TORTURE … IT’S INFILTRATED OUR LIVES MORE DEEPLY AND PERSONALLY THAN WE WANT TO ADMIT

How to communicate with you about the issue of torture has been cooking within me.
The inspiration came today.
I’m writing this article about my country, because of all that is taking place about the issue of torture in the U.S.
But don’t think that takes any country off the hook …
We all need to look at this more deeply than people seem to realize.

Andrew O’Hehir’s article in Salon.com on December 14th found its way to my desk, and gave me an opening to express in a new way, what I’ve expressed in many other ways. The title of the article was “America’s Torture Machine Is No Aberration—It’s Part of Our Imperial Decline.” Even more important … its subtitle was the first opening I felt called to utilize to invite you to the truth.

The subtitle: “Can we quit pretending torture is some huge departure from America’s behavior?”

My response on a very different level than the one he’s offering:

We have to quit pretending torture is some huge departure from America’s behavior. It isn’t.

We have to deal with it on the national and international levels because that is actually more difficult to hide. But we also have to deal with it on the individual and familial levels – where it is too easy to hide. And in fact, it is from the individual and familial levels that it gets to the national and international levels. Read on to understand.

From my experience as a psychotherapist, workshop leader, media guest, speaker, and author … I have come to believe there is more child abuse in our country than anyone is willing to know.

O’Hehir wrote in his article, “Sure, there were a handful … who sounded the alarm, but most of us just nodded knowingly.” Just like with the torture that’s being revealed and discussed nationally and internationally today, most of us just nod when the issue of child abuse is brought up in our country. Maybe we nod, maybe we shake our heads, maybe we just move on to something else, maybe we talk about it with emotion and then move on … allowing it to continue. Many of my colleagues and I have experienced the nod of Child Protective Services when we reported child abuse (as we are required to by law.) We had to report it, and we should never use failure to take action on the part of CPS as an excuse not to report it. But the nod has come in many forms, thus allowing the abuse to continue:  often in the form of their saying they know – albeit perhaps in some kind of “coded message” – but they aren’t able to do anything about it; frequently in the form of their missing it completely, as though they were totally blind.

Too frequently in our society, child abuse is denied. It is normalized. It is masked over as ‘needed parenting’ or ‘needed discipline.’ It is rationalized and justified. The pretense that there is no child abuse individually, familially, culturally, is immense. I was shocked to read how the United States compares to other countries on what is actually legal child abuse – meaning on the lack of laws truly prohibiting child abuse in our country.*  For example … I have read that in some states, you can hit a child, but only with your open hand. Or you can hit a child, but can’t leave a bruise. Or you can hit a child, but as long as it’s legally considered to be “reasonable force” and “non-excessive corporal punishment.”

So back to the nod … Yes, most of us nod knowingly because someplace within us – even if we don’t want to know – most of us know that child abuse is an infection that festers in our lives and the life of our country … and world. Child abuse as torture, and then domestic violence as torture, and more. The examples of this that we see in the media are just the very surface layer of a deeper infection.

And as abused children grow up, they, in turn, often abuse their children. And if not their children, someone else in their lives. Their partners. Their employees. Their neighbors. Children in a school. People in a movie theater or mall. On and on … including, often themselves.

People don’t only start torturing once they’re in the military. They don’t only begin torturing once they’re in government. They don’t only start torturing as adults. It is deeply related to their own experiences of torture in some form as children … whether it was physical, mental, emotional, energetic, or spiritual torture.

People are looking at the torture issue through many lenses. Here’s one lens we must look at the issue through or we will never truly resolve it in our country …  we will just continue to be complicit and collude with it, in order not to experience our own memories, our own pain, our own torture and the consequences of it in our lives.

Here’s an opening we must look through and resolve within ourselves. Or we will never resolve it in our country or our world.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment_in_the_home#United_States
Note: Although some countries have banned this form of child abuse, it is lawful in Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, The United Kingdom, The United States.


© Judith Barr, 2014

WHAT HAVEN’T WE LEARNED SINCE THE ORIGINAL 9/11?

Today is 9/11. It’s been 13 years since that tragic, shocking, scary, painful day. And today there are many other tragic, shocking, scary, painful things happening all over our world. What have we learned since the original 9/11? Or even more important, what haven’t we learned?

My heart breaks when I look at what we haven’t learned, for I see we haven’t learned what we need to most learn in order to create our lives individually and communally for the long term. My heart breaks when I see that not only have we not learned but we are blind and deaf to the reality that we have shut ourselves down and buried once again the emotional memory of things in our past. We’ve done that individually and communally. And once we bury our own experiences and feelings – whether personal or societal – we are bound to repeat those painful events in some way, shape, or form. A well-known quote by George Santayana says it in part: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In my field of depth psychotherapy, we understand it even more deeply.  If we are afraid to feel the feelings attached to the memories we buried long ago, usually in childhood, we will live our lives working hard unconsciously to hold those feelings at bay and keep from ever experiencing those feelings again; but those very efforts will drive our lives, and the feelings beneath will haunt us, causing us to somehow  re-enact what we’ve buried in order to bring it back into our awareness so we can heal it. Heal it, not “fix” it. Heal it to the root.

The re-enactment is something we create beneath our awareness.

A baby’s mother yells at him when he asks for what he needs – by crying. He grows up and most likely without realizing it, he draws women to him who do the same; when he tells them what he needs, they get irritated with him, angry at him, humiliate him or some version of what his mother did. A woman’s father threatens her when she doesn’t do exactly what he wants, telling her if she loved him enough to do it right, he wouldn’t have to threaten her. Beneath her awareness, she grows up and chooses partners who abuse her in some way and blame her for their abusiveness.

These are two blatant examples of re-enactments. They are blatant to me. They may well be blatant to those witnessing these people carrying out their re-enactments. But the people in the re-enactments are not even aware of it. They are repeating the vicious cycle they began as children. Each time a person re-creates that original experience in a re-enactment, he proves to himself whatever he decided about himself, others, and life in the core experience. And that’s why people call it a vicious cycle. But also, each time the re-enactment occurs, it is the deep wound that haunts the person calling to her to heal.  If people don’t know it’s a call to healing, they might just believe they will “be there forever and never get out”… also part of the vicious cycle they felt as a child in their home, with their family.

If people do this individually, just imagine the collective impact on a society in which most of its people bury their feelings and their memories and strive to never experience them again, and aren’t aware of it. Imagine the impact on the society. Collectively then, the society will create re-enactments of its own life, its own history … whether that society is a country or a world.

So, in brief, burying the feelings … deadens us to the life of our emotions. The deadening causes re-enactments. Think about Nazi Germany about 70 years ago, where leaders started calling Germany “the homeland.” How many people in any society the world over do not cringe when they hear the leaders in the US say the words “the homeland”? How many in the US itself don’t cringe? Have they forgotten? Have they deadened themselves? And what about the consequence for those who weren’t here then, those who have forgotten and deadened, and those who haven’t made sure those who came after knew about the experience?

On top of a child’s reflex to bury and shut down feelings and memories, to be worked with and healed at a later time, we have people who don’t want to work with the feelings and memories. We have people who, thinking they can just be happy, don’t want to feel the pain and will do anything to keep from feeling the pain. They’ll drink, drug, have sex, work, fight, and more … they’ll become addicted to anything that might stave off the pain, for awhile.  Then the pharmaceutical companies come in and take advantage of that. What might have once been a positive intention to help those who were suffering while they could heal, in a big way turned into a means of making money off people’s suffering. The insurance companies, which also once may have had a positive intention, then jump on the bandwagon … and now you have people who believe they are alive and vital but are actually numbed and deadened to still-buried feelings which drive them and their lives beneath their awareness. People who now are like automatons … easy prey to be dominated by leaders who want to rule because of their own childhood wounds … and who, at least in the beginning, do so subtly.

Alice Miller wrote brilliantly about all of this. In her book, For Your Own Good, and in other writings, she wrote about Hitler and Nazi Germany and the roots of how that re-enactment occurred – not just Hitler’s part but also the part of the German people. In her work toward healing child abuse, she acknowledged that parents’ abuse comes out of their own childhood abuse; and that the abuse of their children won’t stop till the parents do their own healing … which they stay away from because they’re afraid of their own buried feelings and memories.  She also wrote in The Drama of the Gifted Child,* “The true opposite of depression is not gaiety or absence of pain, but vitality: the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings.**  It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings also can display the whole scale of human experience, including, but not limited to, envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and mourning. But this freedom cannot be achieved if the childhood roots are cut off.”

Jeff Bridge’s new movie The Giver, based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 book of the same name, offers us a picture of a lot of what I’m talking about … It shows us a society that has cut off its memories and feelings and is supposedly happy, one in which this is done to people without their knowing, and one in which other destructive things are done under a guise. (I don’t want to say any more. Just when you see the movie, I hope you will look at it through the lens of what I’m offering in this post.)

So here we are on 9/11 … needing to learn in order to reclaim our real selves, our real society and world, our real possibilities and potentials.

Would we rather experience the pain and loss and fear that once occurred in our lives and still lives inside us? Or would we rather re-create and re-enact those things in our lives today and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that, creating more pain and loss and fear for ourselves and each other? And if we choose to keep re-creating and re-enacting, when the re-enactments once again bring those feelings up to feel and heal the root experiences … will we then say “yes” to the healing or will we choose to keep re-creating and re-enacting?

The sad truth is … most people prefer to avoid the original pain and create it again and again, not knowing their part in what is occurring in the present and will occur in the future. Not knowing the cause and effect relationship between the two. Not knowing how they have created or co-created what is occurring now and what will occur if they don’t ever know. But if you’ve read this far … now you do know. You may need to know more and understand more and experience more. But now you do know.

So now it’s time to know this also …

The hopeful truth is … feeling the original feelings and working through the original pain will steadily move us toward ending the re-enactments, both the personal and the societal ones. The hopeful truth is … knowing, remembering, feeling – not acting out on the feelings, but feeling them – and healing the deep and buried wounds to the root … will change our world and our universe. I have had the honor to have seen and help it change people’s lives. I have seen it change people’s families. I have seen it change people’s businesses. We can change our world from the inside out in this way. As long as there are painful experiences inside us that despite our burying them are driving our lives … trying on the surface won’t work long term. It may make temporary changes … like bandaids and medication … but the underlying feelings and memories will pop out again … in the re-enactments.

This is what we haven’t learned from 9/11 … and many other tragic, shocking, painful, scary, events. It breaks my heart to know this and to know how to help people in this process, and to see so very many people refusing to say ‘yes’ to the remembering, the feeling, the real healing to the root. It breaks my heart to know that when people say “no” to going through the process of feeling the pain alive within them, they say “no” to going through passageways that could lead them to real aliveness, real vitality, real presence in the current moment, and real hope.

My prayer as I write this to each of you who reads it …is that it will help you choose to work to change your re-enacting in your personal life, choose to participate in healing to the root, choose in this way to help in re-weaving the fabric of your life individually and of our lives communally.

Everything depends upon our healing to the root!

*****

* p 57, © 1981, from release as Prisoners of Childhood:  The Drama of the Gifted Child and the Search for the True Self

** She’s not encouraging people to act out or act on these feelings, simply to feel them.

© Judith Barr, 2014

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP MAKE OUR WORLD SAFE
FROM THE INSIDE OUT

As we experience this “13 year anniversary” of the September 11 terrorist attacks, let’s look at the ways in which our re-enacting of our childhood wounds and experiences affect our lives…the lives of our loved ones … the life of our country … and the life of our world.

Remember, if you can, what was evoked for you on the original September 11th. Remember what was triggered on the anniversaries between then and now. What is evoked for you today?

Can you identify what feelings you have had and have today that are familiar? Can you identify how those feelings are familiar from your childhood?  Can you identify how your responses today are similar to those in childhood?  Or how your responses now are the opposite of what you felt safe to feel as a child, even if it’s safe now to feel them and not act on them?

Part of discovering and re-discovering our feelings is to learn how to discern which feelings are from long ago calling to be felt as part of the healing, and which are today’s feelings calling to be felt and perhaps also expressed and acted upon.  It’s all part of a process of rediscovery and learning that helps us grow strong enough and wise enough to hold it all and feel it all safely.

As you go about your life – on each September 11 and all year – are there times when you have feelings that seem familiar from long ago … feelings that act as clues to times when you are re-enacting some painful experience from your childhood? Ask yourself: when did I have these feelings? Who or what in my long-ago life were these feelings in response to? And is the situation I experienced back then similar to what I’m living now?  Perhaps not blatantly but where might there be some kind of similarity in today’s experience that evokes for me the original one(s)? And … are there things in my past that seem too painful to remember? Am I defending against remembering, feeling, and healing those memories?

Commit to find and heal the root of those unconscious feelings so you can make the commitment to not re-enact painful destructive situations.

And I encourage you to read Alice Miller’s writings about the relationship between our individual wounds and our generational wounds and our global wounds …and the re-enactments that continue to create more wounding. I encourage you to read also my blog, PoliPsych, on the same topic.  Every post reveals this in some way. And I encourage you to go see The Giver, and to watch it at least once through the lens of this post.

There is so much to be learned about ourselves and our world from the roots of tragic events like 9/11, if we’re open and willing to learn, and if we’re open and willing to truly heal to the root, each and every one of us. And this healing is crucial for us if we are to help create sustainable healing, thriving, and safety in our world.

12 YEARS LATER . . .

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
HOW HAVE WE GROWN?
HOW HAVE WE HEALED?

It’s almost a dozen years since the terror attacks of 9/11. And here we are in a painfully similar moment and stance as we were that day and then developing after that.

What have we learned? Are we still acting in the outer world without making any real changes in our inner world? Do we respond with kindness and compassion in tragedies like tornadoes, floods, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Sandy Hook shooting, but fail to respond with kindness in our own back yards and at home? Do we respond with kindness and compassion in the aftermath of disasters, but find ourselves unable to sustain it? And in the absence of the sustaining, return to our prejudices and hatreds and fears of people who are different from us – people whose skin is different, whose religion is different, whose way of being is different? Do we take action against them? Speak out against them? Judge them aloud or silently? Are we aware we are judging them, or do we just believe we are saying, thinking, or feeling the truth about them?  Or more subtle still, do we believe we are continuing to be kind and compassionate and yet have currents of thoughts and feelings deep within us – beneath our awareness – that are the opposite of that, or shades of cruelty and unfeeling?

Do we respond with kindness and compassion in the world outside our home, but at home act – however consciously or unconsciously – with cruelty, mean spiritedness, and closed heartedness?  Do we demean our partners? Ridicule them? Shame them? Do we judge them? Do we yell at them? Do we strike out at them – mentally, emotionally, or physically? Are we so unconscious that we believe we are justified? Do we treat our children the same way – however blatantly or subtly – and again believe we are justified? Have the right?

Do we have any idea at all when we are being triggered?  When our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are evoked by something in the current day … but our reactions are not current day. They are the reactions we had and developed long, long ago in childhood when we were hurt, wounded, or even traumatized.

Do we realize when that happens – when we are triggered – it is the child still alive deep within us that is reacting with the power of the body, the physical strength, the mind, the personality of an adult?  Do we have any real understanding of what this means?  Do we really comprehend that in crucial moments we are making decisions and acting on the thoughts, feelings, and early decisions of a child — not those of the adult we believe we are? That the child still alive within us is driving the show…in the most critical times in our life?

If you don’t realize this…
If you don’t take this seriously…
If you don’t find a way to understand this…
If you don’t explore this for yourself, within yourself, in your own life…
you will not only continue to feed what is getting repeated in your personal outer world…
you will also continue to re-create and re-enact it instead of resolving it.
And in addition…
You will also continue to feed what is getting repeated in our communal outer world…
You will also continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution in our outer world.

*****

To get a clearer sense of what I’m describing … read on. The example will be blatant to help make the impact more easily understandable. But the same dynamics apply however blatant or subtle.

Imagine you are a child. You live in a family with a mother and father and a couple  siblings. Your mother yells at you and even hits you from your earliest years. Your father demeans you, ridicules you, and leaves you on your own to figure things out for yourself. You feel hurt, angry, and scared … but don’t know what to do to protect yourself. You bury your feelings. You disconnect your own awareness from the painful feelings. You start to find ways to react that you hope will keep you safe from more hurt and pain. Taking care of Mom and Dad. Trying to please them no matter what. Repressing your emotional self, becoming really “logical,” and using your mind to defend yourself. One of your siblings cries in response to your parents’ painful treatment. One of them becomes tough and angry and lashes out. You become very logical and have contempt for both of them for being unable to “control themselves.”

You grow up and “fall in love.” You go from partner to partner, then marriage to marriage … each time ending up with a partner who has some combination of the traits of your mother, father, and siblings.  If your partner cries in response to being hurt, you react with contempt … as a way to defend yourself against your own hurt – not just your here and now hurt with your partner but also your deeply buried hurts in childhood. If your partner acts tough and angry and lashes out, you come back with contempt and logic. If your partner yells at or hits you … you use your logical mind to try to calm your partner down … or perhaps some of your deeply buried anger comes flying out, out of control, in spite of your efforts to keep it buried. But most of the anger that explodes is the anger from Mommy’s hitting you and Daddy’s demeaning you many years past … deeply buried and hidden anger that has been triggered by your partner’s hitting you.

When this happens, instead of reacting and firing your anger on your partner, you need to take this clue for healing and go find someone to help you do the therapy to heal this.  Without the therapy to truly heal this – at its roots – you will continue to find partners like this … and have no idea why you are recreating the same thing over and over and over again. Without real depth therapy, you may stay with your partner and co-create the same scenario many times over. Or you may leave your current partner and find another, only to be shocked when you discover you’ve picked yet one more partner like Mom.

Again, if you do not resolve the pain at its source long ago, you will re-create it again and again in your life ahead.

If this is true for individuals, then it is also true for communities, countries, our world. That is why we keep coming back to the same places again and again.

That’s why, for example, we still have domestic violence, and it is normalized by many in the public and certainly by parts of the law. We can’t end domestic violence by only doing things on the outside; we have to do the inner healing work.  That’s why we still have rape, and so much of it. We can’t legislate rape away. We can only create consequences for it. To end rape we have to do the inner healing work. That’s why we can’t end the inequities and tragedies in relation to money only on the outside, only with outer actions. We have to do the inner healing work.  And that’s why we can’t end war only in the outer world.  We also can’t end it only with our longing.

Ironically, John Kerry said something similar but unfortunately stopped there.

We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war – believe me, I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for action against Syria

He is accurate.  We can’t end war simply by longing for it. John Kerry would have us take action. And sometimes, in some circumstances, we do need to take action.  But the truth is: We can’t end war simply by taking action. Simply by longing for it. We have to do the inner healing work to back up the longing, to make fulfilling the peace we long for truly possible – from the inside out.

We can’t end war simply by letting our longing lead us to praying for it. We can’t end war simply by pretending to ourselves (and others) we are at peace within.  We can’t end war simply by once again pushing our own inner conflicts and wars back down into the underground, burying them once again.  In order to truly end war … we absolutely must do the inner healing work. The inner work to discover and explore the conflicts and wars within us and to resolve them within … on the deepest levels of our being.

Otherwise we will find ourselves individually and communally creating the same circumstances over and over and over and over again … till at long last, after experiencing the painful consequences time after time, we will have no choice but to do the inner healing work.

© Judith Barr, 2013

****

WHAT YOU CAN DO
TO HELP MAKE YOUR AND OUR WORLD SAFE …
FROM THE INSIDE OUT

It has been 12 years since the tragedy of September 11, 2001… and we all, individually and communally, need to ask ourselves: what indeed have we learned?

You can greatly help heal all arenas of our world – from the national and world stage, down to your own individual life – by doing the inner exploration and healing we each need to do as we go about our day. Start by asking yourself:

What have I buried?
What have I become unconscious of?
What triggers me?  And can I trace back the feelings I have when I’m triggered to some specific times in my early life?
What have I created over and over again in my life and in the lives of those around me?
What have I learned? How have I grown? How have I healed?

I invite you to share with me the fruits of your exploration at this crucial time in our lives and in our world.

Imagine what our lives would be like, if we all did this inner exploration! Imagine what our communities … our country … our world would be like!