|Unconscious Reactions can't be Defined by Reason?|
"Curse the mind that mounts the clouds in search of mythical kings and only mystical things, mystical things cry for the soul that will not face the body as an equal place, and I never learned to touch for real down, down where the iguanas feel." _Dory Previn.
God dam this dark pit of woe, within this crushing depression;
“For myself, the pain is closely connected to drowning or suffocation-but even these images are of the mark. The pain persisted during my museum tour and reached a crescendo in the next few hours when, back at the hotel, I feel onto the bed and lay gazing at the ceiling, nearly immobilized and in a trance of supreme discomfort. Rational thought was usually absent from my mind at such times, hence trance.” (Styron, 1990).
Again, William Styron’s words resonate in identification as he describes his experience of depression, and I’m awed by his ability to paint such poignant pictures of the human condition. Who can forget the amazing scene from the movie, of his book Sophie's Choice as Meryl Streep is forced to choose between her son and her daughter, as to which one will face the gas chamber outside those gates of hell at Auschwitz concentration camp. How does any woman make such a choice or any Fascist Intellect so loose connection with humanities heart, its soul, and force it upon her? Dissociation, the Devil’s own device perhaps? Or the dark and denied shadow of our instinctive nature, made unnecessarily mysterious by civil societies need of denial, in the long march to a mature civilization?
Could she ever really say how she felt in that awful moment, could she ever consciously acknowledge the instant of that action and its internal motivation? That awful reality of, “Take my little girl - take my baby - take my little girl.” Perhaps nature has a way of saving us from such awful conscious realization, removes the reality of searing pain by the minds conscious distance from the felt sense. By evolution's curse and gift, in the impulse of dissociation? The Devils own device, and the reality of our unconscious nature? Is normal conscious awareness founded on a hidden mechanism of dissociation, of denial? We know that the rest of the animal kingdom lives in an instinctual world of pure reflex action, so immersed in the reality of the lived moment, no past or future exists? Its only by a hidden mechanism of dissociation from nature's ever present NOW, that we posses our special gift of self-consciousness. The gift and curse of the human mind?
"Dissociative detachment represents a bottom-line defensive state driven by fear-terror, in which the stressed individual copes by pervasively and diffusely disengaging attention “from both the outer and inner [italics added] worlds” (Allen et al., 1999, p. 164). I have suggested that the “inner world” is more so than cognitions, the realm of bodily processes, central components of emotional states (Schore, 1994). In line with the current shift from cold cognition to the primacy of bodily based affect, clinical research on dissociation is now focusing on “somatoform dissociation.”
According to Nijenhuis (2000), somatoform dissociation is an outcome of early onset traumatization, expressed as a lack of integration of sensor motor experiences, reactions, and functions of the individual and his or her self-representation. Thus, “dissociatively detached individuals are not only detached from the environment, but also from the self—their body, their own actions, and their sense of identity”.
This observation describes impaired functions of the right hemisphere, the locus of the “emotional” or “corporeal self.” According to van der Kolk and colleagues (1996), “Dissociation refers to a compartmentalization of experience: Elements of a trauma are not integrated into a unitary whole or an integrated sense of self” (Schore, 2009 )
In wanting to write about my own experience of painful depression here, in that rebound reaction I suffered after the first diagnosis and hospitalization. It has taken me many a month of Sunday’s to face up to and identify the inner pain of this man’s reflection in the mirror. Its there in my face whenever I seek to recall the painful experiences of my past, etched deeply into that dashboard of human emotion, and as I look into the mirror while typing, I can’t hide from the truths that reside within my body anymore. I try to of coarse, quick thoughts and typed words have flowed well today as I discharge my internal energies to productive effect.
Yet there is that curious mechanism of denial involved, a curious thinking beyond the good sense of feeling, beyond the complex reality of this moment? I really do need to face what I am inside of me now, face up to the vagaries of chaos, chance and circumstance, to the power of meaningful coincidence that has landed me right here in this particular moment. The coincidence of time and place that now sees me needing to really feel the past, and that fateful moment in front of the mirror thirty one years ago, along with all its ripples within the matrix of consequence. In each instant that I try to feel for embodied memory and bring it up to conscious awareness, I find the rationalized response. These thoughts, words and writing that suggest an automatic dissociation of actual memory. A hidden urge to flee the pain body and escape into thoughts?
|Writing the words “pain body” jogs a memory of reading Eckhart Tolle’s brilliant and very popular The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment I walk over to my precious collection of books and retrieve my copy, while telling myself, “he talks a lot about the pain body.” “Focus attention on the feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain-body. Accept that it is there. Don’t think about it - don’t let the feeling turn into thinking. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you.” (Tolle, 1999).|
Thirty one years ago too? How can I consciously remember the actual events and their consequences? It seems so rationally illogical that memory can be retrieved over such a time span, within my conscious mind? Surely life doesn't work that way? Yet my conscious awareness is not the whole picture here? Not the reality of what really makes me tick, perhaps 80% or more of my actualizing function, remains hidden below the surface image I see in the mirror. Looking closer into the mirror now, I try to face my body and its store of unconscious memories, try to feel for my implicit self, that largely non conscious part of me that actually sustains my life, protects me always, from beneath the realm of this very subjective, conscious mind.
A forgotten memory springs to mind now, a time when I was fixing the leaking roof on my mother-in-laws back verandah. “Oh my God, the mother-in-law!” I think. I’ve always had issues with sensitive skin and at that time my skin was itching like crazy. I’d taken antihistamine tablets the night before to help me sleep instead of scratch the night away. Next morning I’m up on the roof having removed a sheet of iron and still suffering from drowsiness. It was all over before I had any conscious realization of the movement, I’d stepped right into the open gap and fallen through. With no thought whatsoever I’d grabbed onto a roofing beam on the way down, taking my full weight on my right arm and gently dropped to the ground. A second after I landed, realization burst into conscious awareness with a, "wow! How did I do that?”
I shake my head at the richness of this embodied memory, its as though it had been captured on camera by some watching film crew. I think-feel a curious sense of, "is this the deeper me?" Am I connecting aspects of myself somehow kept firmly outside conscious awareness for all these years? Am I really trying to face and feel my instincts here, those millions of years of evolution within my implicit self? Yet in the name of our commonly accepted reason, how could there possibly be an instinct for the experience of depression?
Where’s is normality's commonsense in this feeling for memories I ask myself, or is commonsense founded on an unconscious need for denial rather than any solid insights into our true nature? I think about how I learned my particular version of commonsense, how I simply took for granted the socialized norms, about how to be, how to behave. “Did I think about what I am and how I do what I do, during those decades when just getting on with life was an every day action affair? - If another psychotropic medication had not failed me in 2007, would I even have set foot on this path of self education? - If the drug had worked reasonably well would I still be acting with the same old taken for granted assumptions about myself?”
I search through the dozens of PDF docs on this laptop, looking for a good example of the latest science research on human development, which seems to hint at a natural reason for our experience of depression;
“Humans have three principal defense strategies—fight, flight, and freeze. The Polyvagal Theory describes three developmental stages of a mammal’s autonomic nervous system: Immobilization, mobilization, and social communication or social engagement. Faulty neuroception might lie at the root of several psychiatric disorders, including autism, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. We are familiar with fight and flight behaviors, but know less about the defense strategy of immobilization, or freezing. This strategy, shared with early vertebrates, is often expressed in mammals as “death feigning.” (Porges, 2004).
"In humans, we observe a behavioral shutdown, frequently accompanied by very weak muscle tone. We also observe physiological changes: Heart rate and breathing slow, and blood pressure drops. Immobilization, or freezing, is one of our species’ most ancient mechanisms of defense. Inhibiting movement slows our metabolism (reducing our need for food) and raises our pain threshold. But in addition to freezing defensively, mammals immobilize themselves for essential prosocial activities, including conception, childbirth, nursing, and the establishment of social bonds. However, immobilization with fear elicits profound, potentially lethal, physiological changes.” (Porges, 2004).
|Consider Styron’s description of depression again;
“I feel onto the bed and lay gazing at the ceiling, nearly immobilized and in a trance of supreme discomfort.” (Styron, 1990). Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness When viewed along side Steven Porges recent discoveries concerning our unconscious autonomic nervous system, the stimulus for depression’s fearful immobilization seems to be yielding to conscious awareness, yet such knowledge is still so new it finds little awareness within the top hierarchy of the medical profession.
Consider a further description by Styron;
“Rational thought was usually absent from my mind at such times, hence trance.” (Styron, 1990). Perhaps these words of personal experience are beginning to be understood by some therapists as this example shows, “Excessive parasympathetic branch activity leads to increased energy-conserving processes, manifested as decreases in heart rate and respiration and as a sense of ‘numbness’ and ‘shutting down’ within the mind (Siegel, 1999, p.254). Such hypoarousal can manifest as numbing, a dulling of inner body sensation, slowing of muscular/skeletal response and diminished muscular tone, especially in the face. Here “cognitive and emotional” processing are also disrupted.” (Hartman and Zimberoff, 2006).
Even in western philosophies cherished talking therapies like CBT, mindfulness has been embraced as a best practice technique for healing emotional anguish. An eastern philosophy of meditation practice underlies these mindful awareness techniques and many now acknowledge that meditation primarily affects the autonomic nervous system, our oldest system of unconscious survival reactions. Styron’s personal description of depression certainly resonates deep within me as I recall feelings from my first experience of clinical depression. Looking back, fear and shame seemed to tone the energies of a trance like state, very similar to the previous manic illusions. Pain felt like a tight black band around my head, a feeling of pressure constantly trying to squeeze the life out of me while every shame fueled thought felt like an arrow through my heart to the extent that I just wanted to die.
Looking into the mirror now I search for felt memories, for unconscious body tensions, trying to feel my instinct for depression. I feel for the activity of my autonomic nervous system through which instinctual activity is mediated, I can feel its electro-chemical affect, most obvious in tingling sensations. After thirty one years I can finally face the pain, feel its spiraling down sensations as I remember the past with a felt sense. Here and now I can face up to those feelings of collapse and resist maintaining and amplifying them through the affect of thinking. I feel the tensions within and let them ease away, not with a mindful focus, but with felt awareness.
Its the kind of felt awareness that the wonderful Gene Gendlin introduced to the world with his Focusing Therapy and his extensive writings on the "felt sense." Watch him explain this strange place where implicit self meets conscious self, when we go inside and attempt to marry the mind to the body;
Education has given me the insight of mind to know what these collapse sensations of the depressive impulse are and resist the urge to amplify them with thoughts. I no longer need to seek the identity of my internalized threat. Its simply my instinctual nervous system and its unconscious experience of life, its my blind watchmaker, as others have sought to label, to metaphor. "The ghost in the Machine?" As I use my mind to try and interpret what I am inside though, I’m searching for my own labels here, my own metaphors and trying desperately to divine the line between my instinctual reaction and mindful reason. Here in front of the mirror I only wish I had Bill Styron’s talent for painting such poignant word pictures of the our human condition. I wish I had more than my learned words of objective vocabulary to paint with.
Struggling through that first period of manic depression I did my best to comply with my psychiatrist’s wisdom, the Stelazine tablets for my schizophrenia and Serapax for my bewildered confusion and side effect anxiety. Even the trails of MAOI drugs that caused such debilitating side effects as involuntary convulsions, with his warnings about problems of foods like cheese and alcohol consumption, accompanied by a story about a patient who’d suffered a stroke. Jesus! Happy days indeed! Why worry though, just keep taking the pills and keep everybody else happy and relaxed by pretending to feel normal. It is a common experience for long term survivor's of mental anguish problems, that generally speaking the normal world does not want to know about the real experience of mental illness. Its as if people are scared they might catch it?
Yet time does change things and slowly I regained enough motivation to get myself back to work, although self employment seemed more than a step to far. I remember the few short months I spent working for the government, working and sleeping in a railways department workshop. The fear of another panic attack accompanied every single minute of those first weeks of my return to the normal world. Time and experience do allow a desensitization of unconscious expectations though and my conscious awareness of fear subsided. Late in 1980 I managed to find employment within the elevator industry where I’d worked in previous years, as the familiar energies of a grim hard jawed determination returned. The elevator industry is a dangerous one still responsible for many deaths and injuries each year, and I honestly can’t recall any concern amongst family, friends or my psychiatrist about the issue of side effects and my particular occupation.
The edifice of love springs to mind as I write along with thoughts about whether we can ever really know each other, or only how we are affected by each other? Certainly the vagaries of love are brought into sharper focus when one has a history of madness, most people turn away in time, unless we agree to play the normalization game. They say true love is unconditional, its care and concern are beyond the bounds of repayment in kind, yet the stress of mad crisis periods certainly undermined such a concept of love in my experience. Its funny to recall descriptions of my elevator work environment as an exercise in crisis management, when preventative maintenance programs always seemed fail at some point. Psychiatry’s efforts with mental illness seem to be very similar, particularly with those hit and miss medications. Perhaps its part of our hard wired nature to seek life in the reaction of the moment though, like how we seek the emotive drama of crisis moments in our favorite TV shows?
The painful frustration of my experience with medical model psychiatrists has always been an unwillingness to go beyond the pale of just managing the crisis periods in my life. As if normality is measured simply by the absence of obvious crisis, so the medications must be working? It feels like they didn’t really care or couldn’t be bothered with uncovering the core disturbance within me. Nobody seemed to really care what I was going through inside, not really interested in the ongoing pain I felt every day. As long as I acted normal everybody around me could pretend that all was fine, and of coarse I acted, who wants to go back there again, back into hospital and a heavy duty medication regime. I played the normalization game and kept my thoughts and inner feelings to myself, while struggling to climb out of bed every morning.
As I began to recover from the pain, the fear and confusion of that first misdiagnosis, I so wished for an acceptable reason, for a fully coherent explanation that would sooth away my shame. So many times I felt dismissed by my superior brother in his psychiatrist guise, unsupported by my family too, who played the subornation of a rank and status game equally well, “he’s a specialist you know! - He knows better than we do?” Looking back with the benefit of hindsight now, with all the self education and thirty one years of experience, I can’t help but think about hospital admission scenes. Of all those psychiatrist’s rooms and the immediate needs of managing a crisis? What would I do in the same situation if the shoe was on the other foot, how would I react? As a psychiatrist, would I not use my training and education to act without question, would I manage a crisis with the same medications?
Looking back, I do understand that reasoned reaction on the day of my first diagnosis, even the need for the heavy sedation medications of that first hospitalization. What came to trouble and further shame me though, what made me feel like a helpless child was a reluctance to go beyond that reasoned reaction, once normality had been regained and my above average intellect became stable again. I came to hate being treated like a child as much as I did being hospitalized, and I came to despise the unthinking and autonomic rank and status game we all play. Even though it took me decades to learn about and come to feel my own instinctive reactions. The way I automatically play the social ranking and status, judgment game. I even came to understand the security afforded by a status qua of hierarchical social organization and my family’s deep need to accept on face value, the medical model of psychiatry’s mental illness explanations.
My psychiatrist’s explanations which so easily soothed others and gave them some sense of certainty with a “its just a chemical imbalance in your brain,” came to trouble me deeply over the years though. Yet it took the last five years of intense self education to understand these self soothing rationalizations as a projection of my internal need for physical security. The simplistic chemical imbalance explanation has a ring of feasibility to it, and was eagerly taken in by my family and friends, helping them to justify a reluctance to enter into any emotionally disturbing conversations. “Don’t talk about it, just accept the doctor knows best and take your medication. - Forget about so called emotional issues and move on.” Yet the unease remained, hard wired within me and an internalized sense of threat, simply would not and cannot, just go away. I remember the famous phrase from the spin doctors of the CIA during the Vietnam war, “deception is the art of plausibility.” Truth and facts are not vital for an acceptable story, only plausibility, for people’s own self soothing needs will do the rest.
I remember too, the Judge I fronted in 2007 and his palpable reaction to hearing an estimated thirty to forty percent of people, do not benefit from ongoing medication. Even though he’d rubber stamped applications for involuntary hospitalization for years, he’d never heard this statistic before. He was decidedly uncomfortable to be shaken from a belief, that mental illness lapses in remission were simply due to people not taking their medications. Such are the norms of a self soothing consensus reality? So as I look into the mirror again trying to feel the source of my own self soothing rationalizations here, can I feel the primary stimulus of an essential need to feel secure? After all my self education can I really sense the reality of that deep internal need and its affection for the hierarchy of a social order? A need for a sense of mental certainty as a projection of my deeply unconscious need to feel physically safe in this very moment? I take Gene Gendlin's advice and go to the murky edge, that place where mind does not know and nothing is clear, the felt sense? I surrender to sensation awareness, Peter Levine's sensate feelings of embodiment. I feel the reality of Eckhart Tolle's, "power of now," feel myself anew in this very moment, this unthinkable, unspeakable moment to which I surrender. I let go of all my habitual muscular tensions, let go of an unconscious "neuroception." I'm safe now, I can feel it!
"In most individuals (ie, those without a psychiatric disorder or neuropathology), the nervous system evaluates risk and matches neurophysiological state with the actual risk of the environment. When the environment is appraised as being safe, the defensive limbic structures are inhibited, enabling social engagement and calm visceral states to emerge. In contrast, some individuals experience a mismatch and the nervous system appraises the environment as being dangerous even when it is safe. This mismatch results in physiological states that support fight, flight, or freeze behaviors, but not social engagement behaviors. According to the theory, social communication can be expressed efficiently through the social engagement system only when these defensive circuits are inhibited." The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. STEPHEN W. PORGES, PhD.
In 1981 during the Easter holiday period another event occurred which came to infuse future manic periods with referential ideas and a sense of spiritual wonder. While searching for a bunch of keys dropped down an elevator shaft by one of two young men, I should have lost my life when impaled through the left leg by a protruding piece of inch by inch, angled metal. The elevator should have carried on its down journey and ripped my leg off, yet somehow it stopped pinning me upside down for well over an hour. Presumably I did something to cause the elevator to stop and presumably I was just very lucky it did not move again before the electric power was switched off about an hour later. It certainly surprised official’s when the machine simply resumed its downward journey when switched back on some two days later. “Somebody up there must really like you!” My supervisor said when visiting me in hospital.
My wife and I had just negotiated the purchase of our second home where we were going to start a family, so my relief at such a lucky escape had quite an emotional impact. 1982 saw the birth of the first of our four sons, born two years apart and the beginning of a decade of quite resignation to my lot and the experience of mental illness. A second diagnosis came during this time though, along with a huge sense of relief at what we felt was a perfect fit. Perfectly describing my symptomatic behaviors and the typical cyclic energies of a bipolar disorder condition. The psychiatrist's description of a manic depressive certainly seemed to fit me to a tee, and so it was with relish that I started taking my first doses of Lithium in those amazing horse size tablets, “you can break them in two though,” the psychiatrist said.
Unfortunately Lithium gave me bigger side effect issues than any other medication I took over a twenty year period. Chronic constipation became a real problem for me as I struggled with its compounded fatigue everyday, and fatigue does not mix well with a dangerous occupation. It was a non average side effect too, as most people experience the opposite bowl problems with Lithium, a knowledge that caused me great frustration and the resentment of, why me? Brought up in a strict disciplinarian household I was always the compliant child and had become an equally compliant adult. Hence my deep frustration and at times deeply felt anguish when an eagerness to embrace my bipolar diagnosis was continually thwarted by side effect intolerance.
I survived that decade by a process of withdrawal, limiting my emotional life by holding myself within the kind of timid shyness that had best suited survival as a child. Holding myself tight in a braced muscular posture of vigilant alert, in an unconscious reaction to my circumstances. Work and the refuge of music were my life during this time, and of coarse the births and childhood’s of my own children. I basically worked seven days a week for a decade, notwithstanding another two week hospitalization not long after my bipolar diagnosis. I did my best to come to terms with the medical model of disease, of a lifetime illness that would only be managed with a continuing medication compliance.
Perhaps it is the underlying reality of chaos, chance and circumstance that gives effect to the individual differences in our lives? My intolerance of medications forced me down a different path than the one illuminated by the normal medical model of disease in mental illness? My road to recovery certainly was not made by any conscious, reasoned choice during the first two decades of my madness experience. I had a young family to help support and the stability of normal moods and energies was my most earnest desire during that period, yet I found only bitter disappointment in ongoing medication failures. Further more, nobody seemed to really care how I felt inside, only how I behaved and how they were affected by me. Simplistic advice to pull myself together seemed only to reflect their needs, not the deeper reality of mine. It seems a sad fact of life for people suffering with a depressive urge, that on the surface it looks like and is unconsciously judged as a weakness of character.
Work gave me focus and my family a reason to drag myself around each day even though suicidal ideation was a constant companion. I remember the hundreds of times I’ve stood on the roof of tall city buildings with that image of the jump always inhabiting the back of my mind, and of coarse in the industry I worked it would have been simple enough to meet with a fatal accident. Of coarse nobody really wants to discuss such thoughts in our everyday normality, the internal energies of a suicidal death wish. “Don’t talk about that stuff, its too morbid, too close to the bone, I don’t want to hear about it, just get on with your life, will you!” In the 1980’s I was still decades away from exploring the reality of my suicidal death wish and understanding its deepest motivation. In the 1980’s I still didn’t know my bipolar condition was an affective disorder, I mean, “what the hell is an affect?” Back in those days I struggled through a workaday life with the same mechanistic awareness that everyone else does, the same parts like perception that heard the word dopamine and naturally assumed it was just some malfunctioning part of my brain.
I do remember reading some philosopher’s lines about a clockwork universe paradigm though, how we are still immersed in mechanistic assumptions of a simple cause and effect perception. I remember too the continuing bewilderment and helpless confusion inherent in the lack of relief from my inner tensions, provided by a plethora of psychotropic medications. I remember the feelings of loss, of helplessness and despair compounded by a normal worlds fearful reluctance to discuss the deeper realities of our internal motivations. Here in this present moment I face myself again, trying to feel the actuality of my experience and not simply pass over it, with that "I know, I know," part I call my mind?
Time changes everything though and chaos, chance and circumstance find stability in the long run? Such indescribable influences urged me on with an underlying motivation that has navigated me here somehow. Not with any reasonable logic or with any simple cause and effect sense of objectivity, but something deeper still. Something I struggle to articulate using the normal words/metaphors of our evolved language. Something deeper and wider than my everyday needs of immediate perception with its rationalized thoughts of an obvious and black or white reason? An underlying systemic reality of our true nature perhaps, and not a simple one thing causes another thing, mechanical logic?
The Great Nature vs Nurture Debate?
As it was, I struggled through the decade of the 1980’s keeping myself relatively stable by withholding so much of my positive energies for life, by holding onto that habitual muscular constriction of cowering defeat, which had kept me safe during a fear motivated childhood. My father had a volcanic rage inside him you see, often lashing out at an easy target to relieve his own pent up frustrations. Like his son, he suffered from a bitter unspeakable dissonance within the reality of his lived experience. Far to often forced to deny his innate capacities, his God given abilities, he played the inequitable game of social rank and status.
In a generational learning of emotional expression he simply passed his own experience on to me as his father had to him. Three generations of Grandfather, father and son acted out a learned emotional expression, not with any conscious reason or logic, but in unconscious stress reactions. Each generation denying accusations of blind rage by seeking the double bind forgiveness of unconscionable actions. I was still to ignorant to have any conscious awareness of this when I began to raise my own son’s with the same knee jerk reactions to their boyish exuberance. I simply reacted just like my father had in matters of childhood discipline. Undoubtedly I took out my own frustrations with my life, by discharging pent up emotions through the mechanism of projection, finding easy and accepting targets in my children, just as many a proceeding generation had done. Its just the way our unconscious emotional learning works, at a deeper level of instinctual reactions?
I remember when my third son was about three years old and I dismissed his clamor for attention when returning home from work one day. He reacted in turn with anger at my instant and unthinking disavowal of his needs, and for the first time I actually caught myself reacting without reason, simply acting out my own internal frustrations. Perhaps our ongoing evolution involves a process of uncovering these often blind emotional reactions with each family generation. Perhaps the great gift of our current level of mass education is a rising bar of family dialogue, of dinner table discussion.
Multigenerational Transmission Process:
The concept of the multigenerational transmission process describes how small differences in the levels of differentiation between parents and their offspring lead over many generations to marked differences in differentiation among the members of a multigenerational family. The information creating these differences is transmitted across generations through relationships. The transmission occurs on several interconnected levels ranging from the conscious teaching and learning of information to the automatic and unconscious programming of emotional reactions and behaviors.
Relationally and genetically transmitted information interact to shape an individual's "self."
The combination of parents actively shaping the development of their offspring, offspring innately responding to their parents' moods, attitudes, and actions, and the long dependency period of human offspring results in people developing levels of differentiation of self similar to their parents' levels. However, the relationship patterns of nuclear family emotional systems often result in at least one member of a sibling group developing a little more "self" and another member developing a little less "self" than the parents." The Bowen Center.org
I can only wish the bar had been a bit higher at our dinner table during generations of childhood. My Dad was a simple and honest man though and despite his unpredictable, rage-full urge to frighten the life out of me, it is with warmth that I recall his reply when I asked why he so often reacted with such bad temper, “it makes me feel better,” he replied. I only wish we could have shared such an honest and open discussion about the true nature of our relationship, talked beyond our unspoken agreement not to mention such emotionally upsetting issues. Perhaps the same unspoken agreement which pervades and sometimes poisons a normal social world?
There's always a flip side to circumstance though, depending on which way we look at life? I ended up using my bipolar socially phobic condition to read away the hours of relative isolation during that first decade of my mental illness experience. I recall wondering through many a book shop looking for some fruit that might feed my philosophical desires, my deep need to understand myself. Carl Jung was one such feed and the equally giant intellect of Joseph Campbell another, I remember reading every volume of Jung’s work I could get my hands on. Jung’s contribution to the common lexicon of popular language is now legend of coarse, although it took me another decade and half to feel the roots to his meaning, in the notion of a complex.
Campbell became a personal hero with his life story of reading his way through the great depression, an example I’ve tried to follow. He’d spent the years of what so many considered a complete disaster, reading book after book on American Indian spiritual history, along with anything he get his hands on from around the world. He came out this great period of economic depression and personal tragedy for so many, as one of worlds leading experts on mythology and religion.
In the 80’s I waded through his four volume work on the origins of the worlds religions, in his landmark, “The Masks of God.” How many of us have been beguiled by his influence on modern film makers through his legendry knowledge of metaphor myth’s, legend’s and our universal mythology of the human soul. His “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” inspired George Lucas and the epic movie franchise “Star Wars,” and how many of this generation have not felt those universal metaphors work their subliminal magic while watching the movie “Avatar.” The hero’s journey is now well recognized among script writers as a guaranteed hit with all movie goers, as the well known hero’s and villain’s act out the unconscious human archetypes on the big screen.
I started this chapter with a heading about unconscious reactions beneath our so-called reason, my intention is to question the nature of my fall into depression after my first experience of psychosis. Through examples of great writer's and excerpts from recent science journals I have attempted to suggest that our common assumptions of a disease like mental illness, are misguided. I’ve suggested that the average psychiatrist’s reaction to a crisis of mental anguish and abnormal behavior, is as much motivated by unconscious reaction, as it is any insightful analysis of a patient‘s experience. In chapter eight I pointed out my difficulty in describing my inner experience using my learned and taken for granted vocabulary, with its object like labels and metaphors of an observable external world.
I suggest that my first psychiatrist had similar difficulty and used his learned concepts of mental illness when making his lightning quick judgment of my experience. In his challenge to respond to a crisis situation he relied on his education to inform his actions, which I suggest was a reasoned reaction, rather than any insightful judgment within those challenging moments. I further suggest that the average psychiatrist is about as self-aware as any average person is, and owns no special powers of insightful judgement to justify a high social rank and status. Indeed we should always question our motives for choosing our profession, as some point out. "Some people become doctors out of concern and empathy for others, while some sign up for the power and social prestige, not to mention the money." There seems to be a false assumption in society that higher education somehow equips the individual with a higher state of self-awareness? An assumption about the real-life value of education which seems to have distorted the consensus view from the 1980's on-wards. A period when traditional values for the wisdom of experience, increasingly gave way to the power of the university degree, and more and more concepts about life, than our traditional folk-lore wisdom. And where are we now?
There is mounting evidence that our taken for granted subjective perceptions are founded on denied instinctual reactions. It is also becoming increasingly obvious to many therapists who work outside the mainstream of psychiatric care, that the nervous system and the body cannot be so myopically dismissed when treating mental illness. Mainstream psychiatry's focus on the brain and its chemical activity alone are now standing in denial of the latest systems theories and their application to the understanding of human development, and our behavioral motivation.
Unfortunately our everyday common assumptions seek a simple mental certainty via short self-soothing explanations, with short plausible statements that are easily digested. As I pointed out above, our self soothing reactions will latch onto any plausible explanation in an unconscious urge of self-deception? It seems we are more interested in maintaining our established comfort-zone (homeostasis) than confronting the deeper truths to our inner reality? "Don't talk about emotional stuff, you might upset somebody," and so we enact the daily rituals of a socialized denial, in a group need to maintain an established homeostasis of consensus reality? Consider;
"LIFE AS HOMEOSTASIS:
Living organisms are self-replicating and self-sustaining dynamic chemical systems. They obtain energy from, and information about, their environment – including its chemical, physical, geological, and biological components. A feature that distinguishes living from non-living matter was identified by Claude Bernard. This is homeostasis – the maintenance of a constant internal environment despite changes in the external environment. A second feature of all known life, first proposed explicitly by Schleiden and Schwann, is that living things are composed of spatial compartments, called cells. Cellular homeostasis requires a system of integrated feedback and feedforward, producing adaptive responses to, and anticipation of, ultimately uncontrollable changes in the properties of the outside world. As life evolves, it extends its reach by maintaining its constant internal environment in new external environments, previously inhospitable." Redox Homeostasis in the Emergence of Life. On the Constant Internal Environment of Nascent Living Cells, _John F. Allen, Ph.D
Is it this unconscious need for the maintenance of an established homeostasis which distorts the consensus reality, and allows a denial of instinctual judgment, in our mind reading diagnosis of other human beings? The false premise of "I think therefore I am," which continues the use of denial as the main emotional tool, in the progress of human civilization? Our long history of suppressing innate affect/emotion from early childhood on? Consider Silvan Tomkins huge and largely ignored contribution to our awareness of "affect," and the ever shifting sands of our affective states of being?
"INNATE AFFECT/EMOTION & SOCIETY:
Because the free expression of innate affect is extremely contagious and because these are very powerful phenomena, all societies, in varying degrees, exercise substantial control over the free expression of the cry of affect. No societies encourage or permit each individual to cry out i.e, rage or excitement, or distress or terror wherever and whenever they wish. Very early on, strict control over affect expression is instituted and such control is exerted particularly over the voice, whether used in speech or in direct affect expression.
If all societies suppress the free vocalization of affect, what is it that is being experienced as affect? It is what I have called backed-up affect, it can be seen in children trying to suppress laughter by swallowing a snicker, or by a stiff upper lip when trying not to cry (anti affects?) or by tightening the jaw to suppress anger. In all these cases, one is holding one’s breathe as part of the technique of suppressing the vocalization of affect.
We do not know what are the biological and psychological prices of such suppression of the innate affective response. It seems at the very least that substantial psychosomatic disease might be one of the prices of such systemic suppression and transformation of the innate affective responses. Further there could be a permanent elevation of blood pressure as a consequence of suppressed rage, which would have a much longer duration than an innate momentary flash of expressed anger."
Exploring Affect: The Selected Writings of Silvan S Tomkins: Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction
In our reasoned reactions, are we guilty of maintaining and amplifying the mind’s foundation, as a fundamental dissociation from nature? As many now point out, there would no conscious awareness at all, without some degree of dissociation, without this mechanism we’d still be stuck in pure reflex reactions, just like the rest of the animal kingdom. In the example of Sophie’s Choice I asked what could possibly allow a fascist intellect to so loose the felt connection to his heart and soul, and force such a monstrous choice upon any woman? Dissociation? The Devil’s own device, perhaps? The darker shadow of our instinctual nature, made unnecessarily mysterious by civil societies need of denial in a consensus reality based on our mismatched vocabulary, of an object-awareness of the external world? An objects "out-there," awareness which has distorted the reality of our nature, in this long march to mature self-awareness?
Consider psychiatry’s use of the ice pick lobotomy so routinely used not so very long ago, and ask yourself if ECT treatments or the chemical cosh of psychotropic medication is a huge leap forward? What happens when the bright intellectual spends so much time in their head, that they unknowingly loose connection with the heart and soul, and will not face the body as an equal place, how do they learn to touch for real down, down where the iguanas feel?
Styron, W, 1990, “Darkness Visible a memoir of Madness,” Vintage Books, USA.
Styron, W, 1979, "Sophie’s Choice," Corgi Books, USA.
Attachment Trauma and the Developing Right Brain: Origins of Pathological Dissociation. Allan N. Schore.
Tolle, E, 1999, “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” New World Library, USA.
Porges, S, W, 2004, “NEUROCEPTION: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety,” University of Illinois at Chicago.
Hartman, D and Zimberoff, D, 2006, “Healing the Body-Mind in Heart-Centered Therapies,” Journal of Heart-Centered Therapies, 2006, Vol. 9