Friday, June 24, 2016

How to end terrorism

Consider these examples of a delusion,* on a scale from insane to less so:

A man believes that 1 + 1 = color blue.

A man believes the earth is flat, the Holocaust didn’t happen, 9/11 was an inside job.

A woman believes that an infinitely powerful and timeless unnatural being created all of existence.

A woman believes scientists’ assertion that molecules are made of atoms which are made of quarks and strings; that the universe began in a Big Bang – though she has never seen any of the proofs with her own eyes.

A man believes he is alive, and that he loves his wife.

While some of these beliefs may not seem psychotic, they are all examples of experience embedded in the continuum of human evidence – that is, perception and reason. And since human perception and reason are known to be fallible, are adumbrated by the eternal disconnect between appearance and essence, and are deflated by signs that free will is but a species of determinism, all knowledge is at its root belief, and all belief is variably delusional.

It seems likely to me, a psychotherapist, that emotion is the main factor that will lean someone toward the poorly evidenced (psychotic) reaches of belief, and in some cases toward an outright aversion to human knowing. Possibly any strong emotion can transiently do this: A blissful person may believe that for the most part the world is a very wonderful place; a suicidal person, that the world is uncaring. The feeling, though, that leads to the most intractable, destructive and necessary beliefs is the pain that we banish and wall off, the early injuries to our identity that amount to loss of love in our childhood. The walls of repression we build are often made of self-soothing beliefs.

Here is one example: I grew up in a loveless, emotionally buried home. It was impossible for me to share feelings with inert people, so my need for love and touch were put in the crypt. Later, during high school and college years, I would have declared to anyone that emotionally present, happy, spontaneous and affectionate young women were superficial, fake and frivolous. The belief would have had the certainty of viscerally deep wisdom.

To believe, or realize, otherwise – that these were real people, living right – would have sent the walls of defense crashing, layers of walls collapsing down through my childhood when love and real feeling, critical needs, were starved. The pain would be a child’s pain but now made fatal by the sense of permanence, of absolute too-lateness. Many of us sense we are not whole, or wholly here, that something is missing. What is missing is our organic identity that comes from the parent’s love. Without that, we must find prosthetic identity, mostly in our head.

Terrorists are people who were born and raised without love. Say what you will about that, but understand that the child has to be loved for who he or she is, not approved or appreciated or solipsistically “loved” for being like the parent or what the parent needs. Terrorists are embodied pain from the first days and years of their life. Pain has sent their mind into rage-colored insanity, into escapist ideas. The more powerful the original torture and loss, the farther their need to escape.

What we can do to end terrorism is question parents, try to change them. I recently wrote to the parents of a 17-year-old client:

I would recommend that for the sake of ‘Jan’s’ psychological improvement (which includes his happiness and cooperativeness at home), you either find your way to perceive him as an adequately trustworthy young person, or provide him some tangible standard or timeframe he may reach to ‘qualify’ for your trust. From my perspective, I am a bit troubled by the idea that a child’s self-injury – or manipulation or anger or depression – should cause your disrespect or inability to trust him. All of those problems are generally better approached by empathy and a real investigation into his feelings and motivations. Of course, that is a big part of my job as counselor. But it’s also true that the greatest ‘therapy’ for a child must come from the home environment.
This way we’ll change the emotional color of the home, from time to time. Children won’t have to leave the earth and go into their heads. They won’t believe untrue things to protect their hearts. They won’t discharge pain in the present and future that came from the past.

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* A delusion is defined at MedicineNet as “a false personal belief that is not subject to reason or contradictory evidence” and at “Oxford Dictionaries” as “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument.”

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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.