The shed on my allotment has a very basic lock, with an enormous chunky key. It could hardly be simpler, but still there is a knack to getting it to work – a slight jiggle, twist to the left before right. It has its own personality, I think. But so too does the gate to the whole allotment plot, and that is a serious piece of work . Chunky, tough,resilient – but it still needs that little extra bit of coaxing. Come to think of it, my front door, the office, the side gate – all need their own special handling. After a while these small idiosyncratic adjustments come automatically; it’s only when someone new tries to open the lock and finds it difficult that I remember there is a knack. Otherwise it is just another of those habitual fine tunings that go unnoticed.
What I do notice is the struggles I sometimes have with unfamiliar door locks, and how exasperating it can be when the owner arrives and merely puts in the key and turns it! Once I was left the key to water a friend’s plants whilst they were away and couldn’t get the door to open, with obvious and embarrassing consequences. The following year, after several lessons in door opening technique I was entrusted with a new set of plants. This time I managed to get in but somehow in the process set off the alarms which then refused to stop! Now she asks her neighbour to water the plants.
Locks, of course, are a form of defence against the intruder, which like locks themselves come in all shapes and sizes. We lock ourselves and others into certain positions to defend against aggression, fear, intimacy, and the Other. I’ve never found lists of ‘defence mechanisms’ very useful; the transactional analysis language of rackets seems to me livelier and more interactive and although we might not use the word, group therapy members are pretty good at spotting each other’s rackets.
What happens in these groups goes something like this: gradually as the members interact, they begin to work out what it is they are each doing to block communication and preserve their own versions of themselves, others, life and the universe. They arrive in the group locked up, and the group process may in time begin to unlock them, one lever or pin at a time. There is a great variety of locks with a host of security features, but as far as I can see, there are ways of ‘picking’ the majority. What is needed is patience and skill. The group learns the skills, and as long as they are patient and keep returning, eventually something will click. My experience with actual locks and keys underlines their idiosyncrasy. Recognising that everyone has their own unique take on whatever ‘defences’ they employ is part of the skill of the group. We protect ourselves with similar processes that have been specifically adapted for our own unique context and experiences. I think that we are much more liable to engage with any ‘unlocking’ process if this particularity and uniqueness is recognised.