HE.S.T.A.F.T.A. - Scientific Society of Mental Health Professionals

“ About Father !!!”

Theodora Skali

e-mail: dskalis @ yahoo. gr

“About father, part I!”

A Letter to the father that never arrived!

Βοοk presentation, of the book ** Letter to the Father , ** Franz Kafka

Trans/Intr.: Vassilis Tsalis, METAIXMIO, 2019

** November 1919 **

Fifty kilometers north of Prague, Franz Kafka sits in a rented room for nine days, and writes a letter to his father. A letter that he never gave him…

The book is about a letter from Kafka to his father, in which he reflects with clarity on his father’s failure to create meaning for him, for the things around him, as well as for himself! Ed Tronick ( _The Still Face and the Dynamic Process of Human Meaning Making, _ ICT Congress, 2021) says:  “... parent’s inability to give relationships’ meaning to the infant constitutes mental “catastrophe”, leads   to psychic poverty, limited consciousness, disorganization, fear, deregulation, anxiety, disconnection and loneliness”. In this book, Kafka describes in detail, precisely this effect on his life, choosing a lively, direct way of narration _.  _

“ _I am helpless, anxious and desperate”! _ This sentence can sum up Kafka’s overall psychological situation. The same mental confusion, agony and anxiety are also reflected in the protagonists of other books by Kafka, such as The   Trial _ or _ The Castle , which describe in an artistic narrative manner the anguishing and restraining engagement of the protagonist with a relentless and impersonal force that punishes him for something vague, for a crime that he is unaware of or for a crime he unconsciously creeps into.

Τhis letter was never received by the real father... However, if we consider the internal father, that we all carry within us, as a father then the letter has reached its destination: The process of writing a letter to his father seems to function for Kafka as a process of re-examination, reconsideration of his father’s behavior due to the extreme importance of his presence in his life.  It is an attempt to look deep inside himself at the many different ways his father influenced him, in an attempt to understand and comprehend his childhood self, his adult self and, at the same time, in an attempt to understand his father's emotional disability. At this point the psychological function of this letter is consistent with the systemic ideas of reception and understanding one’s self in the family dynamics, with the ideas of process and dynamics, along the vertical and horizontal work stream, in the family relationships system.

How close this is to the old systemic technique  _“Write a letter…”! _ A technique , which offers a way to speak your truth to the person of importance or the caregiver, with whom you have not yet found peace within yourself. Where it is the writing itself that activates, mobilizes and brings to the surface, deeply buried material through a non-linear process. This implicit knowledge leads to a “right brain” analog deep awareness of the importance of the relationships, and highlights the psychological recorded material, reflected in the subject's choices, way of thinking and behavior.

Kafka reflects in detail about himself and his father, and analyzes relentlessly the material and these two “protagonists”, their course, their transactions as well as those of all the other family members! At the same time, he is also examining the hypersystem (culture, religion, gender, work environment), in an attempt to look at old stories and old snapshots from a distance, in the light of knowledge, experience, and the passage of time. He is trying to understand and accept his father’s importance for him in his childhood, as well as his mother’s inability to function as a secure base for empowerment and encouragement, her weakness to function as a strong counterweight to his father’s diminishing effect on everyone's lives in the family.

In this letter we watch how a person’s psyche within a system of family relations gradually shrinks in the face of the hypertrophic psyche function of another, which in this case is the presence of the father as “a _judge, authoritarian, autocratic and despotic” _ or ultimately as _“ just a deceived and weak person like all the others in the family”. _  Thus, in this dysfunctional resonance  “the relationship was lost; I wanted to leave, and at the same time I could not leave” . Then, the vicious circle of lost self-confidence towards the paternal figure, the guilt and shame that it produces, the fear for others and the endless effort to “ prove something to you ” are analyzed.

Kafka speaks with absolute clarity about the function of sublimation: How his writing activity was the means “to express my suffering that I could not have done leaning on your chest”.

What instigated the writing of this book? His father’s denial to accept Kafka's decision to marry a girl of humble descent, the daughter of a shoemaker. Thus, Kafka, in an act of desperation, put his story on paper, unconsciously making the function of writing -on a psychological level- a secure base, which his mother never provided him with. Through this process he tried to empower himself, to understand and create some space around him, although he never actually succeeded. The same struggle of thoughts permeates, explicitly or implicitly, all his work. At the same time this struggle is infused with his awareness that “it takes two to tango! ”, meaning that all this was not only the result of a single person’s behavior but the result of the unique meeting between “Me (the child in this case) and the Other”, that runs throughout all human existence.

On another level, this book reflects the historical context of the of the early twentieth century, in which one could see the desperate attempt of the new generation to find itself in a world that was changing rapidly, but was still dominated by the values and “hypocrisy” of the old bourgeois generation.

“About father, part II!”

** A Letter to the “father” Mony Elkaim about the meaning I came across!**

**  _ November 2020_ **

Surprisingly for those who were not aware of the situation, the death of Mony Elkaim, the psychiatrist and psychotherapist of Moroccan-Βelgian descent was announced, via the Internet. Elkaim was one of the leading figures in family therapy and of the anti-psychiatric movement in the 1970s in Europe! Growing up in the -in many ways- colorful Marrakech, he was well educated, with a highly exuberant personality! He led systemic therapy with couples and families in the direction of the relationship οn every level, including that of the psychotherapist’s feelings. Thus, he started the scientific discussion about the therapist’s feelings for his client during a therapeutic session, and helped us -as experts- to understand how therapists’ personal emotions in the “here and now” may be the  “key” to create bridges with patients, to understand them, to connect with them, with the ultimate goal being their  “best interest”. Therefore, he taught us that the healing process is not about a single “center of gravity” (symptom, problem, theoretical approach, the patient, etc.) but it’s about the intersection of many different "centers”, in every “here and now”.

On the night I learned about his death I reflected on his presence in my life; how lucky I was to meet him and work with him, how lucky I was that he let me know and understand his way of thinking, that he took me by the hand, steadily, and accompanied me in my very stressful first professional steps! The exact opposite of the Kafkaesque father who caused and/or intensified Kafka's dead ends and existential confusion.

Friday, January 31-Saturday, February 2, 2003, workshop on  “Therapist's emotions and their use in systemic interventions”,  Mony Elkaim, UMHRI.

_Saturday, February 2, 2003, workshop for experts on supervision, based on the therapist's emotions. Elkaim asks for a volunteer from the professional audience and I raise my hand. It has been about three years since I started working as psychotherapist. I still feel insecure, uncertain, and uncomfortable in the therapist's chair.  _

Unbeknownst to me and without having pursued it, it will turn out to be a defining day for my career and career choices.

I choose to present a new case (which I have only seen 3-4 times) that I had been having a hard time with. I present the last session:

_“… my client started describing to me the quarrel with her father… _

[I entered his office full of rage!!! He was sitting behind his desk. I asked him “why did you do that ???” and began throwing around everything that was on his desk…, and breaking anything I found around me…” …

_ and she describes to me, in a violent and intense voice, a scene of incredible violence and tension between her and her father, gesturing and shouting. It was impossible for me to stop her…” …_

At the end of my narration, I tell Elkaim, almost shouting myself,  “At the end of the session, the door closed behind her and I felt that I did not want to see her again! I wanted her to stop being my client! ”. Then I was silent waiting for his verdict, unconsciously expecting him to tell me “yes, you have to leave her!” and/or suggest a magical solution…

I have forgotten the audience watching, as well as my initial self-consciousness and decisions about how I am going to present the case, etc. …. I have been carried away by the memory of the intensity of my client’s violent narrative, and it is as if Ι relive the events. I feel my heart pounding, my face blushing and I am almost shouting, “I want her to stop being my client ”.  His giant figure is standing next to me, watching me very intently, very seriously, with a quiet smile. He holds me in his gaze, smiles and asks quietly with great curiosity: “I want to ask you something. What was your first impression when you first saw her? Your first thought ?” I reply very spontaneously: _“What a beautiful woman!” _

-  ** Beautifully !!! Very beautifully!!! Brilliant!!! **

I listen to him and I return to the “here and now”. Suddenly I am aware of the audience, of my answer; I feel my heart beating… I am thinking that I probably said more than I meant to. I feel upset. I look at him and my gaze meets his. His voice echoes in my ears: “Beautifully!!!”

I am looking at him. He is defiant, thunderous and steady! His hand moving and rising towards the sky, the movement of his eyes, his body moving towards me, his steady gaze! I feel something like “this fits me!”. But first I feel it is coming from him and then -as my autonomic nervous system is gradually calming down- I feel it inside me.

Some years later Ed Tronick (2021), during the Congress of ISC “Still face and Neuroscience”, underlines:

A "mother-infant" system, a system of two, uses neurosomatic facial expressions and gestures to convey meaning, to meet each other on an emotional level. So, the infant feels that its emotion is changing…. If we consider this from the part of the parent or psychotherapist, we have to make real the idea: "When I know you, I know you and experience you". And when the baby's emotion changes, this is a moment of strengthening for the baby ”.

I look at Elkaim, as he looks at me, and it is a moment of successful connection: I feel that he feels me, he sees me through my tension and through my “beautifully!”. At the same time, he lets me deposit on him the intensity, the shame of being exposed. It feels like “everything is okay” . For a moment he becomes “my whole world", and my emotion changes: It remains the same but more organized within me. It feels like it is legitimized now! It is the center of meaning that helps me, with its verbal and non-verbal attitude, to move backwards. As a result, the self-consciousness expands, resilience and trust increase. Much later I thought, on the occasion of this extraordinary supervisory meeting, that all previous supervision experiences I have had, had failed, because the meaning was diminished, as was consciousness of myself.  On the other hand, distrust toward “self” and “professional capacity” were reinforced and a vulnerable professional self was appearing (meaning, I took things personally) .

Many times, I have recalled that Saturday and the journey that began, in my personal and professional life, in terms of development and mental organization of a material originating in my childhood. The baby's meeting with the “mother/father” was a successful meeting that activated and consolidated fragments of past obscure areas with material that was stuck or remained weak in gray areas of my childhood.  The very next day I started looking for a new supervisor, knowing exactly what I was looking for in this protective, of our professional capacity, function!

Reading about the Kafkaesque father, I cannot help but think of Elkaim, the “father”, and the space he could create around us for expressing our self, for experimenting, for joining, for laughing, for “moving on”! This kind of space which is described as a “good enough mother” function, by Donald Winnicott, or as “ to accept the reality of lack… opens the door, through a process of working-through, to new experience, new ideals and new object-relationships according to André Green, or as a changing beta elements (unmetabolized psyche/soma/affective experience) into alpha elements (thoughts that can be thought by the thinker) , according to Wilfred Bion.

** _  What a father!_ **

With gratitude!

Theodora Skali


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