Emotional Baggage and Lingering Freudianism

Over the past few days about 6 people have emailed me this New York Times article: Do Argentine’s Need Therapy?  Pull Up a Couch.

While outside the typical “economics with a twist” scope of this blog, I wanted to address this because I believe it provides a window into the soul of this confusing nation.

My psychiatric solace would apparently not be welcome in Villa Freud

It is important to understand the value that Argentines place on feelings.  One day at work, a colleague of mine was staying home for a few days because he was feeling depressed.  Half joking, I openly commented why he didn’t just cry in the bathroom for a good ten minutes then pretend he’d gotten sick like everyone else did.  The looks that shot my way following my offhand comment were priceless – horrified, shocked, and utterly disapproving.

Indeed, Argentina values emotional self-exploration in monetary terms as well.  Seeing a psychologist regularly is included in the majority of private health plans, and viewed as necessary to healthy living as regular visits to the dentist and family doctor.

I had the distinct pleasure of living with a bright and highly talented young woman studying psychology here in Buenos Aires for one year.  One of my favorite evening activities was hearing about her classes on Freudian psychology that were required coursework and laughing with disbelief that this lunacy was actually providing a meaningful foundation for thought.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of male anatomy, but I’m pretty sure a penis would ruin some of my favorite outfits and frankly make me look more like a drag queen than a serious professional.

Although it would make me eligible for next year’s Miss Drag Queen Buenos Aires…

A friend of mine once suggested this difference stems from the culture of the protestant work ethic vs. the catholic culture of waiting for salvation.  While I do think this has some merit, I think the current runs deeper.

Argentines don’t merely indulge themselves in their own feelings; they like to pry into the feelings of others as well, even in a professional context.  In 99% of business meetings that I have here, I am asked how old I am, and how I feel about being in Argentina.  Not only would these questions be considered wildly inappropriate in any business context in the USA, I am then carefully observed and probed on how I respond to these inquiries.  If I display affront or emotion, I am branded “hysterica”.  If not?  Cold and American.  In essence – I am valued based on my feelings rather than my accomplishments.

Joey Tribbiani dazzles in Freud! the musical in the popular sitcom Friends

Now what does this (admittedly self-indulgent) little cultural opinion have to do with Argentina’s rickety economy?  Actually quite a lot.  As the author of this rather critical blog, I am frequently asked what I think Argentina should do to fix their economy and indeed their country, and this is a difficult question to answer without spurring an intense debate that drifts towards the social consequences of austerity, or even whether or not I agree with IMF policies or the Washington Consensus.  And these debates are not without merit – solving Argentina’s economic quandary is not as simple as loosening trade restrictions, implementing intelligent monetary policies, and mopping up the culture of corruption and graft.

In answer to the questions posed by the NY times, Do Argentines Need Therapy, I would reply no.  Argentines need to learn to cry in the bathroom for ten minutes, come out and say they were sick to their stomach and have allergies, and move on.  The answers for the future will not be found by wallowing in the past and indulging in circular debates on issues like the Malvinas/Falklands, or throwing around blame and denying responsibility for public needs like transportation.

Mayor Macri and President Kirchner would both benefit from some bathroom stall therapy

I have gotten so much both personally and professionally out of living and working here, but if Argentina picks anything up from me I sincerely hope that it is a healthy dose of sucking it up and moving forward.

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22 Responses to Emotional Baggage and Lingering Freudianism

  1. agustin says:

    Your best so far!!
    Out of the box, something maybe Argentina took out of you…

  2. Hunter says:

    You make really good points. It’s sad how much the shrink cycle influences lives (lives which aren’t finding fulfillment in all that babble).

    I was always struck when I was in Argentina by the sense from individuals and from society that there aren’t consequences for your personal actions or decisions.

    Consequences certainly don’t exist as an adult (includes president or political leaders) and we see the fruit of that from public policy decisions leaders of the country continually make…this idea is reinforced from my experience of seeing Argentine kindergarten or preschool settings – where you will NEVER see something like timeout & kids get to dominate and get their way ALL the time – challenging or disciplining a child would do far too much damage to the child’s psyche balance.

    So while they’re learning to be citizens in Argentine society, kids learn that there aren’t consequences and you just get to do what you want to do because that’s ok. Not surprising that as adults, many Argentines have low self esteem and feel like they need to go a shrink to deal with their feelings.

  3. Rouse says:

    Although you make some very good points, I also feel (yes feel cause I am in fact an Argentinean) that you are a bit quick to judge. I believe that the opposite critic can be made about Americans:
    A bit too self detached, always “crying in the bathroom” which makes it really difficult to express your emotions and achieve deep meaningful relationships. Just swipe the problems under the rug and move on.
    That being said, I don’t think generalizations of any kind are fare and though I found the article whimsical and intelligently written. It was impossible for me not to notice the veil of judgment that covered it all. And that was why (even though I usually laugh everything off and don’t take any comments too seriously) I felt compelled to write.

  4. I’m an Argentinean too and I like it. Every judge is at the end subjective and I like people who is not affraid of showing it. Generalizations are about objects outside yourself, but is by itself a “particular” point of view of one person, and I suppose that this is what a blog should be about…
    Again I think that this is your best so far!
    A particular and subjective point of view, something that could be shared or not but with the “individual value of existence” (a Nozick idea).

  5. uruguay bob says:

    how come Cristina looks more masculine than those drag queens?

  6. Tomas Anchorena says:

    I don’t think it’s the therapy sessions that are hurting Argentina, the problem existed before the psychologists came on to the scene.

    In order to understand argentine psychology I think it is important to analyze the relationship between the individual and society. Or as Heidegger likes to say the, Self and the They-Self.
    I think the main problem is that the Argentine perception of limits between the self and society, are very different from the Anglo Saxon perception.

    A being formed in an Anglo-Saxon community has many more limits between his inner thoughts and the expression of them.

    -The Anglo-Saxon-Protestant culture respects boundaries of institutions, follows the rules, will not protest and be insubordinate on a whim, interaction between people when they first meet follow a certain code that does not cross a personal boundary, many topics aren’t broached in order to avoid embarrassment, and they generally never catcall women on the street. If you go to their sport stadiums you may see some people chanting and going up and down for the wave, but it is normally always calm.

    Because they repress their feelings, they never truly feeling comfortable, so they tend to binge drink much more than an argentine in order to escape their oppressive superego for a minute.

    Maybe economic advancement is tied to how good you are at repressing impulses.

    This is not necessarily bad and actually can be quite good; it’s just a different way of being. And I think these cultural factors are better at promoting a well-functioning government and society.

    If you compare this to argentine culture, it is a society that has much less respect for boundaries. People will throw their trash on the street, they will cut across lines, catcall women on the street aggressively, when in power they do not respect institutional autonomy (INDEC, Central Bank, Foreign ministry and also many of the nationalizations can be considered as an example, not to mention the 7 coup d’etats they had in the past century). They call the president awful sexist names, yet the President also called the opposition capitalist slave owners. They will jump up and down running into other people in a club in the form of a circle, not having respect for personal boundaries.

    Argentines love to talk about whatever is on their minds. And I think it’s by not having such respect for boundaries like an Anglo Saxon culture, why Argentina has had so many economic problems.

    Having respect for boundaries provides a firm foundation for building a successful economy.

    Constant factors are important for long term planning, variables that change all the time, makes people only plan for the short term.

  7. Laura graham says:

    I don’t think the solution lies in crying in the bathroom for ten minutes and sucking it up. That only represses those feelings and they will come out in other forms if they are not addressed in an appropriate manner. I think argentines should go to psychologists, so they can express all their discontent, anger, sadness in that session, instead of displaying it in a mass protest, strike, or against other people. The need for a psychologist is a reaction to a problem that is already there, and I believe that going to a psychologist is a productive way of dealing with these destructive tendencies, instead of having them ebb out on to the street. And this does not mean I promote wallowing, but it’s preferable to address an issue early than suppressing it until it explodes.
    So, sucking it up may get you passed the day, but if the underlying issues aren’t addressed. It will just get worse.

    Give it a try, if you haven’t already. Maybe you won’t have to even cry ten minutes in the bathroom or your friend won’t need to stay at home depressed if you guys get good treatment. That’s what Argentina can give to you. Sometimes its good to try even what is considered the wacky parts of a culture.

    • Laura I write with a sense of humor to engage people and encourage a more rounded and thoughtful (read less whiny) approach to this special country. I assure you I’m not advocating or encouraging people to suppress emotional issues or forego therapy.

      My “bathroom therapy” applies to situations where you may feel one way, but the situation and indeed progress requires that you act another.

  8. Pingback: Confessions of the Psychoanalyzed | My Beautiful Air

  9. Antenoir says:

    Hm. Both societies had similar wicth-hunts and inquisitions. Both were created from a large amount of expatriates, fugitives, religious nonconformists, and desperate adventurers. Both got rich taking from the Indians and selling to Europe. But visions of personal divine merit seem to differ. One might be deemed “a priori”, the other, “a posteriori”? Or not. Just a hunch.

    Anyway. Argentina didn’t opt for a small-landowner consumer-industrial model – like the US did, did it? Argentina once arguably had more first rate German scientists that the USA itself. They did pioneering work in aviation, chemistry, nuclear energy technology way into the 70’s. Medicine, even. Oh and genetics >:-/ So, given a “natural” progression, why no “Argentinian blackberry”. The blackberry is an over 20 year old concept made with imported Asian parts, after all. Value-added in a molly-coddly “protected economy” should be a piece of cake. Specially for a people once considered the most literate in Spanish-speaking America?

    Why do they have to have a colonial export model plantation economy? One where the good stuff goes away and the returns circulate high beyond the reach of the middle-class and most of the population? One where the latter have to scrabble for third rate crumbs and leftovers? Who’s (socially and politically) invested in what, and why?

    Why is there money to export, but not for local R&D and setting up a local economy? A local blackberry clone would be quite a success all the way from Uruguay to Venezuela. And maybe Cabo Verde, Moçambique and Angola.

    What did the Latins say, Cui Bono? What about Qui Potest?

  10. Pingback: Confessions of the Psychoanalyzed | Expatriated Life in Buenos Aires | My Beautiful Air

  11. Hucklebuck says:

    As the devoted husband (30 years!) of a clinical psychologist, to the Argentines I say this: Sack up.

    Just found your blog through Testosterone Pit/Zero Hedge and am enjoying it. Keep up the good work.

  12. Latrice says:

    Impresionante Página Web . Continua este maravilloso trabajo .
    Presenta un punto de vista realmente excelente sobre el tema y tus comentarios son realmente acertados.
    Simplemente mencionar que estoy sorprendido por haber encontrado esta página de internet !.
    Tienes seguro el mejor sitio online sobre el tema.

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