In Conflict

Anger (v) c.1200, “to irritate, annoy, provoke,” from Old Norse angra “to grieve, vex, distress; to be vexed at, take offense with,” from Proto-Germanic *angus (cf. Old English enge “narrow, painful,” Middle Dutch enghe, Gothic aggwus “narrow”), from PIE root *angh- “tight, painfully constricted, painful” (cf. Sanskrit amhu- “narrow,” amhah “anguish;” Armenian anjuk “narrow;” Lithuanian ankstas “narrow;” Greek ankhein “to squeeze,” ankhone “a strangling;” Latin angere “to throttle, torment;” Old Irish cum-ang “straitness, want”). In Middle English, also of physical pain. Meaning “excite to wrath, make angry” is from late 14c.  ~  ( http://www.etymonline.com)

So someone is always angry at me about something. At least one person a day, often more than that.

Often enough with good, fair reason and because of something I have done or not done, said or not said. I am running late. I push when I should have held back, or held back when more was needed from me.  I can make my own errors, stumble about, bang into a painful bruise. Sometimes I am clumsy, slow, frustratingly thick-headed. Or lost in my own projections, operating on an erroneous assumption, or stuck in my own subjectivity.

Sometimes people are angry because they have been sold a bill of goods, hopefully not by me, although I am probably also a participant, that psychotherapy can offer them a cure, some relief, when the truth is less certain. Sometimes it can and sometimes it can’t.

People get angry that I don’t have the magical powers to take their pain, their confusion, their ambivalence, to heal the wound away.

Some become angry that I don’t just know. Right away, instantly, what is needed and how to provide it. Sometimes people become angry because they have told me what they want from me, and they believe that I am withholding, refusing to cough it up.

Some want to control, extract, command that I fill their need to their exact specifications and are enraged at the dereliction of my professional duties when that need remains thwarted, unfulfilled, exposed, empty when I can’t. Or won’t.

Some become smaller, exceedingly polite, self-diminshing in order to metabolize the anger that a mis-attuned moment has activated. And then I have to drag  it out of them:

“I wonder if something I said made you feel angry?”

“No. I am not angry….”

“Well, something shifted in our conversation and it seems like maybe I said something that hurt? Maybe anger is a strong word for you? How about annoyed?”

“Well, okay. Yes. Maybe I was a little annoyed”

Some become angry because I can see the pathway in, I have gazed at a vulnerable and naked space in them – and they want to cast me out and drive me away. Some are secretly terrified that I will go and their anger helps them organize a pre-emptive strike. Sometimes anger helps people self-regulate, manage their dependency, separate.

Sometimes the anger that emerges in session, or is directed toward me is obviously displaced, patently unfair. A lashing out. And still, somehow, it is almost always understandable to me when I can hold, or uncover the subjective context that it is embedded in.

Usually I am a participant. I bear at least some responsibility. At the very least I lit the fuse, even if I didn’t build the bomb.

Sometimes the client is angry or disappointed that I have my own wound. And they have found the very spot where my needs, my history, my trauma, my vulnerability lives and they want something from me in the exact pocket of my psyche where I have nothing to give at all.

Some attack or express contempt for my core values, my stance, my beliefs, my sense of what is right. Some reject the models of psychotherapy I have embraced, the patch of ground I stand my professional identity upon.

And of course, I get angry too.

I breathe and do my best to stay cool. I contemplate the tightness in my chest: What am I responding to? Where do I feel strangled, offended, tormented, grieved, distressed? What needs to be opened up between us in order to be released from this constriction? Where has our relationship grown too narrow?

If I am caught off-guard, or feel too reactive, too agitated, I  may ask to table the discussion until I can think with a cooler head. But the arrival of anger must never be ignored or forgotten. It is a sacred signal and attention must be paid. We must return to it, examine it, discover its gifts and lessons once our nervous system and our heart-rates have settled.

Anger and aggression have important, constructive functions too: to establish boundaries, to protect privacy and autonomy, to fight for justice, to correct imbalances, to guard vulnerability, to take risks, to hunt for prey, to compete for resources, nurturance and provisions, to challenge and surpass ourselves.

And sometimes to forcibly remove obstacles to intimacy and wholeness.

In relationships, anger points our attention toward the tight, narrow, constricted, strangled, tormented, wanting aspects of ourselves and others so we can broaden and console our hearts, release our fears, open wide our souls.

As frightened as we are of it, anger is a sacred energy – and a central one in the psychotherapeutic process.

I don’t ever intentionally provoke a client’s anger, but I am not fearful of it.  I don’t avoid conflict, because I know the gifts that it can bestow.

I try to inform every new client that comes into my office that anger has a place in our work:

“There will be times when I  disappoint, disturb or upset you. I won’t have done it on purpose, although it might feel like I have. Sometimes you may not notice it while you are in session – as most of us are taught to be agreeable and polite and avoid talking about such things – but it may strike you after you leave – on the subway ride home or even the next day. You may notice something sticking in your head, something I said or didn’t say that struck you the wrong way, that feels off, or annoying, or wrong. You may think to yourself  ‘Why the hell would she say or do that?’  If you notice any feelings or thoughts like that it will be extremely valuable and important, if you can, to bring that back in to our next session, or even to jot down a quick note so it doesn’t get lost in the weeks events- so that we can remember to talk about it. It may be hard and uncomfortable, but its really valuable  – and its an essential part of how therapy works.

It helps me to understand you as precisely as possible, to be a better therapist for you. You may point out things that I haven’t recognized or considered- or that I had a different perception of. Sometimes you may be distressed by some real limitation or blindspot I have, or even some core value that I hold that you disagree with. That is okay too. I can’t promise that I can always change or stop it whatever has been upsetting, but I can promise that I will always do my best to examine my part of any divergence that  comes between us and I will absolutely care about how it makes you feel. And if we can talk about it frankly, it may give us a chance to find a new way through, a new solution, a new space.”

It seems that whenever I have neglected to invite anger to enter into the process as a welcome guest, conflict barges in unannounced and unexpectedly, harming the therapeutic relationship – sometimes irreparably. Anger and conflict are experienced then, as definitive proof that something is wrong in the therapy, rather than as a vital component, a therapeutic mechanism of healing and connection.

Or, the relationship proceeds walking only the most avoidant and  domesticated paths, making the woods and the wilds of our innate aggressive impulses appear more terrifying, a place too dangerous to ever venture.

Conflict is part of the therapeutic process, not a failure of it. And part of this job is to initiate people into the generative, creative, and intimate uses of anger, and to learn how to move through the angry states in our psyche and our relationships in order to live, to love courageously, fearlessly, and honestly.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. ~ (Standard King James Version Genesis Chapter 32: 24-26)

Even when seems to have knocked us out of joint, conflict can bring blessings. Owning our anger explicitly, consciously, and constructively makes us more whole, and less afraid of ourselves.

And other times my job is just to survive it, withstand it, not be destroyed by it, and not let my love or my empathy be destroyed by it. To continue to have compassion for the distress that is present in front of me, to take all the responsibility I can for my part, and to understand that the rest is not about me at all.

If I can. I can’t always.

And sometimes even that is not enough.

It does neither of us any good for me to merely withstand abusive energies. Limits must be set. There are things I can’t accommodate. Angers I cannot absorb. It is my responsibility in those moments to set limits, protecting us both. I cannot let a client who needs me, harm me or compromise my integrity or we are both lost.

Anger is at once an energy which destroys and derails, and one which creates, strengthens, and fuses and purifies, through its refiners fire and alchemical heat.

Part of my job, as I see it, is to initiate clients into the constructive, transformative, generative uses and processes of anger.

Any one can get angry- that is easy- or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy ~ (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 1109a.27)

If we can manage to wrestle through conflict squarely and bravely together – operating in good faith – or setting limits when anger has temporarily washed good faith away – certainly it is not difficult to see how to carry those processes out into the world, into other relationships.

The word wrestle, derives from “wrest” from the Old Norse, meaning “to bend” and the healing forms of anger make way, when we have listened to each other deeply, for us to release our tormented tightness and constriction, and discover how to bend toward each other.

What is external occurs internally as well, so our well negotiated conflict also becomes model, a mirror to help us sort through purely internal arguments between conflicted self-states.

It is exactly as if a dialogue were taking place between two human beings with equal rights, each of whom gives the other credit for a valid argument, and considers it worthwhile to modify the conflicting standpoints by means of thorough comparison and discussion or else to distinguish them clearly from one another.  ~ C. G. Jung, The Transcendent Function.

How else will we change each other? How else will be transformed?

If we avoid what we fear in ourselves, and in each other – what will be possibly be able to learn about ourselves?

The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects represents the transcendent function of opposites. The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living third thing… A movement out of the suspension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation. ~ C. G. Jung, The Transcendent Function.

But first we must embrace the wrestling match.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Queries Concerning Psychotherapy and Privilege

Every time we ask a question, we are generating a possible version of life. (~ David Epston in Cowley and Springen, 1995 , p. 74)

Friends (Quakers) approach queries as a guide to self-examination, using them not as an outward set of rules, but as a framework within which we assess our convictions and examine, clarify and consider the direction of our life and the life of the community. (~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, page 205)

Does psychoanalytic psychotherapy as a profession make sufficient assessments of conscious and unconscious, explicit and implicit racism, sexism, heteronormativity and bias in all its forms in ourselves and others, and the destructive consequences to all parties?

Do we believe that healthy relatedness demands well-developed empathy, mutuality, and parity? Do we recognize bias in all forms, personal and institutional, implicit and explicit, acknowledged and unacknowledged as a failure of empathy, an objectification of others and as an obstacle to healthy relatedness and psychological well-being?

Do we accept that the conscious and unconscious empathic failures surrounding bias and oppression are certainly a more profound loss for the oppressed, but a loss to all parties nonetheless?

Do we consider Lacan’s and Foucault’s idea of the privileged “Gaze” of the therapist? Do we see ourselves as people who gaze out from inside a dominant narrative, a “regular” story requiring categorization or explanation from all who we see as “different”?

Do we understand the differences between individual prejudice, institutional racism, and unexamined privilege?

Do we examine the narratives of success, of health, of family, of connection, of development that are viewed as “normal” regular, ordinary, usual, and taken for granted as universal by the dominant culture?

How do we take this made-up story about who is “regular” for granted, and wittingly or unwittingly put these narratives forth as better, more important, more normal than others?

Do we examine our own participation in how “othering” or “normaling” stories get disseminated or disrupted? Do we critically examine how the institutions in our culture – media, government, schools, religious institutions, and graduate and post-graduate psychotherapeutic training institutions – inform us as to what is “regular”?

Do we advocate for inclusivity in our psychotherapeutic practice and training institutions? Do we feel an institutional environment, or our own caseloads are sufficiently diverse when in actuality very few of people of color, differently abled, or LGBT people are represented?

Do we recognize that we speak through our inaction as well as our action? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

Do we participate in panels, conferences and workshops, peer groups led entirely or predominantly by those in the dominant culture?

How have the dominant stories about race, gender, homosexuality, disability, and class determined and shaped our psychotherapeutic practices and training institutions, fee setting, size and composition of our caseloads, choice of colleagues, and our preferred psychotherapeutic models?

Do we, as psychotherapists ever place ourselves in professional, or social circumstances where we are not in the majority? How might such experiences help us to better empathize with those who carry narrative burdens, who are regularly challenged to explain, defend, or advocate for themselves within the dominant culture, and those who are on the receiving end of bias and oppressive circumstances more often than we are ourselves?

Do we cultivate relationships with adults with whom we have racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious differences outside of the psychotherapeutic setting?

Do we cultivate therapeutic relationships with clients who differ from us in identifiable ways?

What life experiences or personal characteristics, if any, have made you feel “gazed at”: forced to explain, alienated, ignored, misunderstood, distorted, or excluded by most people or by institutions? What circumstances, if any, have you found yourself in where you were instantly and visibly identified as an outsider in someway?

How might these experiences be useful in practicing psychotherapy with a concern for social justice? How might these transitory experiences offer only limited insight into what it is like for a client who lives with more chronic or different forms of oppressive or unjust circumstances?

Do we listen deeply without becoming defensive or competitive when clients friends, or colleagues or people online share experiences of oppression, even if we feel implicated, guilty or uncomfortable?

Are avenues for exploring differences kept open? To what extent do we ignore differences in order to avoid possible conflicts?
~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

Do we allow ourselves and our worldview to be changed by hearing stories of other people’s discomfort, anger, grief and pain from experiences of oppression, exclusion, bias, and prejudice?

Do we monitor ourselves for defensiveness, minimizing over-identification, excessive or non-generative forms of guilt, hopelessness and indifference?

How can racial, gender, sexual/gender identity and/or class differences between therapeutic partners affect the way they tell and hear each others story?

Do we proactively and thoughtfully confront, explore and examine biased narratives when we experience them in our office, with friends and colleagues, and in ourselves?

Do I treat conflict as an opportunity for growth, and address it with careful attention? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

What do you worry people will assume about you?

What do you hope people will assume about you?

What do we understand about our clients’ hopes and fears about the assumptions of others?

What assumptions have we made about clients that were inaccurate, injurious, or unrecognized (by us)?

How do we respond when confronted with the inaccuracy or injuriousness of our assumptions?

Am I careful to speak truth as I know it and am I open to truth spoken to me? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

Do we consider that there are parts of our client’s stories that are never given words, are essentially deleted, or never even noticed by themselves, by us, or by others because they just don’t fit in with the dominant story, or with our assumptions as psychotherapists?

How can we learn from clients and colleagues who are different from us without making them feel unduly burdened or pressured into teaching and explaining?

Are we mindful that those with experiences of oppression and narrative burden need to protect themselves from scrutiny and the unempathic Gaze of individuals, institutions and environments that are distorting, enraging or exhausting?

Do we condone or assume that narratives of privilege are healthy for privileged people? Do we remind ourselves that none of us are free unless all of us are free?

Do I examine myself for aspects of prejudice that may be buried including beliefs that seem to justify biases based on race, gender, sexual (and gender) identity, disability, class, and feelings of inferiority or superiority? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

What is my psychotherapeutic practice doing to help overcome the contemporary psychologically wounding effects of past and present oppression?

Questions, and more questions, and questions as yet unformulated.

No answers please.

Deeper questions.

copyright © 2013
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

The Way Forward

I have Guilt on the brain.

Suddenly I see guilt, and all our unproductive damaging defenses against it, absolutely everywhere. I am surrounded.

Even, and perhaps especially in our collective denial, hopelessness and paralyzed impotence in the face of ongoing human oppression and ecological destruction

Healthy guilt, obsessive guilt, pathological guilt – guilt repressed. Guilt projected on to others, guilt internalized and disproportionate. Guilt dressed up and hidden in every kind of costume and disguise.

Guilt disavowed.

Not shame. Shame can destroy in its own ways, no doubt. Yet shame is an illusion, a falsehood that insinuates there is something inherently wrong with who you are at your core, something grotesque or reject-able, contemptible or unloveable, lurking in your True Self. Shame is a lie that others convinced you of.

Guilt is the cold hard truth.

Emotional, psychological guilt (as distinct from to legal/moral guilt) is the healthy and accurate feeling that we experience when we come understand that we have engaged in destructive behavior. That we have caused another harm. That we have benefited from another’s loss. Guilt is the responsibility we take for the unintended consequences of our actions.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions of course. Good intentions cannot not spare you from responsibility for the destructive outcome of your actions.

Guilt, if you can feel it, is a good and healthy thing: It means you give a shit.

It means you love or care for something – or have a basic rudimentary sense of empathy and personal responsibility -and you feel remorse for the pain you have inflicted down the causal chain – whether you meant to or not, whether you knew what you were doing or not.

If you can withstand it, through its hot burn and sharp sting, it will become rich fertilizer for more expansive empathy.

But so many seem to have forgotten, if they ever learned, how to find their way through the processes and stages of guilt, if it ever even rises to the level of consciousness at all.

And most fight it off with everything they’ve got.

We get stuck:

In primitive denial and repression:
“I did NOTHING wrong! I have nothing to be sorry for!”

In defensive overstatement:
“Oh, I suppose this is all MY fault.”

In obsessive, over-compensated un-doing.
“I’ll replace it! I can fix it as good as new! I promise I will NEVER do it again!”

In imploding, self-negating, undeserving, hopeless and/or defensive internalization:
“You are right. I’m a total fuck-up. I’m stupid and selfish and worthless. I can’t ever do anything right. What is the point of doing anything”

In paranoid reversals:
“Stop TRYING to make me feel guilty!”

And sometimes all of the above.

At first dawning: Guilt is great and terrible and terrifying. Annihilating.

The weight of deep remorse, when you first take it on to your shoulders can make you regret being born. It takes extraordinary fortitude, and self-compassion to bear it.

And there is a great deal of destructive behavior to feel crushing guilt about – intentional or not – that each of us indulge in individually, generate accidentally, or participate in collectively, culturally, and nationally:

Greed, aggression, inequity, privilege, economic violence, disproportionate consumption, institutional racism, the xenophobic and objectifying oppression of human beings in all its forms.

And the contamination, exploitation, disruption, extinction and depletion of the planetary climate, air, water, food, plants, animals and destruction of our own human habitat.

Guilt, initially, is an almost unbearable crisis.

Melanie Klein describes the child’s very first experience of guilt as one of utter despair.

Using breast-feeding as a metaphor: she describes the infant as suckling without remorse or empathy on an archetypal, omnipotent persecutory Bad Breast. A breast that withholds, dries up, over- or under-produces, hides itself, and controls the entire feeding experience. The infant attacks, bites, gums, hits, hates, devours, demands, and releases its frustrations into it, with no guilt, whatsoever.

Or as Winnicott might say: Ruthlessly.

Klein calls this the Paranoid Position.

Yet, at some point, according to Klein, the child wakes up – realizing that this breast is finite, and perhaps even connected to a finite human being, a human being that soothes and cuddles, loves and tickles. Biting, attacking, devouring demanding have new implications – they can cause harm, perhaps in the child’s mind significant harm to the beloved parent.

This is a shocking, terrifying crisis. Remorse, grief, anxiety, despair are activated and intolerable.

We feel that we have suddenly become all bad. And the object of our empathy: all good.

This is Klien’s Depressive Position, and the emergence of what Winnicott calls: “Ruth”

The extraordinary pain of first guilt, of the crisis of the Depressive Position is so overwhelming, that the child turns tail and retreats back to the relative comfort of the Paranoid one.

Both these theorists would say that the infant, the child, the adolescent, and the adult will spend the rest of their lives moving forward into the depressive position, becoming overwhelmed, and collapsing back into the paranoid position.

And that we will toggle back and forth, working these through with every relationship we encounter.

The greater our awareness of these processes and the more consciously they are faced – the more quickly and successfully we can move through these cycles.

The more compassion we can have for ourselves and for others.

To quote one of my favorite bodhisattvas:

Sometimes people are good. And they do just what they should.
But the very same people who are good, sometimes,
are the very same people who are bad, sometimes.
Its funny but its true…..

(~ Fred Rogers, from The Mr. Rogers Songbook)

And if bravely, consciously faced, healthy guilt will deepen our capacity for empathy, responsibility, and mature concern.

But how?

How do we get out of the terrible cycle of paranoia and depression, of painful advance and frightened retreat, of self-loathing remorse and defensiveness?

There is a way.

Reparation must be offered and accepted.

Winnicott says, somewhere in The Maturational Processes and The Facilitating Environment that the reparative gesture must never be rejected. If the therapist, or the parent, or the loved one that we perceive we have harmed (or merely wished to use ruthlessly), actually rejects our little gift, our silly Hallmark card, or the cookie we offer as a token gesture of remorse – they will deprive us of the symbolic act that allows us to begin to bear the weight of responsibility for our destructive energies.

Rejection of reparative gestures sentences us to return to the state of persecution and defense. And the cycle begins again.

Reparative gestures are the behaviors which transform fresh overwhelming guilt into mature concern.

As guilt, made conscious, begins to mature into Winnicottian Concern and attuned responsibility, symbolically reparative acts repair our ability to emotionally withstand, have empathy for, and accept responsibility to those who have experienced harm or sustained losses that have resulted in our gain.

Reparative gestures do not actually repair what has been harmed, lost, destroyed, or disrupted for the Other.

The attempt at “repair” is only symbolic, not literal.

The symbolic nature of reparation rests upon the awareness that the guilty one cannot literally give back, repair, or undo what was lost or broken. the symbol expresses our concern about the destructive effect we have had and signals our acceptance of the injured, angry, reactive consequences that proceed from our actions.

And quite often, deep listening to the injured party, and withstanding the intense, guilty discomfort that is activated within us, is the deepest reparative act of all.

In my office this very frequently looks like this:

I am running five minutes late, and a client in crisis sits and waits – feeling increasingly angry, abandoned, and forgotten.

When they enter, they let me know the effect I have had. They are angry, hurt, the pain they came in with must be set aside, because now they must process feeling upset with me in its place.

I can and do offer up the compensatory 5 minutes at the end of the session, but that is merely for equity’s sake, and I have no expectation that it will or should undo what has already occurred.

I could “promise” that it won’t happen again – but, frankly, it might, and similarly it won’t undo or give back the five minutes that they needed me and I was not there.

I could subtly defend my intentions, my work load, remind the client of all the times they have been late or that I gave them extra time – and try to make them feel remorseful for having activated my sense of guilt.

I could aggress and become defensively enraged myself, call them ungrateful and go on the attack, creating an effective diversion from my own culpability.

I could collapse in shame and self-loathing, become so flooded with guilt that I caused harm and discomfort to a client, that I require the client to reassure me about all the ways that I am a wonderful therapist.

Or I could offer reparation: I could ask them to tell me everything they are feeling, I could have empathy for the state that I left them in, I can struggle with my remorse, and let them know that my remorse exists, but is secondary to my caring and my concern for their feeling, and take responsibility the effect that my actions, intentional or not, have had on them.

Reparative gestures repair the relationship itself, not the injury – and help the guilt-ridden to stay in open, active empathic relationship to those who activate our guilt-sense without resorting to defense, denial or collapse.

Sincere apology is a reparative gesture for an act that generates injury and offense. Listening is another. Committing to self-reflection and scrutiny of your own motives is yet another.

And one of the deepest reparative gestures is allowing yourself to be changed, learning about oneself,
contending with what we do not know and may not like about ourselves for the sake of those we have offended.

Such gestures move us from ruthlessness, beyond the crushing regret of ruth, toward the mature Capacity for Concern, the empathic, responsible relationship to our communities, to all those who have harmed.

And may it save our own sorry ruthless souls as well.

copyright © 2013
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

The Goat

Sacrifice is an unavoidable part of life.

But sometimes you are the sacrifice.

At some point, we will all serve our turn as The Goat.

And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
~ Leviticus 16 King James

And the sheep will be separated from the goats: Goats are independent, differentiated, disobedient, and hard to direct; a wholly different creature than a happily herded sheep.
Even the three Billy Goats Gruff cross the bridge to face down the hungry troll one at a time.

Every school, church, social clique, graduate program, social service agency, group therapy, small town, every team, club, and every family system has their own identified patient, the angry one, the-who-do-you-think-you-are one, the broken, vulnerable one who absorbs all of the cast off sins, shames, and discomforts – who manifests “dis-ease” for the rest. The chosen Goat suffers so that we may escape ourselves, distance ourselves, externalize our terror of loss, of aggression, of suffering, of inflation.

In groups forced to negotiate in close proximity to each other, and especially groups that feel a strong need to see themselves as Unified in Goodness – relational tensions build up which must be disavowed. The more energy spent repressing aspects of ourselves which threaten to destabilize the collective – the more shame and aggression accrue, the more the community brims with repressed energies, anxiously awaiting discharge.

Envision the Collective as one big agitated kid stuck inside on a Sunday afternoon, wearing wool socks and shuffling though shag carpeting: Flush with electric charge, index finger poised for an unsuspecting sibling to absorb the spark.

Therapy offices everywhere are full of traumatized Goats, marked by their families, schoolmates, employers, coworkers, neighbors. People bearing the weight of collective distortions, targets of harassment, victims of abuse, absorbing vilifying projections of whichever dominant narrative surrounds them: Strung up for being too smart, for telling a threatening truth, for being “other” in terms of their race, sexual or gender identity, for being too gifted, for being obviously wounded, for being too vulnerable.

One of these things is not like the others.
One of these things just doesn’t belong….

Any experience or self-state that makes others uncomfortable, that threatens, frightens, exposes or in someway challenges the status quo can mark you as the sacred goat, the Sin-Eater, the point of discharge.

With boring regularity we seize the opportunity to elevate those who seek out and gather up our idealizing projections. Inflated far beyond the limits of humanity, past the point of sustainable hubris – the crowd enjoys the taste of blood and justice when they eventually dismember and destroy their idol, cutting them “down to size.”

Perhaps there is a corrective function, as ugly as it may be, in such repetitive public cycles.

But most of those chosen to eat our sins have not sought out their role at all.

In sports (from my limited understanding) , “The Goat” is the one who slips up, who stumbles, who drops the ball or misses the crucial shot at a pivotal moment. He or she is assigned the stigma of failure for the entire team, although certainly other members could have worked to accrue a larger advantage earlier in the game. Here it is simply our fallibility, our capacity for error, vulnerability and loss that threatens the collective narcissism, the group’s fantasy of omnipotence and immortality.

Goats are nimble climbers, able to negotiate steep and hazardous slopes. Those who find that their ambition and talents lead them to penetrate into new spheres are particularly likely to be selected for sacrificial punishment: A woman or a person of color employed in a profession previously under the sole domain of white men. The first teenager to publicly come-out as homosexual in the history of their high-school.

A Tale of a Very Angry Goat:
I worked once, on a treatment unit with a particularly smart and gifted clinician who appeared, at every staff meeting, in the guise of The Angriest Social Worker in the World. Rage – at the systemic obstacles, injustices, and stupidity surrounding her and her clients, surrounding and perpetrated by us all – emanated from her in waves of hot toxicity. We all appeared to ourselves to be remarkably patient, pragmatic, and well insulated in contrast. The rest of us believed we had our work, our goals and boundaries in proper perspective and that she did not. We all thought more highly of ourselves because we were certain that we were not so so very angry.

And of course, when she announced that she was leaving – we all assumed, that although we admired her impressive skills and her gifts, that we would be relieved to be rid of her daily tantrums and diatribes.

Instead, we all got crankier. In fact, we grew increasingly cranky with each other each passing day.

Eventually, I got damn cranky. Intolerably cranky. Everyone else now seemed to be going about their business while clients died, disappeared, suffered, were involuntarily medicated, unjustly incarcerated, or deported. A few of us shared the collective shadow this time, and became, in rotation, the Angriest Trio of Social Workers in the World. Great hot waves of toxicity preceded us into meetings and trailed in our wake. And I’m sure, that after I left, many people began to feel a little bit crankier…..

Once a community or a group or a family has built up sufficient momentum, and is in the throes of projecting their unconscious, unprocessed conflicts onto the selected goat, there is no logic, no argument, no discussion, no call to morality or reason that can dissuade them.

As Jung himself says (approximately, sort of, somewhere)
It is a pointless task to argue with another’s projections.

Even the Gods cannot protect themselves, and must withstand the shadows projected upon them by the masses.

Once selected: some rail, and struggle, fighting back with full force, refusing to cede any ground or relinguish any standing. Others quickly surrender, either by going limp, passive and derealized or with an eerie dignity and certainty about who they are in the face of terrorizing, baffling lies, exaggerations, accusations and distortions.

Some catch the smell of danger in the wind early, and know how to become completely invisible, or quickly build a protective consensus of support.

Others attempt to master the terror by internalizing the distortions, taking the shadow of the group into their own identities and beliefs about themselves. Self-hate, toxic shame, internalized racism, sexism, homophobia, a false and degraded Self is organized to further protect the clan. Contact with the essential self is lost and abandoned, in order to stay connected to the family, team, community. A goat can take on the Burden of the group’s Badness and believe it, claiming it as their own.

I spend hour upon hour every week, as do therapists all around the world, working in many different modalities to try to sort through these calcified, internalized projections, and separate the wheat from the chaff, the false beliefs from the core Self, peeling away the distorting voices of introjected herd from the goat’s true, original nature.

“There is clearly danger in opposing the mass and safety for the individual lies in following the example of those around him.” ~ S. Freud, Mass Psychology

Or not.

It depends, I suppose on how you define safety.

Psychological scape-goating may offer the collective some temporary relief, serving to reestablish short-term homeostasis for the group, but it is only through coming into direct contact with our failures and fears, by facing and integrating our own shadow that we move toward wholeness.

Casting our sins away without a conscious reckoning defeats the processes of creative psychological growth.

But not for the goat.

And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. ~ Leviticus 20 King James

Ultimately the scape-goat, escapes.

When the ordeal is survived, all old hopes of the former life in the community mourned, the shock and terror assimilated, the projections of other’s shaken off its shaggy coat- the goat owes nothing further to the community. Released to the wild, it reclaims its original nature, free and clear, the confines and conventions of domestication left behind and forgotten.

Free.

Goats are archetypes of regeneration. Thor’s chariot is drawn by pair of magic goats – which can be cooked and eaten each night for a delicious dinner. In the morning, when the sun rises – there they are, happy and intact, magically reassembled from the remaining skeleton and hide.

It is an inevitable and inescapable reality, that at some point in our lives, the group will turn on us.

The herd lives in constant terror, perpetually fleeing from its own shadows..

It is the goat, even if only mere skin and bones, that is set free.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

The Long Run

The mudang are the fortune tellers, the shamanistic diagnosticians, healers and prognosticators of Korea. They are usually women, powerful, wealthy, feared, and living in taboo fringes of society. Many, many people visit the mudang, but secretly. Everyone does it now and then at major life crossroads, but no one really admits to it.

A few mudang inherit their position. But others are first brought to the mudang to be cured from a state of nervous collapse, confusion, soul-sickness, or dysfunction. The treatment, the cure for what ails them is to undergo initiation, and to become a mudang themselves.

(Drawn from an amazing, terrifying documentary film I saw many years ago: Mudang: The Reconciliation Between the Living and the Dead)

The archetype of the Wounded Healer, reminds us that there is a scent, a whiff of shamanistic tradition in psychotherapeutic treatment and practice as well.

Many clients come for quick consultations 5 to 10 sessions to negotiate a milestone or a crisis. Others come regularly for a year or two. Some stay longer than they expected, 5, 7 years speed by before they realize (although I have never asked anyone to to stay and will gladly help anyone leave who wants to go). Some of us climb the mountain, seeking relief for our most obvious symptoms and never leave.

The cure, it turns out, was to stay.

I’ve been in therapy since I was 19 perhaps. I am 48 now, with plenty of work still ahead.

Perhaps because I have many patients who are therapists themselves, about half of my caseload consists of people I have seen for 10, 12 years or more. I still see several of the first clients I ever met in my first months as a private practitioner. Still others see me as part of a chain of therapists who have partnered with them sequentially through their entire adult lives.

My closest colleagues and peers have engaged in similar process investing as much time and commitment. They have worked, and will work, as hard and long I have, through out their lives.

That’s long term.
Entire lives devoted to depth work.

There are unique and chronically resurfacing challenges and dissappointments that emerge when you take up residence on the mountain.

Several juicy well-articulated tantrums over the years, pitched by my own patients, by close friends (and me too!) occasionally prod me to organize my own answer to the immortal question:

Sixteen years and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt?

You spend years and years, and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on your personal and training analysis, graduate school, post-grad training, professional development, books, supervision in all its various forms – perhaps some couples therapy and group therapy as well to round it out.

You assume most of the time, that there are things about yourself that you do not and cannot know – that you have an UN-conscious. Not a just a “pre-” or a “sub”-conscious, an unknowable, mysterious Core, filled with conditioning memories, preverbal, nonverbal and unnoticed perceptions and powerfully symbolic images. You try to constantly bear in mind that this deeper layer of yourself, is functioning with some real autonomy, under and outside of your awareness. You accept that, no matter how vigilant you are, this unconscious self will drive at least some of your actions, conscript your intentions, cause you to rationalize, minimize and blind you to over, under, mis-placed and missed reactions to events going on around you in the present.

You assume you have a shadow that you cannot see easily or completely on your own that you wish to integrate as much of as possible. What you cannot integrate, you hope, at least, to be able to take some responsibility for when someone else points it out to you. You deeply consider, when those you love and those you work with tell you some crappy, painful, or embarrassing things about yourself, whether it might just be true, a manifestation of something you might not know about yourself yet. Perhaps you will ultimately decide that it is only partially true, understandable but unfair, or a distortion caused by their history, their wounds, their unconscious. But, you try to do this in a way that preserves compassion toward yourself, and the distress you may have activated in the other.

You lay in wait, hoping to catch yourself in the act of repeating your own archaic and archetypal patterns and do something new, something inspired, rather than just replicate a gesture pulled out of your character flaws, your history, or the brittle aspects of your personality.

You are suspicious of your own bullshit. You try not to buy into it or believe it, protect it or ride its self-righteous momentum.

You also hope, that out of your daily awareness exists a larger Self, a dreaming Psyche, an intuitive Seed perhaps even a Soul of some sort. You pay attention to and write down your dreams, notice meaninful coincidences, stories and myths and symbols that speak to you – searching for clues and guidance to deepen your connections to others, to know yourself better. Sometimes its gobbledygook. Sometimes its pay-dirt.

You want to face and effectively confront what is worst in yourself and those around you, and to acknowledge what is best and most beautiful as well. To have compassion for what is most vulnerable, to appreciate strengths, gifts, and talents – and you also try to remember, that these contradictions are facets the self-same thing.

You work hard, for years and years, to grieve your losses, to sort through your inheritance, to acknowledge the past, to notice when you are possessed by impulse, raw instinct, old wounds, or archetypal energies.

You try to hold your perceptions of others lightly, to discover what is accurate about who they are, and what are your own projected hopes, and fears about who they are.

You learn to fight fairly, to work through conflict effectively, to communicate in ways that attempt to lower your own and others defenses, to help each other feel heard and mirrored.

You attempt to own your healthy aggression and use it honestly, and with precision in service of balance and respect and relatedness. When unacknowledged hostility or anger spills out passively, inappropriately, indirectly you take responsibility, make reparation, and try think about what its original source might be.

And you don’t just do this at work.

And you fail at all of these things all the time. And you accept your failures, and you breath clean sweet relief when you have momentarily found the flow.

Here is the tricky part:

No one is required to do any of this. Not even you.

And most people don’t think its at all necessary, and perhaps they are right.

A particular form of unfairness that taunts the psychological initiate involves run-ins with people mindlessly and guiltlessly enjoying bad traits one desperately is trying to overcome. It is absolutely galling to be confronted with someone freely displaying behavior one is working so hard to subdue and transcend….

Why should he grow if people around him stayed the same or got worse? Why should he become less destructive if he had to deal with those who indulged their destructiveness? ~ Michael Eigen, Toxic Nourishment

Many people never feel the need to visit the mountain in the first place.

And of those who do visit, most come once or twice, returning home with some reassurance or relief and forget about the episode entirely.

The majority of people in your family, your circle, and your neighborhoods and communities may explicitly doubt that this level of hyper-consciousness, self-awareness, reflection, impulse-control, self-examination, perception, compassion, discernment, empathy and identification with others is useful, meaningful, or or even valuable. Many think that what you have spent your lifetime doing is foolish, ridiculous, mumbo-jumbo.

Try sharing some of your real thoughts and perceptions about the latent content at a school parents committee or a coop board meeting and see how well that goes over if you doubt me.

A lifetime ago you traveled to the mountain to seek healing for some utterly transforming loss, trauma, chaos, confusion, or pain that burdened you and set you apart, publicly or privately , from the “normal” others who were not (yet) traumatized, and those who passively succumbed to the trauma or who found it easer to fall in with their aggressors and perpetrate it.

So in the long long run?

Here is what it will never do:
Make you normal. Make life easier.
Make you less lonely (or more precisely, less alone).

Here is what it gets you:
Pain transformed into service.
Meaning and purpose extracted from senselessness.
An opportunity to be creative in the face of destruction.
A chance to be well-used.

That’s all there is to show for it.
Nothing more, nothing less.

copyright © 2012
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

Mutual Conflict Unto Death (with apologies for the missing umlat)

I don’t do a lot of couples counseling. I do some.

I first tell everyone who calls me that my husband, a psychologist, is actually much better at it. He was trained systemically, with the whole supervisory-team-calling-into-session-from-behind-the-mirror thing. I imagine he is more confident in his ability to break up the destructive brawls that inevitably erupt on his couch.

I don’t know why, sometimes I suppose, based on a referral from another therapist, or a friend I have treated, or some other couple I have seen – a few couples persist in wanting to see me, and we enter the second trial. If we make it through the ridiculous rounds of insurmountable scheduling obstacles and are able to find a compatible hour for three busy New Yorkers to meet I assume that there is something I am supposed to learn and am meant to provide while being temporarily triangulated into their relationship.

Inevitably, I spend the first several weeks feeling like a nine-year-old hostage forced to watch the grown ups battle, bicker, and struggle for dominance. Feeling my alliances, my empathy, sympathy and budding attachments to each one challenged, injured, and shamed. I feel emotionally split apart, as I struggle to understand enough about each of their perspectives and pain. Just as I am able to sense one partner’s vulnerability, it is then attacked, undermined, distorted by the other’s rage and pain.

At some point, my own powerlessness is intolerable to me, and I start to get angry at the fouls, the low blows, the unconscious manipulations, the belief in the supremacy of their own individual injuries, as I watch them both bleeding in front of me. I just need it to stop. The internal anger and impatience helps – it gathers my energies and consolidates my power – I am not a child, I am not an impotent audience member watching an ugly drama unfold, I OWN this couch damn it. This is MY office, and I have some say about what behaviors I will permit and enable in my own space.

I borrow Mr. Gottman’s invaluable behavioral tools: I teach about using non-inflammatory subjective “I” statements and fair fighting techniques. I confront and reframe expressions of contempt and toxic resentment. I express my deeply held wish that that all committed couples world-wide would be assigned heart rate monitors the moment they move in together and would be legally mandated to STOP TALKING when their heart rates become elevated. Adrenaline is as altering and intoxicating as any drug, and there is no chance of engaging in constructive discussion or debate with anyone who is in fight or flight mode.

I encourage some, usually heterosexual couples to visit Gottman’s site, and grab any tools, aids, DVDs or books that speak to them. (http://www.gottman.com although his longitudinal research has been on heterosexual couples – a lot of his data on conflict resolution is useful in any intimate relationship)

I feel a little better after taking some concrete action.

A little braver, less cowed. I’m off the ropes and into the ring.

Some folks toddle off a this juncture, after a handful of sessions, happier with a few, shiny, brand-new relational skills in their pockets.

Other couples find it all quite useful, but want to use the tools in service of something deeper.

Here is where I begin to love the work. I hear the voice of Mr. Adolph Guggenbuhl-Craig and his mad, brilliant, if terribly dated 1970-something book with a horrifically translated title: “Marriage Dead or Alive.”

Seminal in most Jungian circles, I’ve never met a non-Jungian who has heard of him.

Since the book is usually out of print (there is a newer edition with a somewhat less cringe worthy title: “Marriage Is Dead, Long Live Marriage” that may be more available) I don’t agree with all of it, it remains somewhat trapped in its era, (step over the jarring references to “angry women’s libbers”) and god knows you don’t want to be caught reading it on the subway or at the playground in front of other smug mommies – I’ll summarize its key points, as I see them, here:

“Marriage” for purposes of this discussion is defined simply as a life-long committed partnership – legalized or not, between any two people. Such commitments may, or may not include actual or implied monogamy.

Guggenhbuhl-Craig suggests that people in western cultures currently enter into marriages for primarily two reasons: The first, and most common is to pursue comfort, ease, well-being, what he calls “mere happiness”. He suggests that marriage is actually a pretty lousy method for achieving happiness, and that there are many other ways to arrange your personal affairs to make your life easier. The most rudimentary forms of comfort and happiness can be more easily and reliably procured through other processes.

Marriage partners too commonly irritate each other’s raw spots, scrape, bang and stagger into each others spiky and brittle bits, making marriage an inefficient institution for insuring pleasure and well-being.

I often think of G-C’s “happy” couples as being organized around an avoidant contract: Love means never making me uncomfortable. Love means avoiding potential embarrassment, shame, exposure, judgement, rejection unhappiness in the relationship. Love means never telling your partner what they don’t want to know about you, or about themselves.

The second, (and the only real reason to live in a life long committed partnership in G-C’s view) is to pursue “salvation,” to reach for individuation, to learn more about what we don’t know about ourselves, to take more responsibility for our undeveloped aspects, to confront our own shadow and to press our partners to integrate their own denied, disavowed, unacknowledged bits.

This model of committed life long dialectical partnership, he suggests, is not a “merely happy” process.

Moreover, it is not the only or the best route to salvation and individuation. It is only one of many established paths up the mountain. No better, no worse, and not for everyone, and certainly not for the feint of heart or those who are looking for the easiest way up.

The call of committed dialectical partnership involves entering into generative, on-going wrestling match. A painful one at times, where we are certain to be confronted with nearly intolerable truths about ourselves and about our loved ones as we struggle to see ourselves, our partner as whole.

Mutual conflict unto death.

There will be necessary sacrifices. Sometimes profound ones. The pursuit of “wholeness” in this context doesn’t mean getting to do whatever we want, or living out all of our desires and needs. Wholeness means being aware of our needs, and having them acknowledged in relationship whether they can be fulfilled or not.

Especially when they are not.

The saddest cases I see are the utterly unreconcilable ones where one partner yearns for a relationship of mutual, intimate respectful conflict and the other wants to be kept as comfortable as possible.

I have also seen avoidant couples grown so disconnected and unhappy that they finally discover their capacity for mutuality and take the risk of intimacy together only through the process of dissolving their marriage. Dead marriages reborn as vital, respectful honest, divorce.

Courage, respect, intimacy, honesty, acceptance, inspiration, growth seem to me to be true purpose of relationship. Happiness is only a feeling, love is a way of behaving with courageous acceptace of yourself and others.

Happiness, comfort is of course a lovely thing, a wonderful by-product of intimacy earned, of trust hard-won.

And in the spaces in-between battles fairly-fought, we should accept all the rest and ease that comes to us along the way.

copyright © 2011
All rights reserved Martha Crawford

Enactment

I am going to step right in it.

It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable. It’s mandatory. It’s practically the only way the process truly works.

Over and over people come to therapy hoping that this will be the one relationship where I won’t ever do the one, awful, terrible, hurtful, intolerable thing that everyone else has always done to them.

And then I do it. Or something kind of like it, or something only a very little like the terrible thing, but similar enough to bring it all back in a flash and make you feel the darkest déjà vu: “It’s happening AGAIN.”

I will be late, or forget your partner’s name, or double-book, or lose an e-mail, or push too hard, or seem preoccupied, or be masking a dip in my own personal energy, or be over-protective, or have a “tone” in my voice, or misunderstand, or misconstrue, or f-up.

And you will be absolutely sure that it’s proof that I don’t care, don’t value you, that I am crazy, or just like your ex-wife, or your father, or that I am too fragile, depressed, not keeping up, or that I left you – or am about to leave you – alone.

Sometimes it will happen right away, sometimes not for a few weeks, or even years.

But – inevitably – I will do it.

If I don’t, we probably aren’t connecting. We aren’t approaching the realm of intimacy. The terrible, messy, liberating sacred zone where your unconscious Self pulls on mine – and we slip, momentarily, into the black hole of our core conflicts.

Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

But that’s how it works. Really.

We all repeat patterns in our relationships, and the therapeutic relationship – although unique, with important parameters – is still a relationship. As we fall into our favorite tried-and-true dance steps, we all pull and lead our partners to fall in line. Even if we want to learn new steps – even if we want to quit dancing altogether – the old rhythms return.

So, whatever it is you want to break free from, we should expect it to happen, watch for it to happen. And when it does – that is our moment to strike! We can see it happening, live, in vivo, in our laboratory. If we can catch it, we can deconstruct it, we can explore what was at play, assign language to it for the first time, or rewrite the narrative, we can transform it, re-work it, create a new experience.

But, I will step in it. If you stay long enough, and want more from the process than some company while you wait out a disruptive brief crisis, I always do.

And so will everyone you ever love.

The road to all intimacy leads straight through the deepest hole of our worst fears and crashes smack into our darkest core conflict.

Lets not hope that it won’t happen. Lets hope that it does.

copyright © 2011 Martha Crawford

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