The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 05, 2007

Gestalt Formation, maturation, and race

Time to think some more about the “Human Maturation” Question. I’m not an expert. This is something I’ve wrestled with myself, but I think that there is something here worth investigating. Last Friday I was working at Moonview, and Dr. Stephen Sideroff, the Clinical Director and I were talking about another project, and I mentined this subject, and I asked him if he had any thoughts. He offered me a paper he wrote for SOMATICS, the journal of the Mind/Body Arts and sciences.

I’m quite sure I’ll get into some esoteric definitions and theories eventually, but thought it would be interesting to begin within the fold of Western science.

He starts with the statement (which I agree with) that all living systems crave homeostasis, the state where all systems are in balance. Note what happens in a problem situation: “Lack of awareness of any need results in the splitting off of a part of oneself that continues to seek completion.” In gestalt therapy, this process is referred to as gestalt formation and gestalt destruction. This process aids the organism in returning to balance, and interruption of this process can be considered a neurosis. This interruption results in an unmet need. The expression “time heals all wounds” isn’t really accurate. “Unmet needs, unrecognized or unexpressed feelings, don’t go away.” “Left unresolved, the result is that a part of the self becomes preoccupied with this completion, and thus unavailable for a more present-centered focus.”

For instance, anger feelings at a parent are “dismissed out of loyalty or due to the consequences of this anger.” The natural process of gestalt formation –destruction never reaches completion. The child deadens itself to emotion that is too painful or dangerous to experience.
There is more in the paper, but I thought I’d stop here and compare this idea to those found in Yogic psychology.

For the organism to grow, there has to be a flow of “energy” smoothly from the root chakra (survival) or outward from the heart chakra. In other words, you can’t leave unresolved or repressed emotion behind you. If you have abandonment issues, fear or power issues with parental figures, this stuff can drain the joy from your life, and that joy is one of the “evolutionary” energies that enable growth within a human organism.

Many forms of therapy address this: analysis, role-playing, “parts party” zero-content work, dream analysis, journaling, etc. The point is to dig into the past and see if any of those basic developmental steps have been missed. Is there anything to communicate to a parent? Anybody out there ever paid 100 bucks an hour to scream at a chair? Or at a stranger in a therapy group playing your molesting uncle? That’s what’s going on.

I know a very good lady who was horribly abused as a child. Her parents should have realized something was going on—her father was far too involved in his career. She cannot deal with the possible loss of her paternal relationship, and has had difficulty confronting him. The anger knots up with her fear issues, and makes her weight armor almost impossible to lose. Man, she has struggled horrifically with it, and when she starts to lose it, she gets nightmares like crazy.

For this lady, if she can’t strangle the people who hurt her, if she won’t confront her father, then she has to process the emotion in some other way, or she will NEVER lose that weight. We might as well consider it a wall of solid fear. And that wall protects a child. Until she dissolves it, the energy will not be available to move her to full adulthood.
Scott Sonnon’s brilliant “Body Flow” concepts help explain why yoga and other body-mind disciplines work. Let’s just say that once you focus on the way your breath, emotions, and body work together to create each other, you can use your breath to measure, control, and express emotional states. The release is also available through journaling, dream work, etc. The point is to develop a clear image of what a fully realized, independent version of yourself would be, and then take full responsibility for walking that path. Those steps are steps toward adulthood—which might be considered a goal rather than a destination. A verb rather than a noun. A wave rather than a particle.

And that path is also the path to the “Gateless Gate” of enlightenment. That is: it won’t take you all the way there, but you can’t approach that gate along any other road.
And what has this to do with groups? To the degree that a group obeys some of the same principles as an individual (the thesis we’re exploring) then a group that is subjugated and dependant for food and shelter on another group develops a parental attachment. (Note Stockholm Syndrome for one version of this). If that “parental figure” is abusive, and the subjugated group cannot directly express its anger and pain, its “psyche” becomes fractured, and that energy is not available for maturation. Note that it serves the “organization” for individuals to remain immature, in the same way it serves your body that individual cells don’t wander off and become amoebas. This stuff is hard-wired into both sides: oppressor and oppressed. It takes no conscious thought. More’s the pity.

But the answer is the same, in a way. Honesty must be expressed. The truth must be told. The enemy, external and internal, must be confronted. If the abusing uncle is no longer alive (can you read Simon LeGree?) then through art, play-acting, cultural “dreams” (storytelling?) and other methods, the pain has to be expressed.

To my knowledge, there was only one short period of American history when this started coming out: the late 60’s and early 70’s. In the streets, in music, and in cinema, some of the anger from Slavery and Segregation finally started emerging, a dialogue within the black community. Needless to say, whites were scared as hell. Understandable. Confused, too: “what did I do? I owned no slaves. My ancestors didn’t own any slaves…”

All valid. Express it, and alienate the very allies you need to get bank loans, jobs, houses, fair play in the courts. Don’t express it, and your psyche splits. And the energy turns back in on itself in self-destructive behaviors and fantasies. Note that rap music originally railed against “the Man.” Now there is still plenty of violence in Rap…and it’s all black-on-black. Do you really think these guys are primarily angry at other black people? Are you that naïve? Ask yourself what happened that they stopped being able to tell the truth. There were both financial incentives…and the culture simply slapped them down. Police departments and the legal system are great for that. You can ALWAYS find something to hassle someone about, if you don’t like them or what they’re doing. And it doesn’t take an unlimited amount of legal attention to correct an undesirable behavior.

The pain, unexpressed, turns in on itself. Neighborhoods burn.
So the answer…well, it isn’t to be found in killing white people, that’s the first thing. Nor in fantasies of killing them. That would be wrong in every way that is important for the development of a mature person. That time is past.

But how do you forgive with a free heart, when that heart has actually been coerced? Damned good question. Blacks have tried to address this with Christianity, but even there the image of the oppressor is all over them, looking down on them from the pain-wracked position on a cross when the “children” are in their most imprint-vulnerable state: on their knees, looking up, eyes rolled up to enter Alpha state. Feh.

What to do? I would think that the answers for an individual and the answers for a culture would be very, very similar.

1) Tell the truth. To yourself, or a few select friends. You don’t have to broadcast your truth to the world, if it puts you at risk.
2) Commit to dealing with the world from a position of love.
3) Start by loving yourself. As individuals. As a community.
4) Commit to dealing with the world from a position of strength as well. Take responsibility for your emotions, your children, your neighborhood.
5) Make certain that your sexual interactions are responsible and mature. Regardless of what we try to say, the human hind brain interprets intercourse as reproductive behavior. Chemical or mechanical contraceptives don’t change this. So sex without emotions or commitments can be devastating to the psyche, and leave already damaged individuals with even more damage. And if children are born…they are born to grown-up children, and an even deeper cycle of dysfunction is triggered. If you aren’t self-supporting, don’t have sex.
6) Move heaven and earth to support yourself in a safe home of your own devising. Clean up your credit. Learn the skills necessary to provide goods and services to your community that will result in the money needed to support yourself.
7) Understand your legal rights, and fight for the leverage necessary to hire lawyers to protect them.
8) Write your truth down. Keep a journal. Tell stories. Write plays. But only broadcast stories that deal with issues you have resolved, unless you can see your way past conflict to love. Even Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” while having no answers, saw that the problem did not lie with the “Other.” It was within the nature of humanity itself. Grasp this, and you’ll see that the only work to be done is within ourselves.

More, later…

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