Behavior is an image in motion. Remembering that Jung said, ”Image is psyche”, we can see how symptoms create an image that reflects what initiated the reaction. The things that cause us psychological pain are rooted in conditioned patterns created by past threats, and show the lingering expectation of more. I’ve found that one of the clearest indicators of the trouble a person has had is in the degree of their self-protection. The need to protect oneself shows a background requiring protection, of being conditioned to relate to a threat pattern with an adaptive response. When we think of a person’s behavior as defensive, we should keep in mind that the fortress was built to protect from attack. Slumped shoulders are not just about posture; they are about cowering. Anyone that was hurtfully punished and humiliated in childhood has been convinced they deserved it. And so they expect more of the same and create what they expect. Alice Miller, in her many books, emphasizes the crippling long-term effects on adults who were mistreated by their parents. The names of her books, “Banished Knowledge”, “For Your Own Good” etc. refer to the broad range of parenting styles that deny the child’s individual reality. Accepting the practice by refusing to see how one has been hurt, the wounded individual passes the behavior to the next generation, debilitating a large chunk of the population with defensive antagonism upon which the worst aspects of modern society build.
The cultural appetite for meanness, expressed in news reports of torture and bullying, media humiliation of celebrities, radio hosts that ridicule others, feeds on people who have suffered this treatment and now need to vent the distress on others. A scene in the old movie of the Charles Dickens book, “Nicholas Nickleby”, shows an obviously poor young boy in the school watching gleefully as another of the children is beaten harshly by the school master. The image of violence as a way to solve problems is retained by the body no matter how many layers of rationalization and denial shield it.
The disregard for cultures with different values is one result of the emotional blindness that allows these conditions to propagate. The need to release pent up feeling is satisfied by subduing those who don’t share a particular way of seeing with all of the righteousness of parent smacking a child into obedience. Unexpressed rage is channeled toward whatever is being demonized at the moment. Drawn into an accepted outlet, the hurt caused is invisible, blocked by the protective shell around the ability to feel.
The shell was constructed in reaction to assaults of the past. The culture reinforces it creating a perpetual aura of danger requiring our vigilance, and we layer on our personal defensive strategies, built in childhood, to counter the behavior of the adult(s) that made them necessary. The tension creates symptoms in our bodies. Pain and discomfort isolate us further. Instead of judging ourselves for our lack of self-worth and all the behaviors that go with it, we should look squarely at what molded those behaviors so we can release them. If we’re not in touch with our own pain, the Golden Rule doesn’t work, because when we don’t understand what hurts us we can’t use that as a marker for what not to do to others. Throughout the Bible and the I Ching as well as other religious texts are many statements to the effect that we teach best by example. Getting into power struggles with children about who is boss lays a foundation for adult struggles that extend into international politics. Using punitive measures teaches a child to do the same and creates a violent, intolerant world.
The wonderful work being done in the Harlem Children’s Zone shows what’s possible when the growth of children is approached the right way. What they call “Baby College” is an effort to give young mother’s help understanding their babies and what kinds of childrearing will stimulate healthy psychology and intelligence. In a Newsweek article, “What We Can Learn From The Harlem’s Children’s Zone”, Raina Kelley writes, “the HCZ is another kind of proof that the playing field can be leveled.” They rightly see that developing and supporting the child’s intellectual development is the best way to build a road out of poverty. Key to the philosophy is eliminating corporal punishment and humiliation, which diminish empathy, and developing skills that allow empathy to flourish.
All of the recent brain research supports the need to change the way children are raised. Putting the emphasis on love and understanding will enable the young to trust themselves and grow into their full potential. Only then will we see more understanding in global communication.