Monday, May 19, 2008

Why We Fall Down - Suffering and Parts Work

Why do we fall down, Master Bruce? To learn how to get up.
~ Alfred, Batman Begins
I'm not sure where I want to go with this post, but I feel a need to write, so please bear with me.

It came to my attention Saturday night that someone I consider a friend (and someone many regular readers know from his blogs and comments) has fallen on hard times. I wouldn't mention it here, except that he started a blog to document the experience (or to share his suffering), so it seems fair to comment, although only tangentially.

Reading about his struggles, both in his blog and in an email another concerned friend sent to me Saturday night (which is how I found out), triggered some deep stuff in me. You see, I was once homeless for a few weeks, too. I was much younger, and at least I had my car to sleep in. It could have been worse. On the other hand, my homelessness was self-inflicted (drugs and alcohol) when I flunked out of college the first go around.

I have somehow managed to keep a safe distance from that period of my life, until this weekend. What came up was the hopelessness I felt back then (short though it was), and the helplessness I felt in later years as a good friend self-destructed and suicided, and when my sister also self-destructed and died in a fire. Other friends, including a close high school friend, had also suicided. The feelings are inter-connected.

Another element that came up was feeling as though I didn't belong in this world, something I often felt as a kid and especially when I was struggling with drugs, alcohol, and homelessness. Feeling disconnected, like an outsider, is a lonely feeling -- especially when our own family has disowned us (my case) or betrayed us (my friend's case).

But it all comes down to hopelessness and feeling powerless -- and feeling powerless can significantly alter our ability to make good decisions. This research is based in job and/or task performance, but I think the results translate into other areas of our lives.
These results suggest that poor performance of those that lack power does not provide sufficient evidence that power has been allocated fairly. An alternative explanation is that assigning someone a certain position can alter their mental skills in a way that confirms their standing. The powerful retain power because of the improved mental processes that it brings about, while impairments in the same processes keep people without power on the bottom rung. These effects make hierarchies incredibly stable, and lead the powerless into what Smith calls "a destiny of dispossession".
People who feel powerless make poor decisions and have impaired abilities in the all-important realms of executive ability of planning. This impairment makes it hard to change the situation, as suggested above. Once we get into this pattern, it's easy to stay stuck there until or unless someone helps us in some small way. In my case, a friend offered me a place to stay if I got my shit together, so I did.

* * * * *

So, this is what came up in me over the last couple of days. And how do I know? Because I wanted to eat everything in sight and sleep while I wasn't eating. Fortunately, there's never any junk food in my cabinets or refrigerator.

I learned about this emotional eating pattern when I was in therapy a couple of years ago. Following a hard session, I would have a nearly overwhelming desire to consume a gallon of ice cream. Since I seldom have that in the house, I'd eat several protein bars instead. I began to see the pattern. Feeling overwhelmed by emotions = intense food cravings. When it's really bad, I want to sleep, too, a lot.

The powerless/hopeless feeling is an exiled part (this post uses another example from my life to explain the three main parts [subpersonalities]: managers, exiles, and firefighters). The food cravings come up as a way to stuff that exile back down, which is firefighter activity (as are all addictions). Since I don't generally binge, I ended up watching TV as a way to escape the uncomfortable feelings. One of the things I ended up watching was a DVD of Batman Begins, thus the quote to start this post.

It turns out that the movie helped me make sense of what I have been feeling. It also helped that I had seen Iron Man on that Saturday night before getting the email. Both of these movies are origin myths for their particular superheroes. In both cases, normal, flawed men experience tragedy and hardship that propels them to become great.
Why do we fall down, Master Bruce? To learn how to get up.
~ Alfred, Batman Begins
What we have in this quote is classic psychology (especially Jungian and transpersonal). We suffer hardship as a means to grow as a person. Obviously, some people suffer more hardship than others, as in the case of Tibet, Burma, my friend above, or any number of other Americans who are hungry and homeless. Many of us have it easy, by comparison. But the reality is that the experience of hardship and our response to it is relative to our own gifts and abilities.

I overcame the hardest time in my life, though I certainly didn't become a superhero (damn it!). But I learned a lot about personal responsibility and integrity. And I learned that it helps to have friends who demand we make changes if they are going to help us. A little tough love can go a long way sometimes.

But I never healed that exiled part, which is likely much younger than that experience. Most of our exiles are formed in childhood and then become more complex (as in Jungian complexes) as we grow up and new experiences are layered on top of the old ones. In my family, I often felt powerless and hopeless in the face of my father's anger and/or dismissal. So I'm guessing that part is very young, and very well guarded by managers and firefighters.

I want to do the work to learn about its burden and heal it, but it will take time to negotiate with its protectors to let me in. To do otherwise is to suffer the wrath of its guards (inner critic, pusher, and binging).

* * * * *

I don't know why some of us make it through the tough times easier than others. I feel lucky to have been able to survive my own personal bottom and grow from the experience.

I don't know what will happen to my friend. I hope that he can find his footing and get the assistance he needs. He is going through a very rough time, and if he is willing to do so, he can become a better, healthier person for having gone through it.

He has fallen so that he can learn how to get up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Compared to all the articles, PSYCH classes and self help books I've read in the past 4 years (lots of time invested, eye strain, some $$$ and considerable desperation), this post definitely "hits the spot" in a unique way. It's real, it's raw. It's helpful and I love it!