RE-WRITING OUR RELATIONSHIP TO SELF:
Moving From a Domination, Separation Narrative to Cooperation and Wholeness
Department of Psychology, Evergreen State College
ILC - Becoming Whole: Stories of Contamination and Redemption
Sponsor - Dr. Mark Hurst
September 1, 2020
The stories that we tell about ourselves lay the foundation for how we see ourselves. What we believe about ourselves impacts every area of our lives. Post-traumatic growth depends on our ability to develop self-compassion and self-acceptance. Could it be that our culture's historical storyline is impeding our movement towards wholeness? A few of the many practices touched on here to invite wholeness after the fragmentation caused by trauma and abuse cycles are; Equine Therapy, Shamanic Soul-Retrieval Practices, Dan McAdams Life Stories Interviews, Psychedelic Therapy, and Writing. Many traditions share a common belief that trauma results in fragmentation. These shared beliefs have spanned centuries and are explored in the pages that follow. Across the ages, animals, particularly horses, have been a popular metaphor for examining the inner workings of the mind. It is a fitting metaphor as horses and humans have been in close relationship throughout the ages. Given the massive size of the horse's amygdala and it's hyper-vigilance as a prey animal, it is only natural that they would stand to represent the non-conscious part of the human mind. However, before we take these metaphors to heart, we should examine their cultural origin. Metaphors are a powerful tool for aiding us in making sense of our reality, and they are fundamental in our storytelling. Dan Mcadams said in a lecture at Monmouth College (McAdams, 2017, 06:28), "We make ourselves whole through stories, by constructing internalized and evolving life narratives. These stories are heavily shaped by culture. Indeed we borrow from our culture to make our stories. These stories help to explain ourselves to each other and ourselves, and they provide our kind of messed up lives with a certain kind of semblance of meaning and purpose." If what Mcadams proposes here is true, then it is worth examining our culture's underlying belief systems. What are the messages woven into the fabric of our stories? Could we be attempting to make ourselves whole with the wrong story? Are we inadvertently telling a story that further divides us from ourselves? This article examines the cultural underpinnings of the messages we feed ourselves and offers a framework for a new script. One that shifts the metaphors to tell the tale of a healthy and compassionate relationship with ourselves.
Keywords: self-compassion, self-acceptance, fragmentation, trauma, cycles of abuse, wholeness, integration, cultural narrative, storytelling, equine therapy, natural horsemanship
Examining Cycles of Abuse Embedded in Our Cultural Narrative
In the book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt draws upon the insight of the Buddha in comparing the nature of the mind to a wild elephant (Haidt, 2015, p.15). Thereby, meditation itself is like the rider, working on mastering the elephant (the non-conscious mind) through the practice of meditation. Jonathan tells us how "Plato used a similar metaphor in which the self (or soul) is a chariot, and the calm, rational part of the mind holds the reins. Plato's charioteer had to control two horses: The horse that is on the right, or nobler, side is upright in frame and well jointed, with a high neck and a regal nose; . . . he is a lover of honor with modesty and self-control; companion to true glory, he needs no whip, and is guided by verbal commands alone. The other horse is a crooked great jumble of limbs . . . companion to wild boasts and indecency, he is shaggy around the ears—deaf as a post—and just barely yields to horse-whip and goad combined" (Haidt, 2015, p.16). Let us examine this metaphor for a moment under the lens of trauma cycles.
Yehuda Berg (n.d.) says, "Hurt people, hurt people. That's how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation." This cycle of violence and abuse often also applies to animals. Dogs raised for dog fighting are beaten and abused. This kind of treatment produces an untrusting, unruly, and vicious animal. Now that we have established this cause and effect connection, we can not help but ask, 'What happened to Plato's horse to make him so shaggy, indecent and unresponsive to the most brute of commands?' Remember, we refer to the horse here merely as a metaphor, representing the aspect of our consciousness that may be out of control and deemed unacceptable. So, the more direct question is, how have we treated this part of ourselves to make this aspect of our consciousness behave this way? Why have we been beating ourselves up? We might think any compassionate person would hear this metaphor as a way of addressing ourselves (or a horse) and think it absurd; a whip? The truth is, however, that our culture has normalized the "whip." The western world has normalized a narrative of domination. Underlying our reference frame is the patriarchal assumption of control and domination as fundamental to getting our needs met. This mindset has worked its way into our stories and has shaped how we see life and ourselves.
Like a parent passes values down to their child, generations pass down these fundamental cultural belief systems unwittingly to the next generation. These foundational messages of our cultures' shared reality are so much a part of us; they ride in on our epigenetics' very codes. For this reason, we often do not even notice them, especially when their effect is so close that they are occurring within our society's narrative. If we want to break the cycle of abuse in our society, we must first break the cycle of abuse within the individual. That means we need to establish a relationship of trust and acceptance of every aspect of ourselves, not just the parts we like or the socially acceptable elements.
Haidt (2015, p.15) tells us about Freud's horse and handler metaphor for representing human consciousness. "Freud said that the mind is divided into three parts: the ego (the conscious, rational self); the superego (the conscience, a sometimes too rigid commitment to the rules of society); and the id (the desire for pleasure, lots of it, sooner rather than later). The metaphor I use when I lecture on Freud is to think of the mind as a horse and buggy (a Victorian chariot) in which the driver (the ego) struggles frantically to control a hungry, lustful, and disobedient horse (the id) while the driver's father (the superego) sits in the back seat lecturing the driver on what he is doing wrong. For Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to escape this pitiful state by strengthening the ego, thus giving it more control over the id and more independence from the superego." (2015)
Like Plato's metaphor, Freud's concept is born of a mindset bent on control being the given method to manage these oppositional internal forces. Freud's take provides a window into the dominant foundation of the core beliefs of his era. His depiction of the ego as the only rational one sets us up to identify with this aspect alone. The basic dynamic presented paints a picture in which these "other" aspects are seen as separate from the core of who we are. In The Social Animal, Aronson & Aronson tell us, "Once a person differentiates between us and them, the stage is set for stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and the rationalizing that follows" (2018, p. 271). The "us and them" tribal thinking model that Aronson & Aronson wrote about is being played out internally in how we perceive and treat ourselves. As long as we continue to accept this as the framework for self-analysis, we will continue to pit ourselves against ourselves in a constant inner battle of wills. This old-school baseline for self-analysis is our culture's foundation for understanding our conscious self's relationship to our non-conscious self. Our work now is to re-vision those core beliefs and heal the abused horse that lives within us due to these ingrained narratives.
A New Vision of Partnership Within the Self
In considering Haidt's description of Freud's conflict-oriented analogy, let us rework the point of resolution. What if the answer lies not in control but in teaching the ego leadership skills and softening the ridged superego? This approach requires us to put down the whip and spurs to stop the practice of demonizing the once considered mangy horse in our own consciousness.
A New Metaphor - Natural Horsemanship
Instead of approaching ourselves with control and domination as if our conscious self or our ego was the alpha, we might meet our non-conscious self with the passive leadership described by Mark Rashid in his book Horses Never Lie. "In the herds that I had a chance to work with, it was evident that seldom, if ever, was the chosen leader the alpha horse. Rather, it was a horse that had proven its leadership qualities in a quiet and consistent manner from one day to the next. In other words, it was a horse that led by example, not by force." ( 2015, p.41). In this way, through the nearly lost ancient practice of Native and Natural Horsemanship, we may initiate a new metaphor representing the cultivation of a compassionate, trusting relationship with all aspects of ourselves.
Native Americans carry a legacy of mastered natural horsemanship. We can learn how to re-imagine our story from the wisdom they hold. In Gawaini Pony Boy's book, Horse, Follow Closely, he writes, "The war pony was companion, best friend, soul mate, and teacher. Most important, the war pony was kola: a friend with whom you could face many encircling enemies. The word "kola" is not normally used for animals but is reserved for human brother-warriors. In using kola as a descriptor of their relationship to their horses, Native American warriors acknowledged their horses' equal status as brother-warrior" (2020, p.162).
The modern-day natural horsemanship movement has borrowed from this sacred approach to renew this reverent relationship with horses. The field of psychology would do well to extend this analogy further into the stories we tell ourselves about human consciousness. May we see the non-conscious aspect of our mind as kola ("a friend with whom you can face many encircling enemies,") instead of a shaggy-eared beast that must be controlled (Gawani, 2020, p. 162). In life, we will undoubtedly face many "encircling enemies" or challenges. When we accept our non-conscious aspect as "kola," we may begin to realize the importance of a compassionate relationship with ourselves.
Our limbic system is a non-conscious network involving our instincts, which are critical to our survival. Let us consider this when we dream up metaphors to base our relationship with our instinctive self. Gawani Pony Boy tells us that "Once they began to use and depend on horses, Native riders realized that their success and even their survival depended on the relationship they built with their horses" (2020, p.151). The same thing is true for our relationship with our non-conscious mind. This knowledge offers a good reason to treat that aspect of ourselves with respect and reverence.
Learning to Lead with Love
Native peoples knew, "A horse needs a leader. If he does not have a leader, he will become the leader. In fact, the success a rider has in his relationship with his horse is proportionate to the degree in which the rider is able to be the leader" (Gawani Pony Boy, 2020, p.206). Plato and Freud had it partially right. The rider and the driver of the chariot do need to learn to be good leaders. However, a good leader does not do so by use of domination, power, and control. A good leader leads by example. This is why the conscious mind needs to choose where it places its attention. Attention with intention is the act of leadership through self-regulation that will help guide the non-conscious mind where we lead it. An article by Steven Stosny Ph.D., entitled, Self Regulation states,"Research consistently shows that self-regulation skill is necessary for reliable emotional well being. Behaviorally, self-regulation is the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values. (Violation of one's deepest values causes guilt, shame, and anxiety, which undermine well being)" (Psychology Today 2011). To motivate us to act in our own best interest, we must first see the unseeable aspect of ourselves as a friend and guide rather than a conflicting force.
Consider the following instruction from Horse, Follow Closely as a new metaphor for how we might obtain passive leadership and begin to re-write our relationship with the non-conscious mind. "In the very beginning of relationship development, it is important for you to be the leader your horse is looking for. When you and your horse are standing in a training arena, your horse will usually first exhibit his leadership qualities by walking or trotting, high headed, around you. When you do not follow as he expects you to, he may begin to question his own position in the herd. He will begin to pay more attention to you by pivoting an ear toward you, looking at you, or possibly turning to face you. At this moment, take the leadership position by physically putting yourself in a position of leadership. Walk in front of your horse, expecting him to follow, and he will." (Gawani Pony Boy, 2020, p.290)
In an interview with the Psychedelic Times, war veteran and plant medicine rights advocate, Matt Kahl gives an animal analogy of his own for the ego aspect of mind (2019). "I liken it to an attack dog. You've got this big powerful dog that is on point and always there to see where the threats are in your environment, and if you don't provide your dog with good leadership by being that alpha, then your dog is going to literally run every single interaction that you have for the rest of your life. It's going to bite people, it's going to be aggressive, because you're not taking charge— you're not stepping up and saying, "Hey! I appreciate your energy, love your enthusiasm, go sit back down." Dogs need that, and your ego needs that too— your ego needs to be told when to sit down, shut up, and listen." Matt is still using a domination model with his choice of language. And he still sees an aspect of the self as a vicious animal we must control. However, he gets closer to the mark when he addresses the need to express appreciation and love for the self's ego element. Furthermore, he is right about our conscience self needing to learn how to be a loving leader and companion to our non-conscious self.
Learning to Listen with Love: Respecting Our Inner Guide
Even though native people understood that horses need a leader, they also knew another critical side to this relationship. Gawani Pony Boy explains, "Native American riders, who only had access to horses for one hundred fifty to two hundred years, did one thing better than most, thereby becoming the greatest horsemen this continent has ever seen—they viewed their horses as guides and they listened to their horses" (2020, p.346). We can adopt this practice by becoming a leader to our non-conscious minds while at the same time, recognizing this elusive aspect of ourselves as a valued guide and Kola.
Neuroscience has uncovered this connection. In the article, "Why the Brain Knows More than We Do: Non-Conscious Representations and Their Role in the Construction of Conscious Experience," by Birgitta Dresp-Langley they state, "How the different cognitive worlds interact to produce successful adaptive behavior at the least possible cost is not known, but a large number of studies have shown that non-conscious brain processes influence perceptions and representations embedded in ongoing conscious experience" (2011). Evidence that our non-conscious mind influences our conscious mind reveals that this relationship flows both ways. Understanding this symbiosis shows us how critical it is that we find a way to befriend the non-conscious mind.
Beyond Metaphor: Natural Horsemanship as Equine Therapy - A Mirror Into The Self
Horse Trainer Stormy May set out to discover a softer approach to interacting with real horses. "The Path of the Horse" is the documentary I made while I was searching for ways to understand horses and work with them without using pain, coercion, or force." (2012, film description). This journey taught her many new things about herself along the way.
Wilson writes in his book Strangers to Ourselves, "But here's the problem: research on the adaptive unconscious suggests that much of what we want to see is unseeable. The mind is a wonderfully sophisticated and efficient tool, more so than the most powerful computer ever built." (2004, p. 15) He goes on to say, "It can thus be fruitless to try to examine the adaptive unconscious by looking inward. It is often better to deduce the nature of our hidden minds by looking outward at our behavior and how others react to us and coming up with a good narrative. In essence, we must be like biographers of our own lives, distilling our behavior and feelings into a meaningful and effective narrative. The best way to author a good self-story is not necessarily to engage in a lot of navel-gazing introspection, trying to uncover hidden feelings and motives."
As it turns out, horses may be able to help us out with this. Equine therapy has proved to be one way to peer into this hidden aspect of our consciousness by observing the horses' response to us. In the documentary "The Path of the Horse," Stormy May travels the world to interview revolutionary minds in rekindling the lost art of natural horsemanship. She shares her revelations about what horses provide for us," Until I became aware of how horses mirrored the thing in me that I needed to look at, I would continue to be frustrated by my expectations." (2012, 20:46) This statement reveals that beyond providing a metaphor, developing a relationship with actual horses is one thing that can help us to see the unseeable within ourselves.
In the same interview mentioned prior, war veterans Matt Kahl talks about his equine therapy experience for treating his PTSD. His description illustrates how we might approach the abused shaggy-eared Plato's horse within. "Towards the end of the process, we actually got to work with a few horses who had PTSD. Now horses normally are kind of in a constant state of PTSD: their amygdala is huge in comparison to the rest of their brain, and they are almost always in a state of fight or flight— they are prey animals, you know? So they are always trying to check their environment, trying to see what's dangerous out there— hypervigilance. And that's one of the big things we have as a problem with PTSD in the military— we're very hypervigilant. When you come into contact with this creature that's just naturally like that, you have to learn to work with it and not trigger it into these fight-or-flight moments." (The Psychedelic Times, 2019)
Trauma Fragmentation and the Path Towards Integration
Plato and Freud's archaic control models of looking at the inner workings of the relationship to self contradict the number one principle that is agreed upon across many modalities to encourage trauma healing. That principle is integration. Across modalities, it is known that trauma creates a kind of fragmentation. The path to recovery and thriving in the aftermath of trauma lies in bringing the lost or separated parts of ourselves back together to create wholeness. While the belief systems and language for expressing the concept of fragmentation vary, the common thread is unmistakable.
Three Stories of Fragmentation From Ancient to Modern Times:
In the book Horse, Follow Closely, Gawani Pony Boy tells us, "Coup, a French word meaning touch, was a way of dishonoring the enemy by touching him. The belief that a warrior could obtain some of the soul of his enemy, as well as some of his strength, courage, and energy, motivated warriors to count coup whenever the opportunity arose. Coup did not always precede the death of the enemy but was also used as a warning to the enemy to get out of Native American territory." (2020, p.176)
The Shamanistic Way
In the book, Waking The Tiger; healing trauma by Peter Levine, he writes about ancient shamanic approaches to healing trauma. "The methods used over the ages by medicine men and women are varied and complex. However, these diverse rituals and beliefs share a common understanding of trauma. When people are overwhelmed, their "souls" may become separated from their bodies. According to Mircea Eliade[ 5] (an important scholar of shamanistic practice), "rape of the soul" is by far the most widespread and damaging cause of illness cited by shamanic healers. Missing important parts of their souls, people become lost in states of spiritual suspension. From the shamanistic point of view, illness is a result of being stuck in "spiritual limbo." He elaborates on the remedy, "In shamanistic medicine, since disease is attributed to the soul having strayed, been stolen, or otherwise dislocated, treatments attempt to capture it or "oblige it to resume its place in the patient's body." (1997, p.57)
Story Telling Stories Integration Explained by Dan McAdam's Using the Metaphor of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
A few years ago, Dan McAdams gave a lecture at Monmouth College on the Self as Story. He opened this talk by examining a concept expressed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, "Voldermore wants to live forever, so he splits his soul into pieces and hides them in objects. Even if his body is destroyed, he reasons, a piece of him will live on forever in" the Horcrux," which is the name for any object in which a person has concealed a part of his soul. Harry must find Voldemort's seven Horcruxes and destroy them. Now, most of the wizards do not approve of Voldermort's efforts to attain immortality. You must understand, Professor Slughorn explains that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting is an act of violation. It is against nature. As a young wizard, Voldemort is fascinated by this idea. "How do you do it?" He wants to know. "How do you split your soul into pieces?" By an act of evil," answers Slughorn. "The Supreme act of evil. By committing murder, killing rips the soul apart." So early in his wizarding career, Voldermore studies the darkest and most forbidden magic. He learns the specific spells that need to be invoked after you murder somebody so that the piece of your soul that is torn off in the murder may be safely encased in the Horcrux.
Now the author here, JK Rowling, is suggesting that there is something horribly unnatural, something not quite human, about trying to split your soul into pieces. And so for Muggles and wizards the world over, the soul symbolizes unity and wholeness in the person. 'Rather than splitting into pieces,' professor Slughorn says, 'The natural thing to do is to bring yourself together, to bind yourselves together to unify your lives.' But how would you do that? You could ask professor Slughorn, "how would you do that?" How especially do we find unity and purpose in modern life when the world wants us to do so many things?" (2017, 03:48) McAdams seems to be implying here that there could be more causes of this soul splitting or, in modern terms, this disconnection of self than merely the extreme act of murder. He quickly moves to the idea that the world is vying for our attention at every turn, causing an experience of divided attention at the very least. In a world so full of options and attention grabbers, "How do you find your vocation, your calling, what you think you were meant to do and be in life?" (2017, 06:03) McAdams says he is skeptical about the idea of a soul. However, he believes that life is a chaotic experience in which we may feel disoriented, and telling our stories has the power to re-integrate our experience and our sense of self. (2017)
The Dissociation of Perpetration Trauma
Let us look at something McAdams did not elaborate on regarding Voldermort and his intentional soul fragmentation brought about through evil acts. Voldemort's archetype points to the trauma the perpetrator experiences in the act of perpetration. Culturally we agree on the trauma that victims experience. However, we give little credence to the trauma cycle, which is alive in the perpetrator. Quite possibly, it is the perpetrator who is the most traumatized and fragmented of us all. Freud and Plato's analogies paint the ego or conscious self as the perpetrator. It is our conscious self that carries the whip after all. The perpetrator within has experienced the initial trauma of victimization. This initial victimhood, in turn, causes them to pay this abuse forward. Remember, "Hurt people, hurt people" (Yehuda Berg, n.d.). Once this cycle starts, every time they commit an act of abuse or violence on someone else, they suffer in the dissociated self-betrayal it takes to commit such atrocious acts. This self-betrayal fragments the perpetrator further each time. Dan McAdams writes about this phenomenon in his book, The Redemptive Self. “Once sin enters the story, furthermore there seems no getting back to the original goodness. Innocence lost is lost forever. Human actors seem doomed throughout the Old Testament to repeat their contaminations again and again. One step forward, two steps back. Around and around.” (2006, p.213)
Veteran suicide is a growing problem. Following their orders, these people were swept up in the groupthink of "acceptable" and expected violence during war times. Many vets are attempting to numb their pain with the use of heavy pharmaceuticals. Through these drugs, they try to rest their minds from the horrifying memories and thoughts of violence witnessed and violence enacted on others. One of these painful memories is shared in James Pennebaker's book, Opening Up by Writing it Down, "There was a burst of gunfire, and my buddy fell to the ground, half of his head blown off. I looked up and a [North Vietnamese soldier] was running into a shed carrying a machine gun. I ran to the shed, jumped through the door and fired, hitting them in both legs. It was a woman who had shot my buddy and who was bleeding on the ground. We stared into each other's eyes. I ripped off her clothes and made love to her. Before I knew it, I could hear choppers overhead—ours. I pulled out my knife and slit her throat. I loved her. I killed her." (2016, p.27) Somehow in his account of this terrible act, he recalls a feeling of love for her as he was committing these unthinkable acts of violence. If this is not a clear example of disassociation, what is? It is war crimes like this one that causes a deep battle within the consciousness of veterans. How can a person who has done such things learn to accept and embrace his whole self? How can he not cast that part of himself out, deeming it forever unacceptable? And if he can not forgive and accept his whole self, then the cycle in his life may repeat in one form or another. “Sometimes the story seems to move in a vicious circle. Traumas, disappointments, failures and losses from the earlier chapters of the story reappear and play themselves out again and again and again in later chapters.” Wrote Dan McAdams in The Redemptive Self (2006, p. 218). McAdams calls this a “contaminated life story” (2006). He recognizes, “Soldiers came home from the front only to find they could not leave the trenches and the gasmasks behind. Many experienced flashbacks about the war, reliving traumatic scenes in their dreams and in waking life. Expressing symptoms of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder, many of these men seemed compelled to repeat or relive the past again and again, even though they did not want to do so” (2006, p.218) The modalities that follow offer differing paths back to wholeness to break this cycle.
Accepting Ourselves After We Have Hurt Others
Some veterans with PTSD have had positive experiences of regaining wholeness through varying modalities.
Somatic Experiencing offers powerful insight into healing after we have rejected a part of ourselves. Waking the Tiger, by Peter Levine, explains Somatic Experiencing is a presence-centered body-awareness therapy. Through attention and acceptance of the felt sense, we can summon an inner re-enactment of our past while staying consciously present with our body’s experience. This can help us accept ourselves and release the trauma that gets trapped inside the body, which often manifests as disease (Levine, 1997). In The Redemptive Self McAdams tells us, “Freud speculated that many cases of repetition compulsion may represent efforts to undo or master the past. By replaying the frustration or traumatic scene again and again, the person may be unconsciously trying to loosen the grip of the event upon his or her entire personality” (2006, p. 221). Levine put it this way, “The phenomenon that drives the repetition of past traumatic events is called re-enactment. It is the symptom that dominates the last turn of the downward spiral in the development of trauma symptoms. Re-enactment is more compelling, mysterious, and destructive to us as individuals, as a society, and as a world community” (1997, p.170). Frequently during the traumatic events of our lives, we disconnect from our body’s felt experience. By doing this, we are disconnecting from ourselves. The result is fragmentation. Somatic Experiencing can help us to reclaim our fullness even in the face of tragedy. It works by providing us a framework to take charge of the way we express re-enactment, on our own terms. This allows us to break the cycle and relieves us of the non-conscious drive to continue the pattern out in the real world.
Equine therapy is, in many ways, an aid to Somatic Experiencing. Spending time with horses encourages body-centered awareness and authenticity. Equine therapy can help us learn how to invite our whole selves in. In the "Path of the Horse," Linda Kohanov talks about the relationship between the way we have been treating our horses and the way we have been treating ourselves. "Partnership begins at home in the biggest sense of the word, at home in your own body, recognizing that your body is the horse that your mind rides around on. In the past, we have treated our bodies like we would treat an unruly horse. We would reign in our instincts and our emotions, and our intuition, and mistrust it and treat it like it was not at all a source of wisdom" (2012, 36:33). As was discussed earlier, horses mirror back to us what is going on in our emotional body and quite possibly our non-conscious processes. Horses are only interested in authenticity. If we are not willing or able to be completely honest with ourselves and what we are feeling in a particular moment, a horse will tend to be disinterested in connecting with us. When we are authentic with our experience, including the painful stuff, horses tend to move towards us to connect. In this way, they offer us an invitation to bring our whole selves to the relationship.
Psychedelic Healing in the form of psilocybin and ayahuasca has been shown to help veterans with PTSD. There are currently many studies underway which are showing promising results from using the drug MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy. Part of what is so powerful about MDMA therapy is that it reduces fear and increases empathy. This unguarded state often opens the floodgates of all the secret, painful experiences we have been holding to be expressed and finally shared.
Life Stories Interviews McAdams addresses the power of sharing even the darkest aspects of our past in The Redemptive Self. “How do we try to decontaminate the past? How do we seek to undo the bad that has already been done? When we feel that we may be partly or largely responsible for the bad outcome that occurred, when we feel that it may be, in some sense, “our fault”, we may seek to confess” (2006, p. 224) He goes on to say, “Confession may assuage the guilt and shame a person feels for having committed an immoral or unfortunate act” (2006, p.224). Life Story Interviews, The life's work of Dan McAdams is a process that has been researched extensively and has proven to be instrumental in creating integration and wholeness.
Writing to release the heavy burden of the secrets we keep has shown empirical and academic evidence to support us in healing from severe trauma. James Pennebaker’s book, Opening Up by Writing it Down echo’s McAdams sentiment but offers a different format for accomplishing this. “Talking or writing about upsetting things can influence our basic values, daily thinking patterns, and feelings about ourselves. In fact, there appears to be a basic need to reveal ourselves to others. Not disclosing our thoughts and feelings can be risky for our mental and physical health. Divulging them can be healthy” (Pennebaker, 2016, p. 1).
Each one of these modalities helps us tell a new story, a story of unity and inclusion. This new narrative must invite even the once patronized, beat down mangy beast within us to the table. Consider that Plato's shaggy-eared horse and Freud's unruly id horse analogies are stories at their core. (Haidt, 2015, p.15) These are the stories with which we have based our relationship with our non-conscious self. These are stories seeded with separation and the need for control and domination. This foundation sets the stage for the stories we tell about ourselves. Could it be then, that we have been trying to make ourselves whole with the wrong story? This ancient story we are still telling is a story that, at its core, assumes the worst of ourselves and drives this idea of separation from self even deeper into our experience. If we want to invite integration after trauma we must acknowledge we have been telling a fragmentation story. Carl Jung was a revolutionary thinker. While the scientific psychology community may not recognize his work as being based on science, in his time, he attempted to steer us towards telling a new story. Alan Watts expounded on the shift toward self acceptance that Jung brought to our culture in a Tribute to Jung Lecture named Why You Must Accept Your Evil Side, ”He understood that an integrated person is not a person who simply eliminated the sense of guilt or the sense of anxiety from his life, who is fearless, and wooden and a kind of sage of stone. He's a person who feels all these things but has no recrimination against himself for feeling them.” Later on in the same lecture Watts says, “The recognition of the fact that behind the social role which you assume, behind all your pretensions to be either a good citizen, or a fine scholar or a great scientist or a leading politician or physician or whatever you happen to be, behind this facade, there is a certain element of the unreconstructed bum. Not as something to be condemned and wailed over. But something to be recognized as contributing to one's greatness and to one's positive aspects. In the same way that manure is contributing to the perfume of the rose.” (n.d. 4:47) The first step in becoming whole is to start telling a different story, one of unity, trust, and acceptance.
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Peter Levine (1997). Waking The Tiger; healing trauma: the innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. North Atlantic Books.
James Pennebaker (2016) Opening Up by Writing it Down: how expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain. The Guildford Press.
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