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.

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now it’s time to know this also …

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

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

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

Everything depends upon our healing to the root!

*****

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

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

© Judith Barr, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Williams: What Nobody’s Saying!

A week ago, Robin Williams died by his own hand. People have been celebrating his genius, his quick mind, his success in comedy and serious performances, as well, his good heart, his friendship, the way he gave to others. However his death affected people, it left us grieving.

My grief and my perspective may well be very different from your own. This is not an organized article, but rather musings of mind, heart, and soul that have come to me as I’ve gone through my week, and are coming again as I sit down to share with you. I offer this in the hopes that my sharing will help you in some way, will help others you touch, and will help our world.

My heart is grieving for the little boy, Robin, who played alone in his large home with his 2,000 toy soldiers. I imagine the dialogues he had with them. I imagine him telling them how frightened he was of his father when he was home. I imagine him telling them he wished his mother would stay home with him, instead of going to work and leaving him with the maids. I imagine him expressing to all the toy soldiers somehow that he was so terribly alone and felt so horribly afraid of being abandoned. I imagine his ability to have dialogues with different characters within himself and outside himself may have been born from his dialogues with his toy soldiers.

My heart is grieving for the man, Robin, who, it seems, didn’t have the kind of help he needed to heal the fears that were still alive inside him, in the little boy who, it appears, was still alive inside him. My heart grieves for his attempts to connect with people through his comedy, like he did with his mother, and for the superficial nature of such a connection, if made. My heart grieves for the man who used his quick mind and humor to defend himself against his own pain and fear, to distract others from his own pain and fear … and from theirs, too. My heart is grieving that it seems people didn’t see his pain beneath his jokes and comedic interactions … and if they did, they didn’t find a way to connect with him and help him.

My heart is grieving that people interviewed him, but when they asked questions and he answered with either serious responses or even scary responses, they laughed … as with one of NPR’s interviewers some years ago when she asked him about suicide and he made a joke about calling a suicide hot line and the person at the hotline saying, “Life isn’t for everybody.” She laughed. I listened this past week to a rerun and was aghast, my heart filled with the pain of what he was saying, what she was hearing, and that she laughed. What did members of the audience hear, feel, do in response to hearing this?

My heart is grieving that people allowed Robin to help them forget their own pain, and in many other ways, it seems. But who helped Robin?

My heart is grieving that the experts have taught us – misled us – and are continuing to do so, when they say that there is help, there is medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. And now more modern technological devices. Even the television doctors, like Sanjay Gupta, are spreading this word. But nobody is acknowledging that the healing doesn’t occur in our heads. Managing and controlling our thoughts and feelings doesn’t heal the pain that still lives within. Understanding the thoughts and feelings and even the cause in our lives, doesn’t heal the pain. It doesn’t help us work through it, resolve it, dissolve and transform it. It only helps us hold it at bay … again. Or bury it … again. Nobody’s saying these deeper truths about the help available.

Nobody’s talking about the deep, healing therapy that can take place if you find the right therapist, one who will go with you to the roots.

My heart is grieving that too many people will think “if Robin Williams, who had all the resources he needed, couldn’t get the help he needed to not kill himself, what hope is there for me?”  I understand that resources are needed for therapy – time, money, energy, commitment. But … my heart is grieving that nobody is saying, it’s not the resources, it’s finding the right help. It’s finding the right person.

As far as I’ve heard – and I’ve listened to many talk of his life and death in this past week …
Nobody’s talked about his frenetic, frenzied comedy and the pain that was so obvious in that frenetic energy.
People have talked about his depression, but nobody’s spoken of the manic nature of his comedy, his energy, even his interviews.
People have spoken of his good heart and all he did for others. Nobody’s spoken about how they gave to him. Steven Spielberg, it has been said, called Robin every night while he was making Schindler’s List and asked Robin to make him laugh.

Nobody called Robin every night and asked him,  “What can I do for you, Robin?”
Nobody called him every night and offered to him, “Share your pain with me, Robin.”
Nobody invited him to call them every night and ask them to be with him as he talked about and expressed the pain he was in.
I wish I had invited Robin to call me.
I wish he had called me and allowed me to listen to his pain and be with him … and help him heal to the root.


© Judith Barr, 2014

If We Stay on The Surface . . . We End Up Suffering and Creating More Suffering . . .

Part 4:  Violence Within and Without.

SINCE THE BOSTON MARATHON . . .

The Boston Marathon Bombings were tragic – for everyone. Not just for those who were killed and injured. Not just for those who lost people dear to them. Not just for those who were walking or eating or studying nearby. Not just for that day. And not just for that week. It was tragic for all of us near and far. It was tragic not only in its occurrence but in its aftermath, too.

Whether you’ve watched the news, listened to the news, read the news via hard copy or internet, talked with people, witnessed and experienced events first hand . . . here’s what we’ve seen and experienced most frequently, most consistently, most openly since April 15, the day of the bombing.

Yes, we’ve seen courageous, quick-thinking, quick-acting people tend to the injured, even save people. We’ve seen people help those who have been hurt and traumatized. We’ve seen people act lovingly towards each other. But as the shock just began to wear off, we began to see also . . . defenses against the pain and fear rising and growing. The face Boston presented was Boston Strong – we’re tough – “they can’t keep us down.”  Resiliency is a true and needed gift, individually and communally. But not hardened as a mask against vulnerability. They showed people rising above the vulnerability of the experience, above the real feelings to the defensive feelings, postures, and actions. And there was a lot of finger pointing, blame, and hatred, not just in Boston, but definitely in and around Boston. According to someone dear to me living in the Boston area, people were vicious and blood thirsty . . . people in public, people in the workplace, people on the media. Not all people, but so many! It was like a re-run of post 9/11 – the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” And instead of feeling the grief and vulnerability and allowing it to be the place from which we moved forward, turning someone into the enemy, building defenses, and fighting. Instead of finding out what is our responsibility and what is someone else’s and holding both accountable – pointing our fingers outward at someone and spewing hatred and blame at them . . . at as many others as we need to in order to not look at ourselves and our own responsibility.

Of what I heard, there was one sane voice in the crowd in the aftermath of the bombings. That of Tom Brokaw. On Meet the Press the Sunday afterward, he said that we need to get to the roots of it; we need to look at our part; we need to see the part that our drones play in the feelings others have toward us and the actions they take; and we need to use this opportunity for all of us to take part in a discussion about violence in our culture. Thank you, Tom Brokaw! It’s a good start. A brave start. Saying things that when said by others caused them to be attacked for being unpatriotic.  But you have the credibility and respect to say it and pull it off. Although . . . there wasn’t very much said about your having said it. Except in a couple places I saw, it was kind of buried underground.

Still you said it, Tom. And I do thank you. But we have so much further to go. I wish you would join with me, Tom, to help people go farther, go deeper. For if we don’t go to the roots – even deeper roots than you were speaking about – we will just have more of the same. We will just see more of the same. We will just create more of the same.

I want to give credit to Noam Chomsky, too. Though two plus weeks later, he said it again, in an Alternet article on May 2. He said it a little differently . . . even more graphically:

“On April 23, Yemeni activist and journalist Farea Al-Muslimi, who had studied at an American high school, testified before a US Senate committee that right after the marathon bombings, a drone strike in his home village in Yemen killed its target.

“The strike terrorized the villagers, turning them into enemies of the United States – something that years of jihadi propaganda had failed to accomplish.

“‘His neighbors had admired the US,’ Al-Muslimi told the committee, but ‘Now, however, when they think of America, they think of the fear they feel at the drones over their heads. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.’”

I say to you also, Noam . . . Thank you. But . . . we have so much further to go. Please join with me to help people go deeper. For if we don’t go to the real roots, we will just have more of the same. We will just see more of the same. We will, to our own disbelief and horror, create more of the same. And we will continue to believe it is outside our control . . . disconnected from us.

Because we are so disconnected from ourselves.

The violence has been increasing. It has already been expanding and escalating. Look what’s been in the news since the Boston Marathon tragedy:

Jodi Arias was convicted of the first degree murder of her ex-boyfriend. Ariel Castro was caught for kidnapping, raping, holding captive, and torturing three teenage girls. Jeffrey Krusinski, head of U.S. Air Force sexual assault prevention unit was charged himself with sexual battery for allegedly groping a woman in a parking lot. Sexual abuse in the public amongst citizens; sexual abuse in our military; sexual abuse in our religious communities was revealed in the Catholic Church long ago; and sexual abuse in our politics and government. That isn’t all. But that in itself shows the pervasiveness of violence – in this case sexual violence – that occurs in our society . . . not just in and by “those people out there.” People in another country, another state, another community, another ethnicity or culture, another family.  But also sometimes in people close to us and in us, too.

In fact, it could be anyone. A doctor, lawyer, teacher, minister, priest, rabbi, banker, government official, world leader. A father, mother, brother, sister; aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather . . . In fact, it could be anyone who was abusing and anyone who was abused.  In the 1950’s, there was a Miss America named Marilyn Van Derbur. She was from an upstanding family in Denver, Colorado, with a father who was a pillar of the community – a philanthropist, socialite, businessman, and board member. Some years later it was discovered that he had sexually abused Marilyn and her sister, Gwen, for years. (Her two other sisters have declined comment.) She had completely split that part of her daily experience off from her conscious awareness. So . . . anyone could have been abused. Anyone could be being abused. Anyone could abuse others. That is to say that anyone could have violence in his/her experience or potential.

Here are some more examples since the Boston Marathon bombings:

The police were caught – this time in Baltimore, Maryland – once again brutalizing someone – in this case, a woman who filmed their abuse, while her 2 year old child looked on, all alone in the car; the police threatened to take the woman’s daughter away, and refused to call the woman’s mother to take care of the child.

A man in Washington State, in ongoing dispute with his neighbors, bulldozed their homes down and cut the power to thousands in the community for up to 12 hours.  Neighbors said that he could be the kindest person and in seconds turn on you.  How many people could say that about one of their parents?

There are reports that the suicide rate in the US has jumped . . . sky rocketed.  For example, the rate has jumped from 1999 to 2010 for 35- to 64-year olds:  an increase of 50% for men in their 50’s and an increase of 60% for women between 60 and 64.

The numbers on child abuse in the US are staggering. Approximately 681,000 children were victims of maltreatment (unique instances) in 2011 alone. More than 78% of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim’s parents.*

According to Unicef: “A small group of countries – Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland and Norway – appear to have an exceptionally low incidence of child maltreatment deaths; Belgium, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Hungary and France have levels that are four to six times higher. The United States, Mexico and Portugal have rates that are between 10 and 15 times higher than those at the top of the league table.”**

In the home: There are 35 countries in which corporal punishment of children by their parents is outlawed. The United States of America is not among them.  And none of the states in the U.S. has prohibited corporal punishment outright, although as the result of the wording of its child abuse laws in 2012, Delaware has effectively, though subtly, “banned” it.***

In the school:  There are 113 countries prohibiting corporal punishment in schools. The United States of America is not among them. **** In US schools, 30 states have banned any form of corporal punishment. But that means there are still 20 states in our country that allow corporal punishment in school. *****   Of course just because a law is passed, doesn’t mean it’s followed in the privacy of a home, or less so of a school; and it doesn’t mean that law is held in high esteem.

It is 2013, and there is only a single state in the United States of America that has legally banned the corporal punishment of children in their homes by their parents! It is 2013, and there are still 20 states in the U.S. that allow corporal punishment of children in schools! The meaning of this goes deeper than most people can or perhaps want to imagine. But we all need to imagine and know.

So many of us in the US consider ourselves so civilized – individually and as a country. And yet, we inflict such violence – by commission or omission – upon our children.  And violence inflicted upon children ends up coming back to haunt not only the children themselves, but also our society . . . and our world.  Not only today, but for generations and generations to come.  I was going to say, the violence haunts those in contact with the children once they’ve grown. But it seems the children are acting out the violence younger and younger as time goes on. Look at just a few of the most widely known violent events by young people in the past months:

* Adam Lanza, age 20, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut.

* High school football players in Steubenville, Ohio rape, photograph, and transmit the photos of a 16 year old girl they “handled” like a mere object.

* Three 16-year olds from Saratoga, California, raped 15-year old, Audrie Pott, photographed the attack and spread the photos online and off; Audrie killed herself.

*12-year old Bailey O’Neill, died after being brutally beaten by bullies in his school in Philadelphia.

Not only is the violence escalating and expanding and coming more and more out into the light of day . . . the ways of helping people deal with their experiences of violence are being distorted and constricted.  The kind of therapy that could help deeply heal what has created the violence and what is now creating the violence is being pushed aside in the U.S. by the APA, NIMH,****** and the prevalence and encouragement of short-term, “quick fix” therapies that help people “just function” and “just manage” their symptoms, in lieu of uncovering and revealing the cause and healing to the root.

With so much violence escalating in such a short time, we need to look back to ourselves…

Too many of us just turn away and don’t deal with the violence . . . don’t take in that it’s occurring and growing. Don’t look to see the cause, or to resolve it. Yes, it’s painful, but we can’t just ignore it. We can’t just hide from it. We can’t just bury it again and again.

At the same time, so many of us find ourselves riveted to the television reports of violence, while simultaneously bemoaning the violence we’re seeing. Pointing to the “perpetrators” and calling them “the evil ones” and “the monsters.” Even supposed television “psychological experts” acknowledged that Castro in the Cleveland tragedy must have been horrifically abused and sexually abused as a child, yet insisted he is “a monster.” In fact one purported expert, used “monster” as his “diagnosis” for Castro. Even the experts, like the one mentioned above, feed the violence – blaming others and not taking responsibility for their own part in the violence in our country and in our world.

Have you ever wondered why you are so riveted to the reports about the violence?  It is because of the violence within ourselves. The violence we experienced as little children, up close and personal and also nearby – whether on the television, in the neighborhood, in our country. It is because of the violence we experienced in relation to our own families, our own parents – even our own mothers. It is because of the wounds still alive within us related to violence somehow, but rooted in our earliest experiences.

The riveting is because of the meanness, the cruelty, the abusiveness, the violence . . . that was normalized one way or another, in our homes and in our culture. A few examples:  I’m not being mean; you’re just too sensitive. How else am I supposed to control you? Get you to do what you’re supposed to do? I wouldn’t have to discipline you, if you would be a good boy/girl. This is how we do things here. Turning things around against the child. Blaming it on one’s “job” as a parent. Doing it under a guise, like “discipline.” Citing the laws and mores of the culture. You can’t imagine how many conversations I hear or hear about where people are justifying their yelling at, spanking, hitting, pinching, their children. Verbal, emotional, physical, and spiritual violence, too – all accepted, all excused, all dismissed as okay in “our world.” This kind of violence causes a child to shut down his/her feelings, burying them, giving them a place to fester and become violence later in the child’s life.

That riveting is because of violence within . . . unresolved. If we can look at the violence outside us and keep our attention on it . . . we don’t have to focus on the violence within us. The violence that perhaps we experienced or witnessed as children. Some of it conscious and some of it buried in our unconscious minds, our hearts, our bodies. And the violence we feel in response. Some of it conscious and some not conscious at all. Some of it we may have acted out in our lives; some of it we may fantasize; some of it we may try to keep from acting on; and some of it we may one day act out . . . harming ourselves and others.

Whatever our individual relationship with violence – past and present – we need to explore and heal it to the root. Otherwise, it will create our relationship with violence in the future. It will create our individual relationship with violence. And it will participate in co-creating our communal relationship with violence in the future.  It will show up somehow – subtly or blatantly – in our violence with our children, our partner, our peers, our selves . . . with everyone in our world. And if we don’t heal this to the root . . . we will get caught in a vicious cycle of escalating violence. We already are caught in that vicious cycle. But we are not yet so caught that we can’t free ourselves. We need to extricate ourselves from the cycle of violence in a healthy way – by healing it one by one by one in those who have experienced violence in their childhood – and to dissolve that cycle fully.

This is not about people who are deemed “mentally ill.” This is about all of us. We all need to pay attention. If we don’t pay attention, we will continue to feed the cycle of violence, individually and on a large scale. We will continue to be wounded, violent people; we will continue to “create” wounded, violent people, and we will continue to create a wounded, violent society and a wounded, violent world.

If you grow up with violence – blatant or subtle cruelty – you will have within you many feelings, including anger and hatred, both of which are feelings that are warranted in those situations. Both of which need safe expression for your health. Neither of which can cause any harm if they are simply felt and safely expressed. But that kind of feeling and expression is not safe in a family where there is child abuse, violence, and cruelty. Alice Miller talks about this at length in her book For Your Own Good:  Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. There are so many excerpts from her book that I would like to include in this article . . . too many to be possible. But here are three quotes that stand out amongst the crucial understandings she offers:

“Since the path to safe, verbal communication based on a feeling of trust was blocked for them, the only way they were able to communicate with the world was by means of unconscious enactment.” – p. 241 [My note:  What she called enactment is also often called “re-enactment” or “acting out.”]

“Not until the end of the drama is reached do these enactments awaken in the world feelings of shock and horror. The public at large unfortunately does not experience such intense feelings upon hearing reports of battered children.” – p. 241 [My note:  So . . .  the Newtown tragedy got our attention, but the mistreatment of Adam Lanza at his school did not. And in similar manner, Ariel Castro’s kidnapping and raping of three girls and particularly their escape, got our attention, but the abuse Ariel Castro suffered at the hands of his parents and the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of an uncle when he was young . . . did not get our attention. We need to see this in individual cases, but also in the societal norms, when the patterns of child abuse don’t get our attention until they are somehow acted out in horrific enactments.]

“For parents to be aware of what they are doing to their children, they would also have to be aware of what was done to them in their own childhood. But this is exactly what was forbidden them as children. If access to this knowledge is cut off, parents can strike and humiliate their children or torment and mistreat them in other ways, without realizing how they are hurting them; they simply are compelled to behave this way.” – p. 262  [My note: If we hide our own young experience in our own unconscious – under the guise of idealizations, illusions, normalization, or just plain denial – we also hide our cruelty toward our children behind those same walls of silence and defenses against pain.]

Going back to last month’s Mother’s Day newsletter article and looking ahead to Father’s Day in the month of June. . . This is what a loving mother or father would teach us.  And the most loving thing a mother or father can do. They would do their own inner healing work with their experience of violence . . . with a commitment so strong that nothing would get them to break it. Although painful, they would want to know and work through their own childhood experiences of violence. Although painful, they would want to know and do their part to work through the consequences that their childhood experience of violence had on others in their life later.

Truly loving parents would want to help us see our experience of violence and our acts of violence, as well. Truly loving parents wouldn’t just – under the guise of love – let us keep up our hardened defenses against our early experiences of violence, and wouldn’t just – under the guise of love – let us keep up our own acts of violence, however subtle or blatant, and be silent about it. Truly loving parents wouldn’t just use a mask of love to “make” us feel good about ourselves, instead of truthfully bringing us face to face with the parts of ourselves that need healing and with the real fulfillment that can come from our being willing to heal.

Truly loving parents are self-responsible parents and teach us to be self-responsible. Truly loving parents would offer to help us see ourselves and our need to heal . . . and love us through the healing. They would join truth and love together. Without real truth, love is just a wishy-washy imitation. And truth can be just a brutal battering, a form of violence in itself, if we don’t join it with love. Truly loving parents join love and truth together and love us through wherever it leads us in our healing and our becoming our fullest, most positive potential self. . . .  individually and communally.

© Judith Barr, 2013

MY NOTE:  After I wrote this article, but before I posted it, the tornados in the mid-west occurred. So many died in them. And so many children died in the tornado in Oklahoma. It is tragic.  My heart breaks for everyone who suffered from the tornados. I send many blessings.

My heart also breaks for this:  Why do so many parents feel the vulnerability of their children when they go through a tragedy like the tornado or like Newtown, but don’t feel their children’s vulnerability on a daily basis in their own homes . . . where they yell at their children, ridicule their children, spank their children, or otherwise do harm to these same children?  If your heart breaks when I ask this question, I encourage you to reread this article. I encourage you to re-read the quotes from Alice Miller. I encourage you to read Alice Miller’s book. And I encourage you to find a therapist who can help you reconnect with your own vulnerability in your childhood and heal the wounds you experienced and affect you and those around you still today.

* At the time this article was initially published, The National Children’s Alliance posted the statistics for 2011 mentioned in this article. They have since removed that page. You may view the most recent statistics (2013 and 2014), which are alarmingly similar, here: http://www.nationalchildrensalliance.org/media-room/media-kit/national-statistics-child-abuse.

** http://www.unicef.org/media/media_14661.html

***http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment_in_the_home

****http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_corporal_punishment#Country_by_country

*****http://school.familyeducation.com/classroom-discipline/resource/38377.html

******http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allen-frances/nimh-vs-dsm-5-no-one-wins_b_3252323.html

****

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

This month, commit to helping end the cycle of violence in our lives and in our world, by beginning to explore your own involvement in the cycle of violence – both conscious and unconscious. By beginning to explore your own history with violence – both receiving it and acting it out.  By beginning to explore your own currents of thoughts and feelings of violence within your psyche. Or if you’ve already begun, by taking the next step.

How do you feel when you hear reports of violent events that have happened in our world? Do you join in the castigation of the perpetrator . . . the labeling and naming of the person as a “monster”? What do you do with the fear, sorrow, anger or hatred that wells up within you? Do you act on it? Do you silently indulge it? Do you try to repress it? Or . . . do you try to safely explore and feel it?

This time . . . instead of acting on, indulging, or trying to bury those painful feelings . . . try to trace them back, as far back as you can go in your life. When have you felt that particular ‘flavor” of feeling in your early life? Can you recall the first time you felt that anger? That fear? That sorrow? That hatred? Who in your very young life would you have called a “monster” – if it had been safe for you to do so?

The delicate exploration and healing of the violence and hatred within each of us often requires the help of a trained, professional, integritous, and caring therapist, to help us tease apart the here-and-now feelings from the ancient ones. To help us be and feel safe enough to explore, talk about, and feel. If you need help to heal those currents within and would like to explore doing that with me . . . I would welcome your email.

We can truly heal violence in our world . . . if we are willing and committed to healing the violence within.