Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Helper and healer, I cheer - Small waifs in the woodland wet - Strays I find in it, wounds I bind in it - Bidding them all forget!
~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Ch. 7)

Consciousness is often described as a stream, like time is described as a river. In which case, memories would be those things floating about in it like debris and psychotherapy rather like trawling.

But is this what consciousness is? And is remembering necessary to healing?

My work with EMDR has allowed me to observe (in a kind of time-lapsed photography way) the relationship between memory and healing. In EMDR, “reprocessing” is remarkably quick, catalysed by using bilateral stimulation (originally, in the form of bilateral eye movements). The therapist asks the subject to recall a traumatic memory while simultaneously calling attention elsewhere. At some point, the intensity of the traumatic experience subsides and the memory slips into the background, to the “back of the mind” so-to-speak. The subject becomes a dispassionate observer of the experience as its hold simply lets go, drifting back to its natural place in long-term memory.

It is remarkable that EMDR can effectively loosen the hold of a past trauma that may have torturted someone for years.

My hypothesis is that EMDR works because it facilitates moving a memory from the front to the back of the mind, a shift that was arrested because of a trauma interfering with forgetting. It is a process I find similar to meditative practices (and this can include anything from formal sitting to swimming or chanting). The key seems to lie in the activation of dual attention.

If this hypothesis is correct, consciousness would be more like a double-edged sword than a babbling brook, and memories-- whose eclosion into awareness can be as sweet as longing, or as intrusive as lightning-- would have as much saliency as present experience. Though fore-grounded by recall, their natural place is in the background, forgotten.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Parents who were abused as children incur a debt that’s hard to part with.

Called to Love their own children, the debt becomes a dam that blocks the flow and, like their parents before them, their children pay the price, either as hostage to the trickle of care they can still afford, or as scapegoat sacrificed in exchange for the debt still outstanding. This is intergenerational transmission, when a debt of Love is visited on one's children “and on their children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Daily I come across children of dammed loved that reflect the two distinct outcomes I have identified as the scapegoat and hostage situations.

The first, the scapegoat, is the child who carries the burden of parental shame, often expressed in the form of physical and verbal abuse, and is cast off to roam far and away from home. The scapegoat usually does leave home in mid-adolescence, cutting off prematurely from the womb but with a vitality and sense of survival that is apparently inborn. This is the child that scientists are scrutinizing in search of that magic gene called resilience, the gene that is supposed to have rubberized the child against pain. I don’t believe in such a gene. Rather, I think that early psychological separation from hearthurt parents is what, by grace, preserves the child’s will to live.

The second, the hostage, may have been spared the full force of parental brutality, perhaps because he was the chosen one. Yet, ironically, he is also the pitiable one who cannot quite separate, his will to leave being trapped like a fly in the unguent of promised love. He awaits healing that never comes and the wound stays open indefinitely.

Whereas the challenge for the scapegoat is to find comfort in the oasis rather than the desert, to learn how to love others rather than live free but unattached, the challenge for the hostage is to wiggle free from bad love and not flit endlessly from one hurt to another.

One final observation:
So many children of abusive parents have reported to me that their parents were extraordinarily challenged when it came to parting with their money, especially when it came to the child’s education (the ultimate act of separation!). One young man’s wealthy mother refused to give him a loan for his University studies although she agreed to finance the oversea adoption of another child. Another woman recalled how her mother withheld financial support for her studies, obliging her to sign a declaration of sexual chastity for the duration of the loan. Another man was deprived financial support when his mother convincingly lied to the father that their son had run morally afoul.

Apparently, the “debt” of love transpires in the financial realm.