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.

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.

1.17.06 The wake for Nixzmary Brown. Copy photo from a few years ago. Best New York Post only. Nixzaliz Santiago, mother of Nixzmary Brown, along with her husband, Cesar Rodriguez, are charged with second-degree murder, child endangerment and assault in the fatal beating of seven-year-old Nixmary Brown, who was found dead in the Brooklyn apartment she shared with five siblings. Hundreds of mourners stood in the rain and wind on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2006 while the child’s funeral services were held in a New York City church.

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?

********

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 .

The Phoenix and the Butterfly

As Spring emerges from Winter and we begin to see the buds on trees and feel the warm edge to the breezes, we are again nudged to consider the profound inclination of Nature—both human and earthly– to renew and transform.

There is a useful distinction between those two possibilities—renewal and transformation. The Phoenix is the symbol of renewal, as he rises from his ashes, restored and wholly himself. It seems that almost all cultures have some version of the Phoenix in their mythologies: the Egyptian Bennu Bird, the Bird of Paradise of the Persians, the Chinese bird called Feng-huang. In Jewish midrash, the Phoenix is the one animal that does not obey Eve’s admonition to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The reward is eternal life, (although it comes with no knowledge).

In the most common western versions of the phoenix story, the immortal bird burns itself up, becoming ashes out of which it is reborn. It can continually renew itself. It is immutable; even as ashes, it rises again just as it was before.

We all wish for renewal. We speak of restitution and restoration, of being made whole again. And yet, is this possible for us? Can we be like the phoenix? Is that psychologically possible?

Which brings me to the image of the Caterpillar/ Butterfly. Here is another common symbol of death and rebirth. And yet, it is the opposite of the Phoenix. For while the Phoenix is reborn to be exactly as it was before, the caterpillar is completely transformed.  It goes through a profound disintegration and reformation. It is ‘itself’ but utterly new. This is what actually happens to us through experience, we are changed.

So much of our suffering is activated by the idea that experience should not change us, that we just want to get back to what we were, or that we need ‘to get over’ things. The Jewish midrash leads us to see that we mortals will always be changing. In little and big ways, transformation is in our nature. We are  like the others creatures who ate from the apple and now have the knowledge of good and evil, and are therefore thrust into the knowledge of free will, cause and effect, and the flow of life. As Heraclitus says, “Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” and “You could not step twice into the same river.”

And yet—the Self is immutable. As the archetype of wholeness it remains immortal. It renews and restores itself.

To bring this full circle: we have the capacity to be held by both symbols: The phoenix, as a symbol of Christ, of immortality and perpetual, consistent truth, holds us to a sense of Self—the part of us that does not change, no matter what. And the Caterpillar/Butterfly is a symbol that brings us the hope of, and the challenge of, being continually changing, affected by life, relationships, history, suffering, joy, love.

This spring let us allow ourselves to embrace our every-transforming caterpillar-selves while holding fast to the steadfastness of the Self.

Margaret Klenck MDiv, LP, is a Jungian Analyst in private practice in New York City. She is a past President of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association in New York, where she also teaches and supervises. She is also a member of PAJA.  She serves as the JPA representative to the Executive Council of the IAAP. Margaret has lectured and taught nationally and internationally. Her most recent publication is Jung and the Academy and Beyond: the Fordham Lectures 100 Years Later, for which she served as co-editor.

I Lift My Lamp Beside the Golden Door

Since we live in Brooklyn, I have crossed the Brooklyn Bridge countless times, but even when I have to crane my neck Brooklyn-bound from Manhattan, I look for Lady Liberty. She moves me every time with her blazing testimony to the truth of the human spirit. In difficult times—after 9-11, Hurricane Sandy, or current waves of human emigration—I like to see her steadfastly lighting the way.

The goddess Libertas, widely worshiped in Rome and symbolic of emancipation from slavery, has appeared in various forms throughout history, most majestically as The Statue of Liberty. Libertas seems always to have been represented as feminine, for the promise of liberation is new life, ever the gift of the maternal matrix, wellspring of birth and transformation. We recognize the power of a new beginning and its potential to redeem all in us that has been forsaken, oppressed, or denied.

Liberation is an image of what Jung called individuation, the process of discovering your innate potential and becoming wholly who you were meant to be. Individuation, “the central concept of my psychology,” is a process by which “the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious.” Symbols spark individuation, for only a symbol has the numinous power to unite conscious and unconscious and awaken us to a new reality. Like the Statue of Liberty.

Conceived and built in France as a gesture of friendship between nations, Lady Liberty inspired people from her inception. More than 100,000 French people contributed funds to create the 30-story copper lady. When Congress refused to allocate the funds necessary to build the massive foundation for the 225-ton statue, 120,000 Americans gave money. A symbol mobilized thousands to give Lady Liberty a home in New York harbor. Artists donated paintings, children sent small change, and Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem, which concludes:

                       Give me your tired, your poor,

                        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

                        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

                        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me:

                        I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Lady Liberty represents more than freedom from injustice and oppression in the external world. She represents liberation in the inner world, as we set sail from restrictive beliefs, imposed roles, and one-sided attitudes. Like immigrants packed miserably in steerage for weeks, suffering and sacrifice often precede the discovery of new life. But if we embark on the journey of individuation, Lady Liberty will ever lift her lamp beside the golden door of wholeness.

AUTHOR

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. You can find her at www.DeborahCStewart.com. She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life Podcast.  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar and contributes to the Association’s blog. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.

On Active Imagination

One of the most surprising and vivid experiences of my life occurred because of my Jungian studies. Our Philadelphia seminar was studying active imagination, and our reading included a letter from Jung to “Mr. O”:

“The point is that you start with any image, for instance just with that yellow mass in your dream. Contemplate it and carefully observe how the picture begins to unfold or to change. Don’t try to make it into something, just do nothing but observe what its spontaneous changes are. Any mental picture you contemplate in this way will sooner or later change through a spontaneous association that causes a slight alteration of the picture. You must carefully avoid impatient jumping from one subject to another. Hold fast to the one image you have chosen and wait until it changes by itself. Note all these changes and eventually step into the picture yourself, and if it is a speaking figure at all then say what you have to say to that figure and listen to what he or she has to say….therewith you gradually create the unity of conscious and unconscious without which there is no individuation at all.”*

With a mixture of skepticism, curiosity and hope, I went outside, sat down in a lawn chair, and focused on a nearby river-fed pool where watercress grows. In my image, the pool was about four feet in diameter, with the black-green cress growing thickly around the edges. Suddenly two bright red eyes gleamed up at me from the upper right quadrant of the pool, just in front of the watercress, and I saw the gestalt: the pool was a face, with curly cress locks and two eyes, which then blinked shut, as the frog to whom they belonged sank beneath the surface. I knelt down and found myself brushing leafy locks from the water maiden’s face as a mother would brush hair from the face of her sleeping child. And then I simply leaned into the pool, dived down, and found myself swimming underwater behind the ruby-eyed frog.

My vision went on to an encounter that was alive and surprising. Although I had had intention to actively imagine, “I” did not control the process and could never have created such a magical gift—one that ended with an introduction to a lost part of myself I could then begin consciously to reclaim. I understood what Jungian analyst Edith Wallace meant when she said that to be understood, Jung must be experienced.

Over time I came to understand that Jung’s psychology and methodology repeatedly seeks to achieve a dialectical, experiential relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. This is the essence of the process of individuation, or wholeness, that is central to Jung’s work. Unlike dreams, reverie, meditation, or fantasy, active imagination allows an intentional, living relationship with the unconscious. Jung says active imagination “…is a way of attaining liberation by one’s own efforts and of finding the courage to be oneself.”

I love the availability of active imagination. Although what arises—or doesn’t—on any particular day is uncertain, the unconscious tends to welcome willingness to engage it, and active imagination provides a connection in waking life to the autonomous, creative inner companion Jung so often referenced. Often, some new aspect of the chosen image or issue will emerge that consciousness can continue to mull over to make meaning—or reflect on with gratitude.

What I know for sure is that when our conscious self and the unconscious engage over time in the mutual play of active imagination, we find ourselves bigger, more alive, and truly companioned.

*You can find this passage and more in Joan Chodorow’s book, On Active Imagination, part of the Encountering Jung series.

Author

Deborah Stewart is a Jungian Analyst and Licensed Clinical Social Worker residing in Cape Cod, MA. You can find her at www.DeborahCStewart.com. She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life Podcast.  She is a member of the Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, where she co-chairs and teaches in the training seminar and contributes to the Association’s blog. She is an active member of the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and participates in other professional organizations. She has a special interest in trauma and is the author of Encounters with Monsters: The Significance of Non-Human Images of Trauma in the Psyche.

Reverie on the broken heart…

The heart is a mysterious psychophysical organ. The ancient Egyptians sensed it had an independent memory of its own. The Greeks found it more important than the brain – Aristotle held it as the seat of intelligence. The 12th century Sufi Ibn ‘Arabi tells us the heart has the power to imagine. With all this intuitive knowledge about the heart it is no wonder that when it breaks we are shaken to our core.

We know of heartache and the burdens the heart bears when it is exposed to painful revelations or unredeemable disappointment. When a friend haltingly whispers the news of their life threatening diagnosis, the knowledge is stored and held in the listeners heart where the heat of the secret burns. When our own soaring romantic feelings are shattered by the coarse realities of human conflict, our chest hurts with our heart’s struggle to bear the truth. But these kinds of labors put muscle on our hearts – teaching them to be staunch and resilient.

Breaking the heart is different and there is a great divide in the world between those whose hearts are still innocent and those whose hearts have been broken and as we meet the eyes of strangers there is a silent nod of recognition between those who bear the hidden scar.

In severe trauma often the heart breaks and cannot hold the memory of the events – images seem to fall into other organs. An unremembered sexual assault is voiced by the lower back as a piercing pain that makes physical intimacy impossible. Memories of excruciating childhood isolation lodge in the belly and are kept quiet by regular over-feeding. The remembered sounds of the front door opening and the leaden wine-soaked footsteps are encapsulated in the jaw and kept silent by the slow grind of the teeth.

A broken heart still works desperately to keep the soul alive. Each splintered part following its own disparate beat – a cacophony takes residence in the soul like a misery of ravens. Symptoms replace the natural unfolding.  Intimacy is replaced by lust – creativity becomes sepia repetition until the pain of living without heart comes to crisis. And that is the miracle.

When the suffering of the heart can no longer be silenced everything becomes possible. When that person enters my consulting room, I feel that nod of recognition rise between us. I do not believe the heart can be mended by the analyst, it is too sacred an operation. But with care and patience the strength to fulfil the suffering can arise, granting a certain silent dignity which orients the psyche toward the inner center where the pattern of the heart-in-wholeness can be found.

Offering ones heart-shards to the Self is the only way through.

AUTHOR

Joseph R. Lee is a certified Jungian Analyst and licensed clinical social worker in private practice in Virginia Beach, Virginia at www.DepthPsychotherapy.net. He works with adults and teens. He is currently the president of The Philadelphia Association of Jungian Analysts, www.cgjungphiladelphia.org, which provides a public seminar and trains Jungian Analysts. He is accredited by the I.A.A.P., and received his Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. He lectures nationally on the Hermetic Kabbalah with a focus on its reinterpretation through modern idioms.