Thursday, May 10, 2018

What does it take to overcome life’s adversities? The secrets of resilience

What does it take to overcome life’s adversities? The secrets of resilience

A friend sent me the article in the link above about resilience.

Every day I get amazed by the degree of misleading information spread by the established media to the masses that creates so much confusion to already very confused public. 

They just measure success by how far a person advances in their careers and how much money they make. They forget that success and money alone can be the best tools to master the art of repression, transference, manipulation, and projection.
"If a person is especially gifted, they can use that gift to reinforce the refusal of the truth and keep it away from themselves and others. ...The reason why I believe resilience theory is dangerous is that it is liable to reduce rather than increase the number of Enlightened Witnesses. If innate resilience were enough to resolve the severe consequences of traumatization, the empathy of Enlightened Witnesses would be unnecessary. Indifference to child abuse is already widespread enough, there is certainly no need to reinforce it.." Alice Miller

"Many world-famous stars who are envied and idolized are in fact profoundly lonely people. As the example of Dalida indicates, they were misunderstood precisely because they could not understand themselves. And they were not able to understand themselves because their environment responded to them with admiration rather than understanding. Finally, they took their own lives. This vortex tells us a lot about the mechanisms of depression. People seek understanding by pinning their hopes to success, they take endless trouble to achieve such success and to arouse the admiration of an ever-larger audience. But this admiration cannot provide any real sustenance as long as understanding is absent. Despite the success they have made of their careers, life is meaningless because they remain strangers to themselves. And this self-alienation persists because they want to completely forget what happened to them in their early lives and to deny the sufferings of childhood. As this is the way society functions, these stars were bound to remain misunderstood and suffered the torments of chronic loneliness.

The categorical denial of the pain we suffered at the beginning of our lives is harmful in the extreme. Suppose someone setting out on a long walk sprains an ankle right at the outset. That person may decide to ignore the pain and to soldier on because he/she has been looking forward to the outing, but sooner or later others will notice that they are limping and will ask what has happened. When they hear the whole story they will understand why this person is limping and advise him/her to go for treatment. But in connection with the sufferings of childhood, which play a similar role in our lives to a sprained ankle at the beginning of a long hike, then things are different. Those sufferings cannot be “played down,” they will leave their mark on the whole enterprise. The crucial difference, in this case, is that normally no one will take any notice. The whole of society is, as it were, in unison with the sufferer, who cannot say what has happened. It may well be that, despite the violation of their integrity, people who have been injured in this way really have no memories. If they have to spend their whole lives with people who play down the traumas of childhood, then they have no choice but to connive in this self-delusion. Their lives will progress in much the same way as the outing of the hiker who has sprained his ankle but pretends that nothing has happened. Should they, however, encounter people who know about the long-term effects of childhood traumas, then they will have the chance to abandon their denial and good prospects of healing the wounds they have been carrying around with them.

Most people are not so fortunate. The celebrities among them are surrounded by hosts of unsuspecting admirers, none of whom recognize the distress afflicting the stars they idolize. This is, in fact, the last thing they want to know about. Examples are legion. We may recall the fate of the enchanting Marilyn Monroe, who was put in a home by her mother, was raped at the age of nine and was sexually harassed by her stepfather when she returned to her family. Right to the end, she trusted in her charm, and finally, she was killed by depression and drugs. Her own account of her childhood is frequently quoted on the internet:
“I was not an orphan. An orphan has no parents. All the other children in the orphanage had lost their parents. I still had a mother. But she didn’t want me. I was ashamed to explain this to the other children…”
Some may wish for similar success in their lives and cannot understand why celebrities cannot simply enjoy their stardom. If a person is especially gifted, they can use that gift to reinforce the refusal of the truth and keep it away from themselves and others.
Exceptions in this context are people who suffered childhood traumas that were not caused by their parents. These people are more likely to encounter empathy in society because everyone can at least imagine what it must be like to grow up in a concentration camp or to spend horrifying days at the mercy of terrorists. The former victims of such traumas can expect understanding and sympathy, say from foster-parents, or from friends and relatives.
One such example is the French author Boris Cyrulnik, a well-known advocate of the theory of resilience. Apparently, he was deported to a concentration camp at the age of seven, but after his liberation, he was looked after by many caring people and thanks to their knowledge of the horrors he had been through he was able to come to terms with those appalling experiences. In his books, he now insists that every child has the strength to overcome a traumatic childhood without falling ill. He calls this strength “innate resilience.”
In my eyes, this theory contains a dangerous fallacy. It is true that as children we have many resources we can draw upon to survive even severe harm. But to heal the consequences of this harm we need Enlightened Witnesses in society. Such witness are usually conspicuous by their absence when the injuries in question were inflicted on the child by its parents. As adults, children abused by their parents are without witnesses and remain isolated, not only from others but also from themselves, because they have repressed the truth and there is no one to help them perceive the reality of their childhood. Society is always on the parents’ side. Everyone knows that this is so, so they will hardly venture to seek out their own truth. But if successful therapy helps them to experience and express their anger and resentment, they may well be confronted by the hostility of their families and friends. The readiness to attack them for violating this social taboo has to do with the fact that the violation of that taboo is a source of major alarm for others too. These people will sometimes mobilize all the forces at their command to discredit the former victim and thus keep their own repressions intact.
There are very few survivors of childhood abuse who are able to withstand such aggression and have the fortitude to accept the isolation involved in refusing to betray their own truth. But as knowledge of the emotional dynamics involved in these processes increases, things may hopefully change, and the formation of more enlightened groups will mean that total isolation is not the only possible consequence. The reason why I believe resilience theory is dangerous is that it is liable to reduce rather than increase the number of Enlightened Witnesses. If innate resilience were enough to resolve the severe consequences of traumatization, the empathy of Enlightened Witnesses would be unnecessary. Indifference to child abuse is already widespread enough, there is certainly no need to reinforce it.
But enlightened individuals are still rare, even among the experts. Anyone seeking information about Virginia Woolf on the internet will be told by renowned psychiatrists that she was “mentally ill” and that this had nothing to do with the sexual violence inflicted on her for years by her half-brothers when she was young. Although Virginia Woolf’s autobiographical writings give a harrowing account of the horrors of her childhood, the connections between these severe traumas and her later depression are still roundly denied in the year 2004.
During her lifetime there was of course even less chance of their being recognized. Although Virginia read these texts to a circle of artistic friends, she was still doomed to her lonely fate because neither she nor her environment, not even her husband Leonard (as his memories of his wife reveal) possessed the key to the significance of her early experiences. She was surrounded by people who shared and encouraged her artistic ambitions, but she was unable to understand the subjective experience of total isolation that kept on assailing her. Such an experience can ultimately pave the way to suicide because the present sense of isolation constantly recalls the potentially lethal abandonment we experienced as little children.
So-called mental illnesses leading to suicide are almost invariably traced back to genetic causes. Biographers provide us with the minutest details of the later lives of their protagonists, but their childhood rarely finds the interest it so richly deserves. 
...The lives (and deaths) of all these successful stars indicate that depression is not a form of suffering that relates to the present, which after all has bestowed on them the fulfillment of all their dreams. Instead, it is the suffering caused by the separation from one’s own self, abandoned early on, never mourned for, and accordingly doomed to despair and death. It is as if the body used depression as a form of protest against this self-betrayal, against the lies and the dissociation of genuine feelings, because authentic feelings are something it cannot live without. It needs the free flow of emotions in constant flux: rage, grief, joy. If these are blocked by denial the body cannot function normally.
People resort to all kinds of “remedies” to compel the body to function normally all the same: drugs, alcohol, nicotine, tablets, immersion in work. It is an attempt to avoid understanding the revolt of the body, to prevent ourselves from experiencing the fact that feelings will not kill us but, on the contrary, can free us from the prison we call depression. Depression may reassert itself once we revert to ignoring our feelings and needs, but in time we can learn to deal with it more effectively. As our feelings tell us what happened to us in childhood, we can learn to understand them, we no longer need to fear them as we did before, the anxiety recedes, and we are better equipped to face the next depressive phase. But we can only admit those feelings if we no longer fear our internalized parents.
The assumption I proceed from is this: for most people the idea that they were not loved by their parents is unbearable. The more evidence there is for this deprivation, the more strongly these people cling to the illusion of having been loved. They also cling to their feelings of guilt, which provide misleading confirmation that if their parents did not treat them lovingly then it was all their own fault, the fault of their mistakes and failings. Depression is the body’s rebellion against this lie. Many people would prefer to die (either literally or symbolically by killing off their feelings), rather than experience the helplessness of the little child exploited by the parents for their own ambitions or used as a projection screen for their pent-up feelings of hatred.
The fact that depression is one of the most widespread disorders of the present day is well known to experts. The media also address the problem regularly, with discussions on the causes and the various kinds of treatment available. In most cases, the sole concern appears to be finding the best psychoactive agents for individual patients. Today, psychiatrists assert that at last medicines have been developed that are not addictive and have no side-effects. So the problem would appear to have been solved. But if the solution is so simple why are there so many people complaining about recurrent depression? Naturally, some simply refuse to take tablets on principle, but even among those who do there are many who are repeatedly afflicted by bouts of depression and are apparently unable to free themselves of this disorder, even after decades of psychoanalysis, other kinds of psychotherapeutic care, or recurrent hospitalization.
What does depression involve? In the first place hopelessness, loss of energy, extreme fatigue, anxiety, lack of impetus and interest. Access to one’s own feelings is blocked. These symptoms may materialize in unison or in isolation, and they can afflict a person otherwise functioning normally, doing well at work, sometimes even taking an active interest in therapy and attempting to help others. But these people cannot help themselves. Why?
In my book The Drama of the Gifted Child (1979) I describe how some people manage to fend off depression with the aid of grandiose fantasies or extraordinary achievements. This applies very conspicuously to psychoanalysts and other therapists who in their training have learned to understand others but not themselves. In the book I trace this phenomenon back to the childhood histories of those who elect to go in for this line of work and indicate that they were forced at a very early stage to feel the distress of their mothers and fathers, to empathize with it, and to abandon their own feelings and needs in the process. Depression is the price the adult pays for this early self-abandonment. These are people who have always asked themselves what others need from them, thus not only neglecting their own feelings and needs but never even making contact with them. But the body is aware of them and insists that the individual should be allowed to live out his/her authentic feelings and to claim the right to express them. This is anything but easy for people who in infancy were used exclusively to satisfy the needs of their parents.
In this way, many lose contact in the course of their lives with the children they once were. In fact, this contact was never established in the first place, and access becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on. In the later stages, the increasing helplessness of old age becomes a searing physical reminder of the situation they found themselves in as children. This is referred to as old-age depression and regarded as something inevitable that we simply have to live with.
But this is not true. There is no reason why people who are aware of their own stories should lapse into depression in old age. And if they do experience depressive phases, it suffices for them to admit their true feelings and the depression will be resolved. At any age, depression is nothing other than the escape from all those feelings that might bring the injuries of childhood back to mind. This leaves a vacuum inside us. If we have to avoid mental pain at all costs, then there is basically not much left to sustain our vitality. Though we may distinguish ourselves with unusual intellectual achievements, our inner life will still be that of an emotionally underdeveloped child. This is true whatever age we may be.
As we have seen, the depression reflecting this inner vacuum results from the avoidance of all the emotions bound up with the injuries inflicted on us in early life. The upshot is that a depressive person can hardly experience conscious feelings of any kind. The only exception is the case where external events may overwhelm us with feelings that remain completely incomprehensible because we have no knowledge of the true, un-idealized story of our childhood years. We may experience such a sudden outburst of feeling as an inexplicable catastrophe.
Patients turning to a psychotherapeutic hospital for help are repeatedly told that they must not think back to their childhood, that they will not find any answers there, that they should forget everything else and concentrate on coming to terms with their present situation. Highly significant is the care taken to ensure that these patients do not get upset and to prohibit visits from their relatives. Precisely because they act like an emotional charge for the patient, such encounters can have a revitalizing effect. The point is that the emotions thus triggered off are not harmful but in fact beneficial. But in the hospitals, this view finds little response. Reading the correspondence between the poet Paul Celan and his wife, we sense the tragedy that such categorical directives can cause in the lives of individuals. Celan was categorically denied visits from his wife in hospital, which only served to exacerbate his loneliness and the severity of his illness. 
...Personally speaking, I owe my own awakening to spontaneous painting more than anything else. But this is not to suggest that painting can be recommended as a sure-fire remedy for depression. One painter I once greatly admired, Nicolas de Stael, painted 354 large pictures in the last six months of his life. He went to Antibes to work on his paintings, devoting himself to them with searing intensity and forsaking his family for the purpose. Then “he plunged to his death from the terrace that had been his studio in those last six months.” (Nicolas de Stael, Edition Centre Pompidou, 2003). At the time he was only 40 years old. The skill that so many painters envied him for did not save him from depression. Perhaps a few questions might have sufficed to set off a train of reflection in him. His father, a general in the years prior to the Russian Revolution, never acknowledged his gifts as a painter. It may well be that in his despair de Stael hoped that one day he might paint the decisive picture that would earn him his father’s respect and love. Conceivably there is a connection between his gargantuan efforts at the end of his life and this personal distress. Only de Stael himself could have found this out if he had not been forbidden to ask the decisive questions. Then he might have realized that his father’s lack of esteem had nothing to do with his son’s accomplishments but merely with his own inability to appreciate the qualities of a picture.
In my own case, the decisive breakthrough came because I insisted on asking myself such questions. I let my pictures tell me my own submerged story. More precisely, it was my hand that did this, as it obviously knew the whole story and was only waiting until I was ready to feel with the little child I once was. Then I kept on seeing that little child, used by her parents but never perceived, respected, or encouraged, a little child forced to hide her creativity so as not to be punished for living it out.
We do not need to analyze paintings from the outside. This would be of little help for the painter. But pictures can stir up feelings in their creators. If they are allowed to experience those feelings and take them seriously, then they can get closer to themselves and overcome the barriers of morality. They can face up to their past and their internalized parents and can engage with these things differently – on the basis of their growing awareness, not of their infant fear.
If I allow myself to feel what pains or gladdens me, what annoys or enrages me, and why this is the case, if I know what I need and what I do not want at all costs, then I will know myself well enough to love my life and find it interesting, regardless of age or social status. Then I will hardly feel the need to terminate my life, unless the process of aging and the increasing frailty of the body should set off such thoughts in me. But even then I will know that I have lived my own, true life."                 
"The excellent picture of the iceberg, introduced by Olivier Maurel, has opened my eyes for the fact that the groups that so enthusiastically speak of the child’s resilience seem to take care solely of the visibly mistreated and neglected children. It is true, to those children society offers today several ways to overcome even the most terrible effects of their traumas undergone before and to become resilient, thanks to the confidence that they could develop since. The legal system that often (if not always) sides with them, enlightened witnesses, some empathetic attorneys, well-informed therapists, all these people help a mistreated child to become a conscious survivor who, later, won’t want to repeat with his/her children what has been done to him or 
But for us, the group that is concerned with the problem of educational violence, we talk of something else. We talk of the 90% of the world population that underwent an ” educative ” madness without ever becoming aware that it was connected to humiliation and other serious traumas. Victims of this kind of violence cannot count on the empathy of society, because the whole society denies their suffering, as it denies its own. To victims of these  kind of traumas don’t exist any courthouses, nor enlightened witnesses, nor compassion of anybody – at least as long as almost everybody repeats without a second thought: “Being spanked didn’t do any harm to me, it made me strong”. For that reason victims of educational violence can’t develop resilience, they will say instead: “What was good for me will not harm my children.” In this way, they create what we call the “repetition transgénérationnelle”. Children beaten for “educational” reasons will be nearly inevitably tomorrow’s beaters if we don’t begin to give attention to this dynamics.
Thanks to the clarification of Olivier Maurel, I understood that partisans of resilience take care of the summit of the iceberg and neglect the hidden part. It is necessary that media understand this distinction so that serious misunderstandings can be avoided in the current discussions on this topic. It is necessary to know that without enlightened witnesses, without the help of a conscious and well-informed society, the usually beaten children remain alone with their repressed suffering, and it is why, all their life, they will be convinced that they have been beaten for their own good. They cannot develop any awareness of this injustice, hence no resilience either."

"Miller writes about a “helping witness”—someone who acts (routinely, or even once at a critical time) with kindness toward the child and who somehow, by looking into the child’s eyes, shows the child another way to live and be. This helper may have no idea of his or her role but nonetheless acts as a counterweight to the cruelty or neglect a child experiences. DR Miller says that a critical prerequisite for normal survival is that at least once in their lives, mistreated children come into contact with a person who understands that the environment, not the child, is at fault. This helping witness teaches the child that he or she is worthy of kindness. This lesson is the basis for resilience."

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