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.