The Shape I'm In: Michael Murphy, psychoanalyst

Psychoanalyst Michael Murphy is not afraid to address the abuse he experienced in his own childhood. 
The Shape I'm In: Michael Murphy, psychoanalyst

He is aware that such traumas can indelibly mark a life: “I think you have to be careful of those woundings and realise that when something happens in the present day it can often be like a stone thrown into the river that throws up the mud of the past.”

He believes close relationships need to be simple and loving.

“I think you should only have those people in your life who love and support you. Life is too short to try to negotiate with those who are not on your wavelength,” says the retired RTÉ newsreader.

And so it follows that he has been with his partner Terry O’Sullivan for 31 years and they “will probably be getting married later this year”.

The resident psychoanalyst on RTÉ’s Today show, he has a private practice in Dublin and has written four books — two prose and two collections of poetry.

Stories, Poetry and Dreams, an intimate evening with Michael Murphy and friends: Eamonn Lawlor, Emer O’Kelly, Eileen Dunne and Ciana Campbell, at The Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Saturday, March 12, 8pm.

What shape are you in?

In reasonable shape. I never really got rid of the pounds after Christmas.

I walk, which is really the only form of exercise I take. I walk for about half an hour. Where we live is about 3 or 4km from our work.

What are your healthiest eating habits?

I would watch the carbs. I would eat a lot of fruit during the day, it’s good for keeping down the hunger.

I certainly do not take any sugar. I would examine all the yoghurts on the supermarket shelves to make sure there is no fructose.

What are your worst eating habits?

Bread. It’s a besetting sin — I even wrote a poem about it.

I would take a little bit of French bread on a Saturday morning. I watch it very, very carefully.

If you go to somewhere like Spain, which we do a lot, they present you with bread at every meal. And to take it with olive oil and salt is heaven.

What would keep you awake at night?

It might be something like financial worries. Not on a regular basis but you’d have visitations at three o’clock in the morning — ‘I never paid that water bill’ or whatever bill that comes to your mind at night.

Also, I had prostate cancer about eight years ago and that is always a lingering worry that will come back.

I think when you are attacked by cancer you never quite trust life in the same way again. You see life in a completely different perspective. It also helps you to enjoy life as you get just one chance at it.

How do you relax?

I love music. They’ve discovered that a person’s brain lights up like a Christmas tree when they listen to music. It’s colossally relaxing. So I try to listen to music as much as I can, particularly Bach.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

The actress Charlotte Rampling — I’ve always admired her.

I would want to invite Bach to see what type of a person he was.

Albert Camus and Jean Genet, two French writers I really admire.

What’s your favourite smell?

Without doubt, freshly baked bread.

I lived with my grandmother and she was a wonderful baker of brown soda bread and it’s a smell I associate from my childhood.

So now when you move forward to all of these wonderful new breads that we have now I think it’s a tremendously uplifting smell.

What would you like to change about your appearance?

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be very tall. I think you are able to get a tremendous advantage if you are able to look down on someone.

Maybe if I’d the choice I would have liked to have been a foot taller. I’m 5ft 9in or 10in.

When is the last time you cried?

It was two weeks ago when I was on the Today show. A woman got in touch to say she’d just been diagnosed with cancer and she was asking how she could cope through the weekend. I was really affected by that.

What traits do you least like in others?

Small-mindedness, lack of generosity, mean-spiritedness — people who don’t say thank you.

It’s such a simple thing to send a text or an email to say thank you very much.

What traits do you least like about yourself?

I can become very anxious. For example, before going on to the Today show I would be quite anxious and would deliberately try to relax on air.

I can be a worrier. I can be perfectionistic, particularly with the writing.

Do you pray?

When a plane starts going up into the air I do offer up a prayer. But it would be about the only time.

Because of the psychoanalysis, I would recognise the unconscious or, as they say in AA, a higher power,

What would cheer up your day?

When a penny drops for someone I am working with and they have an ah-ha moment.

That would really give me tremendous joy.

And simple things like seeing the sun shining or the crocuses coming up or the daffodils cheering the way forward.

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