WHAT IS THE REAL CATASTROPHE?

We hear the word catastrophe a lot these days. In the news. In the mental health arena. In the therapy room. In relation to all arenas of life. According to different sources, what’s happening to our climate is a catastrophe. What’s happening to our earth is a catastrophe. What’s happening to people who have lost their jobs and are unable to support themselves and their families financially is a catastrophe. What’s happening to people who will be unable to have adequate healthcare is a catastrophe. What’s happening to people whose homes have been threatened and/or destroyed is a catastrophe. What’s happening to people whose lives in their country are being threatened is a catastrophe. What’s happening to the truth and integrity of our country and our world is a catastrophe. What’s happening to the leadership in our country and our world is a catastrophe.

I could go on and on and on. But I won’t. Each of these is, indeed, a catastrophe in its own right. Each of these is a catastrophe in the current time – 2017.  Step one in responding to a catastrophe in the here and now is to validate it, have compassion for the person experiencing it, and find what actually needs to be done in the here and now.

But there is more to it than this. And given the presence of catastrophes in today’s world, it’s curious, even odd that many people in the mental health world teach their clients not to “catastrophize.”  They are trying to help their clients calm themselves. They are trying to teach their clients that thinking about catastrophic outcomes will upset them unnecessarily. They believe that is a good thing to teach. It might be helpful for a client to have the word “catastrophe.”  When we can name something, it empowers us. But if the therapist stops there … the therapist leaves the client able to know there is a source of power, but unable to see it or find it.

There is also a similar cultural response … as demonstrated in the childhood fairy tale about Chicken Little. Despite some published endings and interpretations of the fairy tale, all the people I talked with about this had the same experience. Basically: When they were told the story as children, it was made very clear that you shouldn’t say what you’re afraid of. You shouldn’t say when you see something happening that feels bad or threatening … or you will be dismissed by people telling you mockingly “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Someone who is afraid of catastrophes certainly doesn’t need to be dismissed, and most certainly doesn’t need to be mocked. And even more certainly doesn’t need to be threatened out of expressing their fears with the warning of humiliation.

Someone who is afraid of catastrophes, doesn’t need to be told to stop “catastrophizing.” He doesn’t need to be told to stop thinking that way. She doesn’t need to be told to stop imagining those catastrophes. He needs to be helped to understand that the catastrophes he’s thinking of are very likely catastrophes he has already experienced in his life – possibly catastrophes he doesn’t even remember consciously. Likely catastrophes he has no words for. Likely catastrophes he had no way out of as a child. He needs help to understand that we can guide him safely as he works his way back to the earlier catastrophes and heals from them. She needs to be taught that as we move toward the original catastrophes, it is likely her fear of catastrophes in the future will ease; she will stop projecting the past catastrophes on the future. That is step two in helping people with catastrophes. If you can help someone know the catastrophe that they’re fearing in the future has actually already happened, long, long ago … that has a calming effect of a different nature. It will likely still be scary, but it’s a different kind of fear. It’s a fear from long ago, still alive within.

It gives the person a chance of having a step three: to find and heal from the original catastrophe… and this time with help. This time not alone. This time as an adult with a little child still alive within.

Here’s an example* …

Burt’s mother hit him from the time he was very, very young. She smacked him anyplace within her reach. He remembers looking down at his leg and seeing her handprint on his little thigh below his diaper. He recalls her holding his hand to pull him close enough to smack, and his trying to stay far enough away that she couldn’t reach him, while she swatted at him again and again. He remembers feeling terrified. These were individual catastrophes for little Burt. But even these two alone would create a fear and an anticipation of more catastrophes to come. A waiting … for the other shoe to drop.

Yet these were not the only two times Burt’s mother treated him this way. In fact, for Burt it was like living in an ocean of abuse and waiting for abuse through his entire childhood. His childhood, in other words, was filled with catastrophes. Catastrophes in the moment and catastrophes about to happen.

Burt’s anticipating and fearing that would continue in his life today and in the future is not catastrophizing, but rather transferring that young ocean of catastrophe onto the future. And since no one helped Burt as a child, or helped him understand and heal the child catastrophes as a young adult, he kept re-enacting and re-creating this in his adult years. He drew to him women who mostly didn’t hit him with their hands, but smacked and swat at him consistently with their words, their looks, their energy, their feelings. That left him continuing to live in an ocean of catastrophe.  And he mistakenly thought it proved that life is a catastrophe. That relationship is catastrophe.

Without even realizing it, Burt contributed to the election of a woman president of his country – one who verbally smacked at those who disagreed with her and those who didn’t do what she wanted. Among the others who contributed to this election’s win by an abusive president were other men and women whose mothers smacked and swatted at them when they were little girls and boys… creating catastrophes in their young lives. And since none of them had the help to heal consciously from the original catastrophes, they were all re-creating their early catastrophes in the life of their nation. And almost everyone in the nation thought it was a current national (and global) emergency only. Only a few knew that the citizens unconsciously and communally had helped to create this national catastrophe out of their childhood catastrophes. And try as they would to inform their country-people … to show their country-people … the citizens didn’t want to know. They seemed to really believe the situation today was the only catastrophe. They seemed to prefer to live in and co-create the current abuse and catastrophe rather than remember, feel, and heal their past young experiences of catastrophe.

Sandy’s experience is another example of the real catastrophe …

Sandy’s father touched her in ways and places he never should have touched her … from the time she was 3 years old – that she can remember –  or perhaps even younger beneath her memory. Sandy’s father would hold her and rub her back when she was crying. He would sing songs to her in a sweet voice, too. It seemed loving and comforting to little Sandy. Eventually, once Sandy became acclimated to this, he began to rub other parts of her body – first with his hands and then with other parts of his body. With each step, what once seemed loving and comforting to Sandy eventually felt alarming, scary, and painful. And his use of the guise of comforting her to cover up his molesting her was terribly confusing to her. Everything got short-circuited for Sandy – love, comfort, pleasure, trust, and even wanting. Her world was one of catastrophe after catastrophe till the air she breathed was made up of molecules of the impending doom of catastrophe or actual catastrophe itself.

Sandy’s mother didn’t help things either. She didn’t protect Sandy. She dressed Sandy up like a little doll from the time she was very young, certainly by 3.  And with each year her mother dressed her more and more like a little model – already looking like a teenager when she was only 8. In this way, Mom colluded in the creation of Sandy’s vulnerability to men molesting and assaulting her. Her high school dates all wanted to get inside her, the consequences be damned, moreso than the stereotype of high school boys. Her first real boyfriend would draw her in with comfort and tenderness and then use her in every way he wanted to satisfy his own appetites. And the same with her first husband.  Sandy was frozen.  She believed she was frozen in the teenage and early 20’s catastrophe of sexual abuse. Having repressed and forgotten her early experiences of sexual abuse in her childhood home with mother and father, she had no way, without help, to realize she was really frozen in her early childhood catastrophes of sexual abuse.

No one helped Sandy as a child. No one helped her as a teen. No one helped her in her 20’s. A whole life-stream of catastrophe. So when she was 28 and the presidential election was coming, Sandy was frozen in the face of the male candidate who promised to provide comfort for the citizens and the country. Comfort in different forms for different citizens. But comfort nonetheless. In her frozen state, and beneath that with such a hunger for comfort, Sandy was vulnerable and, as a result, seduced into supporting him. So she did. Whatever was exposed about the candidate, she still supported him … with no awareness that she had transferred her hunger for Daddy’s comfort onto the candidate. With no awareness that she had transferred the whole catastrophe stream from her childhood onto the process of the buildup to the election.

When the candidate’s molesting of women was unexpectedly exposed to the public, Sandy still supported him. She was still frozen and unconscious in the place of a child, living with daddy, needing daddy, needing attention from daddy, needing comforting from daddy, needing daddy to take care of her, and more …

Other women who had been molested by their fathers as children were split. Some were still supporting the candidate, through mechanisms like Sandy’s frozenness and unconsciousness. And others, triggered by the revelations, woke up and realized what the candidate was doing and what their fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers had done. Those who woke up stopped supporting the candidate as the catastrophes from their own childhoods became real and conscious to them again.

Without awareness, those women who continued to support the candidate were participating in the creation of a catastrophe in the current day out of their inability, unwillingness, fear of looking at, working with, and healing the catastrophes in their childhood.  There were others, too, who supported this candidate out of their “no” to making conscious their experiences of sexual catastrophe as children. Men who had been sexually abused as children. Men whose fathers had molested and sexually abused or harassed their mothers, sisters, women out in public … or even women on TV. Many of these men felt powerless in the face of sexually abusive men.  And many of them became like those sexually abusive men as a way to defend against their young experience of powerlessness. The catastrophe of this candidate getting elected was created from many different childhood catastrophes amongst the citizenry. Even the catastrophe the candidate was creating came out of catastrophes in his early life. Catastrophes from long, long ago that he obviously had no intention at all to remember and heal … for his own sake or for the sake of his country.

These profound, deep, raw, and real examples offer a clear introduction to the real catastrophes … and the consequences of not seeing them, finding them, working to heal from them.

There’s another important clue and gem here. If we interfere with a person’s seeking and finding the original catastrophe, they not only will keep being afraid of a catastrophe in the future, but also will unconsciously co-create catastrophes in the future.  Our unconscious selves – our souls – call us and push us to bring the original catastrophes into consciousness however we can. That’s the only way to heal them.  It’s safer if we bring them into consciousness in our dreams. Or in glimpses of waking memories. It’s safer if we bring them into consciousness watching a movie or tv program. It’s also safer if we bring them into consciousness in small benign re-enactments in our lives, re-enactments that trigger memories of the original catastrophe but don’t cause more catastrophes. But if we don’t unearth the original catastrophes in those ways, we will co-create them in other ways … either in our own individual lives, or along with others who are co-creating them in the life of our world.

This is not something to blame people for. This is not something to punish yourself for. It’s something to be aware of. It is a gem to be thankful for. It holds the key to our healing. We are not responsible for what happened to us as children, but we are responsible for healing from the experiences we had as children and the consequences caused by those catastrophes. This is the key to our healing our individual catastrophes. And the key to our healing our communal catastrophes – familial, national, global.

If you know that the catastrophe was long ago…
If you know that you’re afraid of a catastrophe in the future because you’re transferring the original catastrophe onto the future…

If you know that and don’t do the work to heal from the original catastrophe…
and you know that your refusal to do the original catastrophe work will result in your creating a catastrophe in the future…
If you know that if each of us does the exact same thing – refuses to do the original work and so creates a future catastrophe instead…
we will create catastrophes in our world …

The worst catastrophe is to create a catastrophe in the future
because you said ‘no’ to tending to and healing the catastrophe from your past.
The worst catastrophe is to create a catastrophe in the future
because we together said ‘no’ to tending to and healing the catastrophes from our pasts –
individually and communally.

This is what is occurring in our world today.
It has been since ancient times.
It will continue unless … we take responsibility for our part.

I have written to media editors and hosts … who haven’t even responded.
I have written to leaders in power… most of whom haven’t responded. One leader from another country graciously replied. One leader from an organization responded personally – not in a form letter – but offered no help, didn’t even accept my offer to help.
I have written to others with platforms who could help spread this understanding across the world… no response.
People don’t want to know.
People don’t want to take responsibility at the deepest levels.
They’ll take outer action. They’ll pray. Both of which are also needed. But they really don’t want to see, hear, know, and feel their inner responsibility from their own experiences long ago. They really don’t want to take inner action. They really don’t want to take action on the deepest levels.

I hear people in many places say they don’t want to know. They want to live in a bubble. They’re usually talking about the outer world – consciously – but they mean the inner world, too. People I work with get to the point where they realize as soon as they say “I don’t want to know,” they do know that some awareness is right beneath the surface of their consciousness.  And then we explore, at a rhythm and pace they can work with what that awareness is.

We need to know! Our lives and our sanity depend on it. Our children’s lives and their sanity depend on it. The life of our world depends on it. Depends on our preventing future catastrophes by healing from the ancient catastrophes in our lives.

Even if you don’t fully understand this. Let in the essence and create the passageway within … so you can take the next step.

How can you possibly refuse to do the work of the original catastrophe?
How can you possibly choose to be part of creating a catastrophe in the future
instead of meeting and going through the process of healing from your original catastrophe?
How can you possibly choose to be part of creating a catastrophe for perhaps trillions of people
rather than meet and heal your own early catastrophe?

We each have a choice. We each have a choice right now.
How can you not choose healing from the past?
How can you choose to keep participating in the future catastrophes instead?

The worst catastrophe of all is to know you participate in creating future catastrophes
by refusing to heal the earliest catastrophes in your life … and to still refuse.
The worst catastrophe of all is to know you participate in creating future catastrophes in our world by refusing to heal the earliest catastrophes in your life … and still refuse.

 

*All examples are either fictional, composites from many anonymous people, or examples used with permission.

© Judith Barr, 2017

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

Catastrophes, large and small, personal, national, and global, touch all of us at one time or another. What’s important is how we utilize life’s catastrophes to help heal within.

When you experience or witness one of life’s “catastrophes” how do you react? Do you threaten, dismiss, or mock yourself for feeling the impact of the catastrophe?  Do you try to “manage” the feelings that well up within you – feelings that may be both about the here-and-now situation and about a catastrophe from long ago – of which you may not even be aware? Do you try to “hide” from the situation, “forget” about it, jump into bed and pull the covers over your head? Do you try to hide from the reactions of others – discounting, intimidating, humiliating you out of your feelings about the catastrophe?  Or … do you explore the feelings you have in the moment, using those feelings as clues to the catastrophes within – current and ancient – that need to be healed?

Commit to the latter … to utilizing the catastrophe for your own healing. When a catastrophe happens, after ensuring your safety and the safety of others if you need to, allow yourself to feel whatever comes up within you, without acting out on your feelings. Can you remember when in your past you felt this same way? Trace those feelings back as far as you can, and if you need help to explore and heal those feelings, find a compassionate, caring, integritous therapist who can help you do that.

Catastrophes happen to all of us, but if we can see them for the treasure they can be, and use them to help us in our own healing journeys, we can help prevent the re-enacting of those same catastrophes in our lives, in our societies, and in our world.

Safety – From the Inside Out – For The New Year and Years To Come

This is the third in my series of articles following the tragedy in Paris on November 13. The first was Grief, Shock, Another Tragedy and … the Poison is the Medicine … The second was When Are We Going to Heal the Repetitive Vicious Cycle From the Inside Out?
The article below takes us ever deeper into the cause and the solution.

Every child comes into this world needing to be safe;
needing a mother who keeps him safe,
needing a mother who keeps her safe;
needing a father who keeps him safe,
needing a father who keeps her safe;
Every child comes into this world needing to be safe;
needing at least one truly loving person
to keep him safe,
needing at least one truly loving person
to keep her safe.

When safety is missing from a child’s original home environment …
the consequences in that child’s outer world are mind-boggling;
and if the outer consequences weren’t more than enough to live with…
the consequences in that child’s inner world are almost
incomprehensibly mind-boggling and heart-boggling.

Whatever unsafety a child experiences in his or her young life
causes him to think, feel, grow, and act differently
than he would have without the unsafety.
The child’s young fear in reaction to the unsafety gets felt,
however briefly,
then reflexively buried so the child can survive.
But this innate self-protective reflex quickly changes from pure protection into defenses:
defenses against the unsafety just experienced in the outer world;
defenses against the feelings triggered by the outer unsafety;
but also defenses against the unsafety that remains
alive in the inner world;
and defenses against the feelings that remain alive in the inner world.

The child who innocently felt safe,
no longer feels safe in the outer world or the inner world.
The experience of unsafety and all the feelings that go with it
now are alive within that child …
whether right at the surface or buried deep within;
whether streaming through his self or
encapsulated and held off in the background;
whether consciously or deep beneath awareness.

The unsafety may have been blatant –
smacks on the face, beatings, rape, being thrown across the room …
hunger and famine …
experiencing or witnessing torture or the horrors of war …
Or it may have been more subtle –
being molested under the guise of caretaking,
being used under the guise of love,
being controlled under the guise of good parenting,
being humiliated under the guise of just kidding around,
or being made unsafe in any way … under the guise of safety.

That unsafety, whatever it was, still lives within the child –
that day, that week, that month, that year,
for years and years and years after…
even after the child has grown into adulthood.
That unsafety experienced in childhood
and the little child who experienced the unsafety
are still alive within the adult …
until that person has the help to heal and transform the unsafety from the inside out.

The experiences of unsafety and the defenses
against them, alive within,
create more unsafety without the child or the adult realizing it.
He may lash out and fight, firmly believing that will protect him.
She may withdraw, flee, and hide, certain that will protect her.
He may freeze in his tracks, doing nothing, sure that will protect him.
They may do any one of these things or others
because the unsafety within from long ago has been triggered,
perhaps by nothing unsafe at all in their present day outer world …
by only a misperception or misunderstanding that
sets off the inner and outer reaction to unsafety.
And if that happens,
their reaction could create unsafety in the outer world today
where none had existed.

Or there could be unsafety in the current world,
but the child still alive in the adult person –
about whom the adult is unaware –
could react to the current unsafety
with a charge, an intensity, and a rawness
far, far greater than the current unsafety warrants.

For instance,
someone switching lanes on the highway right in front of the adult
could set off the unsafety from long ago
that results in the adult pulling up too close to the car now in front,
passing the other car dangerously close,
rolling down their window and shouting obscenities,
or even pulling out a gun and shooting.
Any one of those responses would be
millions of times the warranted response –
of just feeling the fear of the moment of unsafety
when the other car pulled in so close.
And all caused by young reactions to and defenses against
unsafety from childhood.

This happens over and over again in our world…
Parents who experienced unsafety in their childhoods will somehow,
even without meaning to consciously,
even without realizing it,
create unsafety for their children.
Somehow unconsciously the child still alive within the parents,
in an effort to hold at bay their own unsafety when they were young,
will act out with their children, creating unsafety
for the next generation …
and the generation after that and the generation after that.

And it’s not limited to our homes.
This happens again and again in our world today …
in our homes –
in our schools and churches –
in our workplaces –
in our governments –
between nations and peoples of nations …
people all over our world creating unsafety
as a consequence of the unsafety they experienced as children.

Yes, there are things in the outer world we need to do to help us be safe today and in the future.
But our reactions to the unsafety in our world today
are intensified and magnified by the triggers we have to the unsafety we lived with in our childhoods …
even if we do not yet remember that unsafety;
even if we feel sure there was no unsafety;
even if that unsafety was passed down psychically
through the generations;
even if any unsafety in our childhood has been
normalized by our families;
even if any unsafety in our childhood has been
normalized by our cultures.

Yes, there are things in the outer world we need to do to help us be safe today and in the future …
but too many of the things people think we need to do will only create more unsafety
and start the cycle again.

The one most crucial thing we must do –
the one thing most people don’t know about at all –
the one thing most people deny as vital to us all …
is to do the inner healing to work through the experiences and feelings of unsafety we had as children.
Without that healing work,
we will continue to create and recreate unsafety
in a vicious cycle in our lives and in our world …
we will continue to create the poison
without using the poison as the medicine.

The original poison was the unsafety each child experienced originally.
The medicine is his or her reaction to real or perceived unsafety
in today’s world.
Using the medicine well:
using the trail of unsafety to heal unsafety –
not just in the outer world, but in the inner world, too.

The cure:
Creating safety from the inside out.

© Judith Barr, 2015

 

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

With commitment and honesty, you can search deep inside yourself to know – even if you are not yet aware –

-how you were unsafe as a child;

-how you have contributed to unsafety through the years as a consequence of the unsafety you experienced in your childhood;

and

-how you contribute to unsafety today as a consequence of the unsafety you experienced in your childhood.

With commitment and honesty, you can find a therapist with integrity and skill, who has done and continues to do his/her own work with safety/unsafety, to help you explore the issue of safety/unsafety to the root. You can work with it to the root and heal it to the root within you. And as a result … create safety from the inside out in your life, and help to create safety from the inside out in the life of our world.

Grief, Shock, Another Tragedy and … the Poison is the Medicine …

I learned about the attacks in Paris early Saturday morning.
It broke my heart … all through the day.
It still breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart …
For all the people who were right there, who experienced it first-hand.
The shock. The terror. The pain on every level of being.
The fear and the horrible grief that remains.

It breaks my heart …
For all those who were in Paris and nearby.
The shock, the terror, the pain …
the fear and the horrible grief that remains.

It breaks my heart …
For all those who were called, emailed, and texted.
The shock, the terror, the pain …
the fear and the horrible grief that remains.

It breaks my heart …
For all those all over the world who learned about the attacks through the media.
The shock, the terror, the pain …
the fear and the horrible grief that remains.

Many healing traditions – spiritual and otherwise – have their own version of “the poison is the medicine.”
It is the heartbeat of homeopathy.
It is the transformation in numerous natural healing traditions.
The healing crisis that brings us through a healing passageway.
It’s inherent in the depth psychotherapy I practice.

It says that the effects created by our own experiences …
the effects we create through our own actions and inactions
may be very painful.
Those painful consequences or effects are the poison.
They are the pain that can be used well to help us learn, grow, and heal.
And that is what we are called to do
in our individual lives and in our communal lives as a world.
We are called to use the pain to learn, grow, and heal…
on the deepest levels of our being.

If we don’t utilize that poison for healing,
we start down a road that is a vicious cycle –
a maze from which we cannot escape unless we use the poison for healing.
If we don’t use it for healing, the repetitive vicious cycle
escalates the pain and the poison …
until hopefully we will one day utilize it for healing.

In our world, we are experiencing “the poison is the medicine” yet again.
We’ve been living it over and over and over since …
I’m not certain when.
But I have certainly been witnessing the vicious cycle since 9/11/2001…
right here at home in the US and in our world as a whole.
The attacks in Paris happened not even a week ago …
and we have already launched into the vicious cycle yet another time.

This is a call to do our deep inner healing work …
if we don’t use the current round of “the poison is the medicine” for healing this time …
it will escalate further and further.
If we only respond to it with outer actions …
it will escalate further and further.
If we only try to pray it away …
it will escalate further and further.

It is heartbreaking to me to witness those refusing to use the poison as the medicine.
It is heartbreaking to me to witness those who don’t understand, not reaching out to try to understand,
not opening themselves to attempt to understand.
It is heartbreaking to me to witness those who are ready, to not have access to those who can truly help.

If you will find someone to help you do your deep inner healing
you will be using the poison as medicine.

This is just the first of my responses to the Paris attacks.
If you will help spread the word and share the series, entry by entry…
you will also be helping to use the poison as medicine,
for yourself and for our world.

With thanks and many blessings to you for joining me …
Judith Barr

© Judith Barr, 2015

If We Keep Using Our Escape Hatches, We’ll Keep Preventing the Miracles – Individually and Communally.

It’s a tragic time in our country. And our world.

Instead of people self responsibly searching within, looking to discover what it is within ourselves that is causing us pain in our lives and others, as well … people are looking outside ourselves at others to blame, bully, threaten, punish, force, torture

… when we don’t get what we want.
… in order to get what we want.
… when we believe we can’t bear what’s happening in our lives.
… when we believe we can’t bear the consequences of our actions.
… when we believe we can’t bear the feelings that rise up from within us.

Introduction to escape hatches

Over decades of experience with people — witnessing, talking with, learning about, helping, and caring deeply about them – I have discovered that when it comes right down to it … we are more afraid of our feelings than most anything else. As a result, we create defenses to keep us from experiencing our feelings. This creates a whole vicious cycle in our lives, one that we try to get out of at the very same time as we fight to stay in.

Escape hatches are a crucial aspect of this process. A crucial aspect of which we have little or no awareness. We use escape hatches to defend against our feelings. We use escape hatches to fight our way out of the vicious cycle. And at the same time we use escape hatches to make sure we continue to stay in the vicious cycle, lost in our own maze.

If you got to the point at which you felt so much – sorrow, hurt, anger, fear – that you thought you wouldn’t be able to bear it … what would you do?

When I ask this question of my clients, together we discover their escape hatches. The concept of “escape hatches” or “exits” is known in various therapy models. To my knowledge, however, the profound, rich depth of the healing work that can be done with escape hatches is rarely taught. And I have never heard discussion of its application to our world.

But just as everything else that is personal also exists on the communal level, so also do escape hatches.

What is an escape hatch?

As children, when we are wounded or traumatized, we instinctively protect ourselves. We do whatever we can to get away from the pain. Among other things, we numb ourselves, deaden ourselves, leave our bodies, strike out aimlessly. We do this even before we have mental concepts or words to speak them. At some point, our thoughts and words become available, and these responses have words that go with them – early decisions we make about ourselves, others, and life, and escape hatch decisions we make about how to get away from the pain: for example, I’m getting out of here. I’ll run away. I want to die. I wish I’d never been born. I could kill you. I’ll destroy everything. I’ll go crazy.

How does an escape hatch work in a child’s life?

With time, the feelings, actions, concepts and words are joined together … albeit perhaps unconsciously. But even if a child knows s/he wants to run away, s/he doesn’t comprehend the more complex dynamic of that want as part of an escape hatch and its vicious cycle.

As we grow, what was once vital self-protection, now becomes a defense – hard, and brittle, and even destructive – which usually ends up creating the very thing we intended it to defend us against.  A little boy decides not to talk to his Mommy, to keep her from spanking him. But his silence angers her as much as his words, and she ends up spanking him anyway. Over the months and years, he transfers it to his playmates, his teachers, his buddies, his wife, his employers, his employees.  And the same thing happens again and again … his refusal to speak – the original means of self-defense – infuriates people.

How does an escape hatch work in an adult’s life?

This evokes deep, strong, even raw feelings in the little boy still alive inside the man – the man who doesn’t realize his feelings are those of the little boy he once was. And neither do the people around him realize it. He looks like a 220-pound 6-foot tall 30-year old man. He has the capabilities of an adult man. But he’s acting on the feelings of a little boy.

So … without awareness, without making a commitment not to act on them … the little boy’s raw primal feelings are reacted to by the adult man. If the little boy wanted to die when he was in pain, the adult man might actually try to kill himself — perhaps succeeding, perhaps remaining alive to go ‘round the maze cycle once again. If the little boy wanted to kill his mother, the man might kill his mother … or someone else in her place – his girlfriend, his wife, his boss, a stranger, a lot of strangers. Again and again in our world, people are killing both themselves and others – domestic violence, suicide bombings, school shootings, wars, just to name a few.

Allow yourself to see this differently than you have in the past. This isn’t just people killing themselves and others. This is people acting out the escape hatches long ago created by the child they once were – still alive within them – to escape the pain they felt they couldn’t bear as a child.

How does an escape hatch work in our world?

This is what is happening in our world today! The children inside the adults are running rampant through our world, under the guise of adults. Whatever their childhood wounds, decisions, escape hatches, and feelings … people are acting them out on the stage of our earth, at the expense of all of us.

Until they are taught, children don’t draw a boundary between feelings and actions. Sadly, too many adults don’t either – not knowing they are having young feelings, the adults act on their feelings just like little children do … only with the power of an adult physical body, mind, and personality behind the action.

Children make all sorts of decisions when they are little – some conscious and some unconscious. These decisions and the feelings that go with them have more power to drive a person’s life and impact the world than most people can even conceive. What if the brother of the little boy discussed above also felt powerless with his mother? What if this brother, in his powerless fury, made an early decision within himself:  “You may have the power now, Mommy, but I’ll have all the power when I grow up”?  What if this boy grows up, becomes the leader of his country, and proceeds to garner all the power he can in his country: the power to arrest and imprison people based on lies; the power to torture people; the power to invade anyone’s privacy; the power to take away people’s rights and safety; the power to start wars, even destroy the world? Oh my! What a child’s unhealed pain and early decisions can create in our world!

What if the very people who could stop this leader in every arena of the country are unable to because of their own experiences with their parents and other authorities in their young lives, because of their own early decisions, and because of their own escape hatches? What if the legislators are afraid they will be punished by either the leader or the voters … and so turn away/run away from their own values and support those of the leader? What if the judges are afraid they will lose their appointments … and give up as a result? What if the military leaders are afraid they will lose their posts … and so support a war that in itself is destructive? What if the media is afraid it will be ousted in favor of other media that supports the leader … and so helps to mold the public instead of reflecting where the public truly is? What if the citizens are paralyzed? What if they have been blinded to the abuse of power by the leader because their own parents’ abuse of power was normalized in the family, the community, and the culture. Normalizing dysfunction and destructiveness does paralyze and blind people. It invalidates instincts, creating and feeding fear.

In these scenarios, which escape hatches has each person in each of these groups of people chosen that keep them and us from feeling – and being fully alive – from healing, from growing into all we can be, from exercising our power to truly protect – not defend* – ourselves, our country, and our world?

We are not alone in this.  It is a phenomenon worldwide. We have been seeing it again and again, in escalating proportions in our world. We have seen it in children, in teens, in men and women. We have seen it in citizens and leaders.

I’ve worked more and more deeply with people over the years and seen both the basic escape hatches and the individualized escape hatches they have revealed to me in their own lives. I’ve come to see that in addition to whatever escape hatches people have developed from pain and trauma in their own childhood, there is also wounding and defenses, including escape hatches, that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of this is because one generation after another acted out their escape hatches upon their children, upon their families, or with their families in their society. Some of this is because they’ve transmitted it emotionally from one generation to the next. Some is by an unconscious psychic transmission that does go from one generation to the next. Some is by the expansion of the transmission culturally, normalizing some form of wounding, pain, and trauma consciously and unconsciously. Some is by a combination of pathways of transmission from generation to generation. These intergenerational roots add to our understanding of the tenacity with which we hold onto our escape hatches, both individually and culturally.

I’ve also come to see that there are many other escape hatches needing to be named: among them blaming, scapegoating, bullying, threatening, and war.

People use blaming as an escape hatch to defend against feeling their own issues, their own weaknesses, their own responsibility. Scapegoating is also used to avoid the confrontation of one’s own inadequacies or deficiencies; but scapegoating is usually used communally, whether in a family, an organization, a country, or amongst countries. Bullying, as explained in my home study course, “Healing Bullying to The Root: A Unique Approach to a Painful Epidemic,” is an escape hatch used to defend against the feeling of powerlessness. And war! War is an escape hatch used to get rid of the threat — and all the feelings it stirs in the cauldron of our beings. But in the process, as with every escape hatch, war prevents real communication, real expression of needs and feelings, real searching for new possibilities. War prevents true resolution, true negotiation and true peace. As with every other escape hatch of the kind I am describing … war prevents the miracle.**

This is a call for healing.
It is a hopeful time in our country. And our world.
It is a time of opportunity for great healing and evolution.

We need to look at this. We need to look at this not just in our outer world. We must look at this, each of us, in our inner world. We need to work with this. We need to heal and resolve what is in us that we avoid when we use an escape hatch.  We need to close the escape hatches: We need to draw a boundary between the thoughts and feelings we have related to escape hatches and commit to not act on them; and then we need to commit to work with the hurt and pain, anger and fear, and all the other feelings that caused us as children to find or create our escape hatches. We need to build our capacity to feel our feelings safely, and, as we become parents, to help our children feel their feelings safely. And we need to follow through on those commitments.

Once we’ve done the healing personally, we need to also explore and work to heal what in our families and our culture was passed down to us as children that has created a vicious cycle of pain and escape hatches and more pain. We need to work on that level of healing, too.

We must remember that every single one of us has an impact – from the inside out – not only on our own lives, but also on the life of our whole country, and even the life of our whole world. If you have an escape hatch open and the wound beneath it is unhealed, that will affect our whole world. So, imagine if we each closed our escape hatches and healed the wounds beneath them! Imagine if we all did our healing work to the very root of our being! Imagine the positive impact we could have.

“Power is like fire, lightning, wind, ocean – like life itself – a raw vital force of nature. It has the potential for great harm and the possibility for magnificent good. Each of us chooses, whether consciously or unconsciously, how we will use the power of our own life energy.” ***

How will you use your power?
What will you do to close and heal your own escape hatches
and what lies beneath them?

© 2008, 2015, Judith Barr.

* To learn more about defenses, read my article, Defenses Destroy, at
http://judithbarr.com/2014/06/08/defenses-destroy/

** None of what I say in this explanation about escape hatches in any way says that people who are really in danger in their circumstances should just stay there and let whatever happens happen. For example, I’m not saying a battered wife should just stay and let her husband destroy her. I’m not saying an attacked community should just stay and let the invaders destroy them. But I am offering that the dynamics of escape hatches from early on and through the generations are very complex and need to be explored deeply and expansively.

***Power Abused, Power Healed, Judith Barr, Mysteries of Life, 2007, p iii.

 

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

Now that we have explored escape hatches and how they are created … the next step is to begin to explore within ourselves our own individual escape hatches.

When you are in pain or under stress – pain or stress you feel is “overwhelming,” “over the top,” or “unbearable”- what is your first reaction? Do you want to run away? Curl into a ball or go back to bed and “pull the covers over your head”? Do you feel like you want to die … or even feel like you want to kill someone? Do you feel as though you’re going “crazy”?

The answers to these questions are your first clues as to what your own escape hatches are. You may have one or several. They may be the same, or may be different depending on the type of situation, level of pain or stress, or what is being triggered in you.

Commit to not act out on your escape hatches, to close them on the action level … but don’t stop there. Commit to go to the root to heal, so you can close your own escape hatches on the mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual levels, too. Working with escape hatches is very delicate work … and I urge you to find a caring, integritous therapist to work with to help you close your escape hatches and work with the pain underneath them. A therapist who knows about, or who is open to learning about, escape hatches. (You may even want to show him or her this article, to give them an even deeper understanding about escape hatches, and how they affect our lives.)

It is indeed a tragic time in our world, but there is hope … in knowing about escape hatches, in discovering our own, in committing to close our escape hatches and heal what lies beneath them. There is hope in resolving what, within ourselves, interferes with the miracles. There is hope in making the miracle of true healing happen – both personally and communally!

An Open Letter to Don Hazen on Your Series for Alternet About Fear

The following is an adaptation of a letter I recently sent to Don Hazen in response to his article series on the topic of fear. I have sent Don an individual copy of the letter … only to find myself called to share an open copy of this letter with our world.

My name is Judith Barr. I am a depth psychotherapist in Connecticut.

Generally I am very thankful that your side of the story is available as people try to sort out the truth. When you step into the area of people’s psyches, sometimes I am concerned. In the past I have thought about writing to you … and haven’t. But this time it feels really important to respond to the series you’re planning.

I agree that fear is rampant in America (and all over the world.) That there are forces instilling fear and fanning the flames of fear in our citizens (and in people globally.) I have been teaching for years about the roots of why that fear takes hold and grows, why fighting it in the outer world will not resolve the problem on a sustained basis, and also how our society has evolved in a way that greatly interferes with truly resolving the problem.

Although a brief explanation doesn’t do justice to what’s at the core, here is a nutshell summary:  The current day fear triggers the fears and traumas we experienced as children, the ones we long ago repressed and buried, and have since been holding at bay … mostly unconsciously. When the here-and-now event triggers that fear subtly or blatantly, we can’t tell the difference between the fear from long ago and the fear from today. It all feels like today unless we have been educated to discern the difference. We respond to it all as if it were today, unless we’ve been helped to find the root fears and resolve them.

If we have that help we can respond to the current day fears as responsive adults. If we don’t have that help, we drown in the fears, unable to respond to or resolve either today’s fears or yesterday’s fears (even if we believe we are)… unable to even know some of the fear is real here and now fear, and some is real fear from our childhood still alive inside us from long, long ago.

We in America (and all over our world) are starving for the truth of this. We both need it and are also afraid of it.  But if we don’t open to it, if we don’t learn about it, if we don’t work with it, if we don’t resolve it at the root … we then are helping to create even more fear today, tomorrow and in the future.

I hope when you do your series, you won’t leave this part of the truth out. I know your intentions are good, but if you leave this truth out of the educating and the prescribing … you will be compounding the problem instead of helping to resolve it. You will be compounding the problem while trying to convince people you are helping to resolve it, and while believing you are helping to resolve it.

Thank you for your work, Don.

My best . . .
Judith Barr

P.S. You wrote: “AlterNet’s ongoing series will uncover numerous other examples of vulnerable populations. These include returning combat veterans and their families, people who suffered abuse while growing up, victims of domestic violence and bullying—now well documented as widespread across America—and anyone involved in the U.S. criminal justice system, which today houses more than 2 million people.”

Most of us – probably all of us in one form or other – suffered some kind of wounding as children and carry some kind of young fear inside ourselves to this day. The problem is much deeper and much more expansive than people realize or even want to realize.

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

Whether or not you are an American … whether or not you read Don’s series on fear or another media outlet’s series on fear … people who know and work with the psyche and soul know that we all need to do our own inner work with fear within ourselves and in our lives.

We can start by becoming aware of the fear we feel when we hear, see, or read about news reports. What is your emotional reaction to the evening news, for example? Do you find yourself filled with fear at hearing of national and world events? Was there ever a time you felt that same fear in relation to an event in your past? Trace the feeling back as far as you can … and truly commit to heal those fears, possibly with an integritous, caring therapist to help you explore and heal those fears to the root.

And, of course, you can (and need to) do the same with the fears you have as you go about your own life. There will be times when your fear is warranted for the here-and-now situation; there will be even more times when a certain amount of fear is warranted in the current day, but unresolved fears from your childhood exacerbate the fear beyond the level warranted by today’s situation; and there will also be times when your fear is being triggered by your childhood wounding alone.

It is crucial to know that even if there were nothing to fear now, even if there were nothing major today triggering our fear from long ago, the fear from back then still lives inside us and drives us … even if we’re not aware of that. We strive to do everything we can to keep from feeling that ancient fear, and, as a result, we create fearful occurrences in our lives and in the world. It would be so much healthier, so much more conscious, so much more self responsible, and so much safer to purposefully do the inner healing work with the original fears.

Make a commitment to become aware and discern, as best as you can, which fears are calling for action and which are calling to be healed inside yourself. And make that commitment, again, to fully explore and heal your inner wounding, so you can attain the clarity to know when to act and when to heed the call to healing.

Imagine what our nation would be like, if we all committed to do this healing! Imagine what our world would be like!