Grief as Anger

           BW Grain

One of the most recognizable stereotypes of African American women is that of the Angry Black Woman.  I believe that this image of Africanist women has grown out of the Collective’s need to have a Feminine upon which to project strength.

Following the decades after slavery and the plantation system where black women worked in the fields, birthed and lost their children, took care of the children of others and suffered being a mothering slave, it seems that the American psyche would find these women to be strong of character.  This is oftentimes applied to black women—that they are strong.  But sometimes this strength is mistaken for anger—thus the angry black woman stereotype. Stereotypes exist because there was once an image, language, a story that created in our consciousness a tangible remembrance.  The recollection becomes solidified as a stereotype.

When I think about the stereotype of the angry black woman I begin to search deeper, looking for something else that resonates with what has risen to the surface.  But before going there it might be important to see why an African American woman might be angry.  The emotion of anger within ourselves can sometimes make us afraid.  We cannot tolerate the uncontrolled welling up and intense heat of the energy of rage or anger.  We can be equally afraid of the release of this anger.  I’m thinking of a situation that might cause one to be angry and yet be out of touch with how to express this anger—to have it suppressed for the sake of one’s survival. Just for a moment imagine that you are a female child born into slavery in the early 1800’s.  Your mother has birthed you and returned to the cotton fields within a month of your birth.

She sometimes comes home to breastfeed you when given permission but otherwise, your early infancy is spent in the care of an elder in the shack where you may have been born.   You might easily be cared for by a young boy if there is no elder woman available. As an infant, you continue to live with others in the shack who may or may not be biological family.  As you begin to get older you are given chores to perform in the white family’s house or in the fields.  These are minor chores and do not take up much of your time as you can still find time to play with the other small white children of the plantation owner.  The day eventually comes when you are no longer allowed to play with these children.  At the age of 8 or ten you must take on more serious jobs—you become a night-pillow for the mistress or worse yet for the master.  Your body, that never really belonged to you, now becomes recognized by you as being the possession of another. Suspicion of the ownership of your mother’s body is now finalized in your mind as you understand that she too belongs to a white master.  You find that your skin color makes you a slave.  You are told that this is how it is and how it will be for the rest of your life.  Imagine that this is your life—for the rest of your life. Imagine your anger.

The idea that slavery happened so long ago and has no place in our cultural thinking today is a part of  America’s Shadow.  It is difficult to bear the thoughts of what life must have been like back then but this is a necessary part of the healing of our American collective.  We wish to forget and we cannot forget.

When we remember and attempt to make some changes good can happen—a civil rights movement emerges which does not end in another civil war; voting rights are guaranteed by law; segregation ends.

But we cannot shine enough light onto the shadow for too long and so once more we sit at the edge of shadow awaiting the next racial storm to begin.  We have had our Ferguson and all the deaths of Black men and women by policemen within the last five years.  I believe that our cultural complexes are so activated by fear and anger that we have a great difficulty staying with patience for understanding what might help us heal our American racial Shadow.

We can understand our anger, our guilt. What of the grief that lives under the anger?  What happens to the emotion of generations of former slaves?  Jung says that our history is in our blood.  The DNA that we live with identifies us as historical and archetypal human beings.  If I feel into how my ancestors before me lived, whether through mirror neurons or the spirit of ancestors, how do I carry the traumatic emotions such as anger and the underlying grief of centuries-old slavery?  I think that we could be angry but we must also hold a deep place for grief.  So when I hear about the angry black woman, I am also trying to hold psychic space for the grief-filled woman.  Where does this grief emerge from and where does it go?  I think that at this point it could be just enough to consider that such a thing exist—an underlying grief that rests within the bosom of generations of African Diaspora women.  This grief can appear as anger.  Why not?  Within the clinical setting oftentimes the emotion of anger covers sadness and sorrow.  What would make this unlikely in a cultural group that has survived 400 years of slavery?  What is the archetypal grief of a mothering slave? These are questions that I ask myself because of the American life that I lead—both personally and professionally.

Biography

Fanny Brewster, Ph.D., M.F.A. is a Jungian analyst, PAJA member and Core Faculty with Pacifica Graduate Institute.

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From Single Story to Multiple Realities

A Nigerian writer and speaker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gave a TED talk called The Danger of a Single Story. Ms. Adichie grew up reading English stories about blonde, blue-eyed children who ate apples, discussed the weather, and played in the snow. In Nigeria, people ate mangos, no one discussed weather that varied little, and there was no snow. Ms. Adichie didn’t know people like her existed in books, so until she discovered African literature, she had only a single story about stories.

Later in life, Ms. Adichie’s college roommate in America was curious about her “tribal music” (a Mariah Carey tape) and wondered how she had learned to speak such good English (the official language of Nigeria). Ms. Adichie, in turn, came to believe Mexicans were the poor immigrants she read about in the U.S. press. Both she and her roommate had been caught in a single story about a people.

I have, perhaps like many of you, been caught this past year in a single story about Donald Trump and his inconceivable rise to the presidency. This story has made me grieve and fear for America…and then slowly realize there must be more to the Trump story than the unmitigated disaster I had constructed.

What I discovered has little to do with my opinion about Donald Trump. I cannot envision softening my opposition to pretty much everything he is and stands for. I sought instead to burrow around and behind the “Donald” story: what did some people who voted for him feel and think? I didn’t have to go very far.

My sister-in-law who lives in the South and is gay, voted for Donald Trump! She felt government had stagnated and he would get things done. Even if, she said, his administration did away with the Marriage Equality Act, of which she and her partner have been beneficiaries, there was promise of an overall better, more effective government. She was willing to forgo personal interest for what she hoped would be a greater good.

Our son voiced his opposition to Hillary Clinton. Trump had “called her out” on her thirty years of public service: she had not been the effective voice for change in the past she now claimed she would be as president. Why had she pandered to Goldman-Sachs with a series of very profitable speeches she refused to make public? Why hadn’t she listened to State Department counsel against her use of a private email server? We should, he thought, clean house and try a new approach: Trump.

One man was almost awe-struck by the “brilliant campaign” Trump conducted, implying the capability of effecting needed changes in Washington. Another said that despite Mr. Trump’s tendency to impulsivity, presidential decorum was no guarantee of wise governance. He cited Clinton era legislation that resulted in incarcerating huge numbers of African American men and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

My husband, an avid historian who for the first time since reaching voting age did not cast a vote for president, holds out hope for an overthrow of a Washington culture dominated by lobbyists working for special interests. (According to Wikipedia, the number of working lobbyists is estimated at close to 100,000; the industry brings in $9 billion annually.)

The stories I heard are not venerations of Donald Trump. They are stories of concern and care for our country. They express ideals that transcend personal interest and ego—unlike some of the public service they find so disheartening. They hope Mr. Trump will serve as a catalyst for change. I expected to tolerate these stories. I did not expect to be touched by the paradox of multiple realities and shared human values.

I probably shouldn’t have been so surprised. Psychoanalytic clients, after all, arrive in our consulting rooms with loss, confusion, and wounding, sometimes hardly daring to hope against hope that psychotherapy will help. Jung says:

…the patient who comes to us has a story that is not told, and which

as a rule no one knows of. To my mind therapy only really begins

after the investigation of the wholly personal story. It is the patient’s

secret, the rock against which he has been shattered.*

We help our clients tell their secret stories and create new ones. Now we are called to live into a new story about shaping our nation. Let’s take our eyes off Mr. Trump, if we can. Donald Trump is not a single story or even the story.

Let’s attend to stories about a country where people engage in matters that matter. They bring their daughters home from college to join the Women’s March in Washington, send their housekeeper’s daughter to camp, organize an online music event to benefit an environmental defense fund, open a synagogue to the homeless at night, and use vacation time to work for Habitat for Humanity.

There are multitudes of stories, and as Ms. Adiche points out, the stories that get told and who tells them shows where the power lies. I think it lies with us. Each of us has the power to forge a new human story.

*Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1989, p. 117.

Deb Stewart is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in Brooklyn NY

dbrstewart@gmail.com

 

Fairy Tales – How They Heal

swan

This article in The New York Times introduced me to a new concept – “emotional granularity.” Emotional granularity refers to the ability to feel and differentiate finely tuned emotions. It is the ability to identify that you are feeling melancholy, irritable, or teary rather than simply knowing that you feel bad.  According to the article, those who possess emotional granularity have significantly better mental and physical health outcomes. Psychologists explain that being able to identify a range of finely tuned emotions allows us access to a greater repertoire of responses to our distress. While that makes sense to me, I have another thought as well.

Naming is powerful.

When I try to break down what we actually do when we work with someone in analysis, probably 80% boils down to attempting to “feel our way into” their emotional experience, and then translate that into words or images as accurately as we can. Finding words or images that correctly describe the truth of someone’s subtle inner experience is a huge part of how therapy works.

Why? Because language can help contain strong emotions.

I remember the day before I took the oral examinations one must pass in order to become an analyst. I was incredibly anxious about what I was going to face, and I ran into a senior analyst and mentor. When I told her I was there for the exams, she looked at me sympathetically and said, “Oh! You must be scared!” That word “scared” had an immediate calming effect on me. It was much more accurate – and therefore grounding – than the word “anxious.” I was scared – very. And having it put into words instantly calmed and contained. For language to be containing, it has to be highly accurate. You have to understand the particularity of that emotion.

A process in which I use my intuition will turn up a much subtler and more idiosyncratic description of someone’s emotional experience. I am likely to use metaphors or images. These often present themselves to me in an autonomous fashion.

A neurobiologist would say that when I am using my intuition to read someone’s implicit emotional experience, I am making use of the body’s smart vagal system to understand what is going on. I get images or sensations, and this happens faster than conscious thought. I then translate this up using the language centers of the prefrontal cortex to express the experience in words and make these subtle experiences fully conscious.

For example, I might say something like the following:

“What is coming up for me is an image of someone trapped in a collapsed mine. It’s terrible to be in there alone and in the dark. When you hear someone on the other side scraping away to get to you, that makes an enormous difference. If you felt like your husband understood what you are going through, it would be a huge relief, even though you would still be going through it alone.”

When I get it right, or close to right, the whole feeling tone in the room changes. I often see bodily or facial signs of relief or relaxation happen, or hear a marked change in vocal tone just because I was able to find language or image for a subtle emotional state. I contend that translating ineffable emotional experiences into image or language is a significant factor in therapy’s effectiveness.

As it turns out, there is neurobiological research that supports this idea that putting feelings into words reduces emotional reactivity and helps us manage negative emotional experiences.

The amygdala is a key component of the limbic system, that part of the mammalian brain that generates emotion, assesses the environment for safety and survival, and regulates approach and avoidance. Our amygdala is constantly taking in information from the five senses and from our bodies and evaluating this information for threats. From our external senses, it picks up someone’s subtle facial expressions, posture, or vocal tone. From our bodies, it receives information from the visceral regions – the heart and the lungs, for example. Using this information, it makes a determination about the safety of our environment in less than 1/10th of a second, much faster than the time it takes our brains to form a conscious thought or feeling.

A recent study found that when people see a photograph of an angry or fearful face, they have increased activity in the amygdala, which begins to sound a threat alarm. The researchers found a significant amygdala response even when subjects were shown the emotional photographs subliminally, that is, too fast for the photos to be perceived and consciously registered. When study subjects were shown the same images and asked to label the emotion shown on the face with a word such as “scared,” or “angry,” brain imaging analysis showed a marked decrease in amygdala arousal.

“When you attach the word ‘angry,’ you see a decreased response in the amygdala,” said Lieberman, lead author of the study, which appears in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Science.The study showed that while the amygdala was less active when an individual labeled the feeling, another  region of the brain was more active: the right ventrolateralprefrontal cortex. We use this region when thinking in words about emotional experiences. It also helps us inhibit behavior and process feelings.

So the study helps us understand better a phenomenon most of us have probably been aware of our whole lives – putting feelings into words helps us regulate and contain strong emotions. And we know from the emotional granularity research that being able to make refined distinctions in how we feel can also give us a greater range of options for managing these emotions.

If a single word like “scared” can be so effective, how much more potent a myth or fairy tale can be.

Fairy tales are a rich storehouse of psychic patterns. They provide us with an inexhaustible supply of images that catalog emotional states and life experiences with endless subtlety. Metaphor provides a powerful bridge between the amygdala and the more conscious parts of brain.

For a woman whose whole life has been characterized by feeling misunderstood, demeaned, or unseen, the words “excluded,” “unappreciated,” or “despairing” have the ability to contain aspects of her experience. But if that same person and I begin to discuss her experience in terms of the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Ugly Duckling,” we suddenly have access to a greatly enriched repertoire of language and image with which to describe her experience. The chicken in the farmhouse disparages and berates the young swan for his love of water, and because the swan has always been cut off from his own kind — his “tribe” — he doesn’t realize that he is being measured by inappropriate standards. Alone and full of despair, he is nearly frozen to death, immobilized in the ice. Many of us have surely had moments where we felt like that.

Images and language can contain strong feelings and allow us better access to our thinking functions to evaluate potential responses. But it also does one other thing.

Being able to put our inner states into complex and accurate language gives us back to ourselves. We can become an observing witness to our process and in this way know that we are having an emotional experience, not being had by one. When we begin to observe our inner weather systems without being overwhelmed by them, we are much better able to regulate and transform them.

Lisa Marchiano, LCSW is a certified Jungian analyst in private practice in Philadelphia. She blogs at http://www.theJungSoul.com.

Hillary and Donald, “Nasty Woman” and “Deplorable” Man: A Glimpse at the New Archetypal Couple

hillary-and-donald

What has Jung and Jungian thought got to do with it—do with helping us comprehend the post-value, post-truth universe that we now inhabit and the leaders, who have come forth to guide us through it?

By the time you are reading this, the people of the United States of American may have elected their new president. They will have chosen from the two candidates the one whom they hope might lower their anxiety, or at least not engender it soaring to the brink of breathless panic. I have seen more than one-person momentarily cease breathing, and sink into agony at the thought of the candidate winning the election that has not garnered their passionate embrace.

The American people have desperately embraced the convenient and comforting “truth” from one or the other candidate that helps them find some solace in the increasingly confusing universe where truth as inspiration can no longer be easily located. For most of us these two figures have become elevated to archetypal principles united in enmity, and in that sense have begun to redefine what it is to be “human.”

For those of us who can put our dreams into words, we know that each of the aspiring leaders has very little chance of helping us create a society that considers the individual, allows personal self-worth, a deep respect for diversity, individuality and the possibility for a safe economic future for all. It is difficult to imagine that either one understands (or has the slightest interest in developing within themselves or in society) a space, for each individual that would support and respect the need for an internal life. An internal life by definition facilitates the reception of the creative unconscious, and the internal play of affects and ideas that generate and authorize private imaginations, creatively informing work and giving continuing resource to interpersonal relations.

Rather, Hillary and Trump are defined by what it takes to survive in an amoral universe. Trump has co-opted the lowest form of the masculine, and Hillary (G-d bless her heart) has co-opted a form of the feminine that we all hope can survive this wild and dangerous masculine energy. Stepping back from what I see as an archetypal possession, and gaining some much needed reflection and perspective, it is clear that for now, and in the near future, we will have to rely for hope and generativity on the simple humanity that remains in each of us.

It is clear why certain people would have more or less sympathy, or to be more precise, be drawn into an archetypal identification with one or the other of these personalities. Trump, as several have said before (Stewart, 2016), is identified with an archetype, and embodies the sheer force of power, a raw amoral life force, the pure force of survival. He embodies a godlike singular titanic energy that explodes truth as we know it, and creates his own truths over and over again. He cannot be seen as contradictory to the truth, as he is truth itself and is positioned to re-define it at a moment’s notice. As an energetic source, we experience him as emotionally and frightening near, riveting and engulfing. When he explodes which is his normal form of communication, his energy and his reality penetrate deeply. His explosions annihilate individuality, but in return for this sacrifice, identification with this world-creating force brings hope to some. Absorbing this godlike power, the recipients can imagine that they can also create new worlds and become gods to and for themselves.

Others are offended at the arrogance and destructiveness of such an identification. The latter group moves quickly to contain this contaminating, usurping energy. They rush to psychiatric diagnosis, to make mythological comparisons, or to make comparisons to historical personages who have who have also developed their personalities into cults. They believe the unleashing of this torrential impersonal titanic force on our country will result in an Armageddon at best! They are correctly terrified by its destructive, amoral and unconscious energy.

Hillary, on the other hand, presents as identified with persona, and as such she embodies a concretization of Jung’s concept, “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.” (Jung, v. 7, §305). There is little evidence of a creative, reflective and independent part of her personality involved in “sorting out and becoming aware” of her “masks and identifications” and differentiating “what is unduly pressured by conformity, from what is emergent and true… the work of individuation.” (The Book of Symbols, p.724 as quoted in Berry Tschinkel 2016, p.7)

She presents as a hard working public servant, serious, prepared, and a representative of diversity in all its many colors. The active, vital and creative connection she has with her persona, what motivates, and generates who she is can only be imagined, (perhaps intuited), but it cannot be experienced or accessed directly. With her humanity, and affects inaccessible, she has become the symbol of the pre-fabricated aspects of the ruling elite, untrustworthy, designed to deceive, and seduce others to believe in their ideas, all the while conspiring to obfuscate their true and uninspiring motivations. It is also easy for another large part of the population to appreciate her devotion, a life of hard work and experience and cling to her as the only possible hope for a kinder, gentler nation.

We have had many leaders that embody the possibility of society and a humanity in which the creation of an inner informing life is primary. Their presence and their words have always inspired each of us to remember the better parts of ourselves. They are inspiring because they demonstrate and illustrate by example how each of us needs to proceed to access the most sacred and informing parts of what it is to be truly human. The following quote from Nelson Mandela is a perfect example:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made mis-steps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Mandala reminds us that he both lives his life and has a profound reflective perspective on it. There is the persona that he presents to the world, it is a mask, but like the masks used in ancient ritual it is not used only to limit accessibility but also allows the sacred and transcendent meaning to emerge through it, and touch us all.

It is most important now to try to remember him and all of the people both famous, and not-at- all famous who embody this most human possibility. We are all in dire need to remember that this is still possible for us as we proceed forward in this most chaotic and dangerous of times.

Joan Golden-Alexis, Ph.D. is a Jungian psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City. Her practice consists of individuals as well as couples. (drjgolden@earthlink.net)

References:

Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS), The Book of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images, Taschen Books, 2010.

Berry Tschinkel, S., Colette, A beautiful dreamer, a transformative persona

ARAS Connections, 2016 Issue 3, (For a fuller discussion of persona as a dynamic component of the transformational process involved in individuation).

Mandala, N., Long Walk to Freedom; The Autobiography of Nelson Mandala, Little, Brown & Company in 1994.

Stewart, D, Icarus Aloft, PAJA Blog, June 7, 2016

Image Credit: Tina Fineberg/AP, US News February 26, 2016

The Ripple on the Water

The Universe is a continuous web.  Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers.

––Stanley Kunitz

I woke up on Monday morning and my first thought was: I need to get the garbage out to the curb for the weekly early morning pickup.  I did what I could to get ready for the beginning of the work week, but neglected to remember to carry out the trash.  As I sat down to eat my breakfast I picked up a novel that I had left on the table the night before and as the book opened the following passage leapt out at me:  “….and he saw the trash truck approaching as it rumbled through the neighborhood.”  I was shocked to be so aptly reminded of what I had forgotten, and at that very moment, I felt the low level vibration of the garbage trucks as they made their way towards my home. sailboat

I was experiencing the phenomenon that Jung called synchronicity.  Jung developed the concept of synchronicity and defined it as an “acausal connecting principle,” an experience of a meaningful connection between our psyche and the outside world.  Arthur Koestler explains synchronicity as, “the seemingly accidental meeting of two unrelated causal chains in a coincidental event which appears both highly improbable and highly significant.”

That particular encounter with the mysterious coincidences that occur in our daily lives not only made me jump and run to get my chore done, but it also made me smile to be reminded of such an ordinary event In such a profound way.  I marvel at these moments that nudge me towards a continuing realization of how each of us, in our very human lives, are a part of all that makes up the universe, including those events and circumstances of which we might not be consciously aware.

Jung says that, “The realization of the Self also means a re-establishment of man as the microcosm, i.e., man’s cosmic relatedness.  Such realizations are frequently accompanied by synchronistic events.” These meaningful coincidences cause me to wonder how my life might be affected if I could become more attuned and responsive to the spontaneous connections that are manifesting in my life each day.  I’m encouraged to attend to these intimations that suggest we are participating in a larger reality.

Many of the meaningful relationships between the outside world and our psyches may arise and yet remain undiscovered in us.  I do believe that we can become more sensitive to those events when they do occur. It seems to me synchronicity is more likely to happen when we are in the flow of life following our own inner direction, following our dreams, and confronting our fears. Jung suggests that the way the unconscious relates to us is a reflection of our attitude towards the unconscious.  If that is so, then it behooves us to examine how we do relate to our unconscious and the collective unconscious. As people who are interested in Jungian psychology, we tend to seek out and cultivate the processes that awaken and support the inner explorer and help us to discover and connect with our own teleology.

Sometimes I get the feeling that my life is moving too fast, or that I’m moving too fast through my life to notice when something causes a ripple on the surface of the water.  I cherish those moments when I am quiet inside myself and am able to be curious about what that ripple is connected to–what that ripple means.

china-river

Cynthia A. Candelaria, Ed.D., LPC, Jungian Analyst

The Archetype of Child Abuse: Nixzmary Brown

Untethered

I first saw the publicized school picture of her,
chestnut shoulder length brown curls close to her face,
wide eyes staring out as if trying to see into a future,
twirling faster than can be caught by a child
who has only seen seven autumns.
Angels only visit us when we are mourning, when we are open to receive.
They greet us, sending a hummingbird heartbeat message.
I saw her face and heard a whisper.
Say something about this sweet child.
Say something about this no longer Earth tethered angel.

Child

Nizxmary Brown enrolled in PS256 at the start of her 1st grade year. During this year she had few notable absences except towards the end of the school year in May. From September 2005 to June 2006, the attendance of 2nd graders at New York City Public School 256, Benjamin Banneker was the highest it had been in ten years.

The 1st grade teacher did not recollect ever having a behavioral problem with Nixzmary. The child reportedly arrived on time for school, and always presented her homework as required. The first grade teacher remembers her as a “quiet child”. Whenever called on Nixzmary Brown generally knew the answer to questions but was never a child to raise her hand and volunteer answers. She always waited to be called by the teacher even though she often knew the correct answer to questions. She successfully completed all the school-wide assessment tests and was promoted to 2nd grade.

The beginning of 2nd grade saw a remarkable difference in the attendance of Nixzmary Brown. In November, she was present in school for a total of only two days.

As the month was approaching its’ end, one of the social workers at PS 246 made a call to the child abuse hotline at Administration for Children Services reporting the absences and expressing concerns regarding Nixzmary Brown. A similar call had been made in May, 2005 when Nixzmary had been absent from school for a period of seven consecutive days.

Margarito Cotto was the PS 256 Social Worker assigned to Nixzmary Brown who on at least five occasions prior to December, had contacted ACS regarding the child’s absences and bodily bruises. As a result of her telephone call on December 1st to ACS, an ACS supervisor Orlene Cummings and caseworker Vanesssa Rhoden spoke with Nixzaliz Santiago, the mother, in her Chauncey Street apartment following their initial visit to PS 256 to interview the teaching staff and principal. After attempts to contact Ms. Santiago by phone failed because Mr. Rodriquez stated the former was too ill to answer the phone, the caseworkers had traveled the short distance to the family’s apartment. It was at this time that the premature miscarried fetus of Mrs. Santiago was observed by the ACS workers, in a jar on the couple’s nightstand.

On the same day, December 1st, prior to visiting the Santiago/Rodriquez home, the caseworkers interviewed Selena, Nixzmary’s sister at her school. Salena said more than once during this interview that Cesar Rodriquez had caused the most recent head injuries to Nixzmary which had required a visit to Woodhull Hospital Emergency Room on November 10th. The parents had previously reported to the school that the injury was from a “fall on a piece of wood”.

The time between that initial telephone phone call on December 1st by the school social worker, Margarita Cotto and the death of Nixzmary Brown on January 10, shows contradictory claims and denials as the Administration for Children Services, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Department of Education all attempt to limit blame of their agencies in the death of Nixmary Brown. Later, following the death of Nixzmary, the doctor at Woodhull who saw Nixzmary would insist that his diagnosis of the cause of her fall was consistent with and in agreement with information from the parents as to how Nixzmary’s head lacerations occurred.

School administrators and staff at PS256 were uneasy about Nixzmary Brown’s home life. The second grade teacher had reported several instances of body bruises to ACS, the agency responsible for protecting New York City children against parental harm. ACS field notes taken by staff at the school on December quote the teaching staff : “Stepparent beats mother and he is intimidating….Mother is withdrawn and passive, taking no action to protect herself or children.” Further remarks state, “Stepparent recently hit Nixzmary, causing lacertation on her forehead and a bruised eye.”

On December 1st, with this information and more from school officials, ACS , visited Nizxmary Brown’s home, interviewed her parents and instead of removing the children from the home, which they were empowered to do, allowed the children to remain with their parents. Nixzmary had playmates in the neighborhood and a family member of one of these noticed the bruised injuries on the child. Perry Robinson’s grandnephew often played with Nixzmary. Mr. Robinson says that Nixzmary told him, “He (Cesar Rodriquez) threatened to kill me and mom and everyone. Mr. Robinson remembers Nixzmary as being “so petrified”.

Due to Nixzmary’s frequent school absences, perhaps the days she was at her worst, anyone who could protect or remove her from her abusive family environment, never saw her most damaging signs of abuse.   Mr. Robinson says, “I saw her with welts on her arms, limping.”

He adds, “She would tell me she fell.” Maybe because Nixzmary tried to hide the stepfather’s abuse and was “so petrified”, Mr. Robinson and others at PS256, felt limited in their ability to intervene. There appears to have been enough evidence for concern on the part of the staff at PS 256, but not enough to secure a safe haven for Nizxmary away from her parents.

Since Nixzmary’s death, Ms. Cotto questions if she could have done more….visited the home and insisted on ACS removing Nixzmary. This is probably a question facing all of the staff at PS256 and the immediate neighbors, who came into contact with Nixzmary. Could I have done more? Why didn’t I do more? Following the discovery of Nixzmary’s body by police officers, New York City residents and neighbors of the Santiago family speaking to the media, continued to ask how such a “horrible” thing could have happened. Why hadn’t they seen the harm Cesar Rodriquez could have caused and why didn’t someone stop him?

But who could have stopped him?

The smell of magnolia

 Sometimes I remember a place that doesn’t exist anymore.
Like my grandmother’s side yard of the house built for her in 1946,
where pecan trees dropped nuts across autumn yellowed leaves.
It has been years but I can still feel in my hands
the rough edges of the small brown burlap bag that held pecans.
As I read the first news story about Nixzmary,
I was once again in my grandmother’s yard, nine years old, picking up pecans,
as the smell of late blooming magnolia passes over me,
on a warm day in November.

The Collective and Individuation 

C.G. Jung whose work has entered our American lives through his writings, and the clinical practice of analytical psychology, says that we must individuate—leave our collectives and suffer through learning the psychological pain of being alone. I believe the process of individuation was Jung’s most noted idea regarding becoming psychologically mature and morally responsible. He believed morality develops because of individuation. We cannot be moral human beings, if we remain only in concert with collective thinking throughout our entire lives.

A collective stance can only minimally support us in resolving issues of familial incest and child abuse. We can turn away from this kind of suffering because we may be afraid. As individuals, we also turn away because we do not feel responsibility for protesting—someone else will take care of the problem. This is what happens with collective thinking. The individual claims no power to stop abuse, to take conscious action in whatever form it takes.

Something drastic, usually murder must occur, and then the collective will pass a law as in the case of the death of Nixmary Brown. In New York State, there is now a Nixmary’s Law that punishes perpetrators with a maximum life sentence in prison for abuse of children under 14 years of age. This law comes too late for Nixmary Brown. Will it really help other abused children? Are we attempting to fix a Collective psychological problem only with mandated laws?  How can we as individuals feel our own morality, and take action to make important changes in the area of child protection? How can we deepen our morality in the face of abuse and the murder of children?

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Fanny Brewster, PhD., M.F.A.

Biography

Dr. Fanny Brewster is a Jungian analyst in private practice in New York City where she completed her analytical training.  She is a lecturer and workshop presenter on Jungian related topics. In December, she gave a workshop through the IAAP in Rome, Italy on the topic of “Black Lives Matter and Jungian Psychology”.

Dr. Brewster is a writer of poetry and nonfiction. Her most recent poems have been published in Deep South Magazine and Evening Street Press. Poems are forthcoming in the Psychological Perspectives Journal where she will be the featured poet of that issue.  Her nonfiction book African Americans and Jungian Psychology: Leaving the Shadows is forthcoming this year by Routledge Publishing. Poems are from the author’s unpublished manuscript, Turn a Blind Eye:  The Death of .

WHAT ARE YOU ABOUT?

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections in Chapter VI, Confrontation with the Unconscious, Jung writes of the great disorientation he experienced following his break with Freud. He explains that he lost his grounding, his very understanding of who he was and how he might practice.  In his efforts to regain his footing he paid close attention to his dreams and fantasies including memories from childhood.  He remembered playing with little building blocks with which he constructed small houses and castles.  He was impassioned by this play as a child. As he reflected upon it he experienced a great deal of emotion, which puzzled him. He concluded that these memories were still alive in him; the child was still accessible and had no doubt come to inform Jung, the grown man.  Following this and still at loose ends as a result of the break with Freud, he made the decision to return to his childhood building game.  He gathered small stones from the lake and every day weather permitting, he would go out after lunch and build; cottages, a church, a whole village.  He came to realize that as he did so his thoughts cleared and his grip on the unconscious contents of Psyche became known to him.

“Naturally, I thought about the significance of what I was doing, and asked myself, ‘Now, really, what are you about?’  You are building a small town, and doing it as if it were a rite!”  I had no answer to my question, only the inner certainty that I was on the way to discovering my own myth.  For the building game was only a beginning.  It released a stream of fantasies which I later carefully wrote down.” pp 174-75.

The question that Jung asked himself that day, “Now, really, what are you about?” has informed my analytic work with my clients for many years.  It is at the very core of my being as an analyst and in my everyday life.  There is a synchronicity associated with the quote which I will share to help you appreciate the depth of it’s meaning to me.

Near the end of my training I was struggling to find a topic for the required diploma thesis.  Jungian study, as you know, is so broad and deep; so many compelling topics one might chose. I wanted to find a topic that would seize me.  One night in the midst of my heated search, I had the following dream.

I had gone to see my supervisor.  I entered her consulting room and her sand tray miniatures were set out all about on shelves.  There was another supervisee with her so while I waited for my appointment I walked about the room selecting a few of the miniatures.  One looked like a Russian onion dome church turned upside down. Inside the dome were tiny receptacles for birthday cake sized candles, next to the onion dome was a bowl of tiny braided candles, the kind that are used in the Havdalah service in celebration of the close of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown on Saturdays.  It is that moment when the Sabbath ends and we are called to return to the mundane everyday workweek.  The candle is braided and has multiple wicks to symbolically represent the need for additional light so that one avoids staying too long in the bliss of the Sabbath.  A return to consciousness is required.

In the dream I took some of the candles and fixed them into the little receptacles.  I was puzzled by what I configured.  I didn’t understand.  At that moment, a small, old, white haired man appeared in the middle of the room and in a voice that sounded far away he spoke to me.  He said, “Sandy, what are you about?”  That was the end of the dream.

I was left with the mystery—the onion dome, the little braided candles and the haunting voice of the white haired man.  For days I repeated his question to me over and over again.  “What are you about?”  Many hours of personal analysis, active imaginations and paintings and then I had it!  The braided candles represented my dual training as an art therapist and a Jungian analyst. Two burning as one. How did they stand-alone and yet enhance each other? My thesis would be about how I combine the two disciplines.  Some weeks later, I picked up Memories, Dreams, Reflections for no reason and randomly opened it. It automatically opened to pages 174-75 and there, underlined in several bright colors, was Jung’s description of his return to his childhood game and his haunting question.  I was flabbergasted.  I honestly had no memory of having read that passage before and here I was having dreamed Jung’s very words.  “…What are you about?”

I read on, further Jung wrote, “This sort of thing has been consistent with me, and at any time in my later life when I came up against a blank wall, I painted a picture or hewed stone.  Each such experience proved to be a rite d’entrée for the ideas and works that followed hard upon it.”

The question for me is like a key that opens the door to the archetypal journey of individuation.  It is an invitation to enter the work of analysis, to open to the dance between conscious and unconscious. It is the question that creates the framework for the analytic relationship.  The guide and the seeker.  The analyst/guide has among other roles, the job of witness.  In Jung’s play with the building blocks and in my dream, the question, “What are you about?” evokes a creative response.  It makes room for the “other”. One is invited “to wonder.” I see it as a caring question.  We all want to be seen and to be met.  Here the questioner is pointedly noticing us and taking the time to ask. She is creating a space for us to come to know our self.

I invite you to spend some time with this question and see what you discover.  You will have an experience of Jung.

 

SMALLFullSizeRenderSandy Geller, MA, ATR-BC, LCPAT is a Jungian analyst and a Board Certified Licensed Art Therapist.  She is in private practice in Chevy Chase, MD where she sees analytic clients and does ongoing Art Therapy groups.  Sandy lectures and gives workshops about Jungian Art Therapy and Creativity.  The workshops always provide an experience of Jung and a deep connection with the symbolic. She has taught at the CG Jung Institute in Kusnacht, Switzerland, The Philadelphia Jung Institute, The Jung Society of Washington and elsewhere. She gives workshops in her home studio, as well.  Some recent classes have focused on Dream Drawing, Personal Myth and Fairytale, Personal Creation Myths and Stories. Many of her clients are artists, poets and writers stuck in their creative process.  Working intensely with dreams, art expression and the symbolic is helpful in the process of awakening the creative spirit. She can be reached at sgeller5@verizon.net.