Friday, May 29, 2009

Our National Shame – What Freud Might Say

That Freud was in no way surprised at the rise of Nazism and at the murder and mayhem wreaked on humankind in general and at the attempt to systematically exterminate his own race during the rise and fall of the infamous Third Reich may catch by surprise those who have read little in either depth psychology, psychotherapy or the human sciences. But for those dealing with the murkiness of the hidden desires, suppressed and repressed, in the human animal’s unconscious, there was, indeed, little surprise. In writing these thoughts, I have deliberately opted to select the contemporary philosopher, John Gray’s term for use, that is “human animals” rather than the loaded term “human beings” which is somewhat more abstract and loaded with cultural bias. We are, after all, animals with a triune brainthe basic reptilian one where all the basest of desires, and instincts, both good and bad, reside; then the mammalian brain, which is the seat of the emotions, forms a layer on top of the preceding one – mammals suckle their young with great tenderness, after all - and finally the biggest section of the tripartite brain, namely the cortex then forms a large soft, powerfully intelligent and very flexible helmet over the other two more primitive ones. Thankfully, this complex tripartite structure is protected by the strong thin, well-shaped bone called the cranium.

In like manner, Freud would have been in no way surprised at the accounts of abuse which happened in the industrial schools and orphanages run by the Catholic Church in Ireland. Wherever one gets institutions, run by State or Church or any other private operators (think of the scandals of elderly-abuse quite recently in some privately run nursing homes here in Ireland, some of which have had to be shut down!), and where no standards of any practice at all, let alone standards of good practice, operated, then one leaves a chasm which will be filled by the grossest abuse of power. (Think of the abuses in Abu Ghraib under the US soldiers/guards.) Indeed, no therapist, worth his or her salt, is very surprised either. What they are surprised at is the stinking hypocrisy of these institutions who professed the love of God for the less fortunate and then went on to cover up abuses carried out by a considerable number of their members. Having said this much, I hasten to add that the sympathies of every good-willing person are with the victims of all forms of abuse that happened in all the institutions run by the Catholic Church in Ireland over the years. That such could have happened under the control of persons who openly and solemnly declared themselves followers of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest figures of peace and justice along with the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, is nothing short of a travesty and a scandal of immense proportions. No wonder the great Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed once that he loved the figure of Christ, but was more than a little suspect of many who called themselves Christians.

Now I wish to make a few points which strike me as a trainee therapist and teacher and educator of nearly thirty years. Some of my thoughts are influenced by an in-depth reading of both Freud and Jung over the past several years.

1. Who were/are the abusers, religious or lay?

They were/are after all “human animals,” to use the specifically measured and narrowed term used in my opening paragraph. As such, they came/come from the families of the people of Ireland, The Island of Saints and Scholars – they are the uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins of ordinary people: indeed, they themselves are very ordinary indeed. There were/are some few women abusers, but due to the “nature of the beast” as it were, they are far fewer in number than their male counterparts. But, this is what we have to ponder and learn: they came/come from amongst us – they are, in short, part of who we were/are as a people. This is a hard lesson for the families and relatives of any abuser to learn – that their family reared and produced an abuser. The abusers in religious-run institutions came/come from Irish families. This needs to be said. Unfortunately, that is the hard truth of it. And, as they say, facing the truth is the way to healing!

2. Cover Up:

The denial of knowledge of the Holocaust among the German people during the rise and fall of The Third Reich is a parallel for us poor "human animals" of Ireland. Irish families covered up abuse going on in their own homes. The institutions, Church or State, did the same. They simply covered up the whole dung-besmirched lot under a snow blanket of lies and denial. Now the snow is melting, and no harm! And, boy, is there a stench that stinks to high heaven!!!

3. Helpful Freudian Hypotheses:

At the level of the primitive brain (reptilian) lie all those ancient instincts and power drives. Freud saw the unconscious as a veritable stinking cess-pit of repressed, suppressed and craven desires. He put forward two famous hypotheses concerning the psyche, and both are still wonderfully useful concepts, even though their existence cannot be proved scientifically. His first hypothesis was/is that the mind is made up of strata, rather like an archaeological site – this we call his topological model – First we have the surface layer called the conscious, the next the preconscious and the third and deepest the unconscious. Hence, both Jungian and Freudian therapies are known as depth psychologies and depth psychotherapies because they seek to make the unconscious desires conscious and in so doing acknowledge and disempower them. The structural model speaks of the Id, the area of the psyche where the base instinctual drives and desires reside, the Superego or Over-I which acts as a conscience and rule-keeper and the Ego which acts as a broker which mediates between these two powerful entities. This is a model of psyche based on essential conflict. That the Id could break loose of all controls and erupt in physical and sexual abuse in industrial schools and orphanages given the right circumstances and that it could do the same on a national and international level with the rise of Nazism surprises few psychotherapists of the depth psychology school of thought. There needs to be many checks and balances put into any human system to prevent that institution from breaking down into the chaos of abuse, physical or otherwise.

4. All of Society

The crimes committed against the innocent, weak and vulnerable by many members of the religious congregations in Ireland must be exposed to the light of day. Those guilty must be prosecuted and must serve time for their crimes. This must be stated clearly. The religious congregations who were involved in running the Reformatories, Industrial Schools and Orphanages must also stump up 50% of the cost of the awards made to the innocent victims of these horrific crimes of abuse. That the State colluded in these crimes also goes without saying. Hence, it is only reasonable and just that it pays 50% of the bill. The whole of society colluded in the child abuse. Young women were sent away to Magdalene Laundries by their own families. As recent as 1974 when I was a teenager I remember one of my friends going away to one of these institutions to have her baby. Happily that girl did return to her family. However, her baby was given up for adoption. I recall also my father who was a postman,talking about the poor girls he saw when delivering to one Magdalene laundry on his delivery route. He never forgot how they were locked away and how badly they were treated. He always thought it an horrific crime and told us of it when we grew older. My father was born in 1913 and died in in 1993 and would have been delivering to that institution from 1930 to 1960.

Then, of course, the judges colluded, too. They gave appallingly long sentences for small stupid misdemeanours and gave longer sentences than they should have to vulnerable children – overestimating these sentences by two and three years. Nor is the medical professional snowy-white clean as they administered care to children clearly physically and/or sexually abused. And then all those of our predecessors who knew what was going on behind closed doors – why didn’t they speak out? Why? Quite simply, no one rocked the boat and they all colluded in collective denial.

I remember going to school in the sixties and seventies of the last century, and I found the way teachers treated pupils to be appalling. A good number of them were violent abusers of children. Corporal punishment was both used and abused. I also remember that many of the lay teachers were far worst than their religious colleagues. That’s why only sexual abuse crimes are being compensated for - because physical abuse was far too common in our schools before corporal punishment was banned in 1981. If they government had to pay out for that, then we would have had our financial crisis or recession years ago! Of course, sexual abuse also went on in the day schools, too, and it was carried out by more lay teachers than religious ones. Sexual and physical abuse were endemic in our society. As such, none of us is unscathed or unbesmirched by shame.

All of society colluded, so while we are right to vent our righteous anger at the religious perpetrators of these dastardly deeds, we have no right to preach from the high moral ground. Our own predecessors colluded in this terrible, painful and shaming inheritance. Scapegoating, while natural and understandable during the height of the expression of anger, is a poor substitute for right level-headed thinking, right-acting and practical and pragmatic solutions to the rising numbers of young offenders and to the growing prevalence of homelessness among the young. In these practical ways we might hope to save future generations the trauma of abuse in all its incarnations.

5. We are all in need of Healing

It’s not just the abused or the abusers who need healing and therapy. It is all of us. We all stand in need of on-going personal and professional growth. We need to come to grips with our own internal dark places and dark spaces. We need, as Carl Gustave Jung put it, to encounter and embrace our own Shadow. We need, as Freud put it, to make the cesspit of the unconscious conscious. In so doing, he believed that we disarmed the arsenal which unconscious desires and instincts put at the disposal of the unaware person or persons. Hitler through Nazism projected his base instincts and evil desires out into the world onto others. Freud would have said that that is what abusers do, too. They project their base instincts and evil desires out onto the vulnerable.

6. Need for Expression of Anger

Yes, we need to express our anger. All therapy recognises this. Anger is one of the first issues that appears for the client when he or she comes into counselling. No one needs to express their anger more than the victims of the physical and sexual abuse that was endemic in those horrible institutions mentioned above. This is being done, and should continue to be done. The way one gentleman expressed his anger on RTE 1's Questions and Answers in the past week was nothing short of powerful, eloquent and heart-breakingly moving. That our media can provide a channel for the expression of such anger is healthy indeed. The victims need this avenue of expression. One also compliments the many victims who have written of their experiences. We need to know what happened. As I've already stated above, after the anger has abated, we must look to putting into place standards of good practice in all our dealings with the young, the vulnerable, and indeed with the young offenders in our society.

Above the Cliffs of Moher - June 2008.

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