A pause between posts…
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? (Psalms, chapter 2, verse 1)
The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly. But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee……He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.
(Job, chapter12, verse 1)
As I drive through the high desert plains of western Nebraska and Wyoming, I listen to radio newscasts about dire happenings in our government and governments around the world. Bible-reading radio shows frame announcements of worldly events with moral encouragement. Listeners call in with simple, direct questions about the meaning of passages that speak to their fear there is a crack in the world that seems to spew forth demons. As one station after another faded out of reach of my antennae, I would search for another. What was I hoping to hear, I wondered.
The cracked, worn voices of old pastors, mixed with the earnest smooth voices of their younger co-hosts. I listened to something else in their voices. The elders were patient, thoughtful, fully disclosing their understanding of Bible verses. They stopped to question the younger men who were not always so sure as they flipped through scripture on their iPads. In some respects, their discussions with listeners sounded like the educational side of psychotherapy. Listeners asked about racism, evil, adultery, lying, and confusing aspects of sermons they heard in their community churches.
We are all so alone in this vast world. Nature is what it is. Brutal. Unforgiving. Yet glorious. And it nourishes us. But out here, in the relentless wind, alone, as small and insignificant as a grain of sand…What guides me, protects me? I don’t feel this vulnerability so much in a big city or in Europe. Or India.
“Be careful– what you see in others is often what is dark and most hidden in yourself,” one radio pastor warned a young man who thought a Bible verse was instructing him to pursue and threaten harm to those who were of darker color. In psychotherapy, the projection of one’s shadow side, the hidden side of oneself, onto another is the first in a series of defensive acts.
The pastor continued to talk about projection without calling it that. There is a temptation to turn others into “devils”, he said. People who look, talk and dress different from us, who have different faiths can be seem like enemies, people unworthy of our life-world.
Projection can manipulate others’ perception of truth, or accuse others. Similarly, projecting virtue onto oneself results in whatever is decreed is, by definition, right and proper.
Gently and respectfully, the pastor quoted from Romans 2-1 You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. And with that simple statement the pastor summed up so much of secular psychology.
He spoke for a long time. His eloquently worn-out voice was filled with wisdom and melancholy over all the pain he had witnessed.
In previous eras, many pastors and missionaries attempted to seize power by installing fear and unworthiness in the believer and an extreme version of patriarchy in family life. Most Christian religions are now turning from repression and subjugation to a more empathic acceptance that a person’s soul is free and naturally loving, though temptation to follow an opposite path is ever-present. I have noticed that Christian pastors are weaving positive psychology into their sermons to provide people with mindful guidance. This pastor and others I listened to were indeed mindful and instructive. We need, more than ever, empathic spiritual education combined with instruction in basic psychology to offset the fears and anxieties that are proliferating in the wake of the last American election.
The theft of basic civil liberties is not done by chicanery alone. Tyrants cannot subdue and control whole societies unless they desacralize people’s spirits. Illegal possession of civil rights and valuables is not sustainable in the long term unless the minds and hearts of those who are exploited are put in chains as well. This is a widespread, age-old motif. The exploitation of people must have a two-pronged approach. Physical and psychological subjugation. To remain oppressed, people must believe they are an afterthought of nature, secondary players in the course of life’s events.
The defense of projection is the first in a set of five psychological defenses. They are applied for self-protection against fear and, as a weapon, the aggressive desire to win at all costs.
When following a politician in the news or observing the behavior of someone close who intends to seize control, it is relatively easy to identify each consciously rigged tactic. Projection is the first defense in a series that will soon reveal a strategy.
Projection identifies a person or certain strangers as threatening, unworthy, or evil. Marginalized, they become the Other. Destroying them in image or in life is a felt imperative. However, it takes a continuous reservoir of psychic energy to maintain this negative and negating projection. Tyrants who use projection as a tool assume to themselves the virtuousness of a theocratic dictatorship. Why theocratic? The center of a reactionary movement cannot hold unless it is god-centered. God may only be an opportunistic projection of a state led by a charismatic leader, or that state may use an authentic religion as a front to justify cruelty. Human nature cannot sustain the energy to maintain a social movement over time unless that effort upholds an aim to something better, higher, greater. One answer is God. Under this banner, the ruling class lays claim to valuable things. To strengthen, this defense needs to root itself in deeper psychological soil. Thus, the next line of defense is built.
Rationalization is inventing bad reasons to justify what we say or do. Intellectualization defuses emotionally explosive issues by using abstract, inauthentic, lifeless words. For example, a politician who is not gaining enough attention in the press might express a plausible concern about government funding of women’s birth control and abortion. Rallying like-minded legislators, religious groups, and women sympathizers can launch a movement that pretends to do women a big favor. However, the reality of the proposal forces women into a position of no privacy in their medical relationships, having babies they can’t afford to raise, and using religious doctrine as a front for political gain.
Usually, the politicians who use rationalization and intellectualization as tools to coerce others are dominating and inflexible. Their outspoken interpersonal styles promote conflict. These personality traits point to pathology. A lesser known role of rationalization and intellectualization is protecting their users from fully realizing how their manipulative hostility harms others. Hence the roots must now reach deeper into psychological soil because it takes a lot of psychic energy to keep this system of logic running. The next defense in line is Reaction Formation and it does the trick.
When tyrannical politicians– and some parents– use the defense of Reaction Formation they outwardly display the opposite of what they inwardly repress and deny. For example, who would readily admit to admiring cruelty or evil? Yet, they trust in cruelty for achieving their goals.
Now comes the part where the logic gets labyrinthine, even perverse.
Repression and Denial are the defenses that blur a tyrant’s insight. Old Scrooge needed the Ghost of Christmas’ Past to trot him back through his life before he could see the hurt he caused and why he caused it. He, and aggressors like him, repress or “push down” into their unconscious any mental content that disturbs their conscious mind. Moreover, memory of that very act of repression is itself repressed. As a result, the whole incident is more or less forgotten. Good luck with that, one part of our mind might be telling another part. Whatever is repressed is unwilling to stay in solitary, in the dark. As if radioactive, it leaks back up into consciousness. Thus, Denial is the jailer that takes missteps of conscience and other mind content to a deeper, darker place and throws away the key. Unmindfulness, though, takes work and exacts costs.
Tyrants who deploy these defenses have learned and self-installed these techniques as personality disorders. They strike us as histrionic, dependent, avoidant, narcissistic psychopaths. This is not an opinion. It is a psychological fact. As even their supporters will see at some point, the next and last defense before the inevitable downfall of these leaders is the tactic of scapegoating.
Scapegoating has the most sinister social implications. The tyranny that politicians dare not direct at someone stronger than themselves is turned against someone weak and helpless. These politicians are like zoo animals that cannot get at the target of their fury so they take it out on weaker occupants of their cage. In the wild, an animal attacked by one of higher rank will not fight back but will retaliate by displacing aggression on an animal of lower rank. And so it is with people in the political sphere. In the absence of an enemy at the gate, aggression intended for the ‘foreigner’ is redirected at the ‘enemy within.’ When scapegoating aligns with projection, repression, and denial the result is obscene.
To summarize, the defense of projection begins a nasty cycle. Its negative vision must grow into rationalized and intellectualized philosophy with God (or a sacralized tyrant state) at its center to keep it going. Then the cycle has to anchor itself in reaction formation that says, I’m right, right? And repression and denial that lets tyrants justify their paranoia before they zero in on their symbolic secondary target– the scapegoat. Anxiety is released. It’s a big spasm of rage. And yet there is someone, certain interests, that benefit in the end. For the short term, we can pray.
This is just a small offering to help us understand the psychology that underlies the politics of today.
The pattern of paranoiac projection superimposes an illusory surface identity onto the Other by shouting about their outrageousness, and then by denigrating, and shaming them. Projected vitriol is then justified through rationalized and intellectualized arguments which deepen political resolve. The technique of reaction formation internalizes repression and denial, first on the part of the politicians and second, forcibly imposed on the people, as well as democratic institutions such as the Department of Justice in order to compromise the courts, and other government sectors designed to ensure medical care and social care. Immigration authorities are tasked to create a closed state. Education is hijacked to push fundamentalist anti-science. Environment to thwart progressive protections and unfetter profiteers. This is not kneejerk liberalism. The president’s handpicked advisers have long advocated the systematic dismantling our democratic state.
At the beginning of tyrannical control, people get confused by the tumult and cannot really take in what is happening. They pause. But if you have ever grown up in a family where a tyrant ruled, you know what is happening, how it feels, and you know what’s likely to come. The ambition of a tyrant, a terrorist, a psychopathic sadist, is to dominate. To sane minds, the artificially constructed philosophies that rationalize and intellectualize dominance are laughable. Deplorably absurd. But to the tyrant these philosophies and policies are no joke. They are emotionally meaningful to their followers. And that brings us to the core of all this potential destruction.They are angry, spiteful, raving, and craven. Why is anybody’s guess. But this is not the time to wonder why the house is burning.
Days before Barack and Michelle Obama left the White House they appeared at numerous gatherings and their messages were the same: Be resilient, have hope. When you are knocked down, get up. Brush yourself off and get back to work. Love this country deeply, see its flaws and your responsibility to fix them. Talk to teachers, friends, and co-workers to generate action. Don’t mope. Don’t feel the country has rejected you. This is a big complicated country. Democracy is messy. Sometimes the outcomes of democratic action are questionable but never give up on the core decency that is this country.
Believe in this country. Its people are more good than bad. Tragic things happen and yes, there is evil in the world but we try and with trying the world gets a little bit better each day. It’s gonna be OK – pray for it, work for it.
Your loving friend, Peggy
Full lyrics on Google Play Music
Have you ever gone snorkeling or scuba diving? The ocean is a miraculous being. She is essence and energy and her spirit envelops, lifts and ebbs. My ego falls like an obsolete wall.
Go there – now. Empty. Horizonless.
There is synchrony here. The sea animals, some are in between plant and animal, disappear when I drop in all gangly arms and fins, breathing loud bubbles into the blue. I exhale and lower thirty feet to lie on a warm sandy shelf. With a full tank of air, I can lie on that shelf for most of the day. After the ruckus from my landing has died down little sea eels poke their heads out of the white sandy floor to stand on tail tip until they look like a field of grass waving in the breeze. Cones, the size of pinky thimbles rise from their sudden collapse into the coral. They are called Christmas Trees because of their variety colors that seem to light up and glisten in the refracted beams of sunlight. Little fish, all dapper in their tailored suits, resume their play and their sheer delight in moving, catching a nibble of food. This is their life. Even when a storm rages above, this home below moves languidly.
A grouper comes up behind me. I know this because he hovers over my left shoulder. I can just make out the shape of his brown snout. And then he moves away and I find him hovering over my right shoulder. Now I am sitting upright, cross-legged. I do not move or I might scare him away. He repeats this maneuver for an eternity. Eventually, I realize he has relaxed and he is playing with me. I slowly remove my gloves and lift my arms up and away from my chest until my fingers almost touch each other. I open a space to make an entrance way. He circles around to face me. Minus snout and tail fin, he’s about the size of a toaster. There is no telling how long I must wait until he decides to enter the embrace. I see he is an old feller, which means he must be pretty smart to have survived this long. His brown velvety skin is hatched with white scars. He has a round wary eye. But curiosity gets the better of him and he enters the circle of my arms with his fins fluttering. He takes in the whole of me close-up, angled. One of his eyes is looking at me up and down. The other is looking at the ocean beyond my embrace. Maybe at my arms to see if they will threaten. I wait.
My dive partner, John, is a rescue diver for the Chicago Fire Department. He is investigating the abyss that drops to infinity beyond the shelf. He is absorbed in his own adventure. A Green Turtle emerges from the abyss and sails up to the surface of the ocean and down again. I have never seen such grace. What a beautiful animal. Lumbering and ponderous on land, she is sensual and a beauty at home.
The grouper is still there within my arms. I slowly bring my fingers to touch his velvety coat. He relaxes under my touch. How odd. I stroke his coat as I would gently stroke a cat. Before long his fins have grown still and he’s bobbing a bit from side to side. What? I signal to John. He comes over. I shrug. He places
both palms together and rests his cheek on the outer side of his hand in a gesture of sleep. Oh crikey, I put the old guy to sleep. Fish do not have eye lids which means they sleep with their eyes open– really.
I brought my hands back to his old body and pressed in a bit, shook him very gently. Nothing. I would believe he were snoring. You can’t laugh with a breath regulator in your mouth but John’s shoulders were jumping up and down. He took the old grouper and placed him in a little cave in the coral where he bobbed back and forth.
Oh God. I picked up my gloves and put them back on (fish skin is very delicate and glove texture will bring harm) and we stretched out and headed for the abyss.
Swim fifty feet beyond the shelf. Exhale. Drop. Free fall.
The blue above is struck with gold. Ahead and to each side the blue merges into a blue-grey mist. Below as we drop down, the blue gets inky and reaches into black. There is no sound but the brief outlet of air and my heartbeat. Total surrender.
We drop to a hundred feet and hover. What is left of our air supply won’t last long at this depth. We exhale excess air and stop breathing for a minute. Silence. Heartbeat. Take a small breath. And hold a minute. Exhale. And again. Empty of thought. Suspended in a vast, timeless womb. Bobbing a bit.
And then my hidden soul comes out to play. It purrs, no matter the storm that rages above. This friendly essence is the soul that dwells within my soul. It guides the moving energy it’s given. Always there, listening, observing – with no conscious thought about itself, it comes out to play and trusts me when I stumble. Holy nothingness loving itself. A voice that uses no words.
We slowly rise to thirty feet and swim to the shelf. The grouper has apparently awakened and gone about his business. For many days that followed, John and I joyfully descended into his garden. The grouper was there and resumed his game with us. It began, first one shoulder then the other.
Your loving friend ~Peggy
Photo Credit: Green Turtles, Queensland, Australia. Troy Mayne
HOW DOES THOUGHT GO WRONG?
In my last letter, I described what happens in children’s minds when their relationships are unstable or even cruel. To survive an unwholesome environment, children must justify the reality in which they are raised. Paradoxical reasoning, tactical paranoia, and the urge to fight or subvert can evolve into a worldview. Year by year we coalesce beliefs, intellectualizations and prejudices. An especially pernicious defensive action we might adopt is scapegoating.
But is this all there is? Are we all doomed if we had a bad start in life? The answer is no. Ideally, a happy, stable relationship in early years readies us for a happy, stable adulthood. Yet, no matter how ideal your upbringing might be, if thinking can go wrong– it will.
How can this happen? Well, it’s about being human. Our minds like to logically link memories of the past to the present, and then wish or fear possibilities into our future. This function of the mind is factory-installed. It is hardwired into the motherboard of our minds. Our happiness depends on the quality of the daily and nightly data we input. If we are not alert, our minds begin to connect the memory dots in a pattern that creates a false reality.
So, how to stay in the fact of something? Discern the truth of our memories and arrive at a coherent, correct understanding?
This is an essential skill in today’s political confusion, so I would like to explore the subject slowly, separating its facets one by one. First is projection: how our minds effortlessly draft a dubious reality by projecting an idea onto another person, thing, or event. Later, we may explore why one’s mind would do that, what our mind has in mind, as it were. But first let us just look at how our minds conjure this real-seeming realities.
I will draw on Krishnamurti’s perspective on psychological projection. He begins by saying that we have our individual experience of the observer (oneself) and the observed (others and things). Here’s an outline. (I promise I won’t PowerPointify this.
There is a person who observes and there is a thing observed.
There is a division between the two.
A screen/ word/ image.
The division opens a space where conflict occurs.
This is where the ego is.
Ego (aka, I) is an accumulation of words, images, memories from all my yesterdays. In short, ego is thoughts I have about myself.
Thus, the space is thick with stuff from the past, dead stuff.
With all the debris of dead thought in the way, ego cannot make direct contact with the object. By definition, they are divided.
Meanwhile, the object is “what is” without the interference of your interpretation.
However, viewed through the lens of your memory, the object is always evaluated with inevitable, emotional judgements.
The result? There can be no understanding of “what is”.
I am afraid of you.
I measure you against others I have known.
I am conditioned to compare you to others who appear kindly, thoughtful, intelligent, considerate.
You are not that.
I am conditioned to protect myself and hide, or fight you and others like you. Sometimes my thoughts and my body stiffen with fear.
So, fear of another person is born.
I feel I observe fear objectively as outside myself.
However, as the observer, I absorb that fear.
Now I sense there is nothing I can do about it.
Whatever I do, fear is still fear.
I am full of fear, as well as other unwelcome feelings like loneliness, and despair.
Must I accept this? What do I do?
There is a gulf between the observer and the observed.
Conflict occurs when two thoughts of equal strength quarrel. The back and forth inflicts confusion.
The quarrel only stops when I stop resisting “what is”.
I observe the whole of myself, my nature and my ego processes.
I observe the overall structure and nature of the observed (which is also myself because I know I am projecting). In doing this, I see the totality of observer, observed and the gulf between. In my perception of its unity there is no conflict whatsoever – and therefore the I go beyond the fear.
If thoughts quarrel with each other and cause tumult, then what is thinking?
Firstly, I cannot do anything without how-to know-how. Knowledge is my accumulated, curated experience.
I have the experiences of using words, playing a musical instrument, touching others, and so on.
Secondly, I have archived the knowledge of my ongoing lifetime. I want to repeat those experiences that bring pleasure. Or I want others to disappear from memory because they bring pain if repeated.
Pain comes also when the pleasurable experiences are not repeated.
For example, yesterday’s sunset was lovely to behold. The light, the texture, the feel of it is recorded and therefore, over.
I say, I must renew my sunset experience. And the new one is interpreted as pleasure.
So, you see what thought does. It connects dots of experience, connects them, sensibly and sensefully.
But you can also see the danger of thought. Ask the question: Who is this in me that holds the thought, the thought as pleasure or pain?
What holds this memory as a center from which my thought operates.
Do you see that there is an observer and the thing observed– in you?
The observer is the center that holds all my knowledge of “me.”
The “me” is ego. I am aware of myself because the knowledge of all I experience is moderated by “me,” my center, my observer.
But how does my ego, my central point of reference from which I understand the world, stay in balance?
Ego invents a superego, a conscience, an inner voice of wisdom. But be cautious because superego is still a part of thought.
Yes, you are right if you say, “There is a duality in me as the observer and the observed. And there is a duality in my perception of you.
There is “me”, the ______ and “them”, the ______.
The observer holds all the memories from which all thought arises. Thought itself is never new, never free. It can only think or invent freedom.
Adapted from Krishnamurti, J. To Be Human. pages 109-111, Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2000
And so, to perceive accurately and think healthfully we examine our impulse to project a thousand days of memories onto every object we observe. When is our past blinding us to the other and the new, and when is it illuminating her, him, it?
How can you tell if you are projecting? You might experience heightened emotion that will take you by surprise. You may laugh, cry, swoon, flare, recoil, shut down, or so on, all with a rush of unbidden but unblockable inner energy. This is how your body gets involved. It lets you feel that projection is in play. If you want to learn more about the defense against wrongful projection, read on. I have attached a .pdf at the end of my letter.
Keep in mind, though, that projection can be a creative act when used purposefully to represent what’s out there. Like any innate software, it’s unwise to condemn it. Just change your settings.
Your loving friend, Peggy
Image: Knight of Faith from The Glossary for the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
It is not unusual for a little mind to come online prematurely– before the age of five. She awakens because a shock in her infant life stirred her into awareness. Otherwise, her little mind would slumber on, content to grow quietly and steadily until, by the age of five or six she would awaken into awareness naturally. Fortunately, my premature awakening occurred under pleasant circumstances. I met my father for the first time at age two years, three months. I remember the beginning and the end of his ten-day leave from the military. I wrote more about this here: https://peggyfirestone.com/mission-statement/
However, I think of all the other little minds in our world that are forced to come online under unpleasant circumstances. One’s first conscious remembrance, more than likely, sets the theme of one’s life. Did you know that? Think about it. You will find a fun set of questions at the end of my letter so you can test this theory for yourself.
By the time a child is age three or, at the most, four, she is the little sociologist of her family. Yep. With clipboard and a sharpened pencil, she makes observations, takes notes, and draws conclusions. She knows exactly what to do to make her parents happy (or not). She adventures into unknown reaches of her home, her garden, the street, shops, auntie’s kitchens, her uncle’s pockets. She tests her desirability and begins the next venture into testing her strength by banging her little self into the environment at large. She bites into a worm, sticks her hand into the fire, takes a leap of faith she can yell angrily at her mother and still be safe, dreamily walks away into the woods alone, stares at strangers…
Meanwhile, she collects information and all that data sets her on course for understanding the world and her relationship to it. Her growth and achievement will depend upon what she understands of the world and who she is in it. Its horizons and her reflection in it. Her early experiences in her environment will flavor and fragrance her awareness for the rest of her life. If she feels safe there she will be just fine, even when parents, neighborhoods and schools are less than perfect– and of course, they are. She will see these imperfections with a generous mind, the caveat being, she must feel safe even when dangers lurk.
Since life is a tough challenge almost at every turn, a child needs a sturdy experience of caring attention and safety if she is to have the positive inner resources to encounter later challenges in life.
Margaret Mahler, John Bowlby, Erik Erikson, and others have written extensively about what to look for as a child navigates the growing periods of her life. (See Erik Erikson’s theory on Stages of Development at the end of my letter.)
When a child does not have a good start in life, it is more than likely she will be in conflict for the remainder of her life. Moreover, the evolution of a child’s ability to trust and think creatively is almost entirely dependent upon the quality of ongoing exchanges between herself, her parents, and her environment. It takes a village.
Let us inquire further. When children are caught in an abusive family or a violent environment, the deepest pain is not the trauma or the abuse itself. It is the context of the relationship within which the abuse happens. While no one can deny the harm of trauma to a child, it is the whole feeling/thinking nature of the home and the community –the gestalt of all these relationships that causes the most psychic harm.
The backdrop of denial, the hurtful things said and done, the secrets, the betrayal, the lies and the double binds, create the deepest pain. Parents, siblings and friends, teachers, employers, and the police– unknowingly or uncaringly– create psychic infections that trap the child and each other in an onslaught of opportunists and parasites. The psychic immune system of the child goes downhill.
Children cannot predict when the abuse will happen. They cannot get the abuse to stop and they cannot run away. Abused children have to find some purchase in the family so they form an attachment to the perpetrator.
It is a devastating contradiction to form this unholy but necessary alliance. Psyche does not do well when asked to contain a longstanding contradiction. To prevent its fragmenting under stress, psyche makes a defense system that works automatically. Like the white blood cells of one’s physical body, psychic defenses talk to each other and surround the infection to neutralize it. I have identified the most common psychic defenses in bold type. I will also focus on the primary role of parent since that is the most important relationship to a child.
The most usual defense mechanism is dissociation. Children may go into a trance. The defense of dissociation shuts down the senses of seeing, hearing and sometimes remembering.
To stay psychologically whole, children tell themselves that the loving parent (as the primary relationship) does bad things (as the secondary relationship)
…to that little boy or girl over there …
…to that little body over there – not me.
They say to themselves:
I don’t have to shut down when my parent comes near
because that parent belongs to that little boy or girl over there.
And hmmm – what happened to that little child over there?
I don’t remember.
As time passes, the dissociative experience is firmly layered with the internalized image of the loving parent. What was once contradiction has now become paradox. The child’s psyche is protected and the attachment system is running.
Paradox is where two conflicted thoughts weave in and out of each other. Each thought is true and not true at the same time.
For example: “Parents punish their children out of love.”
Punishing and loving are impulses we can imagine are not contradictory. Plausible enough to rationalize the abuse. Enabling the victim to bond with the victimizer instead of escaping.
One more thought comes along: the fantasy of a rescuer. Children are biologically built to wish saving. Why doesn’t my other parent come and save me from the one who is harming me, body or soul? Who can the rescuer be?
There are a few options:
The rescuer might be the good parent, the absent parent (the parent who never comes), the idealized parent of adopted children, or the fantasy substitute replacing a depressed parent.
As children grow older, the rescuer-victim-perpetrator triangle is internalized and their self-protective paradoxes bind tighter. But at a certain point, paradox is not sustainable and error in thought must be layered on to accommodate this impaired attachment.
Children are thinking:
1) Because I love/hate them I must want the abuse.
2) The world is fundamentally dangerous, arbitrary, unpredictable & uncontrollable.
3) Therefore, I must not be happy because when I am happy my guard goes down & bad things happen.
4) Happy is phony.
5) Miserable fits me.
Defense mechanisms, paradoxical logic and errors in thinking make children weary.
Eventually, they agree with adults and peers about who they must be– bad. They begin to instigate trouble and act badly.
If badness is inside me,
I have a better chance of controlling the abuse.
If I become like the adults they probably won’t hurt me – I’ll belong.
I can control myself.
Now children have hope. They are psychologically aroused by being big and bad and physiologically aroused by being abused.
Building of a system of logic leads to dangerous conclusions. No children think:
I want the abuse. I want to be bad. I am in control.
The aftermath of rationalizing attachment to an abuser is a double bind.
The children have to remember to be bad. But being bad creates anxiety.
Abused children are trapped in an unkind world and they feel guilty for their part in creating it.
Children may burn themselves, cut themselves, threaten and harass themselves. This self-punishment becomes part of their reality. Expectation of rescue is close to zero. Self-mutilation brings relief from the anxiety.
When partnered with an abusive spouse, adult children reinforce their system of abused logic so the spouse is not blamed. Abused adult children are locked in the logic of the past and they rationalize a reason to stay. This is why battered spouses do not leave.
The defenses, the paradoxes and cognitive errors are deeply ingrained. They are too helpless and too little and too scared to be alone.
To heal the trauma two challenges must be faced:
1) to dissolve the ambivalent attachment to the perpetrator
the logic to be dissolved is:
1) You abuse me – I must survive
2) To survive I must belong
3) To belong I have to become like you
4) Therefore, I am bad
5) Bad is good.
2) to dissolve the believed grandeur of the abuse
To protect their integrity, children elevate the meaning of abuse from something grubby, petty and meaningless to something heroic.
I have written about some of the experiences that helped me grow up with a strong inner direction. God bless the child that’s got his own… I was very lucky. But so many children and their families are not.
It is important to understand psychological attachment. Its wisdom helps you stay objectively positive with someone suffering from attachment trauma. If a child has formed a positive attachment to you, something good must have happened to her to keep the light of hope alive, hope that enabled her to find you. The reason children find teachers, mentors, adult friends is because they have not given up wanting to thrive. They want to find their integrity in a right way.
My next post will occur on February 6 (two weeks hence). I have stuff to do that will not afford me the time to write to you. So sorry.
Your loving friend, Peggy (Look for the exercise and notes at the end 💚)
Kalsched, Donald. The Inner World of Trauma, Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Ross, Colin, M.D., Dissociative Identity Disorder: Diagnosis, Clinical Features, and Treatment of Multiple Personality. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
Wallin, David, Ph.D., Attachment in Psychotherapy. The Guilford Press, 2007.
WHAT THEME DOES YOUR LIFE FOLLOW?
Answer the following questions without pondering, that is, write yours answers quickly.
Name three stories (fairy stories are best, then significant movies etc.) that made deep impression on you when you were very young.
What was the theme of your first story? (You can find the theme by telling what the story is about in one or two sentences.)
What is your very first memory?
All themes have conflict in them. See how your first story and your first memory are similar. Write down the similarity between the two.
Erikson’s Stages of Devo- Life Cycle Theory (Social).
Read: Identity & the Life Cycle; Identity & Youth Crisis; Childhood & Society
1-12 months Trust vs Mistrust
Oral/Sensory Stage- Ease of feeding, depth of sleep, bowel relaxation. Teeth come in, therefore progress from taking to weaning. With that comes nostalgia for lost paradise. With good experiences, the child is hopeful.
1 Year – end of 2nd Year Autonomy vs Shame and Self-doubt
Walks, feeds self, talks Muscular maturation. Development of identity & courage to be independent. Holding on/letting go. Need for outer control –therefore courage to be independent Caretaker needs to be firm in preparation for child’s autonomy. Shame is when child is overly self-conscious because of negative exposure. Self-doubt results from parental criticism. Ex. Toilet
Warning Signs: Obsessiveness, procrastination. Rituals & repetitions to gain power. Self-insistent stubbornness or meek compliance. Fears loss of control.
3 Years – end of 4th Years Initiative vs Guilt
Initiative rises for the sake of activity- motor & intellectual. Frees child’s sense of purpose. Later, intrudes into space physically, aggressive voice, physical attack. Thinks of phallic entry. Guilt over aggressive goals. Desire to mimic adults-resolves Oedipal issues by social role identification- Sibling rivalry is frequent.
Warning Signs: hysterical denial; self-restriction means inner capacities are not realized. Blocked from moving forward because of fear & guilt.
5 – 10 Years Industry vs Inferiority
Tries to master objects, self, social transactions, ideas, and concepts. Child is busy building, creating, accomplishing. Receives systematic instruction as well as fundamentals of technology.
Warning Signs: Inadequacy, inferiority if child despairs of tools or skills and status among peers. Incompetency, self-restraint, conformity.
11 – Adolescence Identity vs Identity Diffusion or Role Confusion. (Matches with Genital Stage for Identity and Oppression)
Desires to synthesize self from components into a whole (Ego Synthesis). Develops ego identity (sense of inner sameness and continuity. Preoccupation with appearance, hero worship. Group identity is important for support, values reference, place to experiment.
Warning Signs: Role confusion, doubts about sexual/vocational identity. Stage between morality when learned as a child and concept of ethics learned as an adult. Excessive conformity or rebelliousness. Feeling estranged. Idealism – denial of reality. Juvenile delinquency.
Adulthood to Old Age
Intimacy vs Isolation Relationships are involved, reciprocal, sexual, occupational, and social.
Warning Signs: Failure to achieve intimacy leads to stereotyped relationships and distancing; readiness to renounce, isolate and destroy others who threaten
Generativity vs Stagnation
Out of concern, desire to guide next generation. Nurturance and caring for others
Warning Signs: Care essentially for oneself. Artificial intimacy. Self-indulgence.
Integrity vs Despair
One’s life is accepted. Achievements. Significant people.
Warning Signs: Despair. Life is too short to start another one or test alternative means to integrity. Self-criticism. Regret. Fear of impending death.
To see a comparative chart of theories please go to:
After I posted my last letter to you, it occurred to me that I ended it rather abruptly. Even the placing of the post went a bit squewiffey, which I attributed to Mercury traveling retrograde rather than the letter itself objecting to not having a tail. I was absorbed in the question about my choice of telling you a tale from my childhood. I rarely, if ever, indulge in sharing my memories. Something, however, was important about my telling you that. Meanwhile, others were flooding my mind as well. For some reason, my unconscious was prodding me along that path. What was so necessary about these memories?
I think by Wednesday (I post Monday morning) I realized I was focused on my childhood environment because it provided me strength; nourished a positive forward-looking perspective that helped me survive the ordeals that lay ahead when my family and I emigrated to the States.
But why these memories now? Memories never arise unbidden. I had called them forth unknowingly. Consciously, I am concerned about the turbulent times in which we live. I am looking for a way to address these concerns. There are tried and true ways to approach uncharted waters. What are they? My thoughts are Eurocentric yet such a focus is not usual for me, even though I indeed hail from England with Irish parentage. Something seems to have worked in my early upbringing that has helped me live (mostly) with honor. I love to work and learn. I am (mostly) a good friend. What is it that niggles at the edges of my consciousness?
And so, one thought led to another and more childhood images rose. I realized they were memory snapshots of events that I had taken from my earliest years when I recognized I lived in a world that was larger than my inner world and it was populated with alien-feeling bits I wanted to comprehend.
Thus, making a fateful decision to turn my mind into a camera, I began my personal journey through the world. I became a voyager.
I was three years old when my brother was born. My father had begun living with us, newly released from duty with the Royal Air Force. One morning I walked down to the end of the garden to the swing. I felt sad. I had never felt, as far as I knew, the feeling before. I sat on the swing, kicking the dust where my constant dragging feet had worn a patch in the grass. I was busy feeling a world inside my body that colored my mood. I had no name for what was occurring. Hmmmm. I wanted to know what had happened that caused me to feel sad. Ah. There was the name. I was reaching for the concept of sad. I could not tell quite what it was. It wisped in and out.
I noticed my father pushing the white lace bedroom curtain aside, looking out at me. The window was tall and framed his height. He had a look of concern on his face but he left me alone. I felt bad he was worried and the sadness slipped away.
It was then I decided to take a picture of that moment. There was an inside moment and an outside moment. From now on, I thought, I will take snapshots with my mind, of things I do not understand. I’ll store the pictures away and when I am older I will take them out [of my memory album] (I did not know enough to call it that), look at them and understand what had happened.
Thus, I sat holding the tiller of my small boat, no one else. I needed to steer as deftly as I could. Each choice would, and continues to be, a humbling reflection of my intelligence and willingness do the right thing by all, including myself.
In this meandering way, I found the true reason for my writing letters to you. I am an old lady now– not in spirit but in years. I love this life with all the harshness we impose on it and ourselves. It is a jolly interesting experience. It runs like an epic movie that never gets stale. And that’s just the plot line. This life has a depth and breadth, like a wondrous iceberg, all blueish translucency floating majestic. Only the top ten percent is visible above the water line. Below– the remaining ninety percent lies out of our sight. If interested in discovering the phenomenal beauty of this alien thing, we must dive down to the hidden reaches of its world and behold the awesomeness of its totality.
Do not mistake the appearance of this world to be the thing itself. There is the remaining ninety percent that lies beyond our usual senses. Diving into the paradoxical wonder of our experience with this life, its song and scream, this is what my letters to you are really about.
Let us dive into the waters of the unconscious and see the sights together. There are two ways to do this. Let us figure out how and why each aspect of life necessarily attracts its own opposite to form the totality of itself and in its seeming unlikely bond continues the creation of life. Also, let us look at how our thinking is shaped, flavored, and fragranced by our environment and by our beliefs. Most of the experiences that mold our thinking may be quite good. But when thinking goes wrong …
As I proceed, bear with me as I wander around topics. I am letting my unconscious guide me. As you know, the unconscious refuses to take a linear path. It circles by picking a thing up, looking at it and putting it down to return later and peruse it in detail. The unconscious has its own highly organized protocol that is to be trusted.
Now I see why I pulled on the Druidic Bard and the Terrorist, Beauty and Evil, as complementary opponents. I was on my way to seeing the pattern of my undertaking. The essence of each character needs the other to complete the full experience of Itself. Each aspect questions, experiments with the same idea but has taken opposite paths: one to create, the other to destroy. Each seeks to open what is unresolved, see what cannot yet be seen.
One sings out the paradox. The other screams. Such is the stuff each person is made of.
I will keep pulling out snapshots from my memory album to illustrate ideas that I trust will resonate with yours. And, of course, I’ll keep telling stories that have survived the test of time because they speak a universal truth. And merit revisiting.
Thank you for your reading and emailing comments. Your questions and comments help me focus on what matters to you. Your suggestions are always considered.
Your loving friend, Peggy
Please go to the recording of The Death of Balder: Adventure 13
All of us are poets – the Saxon in the chilly north and the Greek in the Southern sunny lands. The sun refined people’s thoughts while the frost made the Northerners rugged, energetic, and uncouth. However, each saw a system of regularity as if controlled by some law or a superior being. Stars and the changes of seasons et cetera were aloof and mysterious. Their stories did not tend to explain but gave expression to their imaginings.
Hades stole Persephone (summer) from her mother Demeter (the Earth). In sorrow, the Earth clothed herself in mourning (no leaves on trees, flowers, birds). In a few months, she would return and all would bloom. Odin (All-Father) became angry with Brunhilde (the maid of spring) and wounded her with the thorn of sleep. She and all else were wrapped with sleep in her castle until Siegfried (sunbeam) awakened her with a kiss. Loki (heat) betrayed Balder (sunlight) and induced blind Hoder (winter months) to slay him. Hela (death) permitted Balder to revisit Earth from time to time. (The Northern reaches of the hemisphere spends 6 months in darkness). –summarized from W Wagner, Asgaard of the Gods
Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe Speech_ NY Times_January 9,2017