Filtering stories the Nonviolent way

There might be an annoying amount of “in my opinion”, “from
my point of view”, “from where I stand”, “as I see it” and similar disclaimers in
this text. That is because I speak only for myself, from my story. 
And I stand here:

In my belief system, the collective stories of our
surroundings drown out the stories of individuals, and that is
the main cause of mental health problems. Problems. Not illnesses. Some people, the so-called
normal ones, are able to adapt to the collective stories, and the so-called
mentally ill ones are incapable of it, for many different reasons. And “mental
illness” is in itself a powerful story of alienation, isolation, bullshit,
disempowerment and hopelessness.

At the end of my first
and only workshop in Non-Violent Communication, we were assigned one person to write a note to. The trainer drew me, and I am
translating her note by way of establishing my … credentials?

“When I hear your questions, I am inspired and
grateful, because I love new input, to be challenged intellectually and
spiritually. That is nourishment to me. Important nourishment. Thank you for

When I at the same time am aware of your enormous
warmth and see so much inner goodness and abundance, I want to disappear into
your embrace and be enveloped, because I take pleasure in your warm
motherliness, and I take pleasure in the wholeness of a person with insight,
intellect, soul and emotional depth.”

These lovely words, and her
validation of my need to both think and feel, mean a lot to me. And I did not
renew my NVC membership because I could not find room in that community for my
need to think and question, no room for the need of my warm, motherly side to protect the vulnerable – in
myself and in others.

After I came home from
the workshop, during a correspondence on needs with a NVC member, I wrote:

I follow you in this, and I take it a bit further,
because I differentiate between having unmet needs and being harmed.

When we are adults, this difference is very clear: I
have a need to walk safely outdoors at night. If someone rapes or stabs me,
this need for safety is obviously not met, and in addition someone has harmed

The harm that adults do to children is taboo (have you
Alice Miller?)

I dream of a diagnostic system that sees the
late term effects of childhood harm, and of a mental health system that has
efficient tools for solving problems caused by this kind of harm. And I use the
word ‘solve’ instead of ‘heal’ because, in my opinion, the process requires both
thought and action – with the help of
relevant tools.

The reply surprised me:

I sense a deep and prolonged pain in what you have

And I would like to try to connect with it and you by offering feelings and unmet
needs you might have. Do you think that
could be helpful?

Thank you for mentioning Alice Miller, the hurt of
childhood can be huge and painful. And I think we can solve it by seeing that
those who exposed us to pain had needs that they tried to meet in ways that
became painful to others.

I thanked her for her
offer and said that I had been connected with my pain for many years, as can be seen in blog posts like
“To a stalker priest”. And I had seen the needs of people who harmed me even as a child. She did not believe me, and things got so tangly that we never did find common ground. 

As I see it, this NVC member’s reaction is a result of a healing process that the founder of
Nonviolent Communication describes in this article:
From “Speak Peace in a World of Conflict”
by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D
Let’s see if can I present this  the NVC way, to Marshall Rosenberg and other teachers of Nonviolent Communication:

1: WHEN I READ Marshall Rosenberg’s article …

2: I FEEL angry …

3: BECAUSE I AM NEEDING to protect the vulnerable and powerless wounded-child-within myself and other adults. 

4: AND I WOULD LIKE YOU TO take off your giraffe ears and 1) read “The child who refuses to die” with open, human mind and heart, and 2) consider my critique with open, human mind and heart. Are you willing to to look for grains of truth in what I have written, instead of judging if it is right or wrong? I do mean “grain” literally, like one grain of sand on a beach, and I ask you to tell me if you find any.  


What NVC calls healing seems to create an automatic switch that derails anger and accusation into a side track of unmet needs. 

This can probably be constructive in a mediation situation where there is locked and festering hate between more or less equally strong individuals or groups. 

And in his article Rosenberg is using the technique on a person who is carrying deep wounds that her father dealt her when she was a child. 

From my point of view, he has overlooked three crucial  factors in that situation:

  • The extreme disparity between an all-powerful adult and a totally powerless child.
  • The default defenses of the child-in-the-adult who has been harmed. Some people have anger and aggression as a default defense, and Marshall Rosenberg’s method might help them.[1] My default defense as a child was empathy and compassion. Trying to heal me the NVC way would be like giving speed to a junkie. 
  • The need of adults with a wounded-child-within for constructive tools that help them protect and liberate this child. 

“Those who cannot remember the past 
are condemned to repeat it.”
– Santayana

“Forgiving the Past
by Focusing on the Present.”

– Marshall Rosenberg
If I were to describe NVC in one word, it would be “one-legged”. I often see one thought that I agree with, and need another for balance. As in Rosenberg’s title: I need to focus on the present AND remember and understand the past so that I do not repeat it. 

Forgiving is not
relevant in this context. 
As I see it, forgiveness-pushing is caused by society’s need to protect the powerful from accusations of the powerless.

In my opinion, “forgive”, like “trust”, is not something I can choose to do, forgiveness and trust are a result of the actions of people who deserve forgiveness and trust. The options I have is to look past my assumptions at actual actions … or not.

This I learned before I was six years old, from the example of Soldier and his friendsWW2 veterans who befriended my family.  

I refuse to be nicer than Jesus. On the cross he did not say “I forgive you”
to his tormentors.
  He did not see that they had unmet needs. He asked his father to forgive them, “for they know not what they do”. 

I am no
longer religious, and there is no everlasting torment in my belief system, so my version is: “I know that they did
what they did because they have been harmed. AND they did what they did and own what they did, just
as I do what I do and own what I do.”

I have kept the view of
forgiveness that Catholic nuns taught me in the 50s. Therefore, forgiving
someone is only relevant when they …

  • · Realize what they have done
  • · Take responsibility for it
  • · Resolve not to do it again
  • · And show what they are doing to prevent repetition

Back to Marshall

Very often, a lot
of healing work goes on in our trainings. Realize first of all that this takes
place in front of as many as eighty or ninety people, so you might say there
are many witnesses to the efficacy of our approach.

I have two

“Healing” – what is
that? Before I can see what happens as healing, I would need to know
the entity’s situation after one year, five years, ten years. And that  goes for NVC, LP, CBT, and the host of other quickfixes that are available. 

The person who offered to connect with my pain had been healed the NVC way, and was imprisoned, as I see it, in the collective NVC story of unmet needs. 

So … 90 witnesses to the efficacy of what? 

regularly tell me they get more out of thirty or forty minutes of what I’ve
done than they received from six or seven years of traditional psychotherapy.

This I can readily believe,
as “traditional psychotherapy” seems to be firmly rooted in myths and
mystifications that deny an unending chain of harm that has been passed on since the dawn of humanity … from adults to children who then become adults who pass it on to new children. 

Individuals can liberate themselves from this chain, and not pass on harm to the next generation, but only when they know that the chain is there. [2]

In my workshops,
we talk very little about what happened in the past. I’ve found that talking
about what happened in the past not only doesn’t help healing; it often
perpetuates and increases pain. This goes very much against what I was taught
in my training in psychoanalysis.

What kind of psychoanalysis?
What methods did Rosenberg learn and use on his patients?

Talking about things that
fit into the collective story that the therapist has learned can perpetuate and increase pain. Here I agree with Marshall

Getting stuck in the past is just as one-legged as only focusing on the present, and fear of pain seems to be a driving force in many different kinds of mental help and healing. 

Therapists and other
helpers can only help others as far as they have helped themselves, so 
I suggest that anyone who is in pain and needs help asks Oriah’s question: 

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

Just like physical pain, mental pain is a beacon that can show us where the problems are. Here is my approach to liberation from childhood harm, an approach with four different modes: TELLING, FEELING, THINKING and NEEDING: 

From where I stand, being with pain is part of the liberation process, and much of “traditional
psychotherapy” consists of forcing, manipulating or lovingly nudging people from
one mode to another to fill the therapists’ unconscious need to hide or fade or fix pain in areas where
they have not helped themselves.

That is also what I see Marshall Rosenberg doing in this article, within the NVC story of unmet needs. 

Certainly our
current pain is stimulated by the past, and we don’t deny how the past is
affecting the present.

He does not deny that the past is affecting the present, but stating that pain is “stimulated” by the past, is IMO a denial of how the past is affecting the present. 

Here is this huge word “heal” again. 

But I’ve learned over the years that you heal by talking about what’s going on in the moment, in the now.

From my POV, the now is one leg, the past is another, and I need both.

And who is “you”? I, for
one, have not healed by talking about the moment. I am in a constant process of liberating myself from collective stories by telling, feeling, thinking and becoming aware of what I need – and I hope to continue doing so as long as I live.

Marshall Rosenberg writes:

How do I do this?
In workshops, I often play the role of the person who stimulated 
most of the
other person’s pain in the past. Not infrequently this is a parent. I might be
playing the role of a father who beat or sexually molested this person as a

At the word “stimulate” in connection with childhood harm, I call bullshit: “A statement presented as truth in order to strengthen a story”. 

I accept this as part of the collective NVC story, and state that it is not a universal truth, and it does not belong in my personal story.

Has Marshall Rosenberg
ever been with a child who says “Daddy sticks his peepee in my bottom”? I was
looking at a photo album with one, and we came to a picture of the child at 18
months, wrapped in a towel, recently recovered from hard crying, and the child suddenly realized something: “That’s
when it started. When he was changing my diapers.”  

Would Rosenberg,
in a situation like this, begin to play the role of the person who “stimulated”
pain by raping a baby anally? [3]

Saying that adults
“stimulate” pain is a very strong filter, a denial of what actually happened.
People who beat children, who use children sexually, who mentally torture children
… those people do not stimulate pain, they cause the pain of the children. 

And people who harm others own their actions.

That is one leg.

What they do does not
mean that they are beaters, rapists, torturers. They are people, fellow human beings who have themselves been harmed. 

That is the other leg.

I need both legs to
liberate myself from the past.

So now I’m
sitting with this person who’s been in pain for years, and I play the role of
the person who is the stimulus for the pain as though that individual knows
Nonviolent Communication. I begin with empathy and say, “What’s still alive in
you as a result of what I have done?”

See, we’re not
going into the past and talking about what I did, but about what’s alive in you
now that’s still there from what happened in the past.

Here I found an explanation of “alive”: “To say clearly what’s alive in us at any given moment we have to be clear about what we feel and what we need.” Could someone please tell me why Rosenberg doesn’t just ask “What do you feel and what do you need as a result of what I-roleplaying-your-father have done?” 

And I do not understand the “still there from what happened in the past”. Explanations would be very welcome. 

The translator in me does get a whiff of bullshit whenever something that can be stated simply and transparently is jargonized, but I’ll let that lie. 

Often the person
doesn’t know NVC, so they don’t know how to tell me what’s alive in them except
through diagnosis: “How could you do it? You know, you were cruel. How could a
father beat a child that way?”

I call bullshit again. In no way can I identify
those three sentences as “diagnosis”. 
I see two questions and one accusation:

How could you do it?

You know, you were cruel.

How could a father beat a child that way?”

As I see it, children
need to accuse powerful people who have harmed them, and they need answers to their questions. 

In NVC we know
that all these diagnoses are just tragic expressions of what a person is
feeling and needing at this moment.

I am outside the collective NVC story, and I
do not know this. I see Marshall Rosenberg nudging someone out of their individual story: 

Role-playing the
father, I empathically connect with her pain, even if she isn’t expressing it
in a very clear way.

My inner klaxons and warning flags go berserk when Marshall Rosenberg, role-playing the father, imagines
that he connects with her pain.

Marshall Rosenberg states elsewhere that “Intellectual understanding blocks empathy”. I do not agree. I have learned through painful experience that I need to reality check what I feel before I believe it is empathy and act on it. So to me, feeling is one leg of empathy, thinking is the other.  

Without intellectual understanding, there is the illusion that “This is Truth because I feel it”, and I call that “mirror empathy” – responding to a reflection of our own emotions. The word “projection” is so loaded that I prefer not to use it. Is Rosenberg in mirror-empathy mode? He knows nothing about the woman, nothing about the person who harmed her, and yet he knows without intellectual understanding that he is connecting with her pain and healing her. In front of 90 spectators.

I’ve been googling, and “been fully understood” and “receive understanding” seems to mean “they feel that I have understood them”. I would greatly appreciate it if someone explains why this has been jargonized, and I ask to be corrected if I have misunderstood it in this context: 

I continue until
they have been fully understood about what’s alive in them now that’s still so

And then when
they have received all the understanding they need, I mourn – still in the role
of the father. Not apologize, but mourn.
I call bullshit. A huge, stinking pile of bullshit! 

The story Marshall
Rosenberg has told so far, looks to me like a story of avoidance of

As I see it, children
whom adults have harmed need to hear this:

“I have harmed you. I cannot ask your forgiveness – that would be to cheapen your hurts and my responsibility for them. I can only say that I see you. I feel your pain. I see the scars you have kept hidden for such a long time. I see what I have done, and I take the responsibility for it, and when I do that, I can see your strength and your courage.” (From  “The child who refuses to die”)

And if the people who
harmed cannot or will not say this, they need to hear it from others:

“They did it. They harmed you. I see you. I feel your pain. I see the scars you have kept hidden for such a long time. I see what they have done, and I give them the responsibility for it, and when I do that, I can see your strength and your courage.”

Marshall Rosenberg avoids apology, and in this I agree with him.

“Apology” is deeply rooted in poisonous pedagogy, what David Gerrold calls “The law firm of Blame, Shame, Burden and Guilt”

NVC shows us a
big difference between mourning and apology. Apology is basically part of our
violent language. It implies wrongness — that you should be blamed, that you
should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did. And when
you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently
penitent, you can be forgiven. Sorry is part of that game, you see. If you hate
yourself enough, you can be forgiven.

Instead of apology, Rosenberg has chosen “mourning”. And that would be appropriate if Rosenberg was addressing someone who has harmed a child,  if responsibility was added later. In this role-playing he is addressing a wounded child, role-playing the one who gave her the wounds.

I choose “responsibility”. From where I stand, rejecting the apology game without responsibility leads to the “Let’s pretend it never really happened” game, which is just as harmful. 

To me, sorting responsibility is an important tool for liberation from the past – seeing who owns what. 

Another tool is “allow”: To respectfully and lovingly allow the vulnerable in us to connect with us, in safe surroundings, as described in my “story of shame”. And I do not see how that can be done without responsibility. 

In what he considers a healing role-playing with a person in pain, Rosenberg now seems to be speaking directly to one who has harmed a child: 

Now, in contrast, what is really healing for people is not that game where we agree that we’re terrible, but rather going inside yourself and seeing what need of yours was not met by the behavior.

If this had been Marshall Rosenberg’s personal story, I could accept and respect it. As it is the base of NVC healing, and people get paid for teaching it, I call bullshit.

There are some grains of truth in the NVC unmet needs thing. And something very important is missing in Rosenberg’s reasoning: 

We are who we are, and we do what we do.

We are human beings with an inalienable right to dignity. And there is no dignity in being treated like children who need to be protected from the consequences of our actions. We do not honour people by excusing them, we honour them by giving them what they do, be it constructive or destructive.

I have written more about this in Honouring my strong and broken mother”.

And as I see it, we can
only truly own the harm we do to ourselves and to others when we have given back to the powerful
what they did to us when we were powerless. 
[4]  That has absolutely nothing to do
with apology or agreeing that anyone is horrible. 

Moralistic judgments are irrelevant, actions and responsibility are important: 

What did X do?
What did I do? 
What does X own?
What do I own?”

And when you are in touch with that, you feel a different kind of suffering. You feel a natural suffering, a kind of suffering that leads to learning and healing, not to hatred of oneself, not to guilt.

I see some grains of truth here in the NVC context of unmet needs, and I can use similar sentences to describe the pain of giving and taking responsibility for actions, which I see as a part of the process of liberation. 

So, in the role
of the father, having empathized with my daughter, I then mourn. I might say
something like, “I feel terribly sad to see that my way of handling my pain at
the time could result stimulate so much pain for you. And my needs were not met
by that. My needs were just the opposite, to contribute to your well-being.”

Will someone please show me how Marshall Rosenberg-as-the-father has empathized with his daughter? I can only see Marshall Rosenberg-the-NVC-teacher fading and fixing the guilt and self-hatred of a person who has harmed a child. With grains of truth, by all means, but void of responsibility.

When responsibility is taken from adults who have harmed children, it imprisons their victims in the Blame, Shame, Burden and Guilt of their childhood. 

In Marshall Rosenberg’s description I see a story that manipulates a child who has been harmed into feeling sorry for the person who harmed her. Something many children are much too good at doing anyway. 

I do not know if Rosenberg is repeating his own past in this reenactment, but I will assert that he shows a very clear avoidance of responsibility.

How can you ask for understanding when you won’t say what you did?
     – Andy Conner, “Remanded in Custody” 

From my point of view, Rosenberg is describing an act of violence: An invasion of a woman’s individual story, dignity and integrity.  

After the
mourning, the next step is for the father to explain to the daughter what was
alive in him when he did those horrible things in the past. We do go into the
past at this point, not to talk about what happened but to help the daughter
see what was alive in the father at the time he did this.

In some cases the
father might sound like this: “I was in such pain in so many parts of my life —
my work wasn’t going well, I was feeling like a failure. So when I would see
you and your brother screaming, I didn’t know what else to do to handle my pain
except in the brutal way that I did.”

I see much of traditional psychotherapy as a labyrinth of “They did it because …”. And “because” is only an explanation, it does not excuse or undo what  has been done. What Rosenberg describes looks to me like a variation of the same labyrinth: “I did it because …”

Of course persons who have grievously harmed others have a right to tell their story, and I wish for all of them that they meet someone who can understand them and be with them in their stories and their pain “without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it” – and also allow them the dignity of responsibility. 

And persons who have harmed have absolutely no right to tell these stories to their victims without owning what they have done! And not even then if the victims don’t want to hear it!

And no one, ever, has a right to tell a powerless victim their subjective version of an all-powerful perpetrator’s story with no mention of responsibility, as Rosenberg does!

So … why does a room full of people see “much healing”?

When the father
can honestly express what was alive in him, and the daughter can empathize with
that, and can see that, it’s amazing how much healing can take place. What’s
surprising for some people is that all of this can happen in an hour — and in
front a room full of people.

I think it is because of
the, albeit one-legged, insights that Marshall Rosenberg imparts during this process: the unmet needs, his avoidance of apology and perpetrator blame, shame, burden and guilt. His conviction, which I
share, that people who harm children are not evil, even if he and I see the “why”

And from what I saw in
the workshop, NVC methods can help people get in touch with frozen emotions and vulnerability that has been blocked by anger, fear and shame …
that can also be seen as healing. 

And why do I see an act of violence?

Rosenberg communicates many constructive thoughts in this article, I do realize that, even if there is not room for all of me in NVC. And, as I see it, these thoughts and methods belong in mediation between equals.

In a context of liberation from childhood harm, these thoughts belong in a Power Point presentation, in my opinion, and certainly
not as one-on-one-roleplaying in front of an audience, where a powerless childhood victim of harm is manipulated into empathizing with the all-powerful person who harmed.

And I cannot ever sanction the winkling out of emotion and vulnerability in front of an audience! I have met too many people who have been doubly wounded by methods like this. 

The essence of trauma is powerlessness + bullshit + isolation, and from my POV the bullshitting of a powerless, traumatized child-in-an-adult who is isolated in front of an audience is an act of retraumatization, no matter how excellent the intentions behind these actions are. 

Rosenberg, Ph.D. is the author of the internationally acclaimed Nonviolent
Communication: A Language of Life, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, and
several other books and booklets. 

If you know that you have been healed in the way Rosenberg describes here, I accept that as your story. This healing method might be constructive for some people, even for many. But not for all. And I have written this for people like me, who do not fit into the collective story of NVC.

Many years ago, I was at a summer camp arranged by a Support Centre Against Incest. The collective story was similar to the one in the introduction, and the children who were there knew that story. One day they spontaneously arranged a parade – marching around, banging cans and pots and shouting rhythmically:


Yelling and can-banging is also a part of the healing process … which I prefer to see as liberation, in this case from the prison of Blame, Shame, Burden and Guilt. 

I hope these children got the help they needed, and I fear that some of them did not, because similar doubts and criticisms to those I have mentioned here can be expressed about many different kinds of help, both within the health system and in the jungle of alternative teachings. 

“Medical model of mental illness”, anyone? Or 
“The Work” by Byron Katie, where people heal by transforming “he raped me” into “I raped him”?

I’m not going there now. But I welcome feedback on what I have written. Disagreement, agreement, the pointing out of … points … that I have missed, all will be accepted with open mind and heart. 

I promise to look for grains of truth in everything, and I leave you with Theodore Sturgeon’s greeting to the vulnerable in us, from a “Saucer of loneliness”:

               There is in certain living souls
               a quality of loneliness unspeakable,
               so great it must be shared
               as company is shared by lesser

               Such a loneliness is mine; so know
by this

               that in immensity there is one
lonelier than you.

                (…) And even to loneliness there
is an end,

               for those who are lonely enough,
long enough.

I share Sturgeon’s view on this, and have experienced many good meetings based on the sharing of loneliness unspeakable

I do not share the word “lesser,” though. I prefer “different”. Some people have a basic need to connect with this loneliness, others do not. And if you do not, that’s OK with me. 

“I rejoice in our differences.” And I wish you well.

[1] But I am skeptical, again because of the disparity in power. Anger and hate are defenses, and IMO it is best to let them   fade naturally because they are no longer needed. (I’ll be writing more about this in a later post on Voice Dialogue) In his role-playing, Rosenberg is mostly addressing an adult who has harmed children, and it seems to me that his approach is best suited to people like this. With the added element of responsibility. 

[2] I have no idea if this is true or not. It is a story that enables me to see the harm I and others do and judge actions, not persons, without hate. So it works for me.

[3]  The child’s father was acquitted by a jury that found it easier to believe that “man-hating feminists” like me had brainwashed the child into telling lies about a loving father. I’m not going into the false memories discussion here – if you want to bring it up, please do so in the comments. My default attitude is to first accept what people say as their stories. If fact-checking is necessary,  that can be done later.
     Something strange happened during this trial: Once, when the father walked past me outside the courtroom with his father, he hissed: “Away from me, Satan!” A psychologist who overheard this said that he might feel tempted to tell me his story because I was one of the few there who could see what he had done and not judge him because I could also see what had been done to him.

[4] And I do not believe in the healing power of confrontation. To me, “giving back” is first something to be done privately, to liberate the brainwashed and shameful and guilt-laden parts of us. Confrontation is for later, if we want and need it.  

Relevant links: 

A Comparison of Clean Talk and Nonviolent Communication (NVC)  

I am going to send a link to NVC and ask for feedback, but I want to finish two background stories first. One is done: 

“THERE IS NO DARK SIDE, THERE IS ONLY FEAR OF THE DARK”, about how we do not live in the Star Wars universe, and there is no dark side that is ready to pounce and transform us into Darth Vader.

“NORMLIGHT AND THE LIGHT IN THE DARK”, about how we are blinded by searchlights and streetlights, and can only see the horrible and wonderful diversity of life when we step away from them.

ON NORMLIGHT …” is written. But I haven’t gotten around to “THE LIGHT IN THE DARK” yet


First posted in December 2011
Slightly rewritten

I can’t do grateful. 

“Grateful” seems to describe a condition – and I have no idea how to “be” grateful, positive or normal or whatever. I don’t even know if it’s possible. The only thing I can “be” is me. Yet I can say “thank you” very easily, as that is an action.

Thank you for understanding when I say things like this … and for asking when you didn’t understand. I am heavily scarred from earlier experiences, when professional helpers heard “symptoms” instead of asking me to clarify what I said, so this has been extremely important to me.

I have told you that I am writing this, so you know who you are, and this is for you. It is also for all the other helpers in the world who genuinely help people in non-physical distress … I hope that you know who you are, every single one of you; the people who are genuinely helped certainly do.

The importance of being with

I wish it were possible to teach “helping that helps” theoretically … and I think it is not something we can learn from the eyebrows up.

Neither is it necessarily something we can do … we can often help our fellow humans more by just being with them. The unspoken, and maybe even unthought, question of many who need help, is this:

You showed me that you can. And that was an indescribable relief after years of so-called mental health care where pain was wrong or crazy or inappropriate or faded or mystified or invisible or taboo or just plain unacceptable.

Freedom is the opportunity
to take responsibility for our lives

After all the years of harmful help, I have learned another important question that a customer of help should ask:

 “Is it possible to take responsibility for my life within the helper’s cognitive frames?”

Too often there will be direct or indirect demands for adaptation, subservience and obedience instead: “In order to heal/learn to live with your disorder you have to …” 

Thank you for having room for responsibility in your space and within your frames.


How do you help? Not with compassion or sympathy, which can “tear down a banner bravely borne”. 

Not only with empathy, which can be extremely harmful if it comes from the wrong place within the empathizer, as in: “I feel this, therefore it is the truth about you.”

And certainly not only with expertise, which, like empathy, can be extremely harmful if it comes from the wrong place within the helper.

You help with support. The best description I’ve seen was this, by Irene Claremont de Castillejo:

The first step is to disentangle ourselves and our personal wishes from the problem and, having done so, become as conscious as possible of where we ourselves stand. Then we may provide a fixed point of reference, a post as it were stuck firmly into the sand around which a rope can be thrown from the little barques being tossed helplessly by waves of emotion. If several friends can offer firm posts, though the posts may stand for different points of view, they may yet provide some strength and stability which will help the storm tossed people to find their own solution. Not our solution, theirs.

I don’t have the words to describe my relief at finally having firm support from someone within the health system. At finally being encouraged to take the time I needed and clear the space I needed to find my own solutions. Mine. Not someone else’s.

And in writing this slowly through a mist of tears, I realize that I am not done with grieving over years of harmful mental help. But that is another story.

A quality of loneliness

Thank you for not trying to squeeze me into a “positive” not-a-victim cage. Thank you for supporting me in the choice I had made so many years ago: to see what had happened to me, heal the wounds and reach out to others who, like me, have been “The Loneliest One”:

There is in certain living souls

A quality of loneliness unspeakable,

So great it must be shared
As company is shared by lesser beings.
Such a loneliness is mine; so know by this
That in immensity
There is one lonelier than you.

And even to loneliness, there is an end. 

For those who are lonely enough, long enough.

Thank you for propelling me into blogging NOW … Instead of in 3-4 years’ time, “when I am ready”, as I had planned. 


Thank you for integrity. I’ve never found a good description of integrity as I see it, so I made one in 1987:

Integrity is our mental skin.
When we are good at suppressing integrity damage,
our tattered skin is replaced with a mental armour.
Behind this armour we do not notice 
if our integrity is being harmed,
and we do not notice if we harm the integrity of others.

There is a huge difference between a helper with a whole skin and a helper who is encased in armour. When we (and yes, I do include myself) are hiding behind armour, we have no realistic concept of integrity … or borders. And we have a regrettable tendency to assume that we are objective when we let our reptile brain do the thinking.

A fixed point

Thank you for being there for me in your own integrity, firmly rooted in your own skin, standing in your own shoes and in your own life. By being there in this way, you were an anchor for me.

A fixed point. When I badly needed one. 

And this gave me a place to stand in my own life. Like Archimedes, I needed a fixed point … not to move the world … But to move myself out of the morass of confusion, stress and exhaustion I had been stuck in so long, and with your support I managed to do so.

Thank you for not trying to fix me by pushing bullshit which would have shoved me back into the morass.

Thank you for letting me get on with the detangling that I had begun many years ago, because you could see that it worked … and thank you for having an open mind about what I was thinking and doing.

Thank you for saying that I had “an interesting skewed way of looking at things”, instead of dismissing what I said as fantasies, emotions and psychiatric symptoms.

Thank you for being a sounding board that helped me regain the belief that I could think – a belief that I had lost through years of legal and correct and harmful mental health care.

This you accomplished not by doing anything, just by listening and responding, just by being you – in your skin, in your life … being there for me as a separate entity.

Keep it real

Because you were honest with yourself, within your skin and within your life ( which I still know nothing about, and that’s completely ok with me,) you could give me honest feedback, often nonverbal, on what I said.

I’ve been trying to understand the mechanisms of this, and the closest I’ve come is Ali Gs ubiquitous and untranslatable “Keep it real”.

When I kept it real, what I said resonated with you, when you were centred and in your own skin.

When I got tangled, you did not have to say anything – what I said just klonked to the ground because you did not have receptors for it.

A complicating factor here is that true and real and important information can also klonk to the ground … when said to a helper in reptile brain mode who is encased in armour and has no receptors for “real”.

My heart aches for everyone who has been misled into thinking they were safe in a psychotherapeutic setting – and who were let down by specialists in armour who had no receptors for integrity damage.

I have been one of them, and my heart aches for me, too, and for the years of thinking that societal wounds were my private defect … proof that there was something wrong with me.

Thank you for accepting the term societal wounds, and my reasons for using this term.

Thank you for giving me in 2010 what I asked for in 1988: Support in the process of taking responsibility for my own life.

What I got in 1988 is another story entirely, the short version is that I allowed my wings to grow and had started to fly when they were plucked off because there was no room for wings and flying within psychiatric realities about “incest victims”.

Thank you for not using imagery like this to prove that I’m crazy.

Those who demand trust 

are not trustworthy
Thank you for never demanding or expecting trust from me, and for giving me clear and verifiable reasons to trust you instead … mainly by having clear borders yourself and respecting my borders.

In a toxic family there are no clear borders.

I have also experienced this lack in mental health care: How does one protect integrity and borders when it is correct and legal to treat disagreement and border protection as psychiatric symptoms?

Thank you for recognising standpoints like this.

The whole elephant

Thank you for knowing that there is a whole elephant, even if you do not see all of it. I have seen your confusion when you saw only an ear or a leg, and your face showed the mental shift when you chose to know that this is not the whole of the thing.

And that brings me to something very important …

Thank you for asking good questions. 

There is a huge difference between constructive and destructive questions, as can be seen in many descriptions of harmful help.

And that is another story, to be told at another time, so I won’t go into details here, except to say this, categorically: All questions that start with “why” are destructive when we are with pain.

I don’t think there is any way of defining helpful or harmful questions, except by looking at where the questions come from within ourselves. Do they come from our integrity, our mental skin, or from armour that we have developed to replace our mental skin?

Guts and logic

Finally, and certainly not least, I want to thank you for having the guts to assess situations that I have described. “This is rude.” “This is a violation of your integrity.” 

Thank you for guts and logic. For being able to think independently instead of blindly following psychiatric expertise. Thank you for offering to guard my back, offering to be an objective witness for me in a specific situation, and for saying that if I need someone to assert that I have insight, you will do so.

Fear of vulnerability

Writing this last paragraph was painful, and is painful to reread. It has opened the door to a reservoir of anguish that I thought was emptied.

It has also triggered my old backache, which shows that I need to move – once again – through fear of helplessness and vulnerability to flashbacks of being a child and knowing that no one is protecting me, and there is nothing I can do to protect myself. 

Knowing that protecting myself is baaaaad, because the Powers That Be That Harm Me know that THEY are protecting me … and that I have no need for protection from THEM.

Thank you for making it possible for me to reopen this door, to accept and respect and learn from the tears and backache yet again, and to accept that I need to continue to explore what I had hidden so well from myself so many years ago.

I know that I can go in there alone now, and I know that I can handle whatever I find there, because this is my stuff, and I have years of experience in connecting with my inner child.

I also know that this would not have been possible without the support you gave me … I needed to detangle years of harmful mental health care before I could get back to where I wrote this in 1986.


Whenever I come here in editing this, I am blinded by tears. It has been excruciatingly difficult to write this, and I finally realize why: For every thank you, lies years of harmful help. And that brings me to a conclusion:

In 1988 I gave myself the right to be vulnerable with dignity, to be helpless and wretched with dignity. Thank you for recognising and respecting this right … It was what I needed to get on with my healing process.
    As I see it, we can only heal our non-physical wounds when we have this right … and the only people who can recognize and respect this right, seem to be people who have given it to themselves.


Reposting this, as the original post is acting weirdly.

Maybe “Operation Beautiful” can be seen as a decrapping process? I have a feeling that many of us see crap when we look at ourselves in the mirror – and have been brainwashed into thinking it belongs to us.

Or we spend our lives shying away from mirrors in fear of only seeing crap.

zingerella wrote an article on Livejournal some time ago that I have found very useful. I’m copying it here, with her permission, as it fits so well in with the main theme of this blog. Here it is, in Zingerella’s own brilliant words:


A long, long time ago, a friend took me to Alateen. She and I had bonded, in part, over the substance-abuse problems in our respective families, and she’d found a lot of good in the program. It didn’t take with me, long term, but it didn’t do me any harm, and some of the people I met there had some useful things to say, from their experience interacting with their own messed-up families.

The Wall of Shit theory is perhaps the most useful thing I took away from Alateen, and I don’t think it’s an official part of the program. Here’s how it goes:

Throughout life, everyone has a certain amount of crap hurled at them. Some people get more crap, some people get less crap. Some people, the lucky ones, also get issued shovels, and spend their formative years being shown how to garden and constructing gardens in their hearts. So they’re well equipped for dealing with the crap life throws at them. Sometimes it builds up, but they have their shovels, and use them and the crap to fertilize their gardens, and it’s more or less okay.

Other people get only crap. They get crap from a very young age, and there’s nobody to show them how to deal with it, because the people in their lives are dealing with their own crap, and throwing crap all over the place. So it builds up, in layers around their heart. After years and years of crap, their hearts, which may be beautiful, are pretty much surrounded in crap. Anything they try to send out is either trapped behind the wall of crap, or if it manages to squeeze out, it emerges covered in crap, sometimes to such an extent that it’s impossible to recognize as anything that might ever have been beautiful. The same thing happens to anything that other people try to send in: if it gets in at all, it’s covered in crap, and the person wonders why the world is throwing more crap at them. Because the crap is so thick, nobody can tunnel through from the outside, to find the beautiful heart. People get lost, and the crap sticks to them, and if they emerge at all, they too are covered in crap.

You can’t really blame people for not wanting to be covered in other people’s shit.

Sometimes, if the crapped-upon person can learn to recognize the crap, he or she can begin to reach through it, or learn to look for the openings. If a person’s spent their entire life surrounded by crap, however, they don’t always know to look for anything else—how should they? So you have people on both sides throwing love and kindness and whatever at a wall of crap, and people on either sides of the wall wondering why the people who profess to love them are giving them only crap to deal with.

Throwing more love at the wall of crap often doesn’t do anything, because the person inside all the crap simply can’t receive love that isn’t covered in crap.

There may be one or two little tunnels through the crap, and something may get through these, but, of course, they’re hard to find, and not entirely stable, and surrounded by still more crap. So even if you find a way through the crap, for some love to get through, it’s not going to be easy or pleasant to get it to the person inside the wall of crap.

The person who explained the Wall of Shit theory couldn’t tell me what to do about other people’s crap. He didn’t know if one could do much. Over time, I’ve learned that, when it comes to other people’s crap, my choices are pretty limited. Since the CUP (crapped-upon person) can’t see their own crap, and doesn’t know that they’re throwing crap at me, I can merely decide how much crap I’m willing to endure for the sake of whatever beauty I can see shining through the crap. I can shovel away from the outside, but there’s never really any way of knowing what’s inside the crap, or if I’m even digging in the correct direction. If I can find the tunnels, I might be able to get a shovel to the person inside, but after that, it’s up to them to dig their way out.

They have to dig their way out, or tell me how to find the tunnels, and accept that once I get to them, I may not smell like roses.

See, I knew, when I was a teen, that my dad really cared about us, and really tried to love us. But his love, even when he wasn’t drinking, was sometimes kind of crappy. And I would try to love him, and it would feel like nothing I did was right, like he wasn’t seeing me. Understanding that his own rather messed up childhood, his drinking, and his dysfunctional marriage with my mom had given him way more crap than he could ever hope to shovel through meant that I wasn’t the one sending bad love.

Since my Alateen days, my dad and I have learned to interact a bit better. I’ve learned to keep a cloth on hand, for wiping crap off of things, and not to expect him to send me bright, shiny love. If he lectures me about my professional life, it’s not because he thinks I’m utterly incompetent—he’s trying to help me, and I don’t have to listen to all his advice. He’s getting better at finding paths through the crap, too, and I think he’s not feeling completely defeated all the time, the way he did with my mom. And being grown up means that I just don’t have to deal with his crap all the time, anymore. I can walk away, and say “This crap is not my crap.”

I’ve walked away from other CUPs—people who were so far behind their walls of crap that I couldn’t hope to find them. People whose walls of pain and anger and other emotional ordure meant that no matter how much I wanted to love them, I could send them only things covered in crap, and they could respond only with more pain that I would send them crap. I mean who needs more crap? Their crap, however, is not my crap.

Right now, nobody in my life seems to be throwing crap at me. So it’s easy to pitch in and help the people I love shovel the crap that comes their way, if they need it, and spread it around to see what grows.

Heroes: Harold A Maio

We no longer talk about ‘the’ Jews. So why do we talk about ‘the’ mentally ill?

Here is an excerpt from  Harold A Maio’s article:

“English is not a complicated language. The rules for prejudice are rigid and clear, regularly practised against a “this” or a “that”, which changes with time. The techniques do not change; the target does.

“The” Jews. One has no difficulty pinpointing where that metaphor rose, or fell to its lowest. The industrialised murder of “the” Jews is taught in about every culture, we are aware of the effect of reducing a group to a “the”, and how far someone can take it. I address the form not the incidence.

Presently popular worldwide is “the” mentally ill, a replica of “the” Jews. It is seldom recognised. In 2008 all nine US supreme court justices agreed “the” mentally ill existed. I shuddered; the US went silent. The entire country went dark and did not notice. An alley expression had reached the height of the US supreme court and journalism fell silent, neither seeing it, nor wanting to. Not just in the US, but worldwide. It is one of the prejudices I track worldwide on the net. I respond to each example.”

"A Poet’s Advice to Students" and more

I’ve been thinking a lot about E.E. Cummings lately. When I was a teenager in the 1960s, he shaped my thinking and showed me goals to aim for … I remember the the feeling of recognition (“Yes, this is it!”) when reading his books and poetry, and my disgust when I read Ayn Rand.

I’m off to find “The Enormous Room” so that I can reread it, and  I’ve just reordered another copy of “i, six nonlectures” – they keep getting given away.

Here is a quote from “nonlectures”:

“Little by little and bruise by teacup, my doubly disillusioned spirit made an awesome discovery…that all groups, gangs, and collectives — no matter how apparently disparate — are fundamentally alike; and that what makes the world go ’round is not the trivial differences between them but the immeasurable difference between any of them and individuality.”

And another:

“Better Worlds are born, not made, and their birthdays are the birthdays of individuals. Let us pray always for individuals; never for worlds.”

More here:

As I see it, Cummings’ advice to students applies to all of us:

“A lot of people think or believe or know they feel—but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling—not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people : but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.”

Read the rest of his advice here


Norsk kortversjon: Dette er en diskusjon om ansvar. Om at det å ta ansvar ikke er det samme som å påta seg Byrde, Skam, Skyld og Kritikk. (Her i Norge brukes uttrykket “å ta selvkritikk” – hvordan gjør man egentlig det?) Og konklusjonen er at for å ta ansvar, må vi ha vilje til å være kilden til livet vårt. 
Vilje er det som skjer når du kommer gjennom all motstanden, alle bortforklaringene, alt pisspratet. Det som er igjen, er interesse. Det er vilje. Ut av det, flommer alt annet.” 

English summary: This is a discussion about responsibility.
The conclusion is that responsibility is not  Blame, Shame, Burden, and Guilt, it is a willingness to be the source of your life.
“Willingness is what happens when you get past all the resistance, all the reasons, all the bullshit.  What’s left is interest.  That’s willingness.  Out of willingness flows all the rest.”  

With the author’s permission, I’m posting a chapter from “A Matter for Men”, book 1 in the “War Against the Chtorr” series. David Gerrold is an author whose books have made my brain crackle and pop and rearrange its perceptions, and this chapter most of all.

I read it when I was heavily involved in a Support Centre Against Incest, and it gave me an answer to the ubiquitous fear of “judging” people who were accused of child molestation.
I can safely recommend all his books, and I’ve recently ordered one I wasn’t aware of until now: ”The Martian Child”, based on the his own experiences as a single adoptive parent of a survivor of serious abuse.

The Last Day
“If God didn’t want men to masturbate, then why did he make the opposable thumb? 
“If God didn’t want women to masturbate, then why did she make the middle finger longer?”
—Solomon Short
It was my worst nightmare. 
            Whitlaw was standing over my chair, looming like a mountain, glaring down at me and waiting for an answer to his question. 
            “So …McCarthy.  What is responsibility?”
            I didn’t have the slightest idea. 
            And I was certain that this was it—I would stammer something and it would be wrong and Whitlaw would finally lose patience and just kill me. 
            Or worse—he’d ravage me with one of his exquisitely sarcastic observations about my lack of intellectual capacity.  And then I’d die of embarrassment.
            Whitlaw had long ago stopped waiting for us to raise our hands.  We didn’t.  We thought that was the best way to avoid being held up to ridicule.  But the man had us surrounded, and if we didn’t volunteer, then he’d start to call on us, one at a time.  Today, he had lowered his voice to a shout—and he was demanding that we “participate in the process of our own lives.”  You couldn’t tune him out. 
            That was the thing about Whitlaw’s class.  There was no place to hide.  If you sat in the back of the room, hoping not to be noticed, Whitlaw would stride to the back, take the comic book out of your hands, rip it up, and drop it in the trash.  Then he’d move you to the front of the room. 
            His radar was unerring.  If you went for more than three days without raising your hand to comment or to ask a question, he’d start calling on you.  “Just checking to see if you’re still alive,”  he’d say.  “I’ve already given up all hope of intelligent discourse from this collection of somnambulists.  Cabbages have more crunch than you do.” 
            On this particular day, he’d begun his attack with a diversionary maneuver.  He’d said,  “Let’s review what we’ve covered so far.  You’ll remember that we determined that there really is no such thing as rights or freedom.  What there is, is responsibility.  Hmm,”  he said, and stopped.  He froze at the board, stylus still in hand.  He turned back to us, a thoughtful expression on his face.  “Responsibility.  There’s an interesting word.  We haven’t really defined it, have we?”  He put the stylus down in the tray below the board and brushed nonexistent chalk dust from his hands;  that’s how old he was. 
            He looked at me with a piercing expression.  “I mean, we’ve talked about it all semester long.  We’ve all used the word as if we’re agreed on what it means.  But I don’t think we’re in agreement at all.  I don’t think we’re all thinking of the same thing when we use the word responsibility—” 
            I was already starting to sweat.  Some of these lectures could go on for a week or more.  And this one had all the earmarks. 
            Whitlaw stepped past me.  For a man with a limp, he could be surprisingly limber.  He headed for the back of the room and I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed in my chair. 
            “McCarthy,”  he said, terrifyingly close behind me.  He had turned and was studying the back of my head.  “You start.  What is responsibility?” 
            “Uh—”  I squirmed around in my seat to face him.  “Um—it’s, uh—the, um—” 
            “Yes …?  Go on.  I’ll wait.”  Whitlaw spoke with the sweet dulcet tones of deliberately exaggerated patience.  He was going to let me writhe on the hook until I died. 
            “—the obligation—”  I seized the word.   “—um, to—uh—” 
            “Obligation ….”  Whitlaw repeated thoughtfully.  “Hm.  An interesting perception.  The obligation.”  He furrowed his brow and focused intently on me.  “Perhaps the word you’re looking for is accountability.” 
            I felt my heart resume beating.  I might survive this after all.  “Yes.”  I was a drowning man, grabbing eagerly for—an anvil. 
            Whitlaw’s expression was pitying and disappointed.  He shook his head sadly and looked around to the rest of the class.  “Accountability,”  he said, with deep sorrow.  “That’s what McCarthy thinks responsibility is.  Accountability.”  He rubbed his hands together in a Uriah Heep gesture—but the way Whitlaw did it was much more like a praying mantis preparing to dine. 
            Oh, no …
            Whitlaw tsked.  He began counting off on his fingers.  Finger number one:  “Blame.  That’s what McCarthy thinks responsibility is.  ‘Who’s responsible for this mess?  Who can we blame?’ “  Finger number two:  “Shame.  Or perhaps McCarthy thinks responsibility is shame.  ‘This was your responsibility, McCarthy.  Look how it turned out.  Aren’t you ashamed?’ “  Finger number three:  “Burden.  ‘All right, who’s willing to accept this responsibility?  Who’s willing to take on this particularly onerous task?’ “ 
            I was dying in my chair and praying, Please, God, let him not have six fingers.  Finger number four:  “Guilt.”  He looked at me with an expression previously seen only on the countenances of “hanging judges.”  He repeated it.  “Guilt.  ‘This is your responsibility.’  Is that what you think responsibility is, McCarthy?  Blame, shame, burden, or guilt?” 
            “Yes, it is.  That’s what you all think responsibility is.  You see it as a chore, not a challenge.  You see it as a problem.  A burden.  Something to be avoided.  This is the American mantra.  ‘It’s not my fault.’  Or:  ‘Sorry, sir.  That’s not my table.’  Or:  ‘You’ll have to take that upstairs.  We don’t handle that here.’  Or:  ‘Sorry, I don’t want to get involved.’ 
            “Do you know what that translates out to?  ‘Blame somebody else first.  Blame anybody but me.’  You sound like Republicans.  ‘Blame the Democrats first.’  You sound like Democrats.  ‘Blame the President first.’  You sound like the President.  ‘Blame the Congress first.’  You sound like everybody else in the world.  None of you are willing to take on any responsibility—and then you have the gall to complain about the fact that nothing seems to work right.  Because when you hear the word responsibility, you hear blame, shame, burden, and guilt.”  Whitlaw snorted.  “And you don’t want any of that stuff, do you?” 
            He put one hand on my shoulder.  It felt just like a brontosaurus leg, only heavier.  “Right, McCarthy?”  he asked.
            “Uh, right,”  I squeaked. 
            “Right,”  he agreed.  “You’re just saying that to agree with me—in the futile hope that I will leave you alone and pick on someone else, right?” 
            “Uh, right.” 
            “Mm, I thought so.”  Whitlaw stumped back to the front of the room.  “Your language is out of control.  You have connected the wrong meanings to the words.  I talk about responsibility and you hear blame, shame, burden, and guilt.  Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?  Blame, Shame, Burden, and Guilt.  In fact, that’s where you end up—dealing with lawyers—when you confuse the language;  because when you confuse the language, you confuse the communication.  But I don’t want any lawyers in the room.  I want clarity.  I want a precise definition of the word—a definition so precise that it will transform your whole experience of what responsibility really is.”  He looked out over the class.  “Anyone brave enough to try?” 
            No one was. 
            I’d learned one trick from Whitlaw.  I used it now. 
            When in doubt, look in the dictionary. 
            First, make sure you understand what you’re talking about.  Look at the words you’re using.  Understand their meaning.  Look at the intent behind them.  If you can’t find precision, there’s something wrong.  We all knew the speech;  we knew it by heart:  “Fuzzy language guarantees fuzzy thinking.  You can’t manipulate concepts without precise particles,”  Whitlaw had said.  “Without precision, you’re just thrashing around with the rest of the symbol-minded.” 
            If you don’t know or if you aren’t sure, look in the dictionary.  Be sure. 
            I’d been looking in the dictionary all semester long.  It was full of surprises. 
            I snuck a look now.  Whitlaw saw what I was doing, but he didn’t say anything. 
            1.  Accountability.  2.  Having a duty or obligation.
            Hm.  Either the dictionary was wrong—or Whitlaw was.  Right now, I’d bet on Whitlaw.  There was something else, something underneath, that he was reaching for.  He always was. 
            3. Dependable. 
            No.  That was too close to burden. 
            4.  Being a source or cause. 
            I stared at the words for a moment without realizing what I was reading. 
            Being a source or cause. 
            Suddenly it all fell into place. 
            “McCarthy?”  Whitlaw asked abruptly.  “Was that a light bulb that just went on over your head?” 
            “A what?” 
            “A light bulb.  Look it up.  Invented by a man named Edison.  It made light.  Also used as an icon to represent having an idea.  Was that an idea you just had?”
            “Uh, yessir.  Source.  Being responsible is being the source.” 
            Whitlaw looked honestly surprised.  “You’re close,”  he admitted.  “You’re almost there.  Take one step back.  What has to happen first?  What has to happen before you can be a source?” 
            “I knew it was too good to be true,”  Whitlaw remarked sideways.  The class laughed. 
            But I knew this one.  I didn’t know how I knew, but I knew. 
             “—first you have to be willing to be the source.” 
            Whitlaw stopped, turned, and stared at me, astonished.  “That’s right.” 
            The class gave me a standing ovation. 
            I blushed.  This was even more embarrassing than Whitlaw’s abuse.  All I’d done was put together two pieces of the puzzle.  Whitlaw had been hammering us with this information all semester long.  Anybody could have done it. 
            Fortunately, Whitlaw stopped the applause;  he waved the class back down into their seats.  “Not so fast.  Let’s make sure this didn’t happen by accident.”  Whitlaw zeroed in on me again.  “A willingness to be the source?  Explain that, McCarthy.” 
            I hesitated, thinking out my words carefully.  “Well—if we start from the word source, then being the person responsible for something means that you’re the person who causes it, you make it happen.” 
            “Okay—but let’s not get lost in the jargon, Jim.  You used the word willingness.  What’s that?”
            “Um—”  I had to hold myself back so I could get the words out clearly.  “Willingness is what happens when you get past all the resistance, all the reasons, all the bullshit.  What’s left is interest.  That’s willingness.  Out of willingness flows all the rest.”  I allowed myself a triumphant grin.  “So, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Responsibility is being interested in and enthusiastic about and committed to the results.”  I was realizing the profound truth of it even as I was saying it;  it was a remarkable sensation.  “It means you’re the heart and the soul of the moment.”
            Whitlaw nodded slowly.  “You’ve been doing your reading, haven’t you?” 
            “Yes, sir.” 
            “It shows.  Good.  That’s very good;  it’s complete.  There’s nothing I can add to it—but I’m going to anyway.  I want to put a context around it.  It’s not just source we’re talking about here, Jim.  We’re talking about ownership.  The word source sometimes confuses people;  because source isn’t something you do—it’s something you are. 
            “So, the way we ease people into the concept and the experience of source is to talk about ownership.  Not ownership as in property, but ownership as in command—as in,  ‘When I teach this class, I own this room.’  There is no part of this room that I am not responsible for.  I make sure that the lights work, the board functions, that books and discs are available, and so on.  In other words, I am the source for this class.” 
            The finger pointed and jabbed.  “You are the source for your life, for everything that happens in it, for the effect you have on the people around you.  You can create it for yourself, or you can pass that responsibility on to someone else—say, like the universe at large—and then you can pretend to be satisfied with the results, a life out of control.”  He looked at us all.  “Are you willing to own your life or not?”  
            There must have been blank faces, because abruptly Whitlaw stopped.  I sense confusion in the room.  “Who’s lost?  Who doesn’t get it?” 
            Three of the back-row boys raised their hands. 
            “Mm-hm.  Good.  Thank you for being honest.  Mmm, let me see if I can clarify this for you in terms you’re most likely to understand.”  He folded his arms across his chest and studied the ceiling for a long thoughtful moment.  His face went deliberately blank.  Some of us had learned to recognize that posture and that expression and were already ducking under our desks.  Whitlaw brought his attention back to the three students in the back and suddenly asked,  “Do you fantasize when you masturbate?”  His tone was as innocent as if he had asked where they were born.   
            It was the perfect Whitlaw question.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  There were embarrassed titters. 
            “Look,”  said Whitlaw.  “Let’s not pretend.  Ninety-five percent of the human race masturbates, and the other five percent are liars.  Masturbation is the only way you can claim to be good at sex without the corroborating testimony of a partner.  The question is not whether you masturbate.  I’m making the assumption that you are all normal healthy adolescents with the usual normal healthy overdose of hormones—”  He looked toward the back.   “—and that the three of you in particular are doing your very best to avoid dying from terminal testosterone poisoning.  As the man says, self-abuse is the sincerest kind.
            “Now, in case you have forgotten—the three of you seem to have sunk into a deeper state of catatonia than usual—I will repeat the question:  ‘Do you fantasize when you masturbate?’ “  He turned to face the rest of the room.  “I’m not joking here.  It’s an important question.  That’s the one time in your life when you are performing for an audience of one, and have instantaneous and total feedback on the success and appropriateness of your efforts.  There’s only one person in the world you are trying to satisfy.  And you always know when you succeed—or fail.  You have gratification—or you don’t.” 
            Whitlaw ignored our snickers and titters.  “Believe it or not, that experience, that fantasizing, that act of creation, is one of the truest experiences of being at source.  Absolutely nobody else in the world gets a vote on what you think about when you masturbate—and when you create a fantasy for the express purpose of satisfying yourself, you are functioning as a source.  That’s who you really are.  That’s where you live. 
            “Unfortunately, for most of you, that’s your only experience of source.  So to talk about it this candidly, this casually, is a very painful and embarrassing experience for you. 
            “The point of this discussion,”  Whitlaw said,  “is to bring you to a consciousness of the possibility that source can occur elsewhere in your life.  In fact, it can occur everywhere in your life.  Look around—life is all possibilities.  You can invent it any way you want.  But let me give you some hints on how easy it is to start.  You can own the experience of washing the dishes, if you want.  If you play a game where the goal is to see how clean you can get every dish, you can wash dishes at source.  Or whitewash the fence.  Or conduct a symphony.  Or even do your homework.” 
            “Right.  For most of you, your best experience of source will continue to be your right hand.  Unless you’re ambidextrous.  But, at least now, you’ll never be able to claim that nobody ever told you that there was an alternative to spiritual Onanism.”  Whitlaw limped back to the front of the room, clapping me on the shoulder as he passed.  “But you were right, James.  Underneath all the words that we use to talk about responsibility—even the law firm of blame, shame, burden, and guilt—is the very simple and basic experience of source.  And it starts with your willingness to have it happen.  Even the consciousness that such a thing is possible is sufficient to trigger the process.  That’s why you’re required to take this class.  It’s your wake-up call for life. 
            “When you talk about all that other stuff that you’ve confused the issue with, you’re allowing yourself to forget what’s really underneath.  What we ought to ask in every situation is this:  Is the person operating at source?  Are you home—or are you just going through the motions? 
            “That’s all there is to life—to relationships, to communication, to producing results;  and the real surprise is that it’s not hard or difficult at all.  So, thank you, Jim.  Thank you for being willing to be uncomfortable.”  He turned to the rest of the class.  “Now you can applaud.” 
            They did.  Long and loud.  There were also whistles, hoots and cheers. 
            Whitlaw waited patiently until they finished, then he leaned back against the front edge of his desk and spoke quietly to us. 
            “Don’t get too cocky here,”  he warned.  “Knowing the definition is not the same as living it.  I expect most of you to forget this material ten minutes after you walk out that door.  Maybe one or two of you will remember.  Maybe it’ll even make a difference in your lives.  That’s the hope—that one day, in a moment of crisis, when you most need to know it, one of the time bombs that I’ve shoved down your throats will finally go off.”  He looked at us and grinned.  It was an honest friendly grin.  He didn’t even look like Whitlaw. 
            “I know I’ve said a lot of cruel things in here about your lack of ability to learn.  Yes, I did it deliberately.  It’s one of the best ways to keep you awake—insulting you.  I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t enjoy it.  I’d also be a liar if I said I didn’t mean it.  The fact of the matter is that if you can survive the very worst that I can hand you, and the evidence today is that you can, then you can survive anything else that the universe will throw at you.  It was always my intention to be the meanest son-of-a-bitch you ever met in your life—so that all the other sons-of-bitches waiting for you out there will never be able to lay a finger on you.  I never pulled a punch in here, and now you know you can handle it.” 
            He reached across his desk and grabbed a tissue from the box;  he blew his nose loudly, wiped a couple of times, and then continued.  “I said on the first day of this class that they don’t pay me enough to do this.  That’s true.  But, if you’ll remember, I also said that I would teach this class even if they didn’t pay me.  One of you asked why and I told you that if you could make it through to the end of the semester, you wouldn’t need to ask that question.  The answer should be obvious to you now.  If it isn’t, then I didn’t get the job done.  Does anybody still need the explanation?” 
            He looked out over the room.  I thought about it.  Was there any doubt in my mind why Whitlaw was teaching this class?  No, no doubt at all.  I looked around.  Nobody else had raised his or her hand either. 
            “The truth is that teaching high school students is like dropping stones down a well and listening for the splash.  Only, most of the time you never hear it.  I’ve been shoving time bombs down your throats.  Someday soon, they’re going to start going off.  When these things finally do go splash or klunk or ka-boom or whatever sound they make, I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to drop me a note and let me know.  You all have my E-mail address.  Don’t lose it.  As a teacher, the only reward or acknowledgment I can ever receive that really means anything is to hear from one of you that something I taught you or caused you to realize has actually made a difference in your life.” 
            He sighed.  For just a moment, he looked tired.  “There are no passing or failing grades in here.  The universe will give you your grade.  You’ll know when you receive it.”          He added impishly,  “In case you’re wondering, the universe doesn’t grade on the curve;  it’s all pass-fail.  Here’s how you know if you’re passing:  you’re still alive.  In the meantime—”  Whitlaw grinned wickedly.   “—May the source be with you.” 
            We let him live. 
            More than that, we gave him a standing ovation—and not surprisingly, a whole bunch of hugs as well.


Is arbitration possible?

I haven’t translated anything about my tangles with the health services after I came out as an incest survivor into English yet – the short version is:  legal and “psychotherapeutically correct”  Martha Mitchell Effect.

It was an enormous relief to just accept the legality and correctness of what happened – that freed me from a morass of Catch 22s and confusion. I just want to heal my wounds and get on with my life.

Oh, and one more thing: I want to find out if I really do have freedom of choice and freedom of thought and expression in the Health Services when it comes to Freud’s theories.

My current GP works closely with the psychiatric area supervisor (PAT) and the GP who was supervised into Marthaing me until I was forced to stay away from the health services for years. And I’m afraid of being Marthaed again. (IMO, it’s fear and not paranoia when it has happened before.)

So I want to request a meeting with the doctors and the county arbitration council to …

> ask why the “borderline psychosis” diagnosis that PAT and Old GP set without telling me has disappeared from my file, and to ask when it vanished. (The “without telling me” is not an issue, as I can’t prove it.)

> say that I accept that I was treated legally and psychotherapeutically correctly from a Freudian viewpoint. And I don’t insist on agreement that the treatment harmed me, but I evoke the  right to think and say so, and I want to suggest to PAT and Old MD that we agree to disagree on this issue.

> check if PAT is capable of understanding the concept “agree to disagree”.  I haven’t seen any signs of it so far.

> check if PAT is capable of seeing the process I have described in “The child who refuses to die” as a rational alternative to being helped by him to realize that I had “a sexual relationship with a priest”.

> ask why PAT and Old MD dismissed what I said about my functionality as fantasies without asking if I could prove what I said. (It seems to be legal to override provable information with psychiatric “realities” without fact checking,  so that is not an issue. I just want to know why)

It is a huge relief to finally have seen arbitration as an alternative to discussions about whether PAT is right or I am crazy (and yes, the double bind is intentional), and at the same time a lump of inner anxiety is telling me that arbitration and psychiatry  might not be compatible.

Does anyone know if this is a viable alternative? Any information or experiences would be very welcome.

Feb 18th: rewritten for clarity



WE ARE products of our genetic inheritance … talents and weak points, modes of perception and certain blind spots are hard-wired in us, and this hard-wiring determines what kind of strategies we have used to survive childhood.

WE ARE NOT what we do. But we own the responsibility for recognizing our strong points and using them constructively, and knowing our weak points and acknowledging them.

WE OWN WHAT WE DO when we are adults.

WE HAVE lots of stuff that does not sort into who we are or what we do – like survival strategies. These “are” not us. We are responsible for them, as we are for our actions, but we cannot change these directly: we have to see where they came from, what created them, and start the change there. And that change begins with giving responsibility for them to the people who made it necessary for us to acquire them.



“Intention” is what we plan or hope to achieve by doing whatever we do. For us it is a necessary part of the planning process, but we never deserve brownie points for our intentions – they are, or should be, totally irrelevant to everyone except ourselves, and to ourselves only relevant in the planning stage. (Another category could be called “explanation” or “reason”, if one has learned to find explanations and excuses for what others do, and therefore expects to be given points for excuses)

“Action”, what we do, we are totally responsible for … to the point where, if someone is hurt by my car when I am driving, I am responsible for what I did, even if I certainly did not mean to hurt anyone, and even the accident was caused by factors outside my control. I did what I did, and I own what I did, and accepting this is the only way out of a morass of denial and guilt.

“Result” is what is caused by our actions – directly or indirectly. If someone is hurt by my car when I am driving, that is a result of my actions. I do not own all the responsibility for the outcome, but I do own my actions.

Taking responsibility is not a question of taking on a huge package of blame, shame, burden and guilt. *

Our responsibility is something we HAVE – it is a part of us. Every day we choose to own this responsibility or to deny it – to be the source of our life, be in control, or to live in a tangle of excuses and denial.

* Quote from David Gerrold. There will be more about him later. And this post is going to be changed as I find the right words and figure out this pesky format stuff.

weird and wonderful

I had a weird and wonderful discussion with an African professor some years ago, that started when I said I was an atheist. He could not wrap his head around the concept, as it was inconceivable in his culture, and he got really upset – and so did I when he kept going on about it … rather aggressively, to my mind.
In the beginning it looked like one of those unbreachable canyons that unexpectedly separate people from different cultural backgounds, but both of us were genuinely interested in understanding the other’s point of view, and we talked on for a long time, looking for common ground … and I’m so glad we did, as we finally crossed the canyon:
His was a culture of nature worship, and to him an “atheist” was someone who had cut himself off from all that grows and nurtures in the world – living in a mental Mordor, so to speak. A psychopath, maybe. And it had been a shock to hear me define myself as such a person.
So I was happy to finally reassure him: I could finally answer his “But you have to worship something! What do you worship?” by saying that I didn’t use that word, but I gathered energy from trees and rocks and hills and mountains, and that for me, sitting with my back to a tree and feeling the rough bark, seeing how the tree is connected to a cycle of life, and knowing that I am also a part of that cycle … that is a religious experience.