A man in his early Fifties who lives an isolated life, who mixes hardly with anybody, and treats his two cats as his family, reported that since he quit smoking he is having visual images of killing himself.
So the smoking was somehow preventing his suicidal thoughts to emerge. Rather whenever such an impulse tried to make its way in to his consciousness, he rushed to light a cigarette and the pleasure that ensued from smoking and filling his lungs with warm smoke blanketed the thought out. But before we go some more into that let us examine a little more of his history.
The patient’s parents were old fashioned Southern Baptist, who had migrated to Detroit from South when he was around 3 or 4. He grew up in a religious household where Bible was quoted frequently and punishment meted out readily for deviating from the straight and narrow. This made the core of his heart God-fearing, though during his late teens and the twenties he lived recklessly, indulging in wine, women and song.
He was very close to his mother and had a stormy Oedipal phase, emerging out of it with typical death wishes towards the parents, much stronger towards his father than his mother, of course. These death wishes were further accentuated during the Latency, because he faulted his parents for giving him his slight built, and his Southern mannerisms, which invoked aggression and bullying from other kids in the school.
When he first began driving he had a horrible car accident which killed 3 or 4 of his buddies. He was the driver. His sense of guilt was markedly accentuated by this event.
But they also accentuated his death wishes out of the need to repeat the trauma of the death of his friends. It was the typical “Repetition Compulsion” reaction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These death wishes and ensuing guilt now shaped all his conduct, and his life mostly became the game of getting into aggressive stance with people on the slightest provocation and then profusely apologizing to them for not behaving like a Christian. He became a massive people-pleaser to cover up his death wishes towards everybody he came across. In private, and in his dreams, he was forever doing away with people, even committing mass murders, and in brutal fashion, recreating the bloody scene of the car accident, though in disguise, while in public he could not praise anybody who he came across, always trying to be kind and helpful. These people-pleasing ways were of course every now and then punctuated by threatening to fight with them for not behaving properly towards them, if he sensed they were slighting him or sometimes for simply ignoring him.
His late adolescence and twenties was marked by the emergence of a remarkable talent in singing. He formed his own band, which was highly successful, and for a while it looked like he would be a rock star.
Then suddenly he stopped singing, disbanded his group, did some foolish things that resulted in his marriage to fall apart, and he became a loner.
The failures, which were unconsciously engineered by him, and were as a punishment for his death wishes, caused him tremendous unconscious rage that primarily emerged as excruciating headaches. And these he blocked with narcotics and remarkably by smoking cigarettes. He smoked two to three packets a day.
Analysis revealed that the main reason he smoked was to find an outlet for his death wishes. Whenever the wish to get even with his parents for the grudge he harbored from the Oedipal period, or with others for all the pain and suffering they had caused him, and it resulted in overwhelming desire for their death he would light up a cigarette. And then the warm smoke and the irritation that caused in his lung gave him satisfaction of their burning in it. There was also the element of his burning with them as self-punishment for such wishes.
When he quit smoking these death wishes emerged plainly as visual imagery of killing himself. He would see himself running in to one of his swords – he had more than 30 of them – or taking a long needle and stick it from the side of his rib cage right into the heart. A method of suicide that would puncture his heart and cause instantaneous death and spare him from pain. He declared only the fear of going to hell, for God forbids suicide prevents him from committing it.
When the interpretation was made that these imagery of suicide were punishment for death wishes against his father, the patient pooh-poohed it on grounds that his father was already dead, and he loves his mother to ever harbor such a thought.
But then proceed to confirm the correctness of the interpretation by recalling that the other day somebody in the grocery store knocked her mother with the cart, and he was so furious at that person’s callousness that he went up to him and demanded that he apologize to his mother otherwise he said we are both going to jail.
What he could not see in his own self – his wish to harm his mother and how it needs to be punished – he readily saw in the guy who knocked his mother with the grocery cart.