Dec 2011/Jan 2012

Dear Walt,

Part Two: On Suffering

I will be answering this part of your question by using analogy and metaphors. I will only briefly make mention of certain psychological constructs that other people have written whole books on, so as to make my reply as succinct as possible:

    Our suffering is linked to our experience of love
    We all need love
    If we don’t receive love we get damaged and can die
    Our sense of self is directly linked to our experience of being loved.

Let’s identify what I mean by love in the context of suffering. There are 3 basic kinds of love that a child can be exposed to within their environment. The first kind of love is called ‘unconditional love’. Its qualities are to nurture and nourish, to be supportive and protective, it encourages growth and development, and it is kind and gentle. The second kind of love is ‘conditional love’. The child experiences the needs and aspirations of their caregivers. These are to conform and fit in and be accepted in their social environment and the child having to meet their expectations born out of these needs and aspirations. You are rewarded when you do and punished if you don’t. These rewards and/or punishments are given ‘in the name of love’. Finally there is ‘lack of love’. The qualities of this ‘lack of love’ are abuse and neglect. It is based on our caregivers themselves having been damaged in their own childhoods. Often the caregivers will justify their abusive and/or their neglectful actions ‘in the name of love’. You could say that in essence there is only one kind of love that is ‘unconditional love’ and that ‘conditional love’ and ‘lack of love’ are ‘impostors’ trading in the ‘name of love’. It is the experience of ‘conditional’ love and ‘lack of love’ that causes us to suffer.

When we suffer our ‘positive sense of self’ gets eroded. This positive sense of self is an aspect of our ‘authentic self’ that experiences itself as valuable, precious and worthwhile. In the child it translates itself as being spontaneous, carefree and creative. Being on the receiving end of either one of these ‘impostors’ is painful for the child’s ‘positive sense of self’ The suffering it receives as a result of this pain gets translated into fear, confusion and finally doubt.

The fear is based on not being able to fulfill all the terms and conditions attached to the expectations so as to get the love we need and/or if we display our anger or our outrage we still won’t receive the love we need.

Confusion arises when the child receives this kind of love in the ‘name of love’. The child begins to doubt that maybe that they can only receive ‘conditional’ and/or ‘lack of love’ because there must be something wrong with them, that maybe they are just not good enough. This is a ‘false construct’.

To the ‘the positive sense of self’ having to accept this ‘false construct’ as being true is like receiving of a death sentence. It wonders how it will survive. At this point something happens to assist the ‘the positive sense of self’ in dealing with this situation. The part of the child’s psyche called the ‘self-care system’, takes over and goes into rescue mode. This ‘self-care system’s’ job is to protects us from complete annihilation. It does this by ‘splitting’ the child’s ‘positive sense of self’ into different parts. We can call these parts the ‘spontaneous child’, the ‘wounded child’ and the ‘survivor’.

These parts represent different aspects of the child’s psyche. The ‘spontaneous child’ is natural, creative and carefree. It is the result of the union between ‘authentic self’ and ‘authentic love’. The ‘wounded’ child is fragile and vulnerable. It is the result of being on the receiving end of fear, confusion and doubt. Because it is so fragile, it cannot bear the added burden of this ‘false construct’. The ‘survivor’ is resilient, resourceful and can endure hardship and suffering and is convinced that it can outwit, outplay and outlast any death sentence. Because of its very nature it is able to take on the burden of this ‘false construct’. The survivor is part of the ‘self-care system’s’ plan to help the child deal with being on the receiving end of ‘unconditional love’ and/or ‘lack of love’.

Once the ‘splitting’ is complete the ‘self-care system’ places these different parts into separate areas of the psyche. The ‘spontaneous child’ is taken by the ‘self-care system’ to the place in the psyche where our earliest memories of ‘authentic love’ are stored. The ‘wounded child’ then is taken by the ‘self-care system’ deep into the inner recesses of the psyche, out of reach of the conscious mind and goes into hiding. It is in the stillness of this hiding place that this ‘wounded child’ waits and hopes that someday when this ‘storm is over’ ‘authentic love’ will again return and rescue them. The ‘survivor’ remains behind in the ‘neighbourhood’ occupied by the ‘imposters’ and undertakes the task of carrying the burden of this ‘false construct’ whilst seeking to find ‘authentic love’.

The ‘self-care system’s’ ultimate plan is to ensure that these parts of the psyche will not remain split forever but that they will be reunited as one ‘authentic self’ that is cared for and attended to in the abode where ‘ultimate love’ resides. This reunion can only happen if the ‘survivor’ can traverse the neighbourhood occupied by the ‘imposters’ and enter the realm where ‘ultimate love’ resides. This neighbourhood is known as ‘Land of Web’. Its name represents being tangled in a web of deceit and lies. It is only then when ‘ultimate love’ removes the burden of ‘false construct’ from the ‘survivor’ that the ‘wounded child’ can be rescued.

The ‘survivor’ begins to devise a plan to foil the ‘imposters’ that will enable the ‘survivor’ to leave the ‘Land of Web’ and go and find ‘authentic love’. At this stage the ‘survivor’ still feels relatively strong. The burden of the ‘false construct’ is new and its persistent voice is yet but a whisper. The ‘survivor’ decides to confront its caregivers who represent the ‘imposters’. It does this by taking on the disguise of the ‘rebellious child’ and goes into battle. This battle ends badly. The ‘survivor’ suffers their first defeat and the ‘false construct’s’ voice gets louder.

The next plan this resilient ‘survivor’ devises in order to leave the ‘Land of Web’ is to fly under the radar and lull its caregivers into looking the other way. It does this by taking on the disguise of the ‘adaptive child’. The disguise takes on the mannerism of compliancy. It becomes a chameleon. It reflects the values and beliefs of the caregivers; it does not challenge or question them. It begins to people-please and accommodate.

By the time the ‘survivor’ in the disguise of the ‘adaptive child’ reaches adulthood the ‘false construct’ and the disguise of the ‘adaptive child’ have become so integrated that it is like the ‘survivor’ has a helmet with a visor and a set of headphones that is tightly clamped onto the ‘survivor’s’ head. It is like wearing a mask that feels so real, that is almost like a second skin. This mask is known as the ‘False Self’.

When the ‘survivor’ tries to see through the ‘False Self’s’ visor its vision no longer can identify the escape routes out of the ‘Land of Web’. The voices through the head phones from the ‘false construct’ get more strident. They blame the development of the ‘False Self’ as being the entire fault of the ‘survivor’. They gloatingly tell the ‘survivor’ that if the ‘survivor’ had done its homework, the ‘survivor’ would have known that the ‘imposters’ always have a hidden agenda so as to trap their prey. They demean the ‘survivor’ for not knowing that if you wear a disguise for too long it takes over. They disparage any attempts the ‘survivor’ may have to escape. They pass sentence on the ‘survivor’ that from now on, throughout the remainder of its adult life, this ‘False Self’ will remain as a second skin, and it will grow to cover the ‘survivor’ completely so that the ‘survivor’ will become completely unrecognizable.

This is a huge blow to the ‘survivor’ because it is now trapped. It cannot leave the ‘Land of Web’ for two reasons. The first is that it no longer knows the escape routes and second if it did manage to escape and arrive at the abode of ‘authentic love’ it would not be recognised and refused entry. For the first time the ‘survivor’ feels shame for not being able to foil the ‘imposters’. The ‘survivor’ accepts the sentence for the mistakes they made in trying to foil the ‘imposters’. It is the ‘survivor’s’ shame of having failed, the knowledge that the ‘survivor’ is unrecognizable and the acceptance of their sentence that binds the ‘survivor’ to suffering.

When a client comes to therapy often what has been described above is the core of all their issues. Through a process of enquiry the client gets to the point where they can understand this description and how it relates to their issue. Nevertheless they struggle to believe that there is a way through this problem that can rescue the ‘survivor’ and reunite all the parts of their sense of self together.

I will answer how the ‘survivor’ can be rescued in a following letter.

With best wishes

The White Rabbit