.
Lothane, Z. (1999, December). The perennial Freud. Method versus myth and the mischief of Freud bashers. International Forum of Psychoanalysis , 8 (3), 151-171. Retrieved October 17, 2008, doi:10.1080/080370699300056130