“the four things that no human being can endure” (a question to answer which was torturing me)

 

 

 

Roger W. Smith email to Sherwood Waldron, MD, February 20, 2017

Dear Dr. Waldron,

I am a writer living in Queens, NYC.

I hope this query is not a nuisance.

I am trying to find the answer to a question that has been torturing me.

I was seeing a therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., in Manhattan over a long period of time. Dr. Colp passed away in 2008.

I tend to remember practically everything Dr. Colp said, word for word. That was the value his words and observations had for me.

But, I can’t quite remember one thing he told me. We were talking about my experience of loneliness, and how I had managed to overcome it.

Dr. Colp said to me, quoting some well known psychoanalyst or writer (I think it was a psychoanalyst), that there were four (?) things that no one — no human being — can stand or endure: loneliness, anxiety (?), and _________.

I can’t recall the source of the quote. I doubt it was Freud, because I would have remembered it if this were the case. It was probably someone more recent whose works Dr. Colp was acquainted with.

I have Googled the quote to no avail. I thought it might have been Alfred Adler, Erich Fromm, or Harry Stack Sullivan.

It could have been Abraham Maslow, but I don’t recall that Dr. Colp mentioned him. It seems I would have remembered, since I knew of Maslow, who taught at Brandeis University when I was a student there. Maslow said similar things.

It could have been Erik Erikson. But, again, it seems that I would have remembered.

Others who come to mind:

Bruno Bettelheim

Rollo May

Schopenhauer

Karl Menninger

It could have been the psychotherapist Irvin D. Yalom, who wrote about “ultimate existential concerns,” namely death freedom isolation, and meaninglessness.

Would you have any idea where the quote might have come from, or how I might go about researching or inquiring about it?

 

 

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Sherwood Waldron MD email to Roger W. Smith, February 20, 2017

Sorry, I don’t recognize the quote.

 

 

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Roger W. Smith email to Sherwood Waldron MD,  January 31, 2020

Dear Dr. Waldron,

I do not expect you to reply to this email unless you wish to.

However, since you were kind enough to reply to me (almost three years ago), I now know (through my persistence) where the passage Dr. Colp was referring to came from.

It is in the works of Irvin D. Yalom, reprinted in The Yalom Reader (Basic Books, 1998), pp. 172-173. What I recalled was that there were four ultimate concerns that Dr. Colp spoke of: they are (Yalom’s four concerns) existential conditions faced by all persons that if not faced inspire dread. One of the four existential concerns is isolation (which I recalled as aloneness, which is the same thing. but I wasted a lot of time Googling using the wrong words).

I am certain that Dr. Colp was familiar with Dr. Yalom’s works — given that he often purchased books from this publisher and that he and Dr. Yalom published, at least once, articles in the same issue of the same journal, Free Associations: Psychoanalysis and Culture, Media, Groups, Politics.

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith

 
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THE ULTIMATE CONCERNS OF HUMAN LIFE

 

Existential therapy is a dynamic approach to therapy which focuses on concerns that are rooted in the individual’s existence.

 

[T]he primary concerns are deeply buried, encrusted with layer upon layer of repression, denial, displacements, and symbolization.”

The existential position emphasizes a conflict that flows from the individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence.

 

 

This book deals with four ultimate concerns: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. The individual’s confrontation with each of these facts of life constitutes the content of the existential dynamic conflict.

Death The most obvious, the most easily apprehended ultimate concern is death. We exist now, but one day we shall cease to be. Death will come, and there is no escape from it. It is a terrible truth, and we respond to it with mortal terror. “Everything,” in Spinoza’s words, “endeavors to persist in its own being”;’ and a core existential conflict is the tension between the awareness of the inevitability of death and the wish to continue to be.

Freedom Another ultimate concern, a far less accessible one, is freedom. Ordinarily we think of freedom as an unequivocally positive concept. Throughout recorded history has not the human being yearned and striven for freedom? Yet freedom viewed from the perspective of ultimate ground is riveted to dread. In its existential sense “freedom” refers to the absence of external structure. Contrary to everyday experience, the human being does not enter (and leave) a well-structured universe that has an inherent design. Rather, the individual is entirely responsible for–that is, is the author of–his or her own world, life design, choices, and actions. “Freedom,” in this sense, has a terrifying implication: it means that beneath us there is no ground-nothing, a void, an abyss. A key existential dynamic, then, is the clash between our confrontation with groundlessness and our wish for ground and structure.

Existential Isolation A third ultimate concern is isolation-not in­terpersonal isolation with its attendant loneliness, or intrapersonal isolation (isolation from parts of oneself), but a fundamental isolation–an isolation both from creatures and from world–which cuts beneath other isolation. No matter how close each of us becomes to another, there remains a final, unbridgeable gap; each of us enters existence alone and must depart from it alone. The existential conflict is thus the tension between our awareness of our absolute isolation and our wish for contact, for protection, our wish to be part of a larger whole.

Meaninglessness A fourth ultimate concern, or given, of existence is meaninglessness. If we must die, if we constitute our own world, if each is ultimately alone in an indifferent universe, then what meaning does life have? Why do we live? How shall we live? If there is no preor­dained design for us, then each of us must construct our own meanings in life. Yet can a meaning of one’s own creation be sturdy enough to bear one’s life? This existential dynamic conflict stems from the dilemma of a meaning-seeking creature who is thrown into a universe that has no meaning.

 

— from Irving D. Yalom, “The Four Ultimate Concerns,” Essential Therapy; The Introduction; reprinted in The Yalom Reader (Basic Books, 1998), pp. 169-173

 

 

 

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Persistence, doggedness pay off in research.

I never give up.

My wife often says, “You can find ANYTHING.”

My former therapist, Dr. Colp, an independent scholar, used to ask me to do research for him pro bono. I used to wonder, was it his way of sort of exacting payment in kind to make up for his very low fees? Sometimes the research was very tedious. But, I told him that I was flattered to be asked.

The questions he asked me to research were never easy ones. They were minuscule things which he couldn’t find the answer to. Such as who wrote a certain poem that Charles Darwin knew of because he liked a song  composed by Sir Arthur Sullivan in which the lyrics of the poem had been set to music? It was some Victorian poet. I found the answer to that one (Adelaide Procter).

And, who was the author of a bestselling women’s novel that Darwin liked? I never did find the answer. The novel (entitled The Fair Carew) was published anonymously, and it appears that even to this day the author’s identity has never been discovered. (Doctor Colp read the novel in a library in London during a visit there.)

 

 

— posted by Roger W Smith

   March 2020

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