Changing Things From The Inside Out: The Bankruptcy Is Within

It’s 2013. There is so much in our world that is distressing and frightening in these times. And we keep trying to fix it all by doing things out there in the world!  But no matter how hard we try, even if we seem to succeed – for a while – the changes we make in the outer world unravel and threaten to return to the way they were, or worse.

We’re not looking at what’s happening through a big enough lens. We’re not looking at what’s happening through enough dimensions . . . our view is so limited. To put it simply . . . We’re not seeing the big picture. We’re not seeing the whole picture.

We’re not looking far enough. We’re not looking close enough. We’re not looking wide enough. We’re not looking deep enough.  Stay with me to really understand.

As a depth psychotherapist, when I work with an individual person, (I use the masculine pronoun here to simplify, though it applies to both men and women) we look at what has happened in his life that has affected not only his outer world but also his inner world – the world of mind, heart, and soul. We look at how he reflexively protected himself against the pain of the distress or even trauma he suffered. We look at how the originally involuntary protections took hold and became defenses, hardening as time went on and eventually splitting off from their original intentions – first protection against what for a child was unbearable suffering, and later defenses against the pain that was still alive within that child.  We look at inner defenses and outer defenses. And we look at how those defenses created problems that a child couldn’t possibly foresee . . . including distortedly proving to that person what he originally decided about himself, others, and life in response to the original painful events. We look at the vicious cycle all of that sets up for the person’s life, both in his inner world and his outer world.  And the illusion that he and others believe as he grows into what we think of as an adult – a person in a big body with the child still alive within. We also look at how that vicious cycle in his life affects those around him – both up close and personal and also not so close. And, of course, we look at, talk about, and help him truly enter into the deep healing that is possible for him.

That’s a lot to take in and digest in one paragraph. Let me give you an example.

Joe is a 43-year old businessman. He’s married and has two sons, one 6 and the other 12.  He has a wife who loves him, but can’t tolerate his walls, his outbursts, or the power struggles she witnesses and experiences with him.

As a tiny baby, Joe had colic that went on for far too long.  He cried in pain too much of each day. His mother was, herself, distressed that she could not soothe him. Eventually at some point in the day she would put him in his crib, leave the room, closing the door behind her and turning up the volume on the music or T.V. to drown out his crying. His crying would change again and again from that of a hungry, wet baby needing to be responded to, held and loved, to that of a baby with a tummy in pain, to cries of frustration and finally rage at being left alone, hurting, uncomforted, unaided, till he cried himself to sleep. When he awakened, the cycle began again. Mom and Joe pretty much lived in the house without much exposure to the outside world until Joe grew out of the colic. So the only other person who would see this cycle was Joe’s dad. When his father was home, sometimes his father would become so triggered by Joe’s inconsolability and ceaseless crying, that he would throw Joe into the crib yelling at him and leave the room, slamming the door behind him . . . sometimes off its hinges.

Joe did eventually, thank goodness, grow out of the colic, and there was so much less crying. By comparison, almost none.

But when Joe did cry, even as an older baby, even as a toddler, even as a little boy . . . both mom and dad had reactions.  What was triggered in them when he was a baby, was again and again activated by the slightest sign of crying, as if it were a hair trigger. Joe learned to suppress and then completely turn off his crying. He learned to keep his chin from quivering. He learned to keep his eyes dry – no tears. He learned not to do the things that would cause his parents to react in ways that might hurt him enough to cry . . . or if they did, he would either pretend they weren’t hurting him or count the seconds until their verbal lashings or spankings were over. One day he told his sister that he made it through 5 whole minutes without shedding a tear or even wincing.  From his once vulnerable, powerless state as a baby, he had grown defenses that made him feel like the powerful one; he had become contemptuous, proud of his strength, and determined to show his strength whenever he wanted.  He had decided:  I’ll never be powerless again; those monsters’ll be sorry they ever hurt me; and life is a long wait till you get ‘em back. Only no one knew he’d made those decisions, nor that he was busy re-deciding them, even in his dreams and fantasies . . . not even Joe himself.

Yet unconsciously, just like the rest of us, he re-enacted his earlier experiences again and again, transferring his parents and his experiences with them onto other people and his experiences with these people – like his teachers, his boy scout leader, his coaches, his minister. And every time someone hurt him, he hid the signs of the pain – even from himself – and instead acted strong and felt contempt for them that they had to hurt other people. But one day, when he was 12, his minister lashed out at him. Joe saw red and lashed back, this time physically, giving his minister a bloody nose. Joe’s father had a fit about what his son had done and hit Joe so hard he had black and blue marks. Joe took his defensive position with his father and decided again the same decisions he’d decided earlier in his life, this time more specifically personalized to his dad:  I’ll never be powerless again; you’ll be sorry you ever hurt me, you horrible monster; and life’ll be a long wait till I get you back.

In essence, Joe had run through a whole vicious cycle or maze, as I call it.

He’d gone from being powerless with the minister; he’d come to the end of the long wait till he could “get him back” and made the minister-monster sorry, only to be powerless with his father once again and reinforce those decisions for himself all over again. Joe’s classmates cheered him on for decking the minister (which they were afraid to do); they empathized with him for the bruises his father left on him; and secretly they were afraid of him. Somewhat consciously and somewhat beneath his awareness, Joe felt this combination, especially the fear, gave him a lot of power with them: he could turn them into monsters and get them back at any time, too. They knew their fear meant he had a lot of power with them, and did their best not to antagonize him.

But Joe’s father was oblivious. He had no fear of Joe, no inkling Joe was waiting to get him back, and not the slightest awareness that one day Joe would beat him up at the slightest provocation . . . when Joe’s own son was 12. Joe’s twelve year old son hadn’t a clue that his father would yell at him for what seemed like hours on his 12th birthday. And his business partners couldn’t even imagine the potential of the same occurring at work with one of them on that very day.  No one understood the trigger that age 12 had become for Joe.

Do you see how the cycle works and affects everyone? What occurred in Joe’s childhood, so early he didn’t remember it consciously, affected his life and everyone in it . . .

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Now let’s take a big step. There are many, many, many more people in our country than most people can imagine . . . who experience trauma in the form of some kind of abuse.* There are many more than most can imagine – both children and adults. Many more than most want to imagine. Many more than most want to know.  But we need to know. Because these people are not just the guy or gal across the world, across the country, or across town. They are the guy and gal across the street and next door. They are also us, right in our own homes, right in our own lives.

Some of them know they have been or are being abused. I’ve known people, even therapists, who are glad they were hit every day of their childhood . . . because compared to some of their patients who were more subtly humiliated and otherwise emotionally battered, they knew they were being abused. I’ve known others who were so glad they weren’t hit and used that as a defense to prove to themselves they weren’t abused, hiding from their own awareness the more subtle – but equally damaging – forms of abuse they experienced.

So again . . . if we weren’t in denial, we would find there are many more people in our country who have been abused and experienced in that abuse some form of violence. They are people who have buried their memories and their feelings, built defenses against the pain, made decisions about themselves others and life, and are haunted by all of this. They’re haunted by the buried memories, the buried feelings, the defenses they spend their energy keeping strong to hold the memories and feelings at bay . . . and the thing they’re unconsciously waiting to have happen as each cycle comes to a close.

This makes the possibility of abuse and violence acted out physically much more likely than most want to know. But it also increases the likelihood of our unconscious support of violence, a support that ends up as acting out violence and feeds the violence amongst us. For example . . . sports like football and boxing during which fans cheer the violence on; movies and T.V programs that are filled with violence, during which many cheer the violence aloud or secretly get off on the violence; there are those who disparage the paparazzi, yet it is our population who reads the “rags”; many decry human trafficking, yet it is our citizens who buy the humans and use them for sex; the whole political campaign season we just went through was violent in its own right – from lies to verbal attacks and more; not to mention the wars we are waging, often under the guise of laws, righteousness, patriotism, and “helping others”; the violence that’s been done to our economic system; and now after the Sandy Hook tragedy, mental health is in the spotlight – but mental health as a bankrupt system, without the necessary leadership, tools, support, and means with which to truly bring about the healing needed . . . all through society, all over the world.

Here’s where the larger picture really needs to be seen.  .  . or we will never work our way through the painful crossroads we’re at. If Joe, as I described him to you, were to be in serious financial debt and even go bankrupt, I, as his therapist, would not only work with him on the issues on the here and now practical level, recommending he talk with an accountant and/or a financial planner, and working with him on his relationship with money . . . I would also work with him on the debt within himself. I would work with him on the bankruptcy I have described to you above. I would help him acknowledge the bankruptcy within and heal it debt by debt by debt.  I would help him become conscious of his early decisions about himself, others, and life. I would help him both utilize them to access his early memories and feelings and heal them so he isn’t driven by them in his life in the future. I would help him build his capacity to feel the feelings he has been defending against.  I would assist him as he transforms the use of his energy to defend against his early experiences and feelings into a use of his energy and other inner resources for constructive, creative possibilities in his future.  It will be crucial that he does all this, beginning with acknowledging the inner bankruptcy, in order to resolve things from the inside out. He cannot simply fix the outer bankruptcy and stop there . . . it will just occur and recur again and again till the inner bankruptcy is acknowledged and healed.

And this is true of our society, too. What happens within individuals, happens also within societies.  What happens within individuals, happens within the society of the family, the community, the business world, the country, and the global society, as well. You can see it in the example of Joe above. And you can see it in our society today.  While our Congress purports to be trying to help us at the edge of a fiscal cliff, too many of its members are revealing their individual inner bankruptcies and our country’s inner bankruptcy. While our country purports to be fighting against violence, it is acting out its inner bankruptcy of violence right and left. While our country purports to value women and want to keep them safe, the inner bankruptcy of our relationship to woman and the feminine reveals itself in both male and female leaders and citizens every day.

It’s 2013.  It’s time to look at the big picture. It’s time to look up close – at ourselves individually and communally. It’s time to look to the depths – within ourselves and our national and global communities.  It’s time to see the bankruptcy that has been revealed both financially and in other areas of our lives.

It’s time to see the inner bankruptcy from which the outer bankruptcy has been created. It’s time to go to the root and heal this within ourselves and our society – from the inside out.

Each one of us who does that in ourselves, helps not only ourselves but also our society.  You can’t just work to heal societal inner bankruptcy and neglect your own.  It may not be obvious to you, but from my breadth and depth of experience . . . I’m quite sure there is some aspect of inner bankruptcy within us all. Where will you start? What will you do to heal your own inner bankruptcy and our global one as well?

It’s 2013. It is time to begin reweaving the underlying fabric of our society. It is the time of healing from the root, from the inside out . . . within each of us and all over our precious world.

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* Today I’m using the violence facet of the big picture – I could use any side to help us see the relationship between the inner and its outpicturing in the world outside. To help us see the relationship between the inner in the individual and society and the outer for the individual and society. The grief side, for example. It’s less than a month after the violence at Sandy Hook. The grief is tremendous. But instead of grieving, which would help us turn within . . . we’re fighting. About guns. About violence. About the mentally ill. About the fiscal cliff. About who’s right and who’s wrong. And instead of grieving, we’re pushing ourselves and those who have lost so much to get back to normal, albeit perhaps, another new normal. To let go of grief. To not weep for those who are in a better place. All showing our inner bankruptcies, personal and communal. Our fear of grieving and the resulting layers and layers of grief within us just waiting to be triggered.

After 9/11 instead of grieving, we began fighting. We went to war. We declared we were the axis of good and others the axis of evil. A sign of our inner bankruptcy. When the tragedy occurred in Norway, I wrote a public letter and urged them not to make the same mistake we made. . . not to let the grief ungrieved create still more events that would cause yet more grief. Are we really going to make the same mistake again? Or are we going to heal the inner bankruptcy now?

To learn more, you can read these articles at my Huffington Post blog:
An Open Letter to Norway… Don’t Make the Mistake We Made at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-barr/an-open-letter-to-norway-_b_911739.html

Help Your Family and You Through 9/11 Anniversary and Terror Threats at
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-barr/911-anniversary_b_956015.html

and these articles on my blog, PoliPsych:
Healing Clues in the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook Tragedy – in Newtown and All Over The World – The Clue Of Grief at
http://judithbarr.com/2012/12/17/healing-clues-in-the-aftermath-of-the-sandy-hook-tragedy-in-newtown-and-all-over-the-world-the-clue-of-grief/.

Healing Clues in the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook Tragedy – in Newtown and All Over The World – The Clue Of Safety at
http://judithbarr.com/2012/12/18/healing-clues-in-the-aftermath-of-the-sandy-hook-tragedy-in-newtown-and-all-over-the-world-the-clue-of-safety/.

© Judith Barr, 2013.

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

This year, make a true commitment to explore, find, and heal the bankruptcy within you . . . as one aspect of doing your part to help reweave the fabric of our society and our world. And as part of healing the bankruptcy within, make a commitment to explore the feelings that arise as you go about your day, tracing those feelings back to their roots in your early life,

And this year, make a true commitment to help bring this message to others in your world – the message of change from the roots, from the inside out.

If you feel called, pass this post on to those in your life you feel would be open and ready to receive the message. It might inform them, inspire them, intrigue them, or simply plant seeds in them. It might help them. It might help someone they know. It might start a dialogue between them and you that would, perhaps, not otherwise have begun.

We can all work together to heal our world, fully and sustainably – from the inside out — if we can commit to doing the inner work we all need to do to help create true and lasting change.

Alice Miller – A Gift to Our World

Just recently, while preparing for my web conference on bullying , I looked up Alice Miller, once again, as I had so very many times over the years . . . particularly since publishing my book, Power Abused, Power Healed, and following my own calling to help heal the misuse and abuse of power in our homes, families, communities, states, countries, and world.

Alice Miller wrote some very powerful things relating and connecting the body, heart, psyche, and history of a person’s childhood to the body, heart, psyche and history of our world. Among these are her book, For Your Own Good, and her article, “The Nature of Abuse.”

Only this time looking her up, I found that Alice Miller had died a year ago, April 14, 2010. Instantly, I felt both saddened that she was no longer here on earth active in her work to expose, prevent, and help heal child abuse in individuals and in our world. And I also felt so deeply thankful for all the work she had done in and toward this healing.

Alice Miller was a wise, deep, courageous woman. From what I’ve read, she herself, kept growing and healing throughout her life. She saw the failures in her own field and in our society and worked to help heal them, also.

Alice Miller was an advocate for truth, an advocate for love, an advocate for healing the abuse in our lives and in our world. I consider her, as I’m sure many do, an inspiration to my life and my own work in our world.

May you know you have helped us all, Alice Miller. May you rest in peace.

© Judith Barr, 2011

Even A King Needs Help . . .

Recently, I saw the movie The King’s Speech. A touching, powerful example of how politics and psychology are woven together! It’s also a beautiful portrayal of the hard work and the full commitment it takes in a healing venture – on both sides, that of the therapist and that of the client.

I don’t want to give anything in the movie away . . . and I don’t need to in order to offer what I have to say. The essence: the Duke of York, later King George VI, stammers; in order to fulfill his job, his potential, and his destiny, he needs the help of a speech therapist. The therapist knows you can’t heal stammering by mechanics alone; you have to go deeper. 

You see . . . even a King needs help to work through the wounds of his childhood. And if a King needs help, so do we all. Even if the symptom in us that reveals the wound isn’t stammering. Even if the symptom in us that is the out-picturing of the wound is an addiction of any kind, one that is right out in the open for all to see, or one that is well hidden – drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, work, exercise, television, the computer or something else. Even if the symptom in us that is the divining rod to the wound at the root is grief, heart break, fierce independence and competitiveness or, on the other side, intense dependence and inability to function the way our potential indicates we could. Even if the symptom in us that points to the wound is our endless hunger to fill the void within us, or the unquenchable thirst for power that hides a fear of powerlessness at our core.

No matter whether others can see your wound or not. No matter whether you yourself are aware of suffering from your wound or not. No matter whether you are even conscious of having been wounded or not, even you have wounds that need to be healed . . . in order to fulfill your job, your potential and your destiny.
 

One of the innumerable parts of the movie that I treasure, is when the therapist tells his client, that he, the client, is the bravest man the speech therapist knows. I feel that way about the people who work with me as their therapist. They are the most courageous people I know!

© Judith Barr, 2011

WHERE IS YOUR VOICE?

In my work as a psychotherapist, I work tirelessly to help people either birth or reclaim their voices.  It’s not that they can’t speak. It’s that they are unable to speak up – for themselves, for someone they love, or for something they believe in. 

Perhaps that ability was squashed when they were babies, before they barely birthed and found their own voices – literally and emotionally.  When they cried – the way babies speak – someone was triggered by their crying and got frustrated, angry, or even abusive.  Or perhaps they were two years old, saying ‘no’ as a way of finding their individuated, own unique selves, and again, someone was evoked by their expressing themselves. That adult someone mistakenly thought the child was trying to control him or her and decided “I’ll show them who’s boss.”

Children can be scared out of using their voice – out of speaking their minds and their hearts – by the threat or actuality of attack or abandonment. When that happens, the work of healing to use their voice is deep, touching, and very real.

In thirty plus years doing this work, I would say every single person I’ve worked with has experienced this wound and needed to do the healing to have and be able to use their voice well and without abusing it. Not because these people were sick, but because they were wounded in relation to their own voices.

Watching our country over the past years, I would say many, many citizens in our country are suffering from the same wound. Some who don’t speak up when they need to.  And some who speak up so abrasively, even so abusively that you might mistakenly think they had no problem with their voice at all.

This shows up in our elections. It shows up in our disagreements about important controversial issues such as healthcare, a woman’s right to choose what happens with her body, and prejudice about people who are different from us. And most recently, it is showing up in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision that a corporation has a voice – a limitless voice – through unlimited use of its money to fund campaign ads for candidates of its choice.*

It is bizarre to give a corporation voice that in the constitution was meant for human beings.  It is bizarre to give a corporation such unlimited voice in elections, and especially under the guise of protecting first amendment rights to freedom of speech. That in itself will likely squash people’s individual voices, especially those of politicians running for office.  That is one of the potential consequences of this decision. But that’s not the voice I’m most concerned about today.

Today I’m concerned that I haven’t heard enough voices of individual citizens expressing themselves about this ruling.  Usually when something that has this much impact occurs, many of my clients talk about it in sessions.  They discuss their feelings about it, and they explore what it brings up in them. Something it would serve us all to do.  Very very few are exploring this event. My colleagues usually speak up about something like this . . . I’m not hearing any talk about this other than passing comments right after the decision.

And I’m concerned that I’m not hearing or reading very much about it in the media. It hasn’t come up on my internet news page since the day after the decision. And I haven’t heard it on the news to which I’ve listened since that same day. 

I shudder to think what such voicelessness can create in our country.
Actually, I shudder to think what voicelessness created an environment in our country in which such a ruling could be made and people would be quiet about it.

We have a lot of healing to do to move from being a voiceless people to a people who will and do use our precious voices to speak up for truth and justice . . . consistently, effectively, and impactfully.

Where is your voice?

*From MSNBC: “In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down laws that banned corporations from using their own money to support or oppose candidates for public office. By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned federal laws, in effect for decades, that prevented corporations from using their profits to buy political campaign ads.”
(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34822247/ns/politics-supreme_court/ )

(c) Judith Barr, 2010

IF WE ARE EVER GOING TO HAVE A CHANCE OF HEALING OUR SOCIETY FROM THIS KIND OF VIOLENCE. . .

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