Monday, August 31, 2009

Soul Murder

Here’s a bit of a paradox. I think Freudianism is largely bunk. That is, the anal, oedipal, oral etc theorising is false and distracting; the id, ego, superego structure either wrong or simplistic. But I have found material written by Freudians (such as the blogger Shrinkwrapped’s comments on therapeutic matters—as distinct from his other speculations—or Mark Epstein’s books on Buddhist psychology) very insightful and helpful.

But someone can be using a theoretical structure that is mostly wrong, and still be a good and insightful observer. And I certainly do think unconscious processes and childhood experiences are important in understanding behaviour.

Which brings me to the Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Abuse and Deprivation by Freudian therapist Leonard Shengold.

The book is mostly about the more traumatic forms of childhood abuse. I found it insightful and informative, if only tangentially relevant to my own experience. The, admitted to be, speculative use of literary figures as famous “case studies” was done, not to “explain” them, but to provide accessible ways of looking at childhood abuse, deprivation and its effects. The periodic lapse into overt Freudianism was irritating—wasted verbiage on a clearly completely unnecessary level of interpretation. But such lapses were sufficiently rare, and the other material sufficiently interesting, for this to be a relatively minor matter.

The term soul murder is certainly an arresting one: a nice way to capture both the crime and the damage of serious childhood abuse. And it does provide a metaphor that allows Shengold to illustrate well the forms of abuse which occur, why they are damaging and how they are damaging. Soul Murder is an informative and insightful book, despite its Freudianism.

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