Wednesday, January 9, 2019

People of the Container

My counselor and her partner have written a book:  The Treasure Within--An Archetypal Unfolding To Your Infinite Potential

On page 78 in a discussion of ‘individuation’, they write “In the past, society’s general moral code, collective values, rules, and law held us in a ‘stable container’ that allowed the ego to stabilize and strengthen, keeping us from being overwhelmed by our unconscious and of acting out unconscious tendencies.  Yet, to individuate is to discover and assimilate our own aggressive and negative tendencies, taking us beyond using our introjection of an external of an external moral standard of conventional values and rules (which were taught to us from outside ourselves) to gaining our own inner moral code, not based on the conscious mind alone, but coming internally from our total psychic structure and experience of the Self.  It is the vital difference between a plant grown in water and a plant grown in the earth.”

Well, that already is a good summary of the struggle I’ve had with my parents, at least as a teenager.  That accounts for the experience  that led me to characterize in earlier journal entries the attempts to escape their gravitational field.  I know I’ve put it that way before; the sense that their gravity pulled heavily upon me and my attempts to escape it were freighted with guilt and a sense that there must be something wrong with me for my very desire to escape.

And now I understand their perplexity, and alarm, which manifested in attempts to place an even heavier tractor beam on me.  They were people who had never moved beyond the “container” of societal values.  Thus any hint that I may be straying outside that container to them could only seem to be rebellion (which eventually it became) and a moral lapse—a relaxation of prohibition of my ‘sinful nature’ in order to gratify a baser self.  To them it would seem I was attempting to disregard what to them was vital foundations of morality.  And how I doubted myself:  Maybe I was only seeking license to gratify my baser tendencies.  This perspective makes sense about my father implying criticism of a practice of being honest with someone who is stepping out of line.  It’s clear from his anxiety about people being authentic about how someone else makes them feel that he learned viscerally that that is a dangerous practice.  This lesson would be a part of the container of social values and religion for him, and to advocate for something different would seem to him to threaten a pillar of decency.

I think his upbringing had him concluding that part of the pillar of decency is the understanding that males are entitled to unquestioning obedience and veneration.  So for a wife to challenge her husband when he is outside of bounds was to my father reflexively reacted to as some some sort of threat to something sacred.

I think another way the underlying principle manifests is the theme of People of Color being vilified for demanding their place in We the People of the United States (when they shouldn’t have to ‘ask’).  It threatens something in the structure of the “container”.  Of course that’s a kind of idolatry, to worship the container that is meant to protect us as we mature into beings that can regulate ourselves, and then differentiate from that container.  I now realize that many people never move beyond the container.  It becomes the signpost that is worshipped, rather than what the signpost points to.  My family of origin is made up of people who worship the container, and see any movement beyond it as transgressive.  When one is moving beyond the container, it is indeed a very daunting operation.  If this is happening when a Soul is very young, it is very susceptible to the accusation that in transcendence there is some kind of sin.  It is very easy for a vulnerable consciousness to conclude that the drive to break free must be evidence of Evil in the spirit (confirmed by religious instruction), and thus to align with that drive is to intentionally transgress.  That’s basically where I was hung up for years—swinging between my innate drive to differentiate, and my loyalty to the container which was all I’d ever known.  (Question comes to me as I write this—are my sons spared this conundrum since I attempted to base my treatment of them on seeing them—not what some pre-determined standard told me I was "seeing"?  Connor's confiding in me about his own self-criticism and anxiety is evidence that maybe they aren’t.  Spared.)  (But what I CAN say with a kind of certainty, is that the sense of vitality in the relationship I have with each of them, is FAR more satisfying than the level of relationship I remember having with my parents when I was my sons' ages.  present
age!>  present age, let alone, how satisfying it was when I was in my early 20’s, mid-to-late teens>  For that I feel grateful.  I don’t sense that they are giving me dutiful ‘love’--satisfying an idea of what love is, vs the reality of connection). 

It’s interesting to think that the root of my troubled emotional connection with my parents is that easily explained:  They never outgrew the container—and they believe that ‘outgrowing’ it is immoral.  The conflict came from their attempts to keep me contained, when I was growing beyond a superstitious belief in it.  Their relationship with it is as supplicants to the god it represents—and they really believe that that is The Only God--who demands servile obedience.  So they got nervous when I started moving close to the boundaries that felt safe to them.  And while I respect those boundaries, I see that they are also barriers to what it would take for me to feel genuinely close to them.  They keep me from being Known by them; they keep ME from knowing THEM.  So there’s the discomfort of my life with them.  They don’t want to be reminded of how far outside of the container I am.  They want me to give them reason to believe I’m still in it.  With them.

Certain behaviors are required by the Container in order to be perceived as ‘belonging’.  It’s as if being in alignment with 50’s norms of white American society is required to belong.  In that sense, it feels morally coherent to People of the Container to on one hand say that skin color should have nothing to do with how a person is treated, but on the other to take umbrage when Black people marched for their right to be “The People” (with all the rights and privileges thereof).  The amazing thing is to behold how the internal contradiction is completely overlooked.

In Shannon and Dianne’s words, my parents never went beyond “our introjection of an external moral standard of conventional values and rules (which were taught to us from outside ourselves) to gaining our own inner moral code, not based on the conscious mind alone, but coming internally from our total psychic structure and experience of the Self.”  My parents' moral coherency sprung from a conviction that humans being innately sinful.  So, one’s standing as a ‘good’ person therefore sprung from one’s ability to push negative feelings and desires deep into the unconscious and keep them there.  I suppose a consequence would be that life would feel shallow, which would either spur someone to double down and devote their will power to embracing religion, or spin off, possibly into something self-destructive.  That was the world I lived in, and it felt very thin to me.  So, my feelings that that world felt thin to me were evidence that I was failing to keep those feelings buried in my unconscious, too.

However, whether by design or not, the result was that I could only conclude that to be a good person meant everyone else thinking I was a good person, which meant appeasing them, often.  Even while at the same time society was telling me that I should be an Independent Actor (as long as it aligned with what pleased them).  I’ve known this for a long time, but haven’t quite understood this as clearly before.

So, seeing that mismatch, in these terms (they being people of the container and me also being of the container but naturally growing beyond, and being prohibited from doing so) would explain a great deal of my experience of my younger years.  That kind of mismatch would not bode well for the person who has no power in the situation.  The person with no power would have to come up with a solution all on his or her own, and in my case it was to believe that if someone was displeased that I had displeased them (in a lot of ways it’s because they believed that I had displeased them, too).  And the way to not-displeasing lay in becoming very vigilant and anticipatory about what might displease them, and to monitor myself to see if I might be about to do something that would cause me to be punished in some way.  In that way, attempting to predict what would cause them to be displeased became me seeing myself the way I thought they saw me.

Confusion ensued.

I’m less confused now.

Part of it may have been the talk with Shannon on Wednesday.  I shared with her my fear that I have reached the line in terms of therapy, meaning that I have reached the limits of my capacity to better myself, and my alignments or whatever within so I can attract a life that has joy and warmth, warm pleasure consistently, as a consequence.  I read my journal entry about fearing that there was “no there there” in therapy, and that being a cause of some sadness—along with the kind of sadness that’s around when I feel overextended.  Shannon reminded me that in the prior visit (2 weeks ago, since we didn’t meet the day after Christmas) I had surmised that maybe what I was interpreting as sadness wasn’t really sadness.  I remember that conversation with her, where I’d gotten a sense of understanding that what felt like sadness might be really be “the breadcrumb trail” “back” to my Natural Self.  She said she thought that was an important insight, a stride forward.

The book has over 400 pages, including the appendices.  And all of this thought was inspired by a single line on page 78.  That's promising.