There is a friend of mind who is an avid reader and who kindly sends me quotes from writers whose thoughts touch her inner life. A recently sent quote resonated with me:
“The more we recognise the neglected and unseen
dimensions of our lives, the more enriched and
balanced we become” (John O’Donohue, Echoes)
John’s words capture beautifully the unconscious (the ‘unseen’) nature of qualities of our true nature that when children were not lovingly held and out of fear of further rejection we buried – put out of consciousness – those riches. The tragedy is that in repressing aspects of our true nature we do it in a way that ensures that those qualities remain well hidden behind walls and masks of behaviours opposite to the ones hidden – for example, aggression (hides spontaneity), passivity (hides speaking the truth), manipulation (hides clear communication), violence (hides a need to belong), stealing (hides wanting to be valued), apathy (hides adventuresomeness), being emotionless (hides emotional expression), being cold-hearted (hides a need to be loved), being lazy (hides an eagerness to learn). These defences, though formed with the intention of hiding what is dangerous to show, become offences to the wellbeing of others and the sad cycle of repression is perpetuated. The extent and depth of what is hidden is determined by whether your life has been a series of safe moments with a few dangerous ones or a series of dangerous moments with only a few safe ones. Obviously, when the latter has been the case then the treasures of your true, unique and individual nature become well and truly buried. However, there is no person who has not encountered some dangerous moments – in homes, classrooms, community and church – and the result was to bury the human quality that was punished or ridiculed or dismissed, unless, when a child you had some adult you could go to and talk about your sad and fearful experience.
One of the aspects of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and others that has not been considered is: how was it that these children had not some mature adult in their lives that they could go to with the violations they were experiencing? Certainly, parents, relatives and teachers and other significant adults would want to have been there for children but it would appear that their labours of love and care were inhibited by their own childhood repressions. It is important that we all reflect on how we are with ourselves and with others and attempt to recognise the wall of defensive actions, thoughts and feelings that behind it lie the wonders of our true selves. This is not an easy task, particularly if we are surrounded by other adults who are also masking their true nature, and it is commonly the case that birds of a feather flock together! How then do we break the cycle of neglect of ourselves and others? John 0’Donohue gives some direction when he says: “Wounds offer us unique gifts but they demand a severe apprenticeship before the door of blessing opens”.
Depression, aggression, anxiety, psycho-physiological illnesses, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, greed, avarice, passivity, helplessness are necessarily painful in nature because without the pain we would not seek to heal the wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self. There is an amazing wisdom to how we bury our treasure –the defences serve the purpose of reducing further threats to our wellbeing but they also alert to what lies hidden, for those who are in a safe place to see, hear and feel. Consciousness of what we have had to repress can arise from several sources – from reading, from hearing another’s person sad story, from attending a personal development course, from a supportive friend or from attending a therapist. The critical aspect to consciousness-raising is relationship; after all it is relationship that sends us into hiding and it stands to reason that it is relationship that will bring us out of hiding. The relationship that is required to raise consciousness has to be radically different to the one that was threatening in nature; it needs to be unconditional and empowering. Without such safe emotional and intellectual holding individuals will wisely stay hidden behind the masks of their defensive behaviours. The depth of repression and the intensity of the wounding experienced largely determine the time it takes for full possession of self to emerge; it can be a long apprenticeship, but being on the journey considerably eases the pain and there is the occasional joy of glimpsing of what has laid hidden until a full consciousness emerges.
There is no doubt that becoming conscious of what lies in our inner core is central to personal, interpersonal and professional effectiveness and the more acutely we are conscious of it, the better we will be as a person, parent, worker, professional and leader.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Author and National and International Speaker. He is also Director of several UCC courses.