Listening With The Third Ear

I recently retrieved from my bedroom bookcase Theodor Reik’s book Listening With The Third Ear and began re-reading Chapter 18 Insight. Reik is a Freudian psychoanalyst, trained by Freud, and the 3rd Ear is a skill of a psychoanalyst listening consciously and unconsciously – how the analysand’s conscious and unconscious are being communicated is the subject of his book. The first part of this chapter details the specific operation of how the 3rd ear listens and then Reik follows with two case studies illustrating the operation of 3rd ear listening. Reik’s operationalization of the processes of insight is developed elsewhere and here I wanted to cite a passage that caught my attention as it mirrors a contemporary experience unfolding with Brett Kavanaugh’s interview for a position on the Supreme Court.

Dr. Reik writes this about the first case he presents: “Everything he said that seemed logical and sound, clear and consistent.  Nevertheless, the presence in me of vague but decisive feelings suggested that factors other than those of the reality-situation were responsible for his state of mind.  There were also a few inconsistencies or slight inaccuracies in his tale.  Imponderable impressions indicated that his grief, genuine and sincere as it was, came from some other source.  When he tried to prove to me that the report of a building commission came to certain conclusions in guarded terms his argumentation, though persuasive, was not convincing.  His own statements at this point seemed somewhat ‘reached’ as a scriptwriter would say.
   His yarn was good but there were little imperfections in it, slight unevenness not apparent to the eye but perceptible to testing hands that glide slowly and carefully over the fabric.  Small imperfections caused by the twisting of the threads are known as ‘slubs’ to textile experts.  For there were a few slubs in his otherwise perfect argument.  Other inconspicuous features that elude description suggested that unconscious factors had a share in his depression (193).
… Those minute unevennesses, those small inadequacies I had noted at the beginning, paved the way for the reconstruction of the emotional processes, but it was actually made possible by psychological clues that seemed very remote from the scene, by causal remarks the patient made and treated as if they were irrelevant. It seems to me that the analyst must differentiate between psychological facts and psychological clues. Facts are the data that are known and fully acknowledged as to their significance for the origin and motivation of the emotional process under observation. Clues are material of a special kind, whose importance has not yet been examined and whose significance is not immediately clear. Such clues can contribute much to the solution of a problem. Facts help us to figure out; clues help us to discover things that were always there but that we did not see. Facts are to be used consciously; clues have to be found. Facts appeal to our powers of reason and reflection; clues evoke responses from our imagination (emphasis added). Facts are connected with solid knowledge; clues are related to hunches. Facts give us intellectual security; clues arouse suspense in the realm of thought and ideas” (196).

I have emphasized the word imagination as it operates in Reik’s theory as an aspect of insight, which needs to be carefully unwrapped. This also is done elsewhere in order to see if Reik’s imaginative-insight method can be applied to the collective experience taking place in the Trump-Kavanaugh happening. To begin, we close our eyes and meditate on what surfaces: disappointment, embarrassment, shock, shameful, pathetic, sad, worried, and on and on. These might be identified as psychological facts of what is happening. What are the psychological cues in this happening? The clues that arouse suspense might be: were Trump and Kavanaugh psychologically or physically abused as a child, raised by an alcoholic parent, sexually molested, were there other significant traumatic ordeals in their lives. The issue of inappropriate sexual behavior is a common theme in Kavanaugh and Trump’s lives – is it a psychological cue, raising a hunch, arousing suspense in what is hiding.

At his point, I listened, took notes to The New School event “Foreshadowing the Present: The Legacies of Theodor Reik” (Seven Parts) co-sponsored by the departments of Social Sciences of The New School for General Studies, and The National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, founded in 1948 by Reik. The event was devoted to exploring the impact of Reik’s work on the current state of diverse psychoanalytic theories, and their major controversies. Participants include doctors Otto Kernberg, Harold Blum, Martin Bergman, Jeremy Safran, Anna Aragno, and Dany Nobus. Carl Jacobs, NPAP program chair, moderates the event. I have let this foreshadowing of the present settle and slowly allow myself to sense clues reaching out to me.

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 1 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 2 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 3 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 4 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 5 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 6 | The New School

The Legacies of Theodor Reik Part 7 | The New School

Whew, getting through this was a task – a very interesting one! The first issue presented is the way Reik facilitates an analytical session. It is described as “unconscious to unconscious communication”, which is said to address a gap between theory and practice. Intuition is important, with empathy and trust key factors operating as they are in authentic relationships. Jeremy Safran points out that “ongoing reflections on one’s own associations while they are working in order to understand the patient is an unconscious communication between patient and analyst. Analysts’ “use their own associations and the subjective aspect of the relationship as a source of information”. Can we make an effort to sense the ‘unconscious’ that is present in our Kavanaugh experience 10/5/2018 5:55 am cst.

As we watched and listened to reflections on Kavanagh’s behavior we heard the psychoanalytical terms sociopath and narcissist describing his behavior. Each of these pathologies can be used to gain insight into both Kavanagh and Trump – two peas in a pod. However, in the Legacies of Theodor Reik sessions, we have the psychological pathology of masochism addressed. The full concept is Sadomasochism, which “is the giving or receiving pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation. Practitioners of sadomasochism may seek sexual gratification from their acts. While the terms sadist and masochist refer respectively to one who enjoys giving or receiving pain, practitioners of sadomasochism may switch between activity and passivity” (Wikipedia). The psychological clue now reaching out is that Kavanaugh and Trump have engaged in whipping women and probably being whipped by women.

Reik ends his insight chapter imploring that if this thought “proves valuable when we take it up again and subject it to examination, the requirements of analysis demand that we should, so to speak, let it sound till it fades away spontaneously. To get hold of an unconscious thought or emotion is only one part of the analytic process. To follow it, to observe its consequences, reverberations, and repercussions in the unconscious life of the person is the other part. It is important not to lose the thread one has a hold of. We shall then, certainly, allow the conscious intellectual effort to play a great part in following slowly and carefully, the further intellectual possibilities thus emerging. At the same time, it will not be possible to dispense entirely with the co-operation of the analyst’s unconscious. We might compare this pursuit of our own idea to the end, with the manner of bowing on the violin called molto sostenuto” (213). I hope the  Senate committee votes to reject Kavanagh so, we will not have to be further concerned with his life. Trump, however, is another very serious worry we will still have.

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3 Responses to Listening With The Third Ear

  1. Mike DeMarco says:

    I like the photos the best… Reik has some wonderful perceptions on communication. I think you need to work on an article, a masterwork, for the NY Times. Please!? One of your own creations. Short. Concise. Clear. Helpful to everyone today who are trying to navigate between thoughts and emotions.

  2. Hi Michael,

    This is yet another time you are encouraging me to write others than to my “Self”! I am passing your message along to Her but have to check to see if she, Samantha, ( has Her latest updates. Yup, She is set to go to the beach ( – “the past is just a story we tell ourselves” and learning ‘how’ we tell this story is what you are suggesting – be concise. I started writing this as I was listening to the Senate hearing and had read this chapter’s beginning describing a male in a case that I imagined is Kavanaugh. Reik ends this chapter alerting us to the continual analysis needed in our efforts to understand life – add The Kavanaugh Trump Incestuous Relationship to our continuing work.

    I thank you for this encouragement, however, I have been trying to put our Trump Experience out of mind – I no longer watch tv and now plan to stop listening to the news, however, I am now listening to MSNBC as I am writing you. In the night, I realized that what is behind my ‘writer’s block’ (a specific topic block) is at the center of Reik’s idea that the unconscious between the writer and the project has to be understood – analyzed. Now tell me how scary this is – realizing I need to really understand myself – know Me as the writer. Stay tuned.

    Friends form Bisbee AR were here last week and keep inviting us there. Sure would stop by you for a Taiichi lesson. Take care hao pengyou.

    Trump Whipping Ford
    ‘Wrong, vile, appalling’: Trump mocking Ford spurs outrage

  3. Here Michael is another photo. Best be careful what this like is saying about us! But this is the basic point of Reik’s 3r Ear listening.

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