Allow Yourself to Feel

I saw a polar bear struggling on the ice, falling, pulling itself up, then falling again and again, finally giving up and staying down. This was not characteristic of the species, a majestic animal that thrives in that environment, but man had made the bear weak. I wept and wept, thinking of the dying species—not because of some sort of natural selection, but because of our chemical waste, our need to extract from the land and use the land on which to spew pollutants (it costs money to extract them), because of our lack of caring for life. I cried some more.

I told a dear friend about my tears and he said that polar bears are the only animals that will kill humans simply for pleasure. I laughed with him but part of me felt how humor, and even facts, keep us away from feeling tragedy. People do it with dry facts, with marijuana and alcohol and mood-altering drugs, both legal and otherwise. Boy, are we ever prepared! This is a sarcastic remark. It means the opposite.  

Perhaps the fact person and the drug taker would be overwhelmed by feeling. Perhaps our culture has taught us to feel ashamed of weeping or shouting. Shhhhh. Keep it in. But we need to fully feel. Feeling our pain, our terror, our loss, keeps us present and within the realm of reality.

For example, we need to know what our bombing is doing to the rest of the world—children with burned faces, eleven-year-olds working in factories or in mines. What has so long been denied, ignored, subverted by dry facts or humor, is increasingly happening to us.

Turn your eyes away. But blindness does not protect you. And how could using devices to keep us from feeling make anything better? It is childish, magical thinking. The psychopathic politicians use your fear to control you. They promise you protection while they covertly doom us all. They are greedy users who are making sure that they will have much more than enough. The more we are taught to feel ashamed of showing feeling, the more likely we will fall into their pit of robbery, disease, and death.

Know that bad is coming. See it. Feel it. And be prepared. Figure out alternative ways to maintain yourself (and your family if they are with you). The ability to feel the pain all around us is a sign of strength.  Seeing reality for what it is keeps us from putting our faith in politicians who make false promises. It makes us self reliant. It helps us create extended families we call friends who will work collectively, share the pain, the joy and the fun of the job of creating change.

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Instead of Psychic Numbing

Saturday night, about 15 years ago, there was a concert at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine to raise money for the homeless of New York. It was a most tender and wonderful evening. Many of the performers, dated back to the social minded sixties There they were, still alive and giving of themselves. It gladdened the heart to see again those endless links of minds and hearts that once were so evident; to know that nothing was lost but had been going on underground.

There was Ginsburg, the Beat poet, Ram Das the psychologist turned acid head turned guru turned humanitarian, also Paul Simon, Crosby and Nash and others. Graham Nash was fat. They sang new songs as well as old favorites with the audience joining in, 7,000 strong. Paul Simon’s new song was about the broken dreams and illusions, not only his but almost everyone he knew. He sang sadly but that’s o.k., meaning he would hang in there and mend what he could.

They say that artists are the antennae of the race. These antennae are pretty scorched these days. There is too much pain around to simply get on with with business. Artists are probably not the healthiest of people since they are less able to summon up the rose-colored glasses that allow you to flourish in the midst of a debacle. Rose-colored glasses permit the illusion of invulnerability, permit you to think I and my family will survive because bad things only happen to “them,” to those other people so different from myself. Rose-colored glasses allow an exaggeratedly high self-opinion without external substantiation. They create a positive bias towards reality, which can whitewash the seriousness of the issues with which we are confronted.
To be sure a modicum of whitewashing, or rose-coloring is necessary. It keeps the person functioning. Too accurate a seeing can lead to pessimism and debilitating depression. But reading your own and other people’s suffering as meaningless and random does not help you to cope and move on. One needs to find meaning i life’s events, including its suffering, in order to summon up one’s best energies.
At the concert, Alan Ginsberg read a manic and deeply touching poem about a man seeking a home. He walks out of the pristine glass and steel of midtown Manhattan into Harlem where he is surprisingly confronted by relatives he thought long dead, but sill alive, existing in culturally steeped poverty. He finds his grandmother speaking Yiddish, eating borscht and blintzes in her bed; he encounters a tough and bitter elderly bag lady living in the alley between two buildings. She has set up a platform to sleep on surrounded by her bundles and packages. She even has a stove. She is out there in all kinds of weather.

She complains about her lot, showing him teeth worn out, ground down like the tusks of an ancient horse. He wonders how she can continue to eat and survive. He admires her hardiness although she bothers him as well. Little by little he recognizes her. It is his mother, Naomi, also thought to be dead. He thinks that he will live with her again in that alley. He can use the steps down to the basement as an office. His grandmother won’t be far away and perhaps those two ancient enemies mother-in-law and daughter-in-law shall be reunited. He’ll fix his mother’s teeth! Then he awakens in his comfortable Colorado home, and weeps.

The poem was so good and true. The bag lady along with all the disenfranchised and homeless people of the world is our mother. The elders are our immigrant grandmothers. They are ourselves. It is fate alone that puts a roof over our heads and not theirs.

The child within the “advantaged” person, inflates his worth and says he is a fairy prince or princess unlike the other who must suffer for their birth rite. The child within says “Everything without a doubt, will turn out alright,” without having to make the last adjustment.

Childish optimism and denial says that things outside our narrow world are o.k. when they so obviously are not. It allows us to override the messages fro the planet ultimately threatened by our greed and waste and to avoid the eyes of the homeless in the streets. The streets are full of the homeless not due to their own poor efforts but put there by administrative fiat, by destructive housing policies that make coops out of S.R.Os (single room occupancy), and warehouse empty buildings until they can be renovated for sizable profit. Rather than being lazy and worthless, many homeless people , at least 25 percent, work full or part time but can’t afford the inflationary rent.

The lesson of those people on stage and of the cathedral filled with humanity, is that we want and need to help. It is possible to be both realistic and emotionally intact at the same time, but only if we join seeing to acting. Instead of psychic numbing, we can acknowledge the suffering of others, can speak out against destructive environmental programs for people, plants and animals since all are one. We must continue to feel our sadness, anger and fear, our helplessness. We must act.

The only possible illusion we can afford is that our individual actions can make a difference in a global situation which is very serious. Of course they do, at the very least to ourselves. By acting in accord with our conscience and our ideals, we are fulfilling out potential as human beings.
Written as the Mind’s Eye column for the Warwick Advertiser in 1991.

I Have Made Up My Mind

But which of my “I’s” has spoken. This may seem like a very bizarre question since every time I “make up my mind” I think that it is my true self-speaking and am  proud of coming to a conclusion – but not entirely. My conflict is more emotional than factual. My adult mind says why not do a certain action? Then my bullying mind appears and talks me down; it says how can you even imagine doing that?  It will fail. You’ll be an outcast. Your reckless judgment makes me angry.

Which speaking mind represents the adult self? The adult sense of self lives in the present and is the real you. The mobilized internal “Freezing Parent” demands that you surrender. The “Freezing Parent” and the submissive “Frozen child” represent the past. Your adult sense of self falls for the “Child’s” terror and submits to the “Parent’s” bullying. The adult mind disregards its hard-won knowledge and surrenders its ability to decide. Your tyrannical “Parent” is stronger than your adult self due to early years  of bullying which crushed your sense of self. A supportive parent encourages the development of self. A controlling parent does not. The suppressed “I” of your emerging adult drifts away like smoke in the wind.

Those raised by parents who shut us down do not develop an adult self. The sense of self  largely remains in hiding. If following the “Freezing Parent’s” advice doesn’t work out,  the adult accepts the blame. The adult’s perception of self-awareness remains confused. He is led by his ancient identifications.

It important for you to know your various selves, in order to determine which part is giving you its opinion. A person often is confused about which is the best path to follow. This is normal. A child learns by trying things out not by following its parent’s instructions. The same thing goes for an adult. Try your current plan and if that doesn’t work, try a different  plan. Do not hate yourself for not knowing in advance as the “Freezing Parent” would have you.

Hating oneself for making a choice that doesn’t “work out”  is falling into the “Freezing Parent’s” desire to take you over. Decisions are experiments to learn from. If something doesn’t get us where we want to go, say hooray for having a new insight and move on. Experiment and experiment again rather than to accept another’s solution. A sense of self is developed from trying things out, far more than from “winning.” Winning is an epiphenomenon of life. Doing is life itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Develop Courage

Many of us have not developed enough courage. By enough, I mean courage that carries us through when we meet a frightening obstacle. We weren’t taught how to develop courage by parents who lacked it or were bullies who needed our submission. We shake in our booties when courage is required to face something or someone who disagrees. We run from the scene and take drugs to suppress our feelings.

After a lifetime of doing what we are supposed to do as was dictated by parents who were cowards or bullies, we are well acquainted with helplessness and fear. In my book Unloved Again, many people are overwhelmed by the fear of taking a new position with their lover. They are afraid to be known. Expecting doom for not going along with the other’s program leaves them no place to be themselves. They feel like failures but are relieved at having survived the latest encounter. Their reaction to the bully is thought to be life-threatening because the internal child which I call the frozen child fears being extinguished by the internalized parent the freezing parent. The frozen child shapes the adult’s lack of courage and even causes them to choose partners who are dangerous. The negative life of childhood lives on.

But what are we to do who were raised by bullies, or cowards, or people who had no time or interest to introduce us to the path of courage? It is interesting to think of American Indians before being destroyed by ravaging and land-hungry conquerors. They had  ceremonial rites to develop the child’s courage and to induce spiritual visions. The child  remained alone on a remote spot for days, with fantasies of being hurt or killed by roaming beasts until these passed away as mere thoughts and wilderness in all its manifestations was seen as a  relative and friend.

We adults need to create time to witness our fears, to live through what we fear the most ’til we get to the other side. If our fearful vision is not easily erased we need to do the feared thing over and over again until objectivity is accomplished. We “moderns” are overly trained to heed our feelings as representing a true reality rather than resurrecting an ancient fear or need.

I was raised by a linguist who was a critic. Nothing I ever said was said  was well pronounced or ideationally correct. I was subjected to  one loud and angry attack after another. I became a very soft speaker if I spoke at all. Better to not be heard. Years later, I wrote for a local paper. Writing a column felt to be distant from me.  However, even here there were reactions. Readers sent me letters of hate when I spoke about seriously misguided parents who had sex with their children as acts of love. My editor called my highly disputed column a success.

At one point, my cabin was full of visiting family which left me no place to think and write. I heard that Connie had a place to rent from a friend. I met Connie, now my deepest friend, in the garden to Pacem in Terris and asked if I could rent a room. She said please come back at 6 to discuss it. I had no idea that she had a secret plan when I entered The Dove Cottage. Saw a bunch of people sitting in a circle looking at a script. One handed me a copy. I was going to give it back and flee. My adult mind said nothing doing and made me stay. There weren’t enough actors so everyone got a part. Mine was the tiny part of “aunt.” I rehearsed every single day fearing I would forget the lines or say them at the wrong time. My father teased me cruelly about my venture into acting. His tone and speech indicated that I would be a flop.

But I wasn’t a flop. I remembered my lines and said them on cue. I emerged after the play was over to see my mother learning on the creek wall next to the playhouse, I thought she laughing at me but it turned out she wept with pleasure. Slowly, slowly the idea was emerging that I could speak and be heard. I was bullied into further developing this notion when a friend said, “Get a radio program.” I went to the local station, WTBQ and said I want to do a program called “Mind’s Eye” To my horror they agreed.

Well, this went on for a few years, me puzzling aloud about human behavior, even interviewing guests.  Now I am almost totally devoid of  the fear of speaking out. Developing courage takes practice, a lot of it.

Getting in Touch

I am a clinical psychologist with a PhD  in clinical psychology and a certificate in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. I spent many years of therapy discussing my difficulty in establishing love relationships. I talked about parental abandonment but none of this made a difference.  I was like a person skating as fast as possible on thin ice to avoid falling in.

I have written Unloved Again to show you how to fall into the hell of your unloved childhood in order to be able to leave it. You need to see your childhood despair and the defenses you built not to feel terror and pain. Seeing them as part of childhood helps you stop magnifying current danger. Without this struggle, the endless round of disappointment continues. You are living in the past without knowing it.

What cracked the surface of my denial was a trip to nations in which child care was lovingly embraced by everyone. In Ladakh on the Tibetan plateau, babies are in arms, wide-eyed and calm.  I remember walking down a mountain path, looking at a rooftop below where Grandma was laying apricots to dry. Wrapped in a shawl on her back was a baby. I did not hear the baby make a sound when the woman put it to her breast. So comforting. She instinctively knew what the baby needed for comfort. I felt a great pain in my heart. I registered what I missed in my childhood. My pain told me that I needed it still. I fell through a hole in the ice of my denial.

In Ladakh and in the Venezuelan Amazon, where all the babies are carried, the babies never cry. In the US are we are used to babies crying. That is why at first I did not notice its absence. We think that crying is normal. Some parents make up to the weeping child with things–ice cream, toys. They do not know what the baby needs. They know as little as did the parents who unloved them.  Babies, who have “everything” money can buy, grow up to seek unloving partners or are themselves unloving.

Knowing something only with your mind is not knowing it. You need to know it with your heart. You need to be in touch with how you felt as a child, to see how your selfhood was prohibited.  You cannot choose to feel only love.  Emotions flow together. It is everything or nothing. Unloved Again takes you step-by-step through many  blinding webs of childhood to get to the place of love.

 

Claiming to know Is a Defense Against Knowing

My friend, a fellow therapist asked me about the book I have just written and is about to be available for sale called Unloved Again. I explained to her that it has to do with adult unwittingly submitting to the tyranny of their “introjected“ parent and  surrendering to the fear of their “introjected” child both acquired during their earliest years.

An “introject” is a remembered identity we adults react to as applicable to our current lives, give them an inappropriate reality. History is something to learn from. It is not occurring in the present unless we make it happen. We all have “introjects.” However, when the parent is very hurtful, that person exists in the adult’s brain as a locus of power and hatred. The same thing happens with the “introjected’ child. If the child is fearful and submissive with threatening parent(s), that child’s “introject sends desperate feelings to the adult. Unaware of these historic dimensions of his mind, he responds to these feelings and messages as appropriate.

I explained to my friend that many of my patients have complained that other therapists did understand their problem. They said I did. I was shocked at my friend’s reaction to this, an intellectually superior putdown. She let me know that by speaking about “introjects,” I was saying something all therapists knew about as she did thanks to her training. She was indirectly asking what I added to the picture. She made me think I should trash my book or feed it to goats.

My readiness to feel worthless spoke of the power of my negative parent “introject,” the critical parent who always rejected anything I did. I think her parents did the same to her but she was now in the role of her negative parent “introject” and enjoyed  treating me as victim. None of this conscious.

My response to her was a self-inflicted stab to my creative heart and  a disregard of my  understanding arrived through years of studying the problem. My child “introject” groveled before the critical “introjected” parent who wanted to smash it for having the nerve to study the consequences of critical parenting. My adult fell into the trap and wondered if i had anything new or relevant to say.

It is interesting how studying one’s pain can give rise to insight. I thought about the difference between labels and true knowledge. You can correctly label something in order to shove it out of your mind and keep it from your heart. To only think with your brain is a kind of short circuiting, like Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. To only know with the brain is not to know at all. In the same way computers which seem to think are instruments following a program written for them by humans.

To know is to feel. To know and feel is to understand. A therapist who knows and feels what his patient says, feels the “introjects” agony of punishment and fear of change; feels the terrible connection of  the child as victim to  a tyrannical parent. The child “introject” tells the adult to surrender to his lover. Searching for love from a hating parent figure can last a life time. To feel and know  this causes the adult to surrender his “introject’s”  useless quest.

For my friend the therapist to speak to me this way had a cruel quality. I thought enough about why she needed to say that all therapists know about “introjects” so that she could dismiss my  suggestion that she give a course or at least a class on raising a child who is organically damaged, the way she had done for so many years with her own child and knows more about than those who study it in books.

It is her parent “introject” that rules her. It makes her fear being found wanting or even adequate on the subject. Her mother, herself a therapist, was always ready to attack anyone who claimed to know anything in her field. In charge of an institution for disabled children, she was dead set against her daughter raising her own disabled child – “put him in an institution” she said. She would be angry at her daughter’s claim to hope. She would not support her daughter’s arranging for 19 years of therapy and special classes for the boy so that despite frequent failures, he might have a life.

Oh no, she could not offer a class my friend told me. Said she was too frightened and could not say why.  I said she would be a better therapist if she did, which she resented because it pushed her closer to the edge. A person cowering in fear before a task which is in no way earth shattering but tells herself that it is, cannot help a patient who suffers from same. You can not get someone to go beyond you when the reason you don’t go there is fear of your punitive “introjected” parent. You namby-pamby the patient to hold them back, help them take baby steps but not too far and not too fast. They are not to  outdistance you which would show you up. You are to cower together.

There is knowing and knowing. Many therapists despite years of psychotherapy, probably with therapists who were afraid of their own “introjects” and were controlled by their own inner child’s phobic responses, cannot  understand it in self or other. Understanding requires feeling the agony and tyranny as well gaining distance in order to develop a perspective.

With the “introject” as with all things, we have to go through what we are afraid of to get to the other side. We have to go to the beginning, to the place of fear. We do not know what to do since our terrified child “introject” and/or terrifying adult “introject” is  running the show. We stay and explore, take one step at a time. Some kind of path will emerge. Courage comes after doing the feared  act.  Along with it comes growing up.

I need to add that now I realize that her dismissal of the introject as something to deeply study was directed by her tyrannical “freezing parent” to her terrified  “frozen child” and had nothing to do with me, we remain friends.

Afraid to Grow Up

He was raised by a tyrant mother and a father training to be a doctor who was never home, probably in part to avoid her. His mother had to have her way about everything. As soon as he got the lay of the land, part of him totally rebelled but the way he did it represented surrender to her at the same time which is why to this day he is trapped in his infant mentality.

He is in therapy, an extremely frustrating person who keeps reiterating how can I save the child within – I am a child and only a child. What can I do about it? He doesn’t admit the he also is the hated mother which continues to give him orders, a fight that never ends.

When told he has to become an adult, he says I have no idea what you are talking about, I am a  child. When told that the adult lives in the present, not in the emmiserated past, that an adult makes decisions about what he wants to do and if he is unsure tries them out and then decides. Then the patient goes back into his infant child’s cry for help – show me, explain me. The therapist says that no one can give you reality. You have to experience it yourself. Yes. But how do you do it? And on and on he goes refuting freedom.

He repeats it over and over again about the day he dropped out of the world, left his mother standing there, complaining and pleading about being unable to reach him. Now that he is locked in, his baby self is happy. The therapist feels exactly as his mother did, helpless to reach him. She tells him that he is playing a game with her and is extremely spiteful. When will he stop playing the game and try living?

He retreats into his helpless infantile stance. Can’t help it. Don’t know what to do, who to be and to top it off, says, tell me. She responds there is nothing to tell. If you want to remain a spiteful little baby, that is your choice. There is no plan for adulthood. It is all about exploration and choice. He is silent then repeats his dropping out scenario. He has practiced this helpless go fuck yourself position so long he is not ready to give it up. Complaining is another weapon in his pack. See I can’t do it, (pseudo tears) wah-wah-wah. This internal baby is determined to keep on winning and wipe the adult out.

Does he see the spiteful person he has become, the person so afraid to fail that he won’t try? Hiding in the costume of helplessness, can he force the therapist into the guise of a controlling mother whom he endlessly frustrates and enjoys an infant’s power? Can he get her to admit she is a failure and must give up? Is there such a thing as too late?

The adult needs to put his foot down and stop listening to the internal child who remains as afraid of the (now deceased mother) to do so. His adult has to stop living in the past.