Friday, October 4, 2013

The problem of the toxic umbilical cord

Today in session, the toxic umbilical cord was broken.  I rarely see this so poetically and decisively happen.  Probably much of the time my efforts to help adults separate from a mouse-that-roared parent fall on scared deaf ears, or maybe seep into their soil and incubate underground for a little while then die.  There are different levels of success.  A dad used to shame his little girl and watch his own father shame the little granddaughter – rather than confront his lifelong emasculation and the old man who did it.  A girl continually betrayed by mother finally faced her, at age forty-nine, and cried out her lifelong anxiety.

Mostly, though, the toxic umbilical cord is (dramatically put) the rape of karma.  A parent’s failure should not reap her benefits.  But a mother remains powerful, owning her child even into old age, precisely because she failed: She did not grow a healthy, free child.

Then again, failure is often the very essence of the parent’s power.  A man quakes in rage at his ten-year-old son’s defiance, or maybe even at the boy’s initiative.  Inspect this quaking: It is fear.  X-ray the man: He is a little boy in identity collapse, abandonment terror.  If he were actually bigger and stronger than his son, he would smile and understand.

Today, it was an evocative offering of an intrapsychic principle, that of “splitting off and projecting,” that helped the young woman break free.  A child buries intolerable pain and forgets it, but then sees that exact pain in the world.  Sexually abused children may, for lack of an enlightened witness “who helped them to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them*,” split off their pain and self-sense of hopelessness and later see (project) them in all manner of stray animals.  A trailer, a “cat lady,” and her hoard.  I can only vaguely remember traces of a moment or two of personal ruin in childhood where rejection pain, so overwhelming, caused me to disappear it.  I became a person who could not hurt another’s feelings, knowing his or her soul would die at the words “no” or “sorry.”

The client was the thrall of a mother whose power was her hateful projection of her own crib-death, her own absence of self-generation, self-creation onto her daughter.  This manifested in so many ways – in the atmosphere of years itself – that weakened the child and made the umbilical cord necessary, but most recently in her judgment that she – a bright college graduate – was unable to make decisions.  This was another final blow to this condemned person.  The unexpected break came after an old process that melted from under her her cerebral perch.  This was the process:

“Now, I want you to accept the following situation.  You are lying on a bed in a hospital and you are dying.  You are your present age.  You are not in physical pain, but you are aware of the fact that in a few hours your life will end.  Now, in your imagination, look up and see your mother standing at the side of the bed.  Look at her face.  There is so much unsaid between you.  Feel the presence of all the unsaid between you -- all the things you have never told her, all the thoughts and feelings you have never expressed.  If ever you would be able to reach your mother, it is now.  If ever she would hear you, it is now.  Talk to her.  Tell her." **

She was silent for a full ten minutes or more, talking to her mother, rejecting her and a lifetime of being unseen.  Following, the explanation of her mother’s condemnation, being only a mirror that woman was trapped in.  She has never, ever seen you.  There was a look in the eyes and a physical feeling in the throat named both fear and “excitement.”  She felt free.


** “The Death Bed Situation.”  Nathaniel Branden, PhD, The Disowned Self, 1972.

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Comments are welcome, but I'd suggest you first read "Feeling-centered therapy" and "Ocean and boat" for a basic introduction to my kind of theory and therapy.