“We Need Mothers Who …” Mother’s Day All Over the World

Countries and cultures all over the world celebrate Mother in some way.
It may be a healthy way. It may be a distorted, ritualized, or even an unhealthy way.
Perhaps it’s the personal mother who is celebrated. Perhaps it’s the idealized mother who is celebrated. Perhaps the normalized mother. Possibly it’s the essence of Mother we need.

Our mothers have an impact on us as individuals and on us as a society … whatever society we live in. Both consciously and unconsciously, our mothers have an impact on our personal lives, and an impact on the life of our planet.

There is no perfect mother. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. If someone pretends to be perfect, she teaches her children they have to be perfect. Because they never can be perfect, she teaches her children they can never be good enough. She also teaches them there is no process in life or human relationship. The mother who is human – imperfect but a good enough mother in all the ways children most deeply need – teaches her children it is possible to make mistakes and create a repair for the mistakes they’ve made. She does that with them when she makes a mistake. She helps them do that when they make a mistake. This deepens their trust with her, with themselves, with process, and with life itself.

When have you seen that from a mother in public life? From a mother or a father in public life? It is sorely lacking. Especially in these times.

Just as important as that acknowledgment of a mistake and the repair that needs to follow, is the mother who realizes she has made a mistake out of her own wounding, acknowledges it, and gets the help to do her own inner healing work instead of continuing to act out her wounding with her children, family, and others. This deepens her own and her children’s faith in real repair – for their relationship with mother and for their ability to do the same. It is a profound and wonderful role model for everyone in her life who witnesses her in the process of healing inside and out.

When have you seen that from a mother in public life? From a mother? From a father? It is tragically lacking in our world. Especially in these times.

But … I remember a time not long ago, reading about two public figures who did acknowledge – to themselves and apparently to others – that the work they did in the world was an acting out of their defenses against their wounds. It was a good example of the possibility that we may do important work in our outer world, yet it may unconsciously be a way to hold at bay the pain of our wounding as children that is still alive in our inner world.

Gloria Steinem acknowledged that “being a social activist can be a drug that keeps you from going back and looking at yourself. You keep trying to fill up this emptiness.”* How courageous! How honest! How real! And what a model for our world. Was anybody listening? Did anybody get it? She was acknowledging out loud that she invested herself in a cause in the outer world to avoid the pain still alive in her inner world.

I once led a workshop called Conscious Activism from the Inside Out on the topic of outer activism as a defense against inner activism. As people explored how they used social and political activism to hold their inner world at bay, I was also helping them realize that it is possible to do the inner healing and also help in the outer world. And that it was of great concern how frenzied and distorted the outer activism can become as a defense against the inner. All we have to do to see an example of that is to look at the political scene in the United States today.

Betty Friedan offered an acknowledgement similar to that of Gloria Steinem in a later edition of The Feminine Mystique. She wrote about her hatred for her mother, and then admitted, “It was easier for me to start the women’s movement than it was to change my own personal life.”

These were the “mothers” of the women’s movement. Their acknowledgments don’t discount the actual good done by and through the women’s movement. But they may explain the roots of some of the harms. Here’s a perfect example of no mother being perfect. But by their taking responsibility for the deep roots of their unconscious intentions, these mothers of the women’s movement … freed themselves to do their inner healing and offered a profound model to those who came after them. Who knows how few or many of the “daughters” and “sons” of the women’s movement welcomed and utilized that model in their own lives and their own activism? This brings to the foreground the understanding that the unconscious intentions of avoiding their own inner pain contributed to the unsustainability of many of the outer successes they achieved.

For example, if each of them had first worked with the young pain of not having choices over their own minds, bodies, hearts, and souls … they would have modeled for all those who worked with them and came after them to do their own inner work and then the outer work.

How many other women have made these acknowledgments? How many men have done the same? How very different our political scene would be today if both women and men did their inner work before bringing their energies to such important arenas in our outer world!

But back to mothers … and a deep hope that more mothers – both in private life and public life – will do their own inner healing work for their own sakes, for the sake of their children, and for the sake of our world.

This is my Mother’s Day wish.

This is my Mother’s Day prayer.

© Judith Barr, 2016.

* from the synopsis for the HBO documentary, “In Her Own Words,” http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/gloria-in-her-own-words/synopsis.html

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

Whether we are mothers or not, whether we are activists or not, whether we are men or women, old or young, single or married … we all need to very carefully explore and heal the wounded currents within us that affect our lives, our relationships, our world.

This Mother’s Day, make a commitment to begin that crucial healing journey. Or to take that next big step in it. As you reflect on your own relationship with your mother – past and present – allow yourself to feel whatever arises within you … committing not to act out on those feelings but rather to feel and explore the roots of those feelings. What are the earliest feelings you can recall in relation to your mother? And … when in your here-and-now life do you feel those same feelings? About whom in your here-and-now life do you feel that same way?

When exploring, we may find we need the help of a skilled, caring therapist to truly heal many of our deepest feelings about our mothers. Even to bring into consciousness for healing feelings we can’t remember or don’t consciously connect with our relationship with mother. Commit as well to find that help when you need it.

Whether we are parents or not, we all need to do the inner work necessary to explore and heal our inner wounding…for the sake of our families, our communities, and the children in our world – and the adults they will someday become.

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!

The Wounding Is Evident – But So Is the Possibility for Healing

Since the beginning of 2014 the signs of wounding in our world – even just here in the USA – are obvious, blatant, and easily visible in the light of day.  Why don’t we see them as the signs of wounding that they are?

By January 24, there were already news reports commenting on the increased frequency of school shootings in this year …7 in the first 14 school days of 2014, in comparison to 28 in all of 2013.

Why don’t people see what drives these tragedies as wounding? The wounding of the shooters? The wounding in their families? The wounding in our society? Instead of seeing the wounding and healing it, they try to control the guns. And at the same time, they want to teach children how to use guns?

The blindness is heart stopping! The denial is breath-taking. The opportunities are completely ignored. The consequences so destructive!

A retired police captain, Curtis Reeves, shot and killed Chad Oulson in a movie theater because Chad was texting his babysitter. A former cop! Someone we’re “supposed” to trust to keep us safe.  The wounding explodes out into the world in the form of misuse and abuse of power. Do we see the wounding in this and other members of our “protective services”?  Or is our own sight wounded by our early experiences with authorities and “supposed protectors” in our childhood?

A Congressman, Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY) spoke to a reporter in an appalling way – appalling for any person to speak to another, even for a politician in today’s world. But he’s not just a politician; he’s a government official.  He insulted the reporter, Michael Scotto. He cursed at the reporter. And worst of all, he threatened the reporter, “I’ll throw you off this f***ing balcony.” And he threatened again, “I’ll break you in half, like a boy.” Unfortunately, this kind of behavior and talk in our world’s political arena – in our world period – has become too commonplace. And, unfortunately, we too often only see it as the sign of a particular individual’s “bad behavior.”  Why don’t we see the sign it is of that individual’s wounding? And why don’t we see the sign it is of cultural wounding … that this is so commonplace?

As if that weren’t sign enough of wounding, Representative Grimm first defended and justified his behavior, and then he showed even further signs of wounding – both personal and cultural. He offered something he called an “apology,” but it wasn’t really an apology. It was a justification for his threats and bullying: he said he was “passionate”; he was “in a hurry”; he was “annoyed”; he “verbally took the reporter to task and told him off.” A blatant sign of lack of personal responsibility…his own and a reflection of that in our world.  And a flagrant sign of the dearth of ability to make real repair … for him and in our world. Signs of profound, deep, and also expansive wounding.

Now we come to Chris Christie … previously a potential candidate for president in 2016. Caught in apparent lies, bullying, and revenge. From soaring to a favored governor to plummeting into distrust and disfavor. People are saying all sorts of things about him. The personal wounding is obvious. But does anyone look at that? Does anyone talk about that?

And Justin Bieber, 19 year old singer … speeding, dui, drugs, who knows what else. People see him as all sorts of things, including “spoiled kid celebrity.” But are we blind to his wounding … whatever wounding he experienced in his family and, in addition, the wounding in the celebrity and entertainment world?

The same and similar questions can be asked in relation to the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman – apparently overdosed on heroin. What painful wounding did he live with that he never healed … even with his celebrity, even with his money, even with his opportunities for healing? Can’t we see how true this is of both the people with celebrity and money and also those without? The wounding in our world is widespread . . . and oh, so very visible!

If we were to be honest about it, we have all been wounded in some way. No one has escaped. “How do we respond to our wounding?” is the real question. Do we try to keep it buried? Do we pretend it never happened? Do we normalize it as just part of life? Do we attempt to manage it?

Do we do everything we can to control it and the consequences of that wounding? Do we act it out with others and justify that?  Do we try to “rise above” the wounding and pretend that can help us escape its effects?  Do we try to “transcend” the wounding with prayer and meditation and focusing on the light, pretending there is nothing hidden in the dark of our own unconscious selves? Do we somehow or other leave it unhealed . . . and wonder why our lives aren’t what they could be? And wonder why our world is the way it is?

When we are children experiencing pain, wounding, trauma … we reflexively protect ourselves from what feels unbearable to a child. We bury it, repress it, split ourselves off from the experience. We numb ourselves and deaden ourselves. Originally these are a means of protection. As time goes on and they continue, they start to harden into defenses. Even then, they are a child’s way of trying to stay sane and trying to stay alive.

And if we keep those defenses until we safely get ourselves to someone who can help us heal – truly heal to the root – then those defenses may have served us well. But we may have found someone who, instead of helping us heal to the root, helps us instead to strengthen our defenses – with or without even realizing it – or to create new defenses along with our original ones. And all the while, our defenses may have also caused us and others we touch unanticipated pain. Pushing people away to keep from feeling what happened long ago is an example. Lashing out at people who care about you to avoid having a childhood experience triggered is another example.

For while our defenses may keep us intact till we reach someone who can help us heal … those same defenses usually also create the very things they were originally devised to defend us against.  Let’s say we refuse to give all we’ve got to an endeavor at work … out of fear of being punished (the way mom or dad punished us as children). But our boss gets angry at us for falling short. The defense has created the very anger and punishment it was meant to prevent. Or let’s say we’re scared to be all we can be in a business we’re called to create, for fear dad will tell us “we’re too big for our britches.” So we start the business without telling our father and proceed along, keeping our success a secret, till one day the secret comes out and dad’s response is predictably … “What’re you too big for your britches that you didn’t need my help at all?” Once again, our defense has created the very thing it was intended to avoid.

So we have this ancient wounding that is so prevalent in our world. The wounding that comes along with us as we age, alive though perhaps unconscious within us. Do we keep it buried? Do we build a wall within and without to keep from touching it again? To keep from ever feeling it again? Do we deny we were ever wounded, even to ourselves? Do we use a million and one defenses – even new age defenses, twenty-first century defenses – to keep from meeting our wounding again as adults, even if that meeting could make possible the healing? Even if meeting that wounding again is absolutely necessary, in truth, to making possible the healing?

And as a result, do we fail to see the wounding in those around us – up close and far away – individually, culturally, and globally? And if we are unable to see the wounding outside ourselves because we are unable to see the wounding within . . . how will we ever, ever, ever be able to help resolve the problems that exist as a result of wounding? The problems in ourselves. The problems in our families. The problems in our schools. The problems in our religious and spiritual organizations. The problems in our corporations. The problems in our places of employment. The problems in our governments …

We need to take off our blinders and see the signs of wounding – in ourselves and in our world. We need to see and recognize what’s going awry in our lives and in our world as signs of wounding – signs of wounding showing us there are wounds to be healed. We need to know we can heal this wounding … if we commit to being courageous explorers, detectives, and healers in our own unconscious selves.

© Judith Barr, 2014

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

We are all wounded. We all need to become more aware of our own wounding, and commit to do the work needed to explore and heal our wounding.

As you go about your day, try to become aware of situations where your own wounding is evident…and how you react to your own wounds. Ask yourself the same questions I ask in the article above:

Do you try to keep your wounds buried?
Do you pretend the traumas that gave birth to your wounds never happened?
Do you normalize your wounding as just part of life?
Do you attempt to manage or control your wounding and the consequences of that wounding? Do you act it out with others and justify that?
Do you try to “rise above” the wounding and pretend that can help you escape its effects?
Do you try to “transcend” the wounding with prayer and meditation and focusing on the light, pretending there is nothing hidden in the dark of your own unconscious self?
Do you somehow or other leave it unhealed…and wonder why your life and our world aren’t what they could be?

Becoming more aware of how you react to your own wounding can be a starting step in the journey towards healing…taking us further from just trying to control the effects of our own wounding in the outer world and closer toward healing those wounds to the root. And … in doing so, we move closer toward real, sustainable change not only in our lives but in our world.

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

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

Dear citizens of Norway . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Judith Barr, 2011.