Archive for November, 2013

Uneigentlich Leiden

Our culture’s addiction to speaking our own particular story, apparent victims of our biology and history, lead some people to perpetrate what Carl Jung called “uneigentlich leiden,” or inauthentic suffering.  The suffering wrought through chronic addiction to our own victimization and self-betrayal in our pathological need to speak our so-called wounds is not only corrosive to our culture, it is always uninteresting and steeped in a weepy narcissism.  Carolyn Myss speaks clearly about this tendency as speaking our “woundology.” 

I have seen people who build shrines to their dysfunction.  Some begin web chat rooms to download their need to negative bond with others around their particular problems.  It always seemed to me that one needed to become dedicated to a pattern of chronic dysfunction as well as the need to feel like a perpetual victim in order to continue down this path.

On the other hand, I have seen some, myself included (I sheepishly admit) engage in a certain schadenfreude as we feel smug and superior, self-righteously proclaiming our refusal to whine in this way.

I feel safe around people with integrity.  I define integrity as the ability to define one’s own clear “yes” or “no.”  People with integrity let us know where they stand.  We know who they are, and therefore we have a better-than-average chance of finding out who we are when we stand next to them.  Others appear superficial and unpredictable – I find myself backing out of the room and once outside, checking my wallet. 

I want to hear from others’ experiences when I feel safe and grounded around them; these ones who possess this gift of clarity.  Alternatively, I am not as open to hearing from others when I feel ungrounded and unsure of what to do or say next.  When I am with people who are relatively clear and even in their behavior and affect, I find I can count on a certain consistency in their personalities as well as in their reactions and responses to me.  I can count on a pattern of communication and language.  I can count on not being attacked.  And I find a common ground.   I want to hear from these people.  I want to know their personal story and want them to know mine.  I am open and trusting.  You can count on me, and I on you.  You will not whine.  I will not whine.

So where does our personal story do us the most good?   Where can we help others with our story of suffering; the authentic suffering that does not congratulate or denigrate the storyteller?  Where do we use our words with skill and empathy instead of using them for the purpose of building an anachronistic and disabling negative bond?  How do we help others not feel so alienated and alone?

If I had a dime or even a nickel for all the times someone has said to me “you are a wounded healer,” I would be quite rich and have a much less corroded stomach lining and be less prone to nausea.  Yet I notice, as I sit with my psychotherapy clients, that I sometimes self-disclose my own personal past with certain diseases and certain experiences in order to relate to the person sitting across from me.

We were taught in school never to do this.  We were taught to be a reasonable tabula rosa, a blank slate in terms of emotion and story.  After 20 years of this, I threw it out the window along with the pathetic question:  “How does that make you feel?”  Only the most unskilled practitioners sit without demonstrating a personality in psychotherapy , and now we have courses in ongoing credit and for our CEU’s on doing just that;  learning how to manage the fine line between maintaining clinical distance and being real enough to create a bond with someone else.

It is the finest of skills, this ability to tease out and also reveal what is called authentic suffering.  I once took a new male client apart on his second visit (he did not come back, nor did I want him back) for claiming his “terrible PTSD” as the reason for his inability to bond with his wife.  It turned out he had been scared and had doors slammed in his childhood, leading him to sensitivity to loud noises and over-stimulation, he claimed.  Some former psychologist had given him this term, and I was incensed.  Another male patient of mine at the time, a Marine who had just returned from Iraq and who had consulted me for help with true Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for reasons which should be apparent, blamed nothing on his condition – he just wanted my help.  This young man obtained my help and was, within one year and a combination of psychotherapy and energy/ kinesiology treatments, “completely healed” (his words.)

James Hillman, the prolific psychologist in the Jungian tradition, speaks about betrayal as one of the great archetypical journeys to our wellness.   He speaks about the betrayal of Christ.  It was not the Crucifixion that brought this story its’ worst darkness; it was the Betrayal.  Through the mythic journey of primal trust broken, Jesus was reborn as a fuller and loving human being.

In our own lives we can find redemption and awakening through the great mythic journey of betrayal, as Hillman points out.  He points out further that in most cases betrayal cannot exist without its corollary:  trust.  So the agony of investigating the assimilation of trust and betrayal around our personal relationships brings great awareness and insight:  the parents who did not fulfill their promise to be counted upon, the child who disappoints by not calling home enough, the lover who leaves, the business associate who blackmails us at the highest point of our careers – these are the callings to investigate true suffering.

And how do we negotiate this kind of pain – the agony of betrayal?  The agony of loss?  Loss of trust?  Loss of love?  Loss of hope?  Hillman speaks at length about the self-defeating choices  of revenge, denial, arrogant dismissal as an abreaction of true emotion; and he speaks at length (and it is not the intention of this article to explore the ways Hillman teaches us to deal with betrayal,) of the ways to mitigate and transmute this kind of suffering.

Joining with our human friends in the stating of mutual suffering and then moving into solution immediately – this is how I see a way to overcome the tendency to incessantly speak our pain from the victim stance.  This is not pushing anything down or away as we used to be so fearful of; it is merely the recognition of the problem and the immediate and equal recognition of the need for a spiritual solution:  uncover, discover, discard, as I like to say.  Or uncover, and then discover that there is a pattern in the bigger picture, and from that, we can all relate.   Who hasn’t yearned for something and waited, waited and waited?  What about reminding someone, ever so gently of the beautiful and gentle Penelope waiting for Odysseus?  What about gently reminding someone of the archetype of the crucifixion, death and resurrection as a metaphor for their particular kind of journey?  Almost everyone has experienced a kind of mythic shaman’s death at some point in their journey. 

The ability to join with someone and interpret their small story in the light of a larger Weltanschauung is indeed the gift of a great healer, who can offer so much by interpreting suffering in the light of the bigger picture – that of the epic hero, contextualized through the framework of the self and the apparent other, sitting opposite. 

It takes great courage to see this.  It takes a willingness to move from our smallness to our greatness, from our tendencies to our will.  It takes fortitude and courage and consistency – all important qualities in what the early Shaivite scriptures call the time we are in:  Kali Yuga, or the Dark Ages.   It is especially essential when everything in our culture pulls us into the blame trap; the trap which tells us to project our self hatred everywhere and then blame it on the other.   Then this unconscious monster insists we are justified in moving away in cold silence rather than moving toward in warm embrace, forgiving, always forgiving, understanding that true forgiveness is the absolute recognition that nothing ever happened anyway.

It takes a stalwart heart to turn away from the dysfunctional and disabling norm and be true to the self.  It takes a brave mind to obey itself.  It takes fortitude to recognize that life – growth – is always moving us forward.  And our longing – for everyone is propelled by the same thing – this longing – no matter how misplaced or deviated it may become – may be likened to the growth of a tree.  A tree pushes its roots down, down, down into the darkness to allow its leaves and branches to be offered up to the light.  It simply and fundamentally understands the play of energetic opposites.  Only in embracing the darkness and pushing down into it can the light be embraced.  It is absolute nature of tree.

 When we run from the exploration of who we are, exploring every texture of our being, the magic interplay of light and dark, the chiaroscuro of our personality intricacies, we deny ourselves the very life we crave. 

Uneigentilich Leiden.  Inauthentic suffering.    We refuse this by keeping on keeping on – by bringing kind and gentle awareness to life on life’s terms.  And each day brings the possibility of another moment of ease and a possibility of opening the heart just a little more.  As one of my favorite teachers, Stephen Levine says, we open our hearts again, daily, in hell.   And I remind us that this is, of course, to live perpetually in heaven.


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