People keep asking ….
How can this happen?
How can someone do such a thing?
People keep talking ….
For example, Angela Leach, a representative of the American Civic Association said . . . “Whatever drove this individual to do what he did I cannot possibly fathom.”
People blame and have contempt . . . “He must have been a coward; he decided to end his own life when he heard police sirens” – Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski.
People feel and try to figure out what to do . . . “I am heartbroken for the families who survived this tragedy,” Obama said, “and it just underscores the degree to which in each of our countries we have to guard against the kind of senseless violence that the tragedy represents.”
But guarding against it won’t prevent it.
People don’t seem to want to look inside themselves and see how we each contribute and how we each need to be part of the healing.
It begins in our childhood…
Children are afraid to feel . . . their feelings in response to pain and trauma are too much for little children to feel; so they bury the feelings and find a way to escape from the pain. When they grow up they are still trying to keep their feelings buried and escape from the pain.
Other people doing the same thing don’t help! When you are trying to keep something in your own psyche buried, you often have contempt for someone else who is dealing with that same thing openly. You may call a woman a “drama queen” if she expresses her feelings. You may call a man a “wuss” (or worse) if he openly expresses his feelings. If you are afraid to need, you might have contempt for someone else who shows their need openly…You may term them “needy”. Or if you are afraid to ask for help, you might be contemptuous of someone who asks for help (calling them “helpless” or “incompetent” when they do.) With this additional layer … adults make children and other adults afraid to feel and express their feelings.
Our world is in such a state now. There is so much fear of feeling that even in the name of helping people many doctors and even therapists give people medication so they don’t have to feel . . . and teach them ways to manage their thoughts and feelings, instead of working them through.
So … we aren’t taught how to be with our feelings, without either repressing them or acting out on them. We aren’t taught how to express them safely. We aren’t taught how to discern which feelings are those we need to act on and which feelings are those we need to follow into our own hearts for healing.
Say you’re in your home and you smell smoke. You’re afraid. If that is here and now fear, you will act on it to find the source of the smoke and see if it’s a fire that needs to be put out. Or someone else has just started the wood stove for today, usually your daily task in the house.
But let’s say when you were a child, your house burned down. You smelled the smoke but were so young you didn’t know what it was. Now you smell smoke, and you panic, even the smell of someone having lighted a match to light a candle. You may go find out if there is danger in the here and now, but the panic you feel is from long ago.
We escape from the pain and the fear . . . just like we did as children. We probably have many ways to escape. We may know some of them, and we may not be aware of others. Some everyday escapes: using alcohol, drugs, work, sex, “tuning out,” exercise, watching TV, escaping into a book. Even more serious escapes: running away (when the going gets tough – from a relationship, from a job, from therapy), killing oneself, killing someone else, going crazy…
If we are not helped, held, comforted, and responded to when we feel our feelings as children, how can we be expected to be able to bear them as adults?
If we are not helped to learn how to feel and express our feelings as children, how can we be expected to be able to feel them and express them safely as adults?
If we are not helped to know which feelings are here and now, needing to be acted upon, and which feelings are from our childhood, needing to be healed, how can we be expected to know the difference as adults?
If we are not helped to build the capacity to stay with our feelings and not act out on them, how can we be expected to do that as adults?
There are a lot of outer things people may think of to do in situations like the Binghamton tragedy. There are a lot of people who may think prayer or action is the thing to do. I can tell you from experience . . . in addition to prayer and action, people need to learn to do their inner work with their own feelings – both from long ago in their childhoods and here and now . . . if we are ever going to have a chance of healing our society from this kind of violence.
My hope, my intention, my prayer…is to help reweave the fabric of our society, so the parents can teach their children something new because the parents are doing their own inner work of psyche and soul.
(c) Judith Barr, 2009