Friday, January 9, 2009

Exerpts, January 2007

In a synchronistic way I found in an earlier journal some insights that are like precursors to the themes occupying me lately. I thought I'd include them here.

The book I'm referring to is called Bush On the Couch, by Justin Franks.

1/02/07 Tues, 11:38

I’ve been really indulging my thirst for information, reading for hours. Got stoned a little while ago. What I’m really indulging is my reveling in the silence of the kids’ absence. The first day back at school for them, and the return of reliable hours to myself. Only 4 7-hour stretches this week, but it feels like a lot in comparison to what I’ve had since December 13. They had nearly 3 weeks off. I’m mostly glad to be looking ahead at a prolonged stretch of time offs-from-parenting, and behind at the long stretch I knew was coming.

Helena made an interesting remark that I actually misunderstood, but still felt as an insight. I can’t even think right now of the context of that—the greater conversation. Well, the overall conversational topic was our difficulties with the men we’ve married. But more than a bitch-fest; genuinely using each other to help us work out just what our experiences are, and our responses to them. Trying to make sense.

Anyway, it was in that context, but not the closer context, that Helena made the remark. I’d said something about Gary’s relationship with his mother and she made the analogy to roles that people often play in alcoholic families: “He was being ‘the good son’. And now he’s expecting you to be ‘the perfect mother.’” That’s where the noise in the room had risen a second and obliterated the word “mother” and I thought she’d said, ‘son’. Which filled me with an understanding that maybe as Gary had been ‘the good son’ to his mother, he expected me to “be a ‘good son’ to him.” I think I remember the overall context a little better: the notion that …I keep remembering back further. I think we may have been talking about Melanie Klein’s theory that at the base of all of us; within our core, there is a basic anxiety over our birth…that is, our ‘expulsion’. And that perhaps this ‘birth’, and the anxiety that accompanies it, is what has become in judeo-christian collective narrative: ‘original sin’. And that, the infant, in his primitive consciousness, delegates the information coming in to two basic categories: things that give warm and fuzzy feelings/things that feel yucky. The anxiety of having to wait for the caregiver and feeling great anger, and the anxiety that comes from feeling destructive emotions toward someone that is so depended upon would also be great, and considered as ‘bad’. I can see this as the very mechanism by which humans developed religion, and the whole good/evil dichotomy. So as humans when we pass laws it’s to protect us from the consequences of our own destructive impulse, and that of others. When we do something out of fear for being wrong, we are motivated by that fear of the destructive impulse. Same as when we are motivated by guilt. Perhaps I was saying something like that—having made a parallel with Gary’s kind of being bound up in some sort of compact to not hurt his mother’s feelings by setting limits with her. Or something about his seeming to expect that he act in disturbing ways and I say nothing. That the offence isn’t in what he has done, but in that I named it. Or the expectation that I somehow know and anticipate his needs without him having to say, and Helena pointing out that this is part of infantile rage against expectations not being met.

(I’m diverging from that idea for a moment to write down a more coherent understanding of the Human Condition—at least western-style. Given this deep anxiety over our own destructive impulses as an assumption, even when perfectly parented, it’s probably not perfect enough. As infants, nothing can insulate us from ‘feeling yucky’ experiences. However, if, as Justin Franks says, the infant has repeatedly the experience of its anxiety being absorbed by Another, and then given back in a transformed state, the infant can grow to be a person with a deep integration within—that is, all his parts, shadow and otherwise. When that process is interrupted, or just not done, the infant has to develop all sorts of defenses to protect itself from the deep feelings of destruction it harbors. We live in a culture that has fostered exactly that. People have been warped in their development by the defenses they’ve adopted. Consequences are people who are unable to connect intimately, or feel empathy, or face reality. Or be authentic, or keep agreements. Some of us become needy and emotionally dependent. And then these disfunctions cause more friction, more wear in unnatural ways, more deformation. Our souls as human beings are so deformed. It is deeply shocking to me how humans have given their assent to horrible ways of killing each other. Ignoring the fact that there are innocent people beneath the bombs. Ignoring the fact of mass killings. The strange idea of sending our soldiers out into the world to do what we don’t want done here, in the U.S: wholesale violence and terrible suffering.)

(I’m also wanting to write about something else that seems odd. Reading this stuff in Franks’ book feels like a revelation to me. It seems to make the pieces fall into place to form a story that’s more coherent about human beings and the way we operate. I felt very excited at this deeper understanding, and this lens of viewing it through: I felt held inside. Yet, I don’t think I thought of anything in terms of this yesterday, even as Connor was giving some destructive element inside himself full rein. So it seems weird that something that seemed so significant days ago I’d nearly forgotten yesterday and today.)

Another couple thoughts about ‘belief’.

It seems that belief might have the same function as a mask. That it’s the face presented to the world, and that face obscures the one beneath. (I suppose it’s no accident that human cultures often have masks, some highly ceremonial and elaborate).

My father’s questioning of Connor the other day when Connor was complaining about having not gotten what they wanted was not meant to help him appreciate what he had. I felt that so clearly. It was meant to express disapproval, and to say that Connor was being wrong. It expressed a belief that’people should be grateful for what they’re given’. Or, by extension, to Connor: “*You* should be grateful for what you are given and your feelings run counter to this and you are so wrong.” It was aggression, really. It was meant to make Connor feel bad, not to help him through his feelings. The basic message was: “Your feelings are wrong and you are wrong for having them and wrong for not controlling them.” It was meant to punish him for expressing his feelings and for having them at all. They also judged him for not having an adult standard of conduct in dealing with some disappointed feelings and wanted him to “shut up about it”. I think it was also based on taking those remarks from a child personally. Feeling personally stung by a child who can’t possibly have an adult perspective. And all that driven by a belief, and by the mistaken belief that a child has the same level of perspective as an adult and should be held to the same standard of conduct.

I guess I’m trying to show Connor how to manage strong destructive feelings by transforming them, and the first step is to name and understand feelings. And understand feelings without the filter of a belief that feelings are right or wrong. And I saw it happen. I saw his feelings get transformed. I saw him at peace with himself again, and at ease, and happy. And he didn’t have to disown his feelings to do that.

We see evidence every day that people live through their beliefs, and not reality: “children should wear their coats”, “children should eat their food”, “people shouldn’t name what another person has done to hurt them” …And a strange loyalty to these beliefs—and a strong indoctrination into them. About a “right” way to be.


Lori said...

Oh, goodness. I see myself in your father.

But the odd thing is that I've always thought I got that from MY father.

Nurture vs nature, perhaps.

Thanks for the reminder to allow them their feelings and not insert my Shoulds so much.

Martha said...

I feel kind of stoned after reading this post, in a totally good way. I am learning feelings are just that, feelings, not right, not wrong, they just *are*. They don't last forever and are open to transformation with support and caring like you and your son shared. I was struck how when I read about your father's reaction to his grandson, it was all about him instead of acknowledging this child's feelings. It makes me wonder, does it remind your dad of some long ago disappointment that he never worked through? Beautiful post, thanks for the "high".

excavator said...

Hi, Lori. I think what you see in my father, that you thought you got from yours is the prevailing view of their times. They sucked it up in their roots and passed it on to us: a child's disappointment in Christmas amounts to a moral failure of the child. The child is selfish and needs to have that quality shamed out of them. And it leaks out in our own parenting.

Martha, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your pleasure in my post--it makes me happy. I like what you said about feelings not lasting forever (they sure seem like they will sometimes, though, don't they?) and are open to transformation with support.

Your putting it that way made me see it differently, like it came into clearer focus.