How Did We Ever Let This Happen?

History repeats itself when we don’t learn from it, when we don’t grow from it, when we don’t find a way to become conscious of the real roots of it.

In the last century, there was a Holocaust birthed and carried out in Germany and all over Europe … a Holocaust which had repercussions globally that many of us worldwide are still feeling today. A child was born and raised who fed, fanned, and used the emotions of the German citizens to get them to elect him. And then once in power manipulated himself into dictatorship … a dictatorship that blamed and scapegoated entire groups of people, terrorized the citizenry that put him in power and those in other countries that hadn’t, and cruelly, inhumanly, monstrously took millions of prisoners, enslaved them in concentration camps, and devastated them mentally, emotionally, and physically.

What were Germans thinking as this was all evolving? Was anyone aware? Was anyone concerned? Did anyone see Nazi Germany coming? Was anyone wondering what they could do to prevent it? Did anyone get what was unfolding? Did anyone comprehend what was feeding it – in the child-now-dictator? Did anyone comprehend what was feeding it in the citizenry? Or what was causing it? If anyone did get it, did they understand what was at the real root of this horror and this tragedy?

*****

Six and a half years ago, I watched on television a memorial ceremony at one of those concentration camps – Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany. The speakers at the ceremony were Barack Obama, author and former prisoner in the Auschwitz, Buna, and Buchenwald concentration camps, Elie Wiesel, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. I was deeply touched, most of all by Angela Merkel. She asked important questions:

   We, the Germans, are faced with the agonizing question.
   How and why?
   How could this happen?
   How could Germany wreak such havoc in Europe and in the world?

Knowing how to respond to her questions, in a heartbeat I was moved to write to her. I shared with her how touched I was by her questions … and by her asking them publicly. For starters, I shared with her that there are those in my field of psychotherapy who are trying to help us all understand the link between politics/government and psychology. That psychoanalyst and author, Alice Miller was one of those working to help. That I was more and more addressing such connections in my country and in our world.

To help her begin to explore the depths of the answers she was seeking, I referred Chancellor Merkel to Alice Miller’s For Your Own Good – Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence, the chapter entitled, “Adolf Hitler’s Childhood: From Hidden to Manifest Horror.” I also sent her a copy of my book, Power Abused, Power Healed.

It was touching to receive a letter back from her thanking me.

For an individual to look back over personal mistakes, and over personal destructiveness, acknowledging them, taking responsibility for them, seeking to repair them … it takes a lot. It takes a lot of healing and creates a lot of healing.

For one to look back on one’s country’s most destructive mistakes and be able to ask, in effect “How did we let this happen?” takes grace, humility, awakened (or at least awakening) consciousness, connectedness, and the ability to feel. To be able to accept and respond to an answer takes, in addition, openness and willingness, and a longing for healing.

Where was that grace, humility, awakened consciousness, connectedness, and the ability to feel when Hitler’s Germany was step by step evolving into a monstrosity? Hidden beneath a country’s blindness to its own normalized violence in house after house after house.

According to Alice Miller, steeped in monstrous practices of parenting, the children of Germany were being abused under the guise of “child rearing,” a normalized national standard of discipline, not limited to Germany alone. Such cruelty, normalized in the home, spread to the culture. This led to a distorted sort of domino effect: When Adolf Hitler came into power, he himself having been mercilessly abused as a child, all the abused children still alive within the actual children, the teenagers, and the supposed adults, reflexively responded in the usual spectrum of ways abused children would respond.

Some froze; some submitted and obeyed; some colluded; some fled; some stayed close to the abuser to protect themselves; some acted out their own violent impulses as a result of their violent upbringing. Most of the society, blindly and beneath individual or communal consciousness, participated in the “march” toward Hitler’s Germany without even realizing they were doing so. Without even realizing it was happening.

Hitler’s ability to foment fear and anger and direct it toward others drew its power not just from the then-current social, political, and economic conditions in Germany, but more accurately, more deeply, more truly from the mental, emotional, and physical conditions in people’s childhoods, in their homes and families.

The havoc that was wreaked on our world was beyond words. It was not Hitler alone that caused the devastation. It was the society – Hitler and the German citizens and the government and citizens before them, and before that, and before that. It was a reflection of the monstrous abuses of children that occurred in individual homes from generation to generation. Abuses that were either kept blocked from awareness, secret, or hidden from view, or were normalized personally and culturally as a justification, finally coming into public view in Nazi Germany – as an out-picturing of what people had gone through as children and lived with inside themselves still. The holocaust discovered in Hitler’s Germany was horrifyingly and tragically real in itself, but it also gave the world a view into the alarming, frightening, heart-breaking holocaust the children experienced in their childhood homes … the children, including Hitler himself.

As many destructive events play out in our world – and as the world watches the unfolding of the presidential election here in the United States – it seems that we’re headed the same way.

For years I’ve been watching as the wounded children in our country and our world have grown up to out-picture the pain and suffering they went through as children. I’ve helped individuals and couples become aware of the anguish they’ve caused those they insist they love, in ways similar to how their own parents caused them pain when they were little. I’ve connected the dots again and again between the individual wounds and the communal/global wounds – evident at the time and continuing to come down the pike.

I’ve worked to show others this connection. Steeped in fear and denial of their own childhood wounds, the supposed grown up leaders and citizens in our world, like Hitler and the German people, have been driven by the child still alive within them, have had their young feelings fomented, have been acting out their own childhoods, and have been busy defending themselves against the needed explorations of the true causes in their childhood and the effects on their lives, the lives of their families, the life of our culture and world … now and to come.

Just as an alcoholic or a parent who abuses his/her child can be completely blind to the damage they’re causing until after they and those around them have hit bottom, so also can that happen to any country.

Angela Merkel could ask these questions after the devastation.
Whatever questions were asked before and along the way were not being asked publicly, and were not being asked in relation to the inner world of the people.
Who amongst us is asking these questions in our world today?
And who instead of asking them is acting out the roots?
Who is saying, “I wish I could change, but there’s nothing I can do about it!”
Who is freezing? Who is submitting?
Who is blind to what is occurring?
Who is closing his or her eyes and not watching?
Who is running away?
Who is lashing out and becoming a bully him/herself?

Who amongst us is truly seeking the inner answers at the root?
Who amongst us is looking at the wounding in the psyches of our children – the child still alive within each of us, and the children for generations back and for generations to come?
Who amongst us is doing the work of the healing and transformation that is needed?

History repeats itself when we don’t learn from it, when we don’t grow from it, when we don’t find a way to become conscious of the real roots of it. It repeats itself when we don’t find the real roots of it personally, individually, familially. And it repeats itself when we don’t find the real roots communally, nationally, and globally.

Yet there are all sorts of signs that we aren’t finding the real roots.
And that we aren’t asking the questions to lead us to the real roots.
And that we aren’t working to heal and transform ourselves at the real roots.

We wouldn’t be re-enacting the same things again and again if we were.

If people did their own work on their relationships with power, we would be able to have the clarity to elect leaders who truly represent our best interests personally and communally, instead of transferring our young feelings onto candidates; instead of colluding with the abuse of power in the electoral process; instead of choosing leaders from our wounded selves.

If people did their young inner work, prejudice would be on its way to deep healing; fear of the other, blaming the other, scapegoating of the other would not be acted out; would less and less exist within the individual psyche; when it did, would be worked with to heal it more to the root; and would exist less and less in the communal psyche as a result.

If people did their work with misogyny, rooted in their perhaps-unconscious hatred and fear of mommy, and their desire to have power over the one person who had the most power over them … there would be no more war on women, no more attempts to control women no more attempts to own women, no more attempts to have power over women. And if women themselves did their work with their own bodies and psyches, their own wombs, their own experiences with menstruation, birth, and menopause … they would no longer collude with the effort to control them and no longer tolerate being controlled – body, mind, heart, and soul.

If people did their own inner healing work with the root of their relationship with money – wealthy people and poor alike – they would pull their own money wounding out of the world’s wounded economy and support others to do the same – creating the space for healing economies.

If people did their own inner healing work with the abuses they experienced as children – both the right out in the open abuses and the more subtle, not so tangible abuses – our country would no longer pander in its laws and other ways to parents abusing their children, to partners abusing each other.

If people did the inner healing work to be able to feel their feelings, long buried from childhood … they would be able to discern which feelings are for healing from the past and which ones are for acting on today. As a result, no bully or dictator in the making could foment their feelings for his or her own use.

If people did their inner healing work from their own ancient past, there would be no haunting pull drawing people to want to take the country or the world back to “the way it once was.”

If people did their own inner healing work with power and powerlessness, the misuse and abuse of power would not be so rampant in our world … and when it came into view, there would be people who could help to heal it at its root.

Without doing our work, our world is headed toward the same kinds of horrors and tragedies as Germany faced … the same kinds of atrocities experienced by our children and the same kinds of atrocities acted out on our world stage.

Actually we’ve done many of them already … under the guise of politics, under the guise of government, under the guise of democracy, under the guise of freedom of speech, under the guise of powerful beloved leaders, under the guise of defense, under the guise of being civilized …

Who is looking at the wounding that caused what we’ve already reenacted?
Who is looking at the wounding that will cause further escalations?
Who is looking at the wounding of leaders, supporters, the media, and concerned citizens, especially in this year of the U.S. presidential race and election?

If we don’t look at the wounding of our children, the wounding within us, the wounding that spreads from generation to generation, the wounding that becomes part of our very culture … we could end up acting out on our world’s stage scenarios like those the people of Germany co-created with Hitler. We could end up with a country in which too many people join with a candidate out of their own wounding and help wreak havoc all over the world that mirrors the havoc they experienced in their childhood homes.

I know what I’m saying is scary. I know it is tempting to push it away. But pushing it away will only help to create anew the nightmare we need to dissolve and heal. The real hope is in welcoming the truth of it, holding it with an open welcoming heart, and knowing that this truth and the healing work that can come of it will set us free, individually and communally, in a way that nothing else can.

© Judith Barr, 2016

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

As we in the U.S. near our presidential election, and as so many events play out on the world stage, we all need to look not only at the actions of others outside ourselves, but even more importantly … we need to look inside ourselves. Each and every one of us needs to explore and heal those wounds within that allow us to tolerate, collude with, and even perpetrate abuses of power in our world.

This election year – and every year – make the commitment to explore and heal your own inner wounds. Look for the ways in which you subtly or blatantly collude with abuses in your families, communities, nations and world.

When you find yourself allowing or fostering a form of abuse, explore within. For example, when you see a candidate slinging mud at an opponent, how do you feel? What does that mudslinging trigger in you? Can you trace that feeling back in your life … to your own childhood experience? To help you truly heal those feelings, and the experiences out of which they emerged, you may need to find a compassionate, healing professional … one who has integrity, one who does his/her own inner healing work, one who can help you heal to the root.

Imagine if all the leaders and all the citizens in our world did their own inner work to heal their wounding! Imagine how different our world would be!

Trump Isn’t The Real Problem – We Are!

It’s 14+ months before the 2016 Presidential Election. It’s already been going on too long. Many are overstimulated by the candidates’ and the media’s hype. The overstimulation feeds both numbness and hysteria. And however disconnected from their true selves people were before, they get more and more disconnected with each step in the election frenzy.

What we once thought was a sacred process – and could still be if we utilized it well – has instead been misused and abused and turned into an election frenzy for all of us.

So here we are in September 2015 … well into the fever pitch of the election process and we’re over a year away. Everybody’s surprised about Donald Trump. Everybody’s talking about Donald Trump. Many are concerned about Donald Trump. And Donald Trump is a concern.

He’s lied. Everyone’s talking about Hillary’s lies. But who’s talking about Trump’s lies?

He’s treated women terribly. He’s made blatant racist statements about Mexicans and other immigrants.

He’s mocked foreign countries who are either our allies, like Japan, or with whom we need to collaborate, like China. He’s ridiculed individuals in our own country … Senator John McCain, many of the other candidates running for president, and who knows how many others.

He’s made claims about what he would do as president. Claims like those related to immigrants. Claims like those related to people of color and of other races and nationalities than he. Claims like those related to immigrants that are impossible without violating the Constitution. Claims that no matter how they might be carried out, would be inhumane … would violate any sense of dignity … and would belie our thinking of ourselves as a civilized nation.

His misogyny is legendary. From calling women “pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,” to saying about Megyn Kelly that “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes–blood coming out of her wherever,” as a denigration of her intelligence and ability based on her menstrual cycle, to calling her a “bimbo” and a “lightweight.”

When confronted on what he’d said, Trump denied it and held those who had accurately understood what he’d meant as the problem – “I was referring to nose, ears. They’re very common statements. And only a deviant would think of what people said.” And then he’s turned around and claimed he “cherishes” women. He has, in this instance and at other times, refused to take responsibility for what is actually his responsibility, blaming it on the other person or people. And lying – to others and perhaps himself, too.

When talking about Jeb Bush having mentored Marco Rubio, Trump said: “If I were Bush and I brought somebody along … and all of a sudden the guy, the young guy that I brought along, said: ‘I’m running against you and it’s not my turn but I don’t care because I’m really anxious, I’m really driven’ … I would really go after that guy. I’d say ‘He’s the most disloyal guy. He’s a terrible person. He’s horrible and I hate him.’ ” And then he went on to mock Bush’s and Rubio’s being friendly at the first GOP debate.

This reveals so much about Donald Trump. More than possible to fully do justice to the revelations right now. But for starters … it shows a glimpse of an inability to truly be in a mutual relationship; a vindictiveness, vengefulness that is unwarranted and undermines relationship; an inability to hold more than just one way – his way. And it shows, beneath all his bluster and whatever ability he has developed to make money, just how young and unmatured emotionally he is. A perfect example of what I’ve taught and written about again and again – the child still alive in the grown person; the child driving the show, whether we’re aware of it or not. All these qualities have been, are, and would be dangerous in a leader.

This is not an exhaustive list, but even this list … he thinks he can get away with. The problem is he has been getting away with it. Not only getting away with it, but his support has been growing in response to it. And the problem with that? The problem is not Trump alone. The problem is us! All of us. Those of us who think we’re in the clear because we fight against him, see through him, turn away, sickened or frightened by what he’s doing and how it’s affecting us and our election process … all comforted by the belief that “we’re not at all like him.” And those of us who are disillusioned by our government and thus can be easily roused and seduced by him.

We can look at this phenomenon through many lenses. Today let’s look at it through this lens: the lens of acting out! It will show us why he’s going up in the polls after he acts out time after time.

In depth psychotherapy, we don’t stop at the behavioral level of healing. But we do draw boundaries around people’s behavior to help make it safe for them to explore their thoughts and feelings, no matter what they are. So someone I work with will, for example, make a commitment not to hurt or kill themselves or someone else … so that it will be safe to explore those kinds of angry thoughts and feelings. Making such a commitment doesn’t stop the thoughts and feelings. It isn’t meant to. It’s meant to draw an inviolable line between the thoughts and feelings and the actions. That is what makes it safe to have the thoughts, have the feelings, and bring them out in the open in therapy to talk about them, explore them, find what in the person’s history caused those thoughts and feelings to emerge, and heal that wound to the root.

These lines, these boundaries between having feelings and acting on them are protections that our children need their parents to teach them and help them with. But most children don’t receive this from their parents. Most parents don’t give this to their children, usually because they never received it themselves. Or don’t give it to their children in a healthy way, again because they never received it from their parents. The result is that too many people all over the world are starting more than ever to act out these feelings when they emerge.

Please note: I am not excusing this, just explaining the root cause. It is something that needs to be healed in all of our societies all over the world.

But at the same time as I and my colleagues are working deeply with people and with great commitment to heal to the root and transform this deep wound and its consequences, there are others who are – consciously or unconsciously – taking advantage of that wound and using it for their own purposes.

Dictators have done that and used the wounded to kill in their behalf. Hitler did it in World War II with people who, like him, had been raised in abusive families and thus would respond to his seduction and his cause. ISIS does that with disaffected young people who have their own early wounds and can be lured into the cause. Donald Trump’s cause is “Making America Great Again.” And people are being drawn and seduced into joining.

Significantly, people enjoy Trump’s behavior because he is acting out his thoughts and feelings and then justifying his acting out. On some level people like that he’s doing it and getting away with it. Perhaps they think and feel the same things but feel they don’t dare act out on them. So they secretly – or not so secretly – get off on his doing it. Or perhaps they like that he’s doing it and getting away with it, because then they see it as his giving them permission to do the same. To act out and get away with it. So they are, in effect, ripping off permission from his destructive behavior … permission to act out in kind. In the ways I’ve mentioned above and others as well.

An actual example, an older Hispanic man was recently beaten by two white males in a Boston area neighborhood. The perpetrators justified their actions saying that Trump was right, illegals need to be deported. After first responding to hearing of the beating with “It would be a shame,” Trump then justified their actions, distorting them and normalizing them: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Hitler could never have come into the power he had without citizens in collusion because of their wounds and their lack of awareness. ISIS could not have come into the power it has without members in collusion because of their wounds and lack of awareness. And Trump (and people like him) will never come into power without our collusion because of our wounds and lack of awareness and refusal to do our own work.

Whether we’re acting out by “ripping off the permission” he’s giving to lie, bully, mistreat women and other people, be obviously racist, and more … or we’re acting out by not taking action at all … believe me: Donald Trump by himself is not the problem. He will only be a real problem if we don’t do our own work with all that’s going on, with all that he mirrors for us within ourselves, and for all that he triggers in us from long, long ago that we have a choice whether or not to act out today. That we have a choice whether or not to explore today. That we have a choice whether or not to work through and heal today.

If we do not pierce our denial, collusion, and whatever else we need to take care of within us … if we do not see the reality and respond to it in a healthy, constructive way … it will be we who cause the harm that comes. It will be we who give Donald Trump or someone like him the permission to carry it out.

© Judith Barr, 2015

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

Acting out is a huge problem facing our world today. We all need to learn how to draw, and commit to, boundaries when we are tempted to act out on intense feelings rooted in our childhood experience.

First we need to learn that our impulses to act out are in response to our young and intense feelings being triggered by something in the current day within us or around us.

Second, we need to learn to be aware of both when we are tempted to act out, and also when another’s acting out is tempting us to normalize and justify our own acting out.

When you see, hear, or read about Donald Trump or another public figure, acting out in a destructive way, what feelings arise inside you? Are you shocked and horrified? Are you afraid? Are you secretly glad the person is acting out that way? Perhaps because you would be too afraid to? Maybe because you wouldn’t be able to get away with it and s/he can? Or is there a hidden place in you, deep down, where you admire and agree with the words and actions of the person acting out? And perhaps make excuses for him/her? Are there times when a public figure’s acting out makes you feel “better” about the times when you act out?

Join me today in committing to explore our own inner reaction to the acting out of others … to draw a boundary when we ourselves are tempted to act out our inner wounding in destructive, harmful ways … and to not stop there, but rather to follow through and explore, with the help of a caring, integritous therapist, the real roots of the feelings that cause us to act out destructively. And in doing so … help create greater safety and lasting change in our world!

TORTURE … IT’S INFILTRATED OUR LIVES MORE DEEPLY AND PERSONALLY THAN WE WANT TO ADMIT

How to communicate with you about the issue of torture has been cooking within me.
The inspiration came today.
I’m writing this article about my country, because of all that is taking place about the issue of torture in the U.S.
But don’t think that takes any country off the hook …
We all need to look at this more deeply than people seem to realize.

Andrew O’Hehir’s article in Salon.com on December 14th found its way to my desk, and gave me an opening to express in a new way, what I’ve expressed in many other ways. The title of the article was “America’s Torture Machine Is No Aberration—It’s Part of Our Imperial Decline.” Even more important … its subtitle was the first opening I felt called to utilize to invite you to the truth.

The subtitle: “Can we quit pretending torture is some huge departure from America’s behavior?”

My response on a very different level than the one he’s offering:

We have to quit pretending torture is some huge departure from America’s behavior. It isn’t.

We have to deal with it on the national and international levels because that is actually more difficult to hide. But we also have to deal with it on the individual and familial levels – where it is too easy to hide. And in fact, it is from the individual and familial levels that it gets to the national and international levels. Read on to understand.

From my experience as a psychotherapist, workshop leader, media guest, speaker, and author … I have come to believe there is more child abuse in our country than anyone is willing to know.

O’Hehir wrote in his article, “Sure, there were a handful … who sounded the alarm, but most of us just nodded knowingly.” Just like with the torture that’s being revealed and discussed nationally and internationally today, most of us just nod when the issue of child abuse is brought up in our country. Maybe we nod, maybe we shake our heads, maybe we just move on to something else, maybe we talk about it with emotion and then move on … allowing it to continue. Many of my colleagues and I have experienced the nod of Child Protective Services when we reported child abuse (as we are required to by law.) We had to report it, and we should never use failure to take action on the part of CPS as an excuse not to report it. But the nod has come in many forms, thus allowing the abuse to continue:  often in the form of their saying they know – albeit perhaps in some kind of “coded message” – but they aren’t able to do anything about it; frequently in the form of their missing it completely, as though they were totally blind.

Too frequently in our society, child abuse is denied. It is normalized. It is masked over as ‘needed parenting’ or ‘needed discipline.’ It is rationalized and justified. The pretense that there is no child abuse individually, familially, culturally, is immense. I was shocked to read how the United States compares to other countries on what is actually legal child abuse – meaning on the lack of laws truly prohibiting child abuse in our country.*  For example … I have read that in some states, you can hit a child, but only with your open hand. Or you can hit a child, but can’t leave a bruise. Or you can hit a child, but as long as it’s legally considered to be “reasonable force” and “non-excessive corporal punishment.”

So back to the nod … Yes, most of us nod knowingly because someplace within us – even if we don’t want to know – most of us know that child abuse is an infection that festers in our lives and the life of our country … and world. Child abuse as torture, and then domestic violence as torture, and more. The examples of this that we see in the media are just the very surface layer of a deeper infection.

And as abused children grow up, they, in turn, often abuse their children. And if not their children, someone else in their lives. Their partners. Their employees. Their neighbors. Children in a school. People in a movie theater or mall. On and on … including, often themselves.

People don’t only start torturing once they’re in the military. They don’t only begin torturing once they’re in government. They don’t only start torturing as adults. It is deeply related to their own experiences of torture in some form as children … whether it was physical, mental, emotional, energetic, or spiritual torture.

People are looking at the torture issue through many lenses. Here’s one lens we must look at the issue through or we will never truly resolve it in our country …  we will just continue to be complicit and collude with it, in order not to experience our own memories, our own pain, our own torture and the consequences of it in our lives.

Here’s an opening we must look through and resolve within ourselves. Or we will never resolve it in our country or our world.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment_in_the_home#United_States
Note: Although some countries have banned this form of child abuse, it is lawful in Australia, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, The United Kingdom, The United States.


© Judith Barr, 2014

IF WE STAY ON THE SURFACE . . . WE END UP SUFFERING AND CREATING MORE SUFFERING . . . PART 2

Who Do You See . . . Really?
The Power of Transference 

I have been writing about the consequences of our staying on the surface in the outer world and not doing the deep work in the inner world from which what occurs in the outer world springs.

From the responses I’ve received, it seems to be such a difficult thing for people to look at, take in, acknowledge, and commit to working with. As a result, starting last month I began teaching in relation to a few arenas in our world where the interplay between the inner and outer is more obvious than others. This month’s theme is about transference.

Chance, the gardener, becomes Chauncey Gardener in one moment of . . . misunderstanding? Inaccurate interpretation? Gross idealization? Transference.

A woman comes into the amphitheater . . . she is glowing . . . there is soft music playing. The wind is blowing. She doesn’t say a word. All she does is walk up and down the rows and around the banks of seats in the huge amphitheater. According to what everyone says, her very presence heals everyone she passes, near and far. All stand silently, smiles on their faces.

A man walks on stage. He’s tan and handsome, well dressed. He holds his hands up, each hand with the first two fingers in a ‘v.’ He’s running for the country’s leadership position. His party just selected him as its candidate. The crowd roars with cheering and applause.

An elderly man, dressed in all white robes, comes out on a balcony overlooking throngs of people. He’s attended by other older men, also in robes, their robes covered with orange-red garments. He holds up his hands as if to bless those below. The crowds of people all bow their heads to receive his blessings.

Who are these people who have taken center stage, so to speak? Who are they actually? And who do we think they are?

Chauncey Gardener is a character from the movie Being There. The simple gardener of a wealthy man, he spent his life on the estate, tending the gardens and watching television. When his employer died, he was seen by a wealthy woman as a wise man . . . soon became advisor to the President, and then was considered as a replacement for the President in the next term. How could this be? How could people, supposedly intelligent, savvy people, mistake a simple gardener so completely?

The woman who supposedly heals people by walking in the rows past them is a scam artist from a little village in a country across the seas. She grew up in an area where public relations people vacation, and one, spotting her, decided to give it a try. Together they are making millions, raking in the money. She speaks no English, and he’s a fast talker. How could so many people be so deceived by her?  So many people – commoners, people in the healing professions, and famous people, as well.

The tan, handsome, well-dressed man is the leading contender for the country’s leadership position – groomed for decades, since childhood, by his party’s leaders.  Taught how to look, stand, sit, talk, walk . . . and how to think, feel, be. Everyone thinks they know who he is and what he will do as leader of the country, even though nobody really knows who he would have become if he hadn’t been groomed and programmed.

The elderly man is the new pope. The public doesn’t really know him yet. We know what we are being told about him. We know how we take his actions and words, but how much of that is through the filter of what we’re being shown?  Most of all, we don’t really know who he is or what kind of pope he will truly be.  We just know that he is “Papa” . . . the pope, the father.*

*****

Why do we respond to these people and others like them as we do, without even really knowing who they are? Respecting them as more than the human beings they are? Trusting them with our well-being, health and healing? Celebrating and cheering them as our leaders-to-be? Honoring and deferring to them as our religious and spiritual leaders, who also hold sway over things very physical and earthly in our lives?

It’s because of a very simple mechanism call transference. Commonly known but not well enough understood and taught in the world of psychotherapy. Hardly known at all in the mainstream world. And the damage and suffering that are caused by our not knowing, understanding, and being able to utilize this mechanism for good … is staggering.

So let’s begin with a basic understanding of transference. When someone transfers onto a person, a thing, an event, the Divine, or even life itself in the present day, someone or some experience from his or her childhood . . . that is transference.  The person from the past is usually someone experienced as an authority figure: mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, adult friends of the family, adults in the neighborhood, teachers, clergy, doctors, or older siblings, babysitters, etc. The event from the past is usually something unpleasant or painful, even traumatic. But it could have been something pleasurable or seemingly pleasurable, a guise for something that was actually damaging – like the seductive, pseudo-playful lead up to sexual abuse. Or it could have been a rare sweet moment in the midst of a lot of painful experiences. And whoever or whatever the transference is put onto in the current day could be a private figure – personal to the individual’s life, like a boyfriend or girlfriend – or a public figure – like a candidate or leader in an organization, a country, a world.

Transference is a complex process with many levels to understand and work with and through. For today, I’m going to talk basic and general, so you can begin to get a sense of the power of this mechanism. And so you can begin to get a sense of just how powerful it is when we are so completely unaware of its existence buried beneath the surface.

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Here are some examples of transference related to the situations I described above:

Let’s say a woman’s father was mean and cruel, but her great grandfather, though distant, was quiet and seemingly wise and kind.  That woman might grow up and transfer her cruel father onto most men, especially those she gets close to. With or without her even realizing it, she might draw mean, abusive men to her; and with or without realizing it, she might expect even the kind men that come close to be abusive to her. But she may also – without her awareness – transfer her seemingly kind great grandfather onto men who come toward her but stay at a distance. And from her little girl place, she might imagine what a wonderful, wise, loving man he would be . . . without even knowing him, or anything about him. With this transference in place, unless he actually did or said something cruel to her, she would continue to imagine his wonderful, virtuous qualities. And look to him for his goodness. Perhaps this is how someone like an Eve Rand in the movie Being There, might be drawn into her transference onto a Chance, the gardener.

Let’s say a man’s mother was a doctor in the slums of a major city abroad, a doctor committed to making the lives of the people in the slum better. The man loved his mama, all the more because he so rarely got to see her. But he did see photos of her in the papers and magazines, and stories about her on television . . . always surrounded by people who loved and were grateful to her. Let’s say this man’s mother died when he was a teenager, leaving him with a heart full of grief and an unfulfilled experience of mothering. In his early 20’s, a woman healer came to his part of the country, and he was drawn to her beyond explanation. He became a follower. He even became a promoter for her. He had transferred mama onto her, without any idea what he was doing. Nothing anyone could have said would have dissuaded him from his devotion to her . . . especially not telling him she was carrying out a hoax.  “How could they say that of her – his mama?” He couldn’t have said that. It wouldn’t have been conscious. But it would have lived inside him, very alive within him, since he had unconsciously transferred his mother onto this fake healer.

Now imagine the party’s political candidate for national leader was saying all the “right” things, doing all the “right” things . . . not only enough to get him chosen as the party’s candidate, but also to seduce people, like you, who ordinarily might see through a programmed candidate. But this candidate has been programmed since childhood.

And, he just happens to remind you of your uncle . . . your mother’s brother who was your hero when you were a child. Your mother’s brother who was always there for you when you needed someone. Your mother’s brother who always talked with you, always took you places you needed to go, always helped you when you needed help.

Maybe he was even the brother of the mother who worked as a heroic doctor abroad, while you stayed home and lived with your aunt and uncle. Anyway . . . such a background with your uncle could easily be transferred onto this political candidate, without your being at all aware of the transference. In this case, it would be an example of idealized transference. So you end up utilizing your good experience of your uncle, who was not only good to you but also whom you, as a little child, probably idealized along with your mother . . . and you end up transferring that idealized uncle onto this political candidate. Again, you are not aware this is happening. You think, even believe, you have a very good understanding of who this political candidate is.

One more person to imagine for now – the new pope. You’ve never heard of him before. You are not a student of the papacy. He presents a pleasant enough presence. He is silent for a while. He says and does unique and perhaps touching things when he speaks . . . like staying on the same level with the cardinals instead of being on a raised platform, and asking to be blessed before he blesses the crowds. The media says he is humble, so you see his actions through that filter. They say he is a man of the people, so you let his riding the bus, cooking his own meals, and not living in the Archbishop’s Palace elevate his standing in your eyes and your heart. Whether you’re a Catholic or non-Catholic, you have been gravely concerned with what has gone on in the Catholic Church. You really want to believe this new pope can be trusted to do good in the church and in the world. Just like you really wanted to believe, when your mother remarried after she divorced your abusive father, that your new step father could be trusted to do good in your family. And because you were a little child, with your life in this new father’s hands, you wanted to believe so much . . . that you let yourself believe. The desire, and need, of a little child to believe, plus transference, leads a grown person – with child still alive within – to be vulnerable, seducible, and too easily seduced. In your case, your new step father turned out to be a decent man, to you. But maybe the step father of your next door neighbor wasn’t such a decent man – either to your playmate, or to his own children, now living with their mother; or maybe he wasn’t such a decent man to the children he taught in the nursery school. Nevertheless both you and your neighbor transfer onto the new pope – you transfer onto him your good experience with your step father, and your neighbor transfers onto him an idealized hope of a this-time-decent papa.  And both of you will be somewhat blinded to who the pope really is by your early experiences and your transferences.

Of course, we can transfer anyone and anything. And just like we can idealize someone with our transference, so also can we demonize someone with our transference. So, for example, instead of transferring your new step father onto the pope, you could also transfer onto the pope your abusive father – the father you always wished would be kind and loving to you, but who, in the end, battered and abused you. And you then would anticipate, even expect the pope to be abusive and mean-spirited, and look for proof of that as his papacy unfolds. In the negative transference, too, you are blinded to who the pope really is by your early experiences and your transference.

And unless in each of these possibilities, you all investigate who the current day object of your transference is – the person onto whom you are transferring someone from the past – and also do your own deep inner work with the original source of the transference . . . you will not know who the other person in today’s world actually is. And you will not know who and what you are actually seeing, hearing, and experiencing in the current day. In other words, you will not know when your experience is a here-and-now experience, and when it’s an experience from long ago transferred and imposed onto today’s circumstances.

This is true as we relate to public figures like the ones I have used as examples, and it is also true in our private lives. With our friends, our bosses, our employees, our romantic partners, and even our own children. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with were wounded because their mother or father were jealous of their own siblings and transferred that sibling onto their son or daughter!

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“This is staggering,” you say? “How do we get anything straight in our lives – private or public?”

Yes, this is staggering. In terms of our personal relationships and our public discourse and choices as citizens. And yes! This shows us clearly that we cannot just stay on the surface and believe working on the surface level will resolve the suffering – any suffering, any suffering completely. It may bring some temporary relief, but not lasting resolution.

Yes, this understanding of transference is staggering. But it is not a cause to become overwhelmed. Not a cause to collapse. Not a cause to give up. This is staggering . . . it is a very powerful revelation. It is a cause for celebration. It is filled with great potential and possibility. It is a solid reason for true and justified hope.

It is something to open your mind and your heart to . . . and to want to learn about. I hope you will want to learn about it conceptually, but even more . . . I hope you will want to learn about your very own transference experientially and emotionally. I hope you will want to learn about your very own transference and how it affects your life. And the lives of those you touch. I hope you will want to discover it and utilize it for healing. The potential for healing here is enormous.

Will you reach for this healing? Will you follow through on it for your individual healing and for the part your own healing will contribute to our communal healing?

© Judith Barr, 2013.

*This is not a critique of the new pope.  I was actually planning on writing this article for my May newsletter. But with the unexpected changing of the guard at the Vatican, it helped to provide a perfect background from which to teach about transference.

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

Transference is something we all experience . . . each of us, every day.

As you go about your day, notice your reactions to the people around you, people you hear about in the news, in the media, from others. Are your feelings and reactions too intense for the situation or news? Do you find yourself idealizing or demonizing people – people in your daily life or in the public eye? What do you feel when someone you idealize  “lets you down”? And what do you feel when someone you’ve demonized does something unselfish or kind?

Explore the experience you have of others, situations, and things in your life, on a deeper than surface level. Who else from your past have you felt this way about? Trace those feelings back as early as you possibly can.

Usually, we are blind to our own transference and need a healing arts professional who can be objective to help us uncover it. And often, even when we are aware of it, we cannot resolve and dissolve the transference on our own, but need the compassionate, wise, skilled, and integritous real help of a therapist to go through the process.

As a depth psychotherapist, I welcome the opportunity to help people with their exploration of transference. I would gladly do consultations with anyone who would like an individual consultation. If enough people here in my area would like to do a workshop on this, I would gladly arrange it. If enough people here in my area would like to do a short term weekly group on this, I would gladly arrange that. If enough people outside my geographical area would like to do a teleconference on this, I would gladly arrange that.

If you would like to request any of these ways of exploring your transference, I welcome your emails.