Monday, January 16, 2017

Living in his own comfort

I’ll bet many of us remember – not details but the fact – that as small children we were largely cut off from our parents, and maybe from friends and family to a lesser degree. I don’t mean, of course, that we didn’t talk to them or we lived in our own fortress. I mean we were in an inner world populated by feeling and fantasy and some thoughts. Maybe it had a grey sky and breezes of anxiety – like air, always there, but less substantial than the living beings of our fantasies, feelings and thoughts. Probably only a few children had regular conversations with their parents and others – teachers, aunts or uncles – of sharing their inner life. I don’t include friends there, because I include those mostly as comfortable beings for those of us who still lived in our inner child-place.

The psychology I swear to says that those children who can really share their confusions, fears, anger; those who get and can receive and can give love, are the healthy ones who don’t come to live within the continent of their skull. They are primarily in the world.

What I am describing is the seed of later dysfunction and also the source of delusion. A little boy who grouses to himself about his unfair parents, or hides behind timidity and some kind of self-soothing, is already someone whose organism is defining reality in a solipsistic way. His mind is already a buffer, a charm. He is already underground in a revenge or fantasy or self-as-hero world. At this point there can be no outer world to join. He has become a comfort, a safer one. His eyes, her heart, are within that world. There is nothing else to see.*

To him, in class or camp or church on in bed at bedtime, the facts he’s learned are now leavened or sweetened with his own emotional-ideational spice, his own conclusions. The moon he sees through the window may have a live face, may be wishing to talk to him; the arithmetic he learns has no meaning; the ballgame he plays with friends and strangers in a different neighborhood is exciting and anxious, and therefore not really fun. God is an insubstantial stranger who just has the job of caring – like his parents. The adventures he reads about in Armstrong Sperry’s South Sea books are for real children who don’t have to think.

In this world of self is everything. The entire universe is an echo chamber of safe eyes and needs. Contradictory things are just enemies, though other people will call them “truth.” For some of these solipsists – gentle to malignant solipsists – there is no love, but only semblances of it. The real thing, love, is a different person than he. For some, there is only winning or losing. For some, males are better than females, sacrifice is right, Jew is superior, Christian is superior, the world requires murder. All these knowns come from the child so many years earlier, they come directly from the child who fell into his comfort-seeking, explaining, hurt mind. True, right, good were born at that moment. The air to breathe was formed at that moment.

I know that if we adults can be honest with ourselves, we will see that our individual world has our signature on it. That feeling and fact became one at some formational, template time in our life. Sometimes this will stretch far: We’ll believe something – our own religion – that can’t really be the one right one among the thousands. But at all times we’ll have eaten the world with our own spices – not the plain one out there.

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* For the sake of completeness, we include the child who absorbs the parent's narcissism, replacing the self. This seems the opposite of the inner-set-adrift child, but in fact her organic "I" is even more deeply buried.

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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.