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.

Advertisements

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 Phoenix and the Butterfly


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.

caterpillar

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.

 

Reverie on the broken heart…

heartThe 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.

Joseph R. Lee is a Jungian Psychoanalyst in private practice in Virginia Beach, VA.

www.DepthPsychotherapy.net