Sometimes we have a somewhat faulty concept of the nature of childhood innocence. We may think that the innocent child has an angelic nature. This is not true.
At the age of ten I asked my mother if we could go to a Grand Prix because I hoped to have the opportunity of witnessing a racing car driver die in a car crash.
This isnít the sort of thing most of us associate with the healthy child, but at that time I was psychologically healthy.†
I was motivated by curiosity. I felt no hostility towards race car drivers. But I knew that they sometimes died painful deaths in car crashes on the speedway and I was curious to see what someone dying in that way would look like.
As Iíve said elsewhere, our original nature when we are born is one of unconditional love, i.e. we are open to the world and non-judgemental of what we find there. However we have no morality. A moral system is something we learn from adults. And we have no compassion. Since compassion is nothing more than projected self-pity, we do not develop the ability to feel compassion until we become a neurotic adult.
As a child I was emotionally strong, resilient and not easily hurt. I was often bullied, but I donít think I blamed the bullies for being bullies any more than I would blame a bee for stinging me. I was non-judgementally accepting of others.
One day in primary school, when I must have been about 6 or 7, one of the bullies got me in the toilets, told me to lay down on the floor, pulled down my pants and stuck wet wads of toilet paper up my arse. He told me that, if I didnít come back and let him do it again the next day I would die. Since I hadnít found the experience particularly pleasant, I decided not to come to him the next day. ďIf I die, I die,Ē I told myself.
This was a temporarily uncomfortable and scary experience, much like a trip to the doctor to have an inoculation, but, in itself, it was of little significance to me.
Now if the same thing had happened to me when I was a neurotic teenager, full of self-doubt because of all of the aggressive feelings Iíd been repressing and desperately uncomfortable about my own body because of the extreme form of sexual repression Iíd been practicing since shortly after the onset of puberty, the experience might have been an almost rape-like ordeal. I was much more fragile emotionally in adolescence and adulthood than I had ever been in childhood.
I think that what makes childhood a vulnerable time and a time when the seeds of adult neurosis are sown is that it is the time when we are learning the lessons we will try to apply as an adult. We are building a conceptual framework about ourselves and the world. If we learn a lesson which is unhelpful it can warp our adult life up until the point at which we may unlearn it and thus free ourselves from our neurosis.
I think the lesson I learned which made life painful for me as an adult was to turn inwards. I always held onto the concept of accepting others unconditionally, and I wanted to understand them, but I think it must have been made clear to me early on that simply asking a bully why he is a bully was not going to work. Iím not sure if I ever tried it. I think not.
But if there was conflict in the world and I wanted to understand it, I think I must have decided to keep my head down, keep my thoughts to myself and take a passive approach to that conflict outwardly. If I hadnít been bullied I might not have taken this approach. The bullying itself didnít inflict all that much pain, but the lesson I learned from it led to me adopting a strategy which would almost kill me. (Perhaps if an adult had been able to perceive what I was doing to myself and give me guidance about it this wouldnít have happened. But when Iíve sought help for my problems throughout my life Iíve found that those whoíve tried to help me have their own problems and are often pretty clueless. Those who helped me the most were those like my mother and my psychiatrist who provided me with space and acceptance in which I could help to formulate my own self-understanding.)
The big problem with the introverted approach to life is that one tends not to allow oneself an outward expression for frustration, in the form of competitive activities or angry outbursts or whatever. If we bottle up our feelings of frustration then we are liable to take them out on ourselves. In my case, toward the latter part of my teens I became severely depressed and developed an obsession that I might gouge my own eyes out.
This canít be explained simply by the inward directing of anger. I think another factor was sexual repression. Soon after puberty I became mysteriously ashamed about masturbation. This had nothing to do with anything any adult had said to me as my parents had a laid back, healthy attitude about such things. But I went for several months without masturbating during which I felt a heavy cloud of condemnation hanging over my head. Later, during my twenties, the comfort and sense† of connection to my repressed healthy self which I got from masturbating to pictures of naked women, was one of the few things to make my life bearable. But, at the same time, I felt this erotic element as something powerfully anarchic which could shake up my repressed state in ways which were very anxiety-provoking.
I think the third, and perhaps biggest factor, in my neurosis was the fact that I held on so tightly to the concept of unconditional love. The problem with it is that, the only way to keep this non-judgemental attitude alive in the absence of the resilient, flexible, amoral and non-compassionate innocent state is to, emotionally, take within oneself all of the conflict one sees in the world. If one can take sides one can get some emotional catharsis out of conflicts, but if one identifies with both sides tremendous internal stress is liable to occur. And, in a neurotic state we feel compassion, thus we feel a lot of pain about the state of the world.
While I was non-judgemental that doesnít mean I wasnít critical of others. I was always critical of dishonesty and hypocrisy. I could accept that there were people in the world who raped, killed and tortured the innocent. I didnít see this as a good thing, but it was at least honest. But it seemed as if dishonesty and hypocrisy caused more suffering in the world than violence, especially since they often led to violence.
And this is what I mean when I talk about our tendency to project the disowned part of ourselves onto the world around us and then fight against it. The reason that the one thing in the world I couldnít stand was dishonesty was because my own dishonesty was the thing I was trying to disown. At the height of my neurosis I was going around being an idealistic do-gooder, working for an environmental organisation, but deep down I was just a pit of seething repressed hostility. My colleagues were praising me for my selflessness and generosity while my OCD was asking me whether they would still think so highly of me of I raped and killed their teenage daughter.
This is the nature of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Everyone Iíve come in contact with who has it is scrupulously considerate of others, polite and concerned about always doing the right thing. But at the same time plagued by thoughts about doing things like killing babies or putting puppies in the microwave.
How Iíve come out of that situation is through finding insight into myself and others, which Iím presenting in this book, and learning to express any repressed hostility through sick humour rather than keeping it bottled up. I think that the only reason that these hostile feelings build up for those of us who donít allow ourselves an outlet is because of an unhelpful framework of thinking about ourselves and the world. Once we have a framework which works, we feel little frustration and thus little hostility.
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