Healing the Roots of Slavery and Prejudice

In the heartbreaking midst and aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina massacre, many are claiming change. We can change our behavior. We can change our symbols. We can change our words. We can pass laws that seem to claim we’ve changed our attitudes or even our values. But unless we really dig deep into our feelings and heal what is at the root of racial prejudice … the changes on the surface will only be a guise of change. And they won’t last. They will only conceal what is still festering beneath the surface within us individually, and also societally. Hidden within, masked by outer changes, the roots will continue to create the painful, destructive outcomes within us and all around us. 

This is as true with racial prejudice as it is with anything else that is unresolved deep within.

I have many times thought of writing about the deep roots of prejudice, and the cruelty that people act out on each other as a result. This week as I’ve sat with the events in Charleston, I felt deeply called to write about a different root than I have in the past. I hope this will be food for your wondering. I hope you can let this inform you, intrigue you, and inspire you to look deeper into yourself – for the sake of your own healing, for the sake of those around you, for the sake of our country, and for the sake of our world.

*****

Please wonder with me …
Where do we get the idea we can own other people? And do whatever we want with them and to them, just because …? How did we ever come to believe we had the right to enslave beautiful dark skinned natives of one continent and bring them to our own to do our bidding? Or to receive our wrath if they didn’t? Even receive our murderous rage when they didn’t do what we wanted, when we wanted it, how we wanted it?

Where did this start?
How did this start?

Some might look at it historically, perhaps working backwards beginning with human trafficking today. Some might go all the way back to Ancient Egypt. And some even before that.

Here’s another way to look at it.

When a child bonds well, meaning healthily, with mother … that healthy mother – the one we call in my field the “good enough mother” – does our bidding. She is focused on us, protecting us, nourishing us, taking care of our needs, and doing so with love. No, she isn’t perfect. Not even the “good enough mother” is perfect. But when she makes a mistake she is self-responsible, acknowledging her mistake and finding a way to repair the mistake and its consequences. She does this from love and consciousness, a good heart. And as a result, she creates trust.

When we have this as a child, the attachment with mother becomes internalized and helps us feel secure. It helps us give what we received from mother to ourselves, and often to others as well. When a child has this from mother, the child feels something kindred to owning mommy. But it’s not the same thing. Because in this healthy scenario, mommy gives herself to her child. She whole-heartedly surrenders to the care of her baby … while hopefully still taking good care of herself.

But when a child does not have this healthy attachment, there is no real sense of security. There is a deep hole within and the person feels a sense of starvation for some way to get someone to focus on him, protect him, nourish him, take care of his needs … to do his bidding. There is a deep urge – whether conscious or unconscious – to find or create a way to have someone give what was missing in childhood. A craving to own someone.

From here the cycles upon cycles of damaging and destructive “owning” begin. This child grows up and finds someone to own. It might be his wife. It might be his child. It might be both. It might be his own unhealthy parent who didn’t give as he needed in childhood. His craving to own is truly insatiable – whether he’s aware of it or not, whether it shows on the outside or not. No amount of owning someone today or tomorrow can fill the emptiness of lack of attachment with mommy long ago. But as the current experience of insatiability grows and grows, at some point he moves on from enslaving those who are supposed to be his loved ones to others in his life and then to someone he can make his slave.

All along, over time the other little boys and girls who didn’t attach healthily with mother have been finding ways to own people in their lives, too. And eventually they join together to make people their slaves. To bring people home as slaves from the other side of town or the other side of the country or even the other side of the world.

Others see they can make money off of satisfying the very young craving to own somebody that lives in so many people. And these “money makers” find ways to bring many who will become slaves to the people who, at the root, are starving for mommy.

This owning and money making becomes normalized in the minds and hearts of the individuals and in the minds and hearts of people communally. And it gets passed down from generation to generation, even if not in awareness. The mothers who didn’t have a bond with mommy feel like they own their children, and treat them that way. And those children feel the same about their spouses and children. And on and on and on …

Those who suffer from being owned, don’t know what to do.
Those who suffer from owning, don’t feel consciously like they’re suffering.

Most importantly … nobody is aware that this stems from the earliest times in childhood, when a baby does need mommy to do his or her bidding.
Most importantly … few are aware of how starving we are in our world for healthy attachment from the earliest times in our lives.
Few are aware of how painful it is for a child to be without the deeply needed bonding.
Few are cognizant of the damaging consequences of lack of bonding on an individual, a family, and communally for generations to come.
Few let themselves feel what a trauma this is for all of us.
Few realize how much of what happens in our cultures and in our world is the damaging consequence of unhealthy attachment.

One of the tasks we have ahead of us as we work to end racial prejudice is the same task we have in other arenas of our lives: we need to heal our wounds from the earliest ages, even from the times when healthy attachment needed to occur, so there is healing from the inside out … and not just a guise of healing.

This is courageous, honorable, transformative work.
We all need you – and all of us – to participate in it.

© Judith Barr, 2015

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

None of us is immune to wounding, and even if we don’t actually “own” slaves or consciously feel entitled to “own” others, we may still be feeling the effects of wounding to our early attachment that cause us – consciously or unconsciously – to seek in people in our current lives the healthy “owning” of mommy that we missed as a child.

What you can do:

Commit to explore within yourself if and when you feel entitled to “own” others. You can start by exploring what you feel when someone in your life says “no” to something you’ve asked of them. Do you have strong feelings anytime someone says “no” to you? Do you only have strong feelings when the “no” comes in response to something you feel is really important to you? Do you only have strong feelings if the “no” is a response to something critical to your health and wellbeing? Do you feel scared? Hurt? Angry? Vengeful? Do you feel indignant that they are not “doing your bidding”?

Now ask yourself: “Is my response a here and now response or a young response from long ago that is still alive inside me today? Or is it a combination of the two?” To find out, trace those feelings back, as far back in your life as you can. Maybe you felt this same way – with good reason – when you were a child or even an infant, when mommy withheld the care she should have given you … care you deserved and were truly entitled to. Keep tracing these feelings back as far as you can. And, if the wounding at the root of these feelings calls you to seek help, commit to finding a good, integritous, caring therapist to help you truly heal these feelings to the root.

What else can you do?

After you have explored your craving to own someone, you can also explore the other side of this coin. Perhaps your experience was not only the absence of mommy giving herself whole-heartedly to you in a healthy attached relationship. Perhaps you also experienced her trying to own you. As a result, in addition to your trying to own people in your current life, you might also transfer mommy trying to own you onto other people in your life today.

You might think people want to own you when they really don’t.You might feel people want you to focus only on them when that isn’t the case at all. You might accuse people of wanting you to do their bidding, when that isn’t true. Those transferred feelings may be so strong that your insistence on and defense against the other person trying to own you may in itself enslave you, the other person, and your relationship in a scenario that isn’t here and now and isn’t the truth. This often happens between people in all kinds of combinations, including people of different races.

If this is the case, you can also trace those feelings back, as far back in your life as you can. Maybe you felt this same way – with good reason – when you were a child and mommy tried to own you, enslave you, trap you … instead of take good care of you. Keep tracing these feelings back as far as you can. And, if the wounding at the root of these feelings calls you to seek help, again … commit to finding a good, integritous, caring therapist to help you truly heal these feelings to the root.

Whatever our skin color, gender, nationality, creed or affiliation, we all need to do this inner healing work, before we can even hope to help our world heal from prejudice and the tragedy it often brings. Imagine what our world would be like if we all committed today to do just that!

For Passage into The New Year … If Only …

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
They would be self responsible …
taking responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions,
and making repairs when they are accountable.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
They wouldn’t blame other people –
individuals, races, religions, or cultures –
but would hold themselves accountable when they are, and
hold others accountable when they truly are …
and work to help bring about a repair –
inside and out, within and between.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
they would stop acting out their wounds from long, long ago
on others – other individuals and others communally.
They would stop blaming, destroying, impoverishing, abandoning
because of their own feelings about how they were treated.
They would stop doing it individually.
And they would stop doing it communally.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
they would stop transferring onto others in the current day,
the people and experiences from their early lives as children.
Instead they would come to truly see who the other person is
and come to truly interact with the other person as a real,
live, human being with a heart and soul.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
they would develop the ability to feel safely and express their feelings safely …
And as a result, they would be more alive and vibrant from within,
not from fixes to charge themselves up,
but from the life that, from the healing, is freed to flow through them within.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
the grown ups in our world would be true grown ups,
not children in big bodies, who look like grownups but are driven by the wounded child within.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
it would be worth going through the memories
and buried painful feelings
in order to stop re-enacting and re-creating
those memories and feelings in their life today and tomorrow.
In order to stop recreating the suffering for themselves, those around them, and our world as a whole.

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
they would “get” how their individual journey impacts not only themselves, but others as well …
others as near as their closest intimates and as far as …
yes, further than their eyes can see!

If people would only do their own inner healing work,
they would heal the unsafety that lives inside them –
the unsafety from their experiences long, long ago.
By doing so, they would help to create a kind of safety from the inside out …
in their own lives – inner and outer – and in the life of our world.
A kind of safety that perhaps our world has never known.
A kind of safety not from defense, not from defenselessness,
but rather safety from healing,
safety from undefendedness.

If only …
Will you?

© Judith Barr, 2014

DEFENSES DESTROY

I have been silent for awhile … Pensive. Searching. Deeply saddened. Witnessing, as I imagine you are, all that’s going on in our world. Feeling the pain of what’s going on in our world.

People think about what’s happening differently from each other. Some think the destructiveness is just done by “bad” people or “sick” people. Some are in alignment with those who are destructive, normalizing and justifying what they are doing. Some feel completely helpless in the face of it all. Some want to rush into action and do things in the world to fix it. Nothing wrong with action – it’s just not enough by itself. Some increase their prayers to resolve it. Nothing wrong with prayers – but prayers, too, aren’t enough by themselves. And some don’t even want to know about it.

Most people I talk to are missing what’s really happening. And most of what I hear, see, or read via the media is missing what’s really happening … under the surface. Even many in my own profession haven’t been trained to truly understand or get to the roots of the situation. This “miss” feeds misconceptions, misunderstandings, the incapacity to discern well, and most of all … it feeds further destructiveness and makes it impossible to really solve the problem for good.

If we are going to help ourselves and our world, we are going to need to truly understand what is going on beneath the surface, beneath what we can see, hear, touch and currently understand. What is going on beneath the surface that drives us unknowingly from deep within and drives us in our actions in the outer world.

People are acting out again and again … not realizing what they are really doing. Not aware of what they are acting out. Not understanding what their acting out tells them and us about their early lives and about what from that time is still alive in their minds, hearts, bodies, and souls.

And there are so many people who don’t understand what “acting out” really means. I could say exactly the same things here that I said in the second and third paragraphs above.  In essence, people don’t really understand acting out and that lack of understanding feeds the acting out and makes the solutions impossible.

There are so many examples of acting out since my last newsletter, escalating in visibility and frequency, that it is mind boggling and heart boggling. Just to name a handful of them …

Georgia’s new gun law. It enables people to pack guns in places like schools, churches, bars, government buildings and certain parts of airports. Multiple tragic gun shootings have occurred in Georgia since then.

Vladimir Putin’s failed power grab in the Crimean Peninsula. A part of his post-Olympic acting out in the world.

The Sewol Ferry disaster in South Korea, due to negligence of the Ferry owner who ignored safety warnings and allowed the ferry to be overloaded with passengers.

Another Indian woman raped – and then hanged – by Indian men. The violence to girls and women in our world is heart-breaking and belies our wish to think of these times as civilized times. And the ones included here are known tips of the iceberg. What about all the violence to women and girls that is normalized and done in secret?

An Iranian actress on the Cannes Film Festival Jury may be flogged for greeting the president of the festival with a civil kiss on the cheek. It is important to note that a group of women has petitioned to have her flogged.

Donald Sterling’s racist comments and the consequences, including all the attention garnered in the media.

Boko Haram’s abduction of Nigerian school girls with plans to sell them.

Elliot Rodger’s rampage through Isla Vista, California, and the fingers pointing at … the “mentally ill,” the “gun lovers,” and “this generation.”

The ongoing money grabbing and the consequent destruction  — to people, families, businesses, economies, environments – by people who are rich enough in the eyes of others but never seem, in their own minds, to have enough money.

And our Defense Department, which may once have been presented as for protection, but has destroyed again and again and again in the guise of defense.

If we really wanted to know, if we really looked deeply, and if we were able to find and gather the information we needed to truly understand … we would likely find that each of these instances emerged out of wounding that occurred certainly in an individual’s childhood, but also generationally in a family, and culturally, too. In any one instance, which came first, the chicken or the egg, the culture or the individual, isn’t the most important thing to figure out.  We certainly do need to know that what is normalized in a culture impacts the individual families and the individual children. What is normalized in a family impacts the individuals in the family and, of course, others in the life of that family. And what befalls a single child impacts many more people than most of us want to imagine.

When a child is wounded, that child will build defenses to keep from feeling the pain of the wound. What the child is reflexively trying to do is stay sane and alive in the face of those who are causing the wounding.  The child isn’t thinking this all through. The child is acting unconsciously and involuntarily. But the child does not have any idea what those defenses will create in the long run.

First the defenses may seem to protect the child, whether a girl or boy child. But soon the defenses start to harden and become part of a way of life. Walls are built. People are shut out. People are considered enemies and fought against, sometimes righteously and others viciously. Often revenge is sought, sometimes subtly, sometimes openly.  Consciously or without realization, the person may believe that whatever she is feeling gives her permission to act out … with herself and others. Aware or unaware, the person may use the harm he experienced as a child to justify acting out later in life. Substances are taken and activities are done that distract and numb the person against the pain of the original wound. Even though there is pain in the repeated re-creations of the wound, the pain of the original wound is the worst, the deepest, the most intense, the most raw, and the pain the person is actually defending against, whether it’s in or beneath awareness, whether it’s five or fifty years later.

Through all the years of my work as a depth psychotherapist, I have consistently seen that the defenses end up creating in a person’s life what they were originally meant to prevent in the life of that person as a child. This is why I teach people that defenses destroy. This is why the title of this article is “Defenses Destroy.”

Let’s use an example from the list above. Georgia’s new gun law:  You may want to defend your right to carry arms. You may want to defend your right to defend yourself, your family, your property, your values, your thoughts, opinions, and feelings. But if your defense comes in the form of a weapon, like a gun, your defense can and very likely will destroy.  Passing a law to allow guns to be carried especially in places where people are vulnerable – like schools, churches, certain parts of airports – is a license to hurt and destroy vulnerable people.

How much clearer could the meaning be?  If you were hurt or destroyed in some way when you were a vulnerable child, your defense and acting out could end up with your doing the same thing to others when you are old enough to do that. Others in your family – younger siblings, pets, children, or vulnerable people in places like churches and schools.

A second example:  An Iranian actress on the Cannes Film Festival Jury may be flogged for greeting the president of the festival with a civil kiss on the cheek. She tried to extend her hand to greet him, but the elderly official leaned over for the kiss on the cheek. It is important to note that in one accounting of the incident it states a group of women has petitioned to have her flogged and even imprisoned. In another, a group of men and women are seeking her imprisonment. I am not a learned student of the religious beliefs in Iran.  I have, however, seen individually and culturally the consequences of patriarchal laws, religions, mores, values, practices. Even if the cause may once originally have been or may have been purported to be the protection of women … there has also definitely been the effect of women being treated as objects, possessions, in essence the slaves of the men in their lives and their cultures.  This is true not only in Iran but also in many countries and in pockets in some countries.  India, for example, is amongst those countries.  And so is the United States. So … if the original cause were the defense of women, that defense has created torturous destructive experiences all over our world.

And even in the situation of the Iranian actress, why would other women in the Iranian culture demand her punishment? As part of their own defense against their individual and communal pain under the same cultural defense system?

One more brief example … Elliot Rodger’s rampage through Isla Vista, California, and the fingers pointing at… the “mentally ill,” the “gun lovers,” and “this generation.”  He openly stated he wanted revenge against women. The deeper information isn’t publicly available (at least yet). But how can we look at what he did and not wonder what happened when he was young in his relationship with the first woman in his life? How can we not wonder what he felt? How can we not wonder what defenses he reflexively created then that came to be destructively acted out just a short time ago at everyone’s expense?  And how can we keep blaming the guns and blaming the gun lovers and blaming the mentally ill, and this time I even heard blame for this young generation?

I don’t hear anybody asking what it is that we, the parents, have done that has caused our children to be so wounded!

I don’t hear anybody in public asking how we, the parents, are acting out our own wounds and our own defenses in ways that have hurt our children, our families, our countries, our world.

I don’t hear anybody in public asking why we, the parents, don’t do our own healing work as our part of ending the cycles of wounding/defenses/wounding.

It is time for more of us to see and understand this. It is time for more of us to speak up. It is time for more of us to speak out. It is time for more of us to become involved in this way of seeing and resolving the problems that are so out in the open in our world today.

At times when I teach, people will say that this is all so depressing. Or this is all so painful. And they’ll sometimes ask me, “Where is the hope?”

The hope is right here. The hope is that we can heal. The hope is that we can choose to not slap on a bandaid. The hope is that we can choose not to find something to help us bury the real causes once again. The hope is that we can choose not to seduce ourselves into getting rid of the symptoms so we falsely believe the “problem is solved.”  The hope is that we can choose not to keep ourselves unconscious … of what’s there in our inner world and its effect on the outer world.

Where is the hope?
The hope is right here. The hope is that we have the choice – and the responsibility –
To heal … truly heal … to the root.

© Judith Barr, 2014

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

Now is the time for each and every one of us to make a commitment to do the inner work necessary to dissolve the defenses that stand between us and truly healing our wounding.

As you hear about, read about, think about the individual issues facing our world today,  try to become aware of the possible roots of those issues… the real, inner roots within each and every one of those directly or indirectly involved. And don’t stop there … feel into those same roots in yourself. Do you ever, for example, feel the need to make a “power grab” as Putin has? Or do you have racist thoughts and feelings – conscious or unconscious – as Sterling has demonstrated?

What we see when others act out, as those in the examples above have, is their defenses against their own inner pain and wounding. Ask yourself: what are my defenses? And what feelings am I using them to defend against? Often we need the help of a good, caring, integritous therapist to help us find and dissolve those defenses, so the healing can begin… Commit to finding a therapist who is a right fit for you to help you begin or go deeper into this healing journey.

The issues facing our world can seem overwhelming… but there is hope, if we can see what is really happening, if we can spread the word so others begin to see, too, and if we commit, one by one, to do the inner work to heal individually, to help our world heal globally!

WHY DO WE HAVE TO DO THIS OVER AND OVER?: Exploring The Roots of Prejudice

Whether we know it or not . . . whether we want to know it or not . . . we all have currents of prejudice within our psyches. Although many think of their prejudices as simply “the truth,” others realize that there are some major roots to our prejudice . . . roots that need to be named, known, and worked with.

One of the roots of our prejudices is . . . we are taught to be prejudiced by the active teachings of those with whom we grow up, and also by their modeling. This is poignantly expressed in the song “Carefully Taught” from the Broadway show and the movie, “South Pacific.”

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught”*

A less well known and understood root of prejudice is . . . most people are afraid of the dark. The literal dark in the outer world of night and winter – so easily seen by the number of lights we keep on 24 hours a day 365 days a year. But not just the literal dark or the dark in the outer world.  We are afraid of the dark in our inner worlds – the dark unknown within where we are afraid we’ll discover terrible dark things about ourselves. And the dark in our inner worlds that we have come to symbolize as “evil.” This fear of the dark has caused all sorts of problems in our world, including transferring our fear and our symbolic meaning onto people with dark skin.

If we would only heal our fear of the darkness, particularly the darkness within, we could work through and heal our feelings about our own darkness and the destructive aspects of our own personalities, and clearly see people with dark skin as unique people rather than symbolic expressions of our own inner “darkness.”

And the root of prejudice of which people seem to be the least aware is based on the most primal experiences from our childhoods. Those experiences in our earliest years when we are hurt or frightened by ‘the other,’ meaning, in essence, anyone who is not us. Those first fears of ‘the other’ later get transferred onto many other people and things. So, for example, fear of  mother or father can later be transferred onto someone of a different race, religion, sex, nationality . . .  without our having any awareness whatsoever of that occurring.

There’s a wonderful line in the 2009 book, The Help, a book about “black maids” working for white women in Mississippi. It’s actually a line dear to the author, Kathryn Stockett, and one that speaks to the heart of the issue:  “Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, we are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”**

These are three of the deep roots of prejudice in our psyches and our world.
We will be prejudiced, whether consciously or unconsciously, and somehow, whether ever-so-subtly or absolutely blatantly, we will act on our prejudices . . . until we each commit to explore and heal the prejudices that live within us.
We will do this over and over until each of us does our own individual inner work with prejudice.
Where does your fear of those who are different from you come from?
It is a deep choice:  Are you willing to explore and heal your fear of “the other” and in doing so, help to heal prejudice in yourself and our world?

(c) Judith Barr, 2011

* © Oscar Hammerstein II, 1949
http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/southpacific/youvegottobecarefullytaught.htm
** Kathryn Stockett, The Help, 2009, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, pp 418 and 451.