Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections on Projections - Part 3

In The Art of Loving author Erich Fromm has the following to say about "Love Between Parent and Child":

"The infant, at the moment of birth, would feel the fear of dying, if a gracious fate did not preserve it from an awareness of the anxiety involved in the separation from mother, and from intra-uterine existence.  Even after being born, the infant is hardly different from what it was before birth; it cannot recognize objects, it is not yet aware of itself, and of the world as being outside of itself.  It only feels the positive stimulation of warmth and food, and it does not yet differentiate warmth and food from its source: mother.  Mother is warmth, mother is food, mother is the euphoric state of satisfaction, and security. This state is one of narcissism, to use Freud's term.  The outside reality, persons, and things, have meaning only in terms of their satisfying or frustrating the inner state of the body.  Real is only what is within; what is outside is real only in terms of my needs-never in terms of its own qualities or needs." (P. 38)

From my current point of view, I do not entirely agree with what Fromm has communicated here.  Given that this book was published in the mid 1950's there was still much to be learned through medical science with regards to the  level of awareness or "perception" that an infant might actually have; for instance, that they do actually "perceive" a great deal while still in the womb, and they may feel a great deal of anxiety surrounding the "vital shock" of birth (not to mention circumcision).  In addition, I am more inclined to agree with James Fowler when he writes in Stages of Faith, speaking in the "voice" of Jean Piaget that, "If the psychoanalysts speak of this phase as characterized by feelings of narcissistic omnipotence in the child, we must say it is a narcissism without Narcissus.  As yet there is no 'self' and no 'other'." (P. 53)

That there is some perception in the child of their "needs" is indicated by the fact that when the child is feeling uncomfortable - either hungry, or tired, or overstimulated, or in need of a clean diaper - they will cry, in order to have that discomfort relieved. And, when the appropriate response comes, the child returns to a calmer state.  I see no reason why, fairly early on, the child would not start to develop some sense of its own power, and an understanding of the cause and effect relationship between crying and receiving comfort.  That there is not necessarily a clear recognition of an "other" providing that comfort doesn't really matter.  That "mystery" does not have to be solved just yet.  What matters is that the child's discomfort is alleviated, and, as Fromm states, this may hold some kind of "meaning" for the child.  However, if the appropriate response does not come consistently and in a reasonable amount of time, the child is likely to become even more anxious, or it may, eventually, learn to repress its anxiety, even though the end result is a deepening feeling of insecurity and powerlessness.

In several previous blogs here I have considered the possibility that all of our incarnated life experiences carry with them analogous emotional-biochemical patterns or "signatures", if you will. For instance, our physical bodies experience a certain pattern of emotional-biochemicals when we are in the womb where "all of our needs are being met with no effort of our own".  I have suggested that our ideas of "heaven" are projected/reflections of the latent memory of this particular "in the womb" state.  Once we are born, especially in the first six to eight months of life, we are in a state where we experience a feeling of "omnipotence" as described above.  We feel we have "power over" our experience, without recognizing the individuality or individual needs of our parents or other caregivers.  If, as Fromm suggests, there is "meaning" to be derived from the experience of "suffering/crying/feeling relieved" it may be rooted in biology as much as psychology; i.e. there are biochemical patterns associated with all of these states, and with their patterning in relationship to one another. There may also be reciprocal emotional-biochemical states generated in the parent or caregiver.

In the best case scenario, parents will recognize and respect the fact that their children are not in a position to consciously understand, let alone meet any of the parents' physical or emotional needs. As Bruce Lipton points out in The Biology of Belief, up until seven or eight years old, children are in various degrees of a "hypnogogic" state, so they are not relating to the world with the same kind of "consciousness" as adults. However, many parents are not mature, fully conscious, mentally and emotionally healthy and, consequently, they may have expectations of the infant and child that are not appropriate or realistic. However, my deeper observation/insight, as you will see, is that even under the influence of that "hypnogogic state", the child may have perceptions and expectations of the parents that are unavoidable and equally unrealistic and inappropriate.

However, before I continue I feel I must preface what follows by saying: I love and respect all of you who are reading this.  I know that everyone is doing the very best they can to express love in this world, parents to their children, children to their parents, and adults to each other. I am also doing my very best in this area.

At the same time, I am conscious of the persistent frustration that so many of us experience in all of these relationships; the frustration of True Love rather than Its Satisfaction.  What has proceeded this blog and what follows is my contribution to the ongoing dialogue concerning why we keep "missing the mark".  It is based on my own observation/realization and is not meant to carry with it any weight of "judgment" on my part towards others - towards parents, or towards ourselves as adults who were once children.

In effect, I am trying to (gently) "bring the ball to the surface" - a "ball" that we have otherwise been repressing, both individually and collectively; i.e. I think, deep down inside, most people already know something is just not quite right in the way we are "loving" one another.  In previous blogs I have focused on what I felt was "not right" about the "romantic love" between adult intimate partners, "love" that is the result of "mutual projection" of the man's anima onto a woman and the woman's animus onto a man.  In my most recent blog, I focused on the sometimes painful results of anima and animus "possession"; i.e. what happens when these "Invisible Partners" take over the consciousness of their respective man or woman and, through them, start to quarrel with each other, and "hurt" each other (and by association, their "hosts").  Now, I am going to offer my explanation for what I feel is currently not right with our understanding of love between ourselves and our parents and/or children.  Granted, I feel it is no small task to say to a doting mother or father, "Uh, that feeling you're having in relationship with your child...that's not really 'love'"...but, in effect, that is part of what I am about to do here.

I will state for the record: Although I am not a mother myself, I have been a child and a student of child development for many, many years now. Furthermore, in preparation for this posting, I took the time to discuss what I am describing below with two mothers that I do know, to allow them to confirm or challenge my ideas.  Apart from that, I have other sources that support my basic premise which is as follows: Parents "fall in love with" their children, especially in the early days after birth. In fact, it is only in rare cases, maybe due to some malfunction of oxytocin production, that this does not occur. For the nursing mother especially, it is biologically normal at this stage for her to form a very close bond with her child and I am going to suggest it is partly what keeps her motivated to endure the rather extreme demands of the early postnatal infant.

In Part 2 of this series I explained how, according to M. Scott Peck writing in The Road Less Traveled, "falling in love" is the "spontaneous and effortless collapse of ego boundaries" between two people that promotes a feeling of "oneness", that, on a biological level, encourages mating, and therefore, encourages reproduction and perpetuation of the species. As I have restated above, from the point of view of John Sanford and Carl Jung, "falling in love" is at least in part the result of "mutual projection of anima and animus in their most positive forms".

My question is this:  Is there really any significant difference between the experience of "falling in love" with one's children and "falling in love" with a potential mate, biologically OR psychologically?  In other words, if there is an effect of "mutual projection" at work in the latter case, why would there not be the same effect in the former?  If "falling in love" is "effortless"; i.e. it is a "spontaneous collapse of ego boundaries that promotes pair bonding",  and, therefore, "perpetuation and survival of the species", then how can we really view "Parental Love" as any more Truly Loving than "Romantic Love" given it also involves a relative absence of ego boundaries between the parent and the child and helps to perpetuate the species by increasing the infant's chances for survival (via the "oneness" the mother feels with her offspring)? In other words, is there any more Conscious Choice involved when a parent "falls in love with" their child than when an adult "falls in love with" another adult?

Again, I am not myself a mother, but the two mothers I spoke to did confirm this "falling in love" experience with their children. Given what I do know about "falling in love" as an adult, I can imagine the following: As soon as a child is born, and maybe even prior to birth, parents may be Full of Ideas about how that child is going to be, how their relationship with that child is going to unfold.  They may be full of Great Expectations that are, in effect, a Projection/Reflection of more (or less) conscious aspects of themselves - their hopes, their dreams, and even their own Needs for Love. But what is so important to realize here is that...these ideas have Nothing Whatsoever to do with what may actually be potential in that child as an individual.  They have nothing to do with the parents Actual Knowledge of their child As an Individual (Ordinary) Human Being. Children are born as total strangers to their parents in exactly the same way that romantic lovers are often total strangers to each other prior to that moment of "falling in love".

And, the pattern that so often unfolds between parents and their children is all too often parallel to what unfolds between adults who have "fallen in love": Everything is fine and wonderful until one or the other party FAILS to live up to the other's expectations.

Adults can only carry "projections" from and for each other for so long before, inevitably, the "projections" (positive or negative) are either spontaneously withdrawn, or are "broken through" by the true nature of the individuals themselves. Likewise, some parents can be very "loving" towards their infant children, but then they start to struggle as soon as the child begins to show signs of individuation - as soon as the child starts to try to assert Its Own Will, its own desires and preferences, that may or may not align with the parent's expectations/projections.

I encourage everyone reading this to pause for a moment and really let this sink in...

We may not all be parents, but we have all been children. And I can almost guarantee that Most of us have felt like we have Failed to Live Up to Our Parents Expectations on some level.  That we were never Really Seen for who we were and/or Really Loved for who we were.

But, guess what, It's a Two-Way Street...

Remember what I said earlier here, and in Part 2 of this series: "Falling in Love" involves Mutual Projection.  Furthermore, both sets of projections are exaggerated versions of the unconscious contents that are being projected.  What I am trying to shed light on here is is not only the Parents who are doing the "projecting" - it is The Child as well.

And what does the Child "project":  First of all, as I have suggested above, it is feeling, deep down inside, that it is "Omnipotent" and "All Powerful". So it is logical to assume, and based on the child's decidedly limited experience to the contrary, that it will see its parents or caregivers as being "All Powerful" as well. For instance, the child might think/feel:  "I am being loved by an Infinite Being who is there to take care of all of my needs...on demand."  "My mother/father are an amazing Goddess/God there to shower love and blessings upon me." Furthermore, "This is their sole purpose in life; i.e. to meet my needs, because being a Goddess/God, they have no needs of their own." And, of course, "I, in turn will, through my smile, radiate my infinite love back to them, for I too am infinite and all powerful"...(...except when I am tired, or hungry, or wet and then I really need these other Beings to take care of me)"...!

Consequently, when the child does start to "individuate"; when the child starts to sense itself as "separate" from its environment and separate from its mother and father, not only does it lose a sense of its own "omnipotence",  it also starts to sense the limitations of its parents.  It starts to sense that they are not the "goddess" or "god" that they thought they were, and it is no surprise that The Child Can Become Very Disappointed By Both of these realizations - of its personal limitations and the limitations of its parents.  Not surprisingly, this disappointment will start to show in its emotional "acting out" and "resistant" behavior.

Of course, this change in behavior in the child, from relative calm and compliance to frequent bouts of crying and resistance provokes similar disappointment in the parents. And, I'm sorry to say, if the parents are unconscious of what is actually going on, which, I suspect is pretty common in our experience (and even throughout the history of human culture), then The Positive Projections are Replaced With Negative Ones, by Both Parents AND Their Children.  The parent starts to see the child in a negative (and probably exaggerated) light, and the child also starts to see the parent in a negative (and probably exaggerated) light. 

One of the sad truths about this state of affairs is that, regardless of who has disappointed whom, because of the child's very real dependency on the parents for its survival, the perceived "threat" in these now seemingly "inadequate" parents is going to be taken much more seriously by the child.  It is no wonder they may be inclined towards intense emotional outbursts, extremely resistant or extremely compliant behavior. They are going to do whatever they feel they have to do to survive, and that also means, to a very great degree, figuring out how to regain the control they thought they had to begin with.

Although Fromm suggests that our feelings of "separateness" and "aloneness" are what drive us to seek "union" with others, I do not agree with this point of view. I think what disturbs us most at this point in our lives is not a "feeling of separateness", it is our sense of Losing Control over that which we originally thought we had control.  Again, this is a Mutual Experience: Because of the child's inherently dependent state, the parent ultimately has control over the child (even "god-like" control)...until... the child develops some capacity for self-expression and autonomy.  Where, initially, the child does not make a clear distinction between itself and others and it feels as though it is a power unto itself; i.e. it feels like it is actually the one "in control"...later it begins to perceive otherwise, later it starts to recognize there are "others" over which it has only very, very little, if any, actual control.

My Guru, Adi Da Samraj, focused a great deal of his Teaching on the "Activity of Self-Contraction".  He described this as being the root of our "separative" behavior.  In other words, we are not fundamentally "separate" from anyone or anything else.  But in our reaction to this perceived separateness - and, (I am adding here) a perceived loss of control, we "pull away" from others, we "avoid" relationship with this frightening reality of our existence.  And it is in this "contracted" state of "avoidance", that we feel the most fundamental suffering.  Once this becomes a part of our patterning (and remember, this is not just going to be "psychic" or psychological, but also biochemical patterning) we then begin to seek to relieve or distract ourselves from that suffering in any number of ways available to us as children and as adults.

Again, I do not agree with Fromm's assumption that it is our Actual Separateness that is driving us to seek "union". The suffering comes from something we are doing to ourselves. It is an "activity", and we start doing that activity very early in our lives. Consequently, we will start to look for ways to relieve the "tension" of that "self-contracting activity" very early in our lives as well, and even throughout our lives if we do not come to a better understanding of what is actually going on and who is actually responsible for it.

Adi Da wrote a small booklet entitled "I Call You to Overcome the 'Oedipal' Sufferings of Childhood"; in which he basically says:  As adults, at some point in our lives, we have to get over our reaction to our sense of having not been loved (or loved adequately) by our parents as justification for our own refusal to love others. In other words, at some point in our lives we have to assume conscious responsibility for our own loving, or capacity to love, rather than continuing to merely seek love from others, and then "punishing" them with our lovelessness when they too, almost inevitably, fail to live up to our expectations.  

Furthermore, he considers the classic Freudian stance that, early in childhood development, when we are first becoming aware of ourselves sexually, we (generally) become "fixated" on the opposite sexed parent as a "love object".  Typically, little girls will imagine themselves "marrying Daddy", and little boys will imagine themselves "marrying Mommy". However, for obvious reasons, such a desire cannot be fulfilled, and, furthermore, as the child observes the emotional/sexual love communicated between the parents, they themselves end up feeling "betrayed".  

Taken in the light of understanding "mutual projection", this makes even more sense.  The projections made by the child may be more generalized to both parents at first, because they are not able to distinguish "individuality" much at all in the first six to eight months of life.  However, when they start to become aware of themselves sexually, they also start to become more aware of the differences between "Mommy" and "Daddy".  They start to identify themselves as "male" or "female", and, as discussed earlier in this blog series, once they identify with one sex or the other, the opposite becomes repressed, and once that happens it becomes available for Projection onto one or the other parent.  So little boys will "project" their anima onto their mothers and little girls will "project" their animus onto their fathers.  

One thing that I did not emphasize in my previous posts is that: Once positive "projection" occurs, then the desire for "union with the other" arises (which is actually a desire for re-union with this projected part of ourselves). However, since the process of projection is unconscious we interpret this feeling as a desire for union with the other person who has now become the carrier or container of our anima or animus respectively.

Sanford explains it this way:

"Like all archetypes, the anima and animus have positive and negative aspects.  That is, sometimes they appear to be highly desirable and attractive, and sometimes destructive and infuriating.  In this they resemble the gods and goddesses who could shower mankind with gifts, but could also turn on mankind destructively. If the positive aspect of the anima image is projected by a man onto a woman, she then becomes highly desirable to him. She fascinates him, draws him to her, and seems to him to be the source of happiness and bliss. A woman who carries this projection for a man readily becomes the object of his erotic fantasies and sexual longings, and it seems to the man that if he could only be with her and make love to her he would be fulfilled.  Such a state we call falling or being in love." (Pp. 13-14)

Although the infant son's closer bond with the mother may intensify the "Oedipal" experience for him, essentially the same pattern arises for girls in relationship with their fathers, and for women in relationship with men onto whom they have projected their animus. The fact that mothers are usually able to spend more time with their children than fathers may also prolong or intensify the son's fixation on the mother as a sexual object.

Of course, as long as the unconscious contents remain projected, the only way to accomplish and/or perpetuate "union" with the other person and, thereby, "re-union" with one's projection, is either by having control over the other person or letting them have control over you

And yet, no matter what children may be thinking about their parents in these early stages of development, what is going to be true in (almost) every case is that Their Desires for "union" with Mother or Father are Going to Be Frustrated...or...there is going to be some terrible emotional/psychological  price to pay.  For instance, I feel I have to qualify this statement with the word "almost" to allow for those rare cases when the parent does actually engage in a sexual relationship with the child, and the child is actually quite traumatized by the experience. (Although, in the context of what I am sharing here, I feel it may be possible to better understand why this might happen in spite of all of the cultural taboos surrounding parent/child incest, the discussion deserves much deeper consideration than I can give it at this time, in this particular blog.)

Our perpetual experience and "projection" of the "frustrated love" we have experienced as children can, again, be seen all around us in modern media.  I have not seen very many "horror" movies, but of the few that I have seen, I can easily recall how many times two young people were in the midst of sexual embrace when one or the other or both are murdered by some evil character.  In addition, "Love stories" almost always involve either intense "Happy Ever After" love or intense "Frustrated" love, neither of which speak to the possibility of rather ordinary, day to day, love between two ordinary human beings.

Keep in mind though: children are experiencing everything more intensely partly because they perceive that their very lives are depending on their ability to "unite" with their parents; i.e. with their ability to regain and/or perpetuate (seeming) control over their parents.  And to the degree they fail to do that, i.e. to the degree they fail to control their parents energy and attention (which, given their dependent stature, is likely to happen regularly), the fear, anxiety, disappointment, etc. that they feel is more than likely going to be repressed to a greater or lesser degree.  Anything that gets repressed a) becomes available for "projection", and b) is going to be exaggerated once "projection" takes place.  The movie "Fatal Attraction" comes to mind, where, "death" is the alternative to "not getting union with the object of one's 'love'".  The song, "I Can't Live, If Living Is Without You" also comes to mind, among many, many other examples of how these childhood fears and longings have been "projected" and perpetuated in modern (supposedly) "adult" media culture.

As I pointed out in Part 1 of this series, in these stories we are seeing "projections" of our "projections", exaggerations of exaggerations of our unconscious inner experiences.  And, yes, although they may reflect a great deal about our actual experiences; i.e. they may reflect something back to us of the consequences of our "repressing" and then "projecting" in the first place, they also speak only to the cases in which we persist in relating UN-consciously with ourselves and with each other.

Furthermore, if part of the greatest purpose of "being human" is also to Become Fully Conscious as individuals, to "bring all the balls to the top of the water" -  to be in conscious relationship with our "inner man" or "inner woman", all of our emotions, as well as our thoughts and judgments - then to the degree we fail to do that, it is appropriate that we will not feel completely fulfilled as individuals, and love will be frustrated in our relationships with others, especially our relationships with our intimate partners and with our parents and children.

For it is with "intimate partners" that the most profound projections are likely to take place.  It is with "intimate partners" that we are most likely to become anima or animus "possessed". It is with intimate partners that we are most likely to be both emotionally and physically/sexually vulnerable. And, consequently, it is with intimate partners that we are most likely to experience the most painful effects of our failing to relate consciously.

Unfortunately, as I am also trying to communicate here, that is not the only context in which True Love is frustrated by our unconsciousness.  It is also being frustrated in the relationships between parents and their children.  To the degree that parents and children "project" onto one another the exaggerated images and ideals that arise from their own unconscious, along with their inappropriate expectations, we are almost always perceived as failing one another. This perceived failure of love, further justifies the failure to love, which further justifies retreat into unconsciousness, which only leads to More of the Same patterning, generation after generation. 

In order to "turn the tide" it is up to us to learn to accept and respect the individual humanity, the Ordinary Humanity, of every child and every parent.  It is up to us, as adult men and women, to accept and respect the individual humanity, the Ordinary Humanity of every woman and every man.  It is up to each of us as individuals to learn to accept and respect every aspect of ourselves, as Ordinary Human beings, our capacity for deep feeling as well as our capacity for rational thinking, our love needs, and those things which are most meaningful to us.  It is up to us to take the time to get to know one another, to be slow to "judge the book by its cover", to appreciate that we are all slogging through a swamp of projections within our culture and it is nearly impossible for any of us to come through without our True Identities being a bit muddied by all of it!  Finally, it is up to us to make Conscious Choices to love one another, to recognize and meet each other's "love needs", as appropriate, for the various "levels of relationship" that are possible in all of the contexts and possibilities of Ordinary Human interactions, including those between parents and children.

As I have communicated in my previous blog, there are ways that we have begun to overcome some of these patterns, even without this framework of understanding concerning anima and animus, possession, and projection. Nevertheless, I genuinely believe that progress towards greater consciousness and expressions of True Love between Ordinary Human Beings might be significantly accelerated if more people could become aware of what I have shared here.  Even in the act of consideration and writing about this I have been profoundly affected by what I have come to realize. As some would understand it, I am experiencing a "radical paradigm shift", Really Radical, and I do not believe it is completely over yet!

(And here I thought riding my bicycle across the country was going to be an "adventure"!?!)

I don't know about you, but there is a voice in my head that has been asking: "Lori, do you really understand the implications of what you are communicating here? Do you see how you're challenging so many long-held beliefs? Do you realize there are going to be people who won't like you for saying these things? Are you sure you know what you're talking about?" (And maybe that's my potentially more judgmental animus speaking to my more intuitive feminine side?) And to that voice I would have to answer: "Yes. I am feeling the implications in my own life, in this moment, as well as the implications for others, but I cannot let myself be afraid of what others might think to such an extent that I do not communicate what I feel is mine to communicate. I am still in the process of considering all of this myself right now, so I do not know what else I have yet to discover or realize.  Furthermore, I do not know how these ideas are going to trigger insights in others as time goes by. So, in that case, I really do not know what all the implications might be for what I am communicating here...and I am okay with that."

But my feminine intuition is telling me, this is pretty big.  I'm just trying not to lose my head over all of it.  I'm trying to stay as grounded as I can, and, more than anything, I am simply trying to apply what I am understanding by Staying Conscious. I am focused on the idea that I am, like all of you, in the end, an Ordinary Human Being, composed of both feminine and masculine elements, with the capacity and need for true love, and with the capacity for rational thinking and insight, all of which I am capable of being fully conscious (even though it may be particularly challenging at times).

Furthermore, rather than struggling to Be In Control, especially to Be in Control of others, I am instead relaxing into simply Being Myself, relaxing into simply Being Love...

Nothing more...but also...nothing less.

I welcome your comments and questions.

(P.S. I really wanted to put links at several points in this post, but given the time limitations right now and the quirkiness of this platform, I am going to refrain until I have a better internet connection.)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Lori. Another wonderful, thought-provoking post. I'm going to have to re-read it and perhaps comment again. But I do like the notion (your notion) of the Ordinary Human Being. By looking at the Ordinary Human Being, I think you can "at once" dissolve the projections we might live under and STILL recognize the "Buddha nature" in each individual. Very interesting way to relate to people, but, as you say, it would have to be done SO consciously. But do the anima and animus still exist, or do they "disappear" or grow latent with a shift in consciousness? I'll have to re-read once more ... Still a bit fuzzy on the roots of aloneness and how one can pull away from a frightening reality (of loss of control). If a child pulls away from that frightening reality, what does the child replace it with? I'm quite interested, though, in the experiences of "union" and the experiences of "separateness" or "aloneness," and agree with what you say at the outset, how we so often feel we are somehow "missing the mark." Take care! All the best!