My father has recently told me of the time he was put on a train in London, with his name attached to a cord about his neck, to go to the unknown home of complete strangers in the country. It was both a terrifying separation and an exciting adventure. Concerned for the physical safety of children with the threat of bombing attacks during WW11 this was a common experience.
It wasn’t until after the war that children’s welfare came to mean more than protection from bombs, physical safety and nutrition. Commissioned by the government, John Bowlby conducted research into the psychological effects of maternal deprivation – absence of the mother. He concluded that long term separation is associated with ‘affectionless psychopathy’ who’d be incapable of meaningful relationships in the future. Thankfully, my father’s time away from home was kept short.
Bowlby’s work was a great political victory, it paved the way for mothers’ return back into the home. After their awakening, it was socially dangerous to have them continue to think their place was in society as equally intelligent and physically capable people. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Rudolf Schaffer concluded that children did indeed require “mothering”, but it didn’t necessarily have to be the mother or only one person doing it.
Whatever the politics of the books, this new branch of developmental psychology paved the way for a concern with not just the physical welfare of children, but also their emotional. Parents were blamed for all manner of adult problems. Obsessive compulsive behaviour was due to harsh potty training. Anger at the symbolic loss of a parent, let alone the actual loss, was key to clinical depression. Parental double binds and contradictory messages are sure to have you hearing voices that aren’t there.
My kids must be mother resistant, I can see they are well-adjusted adults. Although I have no illusions. I’m sure they share with their nearest and dearest how much I fucked them up.
This concern with emotional development and psychological well-being has given rise to a veritable empire of self-help, life-guru and psychotherapy industries. And we love it. We climb up to discover the clutter in our psychic attics, dare to dive into the darkest depths of our psychic cellars and then unblock our chakras, zen our lives, start the day with mantras of positivity, learn it’s alright to feel angry, let it out while finding our voices in a primal scream and go do some shopping therapy to make ourselves feel better – because we DESERVE it.
No we don’t!
In the grand scheme of the vast universe, we’re tiny little creatures with a relatively short life span and the world would be a great deal better off without us. If we wake up and look around us our world is seriously sick and we are both its cause and its side effect.
We have managed to create a social system that keeps us entirely enslaved to seats in a classroom receiving a one-sided story of how the world was, is and should be. We’re told we’ve got to get a good job, defer our childhood need for instant gratification for some golden reward in the future: a mortgage, bills, and debt, while the system bleeds as much labour from us as it can. Stress is the biggest killer of our age, yet we worry about the terrorists, our neighbours, our weight, our appearance, not making the grade, what our colleagues are saying about us because we sure as hell are gossiping about them, cancer, dementia……
And that’s ok, there’s a wealth of products to consume to help us to alleviate all those worries and there’s always a self-help book, psychotherapist or guru to help us deconstruct ourselves and put us back together again. But why? To continue being happy slaves? It’s little wonder we need this plethora of healing aids to cure of us.
I’m about to willingly embark on a bout of auto-therapy and engage in a journey of self-discovery and healing and somewhere inside me thinks you’d love to hear about it too. And I’ll be reading about your personal journeys too.
But what if we change the script?
Our current script has ‘me’ taking centre stage. But what if the star of the show is ‘we’? I don’t mean a collection of many individuals, but that the ‘we’ is more than the sum of the individuals it comprises and more important than any ‘me’.
Psychology has itself shifted toward this new gestalt. The International Congress of Psychology was held in South Africa in 2012. Papers that presented included titles such as:
- Mobilising compassionate critical citizenship and psychologies in the service of humanity
- Psychology: Addressing society’s needs
- Global developments in the science and practice of peace psychology
- Psychology in context: A critical approach to social and cultural background of psychological knowledge
- Community psychology: Theories, methods, communities and ideas
Community psychology by Montero Maritza of Venezuela? I like the sound of that. What if we changed our journey of discovery from ‘all about Eve’ (the ‘me’) to ‘all about Gaia’ (the personification of interconnectedness).
For the next reflective challenge that I undertake (it starts September 20th, so some of you know the challenge I’m referring to), I am going to attempt to write with her hand. As I have no idea what I’ve let myself in for, it’s going to be interesting finding a new voice to do it in.
This morning I read and was exposed to several ideas that are RESPONSIBLE for the above post! Many thanks to the following:
Calen for providing the challenges (my individual psychology rant aside, I do know how valuable it is to engage in self-analysis and embark on a journey of self-discovery. It can be readily seen in the insights that people have in their responses). Which brings me to:
Spiritual Dragonfly (who has most definitely grown and developed in response to Calen’s challenges)
Raili (who presented a challenge to look beyond ourselves to our friendships)
Pachamama Alliance (for their game changing course – section on stories).
Featured Image: Okan Çalışkan (publicdomainpictures.net)