When Are We Going to Heal the Repetitive Vicious Cycle From the Inside Out?

In my article after the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, I talked about the healing concept “the poison is the medicine.” Let’s review before going deeper.

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

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

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

The Paris attacks occurred 3 weeks ago as I write this. To my knowledge, there have been two more violent attacks in the public eye since – one in Colorado Springs 11/27/15 and one in San Bernardino, California 12/2/15. I imagine there were more than that all over the world. I imagine there were more not so very public attacks all over the world – in people’s communities, workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes. And here is the key to “the poison is the medicine.”

Whatever outer action is done to change the danger in the outer world, outer action alone is not and never will be enough. Whatever is done to change the danger in the outer world through prayer alone is not and never will be enough. Even the Dalai Lama recently said, “We cannot solve this problem only through prayers.”* Although both outer action and prayer are valuable components in the solution, the real solution is within each of us. The real solution is by each of us doing our own inner healing work within ourselves – mind, body, heart, and soul.

We each need to discover, work with, resolve, and heal that within us which contributes to, feeds, or even acts out the violence we are seeing all over the world. Even if we don’t remember, even if it was too subtle for a child to grasp, we each need to find the root of that violent vicious cycle in our lives long, long ago. Otherwise, it lives on within us. Otherwise without meaning to, we will perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously be participants in keeping the violence going in our lives and in our world – however near or far.

Here’s an example. Bob grew up in a violent home. His father abused his mother. Bob witnessed and heard the abuse. And, of course, felt all sorts of feelings in the process, among them terror, confusion, hurt, sorrow, helplessness, rage … Bob never knew when his father would become violent. He never knew when his father would turn his violence on him. He never knew what caused his father to turn on the people he supposedly loved in such violent attacks. And he never knew why the people in his extended family, his neighborhood, his culture normalized his father’s behavior and therefore either abstained from or refused to help his mother and his whole family prevent the terrorizing attacks right there in their home.

Bob grew up. He was very bright. He finished college and graduated cum laude. He entered the workplace in a field for which he had a passion – medicine – and was making a place for himself in the field. Eventually he met someone and developed a relationship with her. And in right timing, they married. While Bob continued to grow in his professional life, his family began to grow, too. Within a period of 6 years, he and his wife had 4 children. Then one night, without warning, without signs, without immediate outer explanation, one night Bob “snapped.” He smacked his wife, yelling at her – something he would never have thought would happen. His wife would never have thought it either. Nor his neighbors, his friends, his colleagues, his mentors, or anybody else who had known him.

The thing that got him to stop was his wife’s screams and the echo inside him of his mother’s screams when he was a little boy, followed by the terrified look on his children’s faces and the mirror that look showed of his own face and his sibling’s faces as children.

Bob apologized to his wife and moved toward her … she recoiled reflexively, scared he would smack her again. He moved toward his kids, apologizing to them, but they also backed away involuntarily, terrified he would attack them. He was in terrible pain himself – for what he had done, that it had come out of the blue, for the looks and reactions of his wife and his children … for the terror he had caused that would now be part of their experience of him forever.

He had many choices. He could lash out some more at their withdrawal. He could storm out of the house. He could get down on his knees and beg forgiveness, even though there would be no guarantee in their minds, hearts, and cells that he would never do that again. How could they trust him now? He could sit on the couch and sob. He could calmly go upstairs to his bedroom, close and lock the door, lie down on the bed, and cry. He could pack a suitcase and leave – till he knew he would never do that again. He could use the power position he had established, to rule over his family in a new way. He could sit everybody down and talk about what just happened, although his family was still too afraid, too much in shock to be able to do that. He could call the head psychiatrist at the hospital where he worked and ask if he could come talk. Bob had these 8 options and many, many more. Others would have picked a different option than Bob … each one creating another step ‘round the vicious cycle again or taking a step out of the vicious cycle.

Bob, thank goodness, took a step out. He made arrangements to meet with his colleague at the hospital in a half hour, and told his wife and children he was going to go get help so he wouldn’t do that again.

At the meeting with Pete, he talked about what happened and cried and cried from his shock, his fear, his confusion, his remorse, and more … Pete asked him some questions and the subject of the echo of mom’s screams and the mirror of his and his siblings’ faces came out into the conversation. Pete hadn’t known Bob’s childhood history until this night. Near the end of their time together, Bob asked Pete for help. He didn’t know how to keep this from happening again, and he didn’t know how to help his wife and kids not be scared of him. Pete said Bob would need to do some depth psychotherapy to really heal this to the root, and to really make sure he wouldn’t be violent like that again. He explained to Bob that he couldn’t do it himself, because of their collegial relationship, and said that he would give him a referral to a therapist he trusted who did that kind of work.

Bob understood, thanked Pete, and knew he would call the referral the next day. He phoned his wife to see if she felt safe enough for him to come home, and she didn’t. So they agreed he would stay at a hotel for the night and call her the next day after his first appointment with the therapist. The therapist explained to Bob that when you have witnessed abuse as a child and been abused during childhood, the experience and the feelings from the childhood experience live on in your unconscious and can be triggered by anything. Something blatant like a person’s actions, look, or words. Something ever so subtle, like the way a person breathes. Or something in the situation. For Bob, for example, being at home with his wife and 4 children and under so much pressure at work and then at home every day … he had begun to feel trapped. On that unanticipated and frightening night, Bob couldn’t contain the feeling of trappedness any longer.

As the feelings of trappedness opened, Bob’s yelling and smack opened, also … along with the memory of daddy’s abuse and all that came with it … including all the feelings and all the memories Bob carried within him. Not the least of those memories and feelings was Bob’s feeling trapped as a little boy, and his witnessing his mother and his siblings feeling trapped, too.

While Bob stayed in therapy and worked through the healing within him, he and his wife and children got the help to repair the damage he had created in the family.

In my example, Bob could have been male or female, any age (and getting younger all the time), of any race, any religion or no religion at all, with a heritage from any country in the world, of any economic standing, with any sexual orientation …

In other words, anybody who has been wounded in any way will unconsciously bring that wounding into his/her life and re-create or re-enact the ancient wounds in some way. Each time a reenactment occurs it is an opportunity to stop the vicious cycle.

Each time a choice is made – consciously or unconsciously – the person is making a choice whether to use the reenactment and the pain it causes (the poison) as a gateway for healing (the medicine). Choosing not to use the poison as medicine will bring about another reenactment, likely escalated to some degree. Choosing to utilize the poison as medicine, will help to start healing the vicious cycle, the reenactments and the wounds at the root.

In the example of Bob, he chose purposefully and healingly to step out of the vicious cycle. If he hadn’t … the vicious cycle would likely have escalated and escalated until he was violent with his wife again and again, and perhaps his children, too.

And then his children might have grown up like him and unconsciously re-created those early experiences and so ended up in situations where they were either abusive and violent or perhaps being the one abused and battered. This would then be passed down generation after generation, as it actually already had been. The escalation would continue until someone somewhere down the lineage stopped it by doing his/her own inner healing work related to the abuse, the being abused, and the terror.

This is what has been happening in our world again and again. Some people who have been wounded have lashed out publicly and not so publicly in abusive and violent ways. Some who have been wounded have run away, either physically or mentally and emotionally. Others who have been wounded have, in effect, become numb, frozen, and figuratively curled up into a ball, becoming passive and submissive in their lives. There are many reactions a wounded person may have. It’s best not to judge them. And it’s best not to oversimplify them. But we can see that the three above represent the standard reactions of fight, flight, and freeze.

And we need to see that the wounded and disaffected people in our families are vulnerable to being drawn into neighborhood gangs, just like the wounded and disaffected people in our countries are vulnerable to being drawn into gangs like ISIS. People reacting to their wounds can find support in groups. That support may be destructive, not random acts of violence, but violence rooted in their history; that support may collude with and help them go around the vicious cycle again. Or that support may be healing, helping them do the work to step out of the vicious cycle for good.

When we don’t stop the vicious cycle in our individual lives, we create families that don’t stop the vicious cycle. When we don’t stop the vicious cycle in our family lives, we create neighborhoods that don’t stop the vicious cycle…we create communities that don’t stop the vicious cycle; we create states and countries that don’t stop the vicious cycle; we create a world that doesn’t stop the vicious cycle.

When we don’t stop the vicious cycle we normalize the cycle itself. When we don’t stop the vicious cycle we collude with others who don’t stop their vicious cycle. When we don’t stop the vicious cycle we give license to continue the cycle – a silent ‘yes’ to people ripping off permission to act out the cycle again and again. And we live in denial of what we’re doing.

When we don’t stop the vicious cycle we reenact the cycle again and again and help others do the same. We act out our ancient wounds both actively and passively, re-wounding ourselves and others, and escalating that re-wounding again and again … till somebody helps us stop.

Of the people who are acting out violently, whether in words or with violent weapons, some are doing so under a guise of a lofty purpose; some are doing so under a guise of divine will; some under a guise of vengeance or retribution; some with no guises, no excuses at all. But the truth is, at the root, all are doing so as a result of wounding – wounding that may have begun with their parents or with generations and cultures many times removed.

But they aren’t the only ones contributing to the vicious cycle and the escalations. Whatever our wounding individually and from one generation to another … Every one of us has currents of feeling in us that are loving, caring, vulnerable, innocent, and devotedly protective … whether we’ve buried those feelings or not. And every one of us has currents of feeling in us that are angry, raging, violent, destructive, with the intention of doing harm to ourselves and/or someone else … whether we’ve buried those feelings and are conscious of them or not. If we do not explore, discover, and heal the destructive parts of ourselves, no matter how buried beneath our awareness they are … we will continue to collude with the vicious cycle of reenacting and re-creating terror in our lives and the life of our world today and tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.

In Power Abused, Power Healed, the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh describes what we each live with and how we are each every side of the problem:

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
Refugee on a small boat,
Who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
**

As I write this, it is 3 weeks since the attacks in Paris. There have already been more attacks and escalated attacks about which we know and many, many more that aren’t publicized. Stop!

We must stop this vicious cycle! Not in the destructive ways that are being discussed and used – for example, not revenge, destruction, and defense – but in the way of real protection, with a real intention of protection. Not in the superficial ways that are being discussed and thrown into the game by people such as the media, the presidential candidates, even the military experts. Rather, stopping the vicious cycle from the inside out, by going inside ourselves and taking responsibility for the violence and the terror alive within us from our own past … and taking responsibility to heal. Stop!

© Judith Barr, 2015

*http://www.alternet.org/world/dalai-lama-stop-praying-paris-humans-created-problem-and-humans-must-solve-it?akid=13672.9560.juPdOY&rd=1&src=newsletter1046025&t=20

**From his poem “Please Call Me by My True Names,” as quoted in the prologue of Power Abused, Power Healed (pp. ix – x)

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

As we take the time to grieve, to pray, to take necessary action in the wake of the recent violent attacks reported around the world, it is so crucial that we also take the time to explore and heal that wounding within us that can contribute to violence in our world.

Take the time – at this time and anytime violence in any way touches your life – to look within.

What does the violence evoke in you? How do you feel when you hear about – or maybe even experience – acts of violence? Don’t act out on those feelings, but don’t try to bury, pray away, or “act away” those feelings either. Instead, make a commitment to explore, as deeply as you safely can, the roots of any intense feelings you have. Do the feelings that rise within you make you recall earlier feelings … feelings from long ago? Did you feel this way in childhood? In response to whom? And in what situation?

To help us safely navigate and heal these intense feelings, we often need the help of a skilled professional, as Bob did. If you feel the call to go deeper into and through these feelings, to truly heal to the root, find a caring, therapist to help, one with integrity, one who does his/her own inner healing work, one who is not afraid of feelings and who is committed to healing to the root.

Prayer and action are important components to help heal violence in our world … but they alone cannot create lasting change. The true heart of healing our world lies in healing our own individual wounding. Won’t you join me in making the commitment to stop the vicious cycle?

Won’t you join me in making the commitment to heal from the inside out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Judith Barr, 2015

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

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

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

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

Introduction to escape hatches

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

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

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

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

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

What is an escape hatch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does an escape hatch work in our world?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2008, 2015, Judith Barr.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

The Tragedy in Norway – An Escape Hatch in Action

Violence in our world is multiplying. It’s painful to read about, think about, feel. But if we turn away, instead of really resolving the problem, we feed the escalation.

Last week in Norway, we witnessed frightening, painful attacks. Anders Breivik killed and injured people in downtown Oslo and gunned down teenagers at a nearby camp. The consequences of this tragedy in the present day are huge and deep. Many want to simply blame and punish Anders Breivik. Although he must be held accountable, blame and punishment won’t bring real healing to the individuals affected, the town of Oslo, Norway, or our world. In addition to the present reality, Anders Breivik was almost certainly acting out ‘escape hatches’ developed in his psyche in childhood.

If you were at the point where you felt so much – sorrow, hurt, anger, fear – you thought you couldn’t bear it . . . what would you do? When I ask people this question, we discover their escape hatches.

As children, when we are traumatized, we instinctively protect ourselves, doing whatever we can to get away from the pain. We numb ourselves, close our hearts, deaden our bodies, strike out aimlessly . . . even before we have mental concepts or words. When thoughts and words become available, they are added to these responses – decisions we make about ourselves, others, life, and about how to escape suffering. Among these decisions: I’m leaving – running away. I want to die – kill myself. I could kill you – attack the other. I’ll go crazy!

With time, actions are too often joined to the feelings, concepts, and words . . . usually unconsciously. What was once vital self protection, now becomes a defense – hard, brittle, and even destructive – and typically ends up creating the very thing we intended it to defend us against. Think about it: All of the above decisions created to escape suffering end up creating suffering.

What if you’re a child who spends your first year with parents in conflict – openly or beneath the surface. Then, they divorce, your father leaves but begins a custody battle to take you away from your mother. The tension, split, abandonment, custody fight, create so much suffering for you. You feel you can’t bear it. You decide unconsciously: Someday I’ll get back at them and make them suffer like they’ve made me suffer. You’re bullied and abandoned in later childhood, and you make the same decision again.

You spend your early years being outwardly compliant, but as you grow you become rebellious. Eventually, perhaps unaware you’re fulfilling your early decision to make them suffer, you make an actual plan for revenge – not on your parents, rather on parent substitutes . . . current leaders and future authorities being trained for leadership. Eventually you enact your plan, conceived as a defense against pain, an escape from suffering many years ago early in your life.

Hearing the news, your mother ‘escapes’ and hides out, and your father tells the media you should’ve killed yourself to save him shame. Whether you know their reactions or not, they’re showing the whole world what you grew up with: Your mother would escape and hide out; to escape from his own feelings of shame, dad would have you kill yourself. How tragically painful!

So, unconsciously, adults act on these young, raw, primal feelings. The example above is actually a compilation of details from the life of Anders Breivik, woven together by my understanding of how we try to escape suffering from our earliest time.

Escape hatches aren’t just true of Anders Breivik. They’re part of being human, whether we want to know it or not. People are killing themselves and others – domestic violence, suicide bombings, school shootings, wars, and more. People are wreaking havoc on life . . . in fruitless efforts to escape their own suffering. Until taught, children don’t draw boundaries between feelings and actions. Sadly, many adults don’t either: not knowing they’re having young feelings, they act on their feelings like children . . . only with the force and power of an adult. Children still alive inside adults are running rampant through our world, under the guise of adults. Whatever their childhood wounds, decisions, and feelings, people act them out at the expense of us all.

These childhood decisions – conscious and unconscious – have more power to drive a person’s life and impact our world than most of us conceive.

Denying this won’t help our individual or communal situation. Hate or fear isn’t going to solve this. Punishment is no resolution. Nor is giving up and letting it happen. Responding by creating more suffering isn’t, and never should have been, an option.

We need to handle things in the present, but we also need to understand what’s happening under the surface within us, individually and collectively, and work to heal the way we respond to suffering.

If we don’t hide our heads in the sand, we can utilize our minds and hearts to help resolve the acting out of escape hatches in our individual lives and in the life of our world. It isn’t a quick fix process. But it’s well worth investing our time, energy, and commitments in this task. Here is a handful of things you personally can do to help, for starters . . .

  • Commit to find your own escape hatches. If we each find our own escape hatches, we are taking a first step in taking responsibility for our part in the problem.
  • Commit to not act on your escape hatches, even while you still think and feel about them. If we make acting on our escape hatches unacceptable to us, we give ourselves the task, the challenge, and the opportunity to heal to the root the long-ago pain that caused us to create the escape hatches.
  • Build your capacity to feel your pain, whether pain from the past or pain in the present day. If, instead of escaping, we are willing to feel the pain that existed and is still alive within us, as well as the pain that exists today . . . we will be able to prevent the creation of needless pain and suffering that would come from avoidance and escape of pain.
  • Help your children and the children in your life build their capacity to feel their pain. If we help our children feel their feelings as they come up, we give them an option other than escape hatches.
  • Be attuned to your children and the children in your life to sense if they have an escape hatch they need help with. We need to be very attuned and very sensitive here, but our children really need our help with this . . . and so does our world.
  • Be attuned to family, friends, colleagues in your life to sense if they have an escape hatch they need help with. This is also a very delicate matter, but you could make a real difference in a person’s life if you can help him/her not take destructive action to escape pain.
  • If you can’t do this on your own — and who can? — find a really good therapist who understands escape hatches and isn’t afraid of feelings.

Acting out our escape hatches can undermine our greatest possibilities and dreams and can create terrible destruction. Utilizing our awareness of our escape hatches well — on a thinking and feeling level — can open doorways to healing that most people have no conception of . . . yet.

© Judith Barr, 2011

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.

JUSTICE?

Osama Bin Laden was killed by the U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan Sunday night. Many see the responses of U.S. citizens as natural.
Celebrations. Relief. Hatred fulfilled. Claims of justice.

Political concerns aside. Safety concerns aside. . .
A mixture of many responses.
Most media people I’ve heard have claimed it was justice.
Some have acknowledged their rage.
Some have called him the most hated man on the face of the earth.

Although he needed to be stopped . . .
although there may have been no other way to stop him . . .
although there may have been no other way to capture him . . .
sometimes, sadly, killing is the only option for protecting ourselves.
When animals in the wild kill for protection,
they have no negative intention accompanying their action.

But . . . we humans too often do.

Even though sometimes people aren’t satisfied until a ‘wrong-doer” is killed,
killing is never a matter of justice.
What kind of justice is it to kill someone?
What does it say about us if we call “justice”?
what is really revenge, getting someone back, getting even, avenging?
What does it say about us individually and culturally?
What does it say about our need to grow and develop ourselves into something more?
Into something more matured?
What does it say about our need to discover what justice really means?

How did you feel when you heard the news?
And what can you learn about yourself from how you felt?

© Judith Barr, 2011

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?*

Today is 9/11 … 9 years later.

It’s the anniversary of a painful, horrifying, tragedy.

We’ve responded in a number of ways . . .

We’ve been shocked. We’ve grieved. We’ve cried. We’ve screamed. We’ve felt anger.  We’ve blamed. We’ve proclaimed ourselves good and others bad or evil. We’ve gone to war, killing and maiming thousands and thousands. We’ve created yet another round of both blatant and insidious prejudice. And more . . . 

We were terrified that day. And still are today, no matter how many layers of other feelings we build on top of our terror. And no matter what we try to do in the world outside to hold our terror at bay. 

We were terrified that day. And still are today. No matter how many wars we fight to defend ourselves against that terror.  No matter how many national policies we legislate or create through our courts to defend ourselves against that terror. No matter how many trillions of dollars we spend to defend ourselves against that terror.  And no matter how many years pass. No matter how many anniversaries of 9/11/2001 we commemorate.

And why won’t these things we attempt work to defend us against that terror?

Very simply because … only a very small part of that terror is in direct response to the actual events of 9/11/2001.

Most of that terror is terror that was triggered in each of us on that day, terror that lived inside each of us from our past, terror that each of us experienced somehow, sometime, someway, in response to some experience when we were very young children.

We buried that terror as children, because it was too much for children to bear.

But if we keep burying it as adults . . . and if we keep defending ourselves against experiencing it . . . it will nevertheless stay alive, though buried, inside us. It will nevertheless keep getting triggered by other terrifying moments and experiences. It will nevertheless keep driving us — beneath our awareness – to take actions in our lives and make choices in our lives that are dysfunctional, unhealthy, and even destructive. We will find new and even more harmful ways to defend ourselves against our own terror . . . ways which end up creating terror themselves. Like war, like hateful prejudice, like addictions that do unimaginable damage.

This year … on the anniversary of 9/11 … let’s do the one thing that can truly help us to heal … individually, nationally, and globally. . .

Let’s each explore and begin to discover the ancient terror 9/11 stirred up in our minds, hearts, and cells.

Let’s each commit to heal that terror from long, long ago so it doesn’t compound the terrors of current times, so it doesn’t contaminate our decisions and our choices about terrors that we need to respond to healthily, wisely, and heartfully.

When will we ever learn?*

© 2010, Judith Barr

*From Pete Seeger’s 1961 song, Where Have All The Flowers Gone?