Dedication to Truth versus A Dedication to Anything Less


Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 49.

We know we’re getting healthier as a person when we can start admitting the truth about ourselves—and about our own falseness—aloud, and not only to ourselves but to others.

The quickest and surest—as well as toughest and most demanding—route to mental health is to dedicate ourselves fearlessly and fiercely to truth and to reality—to the way things really are, and to the way we actually are.

The goal at first isn’t to change ourselves, because such attempts at changing ourselves will be inherently flawed until we have made it a real priority to dedicate ourselves to truth– and to practice choosing and living this priority so often, so fearlessly, so ruthlessly, that it becomes second nature to us.

If a person truly wants to “wake up” in life and not die asleep and die an unlived inner life, then complete dedication to reality and to truth is the answer—it is both the path and the destination.  That is the essence of waking up—seeing the truth about ourselves and having the courage to finally admit it; no more bullshit, instead a fierce and unceasing dedication to truth and reality. Waking up means that we are seeing ourselves and reality and our lot here for what it is, and that we’re not escaping behind a façade of religious dogma, new age pablum, and other escapist avenues (i.e. drugs, even so-called “enlightenment” type drugs, which ultimately too are an escape and an avoidance of the rigors of real growth).

The most pivotal and life altering decision we as human beings can make in life is this most basic one—to voluntarily give up our illusions, buffers, deceptions, bullshit, softeners, and start taking a fierce and hard-nosed look at ourselves, our fears, and life itself—including death—and no hiding out from death behind the hope for reincarnation or an afterlife—because to do so is not to live the question, but to uncourageously avoid asking it.

As we begin admitting the truth about ourselves and our fears and about life to both ourselves and to others our life and our relationships will begin undergoing a powerful and radical transformation, for instead of our daily life and our daily interactions being based on comfort, escapism, avoidance, psychological numbing, hedonism, they will now begin to be based on truth and grounded in reality.

I read (scan) a fair amount of blogs, especially some where I know the person writing it has a form of mental illness. And in very few—make that almost none—do I find the level of fierce dedication to truth that I am describing here—posts where the author takes real responsibility using “I” statement to describe in lurid detail the bad things that they have done. There are plenty of posts on the bad things that have been done unto them—and some of these things are indeed hideous—but few to no posts describing their own errors and the wrongs they have perpetrated on others. Too often instead there are posts full of rationalizations and excuse-making with lots of supportive “I understand”s and such—which all makes sense because we live in a culture where “nonjudgmentalness” and “acceptance” and “tolerance” are king, and where our wrongs can be explained away and excused because of this or that past trauma, and where we all need some emotional support and validation—no matter how questionable to source—if we are to feel OK enough to make it through the day without collapsing or having a nervous breakdown.

There are very few real truth tellers and very few people fearlessly and fiercely dedicated to truth and reality. Most people are dedicated to something much less—and much less honorable and noble—comfort, convenience, location location location, ease, “happiness,” pleasure, hedonism, the path of least resistance, avoiding truth, and avoiding difficulty. And so if we sense that we “need” support and validation in order to make it through the day and not collapse psychologically then we have yet another reason to dummy ourselves and our capacity for truth and reality down in order to “fit in” and gain approval, acceptance, validation, support.

What use is it if a person gains the world—or gains a lot of emotional support and validation—yet loses his or her soul?

And all of the psychological explaining away that we as a species do is stultifying our character and retarding the development of our consciences. It is not the route to real mental health and true personal growth; instead it’s just a perpetuation and deepening of mental unhealth.

The twelve steps are a way of life based on truth and dedication to reality.  The twelve steps basically reduce to this:

1. Admit the truth. Admit the truth that you’re an addict; admit what you’re addicted to—alcohol, drugs, sex, lying & manipulating; admit that you’re helpless to overcome this on your own; admit that you’re your own worst enemy; admit that your own “best” thinking and efforts haven’t made a dent in this and in fact usually make it worse; admit that you need help.

To be able to cleanly admit all of this is an example of dedication to truth and dedication reality in action.

And such a moment is not enough. It has to be done again and again and again. It has to become a way of life. It has to be practiced constantly and unceasingly until it becomes habit, second nature, one’s new nature.

2. And then this truth has to be admitted or confessed to others in the form of our taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, admitting our wrongs—not just to ourselves, but to others—to those we actually wronged, lied to, stole from, used, et cetera—and then humbling ourselves and making real amends—doing some real repair work and making our contrition, showing real remorse and sorrow, and asking forgiveness.

All of which is incredibly difficult. Which explains why there is so little of it (truth, remorse, honesty) in general in the real world.

It’s easier to lie and bullshit ourselves and live in denial of our own mortality and transience when we’re surrounded by others basically doing the same—escaping life, escaping stress, escaping anxiety, reading shitty escapist books and magazines, having gossipy trivial conversations, et cetera.

The vast majority of human beings would prefer to be validated for their bullshit rather than be ostracized for being too truthful and too truth-loving.

And so the decline of Western civilization and the perpetuation and spread of mental illness and unhealth. . . .

Escape sells, reality doesn’t.

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Marianne Williamson on “Facing Oneself”—Real Warriorship 101


As anyone who has ever been in serious psychotherapy is well aware, the process of personal growth isn’t always easy. We must face our own ugliness. . . . You end up seeing things about yourself that maybe you’d rather not see.  We have a lot of armor that has accumulated in front of our hearts—a lot of fear self-righteously masquerading as something else. . . . [And usually] [w]e . . . must become painfully aware of the unworkability of a pattern before we’re willing to give it up. It often seems, in fact, that our lives get worse rather than better when we begin to work deeply on ourselves. [But] life doesn’t actually get worse; it’s just that we feel our own transgressions more because we’re no longer anesthetized by unconsciousness. We’re no longer distanced through denial or dissociation from our own experience. We’re starting to see the truth about the games we play.

This process can be so painful that we are tempted to go backwards. It takes courage. This is often called the path of the spiritual warrior—to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.

Marianne Williamson, “A Return to Love,” pp. 132-133

Dedication to Truth versus Dedication to Comfort and Emotional Reasoning


Again and again, the question is asked of us by life, what is more important to us:

Our own comfort? or truth?

Our own emotional comfort and equilibrium? or truth?

Not being overwhelmed–or feeling overwhelmed–by guilt and shame and mountains of emotional pain we’ve buried and buffered ourselves from? or truth? 

If we are not genuinely dedicated to truth, then our inner life is apt to be a free for all–a veritable minefield of lies, deception, denial, lies about our lying, et cetera.  If truth is not our guiding and organizing principle, then anything goes, anything is permitted and can be rationalized, explained away, spun, blamed, et cetera.  If truth is not our priority, then by default comfort will be–comfort, meaning not being shown anything unpleasant, difficult, unsettling, unnerving, terrifying, about life and ourselves.  We won’t want the light of truth, which is often harsh; instead we’ll plead for the soft light of pseudo-truth, and that will leave the door open for self-deception, lies, falsehood, denial, blame.

Being dedicated to truth means that what’s best in us–our conscience–runs the show, and not our want of comfort, ease, the path of least resistance.

When we are dedicated to truth, our reasoning honest and objective, we are self-examining, self-awarem and willing to self-confront, and thus our reasoning is more likely to be true, and if it is off, then it’s more likely to be corrected, because we ourselves are open to being corrected, to criticism, to learning, to revising.  Why?  Because the truth is more important to us than our own ego or pride or comfort.

But when truth is not our primary concern, but rather comfort is, then our reasoning is apt to not be very reasonable and grounded in truth and reality, but much more likely to be emotional and thus much more prone to being false and much more impervious to correction or reality checks or feedback. . . .

“Welcome to the Land of Emotional Reasoning”

By Dr. Tara J. Palmatier

http://www.shrink4men.com/2011/08/29/welcome-to-the-land-of-emotional-reasoning-id-turn-back-if-i-were-you/

Welcome to the Land of Emotional Reasoning. To the north, you’ll find Never-Never Take Responsibility Land and just to the south you’ll find the Land Where It’s Always Somebody Else’s Fault.

Wikipedia defines emotional reasoning as “a cognitive error that occurs when a person believes that what [s]he is feeling is true regardless of the evidence.” On a personal note, as a Thinking type, emotional reasoning is frequently the bane of my existence or rather one of my “banes.”

Emotional reasoners are prone to confusing their feelings with facts. Feelings are subjective internal states. Oftentimes, feelings arise because of an external event.

For example, a loved one dies and we experience grief and sadness. In this instance, an individual’s feelings and external reality are congruent.

Alternately, sometimes we misinterpret an external event and feelings arise that are incongruent with the precipitating event.

For example, you see a friend across the street and call out to her. She doesn’t acknowledge you and continues walking. As a result, you become angry and hurt because you assume that your friend rudely ignored you. In reality, your friend had her iPod on and didn’t hear you calling to her. * This is where reality testing comes in handy, but we’ll get to that later.

Sometimes feelings arise from an internal event. Many emotional reasoners are prone to manufacturing dramas in their minds without much input from the external world. They live in the permanent present of whatever their immediate feeling state is — regardless of whether or not there’s a basis for it in reality.

The basic assumption is, “If I’m feeling this way, there must be a reason for it.” There may be a reason for the feeling, but it might not have anything to do with reality, but with unresolved fears, hurts and, quite possibly, pathologies.

Emotional reasoning, or rather, social-emotional intelligence isn’t all bad. It can be quite helpful actually. Empathy, compassion, knowing how to read others, picking up on the needs of others and being sensitive to the feelings of others are just as important as critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Research shows that the best managers and strategic reasoners utilize both IQ and social-emotional reasoning.

Critical thinking occurs in the brain. Emotional reasoning takes place in the heart, gut or some other part of our anatomy — this goes for men and women. Emotional reasoners make choices based on what feels “good” or “right.” Critical thinkers make decisions based on facts and what is just or sensible.

Why is understanding emotional reasoning important for the Shrink4Men community?

If you’re married to, dating or divorcing an abusive and possibly unstable ex, odds are she’s an emotional reasoner and emotional reasoners are also often persuasive blamers and persuasive blamers are often at the root of many a high-conflict divorce/high-conflict custody case, false allegations, smear campaigns and a host of other Kafka-esque behaviors, tactics and sometimes criminal offenses.

An abusive emotional reasoner will verbally eviscerate you, call you a shitty father or mother in front of your kids, hit you and then tell you that their behavior was all your fault because you did . . . whatever they feel you did and insist that their behavior wasn’t really hurtful or abusive. They really love you and how could you accuse them of being so mean, selfish, abusive, etc., etc.?

These individuals can weave a web of distortions, half-truths, confabulations (lies told by liars who believe their own lies), blame, shame and guilt around you until you’re lost in a pink haze of their alternate emotionally-based “reality.” You may even start to believe the emotional reasoner’s “logic” even when you know better.

By the way, if you can fall prey to this, so can judges, attorneys, psychologists, court evaluators, friends, colleagues and family members.

Emotional reasoning can be seductive — even for those of us who are predominantly critical thinkers. The emotional reasoner is so persuasive, so convincing. You start to think, “Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I really did deserve to be called names. Maybe I really deserved to get hit. Maybe I really am a shitty dad . . .”

Stop yourself. Stop yourself right there. This is when emotional reasoning becomes a contagious trap.

Reality test. If your mind is too clouded from the pink haze to do this on your own, call a friend. Call a family member. Call a shrink. Call someone whose judgment you trust and reality test.

Emotional reasoning is usually easier than critical thinking. Critical thinking based on facts, evidence and logic takes effort and work. Emotional reasoning — not so much.

Don’t remember what really happened because your emotions were too out of control? Make something up.

Embarrassed by something you did or said? Deny it ever happened and blame whomever it is that’s making you feel bad about yourself. Like Jason Alexander’s character George Costanza once reasoned on Seinfeld, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Want to get your way at the expense of someone else? You deserve it. You’re entitled. The person standing in your way hates you/is trying to control you/doesn’t understand you/doesn’t care about you/isn’t making you feel heard/isn’t making you feel loved/isn’t making you feel special. Tell everyone what a monster he or she is and maybe even have them arrested. After all, they deserve it. Who are they to tell you no or get in your way?

Hey, if it makes you feeel better who cares about anyone else’s needs or feelings or pesky little minor details like the truth?

It’s not just individuals who are prone to emotional reasoning. Our society is becoming increasingly governed (I don’t mean politically, although, one could make an argument for this) by emotional reasoning.

You see evidence of it in the news everyday. Injustice results when we combine our proclivity for emotional reasoning and the rampant gender bias of “women = victim; man = villain.”

For example, in the Land of Emotional Reasoning and gender bias, “Susie” murders her children in cold blood during a bitter custody battle. Susie then claims her husband abused her and she was afraid he would molest their children. All of a sudden, Susie is magically transformed from heartless, murdering psycho to poor, abused, downtrodden, confused woman who killed her own children as a desperate cry for help.

Heck, more often than not Susie doesn’t even have to claim her husband abused her. We do it for her because if a woman commits a violent crime, there must be a good reason for it and, of course, that reason must be some man.

It’s much easier to believe Susie is a poor, stigmatized, misunderstood woman than face the fact that there are monsters among us and about half of them are women. This is why many of us continue to fall prey to emotional reasoning and make excuses for this kind of horror show, even when we’re otherwise critical thinkers.

Social-emotional intelligence is just as valuable as critical thinking and IQ. For your own well-being and safety and the well-being and safety of your children, it is imperative that you don’t get lost in the emotional reasoning of your unstable and abusive partner or ex (or your partner’s ex). Reality testing is your life preserver, which is one of the reasons abusive types try to isolate you. They want to control your reality.

Please take my advice and don’t let them.

Dedication to Truth versus a Dedication to Comfort and Lies


Truth is reality. That which is false in unreal. The more clearly we see reality—ourselves and the world, the better equipped we will be to deal with both. The less clearly we see reality, the more our minds will be befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions, and the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions.” – M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled

Another way of looking at this is that the more clearly we see reality and ourselves, the more sane and mentally healthy we are—and will become.

The less clearly we see reality and ourselves, the less mentally healthy we are, and are becoming.

The truth is not only what will set us free, it’s also what defines us as being sane and healthy. When we’re mentally healthy or getting healthy, we know the truth and we wrestle with it, and we try to do so with more and more integrity and honesty.

But when we’re mentally unhealthy, when we’re neurotic or have a full-blown personality disorder (narcissism, antisocial, borderline—all three closely related and overlapping), we don’t really know the truth any more, we don’t know who we are or how we really feel or what we really ought to do; our lives are caprice, chance, testimonies to fear and impulse and chaos, instead of goodness, Godliness, order, Love, courage and truth.

When we’re mentally unhealthy, we are not interested in truth or in facing it or ourselves, but in avoiding truth at all costs; we’d rather lie and steal and make excuses and believe what we want to believe because we want to believe it and because we’re convinced that it will make us feel better than we are in learning what is actually the case.

In other words, when we are mentally unhealthy or ill, we prefer lies and confusion to truth and clarity.

Mental unhealth is a process of ongoing dedication to deception, falsehood, confusion, and illusion at all costs.

Mental health, on the other hand, is a process of ongoing dedication to truth at all costs.

We don’t spare any expenses, in fact we take on all costs, we give up our comfort, we foresake it and our comfort zone, we accept loneliness, becoming different, strange, isolated, unpopular.  For often these things are the prices we have to pay for following our conscience.

Being firmly dedicated to truth is key to creating a virtuous upward cycle in our lives; being unfirmly dedicated to truth leaves us open to falsehood and confusion, and falsity and confusion are key to a vicious or downward cycle.

“You are of your father the devil, and you and your will want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44

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And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” – John 8:32

We have only two choices in life. There’s no escaping this and there’s no neutrality in this. We either dedicate and devote ourselves to truth (or to love, real Love and learning what this truly is); or, by default, we end up leaving ourselves open to more and more untruth, especially the more difficult our lives are and have been.

If we have fallen into the habit of lying a lot, when we are lying or deceiving another or ourselves, we may think that we can control our lying, that deep down we know the truth and we can keep track of it, and that all this lying and deceiving isn’t doing anything harmful to us; in fact, just the opposite, it’s protecting us.

But this too is a lie.

We can’t control our lying. If we have not consciously dedicated ourselves to truth, then we lie reflexively, automatically, in spite of ourselves; it’s become not just a second language to us, but our primary or native language. We lie to others, we lie to ourselves, we lie to ourselves and other about ourselves and our lying. We hide parts of ourselves, we make excuses about why we hide parts of ourselves. We wear masks, sometimes several at a time, but usually on top of another. We want to be true to ourselves, we want to believe that there’s still a self to be true to, but we’re lost and we no longer know what part or parts of ourselves to be true to—to what’s best in us or what’s worst in us—and so we’re true to both and act out on both, on whatever we feel, we’re like an instrument way out of tune, life strums us and chaos is what sounds back out of us. We’re confused, lost, and we’re in deep, over our heads, drowning not waving in a sea of lies and deception and falsehood. We’ve sold our soul, and if not, we’re well on the way to selling it. And for what? More momentary relief? More momentary excitement and distraction and anesthesia? Getting our way?

When we dedicate ourselves to truth, we are modeling ourselves after God, and the likes of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and cetera. We when don’t and we become okay with lying and we have developed all sorts of defenses and ways of buffering ourselves from facing what we’re actually doing—meaning we have all sorts of ways explaining away (i.e. rationalizing—rational lies)—our lying, then we are modeling our lying deceitful behavior after the father of lies—the devil or Satan—and speaking his language, the language of lies, instead of the language of Love and Truth.

We May Think That We’re Through With The Past, But The Past Ain’t Through With Us


To a greater or lesser extent, the first ways in which the world has made sense to us continue to underpin our whole subsequent experience and actions.” – R.D. Laing

To a greater or lesser extent, the ways in which the world first presented itself to us—whether it presented us with regular—or irregular—dosages of chaos, upheaval, brutality, harshness, invalidation, abandonment, insensitivity, anti-love, others’ selfishness, lies, deception; or whether it presented us with safety, warmth, tenderness, security, real love, understanding, validation, sensitivity, structure, support, guidance, kindness, and showed itself to be a nurturing and safe and trustworthy place—will continue to underpin the whole of our subsequent experience and actions. And if our past was terrifying, unsafe, if others let us down, did not actually love us, didn’t try to take on and overcome their own issues and neuroses in order to extend themselves to love and nurture us when we were children, if we were surrounded by bad role models instead of good and decent one, then unless—unless—we begin deeply facing our past—the full catastrophe of our past—and how it has affected us and wired us, and begin letting ourselves fully feel and begin processing that original pain and chaos, it will not only haunt us for the rest of our lives, it will likely be what runs us (and makes us run) for the rest of our lives.

In other words, we may think that we’re through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.

The Truth—Will it Set You Free or Will it Completely Fry Your Ass and Undo You?


Your life is the mirror of what you are. It is in your image. You are passive, blind, demanding. You take all, you accept all, without feeling any obligation. Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are due you, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there! Yet none of this strikes your attention.

None of this strikes your attention because you have no measure with which to measure yourself. You live exclusively according to “I like” or “I don’t like,” or “I feel like” or “I don’t feel like.” You have no appreciation except for yourself. You recognize nothing above you—theoretically, logically, perhaps, but in actuality no; you submit to nothing except your own desires and subjectivity. That is why you are demanding and continue to believe that everything is cheap and that you have enough in your pocket to buy everything you like. You recognize nothing above you, either outside yourself or inside. That is why you have no measure and live passively according your impulses and likes and dislikes.

Yes, this lack of appreciation for anything and anyone except for yourself blinds you. It is by far the biggest obstacle to a new life. You first must get over this threshold, this obstacle, before progressing even one step further. This crux alone is what divides human beings into two kinds: the “wheat” and the “chaff.” No matter how intelligent, how talented, how gifted, how brilliant a human being may be, if he does not change his appreciation of himself, there will be no hope for real inner development, for a work toward honest self-knowledge, for an awakening. He will remain such as he is now for his entire life.

The first requirement, the first condition, the first test for one who genuinely wishes to work on oneself is to change his appreciation of himself. And he must not do this theoretically—he must not imagine, not simply believe or think; rather he must do this in actuality: he must see things in himself which he has never seen before—which he has never had the nerve or courage to see before. And he must see them fully. A person’s appreciation of himself will never change as long as he or she sees nothing new and untoward in himself.

Today we have nothing but the illusion of what we are. We do not respect ourselves. In order to respect myself, I have to recognize a part in myself which is above the other parts. And my attitude toward this part should bear witness to the respect that I have for it. But so long as I treat all parts of myself equally, I think too highly of myself and I do not respect myself, and my relations with others will be governed by the same caprice and lack of respect.

In order to see oneself, one must first learn to see. This is the first initiation into genuine self-knowledge. In order to see ourselves realistically, we must see all the ways in which we habitually over-estimate and over-appreciate ourselves. But you will see that to do this is not easy. It is not cheap. You must pay dearly for this. For bad payers, lazy people, parasites, there is no hope. You must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately, and pay in advance. You must pay with yourself; you must pay with sincere, honest, conscientious, disinterested efforts. And the more you are willing and prepared to pay without economizing, without cutting corners, without cheating, without falsifications, the more you will receive. Because from that moment on you will become acquainted with your nature. You will begin seeing all of the tricks, all the dishonesties that your nature resorts to in order to avoid paying with real cash, real effort, real expenditure, real sacrifice, real cost to oneself. Because up till now, you like to cheat, you like to cut corners; you like to try and pay with your readymade theories, your convenient beliefs, your prejudices and conventions, your “I like” and “I don’t like”; you like to bargain, pretend, offer counterfeit money.

Objective thought is a look from Above. A look that is free, that can see. Without this look upon me, seeing me, my life is the life of a blind person who goes her own way, driven by impulse, not knowing either why or how. Without this look upon me, I cannot know that I exist.

I have within me the power to rise above myself and to see myself freely—and to be seen. My thinking has the power to be free.

But for this to take place, my thinking must rid itself of all of the garbage that holds it captive, passive, unfree. My thinking must free itself from the constant pull of emotions. My thinking must feel its own power to resist this pull—its objective capacity to separate itself and watch over this pull while gradually rising above it. For it is in this moment that thought first becomes active. It becomes active while purifying itself.

If we cannot do this—if we refuse to do this—our thoughts are just illusions, something that further enslaves us, that we use to numb and avoid ourselves, a snare in which real thought loses its power of objectivity and intentional action. Confused by words, images, half-truths, fantasies, falsehoods, it loses the capacity to see. It loses the sense of “I”. Then nothing remains but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” Without this inner look, without this inner seeing, I can only fall back into automatism, and live under the law of accident and nature.

And so my struggle is a struggle against the passivity of ordinary thinking, being seduced and led astray and obliterated by it. Without struggling against ordinary thought, a greater consciousness will not be born. At the heart of this struggle—to create order out of chaos—a hierarchy is revealed—two levels, two worlds. As long as there is only one level, one world, there can be no vision. Recognition of another and higher level is the awakening of thought.

Without this effort, without this struggle, thought falls back into a sleep filled with seductive and consoling words, images, preconceived notions, approximate knowledge, dreams, fantasies, and perpetual drifting. This is the thought of a person without any real intelligence. It is a terrible thing to realize that one has been living for years without any intelligence, without a level of thinking that sees what is real, with thinking that is without any relation to the real world. It is a terrible waste to think this way.

But without realizing this—without realizing that perhaps one has been thinking for years without intelligence—there is no hope for awakening.

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you believe yourself to be, that you overestimate yourself, in fact that you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you give, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.

But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself. You never doubt or suspect yourself. You must stop inwardly and observe. Observe without preconceptions, accepting for a time this idea of lying. And if you observe in this way, paying with yourself, without self-pity, giving up all your supposed riches for a moment of reality, perhaps you will suddenly see something you have never before seen in yourself until this day. You will see that you are different from what you think you are. You will see that you are two. One who is not, but takes the place and plays the role of the other. And one who is, yet so weak, so insubstantial, that he no sooner appears than he immediately disappears. He cannot endure lies. The least lie makes him faint away. He does not struggle, he does not resist, he is defeated in advance. Learn to look until you have seen the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the deception in yourself. When you have seen your two natures, that day, in yourself, the truth will be born. You will finally be born.

– Jeanne de Salzmann, abridged and adapted and at points modified from “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” pp. 2-6.

What Does it Mean to Be “Asleep” in Life?


What does it mean to be “asleep” in life?

Simply put, being “asleep” means being blind to ourselves, being blind to who we are, why we are the way we are, and what it’s like to be on the opposite end of an interaction with us.  It means being ignorant of or unconcerned with all of this and why we do what we do. 

Why do we—or some of us, or the vast majority of people—do this?—sleepwalk through life?  Why do we—so many of us—live like this?  Why are so many of us content to live like this?

What’s the payoff? 

A supposedly easier life?  A supposedly less painful and stressful and anxious life?

Aside from the obvious answer that “everyone else” is doing it and living the same way (asleep), maybe it’s because we’re too full of pride to be willing to look at ourselves honestly (especially if our life is not something shiny and lustrous to behold).  Or maybe it’s because we’re too ignorant and unintelligent and so we lack the cognitive capacities to look at ourselves (which is not likely for most people, especially “educated” people).  Or maybe it’s because we’re uncourageous because we suspect that we might be too weak to stomach emotionally looking at ourselves and our mess squarely, and so because we intuitively sense/imagine how stressful and painful doing so will (likely) be, we protect ourselves (self-protect) and refuse to face ourselves in an objective and fair and honest way.   We remain cloudy and asleep rather than clear and awake and piercingly honest.

When we’re asleep in life we’re not self-aware, we’re not self-conscious.  Thus we’re certainly not metacognizing—thinking about our own thinking or examining our own programming and paradigm and looking at our own behaviors.  And it’s highly likely that our conscience isn’t very active either—honesty likely isn’t a big concern, nor is doing our best or being our best or growing toward (in the direction of) becoming our best or constantly learning and improving and maturing as a person throughout life. 

In short, being asleep means leading an unexamined life.  A life where we’re ignorant of our own biases and double standards and hypocrisies and conditioning and underlying psychodramas. 

If the unexamined life truly is not worth living, then every moment spent dishonestly or deceptively with ourselves, or ignorant and unaware of our own real motivations and deeper needs and potentials, is life wasted.  And conversely every moment where we are contemplatively aware of ourselves or where we are correcting our biases, hypocrisies, self-deception and self-deceit is a moment of life worth living.

When we’re asleep, we’re on auto-pilot and living in ego-mode, we’re lost in our projections and transferences and daydreams and biases and double standards, we’re lost and asleep living a me first “looking out for number one” life where others aren’t “real” and where we’re running around constantly empty and unhappy and lost and trying reactively to get our wants and needs (love, validation, safety, security) met and inner-emptiness filled, trying to feel good, living impulsively, and taking the path of least resistant as often as possible, which means as much immediate gratification (damn the future consequences) as possible.

When we’re asleep we’re certainly not engaged in a 24/7 process of constant and never-ending self-surveillancing of ourselves and our own thoughts and behaviors and the underlying reasons for doing what we do and saying what we say.

Blissful  ignorance is the goal when we’re asleep.  Not knowing is the goal.  Not being disturbed or perturbed or awakened is the goal.  Undisturbed and uninterrupted sleep and self-numbing is the goal.  Living for the moment, living for fun, living for the next satisfaction or good feeling or psychological high or thrill is the goal.

But not constant self-surveillance.  Not truth.  Not looking at ourselves, examining ourselves, examining our own thinking, really scrutinizing it, really asking why, really being as honest and courageous and straightforward as possible.  These are not the goal.

Why? 

Probably because they’re painful and disquieting and uncomfortable and not “fun.”  They’re not gratifying.  They don’t relieve or lessen tension—at least not in the short-term!  In fact, if anything, they cause/create more tension, more unease, more anxiety, more depression, more distress, more stress, more confusion.  Truth doesn’t make us feel good.  Seeing ourselves as we are, with no softeners or buffers, doesn’t make us feel good, especially if we’re a bit of a hot mess or if we’ve made a hot mess of our lives.  So why do it?  Why look at honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter nasty-tasting medicine?

Most of us are still very simple creatures—seek pleasure, avoid pain; seek comfort and security, avoid danger and duress.  We run on very simple programming: what tastes or feels good must be good for us, what tastes or feels bad must be bad for us.  Many people, many of us, live in many areas of our life on the autopilot of these sorts of basic, unconscious (unaware) assumptions and patterns.

But waking up means waking up from the sleep that such a way of life engenders.  It means waking up from the sleep of avoiding pain and seeking only pleasure, automatically avoiding challenge and difficulty and adversity and seeking comfort and security and familiarity.  It means waking up from the sleep of living and reacting automatically. 

Waking up means asking why.  Waking up means examining ourselves constantly morning noon and night, and starting to spot our discrepencies and inconsistencies and underlying patterns and notice these.  It means learning to ask, in relation to what we do, what we say, what we like, what we prefer, what we avoid, the question “why,” and to do so almost constantly—why am I doing this?—what do I really want from this?—why do I really want this?—what will the long-term effect of doing this or getting this or eating this be for myself? et cetera. . . .

Waking up also means ceasing to be hypocritical—ceasing to ask others to do for us what we’re not willing to do for them, making them do the dirty jobs or go first instead of us.  Waking up means putting an end to our me-first I’m-the-center-of-the-world looking-out-for-number-one narcissistic ways.  It means, instead, putting ourselves on the same level as everyone else—“Love means learning to look at yourself the way one looks at distant things, for you are only one thing among many.  And whoever sees that way heals his heart, without knowing it, from various ills” (Czeslaw Milosz)—i.e. various ills such as narcissism, antisocial tendencies, borderline tendencies, depression, a myriad of anxieties, et cetera.

When we’re asleep we can’t see the wisdom in these words of Emerson—“ Character teaches above our wills. Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment” (“Self-Reliance”).  When we’re asleep, we (mistakenly) think that what we’re trying to teach—what we intend to teach—is what we actually teach.  But as we awaken, we begin realize—the horror, the horror!—that this is not the case—that instead what we are teaches far more than what we say or what we intend or will or pretend to be but not yet are.  And so as we awaken we get to work on our character—our level of being, our level of differentiation, our conscience, our capacity for virtue, our work ethic, our level of true psychological and spiritual health and courage, our capacity to love and be loved, and the forces of entropy and laziness and fear that keep us stuck and small—because this is the part of us that we carry around with us everywhere and that we cannot escape or avoid or outrun or disown—“For only as we ourselves, as adults, actually move and have our being in the state of love, can we be appropriate models and guides for our children. What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become” (Joseph Chilton Pearce).

The clock is ticking.  At every moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and either waking more up or going more to sleep, and so we’re either unconsciously communicating (teaching) wakefulness or sleep to those around us as well as ourselves. 

At every moment we’re either communicating wakefulness or sleep, virtue or pathology. —The opposite of virtue isn’t vice, it’s pathology, sickness.  Vice is a symptom or expression of pathology.  And evil is the most pathological form of pathology.  Truly healthy people are virtuous people.  The vast majority of people (us) because they (we) are asleep, unaware, unconscious are neither healthy or unhealthy but are a mixed bag—a somewhat disorderly random amalgamation of virtue and vice, areas of relative integration and coherence and areas of mental unwellness, compartmentalization, distortions, projection, unreality, bias, hypocrisy, denial, avoidance, cowardice, pathology.  And the less healthy a person is, the less virtuous and the more full of bad habits, vice, dis-intigration, self-deception, avoidance, emotional reactiveness, the person will be.  

So why try and wake up from our slumber?  Why burden ourselves with seeing ourselves (and what neurosis and psychopathology and dysfunction there is in us) as we are?  Why look clearly and honestly at ourselves?  Why force ourselves to take such bitter and nasty-tasting medicine?

Because, in all likelihood, it’s the only way out, it’s the only way to truly grow up and mature as a person and become what was intended.  If we’re not willing to have the difficult conversations with ourselves, if we’re not willing to look honestly and starkly at ourselves and start putting ourselves under 24/7 around the clock surveillance and really start scrutinizing ourselves and putting ourselves and our actions under the microscope, if we’re not willing to start seeing ourselves for what we are and start calling ourselves out on our own bullshite, then we’re just marking time, wasting our lives, and we really don’t want to wake up.  Because, bottom line, waking up means intimacy—being raw and open and heroically real and honest with ourselves—and doing so constantly—and then doing so with others and owning our psychopathology and neuroticism and weak parts and getting to work on overcoming and outgrowing them.  This is the stuff—the day in and day out frontline grunt work—of the “examined life.”  And without doing this, our lives are just a blind decent into the grass, a useless march into oblivion.

(This is a slightly edited and updated version of an essay I posted on another of my blogshttp://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/what-does-it-mean-to-be-%e2%80%9casleep%e2%80%9d-in-life/)

Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?


Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all . . . ”

(Compare the following excerpt with Pascal’s thoughts on “Flattery, Truth, and the Ego.” This is how most of us develop and maintain our sense of self and borrow our emotional pseudo-stability. And it’s really quite sad. Because if we stopped to look at what we’re doing to ourselves and if we really thought about it, is this really what we would want for ourselves? Or for our children?—is this what we would want to raise them to do and how to be?)

“Most people must look at themselves only from a distance—and only through the false and distorted reflection of others—in order to find themselves at all tolerable or attractive to behold. Self-knowledge is strictly off limits for them. Thus people such as these (which is to say the vast majority of us) are very well defended against their own spying and sieges, against their own attempts at self-knowledge. Their self-attempts at self-knowledge are futile—they are rarely able to make out any more of themselves than their outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to them, even invisible—unless—unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead them there.”

– Nietzsche, from “Human All Too Human” # 49, and “The Gay Science,” # 15

– – – – – – – – – – –

Metal health will drive you crazy, metal health will cure you sane” (or something like that)

(From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 50-63.)

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

What does a life of total dedication to truth (reality) mean?

First of all, it means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination.

We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we most not only examine it, but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful and unsettling as examination of the world within, and it is because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the vast majority of people steer away from it, distracting and anesthetizing themselves to it through various means (drinking, shopping, television, movies, bar-hopping, superficial relationships and interactions, “having a good time,” dissipating ourselves in thousands of ways).

Yet when one is dedicated to the truth the pain inherent in it seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful)—the farther one proceeds down the path of self-examination.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. To overcome this pain we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our own comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of total honesty. It means a continuous and never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our words and deeds match and that our communications invariably reflect as accurately as possible the truth or reality as we know it.

Such honesty does not come easily or painlessly. The reason people lie or shade the truth is to avoid the pain of challenge and it consequences.

Insofar as the nature of a challenge is legitimate—and it usually is much more often than not—lying is an attempt to circumvent legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mental illness.

Most people are resistant to challenge. They talk volubly enough about this or that, but they leave out crucial details. They are wasting time in their effort to avoid challenge, and usually they are indulging in a subtle form of lying.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way to revise our understanding of reality is to expose our map to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed-system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy—rebreathing our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusions.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we almost always seek reflexively to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity.

Leading a life of total dedication to truth and of openness to challenge may seem like a never-ending burden, an extraordinary task, a “real drag.” And indeed it is difficult; it is a never-ending burden of self-discipline and calling ourselves out on our self-deceptive and avoidant tendencies. Which is why most people opt for a life of very limited openness and honesty and relative closedness and self-deceit, hiding themselves and their maps from the world and others.*

It’s easier that way.

Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people and strengthening as human beings. Through their courage and openness, they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively and more deeply than closed people can. And because they are dedicated to being impeccable with their word and not speaking falsely, they know that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion and darkness in the world. They don’t have to slink around in the shadows, construct new lies to hide and maintain old ones, and waste time and effort covering their tracks and maintaining their disguises (their false selves).

Ultimately open and growing people find that the energy required for the self-discipline of honesty and dedication to truth is far less than the energy required for secretiveness, deception and avoidance. The more honest and transparent one is, the easier it is to continue being honest and transparent, just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again and more frequently.

By their openness, people dedicated to truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become more and more free from fear.

The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge and a fierce dedication to truth become a way of life.

(*Peck is talking about the “emotional cutoff” here. He is talking about the tendency that the vast majority of us have to act out on what’s worst and weakest in ourselves and to emotionally cut off or banish those who do not flatter us and who do not reflect back to us ourselves in a way we wish to be seen. Those around us who see us too accurately, or whose gaze is too perceptive and unsettling, so much so that it makes us uncomfortable, we avoid them, emotionally cut them off and cut them out of our life, banish and excise them. We’d rather live in a hall of mirrors life in a funhouse, being surrounded by those who are so weak and unloving and who care so little about us that they reflect back to us our distorted and malignant sense of self while we provide the same disservice to them. [a mutual admiration and distortion society].).

– – – – – – – – – – – –

Rilke on “Acting Just Once with Beauty & Courage” (from “Letters to a Young Poet”; letter no. eight)

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it.

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.

If we imagine the being of our person as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. And in this way they have a certain security. Yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells? We, however, are not prisoners.

If our world has terrors, they are likely our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. If only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

And this fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has, as it were, been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank where nothing new can occur. For it is not inertia and indolence alone that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another human being as something alive and will himself sound and draw on the depths of his own being.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Get busy living or get busy dying,” or “If you’re not growing, you’re dying . . . “

(From “The Way of Transformation,” by Karlfried Graf Durchheim, pp. 107-108.)

[T]he aim of a genuine spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a person’s spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life go in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life in all its intensity, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.

When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the fears and anxieties and demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces.

Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of discomfort and annihilation can our contact with what is Divine, and with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world and a patterned way of living and reacting that threatens us each with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.

The Vicious Cycle – Abuse in Childhood, and Limited or Impaired Self Capacities & Affect Regulation Skills and Avoidant Behaviors in Adulthood


This Be The Verse – Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

The Vicious Cycle – Abuse in Childhood, and Limited or Impaired Self Capacities & Affect Regulation Skills and Avoidant Behaviors in Adulthood

Beyond its obvious initial negative effects, early and severe and frequent child abuse and or neglect interrupts normal child development, conditions negative affect to abuse-related stimuli, and interferes with the usual acquisition of self capacities—perhaps most especially the development of affect regulation skills.

This reduced capacity for affect regulation places the individual at risk for being more easily overwhelmed by emotional distress associated with memories of the abuse/trauma, thereby motivating the use of dissociation and other methods of avoidance in adulthood.

In this way, impaired self capacities lead to reliance on avoidance strategies, which, in turn, further preclude the development of self capacities.

This negative cycle is exacerbated by the concomitant need of the traumatized individual to process conditioned emotional responses and distorted cognitive schema by repetitively re-experiencing cognitive-emotional memories of the original traumatic events that are triggered either by actual memories of the original event or, what is more likely, cognitive-emotional memories elicited by only slightly related current stimuli or situations (conditioned emotional responses caused by distorted or hypersensitive cognitive schema)—a process that further overwhelms the person’s limited self-capacities and produces distress.

If the individual is sufficiently dissociated or otherwise avoidant, the intrusion-desensitization process will not include enough direct exposure to upsetting material to significantly reduce the survivor’s underlying conditioned emotional distress.

As a result, the individual will continue to have flashbacks and other intrusive symptoms indefinitely, and will continue to rely on avoidance responses such as dissociation, tension reduction, or substance abuse to deal with the negative emotions arising from such re-experiencing.

This process may lead the abuse survivor in therapy to present as chronically dissociated, besieged by overwhelming yet unending intrusive symptomatology, and as having “characterologic” difficulties associated with identity, relational, and affect regulation difficulties.

Many adult survivors of severe childhood abuse expend considerable energy addressing trauma-related distress and insufficient self capacities with avoidance mechanisms.

In other words, the survivor whose re-experienced conditioned emotional responses (CERs) to traumatic memories generally exceeds his or her internal affect regulation capacities is forced to continually invoke dissociation, impulsivity, substance abuse, thought suppression, flight, explosive anger, and other avoidance responses to maintain internal equilibrium.

These avoidance strategies are used at several levels: (a) to reduce awareness of (and therefore susceptibility and sensitivity to) potential environmental triggers, (b) to lessen awareness of memories once they are triggered, and (c) to reduce cognitive and emotional activation once CERs to these memories are evoked.

In the absence of such protective mechanisms, the individual is likely to become overwhelmed by anxiety and stress other negative affects on a regular basis—especially when exposed to triggers of traumatic memory in the environment.

As a result, avoidance defenses are viewed as necessary survival responses by many survivors,

Overshooting occurs when interventions or interaction or even therapy provide too much exposure intensity or focus on material or information that requires additional work before it can be safely addressed (i.e. family history diagram).

Interventions that are too fast-paced may overshoot the therapeutic or healing window because they do not allow the client to adequately accommodate and otherwise process previously activated material before adding new stressful stimuli.

When therapy consistently overshoots the window, the survivor must engage in ineffective and counterproductive avoidance maneuvers (i.e. projection, dissociation, suppression, lashing out, splitting, numbing, impulsivity, relocation) in order to keep from being overwhelmed by the therapy process.

Most often, the client will increase his or her level of dissociation during and after the session or will interrupt the focus or pace of therapy through arguments, “not getting” obvious therapeutic points, changing the subject to something less threatening, or missing or being late to appointments.

Although these behaviors may be seen as “resistance” by the therapist, they are often appropriate protective responses to, among other things, therapist process errors given the abused individual’s limited self capacities (especially limited affect regulation skills) and distorted cognitive schema.

Unfortunately, the client’s need for such avoidance strategies can easily impede therapy by decreasing her or his exposure to effective treatment components.

In the worst situation, therapeutic interventions that consistently exceed the window can harm the survivor. This occurs when the process errors are too numerous and severe to be balanced or neutralized by client avoidance, or when the client is so impaired in the self domain or intimidated by the therapist that he or she cannot adequately utilize self-protective defenses.

In such instances, the survivor may become flooded with intrusive stimuli, may “fragment” to the point that his or her thinking is disorganized and incoherent, or may become sufficiently overwhelmed that more extreme dissociative behaviors emerge.

Further, in an attempt to restore a self-trauma equilibrium, she or he may have to engage in avoidance activities such as self-mutilation or substance abuse after an over-stimulating session.

If one considers posttraumatic stress to consist, in part, of intrusive feelings, thoughts, and memories that are triggered by some sort of reminiscent stimulus, often followed by attempts by the affected individual to avoid such triggers or their emotional effects, then a close cousin of PTSD may be borderline personality disorder. In addition to problems with identity and self-other boundaries, those diagnosed as borderline are often characterized as prone to sudden emotional outbursts, self-defeating cognitions, feelings of emptiness and intense dysphoria, and impulsive, tension-reducing behavior that are triggered by perceptions of having been abandoned, rejected, or maltreated by another person (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The “borderline” person is often viewed as having problems in impulse control, such that he or she is seen as emotionally over-reactive or hypersensitive to perceived losses or maltreatment, responding with angry affect and sudden, dramatic, and ill-considered behavior.

As with PTSD, many severely abused people have a number of “borderline traits” (some fail to meet all the diagnostic criteria for the disorder, meeting less than 5 of the 9 diagnostic criteria, while others, however, do meet more than 5 of the diagnostic criteria).

And, as per PTSD, the self-trauma model holds that a fair portion of what is considered borderline behavior and symptomatology can be seen, instead, as triggered implicit memories, schemas, and feelings associated with early (in this instance relational) traumas (e.g., abuse, abandonment, rejection, or lack of parental responsiveness/attunement) that the individual, in turn, tries to avoid via “dysfunctional” activities such as substance abuse, inappropriate proximity-seeking, or involvement in distracting, tension-reducing behaviors (e.g., dramatic actions, sexual behaviors, impulsive spending, lying, aggression).

In this way, the “impulsive,” “acting-out” behavior of “borderline” individuals parallels the experience of the PTSD individual, except that in “borderline” individuals the triggers for re-experiencing are usually within some sort of relationship, the activated memories are often implicit, preverbal, and imbedded in attachment disturbance, and the reactions to the activated memories are often more relational and seemingly more primitive since they involve the reliving of unprocessed childhood-era events (see Jacobs & Nadel, 1985, re the “infantile” effects of some activated early childhood memories).

A comparative example. A Vietnam veteran with PTSD might have intrusive sensory re-experiences of a combat scenario after being triggered by the sound of an automobile backfire, and, upon experiencing the Vietnam-era fear associated with the combat memory, engage in attempts to find safety.

An individual with borderline personality disorder, after being triggered by a perceived slight in an intimate relationship, on the other hand, might experience sudden, intrusive thoughts and feelings of abandonment and betrayal associated with childhood maltreatment, and re-experience abuse-era desperation and anger associated with that memory. The individual might then engage in dramatic negative tension-reducing or proximity-seeking or distancing behavior in the context of that relationship.

Both are having posttraumatic reactions that involve reliving a previously traumatic event, although the relational components of the latter are often seen, instead, as evidence of a personality disorder.

Thus, beyond its initial negative effects, early and severe child maltreatment interrupts normal child development, conditions negative affect to abuse-related stimuli, and interferes with the usual acquisition of self capacities—perhaps most especially the development of affect regulation skills.

This reduced affect regulation places the individual at risk for being more easily overwhelmed by the normal stresses inherent in daily life and intimate relationships as well as the emotional distress associated with memories of the abuse/trauma, thereby motivating and activating the automatic (unconscious and reactive) use of dissociation and other methods of avoidance in adulthood.

In this way, impaired and limited self capacities lead to reliance (dependence) on avoidance strategies, which, in turn, further preclude the development of self capacities.

This negative cycle is exacerbated by the concomitant need of the traumatized individual to process conditioned emotional responses and distorted cognitions as well as having to repetitively re-experiencing cognitive-emotional memories of the original traumatic event—all of which represent occasions/situations that can further overwhelm the individual’s impaired/limited self-capacities and produce even more stress and distress.

(Abridged and adapted from “Treating adult survivors of severe childhood abuse and neglect: Further development of an integrative model,” by John Briere, Ph.D. http://www.johnbriere.com/STM.pdf)