Sex-Positives: The New Puritans

It struck me the second time I was called a conservative in a matter of a few months. Well, after I stopped hysterically laughing, that is. There was something familiar, well trodden about the accusations. Yet, me, a conservative? About anything? Twice? Seriously?

Before I identified that nebulous familiarity, memories of my late father-in-law Wally Laird, came to mind. Yes, he was the person with whom I would most enjoy discussing this, were he still alive to do so. In the nearly 25 years since Wally has been gone, I have never been compelled to actually speak aloud to him. Being called a conservative was impossible enough to attempt to speak to Wally, why not after all? Things had suddenly become surreal enough to have a conversation with dead people.

“Wally, I was called a conservative!” I laughed aloud, hoping to invoke my first contact with a spirit world if there is indeed such a thing. “Hey, Wally, you there?”

No spirit came, but long-ago memories of ongoing verbal jousting with Wally came back with fondness. Wally, a lifelong Republican, called me “a pinko, commie, heart-on my-sleeve bohemian. There might have been more descriptors in the string that he used for me, but that was the essence of his nickname for me. We adored each other although we were as politically different as any two people could have been.

Me, a conservative? Barry Goldwater, Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh would be horrified at the thought of incorporating any my political ideas into their ideologies. Maybe worse than horrified. Likewise, no religious conservative would welcome one iota of my theology. Wally, were he alive, would rail at anyone calling me a conservative of any stripe and then we would laugh over such a preposterous event over an after-dinner scotch. Damn, I miss him.

The memories of Wally faded into the current circumstances that brought me to be called a conservative, although I was still chuckling about these peculiar accusations. That I had been called conservative twice in such a short time gave me pause, what on earth was going one, what was that unidentified, and distantly familiar sense about this?

For failing to embrace the exact sexual mores of the two accusers, I was practically spat upon as an anachronistic conservative. Yep, that was it. For failing to embrace free love and porn-saturated imagery for myself, I was dismissed as a conservative, by two persons who claimed to be sex-positives.

Sex-positives? So if I somewhat disagree, I am, by inference, a sex-not-so-positive? And if I really disagree, I am a what? A sex-negative? Tricky devils. That was it—the familiarity—just like the danged Puritans. The sex-positives were behaving just as the Puritans did. Right down to accusing me of being conservative.

The Puritans—Radical Reformers

First a brief history refresher: Who were the Puritans? What were the characteristics of Puritanism? Let us look at the Puritans within the historical context from which they emerged as Protestant reformers. After failing to bring England to their way of practicing Christianity, this group later largely emigrated en masse to the English colonies, now the United States.

Continental Europe experienced a wrenching political, social and religious separation from Roman Catholic power upon the advent of Martin Luther’s defection from the Vatican. From 1560 to 1715, a period of 145 years, there only thirty years of peace. During the remainder of that time, there was a minimum of one and up to five religious wars occurring concurrently all over the continent. 1500 years of Roman Catholic religious and political domination required 150 years of religious strife and open warfare to release its grip upon the Western world.

France, for instance, was ravaged by 35 years of religious war bracketed by fifty years of strife both before and after the actual war itself. The region currently known as Germany fared worse, being pretty much in open warfare from 1562 to 1700. Known then as the Holy Roman Empire, the area lost 25 percent of its inhabitants to repeated generations of religious wars. Ultimately, the Holy Roman Empire (which was neither Roman nor an empire) fractured into hundreds of petty fiefdoms, primarily because of nearly 150 years of religious warfare.

Brutal religious wars occurred in every other country in Europe as well, not one country was spared violent reform. Wars, burnings, sieges, beheadings, executions, murder, theft, famine, forced emigrations, forced conversions, decrees of banishment and kidnapping are a mere fraction of the legacy of Europe’s attempted religious reform and the resisting of such reforms.

England’s Reformation occurred at the level of the monarchy long before there was a sizable Protestant populace. Henry VIII defected from the Vatican in 1534 in order to divorce his aging Catholic wife, Katherine of Aragon, and to marry Anne Boleyn in the hopes of having a male heir. This set England apart from continental Europe that primarily had Catholic rulers and a burgeoning Protestant populace. England had a suddenly Protestant monarchy and a largely Catholic populace when Henry broke from Rome. The English Reformation was from the top down; the Church of England was created by Henry VIII and became England’s official religion.

Although England did revert to Catholicism briefly under the rule of Henry’s eldest—and Catholic—daughter Mary; her early death brought the Protestant Elizabeth I to the throne. Pragmatic and determined to hold the middle ground in religious matters, Elizabeth reveled in resplendent pomp for both court and religious ceremonies at the same time she reinstated the Church of England as the state religion. Although not as openly violent as the rest of Europe, the change from Catholic England to Protestant England resulted in reformers killing other reformers nearly as often as the Protestant/Catholic violence erupted.

Upon Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, a previously exiled group of English Protestants returned to England. This group was determined to enforce very strictly the Calvinist code they believed to be correct. They also believed that the English Reformation had not gone far enough. Elizabeth’s retention of lavish trappings for herself and her court were considered “popish” by these extremist reformers. In reaction, this particular group of reformers dictated black and white only garb for their members, because ornamentation was conservative, a remnant of the Roman Church that they strove diligently to eliminate from all of England.

For their efforts to purify English doctrine along Calvinism dogmatic lines, they were named Puritans by their detractors. They never gained political power in England and became increasing shrill and separatist. By the mid-1700s, the Puritans were no longer a political consideration in English politics at all—doctrinal infighting and several generations of emigration reduced their effectiveness, their numbers and their ardor.

In the New World, however, they had quite an influence. In the colonies, they practiced their doctrines that were considered radically extreme in England, and as a result, the Puritans’ beliefs shaped the emerging United States’ culture.

Remember, if you will, that the Puritans believed that the English Protestant Reformation had not gone far enough. They were fighting against the established doctrines of the Roman Church, convinced that their interpretation of Christian scripture the only possible correct one. All others were in error from their viewpoint. An interesting aside: the Puritan declaration of doctrinal infallibility foreshadows the Vatican’s 1870 papal infallibility declaration.

So, in the Puritans we see a group of reformers who insisted that their doctrines must become the social norm with no latitude or questioning/discussion from either practitioners or others.

The Sex-Positive Movement

Fast-forward to 1999 and the founding of the Seattle Sex Positive Community Center, frequented by a group of reformers who believed that the sexual reformations of the 20th century had not gone far enough. Is this starting to sound familiar? By calling themselves sex-positives, the implication is that if one does not agree 100% with their every doctrine, one is sex-negative.

Conversely, the Puritans referred to themselves as “the godly.” Adopting this moniker certainly was a sly means of condemning those who disagree with their reformations as the presumably ungodly.

Now turning the same techniques (rigid fundamentalism, all-or-nothing insistence upon doctrinal agreement and judgments delivered to dissenters with rabid contempt), onto Protestant sexual mores, the sex-positive movement is taking a Puritan-like tack in its approach to sexual matters. Could anything be more ironic, really?

If one chooses monogamy and no porn in one’s relationship, the new “godly” call this conservative with great vehemence. Again, judgment delivered with a Puritanical intolerance with the intention to to dismiss them entirely or to shame the recipient into agreement/acceptance of their doctrines.

Shame? From a movement that calls itself sex-positive? How perfectly Puritanical!

Ah, it is still possible to be unbearably self-righteous and quite sly all in the same breath. The sex-positives invite no discussion with the likes of people like me and have no interest in exploring why someone would chose anything but a sexual free-for-all for himself or herself. The message is clear from this camp: “Agree to everything we endorse or we will attack and dismiss you as a sex-negative conservative.”

Somehow, I find this as quaint as the very Puritans against whom the sex-positives claim that they are rebelling. Will the sex-positives soon become marginalized by internal disagreements after they discover that the “yes” to everything sexual is just as ridiculous as the “just say no” approach is to drug use—oversimplified non-discernment? Surely, someday they will recognize that discernment is necessary, both personally and socially? That both individuals and the culture at large have to make ongoing determinations for sexual behavior? That to naively insist that any and all sexual behavior is good for everyone is as fundamentally puritanical as to insist that only highly proscribed sexuality is utterly necessary?

I would like to hear members of this movement explain their personal and collective discernment process in dealing with sexual matters. At this venture, I cannot see discernment of any sort from the sex-positive movement other than the extollation of safe-sex practices.

My call for monogamy and no porn is met with scorn and labels that really do not fit. If I want to have a life free of porn and mutually exclusive relationship, how is this threatening to sex-positives? Surely, the sex positives are not in favor of sex slavery that is the result of the flourishing porn industry? Surely, the sex-positives do not want children sexualized and women objectified and dehumanized? Surely there are some grounds for agreement and many more for discussion? Maybe my assumptions are incorrect. At present, I cannot know, as the only contacts I have with sex-positives are the times they call me conservative for my choices. I would really like a discussion with members of the sex-positive movement about a number of issues and hope that one day that is possible.

Are we doomed to 150 years of strife over this essential refusal to discuss our differences without absolutes being thrust upon us all one way or the other? To understand that choices are not always free and simple? My sense of history and the familiar gives me a sobering shudder.

In the meantime, two sex-positives have labeled me a conservative, which provided me hours of entertainment and brought back fond memories of Wally. My only regret is that Wally is no longer alive to guffaw about all this. We would have had a great discussion, probably never agreeing on much of anything other than that the sex-positive movement is as narrowly pinched as the Puritans were. After a belly laugh, we would have moved onto politics and other social issues, disagreeing and questioning each other, and then finally joining the rest of the family in great spirits afterwards.

Wally, did you get that? I’ve been called a conservative! Wally, I miss you way too much to enjoy this last laugh alone. In addition, I am not going to let these rigid fundamentalists, these new Puritans, shut down the questioning discussions that we so enjoyed. Nope, I am pointing out the narrowness and self-righteous inferences of any (no matter how attractively they might name themselves) who refuse to engage in discussions. Because when discussions are halted, a horrid extremism sets in. Wally, what I want is what we had. Affectionate, mostly respectful disagreement. Yes, we volleyed names back and forth and at the same time, the mutual admiration we held for each other was clear to all.

Is Civil Discussion About Sexual Mores Possible?

Although I am not seeing any indications that there is even a hint of an invitation to have sane public discussions with either the religious right and/or the sex-positives about sexual mores, I still hope against all reason that culturally and individually we can craft a mostly respectful means to have this conversation because so much depends upon us being able to do so.

Call me conservative; call me a pinko, although neither is accurate. So although I prefer to call myself discerning rather than conservative (or liberal, for that matter), I am not going to be deterred by labels lobbed at me from any camp, nor will I surreptitiously eradicate their use of porn. Conversely, others assume that I share their religious injunctions against porn. Neither is correct. Ditto with monogamy, which is neither a moral nor a political statement for me. It is what works for my psyche.

I have worked out what works for me, I am looking at human behavior and the humans behind the behavior. That is the place from which I would like to have the discussions. Is that at all possible?

Zeno’s Paradox and Addiction

It’s Hard to Get Enough of What Almost Works

I just finished Dr. Gabor Maté’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, the most humane, scientific and, dare I say, Jungian-without-Jungian-terminology foray into addiction I’ve read. This is high praise from someone who has read more than 200 books on addiction, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts and audiobooks, read maybe another one hundred research papers on the topic. Several times since the 2008 publication, I’ve heard the author interviewed, and made a mental note to read the book.

Yet, Dr. Maté’s earlier interviews had never addressed the damage that addicts do to those around them, which I felt deeply ambivalent about. He seemed so okay with active addicts being, well, active addicts. Yet, I remembered that I’d left an utterly unrepentant addict and was in no frame of mind to issue get-out-of-jail-free cards to addicts. Nope, I was holding addicts accountable as I was struggling to identify and process what I had been dealt. Wondering Why didn’t he just bloody stop? haunted me.

Early this summer I heard a podcast interview with Dr. Maté, coincidentally, while in a bookstore, and left the store with the book. Hungry ghosts is a Buddhist notion for intensely unconscious and instinctually driven beings, no longer fully alive due to their compulsive behavior. Ghosts may crave intensely and seek incessantly, but their ability to be nourished is long absent.

The Jungian therapist David Schoen depicted addiction as an archetype in The War of the Gods in Addiction. Anyone who has observed an addict over time probably sees the addict’s behavior very much like an archetypal possession. Attempted communion with the archetypical destroys mere humans, overwhelming the ego with too-potent energies. But we humans persist. Sometimes we so desperately want to transcend distress that no risk—psychic, spiritual or physical—seems too great. Maté calls all addiction “a flight from distress.”

While reading Maté’s patients’ evocative stories, one senses their addictions as an archetypical presence. This well-written volume weaves the reality of addiction with the vanguard of science. Peppered with the neuroscience of our brains’ dual cravings—both the opiate attachment-reward and the dopamine incentive-reward systems that dictate some of our behavior with nary a frontal cortex neuron’s involvement—Hungry Ghosts goes onto explain that our earliest experiences “set” these two systems.

An imbalance created early in life in one or both reward systems foreshadows our future cravings/compulsions and, perhaps, addictions. Early trauma, abuse, neglect and injury can affect how our brains function for the whole of our lives. Although brains can recover to surprising degrees upon cessation of active addictions (both substance and process addictions), the addicted brain is ever-susceptible to its pre-established imbalances.

Without knowing the powerful dictates of maladapted brain chemistry and its resultant cravings, Jung posited that it would take either a spiritual transformation or a strong human community to overcome addiction. Writing of one his former patients, Roland H., who had shared Jung’s adumbrations about addiction with Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous), just before Wilson became sober and started AA in this now-famous letter, Jung stated:

“…his (Roland W.’s) craving for alcohol was the low-level equivalent of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.

…you might be led to that goal (of sobriety) by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends…

…the evil principle prevailing in this world, leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by a real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society cannot resist the power of evil…you see, alcohol in Latin is spiritus and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.”

Jung also realized that both substances and processes were addictive:

“Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism.”

Maté writes of his own work addiction. And his compulsion to own classical music CDs, most of which he admits are never played once purchased. He writes plainly that he has lied to his wife about compulsive  CD purchases. On many occasions. That he has hid purchases, or parts of purchases, to manage his wife’s reactions to his latest music acquisitions. Just like an addict. He describes dulling the painful, empty place inside of him by planning and obsessing about owning various recordings and the ultimate high and release of his inner anxieties when he succumbs to the purchases. Followed by shame and deception. Oh, addiction, you are predictable.

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and addiction are interrelated. These bilateral structures of the brain are rich in opiate and dopamine receptors and have an a plenitude of connections to the limbic (emotional) system. Additionally, the OFCs receive sensory inputs from all five senses while maintaining vast connections with both the implicit and explicit memory systems. Both substance and process addicts’ OFCs do not function normally.

Why does that matter? The OFC’s purpose is to evaluate diverse stimuli and make a story for the frontal cortex. To tell a story to the frontal cortex for final decision-making. According to PET scans, the OFC has made decisions up to ten seconds before subjects report that a thought has occurred, with muscles already taking action well before the moment that the decision had been made. Although sometimes overridden by the frontal cortex, the OFC determines much of our behavior, emotional lives and decisions by acting as a hub for many portions of the brain to cohere into a story.

I am awed that Jung seemed to know that senses, feelings, imagery and story-making were connected decades before there was a shard of evidence. The OFC findings point to a wiring and chemical connection.

Addicts of all stripes report a nearly identical addictive process: a fantasy/preoccupation, intense craving, using, anxiety reduction followed by shame and increasing anxieties, which loops back to preoccupation. The short biochemical description of addiction is that all addicts are addicted to their own brain’s chemical surges. The variety of ways that addicts jolt their brains into overproducing shows a remarkable and telling creativity on the part of the addicts. So that begs the question of why one person is drawn to a work addiction and another to alcohol? Why heroin? Or sex? Or methamphetamine? Or collecting classical CDs? Or information avarice?

To address that, Maté quotes Dr. Vincent Felitti: “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.”

It was music that soothed Maté during a traumatic infancy in a Nazi-controlled Budapest ghetto. His father had been taken to a concentration camp, leaving his mother with the baby Gabor. Sometimes she spent 18 hours a day outside the home getting subsistence-level food for herself and her baby. When Gabor cried, no one came to soothe him. Both parents were utterly non-responsive to his crying. His mother left music playing while she was away obtaining food. Music was not the closeness to his mother that he really wanted, but it almost soothed him. Now, Dr. Maté finds that he will employ identical behaviors that he sees in his substance abuse patients to own yet another recording of Don Giovanni.

And his wife inquires: “Gabor, don’t you already have eight of that one already?”

Reading of Maté’s curious compulsion, it occurs to me: information almost works for me. Copious information almost makes the the world make sense. It almost bolsters me to face life courageously. Almost. My history offered knowledge-gathering as a substitute for parental bonding. Doesn’t the word almost conjure the image of hungry ghosts? Always grasping, yet ever empty?

Any particular addiction (or combination of addictions) almost works for that addict. Whatever combination each particular addict crafts is indicative of whatever it is that s/he is trying to resolve/staunch/sooth and what is available to relieve that. Again, Jung’s reach into patients’ histories for personal narrative in cultural context seems like current neuroscience.

Would a PET scan of my brain taken after a research binge reveal similarities to an alcoholic after a drinking binge? I do not know. I only know that I crave information. There I said it. If I could, I would inject sentences, thoughts and concepts into my veins to keep the information coming in. Information almost works for me.

Yes, clearly an addiction to information lives within me. Books are my first choice, followed by podcasts, audiobooks, lectures, workshops, classes, documentaries, research papers…and ad infinitum. Even though I have read piles of wonderful books, an identical anxiety looms in the last paragraphs of every one of them. An understood world is not a safe world, just a less anxious one for me. Hungry ghosts, indeed.

Like many addicts, I have been rather self-justified about my addiction, smug rather than ashamed of my imbalances. Because isn’t being uninformed just the worst of all possible fates? Isn’t not knowing like being an slack-jawed imbecile? I’ve certainly thought so. Years ago, I remember my son watching the DVD, Gladiator, and perhaps, in passing, I muttered something about conflating Roman emperors and movies with poor historical foundations. Perhaps.

“Oh stop, Mom, go argue with the History Channel.” my son protested, annoyed that I was questioning the veracity of the movie he found enthralling.

I am sure I shot something right back at him, which I am equally certain he ignored.

Now my son’s words sound uncannily like“Gabor, don’t you already have eight of that one already?” and Why didn’t he just bloody stop?

Why didn’t he just bloody stop? Because it almost works, that’s why. Was that the gem I have long been reading and listening for? Maybe, just maybe. Addiction is the repetition of what almost works, including my own.

And where does this take me, this new realization? I simply do not know and that is finally and incredibly satisfying.

Change Your Metaphor—

How tragic that so many men treat their own precious sexuality like it were a sports statistic, something to be documented on the front page of the Sports section of their favorite newspaper. To wit: keeping score, always wanting something better, keeping mental, and sometimes actual, statistics, turbo-charging it with porn, taking Viagra as if it were a chemical cast for a sprained member (or perhaps, a fix for a flat tire), etc., all competitive, linear, sports metaphors for one of the greatest mysteries of life.

Therein lies the problem. Such men are applying a one-dimensional metaphor (sports statistics) to their sexuality. Genuine sexuality cannot be flattened, captured, bought, sold, possessed, understood, measured, quantified, dominated, enhanced or diminished—none of those things, not at all. Poetry alludes to sexuality, great music dances with it, literature and art express our yearnings, our joys and frustrations, but such things are the closest we humans are allowed to “document” sexuality. The metaphor for sexuality is Mystery itself.

Genuine sexuality requires full-on masculinity. That means a fully-developed man—including his heart. A man’s penis is invited to participate by his own heart and his partners’ heart. Taking Viagra is a complete misunderstanding of where and what the dysfunction really is. Given that many men do not bring their hearts to their sexual experiences, it is especially poignant that Viagra is dangerous to the heart. These men continue having “experiences” and try to make quantity the cover for the vague emptiness they feel somewhere in the vicinity of their chests.

Change the metaphor for sexuality, guys. Forgo the Viagra and read Robert A. Johnson’s We, (and everything else that man ever wrote). Read Robert A. Masters’ work. Allow Mystery to be your sexual metaphor and the Viagra will be exposed as the marketing ploy to flatten your sexuality that it really is.

Resign, Weiner

I work with spouses of sex addicts/narcissists. The incredible stupidity that any compulsive behavior demands of its subject seems exponentially multiplied when the addiction is sex/porn. When sex addiction is compounded with narcissism (a very common co-morbidity), we get men who do exactly the things Weiner, Edwards, Scwartzenegger, and the ilk have done.

Yes, he endangered progressive politics. What he has done to his wife is just as lethal to her precious trust and affections. That matters as much in the world—lest we forget that increasing the quantity of pain felt by others makes this world horrid in the micro, which is played out in the larger world.

Weiner’s actions have created a torrent of disappointment and pain on at least several levels.

Many years ago, I would have said that a politician’s personal life did not affect their ability to be a decent public servant. Now I know that we humans‚ try as we might—cannot successfully compartmentalize ourselves. A narcissist cannot be a good politician if he is destroying trust and hearts in his inner realms.

C.G. Jung best described the effects of such attempts: a shadow counter-side that acts out atrocities upon others, usually leaving less powerful individuals (wives, children and subordinates) to take on the shame, pain, despair and rage of the offender. That matters to me now. I do not want a seemingly great representative who is causing his wife, children, employees and volunteers to take on his shadow material. That is not making this world one iota better, no matter how many “good” pieces of legislation get passed while he is engaging in personal atrocities. Such sociopaths create so much pain in their closest realms that it is not worth it in the bigger picture.

Resign, Weiner.

Dear Maria Shriver,

I am not writing to ask anything of you. I am writing to assure you that I am not going to give your narcissistic, estranged husband the attention he so badly craves. He is not getting one iota of my attention on TV, the internet or any media. None. If I hear his name or see his face, off goes the media. 
We have a lot in common, you and I: we are both from Catholic families with philandering men that have been especially cruel to women and we have both wasted way too many years with a narcissist/sex addict. NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder and sex addiction are frequently co-morbid). And both of us eventually left the unrepentant narcissist.
I respect your privacy and will not follow your process in the media unless you choose to speak on your own terms. I am pretty sure I know how betrayed, angry, disgusted, lost and hurt you are feeling. I have been there. It is traumatizing to live with a sex addict/NPD. Please take care of yourself and I will keep you and the children in my thoughts. 
Because he treated you and the children as pawns in his sick game, his narcissism is all too evident. He abused his power as an elected official and an employer. That is predatory behavior. Now he is trying to show the world he is a good guy, stating that he deserves the frenzied media attention and criticism—which is intended to appear to be protective but is a cheap political ploy for garnering attention. If his intentions were to be protective of his family, he would not have had unprotected sex with an employee. Nah, he just wants our attention. You know that and we know it also. But I am not going to give him that. I am giving him the “Delete” button. Starving a narcissist of the attention he craves (and they do not care if the attention is good or bad) is the most punishing thing I can do to him. I am asking my friends to join me in ignoring him and asking them to ask their friends to do so as well.
Friends: will you ignore the narcissistic former California governor? Will you ask your friends to ignore him as well? Politics do not matter. How one relates to others matters, and I am asking you to refuse to be a consumer of this kind of behavior. Turn it off. Tell the media that you will not listen/read/view news that props up narcissists anymore. We will no longer feed their monstrous appetite for adoration/attention.
Maria, I cannot make your heart heal, but I can do this one thing and I am so hoping that my friends and their friends and their friends’ friends will join me in ignoring narcissistic predators in the news.

Another Huckster Movie—I Am

Oh, yawn. Another movie pitching “positive thinking.” Will anyone actually watch this thing? Yes, sadly. 

I like PsychCentral’s Marla Estes’ review: Her penetrating assessment will not be read by a tenth as many people as those who will watch the movie and swallow its message. Ms. Estes’ core message is:

The director emphasizes being good and having positive feelings, the implication being that “negative” feelings are the cause of our social problems. On the contrary: in and of themselves, emotions aren’t a problem. It’s what we do (or don’t do) with them that causes trouble. If we decide that we must get rid of or overcome  “negative” emotions, they then go into our Shadow, which contains anything repressed, hidden, or unconscious in our psyches. This reflects the operation of splitting, a psychological defense mechanism.

Sadly the “just change your beliefs/thoughts and you change your feelings and your life is bright and shiny and positive” canard is still with us. This falsehood is with us even though brain science proved it dead wrong more than twelve years ago. What really happens is that we experience feelings in the limbic portion of the brain and and later wrap explanatory thoughts around the feelings in the neo-cortex. The process does not work in reverse. Thoughts do not change feelings. Thoughts are the result of feelings.

Since real change, that is, getting in and becoming familiar with ALL of our feelings is a long, long process that takes an enormous amount of courage—no huckster can make money selling it. So they make up the “quick-and-easy-positivity” for those who faintly aspire to transformation vis-a-vis forcing a few thoughts out of their mind and the denial of “negative” feelings. Ascribing to these hucksters’ simplistic nonsense is like dining at McDonalds exclusively and expecting to be well-nourished and healthy as a result. You might leave full, but not sustained or well-fed. The place for positive thinking and thought-control is very similar to eating at McDonald’s—to be used as a stop-gap measure until real sustenance can be obtained. It is not nourishing although it might prevent you from crashing in an emergency. 

Spiritualizing one’s genuine feelings is called spiritual bypassing. No one writes better on the topic than Robert A. Masters:   (see page 9 of the newsletter). Robert  A. Johnson, that beloved Jungian psychologist, calls this “addressing the problem on the wrong level.” Feelings need to be handled on the human feeling level, not bludgeoned with thoughts or wishful spirituality.

Most tragically, these aspirers never get what they paid for (yet, they are blamed by the hucksters for not being positive enough/not doing enough affirmations or whatever) and as a result, they aspirants do a lot of damage with their disowned/denied/dissociated “negative” feelings leaking out covertly all over their lives.

So here is a movie that plays right into the hucksters’ hands. This is more fundamentalist New-Agism which is as full of shame and “shoulds’ as any traditional fundamentalist system.

A creed’s conspicuous shadow absence usually indicates fundamentalism, as surely as does an identified bogey-man. So if you are being promised all shiny and new if you just (fill in the blank), run! Run far, far, away. You have ben offered “drive-through transformation” and you are being gypped. And it is critically important that you actually feel how cheated you really have been. Start there. If you get lost or mired, there are guides along the way, seek out a therapist, read Jungian psychology books, enter into group therapy,  journal, do body work, but let the truth about how you feel be the starting point.

Can’t figure out what your feelings are or how to work with them? Try Karla McLarens’ The Language of Emotions: the best singular volume on feelings/emotions and how to approach them.

If you fail to sit with your real feelings you will spend an enormous amount of energy trying to work from a place that you do not really reside in. A super-sized self-fraud if you will.

What is Empathy Anyway?

I set out to explore the avoidance or criticisms of empathy, to inquire what reasons individuals have for disdaining empathic responses. What I discovered was that everyone certainly has an opinion on the use of empathy, but the definition of empathy itself is more ethereal than fairies and rainbows. With concepts of many stripes floating amid partial definitions, I was left to ponder—what is this stuff—this empathy—that so polarizes us as a culture?

So, after consulting the OED, three neuroscientists, several Jungian therapists and many hours of research, I have come to view empathy as a continuum. Empathy is more than a sensation, an emotion, an internal state; it changes our lives and relationships ever so slightly and, occasionally, it changes our lives dramatically. Not just a point or a short segment within the continuum, but something that begins with mirror neurons and can end in utter altruism.

The Empathy Continuum has Four Criteria: (for which the acronym ACER serves as a mnemonic device)

1. Attunement: Emotional and mental attunement to and/or mirroring of another’s inner experiences as one’s own

2. Compassion, a change in the individuals’ affective state as a result of that attunement/mirroring, creating a safe relatedness between individuals.

3. Equality: the individuals become equals, peers on all levels. Power differentials disappear.

4. Response: action/discernment that evolves from compassionate peerage created by the first three conditions honoring the highest good of all individuals

Emotional and mental attunement of another’s inner experience are a changed inner feeling state and the resultant thoughts from that state, Criteria One, “getting” what another is experiencing.

Criteria Two, compassion, is the full allowing of Criteria One which creates a relationship with the “other.” Compassion creates a completely safe relationship for the individuals. This is in contrast to one who merely “dials in” to another and remains in an unrelated state. The relatedness that results from genuine compassionate relating is in sharp contrast to exploitative quasi-attuenment. From an unrelated “dialed-in” state, an exploitative person is able to pity, exploit, abuse, rape or even murder the “other.” Compassion creates a state of trust and relatedness between the individuals.

Criteria Three: What is frequently missed in definitions of empathy is that attunement and compassion creates a sense of being a peer with the other. No one individual exists as more powerful than the other. Even pity is a power differential state between individuals. Ditto with sympathy. Only empathy creates equality. One gives pity “to” another, something that can be given in only one direction. Empathy moves between individuals quite freely, moving in many directions at once. If the equal peerage is not part of the exchange, the situation is not empathy. It may be a form of lessened power differential, but unless there is a sense of genuine equality, Criteria Three has not been met. Compassion is being withheld in some manner by one or more parties.

Criteria Four is the resultant changes within the individuals and the external actions that they take thereafter. Because a safe and equal relatedness allows all individuals to discern without fear of retaliation from the other(s) also in that state, decisions and actions taken, both individually and as a group have the potential to serve the highest good of all participants. When action springs from genuine empathy, all parties are rejuvenated. There are no exhausted “givers” and over-stated “takers.”

We are human and therefore imperfectly execute this continuum. We have everything from unconscious fears to rational reasons to stop short at any point within the progression. However, if we can hold empathy as a continuum, we can better understand our inner and outer realities.