Falling Off Pedestals

Ireland has a history of putting people up on pedestals, most noteworthy, priests, teachers and doctors. There is no doubt that teachers have been taken off their pedestals and the fall from grace (ironic!) of priests and other clergy is fast accelerating. The medical profession is also under pressure and the superiority and arrogance of some medical consultants are being challenged by those who seek their help and by professional colleagues.

There are two issues about being put on pedestals – one, that as an adult, you continue to accept that exalted position and, two, that those who put you there have not examined what led them to put others above themselves. Furthermore, it is important to realise that those who are on pedestals are not only a threat to the wellbeing of others but are also a risk to themselves. The risk to themselves is that their sense of security and recognition comes from their pedestal position and any attempt to knock them off their pedestals or any threat that emerges that will jeopardise their superior position will be met by powerful defence forces – even by the defence of covering up the sexual violation of children! Unless these individuals find their security through inhabiting their own individuality and let go of their utter dependence on the awe from others, they will continue to attempt to defend their untenable position even when the evidence of their physical or sexual or intellectual or emotional or social violations is clear to others. Such apparently intractable defensiveness – sometimes, even downright denial – is located in the unconscious and will only rise to consciousness when the terror of invisibility is resolved. Intense and prolonged psychotherapy is the path to such maturity.

The process of putting individuals on pedestals is very evident in the way some parents rear their children. Parents who do everything for their children and see ‘no wrong’ in the children’s over-demanding and extreme temper tantrums to get their own way are doing a major disservice to the children’s and their own mature development. Effective parenting is about loving children for themselves and from their earliest days providing opportunities for children to take responsibility for their own needs and actions. Naturally, this process needs to be age-appropriate. Parents are not responsible for children; they are, however, responsible to their children. The responsibility for children militates against children taking responsibility for themselves; whereas the responsibility to children ensures the development of self-responsibility. Children who are spoilt – put on pedestals – have no alternative but to respond to the adoring responses of their parents – to object would mean risking rejection. Once the child’s security becomes dependent on being adored and everything being done for him (for example, the Irish mother and her ‘spoilt’ son), it becomes terrifying for the child when there is any attempt to knock him off his pedestal. The terror is of invisibility. These children can create havoc in classrooms and communities and their parents can be at their wits end in attempting to meet the relentless demands of these children. What the parents do not consciously realise is that they have been the authors of their own and the child’s turmoil. These parents require help to examine how their own sense of invisibility led them to live their lives through their children, creating tremendous insecurity in their children, arising from the parents’ own unresolved insecurities.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Whenever we find ourselves ‘looking up’ at another, we need to become conscious of our own inferior position – kneeling at the base of the pedestal. We need to get up off our knees, appreciate our own unique and individual person and meet others eye (‘I’) to eye (‘I’) so that each can equally support the other to be real, authentic and independent in their relationships with each other. Depending on the level of passivity present and the depth of felt unworthiness this reclaiming of one’s self worth is a long-term project. However, it is not an optional responsibility; it is an urgent and utterly critical one. Lives examined become lives lived; lives unexamined are lives not lived and an immeasurable loss to the emotional, social, spiritual and economic prosperity of a country and, ultimately, of the wider world.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including The Mature Manager