Changing Things From The Inside Out: The Bankruptcy Is Within

It’s 2013. There is so much in our world that is distressing and frightening in these times. And we keep trying to fix it all by doing things out there in the world!  But no matter how hard we try, even if we seem to succeed – for a while – the changes we make in the outer world unravel and threaten to return to the way they were, or worse.

We’re not looking at what’s happening through a big enough lens. We’re not looking at what’s happening through enough dimensions . . . our view is so limited. To put it simply . . . We’re not seeing the big picture. We’re not seeing the whole picture.

We’re not looking far enough. We’re not looking close enough. We’re not looking wide enough. We’re not looking deep enough.  Stay with me to really understand.

As a depth psychotherapist, when I work with an individual person, (I use the masculine pronoun here to simplify, though it applies to both men and women) we look at what has happened in his life that has affected not only his outer world but also his inner world – the world of mind, heart, and soul. We look at how he reflexively protected himself against the pain of the distress or even trauma he suffered. We look at how the originally involuntary protections took hold and became defenses, hardening as time went on and eventually splitting off from their original intentions – first protection against what for a child was unbearable suffering, and later defenses against the pain that was still alive within that child.  We look at inner defenses and outer defenses. And we look at how those defenses created problems that a child couldn’t possibly foresee . . . including distortedly proving to that person what he originally decided about himself, others, and life in response to the original painful events. We look at the vicious cycle all of that sets up for the person’s life, both in his inner world and his outer world.  And the illusion that he and others believe as he grows into what we think of as an adult – a person in a big body with the child still alive within. We also look at how that vicious cycle in his life affects those around him – both up close and personal and also not so close. And, of course, we look at, talk about, and help him truly enter into the deep healing that is possible for him.

That’s a lot to take in and digest in one paragraph. Let me give you an example.

Joe is a 43-year old businessman. He’s married and has two sons, one 6 and the other 12.  He has a wife who loves him, but can’t tolerate his walls, his outbursts, or the power struggles she witnesses and experiences with him.

As a tiny baby, Joe had colic that went on for far too long.  He cried in pain too much of each day. His mother was, herself, distressed that she could not soothe him. Eventually at some point in the day she would put him in his crib, leave the room, closing the door behind her and turning up the volume on the music or T.V. to drown out his crying. His crying would change again and again from that of a hungry, wet baby needing to be responded to, held and loved, to that of a baby with a tummy in pain, to cries of frustration and finally rage at being left alone, hurting, uncomforted, unaided, till he cried himself to sleep. When he awakened, the cycle began again. Mom and Joe pretty much lived in the house without much exposure to the outside world until Joe grew out of the colic. So the only other person who would see this cycle was Joe’s dad. When his father was home, sometimes his father would become so triggered by Joe’s inconsolability and ceaseless crying, that he would throw Joe into the crib yelling at him and leave the room, slamming the door behind him . . . sometimes off its hinges.

Joe did eventually, thank goodness, grow out of the colic, and there was so much less crying. By comparison, almost none.

But when Joe did cry, even as an older baby, even as a toddler, even as a little boy . . . both mom and dad had reactions.  What was triggered in them when he was a baby, was again and again activated by the slightest sign of crying, as if it were a hair trigger. Joe learned to suppress and then completely turn off his crying. He learned to keep his chin from quivering. He learned to keep his eyes dry – no tears. He learned not to do the things that would cause his parents to react in ways that might hurt him enough to cry . . . or if they did, he would either pretend they weren’t hurting him or count the seconds until their verbal lashings or spankings were over. One day he told his sister that he made it through 5 whole minutes without shedding a tear or even wincing.  From his once vulnerable, powerless state as a baby, he had grown defenses that made him feel like the powerful one; he had become contemptuous, proud of his strength, and determined to show his strength whenever he wanted.  He had decided:  I’ll never be powerless again; those monsters’ll be sorry they ever hurt me; and life is a long wait till you get ‘em back. Only no one knew he’d made those decisions, nor that he was busy re-deciding them, even in his dreams and fantasies . . . not even Joe himself.

Yet unconsciously, just like the rest of us, he re-enacted his earlier experiences again and again, transferring his parents and his experiences with them onto other people and his experiences with these people – like his teachers, his boy scout leader, his coaches, his minister. And every time someone hurt him, he hid the signs of the pain – even from himself – and instead acted strong and felt contempt for them that they had to hurt other people. But one day, when he was 12, his minister lashed out at him. Joe saw red and lashed back, this time physically, giving his minister a bloody nose. Joe’s father had a fit about what his son had done and hit Joe so hard he had black and blue marks. Joe took his defensive position with his father and decided again the same decisions he’d decided earlier in his life, this time more specifically personalized to his dad:  I’ll never be powerless again; you’ll be sorry you ever hurt me, you horrible monster; and life’ll be a long wait till I get you back.

In essence, Joe had run through a whole vicious cycle or maze, as I call it.

He’d gone from being powerless with the minister; he’d come to the end of the long wait till he could “get him back” and made the minister-monster sorry, only to be powerless with his father once again and reinforce those decisions for himself all over again. Joe’s classmates cheered him on for decking the minister (which they were afraid to do); they empathized with him for the bruises his father left on him; and secretly they were afraid of him. Somewhat consciously and somewhat beneath his awareness, Joe felt this combination, especially the fear, gave him a lot of power with them: he could turn them into monsters and get them back at any time, too. They knew their fear meant he had a lot of power with them, and did their best not to antagonize him.

But Joe’s father was oblivious. He had no fear of Joe, no inkling Joe was waiting to get him back, and not the slightest awareness that one day Joe would beat him up at the slightest provocation . . . when Joe’s own son was 12. Joe’s twelve year old son hadn’t a clue that his father would yell at him for what seemed like hours on his 12th birthday. And his business partners couldn’t even imagine the potential of the same occurring at work with one of them on that very day.  No one understood the trigger that age 12 had become for Joe.

Do you see how the cycle works and affects everyone? What occurred in Joe’s childhood, so early he didn’t remember it consciously, affected his life and everyone in it . . .

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Now let’s take a big step. There are many, many, many more people in our country than most people can imagine . . . who experience trauma in the form of some kind of abuse.* There are many more than most can imagine – both children and adults. Many more than most want to imagine. Many more than most want to know.  But we need to know. Because these people are not just the guy or gal across the world, across the country, or across town. They are the guy and gal across the street and next door. They are also us, right in our own homes, right in our own lives.

Some of them know they have been or are being abused. I’ve known people, even therapists, who are glad they were hit every day of their childhood . . . because compared to some of their patients who were more subtly humiliated and otherwise emotionally battered, they knew they were being abused. I’ve known others who were so glad they weren’t hit and used that as a defense to prove to themselves they weren’t abused, hiding from their own awareness the more subtle – but equally damaging – forms of abuse they experienced.

So again . . . if we weren’t in denial, we would find there are many more people in our country who have been abused and experienced in that abuse some form of violence. They are people who have buried their memories and their feelings, built defenses against the pain, made decisions about themselves others and life, and are haunted by all of this. They’re haunted by the buried memories, the buried feelings, the defenses they spend their energy keeping strong to hold the memories and feelings at bay . . . and the thing they’re unconsciously waiting to have happen as each cycle comes to a close.

This makes the possibility of abuse and violence acted out physically much more likely than most want to know. But it also increases the likelihood of our unconscious support of violence, a support that ends up as acting out violence and feeds the violence amongst us. For example . . . sports like football and boxing during which fans cheer the violence on; movies and T.V programs that are filled with violence, during which many cheer the violence aloud or secretly get off on the violence; there are those who disparage the paparazzi, yet it is our population who reads the “rags”; many decry human trafficking, yet it is our citizens who buy the humans and use them for sex; the whole political campaign season we just went through was violent in its own right – from lies to verbal attacks and more; not to mention the wars we are waging, often under the guise of laws, righteousness, patriotism, and “helping others”; the violence that’s been done to our economic system; and now after the Sandy Hook tragedy, mental health is in the spotlight – but mental health as a bankrupt system, without the necessary leadership, tools, support, and means with which to truly bring about the healing needed . . . all through society, all over the world.

Here’s where the larger picture really needs to be seen.  .  . or we will never work our way through the painful crossroads we’re at. If Joe, as I described him to you, were to be in serious financial debt and even go bankrupt, I, as his therapist, would not only work with him on the issues on the here and now practical level, recommending he talk with an accountant and/or a financial planner, and working with him on his relationship with money . . . I would also work with him on the debt within himself. I would work with him on the bankruptcy I have described to you above. I would help him acknowledge the bankruptcy within and heal it debt by debt by debt.  I would help him become conscious of his early decisions about himself, others, and life. I would help him both utilize them to access his early memories and feelings and heal them so he isn’t driven by them in his life in the future. I would help him build his capacity to feel the feelings he has been defending against.  I would assist him as he transforms the use of his energy to defend against his early experiences and feelings into a use of his energy and other inner resources for constructive, creative possibilities in his future.  It will be crucial that he does all this, beginning with acknowledging the inner bankruptcy, in order to resolve things from the inside out. He cannot simply fix the outer bankruptcy and stop there . . . it will just occur and recur again and again till the inner bankruptcy is acknowledged and healed.

And this is true of our society, too. What happens within individuals, happens also within societies.  What happens within individuals, happens within the society of the family, the community, the business world, the country, and the global society, as well. You can see it in the example of Joe above. And you can see it in our society today.  While our Congress purports to be trying to help us at the edge of a fiscal cliff, too many of its members are revealing their individual inner bankruptcies and our country’s inner bankruptcy. While our country purports to be fighting against violence, it is acting out its inner bankruptcy of violence right and left. While our country purports to value women and want to keep them safe, the inner bankruptcy of our relationship to woman and the feminine reveals itself in both male and female leaders and citizens every day.

It’s 2013.  It’s time to look at the big picture. It’s time to look up close – at ourselves individually and communally. It’s time to look to the depths – within ourselves and our national and global communities.  It’s time to see the bankruptcy that has been revealed both financially and in other areas of our lives.

It’s time to see the inner bankruptcy from which the outer bankruptcy has been created. It’s time to go to the root and heal this within ourselves and our society – from the inside out.

Each one of us who does that in ourselves, helps not only ourselves but also our society.  You can’t just work to heal societal inner bankruptcy and neglect your own.  It may not be obvious to you, but from my breadth and depth of experience . . . I’m quite sure there is some aspect of inner bankruptcy within us all. Where will you start? What will you do to heal your own inner bankruptcy and our global one as well?

It’s 2013. It is time to begin reweaving the underlying fabric of our society. It is the time of healing from the root, from the inside out . . . within each of us and all over our precious world.

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* Today I’m using the violence facet of the big picture – I could use any side to help us see the relationship between the inner and its outpicturing in the world outside. To help us see the relationship between the inner in the individual and society and the outer for the individual and society. The grief side, for example. It’s less than a month after the violence at Sandy Hook. The grief is tremendous. But instead of grieving, which would help us turn within . . . we’re fighting. About guns. About violence. About the mentally ill. About the fiscal cliff. About who’s right and who’s wrong. And instead of grieving, we’re pushing ourselves and those who have lost so much to get back to normal, albeit perhaps, another new normal. To let go of grief. To not weep for those who are in a better place. All showing our inner bankruptcies, personal and communal. Our fear of grieving and the resulting layers and layers of grief within us just waiting to be triggered.

After 9/11 instead of grieving, we began fighting. We went to war. We declared we were the axis of good and others the axis of evil. A sign of our inner bankruptcy. When the tragedy occurred in Norway, I wrote a public letter and urged them not to make the same mistake we made. . . not to let the grief ungrieved create still more events that would cause yet more grief. Are we really going to make the same mistake again? Or are we going to heal the inner bankruptcy now?

To learn more, you can read these articles at my Huffington Post blog:
An Open Letter to Norway… Don’t Make the Mistake We Made at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-barr/an-open-letter-to-norway-_b_911739.html

Help Your Family and You Through 9/11 Anniversary and Terror Threats at
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-barr/911-anniversary_b_956015.html

and these articles on my blog, PoliPsych:
Healing Clues in the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook Tragedy – in Newtown and All Over The World – The Clue Of Grief at
http://judithbarr.com/2012/12/17/healing-clues-in-the-aftermath-of-the-sandy-hook-tragedy-in-newtown-and-all-over-the-world-the-clue-of-grief/.

Healing Clues in the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook Tragedy – in Newtown and All Over The World – The Clue Of Safety at
http://judithbarr.com/2012/12/18/healing-clues-in-the-aftermath-of-the-sandy-hook-tragedy-in-newtown-and-all-over-the-world-the-clue-of-safety/.

© Judith Barr, 2013.

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

This year, make a true commitment to explore, find, and heal the bankruptcy within you . . . as one aspect of doing your part to help reweave the fabric of our society and our world. And as part of healing the bankruptcy within, make a commitment to explore the feelings that arise as you go about your day, tracing those feelings back to their roots in your early life,

And this year, make a true commitment to help bring this message to others in your world – the message of change from the roots, from the inside out.

If you feel called, pass this post on to those in your life you feel would be open and ready to receive the message. It might inform them, inspire them, intrigue them, or simply plant seeds in them. It might help them. It might help someone they know. It might start a dialogue between them and you that would, perhaps, not otherwise have begun.

We can all work together to heal our world, fully and sustainably – from the inside out — if we can commit to doing the inner work we all need to do to help create true and lasting change.

The Tragedy in Norway – An Escape Hatch in Action

Violence in our world is multiplying. It’s painful to read about, think about, feel. But if we turn away, instead of really resolving the problem, we feed the escalation.

Last week in Norway, we witnessed frightening, painful attacks. Anders Breivik killed and injured people in downtown Oslo and gunned down teenagers at a nearby camp. The consequences of this tragedy in the present day are huge and deep. Many want to simply blame and punish Anders Breivik. Although he must be held accountable, blame and punishment won’t bring real healing to the individuals affected, the town of Oslo, Norway, or our world. In addition to the present reality, Anders Breivik was almost certainly acting out ‘escape hatches’ developed in his psyche in childhood.

If you were at the point where you felt so much – sorrow, hurt, anger, fear – you thought you couldn’t bear it . . . what would you do? When I ask people this question, we discover their escape hatches.

As children, when we are traumatized, we instinctively protect ourselves, doing whatever we can to get away from the pain. We numb ourselves, close our hearts, deaden our bodies, strike out aimlessly . . . even before we have mental concepts or words. When thoughts and words become available, they are added to these responses – decisions we make about ourselves, others, life, and about how to escape suffering. Among these decisions: I’m leaving – running away. I want to die – kill myself. I could kill you – attack the other. I’ll go crazy!

With time, actions are too often joined to the feelings, concepts, and words . . . usually unconsciously. What was once vital self protection, now becomes a defense – hard, brittle, and even destructive – and typically ends up creating the very thing we intended it to defend us against. Think about it: All of the above decisions created to escape suffering end up creating suffering.

What if you’re a child who spends your first year with parents in conflict – openly or beneath the surface. Then, they divorce, your father leaves but begins a custody battle to take you away from your mother. The tension, split, abandonment, custody fight, create so much suffering for you. You feel you can’t bear it. You decide unconsciously: Someday I’ll get back at them and make them suffer like they’ve made me suffer. You’re bullied and abandoned in later childhood, and you make the same decision again.

You spend your early years being outwardly compliant, but as you grow you become rebellious. Eventually, perhaps unaware you’re fulfilling your early decision to make them suffer, you make an actual plan for revenge – not on your parents, rather on parent substitutes . . . current leaders and future authorities being trained for leadership. Eventually you enact your plan, conceived as a defense against pain, an escape from suffering many years ago early in your life.

Hearing the news, your mother ‘escapes’ and hides out, and your father tells the media you should’ve killed yourself to save him shame. Whether you know their reactions or not, they’re showing the whole world what you grew up with: Your mother would escape and hide out; to escape from his own feelings of shame, dad would have you kill yourself. How tragically painful!

So, unconsciously, adults act on these young, raw, primal feelings. The example above is actually a compilation of details from the life of Anders Breivik, woven together by my understanding of how we try to escape suffering from our earliest time.

Escape hatches aren’t just true of Anders Breivik. They’re part of being human, whether we want to know it or not. People are killing themselves and others – domestic violence, suicide bombings, school shootings, wars, and more. People are wreaking havoc on life . . . in fruitless efforts to escape their own suffering. Until taught, children don’t draw boundaries between feelings and actions. Sadly, many adults don’t either: not knowing they’re having young feelings, they act on their feelings like children . . . only with the force and power of an adult. Children still alive inside adults are running rampant through our world, under the guise of adults. Whatever their childhood wounds, decisions, and feelings, people act them out at the expense of us all.

These childhood decisions – conscious and unconscious – have more power to drive a person’s life and impact our world than most of us conceive.

Denying this won’t help our individual or communal situation. Hate or fear isn’t going to solve this. Punishment is no resolution. Nor is giving up and letting it happen. Responding by creating more suffering isn’t, and never should have been, an option.

We need to handle things in the present, but we also need to understand what’s happening under the surface within us, individually and collectively, and work to heal the way we respond to suffering.

If we don’t hide our heads in the sand, we can utilize our minds and hearts to help resolve the acting out of escape hatches in our individual lives and in the life of our world. It isn’t a quick fix process. But it’s well worth investing our time, energy, and commitments in this task. Here is a handful of things you personally can do to help, for starters . . .

  • Commit to find your own escape hatches. If we each find our own escape hatches, we are taking a first step in taking responsibility for our part in the problem.
  • Commit to not act on your escape hatches, even while you still think and feel about them. If we make acting on our escape hatches unacceptable to us, we give ourselves the task, the challenge, and the opportunity to heal to the root the long-ago pain that caused us to create the escape hatches.
  • Build your capacity to feel your pain, whether pain from the past or pain in the present day. If, instead of escaping, we are willing to feel the pain that existed and is still alive within us, as well as the pain that exists today . . . we will be able to prevent the creation of needless pain and suffering that would come from avoidance and escape of pain.
  • Help your children and the children in your life build their capacity to feel their pain. If we help our children feel their feelings as they come up, we give them an option other than escape hatches.
  • Be attuned to your children and the children in your life to sense if they have an escape hatch they need help with. We need to be very attuned and very sensitive here, but our children really need our help with this . . . and so does our world.
  • Be attuned to family, friends, colleagues in your life to sense if they have an escape hatch they need help with. This is also a very delicate matter, but you could make a real difference in a person’s life if you can help him/her not take destructive action to escape pain.
  • If you can’t do this on your own — and who can? — find a really good therapist who understands escape hatches and isn’t afraid of feelings.

Acting out our escape hatches can undermine our greatest possibilities and dreams and can create terrible destruction. Utilizing our awareness of our escape hatches well — on a thinking and feeling level — can open doorways to healing that most people have no conception of . . . yet.

© Judith Barr, 2011

AN OPEN LETTER TO NORWAY . . . DON’T MAKE THE MISTAKE WE MADE

I had been planning to write a post with the heart of the one below
in honor of September 11th, ten years later.
But after the tragedy in Norway on the 22nd, I know the time is now.

Dear citizens of Norway . . .

My heartfelt empathy is with you as you mourn the attacks – whatever the source – on your country, your people, your children, your democracy, your peace, your safety!

From my experience on and after September 11, 2001, and from being witness to the experiences of others at that time as well . . . I can just imagine what is going on within you in response.

Mourning is a very complicated process. Grief compounded by violence, all the more complex. You have a long road ahead of you. Please, I urge you, as you go through your mourning, do not make the same mistake we made. Not all of us. But most of us.

We only consciously grieved the events of the actual day of 9/11. We didn’t understand that when people experience grief in the present . . . it opens up all the grief they have not yet grieved from the past, even the grief that is no longer conscious. We didn’t understand that when people feel terror today, it opens up all the terror they have felt in their life, since the very beginning of their life. We didn’t understand that this is true of all our feelings. We certainly didn’t understand that this is true for all of us!

We didn’t understand that if a person doesn’t discern which grief is from the current day and which grief is from the past, and if a person doesn’t tease the here-and-now grief away from the grief-of-long-ago, and if a person doesn’t work through the grief at its origins . . . none of the grief will ever end. And the next experience of grief will just be added onto all the previous grief. We didn’t understand that the result is deep caverns within each of us and within us as a society – deep caverns of buried feelings filled to the brim, seeping out, and ready to explode.

We didn’t understand the reason we don’t feel our grief, our terror, our other feelings is that we are terrified of our own feelings, and as a result expend huge, limitless amounts of energy defending ourselves against those raw, vulnerable feelings . . . regardless of the consequences of our defending.

And we didn’t understand that we will use anything or do everything we can to defend ourselves against those feelings. To defend against our fear and grief, both current and especially ancient . . . we will numb ourselves; we will become enraged; we will lash out at people – even those closest to us, especially those closest to us, our partners and children; we will fight for causes – both justified and unjustified causes, without being able to distinguish the difference; we will torture others under the guise of goodness or rightness or self protection . . . yes! Self protection, which unfortunately has become a twisted guise for those misusing their power and authority . . . which unfortunately has been falsely used as a guise for defense – defense not against a real threat from the outside world, but rather – for defending ourselves against our own feelings, especially our own feelings from long, long ago.

Imagine thinking you are defending yourself against a real threat in the present day, when you are actually not! When you are actually defending yourself against the feelings you had in the face of a real threat when you were a little child. When you are actually defending yourself against the  feelings you had as a little child in the face of a threat that either felt like or truly was a life and death threat — perhaps a threat to your physical safety, or perhaps a threat to your mental and emotional safety.  Now imagine a whole society of people thinking we are defending ourselves against a real threat in the present day, when we are actually not! When we are actually defending ourselves against the feelings we had individually, each of us in our own childhoods, in the face of a threat way back then.  Imagine our all acting out to defend ourselves against the feelings and memories of what happened back then, as though it were what is happening now. That is exactly what we did, and are doing to this day.

How many wars are we fighting under the guise of defense! In order to defend ourselves against our own feelings?!? We’ve been fighting, are still fighting, are actively fighting, are on the verge of fighting . . . a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, a war in Libya, a war on drugs, a war on poverty, a war on recession, a war on debt (not yet named as such). All of these wars are defenses . . . not against what they purport to be against, but against our own feelings. And the war on terror takes the cake!

While focusing all our energy, effort, awareness on fighting and defending against the things that create terror in us today – bombings, killings, recessions, and more – we are really making war on our terror from long ago that we have buried and that drives us blindly in our lives today, the terror that is triggered or evoked by the terror of today.

I worked with many people after 9/11 on the intense, raw, ancient terror that was unconsciously interwoven with their 2001 terror about the attacks. As the people discovered and began to work with the long-ago terror from their childhoods, they were better able to tease the young terror away from the adult terror. They were better able to see what was happening in 2001, decide how to make conscious, responsible safe choices for their lives in 2001, and also know when their child fears were evoked, what to do with them and how to work with them.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example . . . Milt was afraid of his father, who threatened and hit Milt’s mother, and who threatened Milt from very young. Milt was always waiting, wondering, not knowing when his father would threaten or attack. Milt was constantly terrified, beneath whatever else was going on in his young life. On 9/11 a lot of that young terror starting pouring forth into his consciousness. But Milt didn’t know it was the terror from his childhood. He thought it was just the terror of 9/11 and the future.

Until he began to work with a therapist to feel and work through the terror of his father, he couldn’t assess much of the present day danger or safety with any accuracy or even clear headedness. As Milt did his work with his childhood terror, he was more and more able to discern in the present day. He knew very clearly that it was not a good idea for us to be giving up our civil rights to defend ourselves in 2001! He knew it wasn’t a good idea period. And he knew it wasn’t a good idea to give up civil rights in 2001 because of terror from years long past that was still alive inside us today. He knew this about our civil rights, our power in relation to those who govern us, our relationship with money, and more . . . After working diligently and committedly on his terror from his childhood, he concluded from his own experience “if only everyone would do this work within themselves . . . our country wouldn’t be going down a path that is so destructive to itself, its citizens, and our world!” Of course, I agree with him.

Citizens of Norway . . . I urge you not to make the same huge mistakes we have made. Get the help to tease apart today’s terror and grief from that still alive within you from long, long ago. If there is some way I can help . . . it would be my deep honor.

© Judith Barr, 2011.