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When 'Othello' goes for treatment

by Tamir Ashman

For many years I have been involved in group therapy for men who behave in a domestic violence manner. In the days that passed after I watched the play Othello at the Gesher Theater, all of my patients in the men's groups and I suddenly became a kind of Othello - men who manage their mental world in a closed electric circuit (I will explain this later). The screenwriter (Dory Ferns) created a script faithful to the original, powerful and flowing, which touches the delicate veins that connect women and men. The play deals with the deep place where the "inner theater" of the person loses control, becomes obsessive and claustrophobic, loaded with anxieties, rage and jealousy that arise from the difficulty of bearing and containing the dependence, passion and vulnerability of love. A difficulty familiar to anyone who has experienced an intimate relationship with a couple, both men and women.

Othello is a general, a military man, a warrior, a kind of archetype or template of the patriarchal male production line (played by the actor Mickey Leone). The man as a superhero with the triangular body and the cube abs. The commander, a graduate of the elite units, gnarled, rough, strong, who enjoys the bitterness of black coffee every morning. Against him stands Desdemona - a classic archetype of femininity (played by Bar Sade). White, bright, innocent like a child, holding a doll that connects her like the umbilical cord to her childhood. Her gaze is veiled and she seems to refuse to acknowledge the cruelty that exists in the society in which she lives. Her longing is to play with her lover, to stare at Othello as she watches him from the balcony of the naive fantasies of her existence. Othello falls in love with the white Desdemona, Desdemona falls in love with the black warrior.

In short, it seemed to be another story of forbidden love between a black man and a white girl, like nothing new under the sun in Romeo and Juliet's Verona. But Shakespeare leads us, as in the story of Adam and Eve, to an encounter with the snake, the instinct, the conflict, in the character of the villain Iago (played by Sasha Demidov). Iago, also an army officer under Othello's command, brings with him Cassio, the other man who is in love with Desdemona. Cassio is a kind of 'white' man, vulnerable, who feels inferior in the harsh and silent world of the warriors.

In the world of Iago - the character of the villain, falling in love is the gateway to vulnerability, and vulnerability, like femininity, must be despised, suffocated. Vulnerability is the property of the women, not the quadriceps. As part of an act of revenge, he plants the seeds of doubt and betrayal in Othello's mind as he invents a love story between Desdemona and Cassio. Iago represents the voices of anxiety and mistrust, deeply rooted in patriarchal thinking, whose purpose is to "protect the man" from his vulnerability and from his devotion to the engulfment of love. He makes sure to maintain the burning of Othello's frightened ego in the stories of Desdemona's infidelity, thus throwing the couple from the paradise of relationship and devoted and naive love towards an existence dominated by jealousy, competition, possessiveness and anxiety.

We are used to thinking that war needs men, and men need war - this is an accepted social concept. But in such a situation, a man has no ability to deal with a relationship routine that does not have "ecstasies". The "unfamiliar" peace is looking for the palpable, burning, sweaty sensation saturated with passion and testosterone that war so knows how to create. And in war as in war, there are really no winners, only tombstones and graves.

Like many men I meet in the therapy groups, in this place of the attack of suspicion Othello's plot gets complicated. The excitement and fervor of battle give way to emptiness and boredom. The obsessive thoughts provided to him by his "friend" Iago, fill the quiet moments and provide him with false feelings of "excitement and the heat of war". Moments that illustrate something I encounter a lot in my work - the difficulty of us men to contain the boredom and routine in the group 'here and now', and in the married-family life outside the group. As Shalom Hanoch wrote - "My eyes are open without seeing the sky, without seeing the blue of the sea, the green of a tree, without hearing beautiful melodies like before, without seeing things as they are." Through the gender education given to boys, we learn to empty the meaning and value from subtle emotional experiences that occur daily in our lives, and look for emotional experiences that do not exist in the present of our lives.

In the black or white field of the world of men, consisting of a language of victory and defeat, control and conquest, Othello finds his way, where he is the master. But will Othello manage to deal with the relationship the day after the victory? Or the day after getting the wife? Will Othello and Desdemona be able to say goodbye to falling in love and live the daily routine of love?

Shakespeare tells us something almost eternal about us men - when there is no actual war outside, we move to the inner wars of our untreated, battle-scarred soul. There is the battle and there is the sacrifice and there is God who separates them. We are in the play, watching a hopeless battle between God-anxiety and God-love. As Iago whispers to Othello-

"O beware, Lord, of envy. It is the green-eyed monster that mocks the flesh it eats. Happy is this cheat who is convinced of his fate and does not love her who hurt him. But, oh-oh, every moment is a curse to him who is in love - but suspects, Afraid - but overflowing with love! Good God, save the souls of all my dear ones from jealousy."

We men have been 'socially trained' to deal with the external, concrete wars, but to the internal wars of our bubbling instinctive soul, we come unequipped. We are educated from childhood to attack and alienate pain, contempt and weakness, to be ashamed of our emotional needs and dependence on other people. We have internalized a contemptuous attitude towards compassion and peace and thus we are left defenseless in the face of our vulnerability and our stormy emotional world. Defeated under a languageless inner world, where repressed anxiety destroys the body from the inside, and bitterly throws tantrums - from the outside. This is how Othello tells about the rage:

"Now, living God, my blood begins to take control, and a fury that darkens all sense in me guides me."

The seeds of doubt lose control in Othello's mind, Othello the hero of the wars is unable to drive away the flies of his thoughts, and the seeds of betrayal that Iago planted in him are like growing into a poisonous plant that takes over Othello's world. In fact, on a mental level, Othello is having a kind of panic attack. In the 'black and white' world of men there is no place for anxiety, it does not receive legitimate validity and social recognition. Men must not admit that they are afraid and anxious. We are not allowed, by force of an ancient and hidden social imperative, to ask for help, to say that we are lost and do not remember the way back. So that Othello is locked inside his inner world without the possibility of sharing it with people close to him. As a closed electric circuit, the heater is a boiler without a thermostat. And in the way of repressed anxieties, they attack and scorch Othello's body. In therapeutic or interpersonal terms, this is a dramatic moment. In Othello's world, Desdemona became an enemy in an instant, a tangible threat to his very existence. He tied his heart to her, and she is the one who endangers him in his brokenness. These moments reminded me of many patients who tell the group about "the constructive woman, the destructive woman" - how in one moment the woman becomes destructive, an enemy whose goal is to exploit the man. As if by magic, she becomes someone whose vulnerability must not be entrusted to her. How can you trust the enemy? This is an eternal paradox that is very difficult to resolve. The plot of the play would have ended in a completely different way if Othello had learned to trust his enemy, his partner, who is suspected of infidelity.

It is difficult to convey the power of the setting (designed by Michael Karamenko) at these moments in the play: huge fabrics unfold and change shape throughout the journey. For moments they are sensually delightful, and later on, they look like a huge, strong and gobbling female genitalia, and it seems at the climax that the setting threatens to engulf the viewers in an obsessive anxiety attack from which it is impossible to escape.

In the biblical story of Cain and Abel, after God rejected Cain's offering, he turns to his rejected son with the question: "If you will be good?" - Will you be able to contain and hold your burning world from my injury to you, will you be able to be saved from an uncontrollable vengeful injury to your brother? Shakespeare, like God, poses a challenge to the helpless Othello, and as if asking him - will you be able to control yourself? In your bubbling and surfing inner world? Will love be saved from her murder?

Othello, like Kane, whose entire life story taught him to hunt, attack and kill, takes off his uniform, and life forces him to deal with his post-traumatic inner world. A silent inner world, devoid of language and emotional validation. Othello is in the midst of a nocturnal anxiety artillery, his thoughts are raging:

"I would be happy if the whole army - sentries, dishwashers - all could taste the sweetness of her body, and only that I would not know! Now to eternal peace to a peaceful heart! Peace to peace Peace, a regiment decorated with feathers, great battles, here ended the deeds of Othello... Long live the world, I I think my wife is honest, and I think she is not. I think you are right, and I think she is not. I need proof! Her name, which was as fresh as white, is now filthy, black as my face."

Othello's great physical strength is crushed under the weight of his poisonous thoughts, and in the moments of his physical collapse his thoughts will shout:

"Sleep with her? Sleep on her? Dirty her? Dirty her? Sleep with her! Damn, it's filthy! ... I shudder at it. Nature wouldn't cast such a heavy cloud shadow for no reason. It's not words that shake me like that. Phew! Noses, ears, lips. Could it be? - Thank you! A handkerchief? Demons!"

Othello's tantrum starts from within, Othello rejects any help, and so the process of his collapse continues to erupt with bottomless bitterness. Like Othello, he learned in his life, like many men in positions of power and authority, that the only way to regulate the turbulent obsession inside is by projecting it onto his wife, who becomes a faceless object that can be used for an instinctive outlet.

These tragic moments are part of the routine of the therapeutic process in men's groups. A few weeks ago I commented to a veteran patient (three years) in the group, that he was late for the third week in a row. The man took off his glasses, and started slapping me and shouting - "You are always looking for me, you are against me, you always do this to me, why are you flying at me!!!". I looked at him and said that I would agree to attack me, only on one condition - that he put his glasses back on. The man agreed and put his glasses back on. From the moment he put his glasses back on, he could no longer continue attacking me. I asked him - "When you look into my eyes, what do you see?" And he replied - "That you are on my side", and then began to cry and share the pain and helplessness he has been going through in the last few weeks, after his wife informed him that she was breaking up with him. After many years of treating men's groups, I can testify that the essential and healing part of the therapeutic work with men occurs in the transition from object relations and communication based on processes of transference, objectification and projection - to egalitarian relations, based on mutual recognition between vulnerable subjects, relations based on dialogue and listening Empathic.

Many men, like Othello, suffer from anxiety at night, but rare is the man who will wake up his partner and reveal his fears to her, or who will voluntarily seek professional treatment for anxiety attacks and domineering obsessions. Most of the time, the Israeli man does not routinely go to the family doctor for follow-up, and most of the men will seek help in the marital crisis, when the lawyers of the parties are already in the picture or when the law requires them. So what is left for Othello to do in those moments of obsessive jealousy? What could Desdemona do too? And what is the responsibility of society, which, as in the chronicle of a predictable death, witnesses on a daily basis the emotional sacrifice of its best sons on the altar of male control and conquest. Or in the simple words of Yehuda Amichai:

"God has mercy on the kindergarten children

Less than that about the school children.

And the great ones will not be spared anymore

leave them alone"

Desdemona is sacrificed, Othello is sacrificed, all the women in the play are sacrificed and so are the men. The play ends with the words of Iago - the leader of anxiety and obsessive suspicion, known in all of our lives. Words that are hundreds of years old, as if they were sent to us to listen to right now:

"Shit, you're lying!

I want to die tired already

A decent person has to flirt

The bastard wears majesty and splendor

One in the mouth and nothing in the heart

Tired of low-ranking scarecrows

From virgins who have become prostitutes

From the stains that cannot be removed

Lame people determine etiquette and manners

Tongue cutters deal in art

Fools rule and forge contracts

And simplicity is considered simplicity

Tellers of the truth water down lies

I'm so tired, just one thing

If I leave, how will you manage on your own."


So what is left for Othello in those moments of obsessive jealousy, which his entire social-gender upbringing taught him to overcome, despise and hide his feelings? What tools do we equip our boys and men to regulate their emotional world in a non-destructive way? It is not a coincidence in my opinion that Othello is a man, just as it is not a coincidence that the gender ratio between men and women in Israeli prisons is a ratio of about 20,000 prisoners to 170 women prisoners, or that every time we read the morning papers we are used to finding articles about men who raped, raped, murdered, bribed or abused This is a painful, shocking attitude, which requires a profound social change in our attitude towards the emotional world and vulnerability of the boys-men in Israeli society.

Format for bibliographic citation (APA):

Ashman, T. (2015). When Othello arrives for treatment. [electronic version]. Nadela on 10/24/2016, from the Hebrew psychology website:

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