Safety – From the Inside Out – For The New Year and Years To Come

This is the third in my series of articles following the tragedy in Paris on November 13. The first was Grief, Shock, Another Tragedy and … the Poison is the Medicine … The second was When Are We Going to Heal the Repetitive Vicious Cycle From the Inside Out?
The article below takes us ever deeper into the cause and the solution.

Every child comes into this world needing to be safe;
needing a mother who keeps him safe,
needing a mother who keeps her safe;
needing a father who keeps him safe,
needing a father who keeps her safe;
Every child comes into this world needing to be safe;
needing at least one truly loving person
to keep him safe,
needing at least one truly loving person
to keep her safe.

When safety is missing from a child’s original home environment …
the consequences in that child’s outer world are mind-boggling;
and if the outer consequences weren’t more than enough to live with…
the consequences in that child’s inner world are almost
incomprehensibly mind-boggling and heart-boggling.

Whatever unsafety a child experiences in his or her young life
causes him to think, feel, grow, and act differently
than he would have without the unsafety.
The child’s young fear in reaction to the unsafety gets felt,
however briefly,
then reflexively buried so the child can survive.
But this innate self-protective reflex quickly changes from pure protection into defenses:
defenses against the unsafety just experienced in the outer world;
defenses against the feelings triggered by the outer unsafety;
but also defenses against the unsafety that remains
alive in the inner world;
and defenses against the feelings that remain alive in the inner world.

The child who innocently felt safe,
no longer feels safe in the outer world or the inner world.
The experience of unsafety and all the feelings that go with it
now are alive within that child …
whether right at the surface or buried deep within;
whether streaming through his self or
encapsulated and held off in the background;
whether consciously or deep beneath awareness.

The unsafety may have been blatant –
smacks on the face, beatings, rape, being thrown across the room …
hunger and famine …
experiencing or witnessing torture or the horrors of war …
Or it may have been more subtle –
being molested under the guise of caretaking,
being used under the guise of love,
being controlled under the guise of good parenting,
being humiliated under the guise of just kidding around,
or being made unsafe in any way … under the guise of safety.

That unsafety, whatever it was, still lives within the child –
that day, that week, that month, that year,
for years and years and years after…
even after the child has grown into adulthood.
That unsafety experienced in childhood
and the little child who experienced the unsafety
are still alive within the adult …
until that person has the help to heal and transform the unsafety from the inside out.

The experiences of unsafety and the defenses
against them, alive within,
create more unsafety without the child or the adult realizing it.
He may lash out and fight, firmly believing that will protect him.
She may withdraw, flee, and hide, certain that will protect her.
He may freeze in his tracks, doing nothing, sure that will protect him.
They may do any one of these things or others
because the unsafety within from long ago has been triggered,
perhaps by nothing unsafe at all in their present day outer world …
by only a misperception or misunderstanding that
sets off the inner and outer reaction to unsafety.
And if that happens,
their reaction could create unsafety in the outer world today
where none had existed.

Or there could be unsafety in the current world,
but the child still alive in the adult person –
about whom the adult is unaware –
could react to the current unsafety
with a charge, an intensity, and a rawness
far, far greater than the current unsafety warrants.

For instance,
someone switching lanes on the highway right in front of the adult
could set off the unsafety from long ago
that results in the adult pulling up too close to the car now in front,
passing the other car dangerously close,
rolling down their window and shouting obscenities,
or even pulling out a gun and shooting.
Any one of those responses would be
millions of times the warranted response –
of just feeling the fear of the moment of unsafety
when the other car pulled in so close.
And all caused by young reactions to and defenses against
unsafety from childhood.

This happens over and over again in our world…
Parents who experienced unsafety in their childhoods will somehow,
even without meaning to consciously,
even without realizing it,
create unsafety for their children.
Somehow unconsciously the child still alive within the parents,
in an effort to hold at bay their own unsafety when they were young,
will act out with their children, creating unsafety
for the next generation …
and the generation after that and the generation after that.

And it’s not limited to our homes.
This happens again and again in our world today …
in our homes –
in our schools and churches –
in our workplaces –
in our governments –
between nations and peoples of nations …
people all over our world creating unsafety
as a consequence of the unsafety they experienced as children.

Yes, there are things in the outer world we need to do to help us be safe today and in the future.
But our reactions to the unsafety in our world today
are intensified and magnified by the triggers we have to the unsafety we lived with in our childhoods …
even if we do not yet remember that unsafety;
even if we feel sure there was no unsafety;
even if that unsafety was passed down psychically
through the generations;
even if any unsafety in our childhood has been
normalized by our families;
even if any unsafety in our childhood has been
normalized by our cultures.

Yes, there are things in the outer world we need to do to help us be safe today and in the future …
but too many of the things people think we need to do will only create more unsafety
and start the cycle again.

The one most crucial thing we must do –
the one thing most people don’t know about at all –
the one thing most people deny as vital to us all …
is to do the inner healing to work through the experiences and feelings of unsafety we had as children.
Without that healing work,
we will continue to create and recreate unsafety
in a vicious cycle in our lives and in our world …
we will continue to create the poison
without using the poison as the medicine.

The original poison was the unsafety each child experienced originally.
The medicine is his or her reaction to real or perceived unsafety
in today’s world.
Using the medicine well:
using the trail of unsafety to heal unsafety –
not just in the outer world, but in the inner world, too.

The cure:
Creating safety from the inside out.

© Judith Barr, 2015

 

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

With commitment and honesty, you can search deep inside yourself to know – even if you are not yet aware –

-how you were unsafe as a child;

-how you have contributed to unsafety through the years as a consequence of the unsafety you experienced in your childhood;

and

-how you contribute to unsafety today as a consequence of the unsafety you experienced in your childhood.

With commitment and honesty, you can find a therapist with integrity and skill, who has done and continues to do his/her own work with safety/unsafety, to help you explore the issue of safety/unsafety to the root. You can work with it to the root and heal it to the root within you. And as a result … create safety from the inside out in your life, and help to create safety from the inside out in the life of our world.

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?

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.

12 YEARS LATER . . .

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
HOW HAVE WE GROWN?
HOW HAVE WE HEALED?

It’s almost a dozen years since the terror attacks of 9/11. And here we are in a painfully similar moment and stance as we were that day and then developing after that.

What have we learned? Are we still acting in the outer world without making any real changes in our inner world? Do we respond with kindness and compassion in tragedies like tornadoes, floods, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Sandy Hook shooting, but fail to respond with kindness in our own back yards and at home? Do we respond with kindness and compassion in the aftermath of disasters, but find ourselves unable to sustain it? And in the absence of the sustaining, return to our prejudices and hatreds and fears of people who are different from us – people whose skin is different, whose religion is different, whose way of being is different? Do we take action against them? Speak out against them? Judge them aloud or silently? Are we aware we are judging them, or do we just believe we are saying, thinking, or feeling the truth about them?  Or more subtle still, do we believe we are continuing to be kind and compassionate and yet have currents of thoughts and feelings deep within us – beneath our awareness – that are the opposite of that, or shades of cruelty and unfeeling?

Do we respond with kindness and compassion in the world outside our home, but at home act – however consciously or unconsciously – with cruelty, mean spiritedness, and closed heartedness?  Do we demean our partners? Ridicule them? Shame them? Do we judge them? Do we yell at them? Do we strike out at them – mentally, emotionally, or physically? Are we so unconscious that we believe we are justified? Do we treat our children the same way – however blatantly or subtly – and again believe we are justified? Have the right?

Do we have any idea at all when we are being triggered?  When our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are evoked by something in the current day … but our reactions are not current day. They are the reactions we had and developed long, long ago in childhood when we were hurt, wounded, or even traumatized.

Do we realize when that happens – when we are triggered – it is the child still alive deep within us that is reacting with the power of the body, the physical strength, the mind, the personality of an adult?  Do we have any real understanding of what this means?  Do we really comprehend that in crucial moments we are making decisions and acting on the thoughts, feelings, and early decisions of a child — not those of the adult we believe we are? That the child still alive within us is driving the show…in the most critical times in our life?

If you don’t realize this…
If you don’t take this seriously…
If you don’t find a way to understand this…
If you don’t explore this for yourself, within yourself, in your own life…
you will not only continue to feed what is getting repeated in your personal outer world…
you will also continue to re-create and re-enact it instead of resolving it.
And in addition…
You will also continue to feed what is getting repeated in our communal outer world…
You will also continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution in our outer world.

*****

To get a clearer sense of what I’m describing … read on. The example will be blatant to help make the impact more easily understandable. But the same dynamics apply however blatant or subtle.

Imagine you are a child. You live in a family with a mother and father and a couple  siblings. Your mother yells at you and even hits you from your earliest years. Your father demeans you, ridicules you, and leaves you on your own to figure things out for yourself. You feel hurt, angry, and scared … but don’t know what to do to protect yourself. You bury your feelings. You disconnect your own awareness from the painful feelings. You start to find ways to react that you hope will keep you safe from more hurt and pain. Taking care of Mom and Dad. Trying to please them no matter what. Repressing your emotional self, becoming really “logical,” and using your mind to defend yourself. One of your siblings cries in response to your parents’ painful treatment. One of them becomes tough and angry and lashes out. You become very logical and have contempt for both of them for being unable to “control themselves.”

You grow up and “fall in love.” You go from partner to partner, then marriage to marriage … each time ending up with a partner who has some combination of the traits of your mother, father, and siblings.  If your partner cries in response to being hurt, you react with contempt … as a way to defend yourself against your own hurt – not just your here and now hurt with your partner but also your deeply buried hurts in childhood. If your partner acts tough and angry and lashes out, you come back with contempt and logic. If your partner yells at or hits you … you use your logical mind to try to calm your partner down … or perhaps some of your deeply buried anger comes flying out, out of control, in spite of your efforts to keep it buried. But most of the anger that explodes is the anger from Mommy’s hitting you and Daddy’s demeaning you many years past … deeply buried and hidden anger that has been triggered by your partner’s hitting you.

When this happens, instead of reacting and firing your anger on your partner, you need to take this clue for healing and go find someone to help you do the therapy to heal this.  Without the therapy to truly heal this – at its roots – you will continue to find partners like this … and have no idea why you are recreating the same thing over and over and over again. Without real depth therapy, you may stay with your partner and co-create the same scenario many times over. Or you may leave your current partner and find another, only to be shocked when you discover you’ve picked yet one more partner like Mom.

Again, if you do not resolve the pain at its source long ago, you will re-create it again and again in your life ahead.

If this is true for individuals, then it is also true for communities, countries, our world. That is why we keep coming back to the same places again and again.

That’s why, for example, we still have domestic violence, and it is normalized by many in the public and certainly by parts of the law. We can’t end domestic violence by only doing things on the outside; we have to do the inner healing work.  That’s why we still have rape, and so much of it. We can’t legislate rape away. We can only create consequences for it. To end rape we have to do the inner healing work. That’s why we can’t end the inequities and tragedies in relation to money only on the outside, only with outer actions. We have to do the inner healing work.  And that’s why we can’t end war only in the outer world.  We also can’t end it only with our longing.

Ironically, John Kerry said something similar but unfortunately stopped there.

We know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war – believe me, I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for action against Syria

He is accurate.  We can’t end war simply by longing for it. John Kerry would have us take action. And sometimes, in some circumstances, we do need to take action.  But the truth is: We can’t end war simply by taking action. Simply by longing for it. We have to do the inner healing work to back up the longing, to make fulfilling the peace we long for truly possible – from the inside out.

We can’t end war simply by letting our longing lead us to praying for it. We can’t end war simply by pretending to ourselves (and others) we are at peace within.  We can’t end war simply by once again pushing our own inner conflicts and wars back down into the underground, burying them once again.  In order to truly end war … we absolutely must do the inner healing work. The inner work to discover and explore the conflicts and wars within us and to resolve them within … on the deepest levels of our being.

Otherwise we will find ourselves individually and communally creating the same circumstances over and over and over and over again … till at long last, after experiencing the painful consequences time after time, we will have no choice but to do the inner healing work.

© Judith Barr, 2013

****

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

It has been 12 years since the tragedy of September 11, 2001… and we all, individually and communally, need to ask ourselves: what indeed have we learned?

You can greatly help heal all arenas of our world – from the national and world stage, down to your own individual life – by doing the inner exploration and healing we each need to do as we go about our day. Start by asking yourself:

What have I buried?
What have I become unconscious of?
What triggers me?  And can I trace back the feelings I have when I’m triggered to some specific times in my early life?
What have I created over and over again in my life and in the lives of those around me?
What have I learned? How have I grown? How have I healed?

I invite you to share with me the fruits of your exploration at this crucial time in our lives and in our world.

Imagine what our lives would be like, if we all did this inner exploration! Imagine what our communities … our country … our world would be like!

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.

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?

The War On…

War on drugs.
War on terror.
War on the economic crisis . . . defeat it.
War on climate change.
War on fat.
War on crime.
War on feelings.
War within ourselves.

If we’re fighting a war on everything,
how can we expect to heal the wounds that untended are destroying us?
If we must fight everything and everyone,
what is there left to enjoy?
Who is there left to love?
If we must declare war, or even take up arms in war without a declaration,
how can we expect to have time to do anything else?
If we have war eating us from the inside out,
how can we trust what we will create from the inside out?

If we’re even fighting a war on our own feelings …
how can we expect that we will be more than programmed robots?
How can we expect to do more than survive?
How can we expect to be fully alive?

We can’t just stop the wars in the outer world.
We can’t just hold those in the outer world accountable,
those whose wars we can clearly see.
We can’t just pray away the war in our inner world.
If we are at war within ourselves —
which we must be if this is what we’ve created in our country
and our world . . .
then we must resolve the inner war at the root
and create peace from the inside out.

Not an image of peace.
Not a mask of peace.
Not an illusion of peace.
True peace.

With blessings for healing the war within and without.
Judith

(C) Judith Barr, 2009