Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice
Introduction – Researching Fearless Psychology
Since the mid-1990s, Robert J. Burrowes and I have practised and further researched a form of psychology based on the principle of ‘fearless awareness of the self’. Robert developed this initially after his experience with a psychologist in the mid-1980s who listened to him talk about difficulties in his life, introduced him to the concept of dream analysis (performing the analysis herself), and encouraged him to ‘feel, say what you feel, and do what you feel’. Realising that in order to ‘feel’, he needed to spend considerable time focussing on how he felt emotionally and physically, he spent a number of months at this time primarily doing just that. Having largely suppressed his feelings up until this point, this was a very new experience for him, and despite uncovering many painful emotions, he could feel the benefit from the increased self-understanding that occurred in this process.
Robert resumed another aspect of his life, exploring alternative politics and nonviolent activism, and by the 1990s he had become aware that activists needed to be listened to, to help them focus on their feelings, if they were to develop personally and be as effective and strong in the face of violence as they might be. Robert supported numbers of activists during this time and continued listening to his own feelings regularly, refining his listening capacities and understanding of emotions and behaviour through these experiences.
Activists with whom Robert worked were variously interested in focussing on their emotions. Robert began listening to me (i.e. paying calm, fearless attention to me; reflecting back what I said and how I felt; encouraging me to feel my emotions deeply and to act according to how I felt) at the end of 1994, and very quickly I found that being given the space and support to know and be myself was the most exciting, challenging and productive thing I had ever done. I felt I could finally sense a way out of fears and limitations that had constrained and weakened me throughout my life.
Robert and I felt equally enthusiastic about developing this new process, and (after becoming life-partners at the end of 1995) we decided at the end of 1996 to work full time on it. We felt that there was much that was unknown about the psychological origins of violent/self-destructive behaviours that we needed to understand if we were to be truly effective at ending these, and our instincts told us that we needed to study ourselves intensively to find answers that were not being found by other research methods.
For three reasons, we worked with each other in seclusion. Firstly, we did not know anyone else with the same interest in, or commitment to, following through this process of self-observation and allowance so intensively. Secondly, we were almost overwhelmed with the ‘material’ (emotions and insights) from past experiences, and did not need more from current interactions with people at that time. Thirdly, given that a large part of our time was spent feeling the emotions we had suppressed as children, and most people feel uncomfortable seeing others in states of deep terror, rage, pain and sadness, it was safer for us to work at a distance from others, knowing that we had the courage to support each other as necessary.
Our period of seclusion included six-and-a-half years living in a tent in the Tulloch Ard State Forest in East Gippsland (Australia) where we learned that (in contrast to humans) trees, birds and animals are not afraid of the noisy expression of natural emotions. The forest also formed a nurturing, restful backdrop to our more difficult and painful healing.
The emotional/behavioural symptoms we dealt with included, for Robert, intense fear of ‘contamination’ and compulsive handwashing, body washing and cleaning of contaminated items; a sense of being ‘in the body vice’; and the ongoing re-experiencing of a childhood nightmare involving feeling like he was the size of an elephant with only the strength of a human. He also experienced a positive visual hallucination for a period of one year near the beginning of the process – the ‘Reptile Man’ (a symbol of someone ancient and wise) who listened to Robert and engaged in dialogue with him about the process of healing. The Reptile Man eventually appeared for a final time, dying before Robert’s eyes. Robert cried about this, but clearly no longer needed the assistance of the hallucination to communicate with his deeper self. Among other symptoms, I dealt with compulsive talking, compulsive eating, sugar addiction, compulsive control of physical space and others’ behaviour, terror of being disconnected from reality, extreme muscle tension and continually reinjuring myself through ignoring pain and safety issues, chronic bronchitis, and muscle tension and pain triggered by sexual activity. I also had to actively defend myself against my mother’s continued violent/invasive behaviours and my parents’ attempts to prevent me from ending my relationship with her.
We worked intensively, mostly in seclusion, for 14 years (much longer than we initially expected), gaining a gradual increase in conceptual understanding, and we returned to ‘society’ at the end of 2010, having insights and projects we felt were worth offering to others. All of our projects and writings are interconnected, although some are more obviously political, environmental or psychological in their focus. Why Violence? is a document written by Robert which details the effects on children of ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence inflicted by adults. This shows the way in which parents’ unconscious fears and violence, combined with children’s unconscious fear, create desensitized, self- and life-destructive adults.
The alternative to unconscious self-destruction is conscious reconstruction and integration. In this document I will detail the principles and practice of ‘self-allowing’ or ‘fearless’ psychology as we have developed it to assist anyone who may wish to apply it to themselves or others. I will contrast these with the principles and practice of ‘fearful psychology’ (i.e. psychology that is based on the principle of fearful denial of the self), which manifests most obviously in modern psychiatry, but also influences the practices of psychologists, psychotherapists and alternative psychological therapies to a greater or lesser extent, depending on what practitioners have been taught, and on their own personal levels of unconscious fear.
We have not researched other psychological approaches exhaustively, but we have enough general knowledge, including personal experiences with psychiatrists (which have occurred as a result of our activism), for me to form at least a partial picture of the way unconscious fear manifests in a number of other approaches.
Our principles of research (which also apply to our practice) included the following:
- We believed the understanding we sought was inside us, and even if others had seen part of it, there was no purpose in treating others as more potentially expert than ourselves, particularly if they had made little or no study of their own emotions and behaviour.
- We wanted to find answers at the deepest and most fearless and truthful level regardless of the social interest in or approval of our methodology or conclusions.
- We performed the research voluntarily and as an act of faith in a positive outcome. We were supported by minimal gifts, freely given, so we were completely independent of external controls, and not constrained by criteria required to gain research grants from existing institutions.
- We began with the understanding that we knew virtually nothing, and that we would accept the reality of our confusion and lack of understanding until things became genuinely clear to us. (This took many years in some cases.) We did not pretend to be certain of more than we were to reassure ourselves or others.
- We believed in our capacities to fearlessly observe our own subjective experience and judge for ourselves the dysfunctionalities and functionalities revealed in this. Our fearless observations of each other were also occasionally useful, but if there was any difference in judgement or analysis (after due consideration of the other person’s view) we each trusted our own judgement as being closer to the truth.
We use the term ‘violence’ to mean any kind of action, subtle or gross, that denies the self of the individual. In this document, I have sometimes used the term ‘abuse’ to mean the same thing, since many people equate ‘violence’ with only the more extreme forms of physical and verbal aggression.
We often use the term ‘feelings’ to mean emotions as well as any other type of feeling/sense, because it is not always easy to differentiate between physical feelings that have an emotional cause and those that have a purely physical cause. Our concern is not with clearly delineated definitions and categories, but with a person gaining the maximum detailed knowledge of their complex, interrelated functions through self sensing. To the extent that they need to explain what they are feeling to others, we encourage them to use precise words that make sense to them.
Principles and Practice of Fearless Psychology
The Purpose of Healing
The purpose of healing is to allow the damaged, disintegrated self to become aware of and be what it is at the truest and deepest level, by allowing itself to be aware of exactly what it is now (which may be neither true nor deep, but which is always experienced as ‘real’). What the self truly (and falsely) is will be discovered by the self in the process of healing. We assume that ultimate self-hood is a positive state of being, which is why we seek it and support others to do so, but the exact nature of that self-hood is not known, and will only be discovered for the individual self, by the individual self. There is no expectation that healing will lead to the individual fitting into any existing social, cultural or economic relationship.
The purpose of healing is to assist the damaged self regain trust in its own judgement of what is real/true and what is not.
Our assumption (and personal experience) is that any greater level of self awareness and integration is positive, and benefits both the individual and life as a whole. Healing the individual self assists in healing the greater social, environmental and universal Self.
The Self-Healer and Self-allowing Listener
There are two functions played by people in the process of fearless psychological/emotional healing.
The self–healer is the person who heals themselves, with the support of the self-allowing listener. Healing takes place by the self-healer paying conscious attention to and fully experiencing all aspects of their self, but particularly the emotions, as these are the part of human functioning that are most severely ignored and suppressed in all human cultures. The self-healer will need to spend considerable time listening to themselves outside the session time with the listener, if they are to make progress. The self-healer is the main actor in their own process, listening to and learning from their own feelings and experience, and naturally integrating and changing as a result.
The other function is performed by the self-allowing listener, who listens calmly to the person who wants to heal, reflects what they say and how they feel as accurately as they can, and encourages them to focus on and feel their physical and emotional feelings, including those that arise from any dream the self-healer feels is significant. (Interpretations of dreams are thus made by the self-healer, not the listener.) The listener also reflects what the self-healer wants to do (if anything), as a way of encouraging them to trust their own judgement and capacity to act. Reflecting means stating back precisely what the self-healer said to let them know they have been heard, or informing the self-healer what feelings the listener can perceive underneath what the self-healer is saying. This usually takes the form ‘You sound scared/angry/sad/… that…’ Reflections are often helpful for people in the earlier phases of healing, but become increasingly redundant over time, as the self-healer becomes more adept at listening confidently and deeply to themselves. In any listening session, the listener will speak very little, make no judgements about anything said or any emotion expressed by the self-healer, and make no suggestions about anything the self-healer might do, except to help them focus on themselves, if the self-healer is finding this difficult.
If the listener experiences strong emotional reactions to the self-healer that will interfere with the self-healer’s focus on themselves, the listener puts these reactions aside to be felt later, or stops the session if the feelings are too persistent and need to be dealt with at the time. The listener does not expect the self-healer to listen to any feelings raised in the listener, unless the self-healer is also a practiced self-allowing listener and is happy to reverse roles for a while at an appropriate time.
There is no prescribed time limit on a session, other than that agreed by the participants before each session, or that which feels appropriate given the feelings raised in the self-healer during the session; this might be anything between 15 minutes and three hours, or longer. The self-allowing listener does not ask for money in return for listening, but listens only if they genuinely want to do so.
The Crucial Function of Emotions
Emotions, consciously felt, form the basis of the empowered, independent and cooperative self. Emotions are an integral part of the human brain/body. They are not inferior to, or indeed substantially separate from other processes involved in perception, decision-making and action. All human behaviours are driven by emotion, although the individual may often not be consciously aware of this. ‘Thinking’ is both driven and shaped by emotions, and any judgement which leads to action is made using emotions, which have to narrow down a potentially infinite array of ideas and possibilities into action that is contextually most desirable. Emotions such as fear, anger and sadness are not ‘negative’ emotions; they are functional self-communicative responses to negative situations which, if listened to by the person experiencing them, allow the person to respond intelligently to and change their situation.
Emotions (of all sorts) are suppressed in children in order to make them submissive to the will of adults who compulsively and unnecessarily demand control because they are too afraid to feel their own fear. These demands for control may be overt or covert and, mostly, parents will not be conscious of what they are doing or why. When a child loses consciousness of their emotions, they lose connection with reality, as they are suppressing a major component of their perceptive capacities. The expression of emotions has many components, including physical (chemical, electrical, muscular and respiratory), conceptual and verbal – all of these need to be focused on and felt/expressed by the self-healer as deeply and fully as possible.
The Terror of Dying becomes the Terror of Self-Awareness
All humans are frightened of paying conscious attention to their own terror of dying – that is, they are frightened to feel that they have lost awareness of, or control of, their own existence.
It is this unconscious terror that leads children to allow their parents to dominate them (mentally, emotionally and behaviourally) as the terror makes them believe that they will be abandoned or killed if they do not copy and submit to their parents’ fear and desire for control. In essence, when children’s emotions are ignored by their parents, and they lack the physical capacity to act on these independently, their fear causes a last ditch response, which is to ‘hide’ their selves in the hope that the attacks on them will lessen or stop. To shut down their emotional and behavioural responses to being threatened, children must create delusions about their parents and their general situation, some of which are provided by their parents, and some of which the children invent themselves. This defence begins in babyhood, when the child lacks the capacity for full self-awareness, and continues throughout the period of dependency (up to around 20 years), becoming an ingrained habit which is outside their conscious control. Because the defence is unconscious, over time most children forget their real selves ever existed.
Children will feel (consciously or unconsciously) that they have saved their own lives through submission to the will of their parents, but they have done so at the cost of their own mind/self, and so are no longer truly ‘alive’ as independent self protecting organisms.
Individuals are born with differing capacities to resist the terror of self-awareness and some manage to maintain connection with aspects of their selves, and thus behave independently in some contexts despite a hostile environment.
The only way to lessen the terror of self-awareness (which is also the terror of dying), and prevent it from unconsciously enslaving and destroying the self, is for the self-healer to feel it consciously, at whatever level is possible for the self-healer at the time.
The terror of self-awareness will always tell you that there is no time to pay attention to yourself and feel your emotions, and that that you have to panic and ‘jump’ away from consciousness to save yourself from death. Consciously observing the terror perform this function in yourself, and feeling the fear that there is no time, is the means to release the terror’s unconscious control.
Defences Against Awareness of Self
The terror of self-awareness may be felt consciously as natural fear, but it also exists as an incredible variety of defences against awareness of self, and these defences must also be paid close attention and allowed to exist consciously as part of the process of healing. These defences are anything that can distract the self from the reality that is causing the emotions to be triggered.
The terror of self-awareness can use any resources in the brain/body to unconsciously defend the self against awareness of reality. Hence, the healer’s intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical and behavioural capacities can all be ‘hijacked’ to create a defence. Therefore, virtually anything a human does may have an original functional purpose (to help the person be aware of themselves and stay alive and healthy), but may now be being used dysfunctionally to suppress awareness of the self, with destructive results.
For example, someone may have more skills and expertise than someone else in a particular context and be considered ‘superior’ at that time. But humans have invented social roles where people pretend to be superior all of the time, in all contexts, requiring others to participate in the pretence and to accept a false or permanently ‘inferior’ role. The social relationship has ceased being natural, fluid and based on reality, and become forced, fixed and based on delusion, because the people concerned are afraid to feel their natural emotions related to being superior and inferior.
Many other examples demonstrate how functional capacities become illogical, unbalanced, compulsive or obsessive when used as a defence against awareness of natural emotions and self – overeating; undereating; being sexually obsessed or feelingless; being compulsively aggressive or passive; compulsively talking; being chronically unable to talk; overworking; performing ‘work’ that is dangerous to the self, others or the Earth; oversleeping; not sleeping enough; over-intellectualising; pretending to be less intellectually competent than one actually is; being unnecessarily defensive; not defending oneself when it is necessary; loss of memory of parts or the whole of one’s experience; obsessively thinking about ‘heaven’ as a way of avoiding dealing with the fear and pain of ‘now’; denying that there is any better state of being that can be achieved, and that one has to put up with violence forever.
Projection of Emotions as a Defence Against Awareness
All humans are scared of emotions and behaviours that received a negative response from their parents and other significant adults when they were children. They are therefore scared of behaving independently, based on their own feelings and perception.
The emotions that were not allowed expression and integration in childhood did not go away – they are stored in memory and projected onto ‘safer’ (and often highly inappropriate) targets, which appear to be ‘causing’ the emotional responses.
Emotions often appear irrational because of this suppression and projection process, but are not so when traced back to the original cause.
Projection is a way of reminding the self of suppressed emotions, while also limiting the full intensity of feelings about the original cause, which may be too much for the individual to currently handle. The original cause is most likely to be frequently repeated unconscious violence/abuse (i.e. denial of self) inflicted by parents and other significant adults, rather than one unusually traumatic event. Suppressed emotions that are reactions to frequently repeated violence/abuse become an ‘avalanche’ of stored emotions which cannot be dealt with all at once, and must be managed. So, while a defense against awareness, such as projection, is negative in one sense because it prevents the self-healer being aware of how they really feel and acting according to reality, it is also positive in the sense that it manages feelings to aid immediate survival.
The process of healing is in some ways like a ‘wave form moving downwards’, where each layer of defence must be felt and fully experienced before the next layer of emotion is exposed to be felt in its turn. Because there are so many suppressed emotions and defences of different kinds, however, and these are often interrelated and ‘tangled’, the process can also be experienced as ‘untangling a very badly knotted ball of wool’, where the self- healer can untangle bits of thread where these are easier to get to grips with, and gradually open up the ball, thus allowing easier access to other knotted areas which first appeared impossibly stuck. The process requires courage, determination, patience, and support.
Many emotions will initially be projected onto and triggered by ‘innocent’ people/objects/events. The self-healer needs to experience the emotion fully in its projected form if the true cause is to be eventually revealed (and the projection naturally relinquished). Hence it is necessary to let yourself ‘do it ugly’ and, for example, to feel how scared or angry you are at someone who you may ‘know’ is not really to blame, before remembering who it really is that you are scared of or angry at.
Some emotional reactions will be caused by the same kind of abuse as occurred in childhood. These reactions will be sensible (i.e. relating to current reality) but they will probably be overwhelming because of the suppressed emotions being tapped into at the same time.
As more of the projected and suppressed emotions are remembered and fully experienced, current emotional reactions will become more reality based, in proportion and more quickly and easily felt and acted upon.
All emotions must be consciously felt – whether or not they are projected, arise from memory, or arise from actual current events – if the emotions are to regain their balanced, central place in self-communication. Once any emotion has been deeply felt, it will be obvious to the self-healer whether or not it is an emotion that requires current action.
Feelings that Arise from the Suppression of Emotions
Some feelings humans commonly experience are those that arise when their fear suppresses their expression of emotions that are designed to help defend and maintain their self- existence. These emotions include fear, anger, determination, pain, sadness, relief, calm, happiness, love, sexuality (at the relevant age) and the impulse to experiment in order to solve problems and gain greater security.
So, for example, I feel depressed when I am suppressing my anger or my sadness and I feel anxious when I am suppressing my fear. I feel bored when I am not in a situation where I can actively solve problems to aid my survival. The feelings of depression, anxiety and boredom have a ‘trapped’ and ‘powerless’ sense about them, compared to the free flow of other emotions.
Other feelings that may fall into this category are irritation, despair, lack of meaning in life, and desire to commit suicide. It will be up to each self-healer to discover what feelings cover other feelings in their own case.
Sometimes these types of feelings do not feel ‘emotional’ at all, such as physical pain caused by persistent muscle tension, movement spasms and ‘tics’, loss of physical sensation, or tunnel vision. (Obviously, some of these symptoms may be caused by other factors, but focusing attention on them will help make the underlying causes more clear.)
These feelings caused by suppression of other emotions are very important for the self-healer to focus on and listen to: like all emotions, they communicate important facts about the reality of the person’s situation. Feeling/experiencing them consciously is the quickest way to move down into deeper layers of feeling, so as to gain back a sense of really ‘living’, and having agency in one’s life. Avoiding feeling them just adds another layer of denial, and takes one further from self-love.
Conscious and active feeling versus resistive and passive feeling
A key reason why people end up in permanent states of depression, anxiety and fear, for example, is because while they may be said to be ‘feeling depressed’, ‘feeling anxious’ or ‘feeling scared’, they are continually trying to resist paying attention to these feelings, in the hope that they will go away. Although it may be possible to temporarily distract oneself from ‘bad’ feelings, the feelings have something to tell you, and will keep recurring until you listen to them actively. All feelings are communication – if you allow them to communicate with you, you will feel better for it eventually, even if the feeling in the short term is unpleasant or very energy consuming. No feeling lasts forever, and ‘bad’ ones will cycle through more quickly if you give them the attention they deserve.
Negative Feelings in Relation to the Self
Some emotions, such as guilt, inappropriate responsibility, embarrassment, worthlessness, and the sense that one is evil or ‘bad’ come about because of the projections of adults onto the child. So, for instance, a parent may blame a child for their own feelings of powerlessness, or for pain caused them by their own parents when they were a child. Because children empathise with their parents, they also copy their parents’ emotions and projections, and thus end up believing things about themselves which are not true. However, there is no point simply understanding this intellectually, or contradicting the negative self-perception – these feelings must be focused on and felt, often over many years, before the true perception of the individual, based on their own assessment of themselves, can reassert itself.
Safe Space and Enough Time
Emotions are physical/mental reactions that require uninterrupted time in a supportive space if they are to occur fully and meaningfully. The self-healer will have to take responsibility for creating/finding this time and space, because most people, who are scared to pay attention to themselves, will be behaving in ways that are either passively or actively unsupportive. Modern society, particularly, drives people incessantly and offers a million easy distractions, and these forces must be resisted if the self-healer is to truly value and spend time with their emotions.
While the purpose of healing is not to control the emotions, or the defences against awareness, but rather to let them exist consciously, consideration needs to be given as to how to express these emotions and defences as safely as possible, without causing actual or permanent harm to the self or others, and without triggering interference from others that is unhelpful to the process. So, for example, the self-healer may find somewhere away from others to express their feelings; if anger takes the form of physical aggression, the self-healer may use a squash racquet against a cushion or chop wood wearing appropriate safety gear; if anger takes the form of screaming, this can be done with full force as a loud ‘whisper’, without engaging the vocal cords; if defences against remembering abuse include a desire to rape, torture or act otherwise vengefully against the self or others, these can be enacted in the imagination rather than in reality (usually while screaming, hitting or chopping); abuse of substances (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, other drugs) can be undertaken sporadically, with full focus on all of the emotions involved, so as to limit the damage done to the body. If someone is currently locked in a highly self-destructive behaviour such as anorexia nervosa, then they need to be supported to enact their defence consciously, while focusing on and feeling all the emotions around this. As more of the emotions are uncovered and felt, less defence will be necessary.
Sometimes the defences will increase in intensity in the short to medium term, as the emotions are freed, and it may take considerable courage by the self- healer and the self-allowing listener to trust the process. Thought can be given to how to provide relief for the self-healer, when it is felt by them to be necessary. Because suppressed feelings desperately need to be felt, sometimes they simply take over, regardless of any attempt to control them. At these times, the more you have a supportive environment to allow yourself to ‘go with the flow’ for as long as necessary, the more manageable and productive the process will be.
Emotions, Defences and the Individual
While words such as ‘fear, anger, sadness, love, joy, relief, depression, anxiety’ etc. can be used to communicate a general emotional concept, and descriptions such as ‘compulsive hand washing’, ‘compulsive counting’, ‘drug abuse’, ‘having multiple personalities’, ‘having hallucinations’ etc. can be used to communicate a general concept of a defensive behaviour, all emotions and defences are experienced in different, precise, various and evolving ways by each individual. Progress is assisted by the self-healer focusing on these specifics and allowing them to manifest fully.
For example, Robert has felt fear most commonly as a distinctive and steady pain in the chest, while I have felt fear by wheezing, experiencing repeated adrenalin rushes, feeling nauseous, losing the capacity to think and speak, and blanking out emotionally.
My expressions of anger have been less intensely physical than Robert’s (perhaps owing to my lesser physical musculature, and certainly to my physical illnesses and injuries). Between us, our expressions of anger have included clenching the jaw and diaphragm extremely hard while sitting, ‘fuming’ while lying down, screaming and clenching the fists while standing up (with vocal cords engaged or unengaged), swearing while doing the same, punching pillows and mattresses or hitting them with a squash racquet, and chopping wood. All of these examples involve imagining the person with whom we were angry, and directing our anger at them without them actually being there. We also occasionally express our anger verbally at the person who is triggering it, if we feel this is a necessary and useful communication. Most often, the behavioural outcome of feeling our anger is to remove ourselves from false relationships with people who compulsively abuse us and cannot take responsibility for healing themselves, and to increase our determination to keep moving towards a more whole and fearless state of being.
These expressions of emotion have arisen by simply listening to ourselves, and allowing the expressions to arise naturally, or occasionally by experimentation (particularly in the case of anger) to see what feels both satisfying and safe. It is important not to try to copy other people’s emotional expression, but be guided by your own feelings.
Many feelings will not have existing general words to describe them, such as ‘the feeling of listening to an Ashes cricket match at Lords on the radio when I was a child’. The self-allowing listener must therefore be comfortable with hearing without necessarily understanding or being able to empathise with the self-healer, whose experiences will be necessarily different to their own. What matters most is that the self-healer listens to and understands themselves, even if others cannot understand them through similar experience.
Our observations of ourselves and others show that there is no such thing as a specific ‘mental disorder’, shared by numbers of individuals, and therefore being worthy of being categorised as such. All human individuals are engaged in the same process of defending themselves from awareness of how they feel – how they do so is individual to them. The psychological attacks upon them that lead to their defensive behaviours are complex and manifold. Specific defences against awareness may be copied genetically or socially from others (thus accounting for similarities seen between individuals) or newly invented – but the precise combination is always unique to the individual and can only be fully comprehended by the individual. Hence, no attempt is made to justify or understand the self-healer’s experience in terms of someone else’s.
No assumptions are made about the ‘normal’ or ‘right’ way of being or feeling. So, for example, each person’s sexual feelings are assumed to be tied up with their other emotions in ways specific to them and, as these feelings are untangled, the self-healer will find that they feel their less inhibited/confused sexual feelings at a frequency, and in contexts, specific to them.
We recognise that people who occupy privileged positions socially, politically or economically are not privileged psychologically/emotionally. All human children have their emotions, self-awareness and individuality suppressed by the adults around them, regardless of their sex, class, colour, culture or material wealth. Social, political, economic, cultural and environmental abuse will not end unless people take on the responsibility of healing themselves from their personal experience of being made victims by adult violence (denial of self-hood) and their own fear, during childhood.
Individuals will have suffered the violence/abuse of other children during their childhood and this also needs to be remembered and felt. We tend to talk about adult violence against children in our writings, to work against the common defence of seeing school bullies and siblings (rather than often well intentioned, unconsciously abusive parents or guardians) as the source of an individual’s problems. Our personal experience is that we have been shaped most dramatically by our relationships with our parents, on whom we were dependant, while our siblings and experiences at school played a much less significant role.
We have observed (in ourselves and others) no significant difference in women’s capacities to feel their emotions compared to men. All humans are seriously frightened of feeling their emotions and acting according to them, although different individuals have different capacities to feel, express and act on different emotions.
We categorise no emotion, defence against awareness, or behaviour as ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ – there is no such thing as the ‘feminine’ within the male, or the ‘masculine’ within the female. So, for example, nurturing and aggressive behaviours, and dominating and submissive behaviours are observed in individuals of both sexes, and there is therefore no justification for connecting them intrinsically with either sex.
We make no assumptions about the kinds of emotions, defences or behaviours the self-healer is likely to experience/uncover based on categories such as sex or race. We make no assumptions about how any emotion will be expressed by the individual based on such categories.
Fearless Psychology and the Intellect
Healing requires intellectual engagement, however, no progress will occur if healing time is not heavily weighted towards simply feeling emotions, often without intellectual understanding.
One deeply emotional experience may lead to the self-healer gaining a particular insight that can be remembered as an intellectual concept. However, there may be no significant positive behavioural change at this point, because this insight is just a ‘flash’ of deeper truth and many more feelings (particularly fear) will need to be felt before the insight becomes a permanent and clearer perception of reality. So, one can understand something intellectually in advance of understanding it fully emotionally and being able to act powerfully on that understanding. The intellectual knowledge cannot circumvent the need to feel, as long as this takes, and continually returning to the original insight in order to recreate a sense of achievement, rather than getting on with feeling the next layer of emotions, will slow down progress towards the final integration of the insight. If the self-healer compulsively does this, it is a defensive response that is an outcome of fear, and can be observed consciously by the self-healer as part of their overall process towards gaining access to their emotions.
Talking can help to bring suppressed emotions into consciousness. Once strong emotions have arisen, time needs to be taken (alone or in the listener’s presence) to feel the emotions deeply. Further talking at this point will inhibit this process. After time spent feeling, the self-healer may report back to the listener and talk more to gain a more integrated sense of their experience.
Genuine Insanity – Individual and Social
If a person is truly insane they will not heed anyone else’s feedback that their attitudes, emotions and/or behaviour are inappropriate to the situation – they will be too scared to feel the emotions in projected form, trace the original cause of their feelings, feel these emotions fully, remember reality and behave accordingly. Our approach to people who suffer this degree of terror is not to try to control them, but to feel our own fear that they will endanger and kill us. We may also engage in nonviolent strategies to take away power that is being accorded them by ourselves and others, so that the damage they can do is minimised.
Humans unconsciously copy other people’s projections, and so sometimes projections appear ‘normal’ rather than irrational, simply because of the number of others who experience them. Sexism, racism, and obsessive materialism are examples of socially shared projections. If a society is truly insane, those within it (including people who are dominant and people who are submissive) will not heed feedback from their own selves, or those people with a stronger connection to their selves, who tell them that they are behaving destructively. The majority will be too scared to trace the original cause of their insecurity, feel their emotions fully and use these to sensibly guide their behaviour.
‘Social activists’ fall into two categories – those who are trying to communicate truths from their deeper selves, so that these can be acted on for everyone’s advantage, and those whose fear is so intense and unconscious that they are compelled to try to force or manipulate others to participate in their defensive delusions, which are at odds with the delusions currently dominant within society. (These people are often called fundamentalists). Some activists may be driven by a combination of truth and unconscious fear, thus muddying the waters.
Principles and Practice of Fearful Psychology
Fearful psychology is that which is based on the principle of fearful denial of the self. Given that all humans are frightened of their selves as a result of socialisation, it is not surprising that this principle has influenced all fields of human endeavour, including psychology. Robert’s and my experience of and research into other psychological methods is by no means exhaustive, but I will present a number of experiences and examples here that demonstrate principles and practices negatively shaped by unconscious fear of the self.
Experience 1. Robert and I were once fasting for an extended period as part of a nonviolent action, and my parents managed to convince the authorities that we were suicidal, and we were thus taken into ‘involuntary psychiatric care’. We were eventually released with ‘no psychiatric diagnosis’, after having had some very (to us) interesting experiences in the two weeks we spent in hospital. Politically, our action gained us two and a half years without further threat of eviction from our campsite in the forest in East Gippsland, but we felt we gained just as much that was crucial to our understanding of ourselves and society from the experience itself.
In one session with a psychiatrist, Robert was told that his behaviour fell outside the bell curve of what was statistically considered ‘normal’. Robert gave the psychiatrist a look, and replied ‘It has never been my aspiration to fit within the bell curve.’
The Equation of ‘Normal’ with ‘Functional’
The psychiatrist’s comment demonstrates a major fault of logic in modern psychiatry and clinical psychology – that of equating behaviours that are done by many people with behaviours that are functional, and equating behaviours that are done by few people (or indeed no other people) with behaviours that are dysfunctional. In other words, what is ‘normal’ or common, is considered functional and thus ‘abnormal psychology’ is the term used in university textbooks to describe dysfunctional psychology. Obviously, if normal human behaviour were functional, the world would not be facing ongoing war, the threat of nuclear destruction and environmental devastation, nor would there be a crisis in human health from obesity and malnutrition, for example. And if individual humans never behaved in any way that was new and unusual there could be no social (or biological) evolution, positive or negative. So why is it that academics and practitioners of modern psychiatry/clinical psychology cannot see the absurdity of equating what is socially common with what is functional?
The answer lies in their own dysfunctional psychology. As I have explained in Principles and Practice of Fearless Psychology above, a child who has been frightened into suppressing awareness of their emotions no longer has access to vital information that tells them about the reality of what is threatening and what is positive in the maintenance of their own self. Without any self to assist them to make personal judgements about whether someone’s behaviour is threatening or positive, they instead look to the others around them to guide and justify their behaviour. At the immediate level they will feel reassured that they are functional as long as their behaviours conform to their parents’ behaviours. Once they grow up and realise that their parents’ behaviours are not necessarily shared by all people in society, the final tool used to diagnose functionality is simple mathematics – How many people are like me? How many people are not? Frightened out of valuing their own individuality, and having lost their capacity to use their emotions to make judgements about the success or failure of their own behaviours to maintain their self-existence, these people gain superficial reassurance from the sense that they are ‘like the majority of others’, regardless of whether those others are functional or not. And they will treat people who diverge from the statistical norm as dysfunctional as a matter of course, because they lack the emotional sensing capacity to make any real judgement of their own. (In actual practice, not every practising psychiatrist and clinical psychologist works on this basis – some have a residual connection with their emotions, and without these being stated as the reason, these people can still make some judgements based on sensed reality.)
Experience 2. Although we were not shown any treatment plan that specified a particular disorder, after a 15 minute individual interview with different psychiatrists, we were both threatened with forced injection of the drug ‘olanzapine’ if we refused to take the drug orally. We were told the drug would treat our ‘delusions’. We surmise that the interim diagnosis given to us was some type of ‘schizophrenia’, since this is the category to which ‘delusion’ is usually attributed. I say that we were ‘threatened’ because the psychiatrists made it clear that the injection dose was higher than that of the oral tablets, and they did not really consider it safe, but they would inject us if we gave them no choice. We both refused the drugs, and Robert was twice injected against his will around 12 and 13 days later although they had no effect that he noticed. (He resisted the injections nonviolently, requesting 4 nurses to hold him down to make it clear that he was not cooperating, without actually physically struggling against them.) I was spared, partly because I had not had an ECG when I first entered hospital (as Robert had) and when I realised that the psychiatrist wanted information from that test to make sure he would not be held responsible for causing me a heart attack if he injected me, I refused to have the ECG.
This experience demonstrates many more faults of fearful psychology.
Reductionism, Compulsive Intellectualising and False Categorisation
It is a basic emotional response to feel relieved from fear when one recognises something one has seen before, because it makes the process of judging a functional response quicker and easier. However, when humans are scared to be conscious of the full range of emotions necessary to understand and respond to a new reality, they create simplified or otherwise false images of reality and then pretend (unconsciously) that these are what they are seeing. They ignore any evidence that does not fit into the image and thus avoid feeling the fear of simply not knowing what they are looking at for a time before their senses and thought processes have time to clarify matters. Psychological categories of all types are simplifications and generalisations and do not take into account the complex reality of individuals’ lived experience. But most clinical psychology and psychiatry academics and professionals are frightened of complex reality.
In addition, having not been treated as if their self is valuable during childhood, and having not consciously felt their feelings of fear and anger about this, they are compelled by their fear of facing those feelings to ‘prove themselves worthy’ and sell themselves as experts whose knowledge is both in short supply and ‘indispensable’. In essence, whatever the capacity of any psychological researcher to perceive real phenomena, they have also been influenced in their conclusions by their economic and social fears. So, for instance, they may prove themselves worthy by pretending they understand something when they don’t, and creating complex technical language to describe phenomena that don’t really exist in order to maintain an image of being highly intellectual. They may simply enjoy playing intellectual games as a means to distract themselves from how they are feeling. They may invent concepts which symbolise reality, but which still ‘dance’ above the concrete emotional fact. If academics are too frightened to face the feelings associated with failing, being unproductive or being ‘stupid’, they may well trick themselves into believing they really are contributing to increases in human understanding when they are actually serving to increase the general confusion about real human experience, by pretending they understand, when they are not really clear.
So, in my opinion, Sigmund Freud was really onto something when he recognised the existence of unconscious forces that motivate behaviour and the importance of childhood experience in understanding adult psychological dysfunction, but not much else of what he wrote feels relevant to my emotional/behavioural experience, because he created simplistic categories of behaviour out of the complex experience of individuals, and invented concepts that don’t match reality. To give one example, he came up with the term ‘primal scene’ to describe the first time a child sees and understands that their parents are having sex, thus attributing a general significance to this event that is not justified in each person’s actual experience. It seems that Freud was particularly scared of and therefore obsessed with sexuality as an explanation for behaviour.
Similarly, I have read many great self-oriented quotes of Carl Jung (e.g. ‘Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams, who looks inside, awakes’; ‘Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.’) However, I find the details of his theories over-intellectualised, including much work on personality types that does not fit our observations of psyches as highly (and necessarily) individual. Some of his theories are highly ‘creative’ and artistic, and as such they resonate emotionally, and have some level of truth in them, but I don’t believe they help people observe their own emotions and behaviour accurately. It appears that although Jung had a strong connection with felt experience, he was still afraid to simply let himself feel his emotions long enough and deeply enough to really understand them.
The interest of most modern practicing psychiatrists is in ‘learning’, without critique, whatever they are taught at university by their medical professors, and by pharmaceutical companies whose interest is first and foremost in financial profit, not human health. The graduates can then gain economic security by selling themselves as educationally privileged experts. In this context it is vital that they make quick ‘diagnoses’ that have relatively simple, known ‘treatments’ so that the customer is conned into trusting them and paying for their services. They will continually fudge their failures to affect lasting, side-effect-free change by simply ‘trying another drug’, or claiming that cures are not really possible. They will most probably genuinely believe that they are helping people, since this is what they have been taught they are doing, and since they are frightened of accessing their own emotions and analytical capacities they have no way of personally knowing something is wrong with their approach. Patients will often accept their diagnoses and failings because they have been trained to feel reassured when they are given orders by people who are pretending to be authorities, and again the patients’ fear of feeling their emotions may be too great to warn them that something is amiss. (On the other hand, many people report feelings of not being listened to, taken seriously or genuinely cared about by medical practitioners of all sorts.)
Psychologists, while not using drugs as the solution, are still trained to categorise people according to simplistic ‘mental disorders’, and this can lead to extra confusion on the part of the person trying to heal, who does not feel heard and may continually try to work out how they fit a particular definition, rather than being helped to focus on how they actually are. (As I have stated above, our research has shown that there are no discrete mental disorders and that each person’s construction of defences against awareness is highly individual, even if they have copied or adapted some of these from others). The person seeking help may also simply believe the psychologist’s diagnosis against the evidence of their own experience, or even unconsciously try to please the psychologist by inventing symptoms that will fit a definition the psychologist is interested in. Again, psychologists seek to categorise people so that they can feel relieved at seeing something familiar, and out of their desire to appear more knowledgeable than the person who has come to them for help.
At worst, both psychologists and psychiatrists diagnose people according to whatever categorised ‘disorders’ are trendy (i.e. most socially approved) at the time.
In other popular psychological frameworks, such as the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs testing, people are described as fitting into a discrete number of ‘personality types’. These help to prevent people from accurately observing the precise nature of their own emotions, other psychological functions and defences against awareness of self. These categories increase the pressure on people to pretend that they fit a delusional common blueprint, rather than acknowledging and valuing their actual individuality. People’s interest in defining themselves according to ‘type’ is driven by their unconscious fear of not being socially accepted if they are different from others.
One form of supposedly progressive psychology, Reevaluation Counselling (also known as Co-Counselling), categorises people according to gender, race and social class. This serves to divert attention from people’s precise personal experience (in which their parents/guardians during childhood will be the key influences on their psychological development), and lock people into a definition of self that is socially defined and permanent, rather than individual and changing. It also serves to propagate the myth that those in positions of social or economic privilege are also advantaged in an emotional/psychological sense, and thus have a responsibility for and capacity to fix the emotional/ psychological problems of those from a less privileged social or economic position. (Unfortunately, generally speaking, we are all in the same boat psychologically, so while we can and should have many feelings about those who have got in the way of us being ourselves, including on the basis of gender, race or class, it is necessarily the case that we, as the individual victims, have to take the final responsibility for healing.)
Use of Chemical Drugs to Treat Psychological Disorder
I will not go into all the evidence regarding the negative consequences to psychological and physical health (including deaths) caused by use of legal psych drugs here. Rather, I will simply point out that the idea that a dysfunctional behaviour is caused by too much or too little of a particular chemical in the brain (unless the problem is simply a dietary one) is absurd. It is the operation of the brain/mind itself, caused by its interactions with its environment, that leads to changes in brain function when that environment is ongoingly hostile. So for example, depression is not caused by consistently low levels of seratonin in the brain – depression is caused by the suppression of self-defensive and self-maintaining emotions out of fear of attack by other humans or by being forced to remain in a physically unnatural environment without relief (think of zoo animals trapped in concrete cages, and the human equivalents). Changes in brain function, particularly ones that show a decrease in the brain’s communication with itself, are a logical outcome of this. Increasing levels of neurotransmitters artificially will do nothing to change the social or physical environment or the internal action of suppressing awareness of one’s emotional reactions to these, and therefore the drugs actually increase the conflict with reality. Thus, the person will most likely need increasing doses to keep successfully masking the reality, and when they come off the drugs, they will be hit with even more difficult and painful emotions because of the extra violence/abuse (denial of self) to which they have just been subjected. Emotions that are responses to social and physical environmental violence/abuse must be consciously felt if a person is to heal and deal more powerfully with their situation, and while management of (i.e. temporary distraction from) feelings may be necessary as part of the healing process, I would never choose such an extreme and dangerous tool as direct chemical interference in the brain. People who research and prescribe psych drugs are fundamentally afraid to let people feel their emotions (including fear, pain, sadness, anger, depression and anxiety) because they are afraid to feel their own. And this leads to them identifying chemicals which can be artificially manipulated as the ‘cause’ of the problem – they see natural emotional reactions to violence/abuse as the problem, to be suppressed and controlled. To recognise the violence/abuse as the problem requires some capacity to feel and trust their emotional reactions to violence/abuse that they themselves have suffered, and they are too afraid to do this.
The Right of Control Over Others (Forced or Unforced)
Medical practitioners, including psychiatrists, generally present themselves as authorities who should be obeyed without question by their patients (even if this is not a legal requirement). In certain cases (such as ours above) they also gain the legal authority to physically enforce their will on their patients. In both cases, they see themselves as the ‘saviour’ of the person who is ill – it is their understanding and action, not that of the patient, that is supposed to fix the patient. In this way the self of the person wanting to heal is denied completely. The self is not listened to nor engaged in a cooperative healing process, where the person healing is encouraged and supported to be aware of and make decisions for themselves. This occurs because the psychiatrist does not value or trust their own self, and in many cases, I believe, they have no conscious awareness of the existence of their self at all – this is why they have chosen a career in ‘playing the authority’ rather than living a life as their true self. Of course, pretending to be an authority does not make them any less scared or make their control of others functional, moral or just.
A particularly difficult problem for psychiatrists who administer dangerous drugs is that, having taken ‘control’ of the patient, they are now liable for legal action if things go wrong. Psychiatrists are very frightened of being punished for their mistakes. Their fear is not just based on current circumstances – as children they were punished by their parents for making mistakes, and the threat of legal punishment triggers all the emotions that they suppressed in reaction to these earlier events. The fear of being punished, and of having to feel all the pain and rage that accompanies this, seriously inhibits a child’s (and the adult psychiatrist’s) capacity for observing reality freely, being honest and learning from their mistakes. The following experience demonstrates this.
Experience 3. When Robert and I were first brought to the psychiatric ward and on the advice of one of the nurses who saw that we were nonviolent activists, we entered a request to have our case reviewed by the Mental Health Review Board on the basis that it was illegal to hold anyone on the basis of religious, political or philosophical belief. Many of the psych nurses to whom we spoke quickly realised that we were not delusional. (We spent considerable time listening to them about their lives, and one nurse said we were the two calmest people he had ever met.) The psychiatrists, who we saw rarely and briefly compared to the nurses, were prejudiced against considering we might not be delusional and suicidal, because this would mean contradicting the assessment of the medical professionals who had authorised the involuntary treatment order.
Based on conversations with nurses and our analysis of what happened ‘behind the scenes’, it appeared that the nurses, despite their lack of legal right to diagnose, told the head psychiatrist that they believed the hospital would lose its case at the Mental Health Review Board hearing, so it would be wise to discharge us before then. We were discharged from involuntary psychiatric care six days before the hearing with ‘no psychiatric diagnosis’ by the head psychiatrist. We had the distinct sense that, if they had not been legally threatened, the psychiatrists would never have taken any caring, moral interest in whether or not we were being held without cause. (Of course, I do not believe there is justification for holding any patient involuntarily, but it was clear that the other patients were suffering from extreme emotional and mentally defensive states, and needed support, whereas we were fully conscious of the possible results of our actions, and emotionally capable of dealing with these.) This lack of genuine interest by the psychiatrists in our psychological/emotional state demonstrates how once a person has been terrorised out of using and acting on their own judgment based on their emotions, they are limited to non-empathic actions taken in immediate defence of themselves. The psychiatrists simply jumped to avoid ‘getting in trouble’, rather than behaving in a genuinely intelligent, self-confident and socially responsible manner.
Ten days after we had left the hospital, my original psychiatrist wrote a jumbled report in which he claimed I was still suffering from delusion, in contradiction to my discharge report. I presume he did this because he was too scared to admit to himself and/or state on file that his initial diagnosis was mistaken. A further request to the hospital to clarify matters was met with deafening silence despite my (honest) assurance that Robert and I had no intention of taking legal action against them. I didn’t bother to pursue the matter further because it was obvious to me that all the people involved were too frightened to communicate with me honestly about what had occurred.
Ignoring, Devaluing and Controlling Emotions
I have mentioned the role of psychiatric drugs above, butit is not just psychiatry that ignores, devalues and tries to control emotions. ‘Behaviourism’ is a methodology that greatly influenced modern clinical psychology, and it specifically ignores any study of ‘internal mental states’ on the supposed basis that these can not be studied and measured ‘objectively’. In our experience, we are perfectly able to accurately describe our emotions and observe the way they operate in relation to other aspects of our being. And, as we have paid more attention to our own emotions, and become used to observing them clearly and in detail, we have become more able to observe emotions manifesting in other people’s behaviour in a variety of obvious and subtle ways. If we are in doubt about what is going on for someone else, we can always ask them, and listen carefully to what they tell us to gain deeper insight. Often we see other people’s emotions more clearly than they do themselves (because they are too afraid to pay close attention to themselves), but we may only be able to perceive generalities, rather than the specifics they would tell us if they were unafraid enough to clearly perceive themselves. So it can be seen that there is a fundamental logical fault in equating ‘objective’ with accurate and ‘subjective’ with inaccurate. If a person is unconsciously frightened they will have difficulty perceiving both internal and external reality; if a person is relatively fearless, they will be better at perceiving both internal and external reality.
I believe that behaviourists, having been frightened out of observing their own emotions and other internal processes as children, justify their poor perception by pretending it is not possible to accurately ‘see’ internally, or trust anything that is observed by the patient rather than the practitioner. They have been convinced by their frightened parents to give up their faith in their own perception of reality, and to mindlessly accept the parent’s perception (accurate or otherwise) as their own. And, in common with the controlling parent, the purpose of behaviourist psychology is to control the person with the ‘problem’ – to get rid of the behaviour which is seen as undesirable, without understanding why the behaviour exists in the first place, and what the behaviour might have to communicate to the self in the process of healing. It may in fact turn out that the behaviour is not dysfunctional, but that the social expectations requiring the behaviour to be suppressed are destructive and insane. If the behaviour is clearly dysfunctional (i.e. the behaviour is a defence against awareness of self), performing (or imagining performing) the behaviour with awareness of the emotions involved will eventually lead to an understanding of the experiences that caused the defensive behaviour.
Another popular method used by clinical psychologists is ‘analysis’, which is concerned with child/parent relations and (at some level) the emotions caused by these. Analysis as it is usually practiced ignores and devalues emotions, however, in three ways.
Firstly, psychologists believe that conceptually understanding the original roots of dysfunction actually changes a person’s self-perception and behaviour. Our experience and observation is that self-perception and behaviour only change when many, many suppressed feelings have been consciously felt, and there are no quick mental tricks that can sidestep this necessity. People may find that they are able to control certain defences against awareness (compulsions to drink alcohol, for example) by replacing them with alternative defences that are less immediately destructive, but really basic perceptions of self do not change without feeling all the emotions connected with negative parental projections and experiences of powerlessness .
Secondly, psychologists do not give people enough time to feel their own feelings to develop their own analysis, and impose analyses that are superficial or based on other people’s experience, so the analysis is often faulty.
Thirdly, inherent in the belief in the efficacy of superficial analysis is the confusion over reality and the words/concepts that are symbols of reality. An emotion is a real event that takes place physically and in time. It is an event which, in itself, is communicative to the self, as well as being the driver for thought and behaviour of all types. A word that describes an emotion, or a concept that describes a relationship, is abstract – a symbol of the reality, but not the reality itself. Words and concepts can trigger emotions, but they do not replace the need to feel them. So, when psychologists focus too much on the client talking and an intellectual analysis of what is revealed through these words, they are demonstrating their fear of feeling their own emotions, and allowing others to deeply feel theirs.
Intellectualised psychology encourages framing and control/suppression of reality rather than observation and allowance of reality. It encourages people to try to fit reality into conceptual generalisations rather than observing the complex and specific nature of reality. If emotions are focused on and felt long enough (minutes in some cases, and years in others), clear conceptual insight arises automatically, with no intellectual ‘effort’ whatsoever. The emotional horse must lead the conceptual cart, or the concept will be either false, or if true, not deeply understood and able to be acted upon.
Feelings as destructive forces
With a more obviously anti-emotional motivation, psychologists may tell a person that they are creating their own feelings, that these feelings are in some way destructive, and to ‘let their feelings go’, as if this was possible through some conscious intellectual decision. This leads the client in to further levels of disconnection with the reality of how they actually are, how they actually feel, and what actually happened to them to make them feel this way.
Traumatic events and ‘catharsis’
It is also common for psychologists to believe that one particularly traumatic event (recently or in childhood) has caused the person’s current dysfunctional state, and that becoming conscious of/reliving this event will solve the client’s problems. It is frightening to contemplate the truth we have discovered – that human society denies the self of its children constantly in many subtle and gross ways, and it takes a long time to feel all of the emotions connected to this violence/abuse in order to fully ‘wake up’ and heal. However long the journey, we would never discourage anyone from caring enough about themselves to remember how they feel.
Some sense of one’s positive existence, which may come from a spiritual source for some people, is an important part of the healing process, or else the pain and despair may simply be too overwhelming to contemplate continuing. I consider spirituality genuine when it helps a person to fearlessly allow themselves to be how they are – to be conscious of their reality, as experienced by them, and to experience fear of death and loss of control, as well as ecstatic or extremely calm states of being. Unfortunately, however, I have found that spiritual/religious methodologies generally do not acknowledge or affirm people’s ‘difficult’ feelings, particularly on an ongoing basis, instead encouraging people to focus on positive feelings as a way of ‘eradicating’ supposedly negative ones. So, for instance, in some Christian and Buddhist practice, meditating on love is supposed to cast out fear. In our experience, and according to our observations, fear can only be ended by focusing with fearless awareness on the fear. All other methods simply mask the fear further, or redirect it somewhere else. If feelings of love, peace and compassion are genuine, they need to be felt and acted upon, but trying to create these artificially so as to avoid feeling the fear, anger, sadness and pain in one’s life is not functional. This behaviour is driven by fear and therefore cannot lead to greater fearlessness. Honesty is always best – if you are full of hate, feel it and find out what it has to tell you.
Spiritual/religious approaches also often encourage ‘forgiveness’ even when this means sacrificing one’s own safety and functionality by remaining in damaging relationships. A perpetrator of violence/abuse can only truly be forgiven by themselves, when they become conscious that certain of their behaviours are damaging and feel their emotions about what they have done to themselves and others, and why they have done it. If they are too afraid to take responsibility for healing, it is irrelevant whether or not you, as the victim, forgive them. And if they do show a willingness to become aware of themselves and change, supportive understanding is more appropriate than ‘forgiveness’.
Reevaluation Counselling (known to me as Co-Counselling)
Co-counselling (where ordinary people swap time listening to each other share their problems within a particular framework) is a therapy that appears to focus on emotions much more than many methodologies. However there are two fundamental problems with the Co-counselling approach. One is that emotions related to negative experiences are seen as reactions to childhood experience only, and it is assumed that if all of these emotions are ‘discharged’ they will cease getting in the way of the good ‘thinking’ that is supposed to guide the person in adult life. At the same time, the fully healed adult is supposed to live in a permanently positive emotional state, regardless of what is actually happening to them. Clearly, here, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of emotions in self-communication, thought and behaviour. Emotions only ‘get in the way’ when they have been inappropriately suppressed – if listened to at the time by the person experiencing them, they will functionally inform them of behaviours to take to help maintain their existence. Fear will tell them about genuine dangers they need to avoid, anger will tell them when to defend themselves against attacks on their self by others etc. Other thought processes may inform the person of possible ways in which they may defend themselves, but thinking can never be ‘good’ if it is not informed by emotions, and it is the emotions that will make the final judgment about what it is best to do. Co-counsellors may therefore allow a child to cry to ‘discharge itself’ but then not allow the child to do what it wants to rectify its situation. The child will therefore experience powerlessness, and while it is not helpful to jump to fix a problem before a child has felt its emotional reaction, it is no more helpful to let the child feel its emotions but ignore what these feelings say. There has to be a link between emotion, perception of reality and behaviour, or emotions become pointless, reality is not perceived and behaviours become dysfunctional and self-destructive.
Secondly, Co-counselling defines emotions in limited ways and encourages its adherents to seek social acceptance by ‘discharging’ themselves in approved ways. Hence, even if it is not someone’s natural instinct to yawn, shake or chatter their teeth when scared, a person may take on this expression of fear because others in the group are doing so. If emotions are genuinely of the self, and if the person is to become more self-aware and integrated, they must focus on how they, as an individual, actually feel and are inclined to express their emotions. There is no functional purpose in copying someone else – the copied behaviours just become another false ‘self’ which distracts attention from the true self. This dysfunctional practice is an outcome of the participants’ unconscious fears of being attacked if one is different from others in the social group, an event that happened to them regularly in their childhoods.
The increasingly well documented ‘plasticity’ of the human brain (its capacity to respond to exercise, and improve in function at any age) provides hope for many people with a variety of brain dysfunctions, including learning, concentration, perceptual, cognitive, speech and kinaesthetic disabilities. People such as Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and Wynford Dore have constructed effective graduated exercise programs to dramatically improve the function of a variety of areas in the brain, often with unexpected, positive knock-on effects for other, seemingly unrelated, brain functions. In each case where these exercises work, which they usually do, I conclude that the missing function already exists in the brain programming, but is latent or delayed in its development for some reason, and stimulation ‘kick starts’ basic brain functions that then allow many more complex behaviours to occur. Exercises are done for a relatively short period, and then become unnecessary, as the function is now operating automatically, and there is no further interference in its operation. This kind of work based on neuroplasticity appears to me to be functional and truthful – it helps the self to develop in ways that naturally support its existence, and demonstrates the reality that just because you can’t do something now, this doesn’t mean you cannot develop a capacity to do so, if you know how and are prepared to put the time in.
It is worth noting that neither Arrowsmith-Young nor Dore are progressive in any social or economic sense, and their unconscious fear of being socially rejected often leads them to value the development of latent functions because they help people to perform or succeed within academic and economic structures that are destructive of the self. Obviously, the revitalised functions do not have to be put to these damaging purposes, however.
The brain can also, in some cases at least, use different parts of the brain to regain functions that have been lost due to permanent physical damage. This suggests to me that memories of functions are held in the brain in more places than the localities often specified as the seat of the function. (So for example, stroke victims may re-learn to walk and talk, despite no longer having ‘standard’ parts of the brain considered necessary for these functions.)
However, the brain is also plastic in the sense that it develops habits (overriding neural pathways) from repeated experience, and these habits are not necessarily functional (supportive of the self). Bad habits, that is, habits of behaviour that are self-destructive, come about when the environment is abusive in some way, and the person is forced to remain in the abusive environment, and to stop listening to internal feedback that would correct their functioning to enhance their health. In these cases, it is vital that the dysfunctional behaviour not simply be seen as ‘undesirable’ and able to be ‘trained’ away. So, for example, a fearful neuroplastic response to obsessive fear of contamination, and compulsive washing/cleaning, is to see these as emotional/behavioural pathways that are ‘wrong’ and that need to be overridden by a contradictory exercise, which supposedly will build up a new and ‘better’ habit. The basic exercise is to continually distract your mind from the fear, until your distraction becomes automatic. However, Robert’s personal experience shows without doubt that his contamination fear and compulsive washing were the result of the systematic repression of his natural, self-oriented emotional function: the washing was a way of controlling the fear in a projected form, because he was not able to control the person who was causing his fear as a child. And, our experience and observation of others show that fear cannot be dissipated by ignoring it – it has to be felt consciously, and given time to exist. So, in this case, neuroplasticity is being used to deny and override a basic brain function, rather than support it, and this will cause more harm by suppressing the emotions even further. The brain is not fully plastic and one cannot manipulate it to create ‘whatever one wants’ so as to avoid reality.
It appears that the process Robert and I have devised for psychological healing and development continually exercises our ‘consciousness of fear’ function, and by doing this we have radically altered the way our minds work, because fear is so central in preventing all other functions from working in a fully integrated way. Particularly, we have regained our overall emotional functioning, which was massively suppressed by unconscious fear. Practicing consciousness of fear actually undoes the damage caused by unconscious fear – it undoes the knots/conflict created by unconscious fear, rather than simply creating an extra knot to try to hide the damage. Regaining our emotional functioning (and slowly discovering the truths that our suppressed emotions tell us about the world) means we can now perceive the way all humans have had this function so effectively suppressed by fear that they are simply unaware that it is a major brain function that has become ‘latent’ or disabled. So everyone can see that it is disabling not to be able to read, but the independent and truthful behaviour that arises from being able to clearly feel one’s self-love and anger in defence of oneself, for example, is not even missed by most people. However, the knowledge of what has occurred reveals itself repeatedly in symbolic form – stories of feelingless robots with destructive, slave-oriented mentalities abound, as do those of ‘heroes’ who are relatively fearless and have a clear sense of self. One can only become that ‘hero’, however, if one first recognises the reality that one has become a robot.
If people wish to know the underlying emotions that have caused me to write this account and critical analysis, they are love and anger. I love the truth and hope that what Robert and I have discovered through our research is useful to others who wish to truly love and understand themselves. And I am tired of listening to people claim to be experts when they are unaware of the way their own unconscious fear is manipulating them. I understand, of course, that these people are not conscious of what they are doing, and not deliberately trying to cause themselves or anyone else harm. However my anger tells me not to participate in their fearful self-delusion, as this neither helps them nor me. I hope that what I have written will help readers who have had negative experiences with particular psychological therapies understand more clearly where some of the problems in these methodologies lie.
My claim to psychological expertise is based on my consciousness of my fear, and my understanding of the way it distorts my perceptions, through many years of intensive experience and observation. It is also based on my reasoned belief that there is no other way forward except to trust my capacity to accurately observe myself, to feel my emotions and to allow my dysfunctionalities to exist until my defences against reality are no longer necessary. This doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to anything others say about me, but that I use my own feelings to judge whether or not what they have said is accurate. If I can’t tell, I feel my fear until I can.
My trust in myself is ‘reasoned’ because it makes no sense to automatically trust anyone else’s perception above my own if they are suffering the same problem as me: the fact that they are outside me does not mean their perceptions are likely to be any more accurate, if their perceptions of themselves and others are distorted by unconscious fear. And it is logical to combat fear with fearlessness rather than believing that further fear, denial and control will solve the problems caused by fear in the first place.
28 September 2013