This article first published on this blog in August 2010, but I think it is very important. So I decided to publish it again. art
Inner tranquilizers have a Pollyanna effect. They permit us to "look on the bright side" of belief rather than the "dark side" of ourselves. The Reagan years were characterized by someone who always did look on the bright side. That optimism was infectious even though it may have been unreal. It was adopted by those who did not want to explore the past and feelings. He was perfect for that— a man with little access to feelings who constructed a weltanschauung of denial and joy. If we ask people whether they would vote for pain and liberation or joy, the answer is a foregone conclusion. The man who took a bullet in the head for him during the assassination attempt was almost never visited by him in the hospital. Could he feel for this crippled human being? Reagan continued to vote against gun control. Ideas took precedence over feelings. After all, he was shot, as well, by a maniac who should have never have had a gun. Logic cannot dictate when buried feelings, transformed into an ironclad political belief system, trump reason. When your insides are turned inside out you can easily view the world from a warped perspective. Sometimes you get so “positive” that you slip into Pollyanna and that is where you stay: banal, cliché, unreal.
A belief system or other symptoms is often where the pain goes. Let us not treat the symptom — let us treat the cause. A simple example: A patient could not be alone without a terrible feeling welling up in her. She was left alone for weeks after birth and then again at six months of age when her mother had to return to the hospital for cancer treatment. Aloneness and bad feelings were imprinted. Any approach that ignores the profound feeling lodged in her brain was bound to fail. She had gone to psychoanalysis previously and learned that she was left alone with babysitters throughout her childhood. This was true, but was only the top level of a nerve network that spun down to the brainstem.
Beliefs, in this sense, are like ulcers or migraines. There are levels of causes on the various levels of consciousness.
As I said, it is not the content of a belief system that matters, but what draws us toward ideas and beliefs, and what makes beliefs so important to us, so enduring and how the nerve cells in the brain relate to each other. In short, why do we believe?
All belief systems have something in common. They are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively. And belief systems all respond to an almost universal, hard-wired need. It is not that we need to believe; we believe because we need. And the pollyannas do not think; they rely on slogans. Those run her life. That is why slogans are so important in an election. It is what hang onto instead of thinking through matters.
All of us are programmed to some extent to reject and deny the voice of our feelings. That is the function of belief systems: to quiet the feeling that there is no one to care for us, to protect us, to love us, that the "meaning of life" is endless pain. The drug of belief anesthetizes. It is why one can give up drugs and alcohol and fall into a belief system. They both inject painkillers into the system.
Just as someone lacking sugar or iron automatically seeks out what he needs in foods, a person carrying around imprinted pain may automatically lock into belief systems. Instead of trying to feel the void that lurks inside the hidden crevices of the unconscious, the believer rises above hopelessness and helplessness into "salvation." Sometimes he goes so far as to adopt a new name, a new identity. Susan becomes Saraswati, Robert becomes Rama, as if to say, "I
am not even me anymore" (the pained me) "I am someone else." What is he saved from? Himself. One patient came to us from a cult, which she entered because of chronic anorexia. She relived a feeling in our therapy: "What’s the use of eating if no one loves me or wants me alive?" The leader reassured her that he did. All she had to do was give him her car and the money she had in the bank. She did. Because he said he wanted her to get well. He told her that he wanted her. It was irresistible. And women will give up their bodies easily when someone combats their feeling of being unwanted by telling her how badly she is wanted.
MORE ON SEEING ONLY THE POSITIVE LEADING TO SOLIPSISTIC BABBITRY
Sometimes people only respond to feelings and vote for political candidates who reflect them. But often they vote for an idea that reflects their underlying needs and feelings: e.g., "This man will make our country safe." We can ignore the reality of what he does because his rhetoric soothes apprehensions and salves fear. But of course, the leader has to first install fear — the enemy is planning secret attacks. Then, I will protect you by arming heavily.
"Yes, yes I will vote for more and more arms so I can feel safe." Too often individuals vote their feelings in the guise of an idea. The more neurotic (heavily repressed) a person is, the greater the distance between his ideas and feelings — what I call the Janovian gap — the more symbolic her ideas. By neurotic I mean someone with a high degree of imprinted, blocked pain that distorts the whole system physically and psychologically. It is not just that someone has far- out ideas. They are linked into a major system. They have anchors into a personality. There are certain traumas imprinted in the system that require repression, and the interplay between them is the hub of neurosis. The outcome of that interaction, the resulting symptoms, is what we generally call neurosis.
Belief systems are just another form of symptoms. They do not spring full blown out of the air. There are historical causes. Once we understand this, we can see how one can give up drugs and booze in favor of being born-again; ideas smother the pains just as well as, if not better than, drugs. That is why those who are unwell will tend to fall ill prematurely, stricken by an internal reality of which they are not aware. The more warped the ideas, the more likely the person will have a warped physiology, and vice versa. It isn’t just ideas we are dealing with; it is a whole human being whose ideas reflect his buried needs and feelings.
Twisted ideas and beliefs, in my view, presage a shorter lifespan. The system is neurotic not just one’s beliefs. In psychoanalysis and cognitive therapy they tend to help change ideas without realizing that they part and parcel of a human, and a human with a history. And of course, there are the various tests for progress in therapy usually of the verbal variety so that if one says one is better, one is considered better. Or on certain questions, "Are you more comfortable with yourself now after therapy?" We see that the more one is defended and thereby feels more comfortable, the more progress we consider the patient has made. Trick is get people to focus on the positive, on the external while those little political devils are manipulating our insides with their slogans.