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!

Safety Then and Now … We’re Not Using the Tools We Have

The issue of safety and lack of safety is front and center in our world today.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, changing climate. Financial safety and lack of safety. School shootings. Shootings in public places like malls and theaters. First Al Qaeda and now ISIS. The Ebola virus. If we don’t face and deal with the hidden ways in which we contribute to our safety and lack of safety – consciously and unconsciously – we will actually end up participating in creating our own unsafety.

Life is a blessing … a many-faceted blessing. And like a rainbow, a many-colored blessing. A rainbow of feelings – contentment, joy, pain, anger, fear, hurt, confusion and more. Safety and unsafety, too.

Even in the natural world alone – even before our misuse and abuse of Mother Earth, our home – life was not always safe. Storms. Volcanoes. Frigid winters. Blistering summers. Affecting human bodies. Affecting animal bodies. Affecting vegetation needed for food. But we humans tried to be as safe as we could in the natural world. And celebrated the safe, joyous, comfortable times and felt the pain, fear, hurt, helplessness and more in the unsafe times.

Today it is very difficult to tell what is the unsafety caused by the natural world in its organic evolution and what’s the unsafety in the natural world caused by human beings. But the most difficult thing of all, in my experience … is to help people become deeply aware of the unsafety that is still alive within them – from their experience in childhood – the consequent unsafety they unconsciously create in their lives in the current day; and of course, the impact the unsafety they create in their lives has on their families, communities, countries, world as a whole.

If you were abused as a child, you probably defended against the unsafety you experienced and all the feelings that went along with that lack of safety. You certainly couldn’t tolerate feeling your young, intense, raw feelings in the face of it – your terror, your rage, your hurt, your powerlessness, your hopelessness, and more. None of us can … as children.

So you buried all those feelings and held them at bay. Maybe you aged through your childhood into adult years, fearful, trying to hide to stay safe, and therefore not actively participating in the rainbow of life. Not realizing the unsafety that hiding ends up causing you and others around you … since every defense eventually creates the very thing we are defending against. Maybe you aged into adult years, lashing out at people in symbolic response to those who lashed out at you in your childhood, attacking people in response to those who attacked you, destroying people and your relationships with people, in response to those who destroyed you and their relationship to you long, long ago. Or maybe you lashed out to get back at them, for revenge. Perhaps you moved into your adult years, flattening your emotional self, staving off everything but “happiness.” And as a result, deadening yourself to the rainbow of feelings in life … to life itself in all its aliveness and vibrancy. Creating unsafety for yourself and others … all along your path … even if you weren’t aware of it. Or actually, especially because you weren’t aware of it.

And the unsafety that occurs in the larger group – the family, the community, the country, the society – evokes in you all the feelings of your childhood unsafety.  This makes your feeling response to today’s unsafety so much more intense, so much deeper, so much more raw than even the current day unsafety calls for. It also skews your other levels of response more than you can imagine, since those levels of response are connected to your young experience of unsafety, not to today’s experience at all. This then contributes to the distorted reactions, the damage those reactions can do, the escalation into further unsafety, and the vicious cycle you go through again and again until you can heal this.

Here’s an example. It’s a blatant example to help paint the picture clearly. But in each of our lives it could be blatant or subtle, obviously abusive and violent or subtly abusive and violent, grossly normalized in the family and maybe even society, remembered or repressed and consciously forgotten – though living deep inside us still, alive deep within us still.

Imagine … As a child you heard Mommy yelling at your older sister and your father smacking your sister with his hand. You could tell when Mommy’s yelling was coming … like a short fuse, the storm grew till she exploded. But Daddy’s smacks came out of the blue. You just never knew when they were going to come.

Those experiences were scary for you. Even with the short fuse warning of Mommy’s tirades, you never really knew when one of your parents would hurt your sister. And you never knew if or when one of them would hurt you, either. You were always on edge, waiting for somebody to hurt somebody. And, whether you realized it or not, you were always waiting for one of your parents to hurt you. You never felt safe. To your knowledge, you tried to be such a good child. You tried to do what everybody wanted of you. At least that was what you were aware of.

But underneath your awareness, and perhaps sometimes also slipping into consciousness … you tried to secretly lash out at your parents and hurt them back in a way they could never find out – for hurting your sister and for the possibility of their hurting you. You had dreams at night of hurting them back, dreams you didn’t remember when you wakened. You were late getting up and out of bed in the morning, and then claimed you couldn’t help it when Dad was frustrated that your late awakening would make him late to work. You broke cookies in the cookie jar, when no one was looking. You made little cuts in the material of your bedspread, so little no one would find them. You spit in the sink and didn’t wash it down the drain. And you tickled your pet dog till he squealed so loud it hurt your ears and, you were afraid, someone else’s ears, too. No one had any idea you were striking back, except you. And perhaps, eventually you, yourself, didn’t even remember.

Year by year went by until you were finally out of your parents’ home and out into the working world. What you’d been looking forward to for ages. You entered a relationship with someone you thought you loved, you thought loved you, and you thought was safe. But eventually – without even being aware of it – you began doing things to lash out secretly, and waiting till your partner hurt you. You felt unsafe again and you didn’t understand how the unsafety could have followed you into your adult years. The same thing happened at your job. You thought you’d found the perfect boss, but eventually you felt so unsafe at work, always on edge for the yelling or the smack, and dreaming at night of hurting your boss.

You had no one to help you understand what was happening. No one to help you discern how you had created the same thing in your young adult life that you had grown up with. Maybe you weren’t even aware it was the same thing. Maybe you didn’t even realize you had created it.

You had no one to ask questions and explore with you. Had you drawn a partner to you who, in fact, wasn’t safe? Had you drawn a partner to you who could be provoked by your defenses, and provoked to react in a way that was similar to your parents’ unsafe actions? Had you drawn a partner who could feel the painful impact of your unsafe provocations, and when your partner tried to explain to you … you perceived it as similar to or the same as your parents’ unsafe actions? Even though it wasn’t the same at all? Had you, in fact, transferred your experience with your parents onto your partner (and your boss), until you couldn’t really tell who your partner was at all? Or until you were finally successful at pushing your partner until you did get a similar response to your parents’ unsafe actions … finally … and could (falsely) prove to yourself that everybody is unsafe? Did you even, in the end of the vicious cycle with your partner, get to prove that you were an unsafe person, too?

Can you see how unsafety in your childhood lives on unconsciously within you – within each of us – till it creates more unsafety inside and out, by our actions and even our body responses, such as illness – unless we do our own inner healing work?

Let’s take it one step further: if generation after generation of people experience unsafety in their childhood homes and then re-enact it in their lives as they age into adulthood … if then they re-enact that unsafety with their own children, and/or the children in their lives … that unsafety will live on from generation to generation, in the children who then grow into adulthood and act it out on the children in their lives … and perhaps other adults, too.

It doesn’t just stay contained in families. It expands out into the world – in the neighborhoods, schools, offices, churches, sports teams, communities, countries and world. The children who were originally unsafe have spread unsafety, like a disease – consciously or unconsciously – and it has taken on a life of its own. What was an unsafe family has grown into an unsafe town and so on. And the children who lash out have become adults who lash out, once unsafe, now creating unsafety. Alone and unsafe within, so disaffected from anything that can ground and heal them, they are either loners who strike out or are drawn to groups who help them strike out … and help them normalize and justify their striking out. We once might have called these groups “gangs.”  But today we see it happen in sports teams, in groups like ISIS, in countries that strike first and are surprised and self-righteous when their strikes don’t solve the problem.

We also see it in how people react when true safety hazards appear in our communal life – like the Ebola virus. “War on Ebola!” See what I mean? And the unsafety in us from childhood, gets opened up so that we react like children, not as adults. Our feelings, our thoughts, our reactions, are those of the unsafe little child within us … so terrified, so helpless, so triggered, and likely so hurt and angry, too. As a result, until we do our healing work on what once happened to us that we have been re-enacting ever since … we will not be able to respond to the current unsafety in a truly healthy, here and now way. We will be children in big people’s bodies, responding as if we’re adults, but not effectively as adults – not healthily, not in a way that will help us be safe in today’s reality.

We have the tools to do this healing. We have the tools to change our lives and our world from the inside out. It is depth psychotherapy. It is healing to the root that offers true healing, true transformation, and true change … not simply band-aids and attempts to control things, just like we once did as children.

Why aren’t we seeing this? Why do we refuse to see it and use the tools we have … the excellent tools we have? It is our way of re-enacting the childhood scenario again. And again. And again. It is our communal re-enactment. Our global re-enactment.

Each time at the edge of a re-enactment, we are choosing to create more unsafety, rather than work with and through our childhood unsafety. We are choosing to create more unsafety and pain in that moment and in the future in order to avoid the unsafety and pain of long ago that is still alive within us. We may not be aware of it, but we are choosing. And we need to become aware of it. Because each time we make a choice, we have the opportunity to use that edge, that crossroads, to make that choice for healing.

The hope? We have that choice. We have the opportunity again and again to choose for real healing to the root, instead of recreating unsafety. We have the tools. I work with them every day in my office. We have the choice. I see it almost every day in my office … people making the choice for healing … for their own lives, for their families, for our world, for generations to come.

There really is so much hope: we have the tools.
There really is so much hope: we have the choice.
There really is so much hope … if you choose healing.

© Judith Barr 2014

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

We all have times in our lives when we feel unsafe. Sometimes that feeling of unsafety is in response to a here-and-now situation. Often, though, it’s in response, in part or in full, to something within us being evoked from long ago in our past.

As you experience the blessing that is your life … make a commitment to become aware of the times in your life when you feel unsafe, and to do the inner work necessary to heal to the root, so you can truly discern which feelings to follow to reasonably keep yourself safe in the here-and-now, and which feelings need to be explored and healed.

When you feel a sense of unsafety, without any current here-and-now threat, ask yourself, “When was the last time I felt these same feelings? And when before that? And before that?” Try to trace those feelings back as far as you can. You may need the help of a caring therapist to help you discern which feelings are from long ago in your past, and which feelings are in response to a here-and-now threat to your safety, if there is one.

It is crucial for our safety, for the safety of our families, for the safety of our communities, and for the safety of our world, that we all, each and every one of us, commit to doing the inner healing work we need to do with our feelings of unsafety, and follow through on that commitment … so that our woundedness doesn’t create the very unsafety we fear. It is my deepest prayer that more and more of you will join me in committing to do that work and in following through on your commitment. Will you join me?

If We Stay on The Surface . . . We End Up Suffering and Creating More Suffering . . .

Part 3:  A Mother’s Love and Truth

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

It seems to be such a difficult thing for people to comprehend and believe the fullness of the effect of inner on outer . . . and to commit to exploring, discovering, working with and healing the inner in order to create a healthier outer world.  As a result, starting in March, I began teaching in relation to a few arenas in our world where the interplay between the inner and outer is more obvious than others. This month’s theme is about the inner and outer aspects of the day created to celebrate motherhood and mothering.

In the United States, we just celebrated Mother’s Day.  Actually, Mother’s Day is worldwide – just not always in May. It is a day with many meanings and intentions to different people. For some it has nothing to do with mother; it is a Hallmark event in that it’s a real money maker – for Hallmark and other card makers, florists, restaurants, and who knows what other businesses.   For many, it does have to do with mother, but it is not the picture perfect event that Hallmark cards and movies portray. To some, it’s a day to be full hearted – to thank mother for her love or to be thanked with genuine appreciation. To some it’s a time to be broken hearted – to grieve that mother never loved them – at the very least, not the way they needed to be loved. Or a day to grieve that their mothering is not seen, felt, acknowledged, appreciated and that they are perhaps forgotten.

For some people Mother’s Day is a day to just “make nice” in the family and pretend, to purposely play “as if.”  For others, it’s a time to live unawares in the illusion and denial that everything’s fine in their idealized “wonderful” family – while the poisons of unhealed wounds are rumbling within – deep in the underground of each individual and deep in the underground of the family circle. Rumbling within and certain to seep out, erupt out, explode out into the family environment, and even from the family out into the world  . . . just like gasses from our earth’s underground seep out, erupt out, and explode out into the world.

There are those for whom Mother’s Day is a day to attempt to repair the wounds that exist between mother and child – as a result of the wounds inevitably passed down from one generation to the next, and finally to their own. Sometimes the repair is successful. Sometimes barely.  Sometimes not at all. This all depends upon how conscious and committed the people involved are in the process of healing and the process of repair – within themselves and with those around them.

Did you ever think about this? About the impact Mother’s Day has on so many people? When you say “Happy Mother’s Day” to someone, do you wonder how it really affects that person? When you don’t say “Happy Mother’s Day” to someone, do you wonder the impact it has?

Nothing is as simple as we try to make it. We are very complex human beings. And if we don’t come to know ourselves – even on a day like Mother’s Day – how are we going to know what we are capable of? On our own?  In relationship with others? On a daily basis?  During important moments of decision?  In challenging times? When we come to a crossroads? When we have crucial choices to make? How are we going to know the best of what we are capable? And create it? How are we going to know the worst, the most destructive of what we are capable? And heal it, prevent it?

If we are not truly conscious of the relationship we have with our mother – not just the one today, not just the one we remember, but the one that is still alive, though perhaps buried deep, within us from so young in our lives that perhaps we didn’t even yet have words or word-thoughts . . .

If we are not deeply aware of the relationship we have and have had with our mother – and the many feelings, reactions, coping mechanisms, defenses we developed in response . . .

If we haven’t worked with our relationships with and responses within us to our mother . . .

How will we really understand how our relationships are with other people in our lives today?  How will we really understand why we have the feelings, reactions, coping mechanisms, defenses we have in our lives today . . . in response to others, in response to ourselves, in response to our calling, in response to life itself?

And how will we find a way to heal what needs to be healed within us to become all that we have the potential to be? How will we find a way to give our gifts to our world and to life?  How will we find a way to truly help in our world . . . rather than helping as a defense?

A mother who is unaware of and disconnected from the experience of and consequences of her own relationship with mother . . . might try to keep us from such an exploration. A connected, loving mother would want us to do such an exploration, would encourage us, and would teach us how. A disconnected mother might not want to know how she may have hurt us unconsciously from her own wounding. A loving mother would want to know and make repair. A disconnected mother might let her children do whatever they want . . . under the guise of love. A disconnected mother might force her children to do what she wants . . . unaware she’s trying to get them to soothe the pain and fear of her own young experience. A truly loving mother would want to join her love with truth and help her children learn how to do the same.  She would want to help her children treat her, each other, others, and themselves well. She would make sure they knew that loving them does not mean condoning or allowing abuse as a mask of love. She would make sure they knew that loving them does not mean punishing, depriving, or abusing them under the guise of love.

A truly loving mother would want to teach her children about their feelings, giving them a safe space to feel and express their feelings, teaching them as they grow how to express their feelings safely and responsibly, how to utilize them for health and healing.

A truly loving mother would want to teach her children about cause and effect, so they can learn from the inside out that their actions have an effect . . . that even their thoughts and feelings have an effect . . . on others and on themselves as well.

A truly loving mother would want to teach her children about positive mutuality, in which there is a positive intention from both people in an interaction . . . in which there is an intention for each to be in love and truth and to find a solution from that joining.

A truly loving mother would do her own inner healing work in order to heal within herself and in order to be able to help her children do the same . . . and in order to help our world do the same.*

© Judith Barr, 2013.

*Almost everything said above about mothers and Mother’s Day could also be said about fathers and Father’s Day.

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

As we wind down from our celebration of Mother’s Day, take some time to reflect on what true “Mother’s love” means . . . and to explore your own relationship with motherhood, your own mother, and, if you have children, your own mothering.

When you were a child, were you given the help and guidance to explore and truly feel your feelings? Were you given the space to reveal when you were hurt by your mother’s (or your father’s) unconscious wounding?  What was your own mother’s reaction to such a revelation? Did she commit to do her own inner healing and to make repair over the hurt she caused? Or did she deny the hurt, and try to defend against the pain both of hurting her own child and the ancient pain within her that led her to hurt you?

Be aware of the feelings that rise within you when you remember your own early experience of mothering and your experience with your mother . . . When in the current day do you feel the same way? And who in your present life is connected with those same feelings? Onto whom in the here-and-now might you be transferring those feelings?

If you are a parent . . . explore how those feelings may affect your feelings about, thoughts about, and actions towards your own young children. What feelings from your childhood might you be transferring onto them? Do you give them the guidance to explore, feel and heal their own feelings, and not to act out on them? And how do you feel when they are hurt by your unconscious wounding ? Do you deny their hurt and defend against your own pain? Or do you make repair and commit to do the inner work necessary to heal those wounds, so it no longer affects your relationship with your child?

The greatest gift a mother can give her child, on Mother’s Day or on any day, is to explore and heal her own inner wounding . . . in order to be able to offer mothering and guidance to her children that comes from the joining of love and truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

© Judith Barr, 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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