Veterans Day is officially celebrated to represent the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the guns of both sides of the Great War fell silent.
Horror, destruction and the seemingly needless loss of human life came to a halt. While it essy to see the ugly, harmful, craziness of war, it is often even easier for us to ignore our civilian and universal connection as humans to it. Yes, how easy it is to say it is “they,” not us who are responsible for the killing, destruction, pain, suffering. “We,” on the other hand, are innocent, clean, not a part of it, free to criticism “them.” “They” are often asked and brought to guilt or shame, “Did YOU kill anbody? How many did YOU kill?” Our Vietnam combat era taught us the shame and deep hurt done to “them” because of our sanitizing division between warrior and civilian. Perhaps war and conflict would greatly lessen if we realize the real universal truth: “We” all are responsible beings for life, death, construction, creation, destruction, and world annihilation. Scapegoating the warroir only fools us and the world, keeps us away from peace and unity, and leads to future division and conflict. Although we are each a unique gift in life, may we all remembet and reflect this day that, also, “They are Us.”
I've found myself referencing this painting titled "Choices" many times in the past few weeks. I wondered 'why' until now. It's a beautiful gift from a now deceased Vietnam Combat Veteran. He put his life in harms way for a freedom he believed possible and needed, not for his self, but rather for others. His life was meaningful. His duty held meaning, even though the desired end was not found. With freedom, we may choose, decide, act responsibly, be constructive, or not. Freedom, however, does not really mean doing whatever we want, whenever we want and then becoming happy and fulfilled. No, freedom, like it or not, necessitates responsibility and mature action. On December 7, 1967, Viktor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy and a Holocaust Survivor, gave a speech at Providence College. This was the anniversary of our "Day of Infamy" and a time of great turmoil in our country. There was protest against war, so-called "free love," drug use, and a generational attack against conformity, authoritarianism and the status quo. Within months there would be horribly assasinations and riots in the streets, a complex national trauma beyond belief. The country, it seemed, was struggling to find meaning and stability. Dr. Frankl was asked to address what was perceived as an underlying problem of the time, "Youth in Search of Meaning." Instead, he chose to address the universal human need for meaning. He spoke of the present tendecy to seek pleasure as an escape from the responsible pursuit of "true" meaning, of being too much into and for the self. Self-gratification and self-indulgence seemed to be treated as the new norm, the new normal. Surprisingly, Frankl made an argument against the Declaration of Independence's statement of belief in the "pursuit of happiness." Happiness, he said, was not to be an end in itself. He knew from Aushwitz that, when a person chooses happiness or that which is pleasurable as an end in itself, when pleasure becomes "deified," life is over. Those he saw at Aushwitz who chose a cigarette to a piece of bread for survival and a greater good were giving up. Despair has won. The person has given up, chosen a path that leads only to destruction. The search for "true" meaning in life, Frankl argued, is not the pursuit of happiness, pleasure, but rather the responsible and mature act of choosing to connect and commit to someone or something greater than our self. The feeling of happiness is more of a beneficial consequence or "side effect" of having meaning in life. Self-gratification, selfishness and narcissism will not help us find constructive and life-enhancing meaning in life. Finding meaning in life is to reach for something or someone more than us- our partner, a vocation, the good of our country or of another's, a Higher Power, the good of our environment, the health of our pet, a daily job, etc. This gives us something or someone to live for a "true" way to a meaningful life. How can we find a way to have real meaning in life today? Are we willing to admit that we need a greater someone or something than our self to do so? Or, do we think whatever "I" want to feel good is itself our life's end? Is it just whatever makes ME happy? Will we delude our self to believe that by just reaching out to feel happy, we are leading a meaningful life? The world of addiction shows us the sad lived-out experience of a wrong choice. Seems it's a time for each of us to personally reflect and decide which we are choosing or which we wish to choose. Frankl would probably be the first to admit that making our self feel good is the easier choice. He chose more. He chose a meaningful life. What do you choose?
The more I work as a psychotherapist, the more I find myself seeing the good in others. Despite presented imperfections, problems, mistakes, or maladaptive background or behaviors, I see much that holds worth. I see courage to face one's self. I see humility to ask for help and reject narcissism. I see kindness and gratitude, at times more than I deserve. I see passion and motivation to change. I witness and, to some extent, participate in the intimate anguish of healing. I discover underlying gifts that even the person before me had not noticed. I see an awakened innocence that brings me back to the image of a newborn who sees real life for the very first time, curious and amazed by what she or he finds. It is of a value beyond compare that has presented me with the gift of a soul who seeks to heal and has chosen me as partner to this transformative work. Amazing! Wonderful! Touching the soul is truly a loving experience, a vocation that gives and teceives love.
We call it DID, MDD, ADHD, OCD, NPD, PTSD, and other such abbreviatins of names of mental health problems. They shorten the category of symptoms, objectifying what it is, make it common and conforming, make it easier for the viewer and health worker, and treat the problem as some "thing" to be dissected and treated. Today's focus for many health researchers and providers is now to find the "biological markers" for these categories, further dissecting to some greater "thing." It is as if we are looking for some universal "God factor" to explain the all of this thing, with the belief that we will then have all we need to solve a problem. Quite a lofty goal! Although the rationale and action may be well-intended, if the task become purely mechanical or narcisstically-invested, problems abound and misdirection becomes inevitable. We need to look more "humanly" than this to really see, or we will not see. Robert Coles, the very gifted Existential Psychiatrist, speaks of this challenge to understand with one of his female patients in his book, "The Spiritual Life of Children." Or, perhaps better said, without the "human", we will see an illusion of what is real, or only what we want to see, distorting what is there. Persons of the past have been led and have led others away from the real of human life by their illusions and delusions. No matter what letters we attach or titles we ascribe, we will never truly understand, empathize or adequately help heal unless we first see and continually see the person before us. I am Tom Kelly, Joe Smith, Bob Brown, Cathy Sullivan, Sharon Stone, Tom Terrific, Jane Doane, Jennifer Johnson, etc. (note: names are fictitious). I am not a bunch of letters. I am not to be lumped with a bunch of others. I am not a thing. I am I, a unique self, a special someone unlike everyone else. Although I may share with others certain symptoms or problems or traits, my expression of them, my life journey, is mine alone. Only I have these experiences in my own way, from my perspective. Understand this and you may come to know me. The greater our objectification and separation, the more the human will disappear for us, confuse and frustrate our understanding, and move us further from intimacy and real life. Many, more serious and even dangerous consequences may come to us when we move away from the human in us and others. May we all be mindful in life and see what really lies before us.
Being-real is easy to say and challenging and lifelong to do. It means to be the unique and authentic person or "self" that I am, apart from all others. It means learning to identify, understand, appreciate, and integrate the richness of our past, good and bad, positive and negative, into our present living. It means accepting and believing that I am a loving gift in, with and for life: I am lovable, loving and loved. Being-real is I-being-I with myself and others, I-in-identity-and-intimacy. To truly be unique and authentic, our life goal, is to be free, joyful, hopeful, faithful. What a gift it is to be I. In Christian belief, I am in-the-image-of-God. Being-real, truly I, is to be as close to Perfect and Ultimate as I may be. This life journey to real appears bittersweet. From Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama to Stalin and Hitler we may see the success and failure of our quest to the real I-in-life. As a psychotherapist, I "feel" daily the anguish of each courageous, vulnerable and hopeful person that asks guidance for direction and support in being-real. No greater privilege or gift have I teceived than this for my life vication. All I have to do is be-real and use the dynamic skills and experience that I've acquired. Thank God.
Advances in technology, science, medicine, and other areas of human development offer new ways to help others and ourselves. Optimal helping, however, is a bit more controversal and debatable. What is best? There are so many methods, so many practices! With "psychotherapy," Freud's couch, his exclusive dictir-patient relationship, has been replaced by a host of methods, including biological and chemical treatments, televideo sessions, the telephone, etc. While most of these may help to one degree or other, I do believe they include a bit of the "less than fundamental" for treatment. Of utmost and optimal significance, I argue, is the real, in-person "being-with" relationship between the psychotherapist and the client. The physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dynamic presence and "team work" of each, working together for understanding, insight and direction for change offers optimal and "most real," most in-the-present, most mutually respectful and appreciative atmosphere for well-being. While many may argue this belief, I suspect all would gain much from such an experience in today's world, in or outside of the therapy.
This is the final note I am posting as inside-the-book information for the reader. This other "Secret" about Trauma and the Golden Lady is the name itself, "Golden Lady." What does it mean? Why did I select this title? It means many things, a compilation of what relates to Plath and my work. The very first time I saw her was in a picture in the book, "Letters Home." This was way back in 1976, in the book stacks of the Clark University library. She was lying on the beach on a sunny summer day. Her hair looked golden. This was the first image of her in my mind-a golden haired girl. As I looked to Sylvia's writing in my subsequent research, I came to see her genius and her precious gifts for life. She was golden, a very talented young woman, a lady. As I got "to know her," I found myself unable to see her as a girl. She seemed (and sounded like, if one listens to her voice) older than she was, more mature, refined, proper, lady-like. She seemed to always wish to present herself as a lady, a person to be respected, as in the joyous image on the cover of my book. In her works, she epitomized someone who, like the professional athlete, sought the gold ring or gold medal. Her brilliant talents bore fruit in her work, even though she often was doubtful of it. Golden Lady was a title that came to me in inspiration when the first draft of my book was finished. It just seemed to fit Sylvia, like a hand in a glove. Furthermore, the title reflected my intent to show respect for all that was Sylvia and seek to avoid criticism, judgment or even clinical diagnosing and analysis. Too much had already been written about Sylvia in ways that took her apart or subtracted from who she was, made her feel less-than. Yes, I believe Golden Lady is a fitting title for Sylvia Plath.
How we view life is instrumental to how we may live life or if we will live life at all. If we view life as a gift, a precious time and space given to us in which to develop our self lovingly, a powerful resource is ours for faith, hope and intimacy. Our positive and loving life perspective, then, becomes a means for expressing the gift of our self to, with and for another. Giving our self for some time and space in prayer, reflection or thought to the ultimate Other, our Gift Giver, is one direct way to give gratitude or say "thank you" for our gift of self.
Shame on you.
Shame on me.
Shame is not synonymous with 'guilt,' but often made to be worse. One definition describes it as "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety." Another, "a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute." It sure does hurt! Is there anyone who hasn't felt shame? We feel so alone, apart, singled out with shame. With shame, it is "I" that is the focus of something wrong at that very moment, no one else. No, with shame we're not singled out for a reward or praise. Wish that we were. No, shame is for "something bad," at least in the eyes of the giving other. It is "I." Shame on me! I feel the shame. I did it or am told I did. What differentiates a healthy outcome of shame from one that is unhealthy is the exclusive focus on the person rather than the act.
Developmentally, if all goes well as we grow up, we learn to become the gift we are meant to be. Yes, at times we learn through the experience of shame. Each of us needs to know "right from wrong" or else our life would be without boundaries or without a healthy regard for others or life. As much as we may desire freedom and independence, the paradox is that there must be guidelines and limits for this desirable goal. Yes, there is a normal shame we experience. When shame is normal, when we do wrong or what isn't good to be done, we are still told we are good. This is what should happen normally. Doing wrong, the thing we do, the message reads, is the problem. We are still a unique and gifted self. It is "what" we did that is the problem. It's the problem or behavior that is focused on, not the worth or value of the person. Developmentally, one may say, we learn from our mistakes. Harder to learn, however, when we are made to be the mistake, when shame isn't a normal experience.
"You'll never amount to anything" is something that some hear repeatedly. The shame I see in therapy is not of the normal variety. If it were, I suspect I'd be out of a job. No, the shame I see is of the variety you may see in the artwork that precedes this text. It is a confinement of self to the nth degree. It is or feels like abject loneliness and isolation. Better put, it's imprisonment, feeling as if one is "bricked-in." This experience follows our being taught or told that we, in our heart and soul, are bad, no good, evil, ugly, not belonging, smelly, rotten to the core, etc. Pick the descriptor! Shame, for some, actually becomes a way of life. When we over and over experience shame, we begin to wear shame, show it in our body, think it in our mind, feel it in our moods, act in its ways. Through therapy, one works to break the chains of shame and break out and learn how to live as the gift of self we truly are meant to be. It's not easy, but well worth it when we succeed. Sadly, some never succeed. Happily, many now do. Shame doesn't have to be on you or me.
Change, as they say, is inevitable, unavoidable. Sometimes we seek it, want it or are amazed and awed when it happens. Other times, we lament it, fear it, try to avoid it, reel against it, or even hate it. It's strange yet beautiful, though, when we take change into our life, make it a companion, and follow its lead with faith, hope and love. We may work with it rather than fight against it. No, not easy to do, some may think impossible. But, stop for a moment and think about it. How may we ever get anywhere or become our self without change. Now that's impossible! Change, if followed, "adapted to" successfully, produces Transformation. We've crossed a bridge from one place to another. To realize this means to accept that change itself is a greater force than our self, a powerful ally for this transformation. With change we may go beyond, convert, change outwardly or inwardly, think differently, feel differently, act differently. What would we be without change. Zombies? Clones? Boring? It seems that, when we choose change as ally and companion vs. enemy, we move more solidly, securely and hopefully in life. One might say that change brings us more and more to the fulfillment of our life. Let us all learn to embrace change-as-companion, be it in good times or bad. If we walk with it, it will show us the way.