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One

Mara



Probably every analyst can cite a small number of analysands whose work has taught him or her what analysis is all about. For regardless of the books we have read and the number of years spent in training, it is only when we face another psyche entirely on our own that the realities of our profession begin to dawn on us. The dialogue between two souls is a dissolving experience. The extent to which we allow ourselves into it corresponds to our ability to tolerate fragmentation and confusion. Jung often referred to this experience as "the soup," where onions, potatoes, carrots, herbs, and meat, mingle their flavors to produce a delectable and nourishing broth. In an analysis of this sort, both psyches are softened and give up some of their essence to the process. It is widely known that this can be a terrifying experience for an analysand with a weak sense of self. But the analyst is supposed to have been analyzed and to have developed thereby a real confidence in the ego-self axis and furthermore to be "contained" by a flexible and coherent familiarity with the models and theory of analysis.

Ideally this conception suffices. The analysand meets our expectations, and we can rely on the customary maps of soulscape we have learned from our training and general life experience. If we have to depart from familiar paths, the compass we forged in our own analysis keeps us oriented. Our analysand is grateful for the security of our containment and guidance and learns to trust "course corrections" emanating from the unconscious. We terminate with joy and confidence that our former patient has gained a fuller sense of self and has learned to trust the life of soul and the exigencies of daily interaction with the world. We, in turn, are confirmed in the images and theories that guide our work, and feel good about ourselves as analysts.

We learn relatively little from these ideal analyses. Consequently the analysands that prove most difficult and threatening to our identity and familiar procedures are invariably the ones we cite as our teachers. For these individuals draw us into the soup where paths are non-existent and our compass needle spins uncertainly. Although urgently aware that something must be done, we find our theories and external supports failing us. We are lost and on our own in a dangerous wilderness. There is no way out. We may be tempted to confess our inadequacy and send our difficult patient to some one else. This is certainly an honest procedure, and it may save us from our doubts. But we must beware of loading the entire burden of our common despair on our partner, an analysand who is less equipped than we to deal with it. In most cases we can only go on, improvising all the while, reminding ourselves that soul is our métier and that even the darkest of its continents and the most ferocious of its seas will eventually require mapping. Mistakes are inevitable. In a situation like this, we are the foolish Dumbling who succeeds only through humility and honesty and by attempting what the knowledgeable and proud would eschew. Our mistakes are our opportunities, and the flavors of the soup our only guide.

Mara was the first analysand I saw as "the one who would teach me how to be an analyst."[1] I was in my late thirties, still in my training; and she was about ten years younger. I felt threatened at her very first appearance because she resembled outwardly and in her free-wheeling sexuality a lover who had turned my life upside-down about a dozen years earlier. Patricia had demolished all my dearest assumptions about life, dissolved my boundaries, opened me to a life of intuition and synchronicity, and abandoned me without explanation. Although I valued my sixteen months with her above all the experiences of my life, I was nevertheless glad to have escaped intact. At the time I met Mara, I was still mourning the loss of Patricia and would continue to do so for another five years -- until she reappeared out of nowhere and we spent a day together rehashing what had happened between us. Only then was my attachment unhooked. Furthermore, it had been during that rapturous and painful sixteen months that I had first become involved with Jung and his doctrine of anima and animus. So with the appearance of Mara in my make-shift consulting room, I was afraid the process had come full circle and that Jung and individuation had led me back into the fire.

I kept all this quiet both from Mara and from my supervisors, and in the beginning it seemed a good course of action. She complained of a recurring suicidal depression that began after the death of a high school classmate who nevertheless had not been a close friend. She was not afraid of death itself; she said she "dealt in death," being a doctoral candidate in archaeology. Beyond that, I learned merely that she was an only child, married to a physician, and was an enthusiastic hang-glider. When I asked for further details about her daily life, she showed me photos from her wedding and from one of her hang-gliding outings, where she was together with the inseparable band that included her husband and three other men with whom she had erotic relationships. I was intrigued and admiring of her polyandrous life, but said nothing about it. I am sure she was aware of my implicit approval.

Analysis consisted of her bringing her dreams -- usually three typed pages twice a week -- and our joint struggle to make sense of them. They were "archetypal" dreams, in the sense that they portrayed no landscapes or people from her past or present life. They had the feel of fairy tales and reeked of inadvertent violence. In an early dream, she is walking down a mountain slope and a boulder pops loose at her foot without any assistance from her. She watches it bound down the mountain directly towards a clump of houses, simultaneously elated at the prospect of witnessing the destruction and horrified at herself for feeling that way. In our discussion of the dream, she clung to her innocence, repeatedly reminding me that she had never touched the boulder. I wanted to avoid argument at all costs because I did not wish to feel guilty myself of accusing her and because I believed arguments, by their very nature, lock us into a defensive attitude and shut off our connection with the unconscious. In retrospect it appears to me that we tacitly agreed in that session that aggression was exclusively her prerogative, and that it was not to be mentioned.

As the work proceeded, and she refused to give me any details from her daily life, I confined myself to observing as supportively as I could how the themes were developing. In fact, she was becoming more closely connected to the violence. In one dream, she discovered she could start fires at a distant with her laser vision and delightedly used her power to burn up the house of an elderly magician, a man she resented for slighting her. In another she finds herself atop a tall building, cackling with an older man over the unexplained deaths that have been taking place in the city below them. As the dream ends, she notes with shock that he is wearing a ring identifying him as a vampire and that she must be his partner. I contained my own anxiety and hers by placing these horrific events upon the stage of her distant unconscious, far away from our immediate concern, where an unfinished drama was unfolding in the form of a fairy tale. Magical beings and horrendous events were commonplace there, and they invariably carried a lesson for us if we allowed them to play themselves out.

My supervisors were unanimous that I had "to bring this girl down to earth." Nearly every dream had her viewing "the real world" from a vantage as elevated as a hang-glider, and this contributed to her avoiding the personal implications of all the destruction and murder that was taking place. I understood my supervisors' words as recommending that I abandon dream work because it was contributing to her inflation. I could not accept such advice for several reasons. For starters, I understood dream interpretation as essential to Jungian analysis and founded on an act of faith in the psyche's ability to correct itself. If I was to abandon it when the going got rough, I might as well renounce my Jungian training. More importantly, however, and only dimly appreciated at the time, was the fact that I was horrified at the prospect of punishing Mara with my criticism. This resonated too painfully with my own childhood, where I was beaten into timidity and distrust of my own feelings by relentless ridicule. Furthermore, my first analyst had acted out the countertransference I had constellated in him with my poorly shielded timidity by ever increasing attacks. Although he had helped me appreciate the emotional child abuse of my origins, he seemed to be undermining my longing to learn to trust my unconscious. I could never have a "good dream," for every one of them seemed to become an occasion for his devaluation of me. I argued with his inconsistency, cited Jung more effectively than he could (I had written a doctoral dissertation on Jung), and eventually quit in anger.

However naive I may have been, therefore, there were substantial grounds of varying validity for my feeling that I had to protect Mara's grandiosity. Furthermore, by this time I had had a second and a third analysis; and my second analyst was a woman who had the same birthdate as my mother. She was trusting and admiring, where my mother had been terrified and critical. She saw my dreams in series and helped me to appreciate how my unconscious was supporting and guiding my personal growth. I began to see how badly my self-confidence had been undermined by my first analyst and how I had protected myself from realizing it at the time. I felt I had to become Mara's champion against my suspicious supervisors, and I believed my second analyst would agree with me in that. For she had often said that she had usually felt she had to protect her analysands from her supervisors when she had been in training.

I was convinced my supervisors, who had never met Mara, could never know her as well as I did. There were intangible realities one gained from sharing the same room with her twice a week that I could not begin to convey. Thus I imagined myself taking the attitude of my "good mother" analyst toward Mara, protecting and supporting her despite the ominous trend of her dreams. I was too unconscious to see that in doing so I was taking on the role of the envied magician whose house she set afire and that this blaze was what I was bringing to my supervisors. I would have been incredulous if anyone had pointed out that I might well have been the male vampire in cahoots with Mara's desire to suck the blood out of her mundane life -- the life she refused to discuss with me and about which I was neglecting to press.

One of my supervisors inadvertently contributed to my insubordinate attitude by recommending the works of Heinz Kohut (especially Kohut, 1977). There I found a well-developed theory to justify my acting as the protective mother. Kohut speaks of two natural stages by which a coherent self is built in a child. In the first, the child's grandiosity is uncritically mirrored so that the infant can begin to feel powerful enough to be an independent subject in the world. In the second, when the tyke's attention-demanding performances begin to make him a royal pain in the ass, his parents need to curb his grandiosity with empathic criticism in order to contain and socialize his narcissistic energy. I translated this into Jungian language to mean that Mara's instinctual and archetypal impulses had first to be greeted with the positive, supportive countertransference of a "good mother" until she could trust me and her own process sufficiently to risk discussing shadow issues. Perhaps even the power of the shadow's destruction and murder had to be praised in the short run until some unspecified alteration in the process guided me toward an attitude of "empathic criticism." In the meantime I would maintain silence with my supervisors as regards my work with Mara. Even though she was my primary concern, I had plenty of material from other analysands to discuss. It seems they did not notice my change of direction.

I now had a sense for what my role was in my work with Mara. Whether in response to this or not, her dreams took a correspondingly resolute turn. Three repeating characters emerged: a "princess" with superhuman powers who was always above the fray, a pretentious and flirtatious "little doll" whom Mara and the princess despised, and a timid love-sick youth who skulked about in the little doll's wake hoping for a sign of her affection. The princess took delight in humiliating the skulker, while Mara cheered in her sessions with me. For several weeks one dream followed another, all variations on the same theme; and Mara began to regale me with stories from her daily life that mirrored them. She could name a long series of real-life skulkers whom she had seduced and humiliated. She seemed to delight in their persistence while protesting she would do anything to get rid of them. There were two or three men currently pursuing her, despite her refusals.

The horrifying specter of my erotic defeat as analyst loomed before my eyes. Not confident that I could contain it, I hoped that making it a conscious issue between us would depotentiate it. Thus I confessed that so many men in her life had fallen into the skulker role, it made me wonder if it might not also happen to me. She was shocked that I could even think such a thing. It was impossible! We dropped the subject forthwith. I maintained my vigilance another week or so, but she was certainly right. There was no danger of my becoming a skulker. As soon as I was sure of this, her stories became boring and irritating. She was becoming a royal pain in the ass. I knew I had to do something to get her to stop these repeat performances, but hesitated because I feared my irritation would show and I would not be "empathic" enough. Finally though, I gave up looking for the right way to put it, and rather gracelessly interrupted one of her stories with an interpretation.

At the time I felt my acting out of irritation was a defeat. I worried that I had become a skulker of a different stripe, a failure at containing my impatience rather than a failure at containing a moony adoration I now knew would not arise. I had forgotten that "empathic criticism" always emanates from irritation. The three-year-old who exasperates its mother with an umpteenth rendition of the same joke will always be criticized with irritation. Irritation is the appropriate emotion. It is just that the criticism coming out of it must be tempered with an awareness that it will hurt. Empathic criticism requires that mother be sorry she is hurting her child, but resolute nevertheless. I was very much aware I would be crushing Mara's grandiosity, and I hated to do it. But I knew I could not wait another instant. Thus I did the right thing for the right reason while dreading the consequences of my "mistake."

I told her it seemed to me that all three dream characters were parts of her. She had a little doll complex who attracted the skulkers. The very appearance of a skulker enraged the princess because his simpering attention reminded her of the presence of the little doll who wanted to be adored. This was the reason the princess had to destroy the skulker, to maintain her denial of the little doll within her.

Mara was crestfallen and confused. She clearly did not want to accept my interpretation; but it had come as such a surprise to her that she did not reject it out of hand. She asked a number of questions and seemed to ponder the implications.

She arrived at her next session with a couple of typed pages of dreams, as usual, and a letter -- also typed. In it she argued that there was significant difference between herself and the little doll. The dream character -- and the pretentious little flirt she hated in her archaeology seminar -- attracted their admirers with girlish sexuality. She, on the contrary, attracted hers while attending to business. They always surprised her. They were never men she had had her eye on. Usually one of her friends had to point out to her that they were hiding somewhere in her vicinity, the saucers of their eyes glazed with devotion.

Now it was my turn to be crestfallen. The great interpretation had convinced only me. I would have to discover another ploy to make my point. Because I continued to eschew rational argument on principle, I turned to her dreams. In the first, Mara herself had taken on the form of a little girl's toy doll sitting on a living room couch. Mara was elated.  She had always wanted to be invisible so she could observe other people without being seen, and here was the perfect disguise. She missed the obvious fact that the dream presented her as a little doll. It denied what she had written in the letter. I could hardly refrain from pointing it out. But for Mara it was only a coincidence that the word she used to signify an empty-headed flirt was depicted in the dream as a toy. I could see no point in arguing. Evidently the dream was a message for me rather than for her, encouraging me not to give up on my interpretation or my empathic criticism.

While Mara returned to her stories, one of my supervisors -- for no reason related to supervision that I could determine -- lent me a translation of the Persian poet, Nizami's fairy tale collection, The Seven Stories of the Seven Princesses. I read them with fascination, particularly the one about Princess Turandot; for it seemed to have something to do with Mara. Although I had been impressed with the dark and sinister music Puccini wrote for his version of the story, I had never known the details. Turandot adamantly refuses to marry. Having mastered all the conventional arts and sciences and then the occult disciplines, she uses them to defend herself from the suitors she attracts.

She paints a life-sized portrait of herself on a silk banner and hangs it from the gates of her father's city with a promise to consider marriage with any man who can find his way to her castle of iron and steel atop a nearby mountain without being beheaded by magic swords she had set to guard the path. The aspiring suitor can finally win her hand upon successfully answering a battery of riddles; but if he fails, an executioner will take his head. The man who finally succeeds is forewarned by a grisly row of his predecessors‚ skulls. He notes immediately that the beauty of her portrait is already making him lose his head. He therefore takes a circuitous and time-consuming route to her castle, turning first to the greatest gurus in the world in order to learn to control his emotions and master the spiritual sciences through which she communicates.

Desperate as I was to stop Mara's interminable recitations, I told her the story of Turandot at our very next meeting. I had no justification for this move beyond the hope that it would communicate the gist of my "great interpretation" in symbolic form. Mara listened attentively. When I got to the point where the hero disarms the magic swords and gains entrance to her fortress, I did not neglect to report the poet's observation that although Turandot had already fallen in love with the man -- she still insisted on subjecting him to the test of riddles. Mara interrupted me in horror: "Why, she's schizophrenic!" I stared at her open-mouthed. Words failed me. As far as I was concerned, this was an essential detail; for it showed Turandot had the same narcissistic ambivalence for her suitors as Mara had for her skulkers. But I would not have called it schizophrenic. It seemed Mara had not the slightest notion there was any similarity between herself and Turandot; and I was not going to be foolish enough to leave the realm of symbolic language and point it out, rendering it a new arena for rationalistic argument.

She recovered immediately and told me that her minor area of doctoral specialization was folklore and fairy tales. She recounted two variations on the Turandot tale. In Andersen's "The Swineherd," a princess childishly rejects the suit of a prince who subsequently disguises himself as a swineherd and returns to the kingdom. In his humble hut, he crafts a series of toys which the princess buys from him, one by one, each for certain number of kisses. Eventually her father catches them at it and throws them both out of the kingdom, whereupon the prince reveals his true identity to her and departs in triumph. The other tale, "The Bewitched Princess," comes from a volume of German fairy tales collected after that of the Grimm brothers. Here, a marriage-resistant princess beheads suitors who cannot answer the riddles she sets them. She flies at midnight to the Spirit of the Mountain, who gives her the riddles and their answers in order to keep her faithful to himself. The hero of this tale is assisted by a ghost who builds him a pair of wings and sends him flapping after the girl as she flies to the mountaintop -- beating her the whole way with iron rods. He is to eavesdrop on her meeting with the spirit so that he will know the proper answer on the following day.

I was sickened by these tales, for to me they meant that Mara was asking to be beaten and humiliated. She recited them to me in the spirit of besting me in her knowledge of fairy tales and without any apparent awareness of what they communicated symbolically. Now, I thought, there was no getting out of it. I was really going to have to find a way of thrashing her. In the library, I found the tales she had recited, studied them closely, and decided to make the tale of "The Bewitched Princess" a plan for the analysis. The beating with iron rods seemed to be the key. The princess did not know she was deliberately being beaten or that the hero was following her, but believed she had suffered a storm of hailstones. I understood this meant that I would have to thrash her in such a way that the punishment seemed not to come from me, but to be an act of nature. Impersonal "nature," I thought, was present in her dreams. And as I cast about for a way to turn them into "iron rods," I recalled my experience with my punitive first analyst.

Following his example, I began to interpret the images in Mara's dreams in a critical manner. She did not have her feet on the ground; she did not perceive the destructiveness of such and such; she was deluding herself about so and so. Evidence of coming to earth began to appear in her dreams. The site of an airplane crash was viewed with awe and nostalgia; a field of flowers was bent over with snow, and Mara contented herself by collecting a bouquet of simple grasses; the inside of a mountain was visited (like the princess in the fairy tale), and it appeared as a horrifying abyss with a cold wind whistling out of it. In this last dream, the Mountain Spirit (wind = spiritus) was seen in its negative aspect. This was really a new development; for the powerful, destructive, male figures had up to this point usually killed, blackmailed, or driven into crime everyone except Mara, whom they had favored. Now these people were also her enemies. In two dreams she was forced into dealings with Nazis or the Mafia in order to free herself from the influence of an archetypal great father figure (cf. the Mountain Spirit).

I saw this as a positive development because Mara's grandiose princess identity had been keeping her completely innocent of the darker side of her personality. The closest she had come to recognizing the nastiness and brutality of her aggression had been her smirk of naughty glee when describing how the little doll and skulker opponents had squirmed under her attacks. Knowingly and with repugnance to have to search out such collective figures of evil as Nazis symbolized at the very least a facing up to the moral taint infecting everything in the world of this princess who was simultaneously a witch and a vampire.

In another dream of interest, Mara played the role of Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House, a promising identification with the little doll which bespoke a potential for growing up into maturity and independence. Later she dreamed of being pregnant and reflected that she no longer felt psychologically unsuited to motherhood. (In one of her first sessions she had said that she wanted children but was far from ready for motherhood because, "My soul is still in diapers.") Shortly after this dream, she stopped taking her contraceptive pills and in a few months became pregnant.

The last dream in this series involved the death of a Byzantine princess, whom Mara found laid out in a garret. As the princess' following, armed with sixth-century spears, entered the room, Mara hid herself behind a large stone in a scene almost identical to one in "The Bewitched Princess." This dream was very important, not only because Mara's grandiose princess figure had been killed -- and she did not reappear in the remaining six months of the analysis -- but also because the queen who had killed the princess in the dream was an example of a new important figure in her psychic process. Mara called her "the slattern." She was not at all grandiose, but a slob, very much unaccomplished intellectually, and probably of easy virtue. However she also showed signs of a greater differentiation of feeling than Mara habitually manifested.

The slattern's dominance of the dreams opened up a new chapter in the analysis, but it was not pursued to a resolution. In the succeeding six months, a good deal of the energy went out of the work. Mara canceled her sessions more and more frequently and finally broke off the analysis under the pressure, as she said, of her final exams at the university and her approaching motherhood.

Mara's final dream, however, suggested completion in a way which belies the apparent haphazard nature of her termination process. It repeated a theme that had come up in the very first weeks of treatment and whose narration she had prefaced by saying that it was a typical dream for her. She had found a baby bird fallen from its nest and placed it in her blouse to keep it safe. When she opened her blouse at the end of the dream and found the bird dead, she would awaken feeling terribly sad and guilty. The dream occurred only once more in the course of analysis, at the end; and this time she was elated to find a live bird when she opened her blouse.

I have not kept up with Mara since she terminated, but I would like to believe that she has stayed free of the bouts of depression of which she complained in her initial session. She did not have any during the course of the analysis. Apparently she was depressed on account of the dead bird, representing the effects of unconscious aggression, the underside of her grandiosity. The princess had to murder skulkers and little dolls, and destroy human settlements with boulders, fire from her magic eyes, and vampirism. In the course of the analysis, she gradually owned up to this destructiveness. As she relinquished her identification with the princess, she lost the need to defend her grandiosity with annihilating aggression.

The analysis seems to have been rather successful. The immediate issues, childish insecurity and recurrent depression, were resolved at least in the short run without ever having been addressed directly; and the more underlying issue of narcissistic grandiosity and anger was addressed without my having appreciated its significance. The case is a wonderful example of how an analytic process may proceed in a largely unconscious fashion. At its end, I was disappointed not to be able to follow Mara into her next adventure with the slattern and to see how that issue would work itself out conjointly with her impending motherhood. Mara now appeared to have her feet on the ground for the first time in her life and had even given up hang-gliding for the duration of the pregnancy. She seemed to see herself in more realistic terms and to be more enthusiastically involved in the day-to-day issues of her life.

I was elated over my success with the Turandot ploy and the subsequent "iron rod" treatment which had incidentally rehabilitated my respect for my first analyst. Now that Mara seemed to have been "brought down to earth," I felt free to discuss her case with my supervisors. One of them told me he would have been proud of himself for having come up with anything as inspired as the fairy tale procedure, and wondered why I was still not happy with my performance. I could not say. Today, fifteen years later, I believe I understand my unease.

I had had great expectations for my work with Mara. She was going to teach me how to be an analyst. Now the analysis was over, and although marvelous things had occurred, I still did not feel like an analyst. The Turandot ploy was a kind of fluke. I have never had another case that has allowed me to do anything like it. I had not known what I was doing when I did it. "Turandot" fell into my hands by chance; Mara's acquaintance with analogous fairy tales was a coincidence; and my frustrating experience with my first analyst was another. The whole procedure had been a concatenation of synchronicities. I thought it would be foolish to hope I could bumble my way through hundreds of analyses in this same unconscious manner.

I felt I was a long way from finding the key to doing analysis. Before meeting Mara, I had thought analysis was dream interpretation. Now that I had been part of a successful analysis, I could see that I had failed to interpret any dreams. I had only listened to dreams and offered a few meager and generally inadequate observations. Before the crisis over Mara's infatuation with her own erotic ambivalence, I had offered the weakest of interpretive comments -- primarily out of my fear of injuring her high regard for me. I had felt a coward and the most slinking of skulkers. Fortunately she was always the last to know when a man was floundering in her wake, and she had not brought along a girlfriend to her sessions to point out the abjectness of my stance toward her. Even after I caught onto the game in a certain sense and began to "thrash" her, I still failed to understand her dreams in any coherent manner. I just picked out details to beat her with.

Although I did not know it at the time, there was something I might have been proud about. I had acted with resolute and well-founded confidence in sheltering my work from my supervisors. I had wanted to believe I was hewing to orthodox Jungian doctrine about the importance of dreams. But I knew I was not able to come up with decent interpretations. I dimly suspected dreams were no more than an excuse for me. But I knew there was something worth risking my training and Mara's psychological progress to defend. Although I did not know what to call it or how to describe it, I knew I was in touch with Mara in some intangible and probably indefensible way; and this was the key to everything. I was in the soup with her and taking readings on the broth.

The broth in this metaphor is the emotional atmosphere or field within which we met. Although I was not able to speak about it intelligently, I did have an immediate and unsophisticated grasp, sufficient to let me know that Mara was too sensitive and insecure to be "brought down to earth" by a direct challenge. I felt this atmosphere as a kind of minefield, where the slightest misstep could cause an emotional explosion that might destroy the analysis. I believed I was playing it safe and was not entirely proud of this, not sure it was not primarily my insecurity I was protecting. I identified with the hero of "Turandot" who took no risks until he had apprenticed himself to the world's great gurus. Like him, I moved slowly, pondering the writings of Jung and Kohut, alert for the occult communications of dreams and fairy tales, on the lookout for magic swords that might take off my head.

I feared my timidity was a great flaw, at the same time believing that if I could not act resolutely I should not act at all. I knew I was in a complex that stemmed from my family origins, where ridicule and criticism had deeply injured my self-confidence. This was a major part of the soup in which Mara and I were simmering. Unconsciously I recognized that she must have had a similar past. And insofar as I acted out of this familiar background terror, we both felt a certain security and hope. My timidity, it appears now in retrospect, verified her world where the danger of annihilation lurked behind every bush and tree. This made my respectful mirroring possible. My empathy was mostly unconscious, but fortunately just what she needed in the first stage of the analysis. When she had had enough of it, she showed me that, too, through her inadvertent request that I should get tough.

Mara did not teach me to analyze dreams as I had naively hoped. She taught me that the emotional field of the analytic interaction was the foundation for everything -- even though it was still several years before I could articulate this lesson.

 


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  1. This chapter is in large part a revision of "A Jungian Approach to Grandiosity: Empathy and a Big Stick" (Haule, 1989).



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