Our own early experiences in many ways mirrored what happened to us historically as a species.
When we were born we were an unconditionally loving bundle of physical needs.
We’ve touched on the meaning of love, but let's look at the phenomenon in more detail so that we know what we mean by the unconditionally loving nature of the infant.
It is all too easy to get love mixed up with adoration or compassion. Love is really a kind of communication. It is any communication which comes through the ego rather than from the ego. Love is when we are really with another person rather than somewhere else in our head. Love is characterised by paying attention and being spontaneous. When we are open to love every interaction with others changes us. We are closed off to love when our behaviour is stereotypical, when rigid character traits and ways of expressing ourselves interfere with open, spontaneous communication. This happens when our ego is insecure, caught up in attempts at self-justification, and when we feel the need to repress our feelings, whether of anger, grief, sexuality or whatever, and are afraid to be spontaneous lest it release those scary feelings. When we are able to really be with someone and open up spontaneous communication with them it can be accompanied by the deep feelings of warmth that we associate with the concept of love. But it is important here to concentrate on process rather than experience if we are going to understand the phenomenon. The reason why we generally experience love only for friends, sexual partners or family members, is that these are the people we know well enough not to be afraid to drop our defences with them. Our soul (or original self or inner child) loves everybody unconditionally, but when our ego is insecure it is too scared to open up to that love, except with those who reassure it with their indications of acceptance. This also explains some of the experiences which are common in charismatic religious gatherings. Provide a context in which people feel accepted and united with others and the capacity for experiencing love can surface, giving usually chronically ego-bound individuals a sense of something that seems totally magical and otherworldly. They see it as proof of the existence of a supernatural God and a confirmation of the philosophy of that particular church, while others might realise that the same kind of experience could come if the armouring of their ego had been compromised by the consumption of LSD.
Let’s imagine ourselves first entering the world. We are unconditionally loving and we have needs - to be fed, cleaned, cuddled, etc. We interact with those around us in an open and spontaneous way. At first this may mainly be communicating about our needs - crying when we are hungry, etc. As we learn to walk and talk our ways of communicating, as well as the things we want to communicate about, increase.
The only problem is that we soon learn that not everyone wants to communicate openly and spontaneously with us. Maybe other children do, and our parents when they have the time to relax and play with us, but much of the time we find that adults are not really with us. They don’t listen, or if they do they don’t respond in ways which make sense to us. The feeling for us is like that of a child who enters a playground but finds that most of the other children don’t want to play with him.
One of the most important things to understand about the mind of a child is that children always think it is their fault. This makes sense. If you come into a world, of course you are going to assume that those who already live there know what’s what. To say, “I’m sane and they are all crazy!”, would seem pretty desperate. How were we to know that that was the case? And this is why so many traumas happen in childhood which can warp us for life. “It must be my fault my parents got divorced,” we tell ourselves, or, “I must be to blame for Uncle Pete going to jail, because it was my genitals he was caught playing with.” If all we were dealing with was the thing itself, the effects of most misfortunes and abuses would pass away much more quickly. What causes the really deep scars is self-blame and the ego insecurity and thus obsession with self-justification and questions of self-worth that it engenders. This is what is meant by “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons”. Sin is just a judgemental religious word for neurosis - for the self-obsession of the insecure ego.
Of course, if our parents were able to explain to us that they were fucked-up and insecure, and that it was nobody’s fault, least of all ours, things would have been much easier for us. If we had parents who were blind or deaf or physically crippled, we wouldn’t have felt bad about the fact that we could see or hear or run. It is not a case of our needs not being met. We didn’t need our open and spontaneous communication to be responded to in kind. We were resilient beings who could be happy with however the world worked. The only problem was the conclusion that something was wrong with us.
This feeling that something was wrong with us meant that more and more of our thinking was taken up by attempts to find a way to prove it wrong. Our ego became insecure. This is the time in our development when we would start to “act naughty”. The more we doubt our own worth the more we feel compelled towards acts of defiance. We project our insecurities onto the outside world and then fight against them in that arena. Later in life we may try to prove our worth by scrawling graffiti on a public building, fighting in a war or climbing Mount Everest, but when we are still in diapers we have to be satisfied with stealing candy bars in the supermarket or pulling the cat’s tail. It was at this stage that we became angry. Anger is the emotion with which the insecure ego tries to defend itself when challenged.
This is when our parents had to start teaching us right from wrong. They gave us the blue print for our conscience. At first we might try to obey the rules our parents set in order to avoid punishment, but eventually they would become incorporated into our thinking about our own self-worth. We would feel any failure to live up to these standards was evidence of our worthlessness. We learned to feel guilty.
Two factors in our upbringing contributed to how neurotic, i.e. armoured, we ended up. First was how positive our early interactions with others were, that is how little sense of blame we took onto ourselves to make us feel insecure. And the other was how restrictive the value system was which formed our conscience. (Although this normally happens in childhood, some of us adopt an ideology or religion later in life, thus changing the nature of our conscience.) If our experiences are bad, leaving us angry and insecure, but our conscience is not too restrictive, we needn’t repress those feelings entirely. We might go out to heavy metal rock concerts, take drugs and fuck around, and thus not entirely loose access to our capacity for love, but, if we were born into a fundamentalist religious society, for instance, we would have to repress our rebellious expressions within a very restrictive form of social discipline (not to mention that the strict moral code would be a constant source of criticism to our insecure ego, thus increasing its anger), so we would end up very alienated indeed from our capacity for unconditional love. We could still feel love within the security of our own kind, but that is all.
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