Monday, August 8, 2011

Living in Fear is a Bitch: A Bitch is a Mother Dog

A friend recently wrote regarding the contemporary western fear of Muslims in general as a result of the various acts of Islamic inspired violence in America and abroad. He went on to say, “Living in fear is a bitch and does not set us up for good mental health - or our best behavior.” He then suggested that bin Laden and others trying to terrorize the West are “winning” because they have succeeded in causing us to “live in fear”. I do not disagree with him altogether, however, as is my nature, I like to consider other ways of viewing the matter. This is my response:


Again, as I see it, "good mental health" is not only a bad metaphor, but an impossible and unwanted goal. This is another of our American unquestioned assumptions--that mental health is ideal, or that it even exists or should exist. As I see it, physical health cannot and should not be equated with the mind or soul. They are two very different entities operating by very different principles. This is true of all systems in Systems Theory; for example, a brain surgeon most likely cannot repair a car transmission, and an auto mechanic typically cannot do brain surgery. While related, the two systems function very differently and must be considered according to their own unique principles of operation. Never assume a metaphor is acurrate until you have thoughtfully examined the correspondances. Unfortunately, the late 19th century reinvention of psyche as parallel to, if not synonymous with, the body is not only wrong, but dangerous.

The mind and soul (two different but interrelated phenomena) are not identical to the body, and medical terminology must be used very cautiously. Anxiety, fear, "paranoia" and most of what has been assembled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as mental illnesses are normal human psychological functions and responses. Just as an undeveloped baby encounters a world of troubling gravity and hard, sharp objects for the purpose of developing muscle and skeletal structure--so the mind provides all of these "unhealthy" emotions and responses for developing soul.

As you said, “living in fear is a bitch,” and a bitch is a female dog, a raging mother who gives birth. Fear is the womb or container that gives birth to an evolving psyche, and bin Laden can be seen as the "mother of new psychological development". Neurologist Andrew Newberg explains this simply and yet profoundly in his bestseller, Why God Won't Go Away. He explains the neurology of anxiety as the mechanism that drives evolution, and moves the mind/brain to seek a unitary experience of being (God).

I call these normal and necessary experiences of anxiety, fear and all so called "negative emotions," psycho-spiritual isometrics which is defined as “increase through resistance”. On the physical level, if you remove the material and gravitational resistance from a baby's life, you end up with a flaccid, atrophied, dead baby. On the psychological level, if you remove the troubling "material and gravitational" psychic resistance from a human soul, you end up with an atrophied and dead soul.

Remove pain, suffering, and difficulties from a child's life, you end up with middle class kids who kill their classmates because their peers do not recognize how cool they really are—i.e., Columbine and the rise of "well adjusted" middle class kids joining gangs. Experiencing difficulties works as a sort of psycho-spiritual homeopathy--the cure is in the dis-ease, to use a medical metaphor carefully. If you want to see a fascinating study on this phenomenon, read Allan Guggenbuhl's The Incredible Fascination of Violence, or James Hillman's The Terrible Love of War, or his Suicide and the Soul. Or click on this link and read the July/August 2011 article by therapist Lori Gottlied, "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" which examines how the cult of self esteem is ruining our kids by not allowing them fail and feel fear, rejection and sadness.

This point was beautifully stated in a recent issue of The Week, by Katie Roiphe in The Financial Times:

"One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analyzing really making anyone happier? Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and 80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. Those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves."

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