For Starters …
Sometimes people don’t want to look at their part in something that’s gone awry in their lives or the life of our world, because they don’t want to have aspects of themselves considered pathological that they and many others normalize or even idealize. They don’t want to think of themselves, or have anyone else think of them, as “mentally ill.” What if we didn’t label people as “mentally ill”? What if we didn’t label people as “pathological”? What if we simply understand that we all have wounds from our childhood and probably beyond? I don’t think of our wounding as being our pathology. It is wounding. We all have wounding. It is part of our being here on earth. It has an impact on us, on those close to us, on those in our everyday lives, and on our world. It has an impact whether we act out on it or not. It is safer if we don’t act out on it. But even if we don’t act out on it … its aliveness within us still has an impact. Not only on us but also on generation after generation after generation in our own families and the family of beings in our world. It has an impact when it remains unconscious in the shadows within. It also has an impact when it is conscious but we don’t tend to it, work with it, and transform it. That’s not pathology. That’s the truth of us as human beings … and the calling we have to help heal and transform ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world.
Out of our wounding … we want to think of ourselves as civilized, even when we’re not. We want to see ourselves as grown up, even when we’re not. We want to feel like we are “together,” even when we’re not. What we do to hold onto those cherished but false beliefs about who we are – in the name of something good, and in order to defend ourselves against our wounding – is unimaginable. And, in the end, horribly destructive – blatantly or ever-so-subtly.
We live in denial. Normalizing it somehow … any way we can find. Not wanting to know the truth. The truth about our experiences once upon a time in our youth. The truth about pain we experienced. The truth about abuse we suffered. The truth about trauma we may have suffered or inflicted. We cut off our feelings and wall off our hearts. Under the guise of something supposedly righteous. Not wanting to feel our feelings … sometimes our feelings of pain and fear, sometimes our feelings of pleasure, hope, and even love. Certainly our feelings from long, long ago when we were children. And as a result, also our feelings today.
But in doing so, we cannot see the real truth in front of us today. In doing so, we cannot feel the feelings of either real danger or real safety when we meet them today.
And paradoxically enough … our denial and shutting down emotionally, which were once long ago intended to protect us, create danger in our lives and in our world today. This is what happens with defenses, they end up creating the very thing they were meant to defend us against.
If we are unwilling to see this in our personal lives … how will we be able to see it on the stage of our national politics? We won’t! If we are unwilling to take responsibility for this up close and personal in our individual and our family lives … how will we be able to hold candidates running for leadership offices accountable for these things in their lives? We won’t! If we are unwilling to get the help to heal this in our own minds-bodies-hearts-and-souls … how will we be able to insist that our leaders all over the world get the help to heal their wounds so they can actually be civilized, adult, wise, compassionate, and heartful leaders? We won’t. That leaves us in a terrible dilemma … doing the same things over and over, like hitting our heads against a brick wall, but refusing to do the one thing that can help us truly resolve the situation.
And then we turn the whole thing upside down: If our leaders don’t come out of denial … if our leaders don’t melt their numbness … if our leaders don’t stop pretending that there are no little children inside them acting out their wounds on the stage of our world … what kind of leadership are they providing? Defective leadership. What kind of modeling are they providing? Distorted modeling. How can they hold us accountable to do our own healing work? They can’t.
They’re like the wounded parents in a dysfunctional family who are in denial, attempting to parent from the wounded child within themselves, and wounding their children in the same ways they were, themselves, wounded as children.
If You Are Running for President …
If you are running for president, you need to do your own therapy beforehand. Otherwise, you will simply act out your little boy or little girl wounds on the stage of the campaign. And if you should win, on the stage of the Presidency, the country, and the world.
Whatever wounds you had as a child will drive you in your life – personal and political – from deep down in your unconscious self … no matter how aware or unaware you are! No matter how much you want to deny it! No matter how good things look on the surface! And no matter how fiercely you claim you are not acting them out.
I don’t usually speculate about people’s wounds, especially people I’m not working with. Especially people I don’t know personally. Especially people I have just bits of information about. But I am going to offer some possible hunches about some of our presidents and some of our candidates … as a way to show you how our childhood wounds can drive us from within, even when we have grown into big bodies and may look like we are grown-ups. As a way to show you how these leaders and would-be leaders’ childhood wounds could have affected their leadership. It is my hope that seeing these hunches as examples, will help you and millions all over our country and our world to see more clearly, for starters … what’s happening on the election stage, what’s happening in our leaders … and what’s happening within us.
I have read or heard a couple of things about Bill Clinton’s childhood. I don’t know if they are true, but if they are, here are the hunches … One: that he was sexually abused. As a psychotherapist who works with people who were sexually abused, I know clearly that one of the symptoms of sexual abuse is promiscuity. It’s a way people unconsciously act out that there’s a problem needing to be resolved. If Bill Clinton was sexually abused as a child, it is no wonder that he had multiple sexual entanglements with women – Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, and how many others! His having been sexually abused doesn’t excuse him. It doesn’t give him a “get out of jail free card.” It doesn’t make him not accountable. It simply speaks to the root of where he went awry in his life and his leadership. It speaks to the source of his acting out – in him and in his history. It speaks to what he needed to heal.
Be very clear here: Our wounding doesn’t give us license to do whatever we want, to act out however we’d like. We weren’t responsible for our wounding as children. But we are responsible to do the work to heal from that wounding.
I have also read that Bill was caught in between his mother and his grandmother. Whether he was sexually abused or not, that experience of being caught between two women in his young life would set up a dynamic for him to repeat that in his adult life. Again … caught between Hillary and Gennifer; and Hillary and Paula; and Hillary and Monica. The caught-between dynamic could even be set up to repeat itself not between two women, but between two entities. Perhaps caught between his oath of office as President and his own wounded drivenness to act out his childhood.
Another example, Barack Obama. My understanding is that his mother and father got divorced. And lived far apart from each other – at times, continents apart. My hunch from many years as a therapist: even if he wasn’t conscious of it, I imagine little Barack had a desire and maybe even a fantasy of bringing his parents back together. No matter how impossible that might have been, somewhere within him, albeit it unconsciously, he may well have continued to want to bring mommy and daddy back together. How might that play out in the world of the Presidency? Somehow little Barack’s desire to bring his parents together could impact Barack the President’s ability to bring together two conflicting sides in any issue. And look at what a painfully horrible time he’s had with Congress. People tend to blame that on all sorts of things socially and politically. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about the underlying dynamic from his childhood. And what if that same dynamic affects his negotiations with leaders of other countries, as well?
This is not a political article. It is not showing political bias. It is an article to teach … to inform … to intrigue … to inspire. So my talking about Bill Clinton earlier and Hillary Clinton next is not my picking on the Clintons. It is simply an offering of profound examples, based on hunches, of childhood wounding driving people, leaders in their adult lives.
I don’t really know much about Hillary’s history. Except that her mother was abandoned. But if I put aside all the superficial criticisms of Hillary in the media. If I put aside all the political and social judgments … I find myself as a depth psychotherapist wondering why this smart, passionate, hard-working, capable, woman has had trouble in her runs for high leadership offices – particularly the presidency. I’m not wondering “what is her fatal flaw?” as some might wonder. I’m wondering – what is it in Hillary’s childhood that would cause her to start out ahead with a wonderful chance of succeeding, only to sabotage herself on the way. I wish I had the opportunity to help her discover the young, feeling level answer to that question.
Finally, Donald Trump. I recently read an article in which I found the following statement by Trump:
“I realized then and there, that if you let people treat you how they want, you’ll be made a fool. I realized then and there something I would never forget: I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” *
In the understanding of the depths of our psyches, this was an early decision made by Donald Trump, “I don’t want to be made anybody’s sucker.” He was 18 at the time. That may have been the first time he decided that consciously, in words, or in those words. And it may seem not such an “early” early decision. But I have found in my many years as a therapist that usually a decision like that made consciously as a teen was also made either unconsciously, or in different words in different situations as a younger child, and perhaps even beneath words in the heart and cells of the child earlier than that.
Someplace inside him, that early decision is driving Trump in his life and his candidacy for the presidency. Some people may believe that will help him in the campaign and as a leader. But making decisions in order not to be made a sucker, does not mean the decisions are going to be healthy, wise, compassionate, effective, successful decisions. It simply means they will be made in the service of not being made a sucker. So who really benefits from that wound, that decision, those actions… perhaps for a while the little boy who decided not to be made a sucker. And only perhaps. Because that driving decision will also undermine Trump and probably leave him open to being a sucker, or as he also said, a fool.
Our leaders and would-be leaders are just like us. They are human beings with childhoods and childhood wounds and traumas. They have defended themselves against the pain of those wounds, created ways of being and acting that would hide the wounds from others and themselves, while acting out the wounds beneath the blinders. They have denied the wounds existed and that the acting out has existed, too.
Yet, they are acting out their own wounds as they campaign to lead or as they actually lead. If we vote for them without knowing this … we shirk our responsibility to be the kind of citizens needed in the world today. If we vote for them without realizing that our wounds, defenses, and denial might be colluding with or somehow hooked into theirs … we shirk our responsibility to be the kind of citizens deeply needed in the world today. If we don’t hold them accountable for doing their own deep inner therapeutic healing before becoming President, we shirk our responsibility for taking a stand for the one major thing that hasn’t been done in working to resolve the misuse and abuse of power in leadership … and the one thing that could truly work. And if we don’t hold them accountable for doing their own deep inner therapeutic healing, we shirk our responsibility for holding ourselves accountable to do our own healing.
It’s not just them. They are not the only ones acting out their wounds. They’re just running for leadership. They’re just executing the leadership they showed us they would execute as they were campaigning. It’s also us. We are the ones electing them. We are the ones acting out our wounds as we respond to them, as we are drawn to them, as we support them, as we oppose them, as we vote for them.
© Judith Barr, 2015.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP MAKE OUR WORLD SAFE
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
Indeed, we are the ones who vote for our leaders … and if we can become aware of our candidates’ and leaders’ wounding, we can also be the ones who utilize that awareness for our own healing.
As we continue on in the race to the presidency, are you aware of the wounding each of the candidates have deep inside? Ask yourself as you follow the race to the election: Are there things – words, actions, decisions – that each candidate has said or done (including “your” candidate) that help to bring to light his or her own wounding?
Now, let’s take it one step further: is there something in the candidates’ behaviors and words and perhaps decisions that can help you find the wounding in yourself? When a particular candidate speaks or acts in a destructive or self-destructive way, do you find yourself agreeing so intensely with him or her, that it feels as though s/he is speaking or acting in the way you’ve always wanted but couldn’t? Can you see shades of your own wounding in each candidate?
Election-time or otherwise, it is crucial that we make the commitment to not only become aware of our wounds but also explore and heal them. This is what I, and other committed, integritous, compassionate therapists and counselors help people do.
Won’t you join me in this individual healing … healing that can not only help your own life, but the life of the world as well?