The way we are…

Last week, I travelled to Stockbridge, Massachusettes, to attend a conference on psychosis. Wonderful event, a storehouse for learning. An enormous validation for my way of working either without, or with miniumally invasive methods, including medication. Was intensely happy to hear that the next years conference is to be held at San Francisco. But  the conference, remarkably informative, isn’t really the subject of the blog. My round trip to Berkshire and back was extremely intriguing, and it is to that trip that my post is dedicated. I had tremendous experiences along  the way, that contributed to my understanding of the human psyche, and of course I pondered on the developmental aspect of our societal behavior.

The planning stage went smooth. I had sent in an abstract last year, and had been invited to speak. Booked a ticket a few months ago, and got a great price on it. Asked a friend to babysit the kids while I was away, and she was gracious enough to accept it. The problems really started with my writer’s block. I developed tremendous resistance and could not get myself to write. Looking back, I wonder if that resistance caused all that followed, or if the resistance itself was a sign of things to come, for the trip to East Coast became a series of disasters.

The day was bright and chirpy on Nov 5th. The sun was warm and brilliant and I happily prepared to drive to SFO which is four hours away on a good day. I had booked to fly to BDL. I would leave SFO at 1:00 pm on Friday, and reach BDL at 12:00night, rent a car and drive to Stockbridge, a small town approx 2 hours away, to present on Saturday.  I had finally written up my paper, but hadn’t finished the last 3 slides but since the subject involved my daily work, I was ok with that.

The first little glitch – that had gone unnoticed by me – the neighboring dogs and cats all suddenly were poo-ing in my front and backyard. Being a Jungian, I should have heeded the sign. A few weeks before my departure. I misplaced my existing debit-card, and got a temporary one which did not have my name on it. The bank promised to mail me a replacement within the next 30 days. So in addition to my credit card, I carried around with me this debit card which had the words “Preferred Customer” on it instead of my name.

The lady at SFO asked for my credit card to check me in. My carry-on bag turned out to be 2″ longer than their prescribed length, and I was asked to check it in. Whoever coined the term “small is beautiful” had been onto something! This, along with the fact that airlines have stopped serving meals on the flight, would add another $100 or more to my cost of airtravel. Suddenly the fare didn’t seem to lucrative as the airline has projected it to be.

After checking in, I proceeded to the departure terminal. “Proof of indentity please?” just before the scanning machine.  So I put down the book I am carrying, put down the coat I am carrying, unzip the backpack that weighs a 100lbs and has all these silly electronic gadgets that I am required to carry just so I may be judged “normal” – the cellphone, the pc, the camera, their chargers, their adapters, converters and so on and on and on. To extract my wallet from this electronic jungle takes some doing.  After several minutes of trying, wishing, praying and ignoring the shuffling feet of the people behind me, I give up, squat and dump the electronic zoo onto the floor. At the top of the pile – bottom of the backpack – is the desired wallet. I extract my identity from the wallet and hand it to the homeland security guy. Without glancing at the picture he gives it back and asks for the boarding pass. I scrambled to shove all the stuff back into my backpack, but like evils of Pandora’s box, these are difficult to fit back. After much struggling, I manage to dump almost everything except a couple of books back, stagger up and hand him my boarding pass. He stamps it and waives me towards the security check.

On the belt, I put the backpack in a tray, then walk towards the beep-beep gate, hoping to glide thru. No such luck. The guy looks at me and waives me back, muttering and pointing downwards. I have no clue, so I retreat in confusion, and try to move forward again. This time a loud whiplash : “SHOES!” as several cops menacingly walk towards me to restrain me. “What about them? ” I ask, holding my skirt up so they can see the top of my boots, see that I am not concealing any weapons. In Fresno, where I live, when you enter secured places, you’re supposed to lift your pants to reveal the top of your shoes. By now he is positively seething with impatience “Take them off” he barks. I look around and realise all are required to take off shoes! So I unzip my boots and take them off. “PUT THEM IN THE TRAY”  Gosh, why didn’t you say so? So I put them in the tray but by now I am reduced to a quivering mass of jelley. Images of a psychotic mother and hapless infant (causing psychosis in the infant psyche) arise in my mind. Where was this fear coming from? Had I ever been assaulted in infancy? Had someone screamed this way at me then ? Or was this the first time, hence my regression to infantile stage of confusion and fright? Because of my training, I knew better than to buy into their projective identification – it is pretty evident to me that my tormentor must have been abused as a child, else he would be incapable of such behavior towards others.

Then I thought – soon we would be required to walk thru the gates in the nude. How would they arrange that? Will we have to pass thru a room full of cameras or will there is a His and Her section – like restrooms – where men and women will strip us down and search us in greater detail – what if someone is carrying a small gun shoved up their a** ? Just like the drug cartel had done. The image repulsed me and I remembered a psychologist from the East Coast (Masachusettes) that I got acquainted with, on Psychology Today. She was an epitome of paranoia, she assumed all her patients were dangerous and she needed to be protected from them by law, and by the licensing board. We often would be at the opposite sides of this debate of whether the people themselves are dangerous, or whether it is the therapist’s unconscious aggression  and psychotic tendencies induce patients into becoming irrational. Whereas my patients are mostly respectful of me, and extremely honest, trusting, and trustworthy, for some reason her patients are disrespectful, they stalk her, run away with her money, and on one occasion had even attacked her. After carefully hearing about her interactions with her patients and observing her interactions with colleagues, I had come to a silent conclusion that her patients were less disorderd, it was her interaction with them that caused them to behave this way with her. It was her own paranoia, and disorder that she projected on the patients. Her patients responded to that the only way they could – by becoming as psychotic as her. In that moment I understood  how the American govt was engaged in a similar dynamic with the rest of the world.

As I expectantly waited for my backpack at the other side of the metal detector gate, a buzzer went off in the distance. I heard the words “Security check” as if in a dream and watched someone drag a backpack off the rollers and walk towards me. I was sufficiently dissociated by the trauma by now, and realised my backpack had caused the beep. Despite the depersonalisation, there was this nagging fear that I couldn’t understand. The cop said “May I open this?” “Sure, go ahead!” I said. Would it have mattered if I had said “no?!”  I wondered if someone had stashed away drugs, or weapons in my bag without my knowledge. The movie Bankok Hilton flashed before my eyes, but the ego found that level of fantasy unsustainable. I watched him dump out everything, and caught the sympathic eyes of the passer byes who nevertheless were secretly glad it was me, not them. One passer by mumbled the words “the clever actually manage to get away with bombs in their bags, and then these guys take that frustration out on the innocents!”  I felt invaded by the cop’s dirty masculine hands trained to rape our belongings. He seemed to be taking a perverse pleasure in caressing things that were intimately mine, and I resented that.

Coming from a psychodnamic perspective, I believe this feeling of terror I was made to experience is the precise feeling that the govt, and homeland security, deliberately wants to inflict on people. Perhaps this is the emotion that they think will keep the airports safe. Unfortunately, the so called “bad” people are immune to it, and only the innocent suffer. Such behavior causes more hatred and ill will than anything else. Which is the topic at my next conference where I speak on the the origins of hate. So this incident seemed pretty epigenetic, if you know what I mean.

There was nothing spurious in the backpack, of course, but that didn’t matter to the cop, so he asked me to separate the backpack and the laptop. So I unzipped and took off my boots again, went back, and repeated the whole process, placing the pc and the now molested backpack in two different trays and had them pass thru the metal detector. They got past the detector without a problem.

I am neither from Middle East, nor a Moslem, but my name has an Arab ring to it, Sameer being a popular Moslem Middle Eastern name. Profiled as an Arab, however unwillingly, I could not not feel empathy for all the Muslims and/or Arabs trapped in such situations, and a strong distaste for the US governments’ policies of discrimination, hegemony and oppression. At that moment, being treated this way, my sentiments could not be anything but anti-American. I experienced and understood how hate is born out of such helplessness and degradation that the cops were inflicting on me with their delusional and paranoid ideation and inaccurate profiling. I wondered if their fear arose as a compensatory defence against an innate sense of shame at having tormented more than half the world thru warfare and oppression, or were they just narcissistic in their organization? Were they specifically trained into a narcissistic attitude, or was the recruitment system designed to ferret out and select the most narcissistic/anti social profiles and enhance an anti social attitude ? Their behavior had nothing to do with my identity, or even with who I am, or was at that moment. To me it was indicative of their own pathology. The feeling passed in a few hours, days, but I had learnt a new experience of reality.

I headed towards the designated terminal. The place was like a fancy mall – eating joints, clothing, music shops, pharmacy, you name it, it was there. The music seemed too loud and blaring. The lights were flashy. I felt I had landed at the strip in Las Vegas – a place that I mostly detest. The severe pollution invaded the core of my being, and my first impulse was to run away from what seemed to me to be such a vulgar overstimulation of senses. Was this what the wars, and “colonization” was about, what it was for – so we could have this allegedly “superior” life? So we can taste orange chicken in a flashy restaurant, or we can sip Champaigne in a bar, where scantily clad women served to titillate our senses further ? For this millions of mothers lost their sons and millions of daughters lost their fathers all over the world? For this children were raped, and wives widowed? Survivor guilt clouded my mind, and my calm and peacefully serene life in the small town Fresno, at that moment seemed like life in a monastry – safe, protected, wisdom oriented – and such pollution and noise seemed terribly intrusive and invasive.

I was hungry by now, and chose a quiet corner in a least crowded restaurant, wolfing down my meal in silence. The glare and the noise seemed deafening, so I decided to shut out the overstimulation by reading a book. Couldn’t find it and realised I must have left it in or around the metal detector. Should I risk an encounter with those cops again, or should I just go without the book? It was one of my favorite books, and a very powerful read, so I decided to go back. Burger in hand, I picked up my stuff and marched back to the metal detector area. I tried to catch the attention of many cops, none of them had time for me so I walked to the gate and tried to cross it -I knew someone would notice me if i did that ! At the time I felt what Osama Bin Ladin must have originally felt – failure trying to get noticed and heard, failure to get anyone to give me back what had been mine.

Immediately several cops descended on me and barked orders and questions. I calmly explained that I had left a book here and wondered if someone had seen it. One of the cops escorted me to a table around which were a bunch of them in splits over some hapless passenger’s plight. My escort asked them for the book. “Whats the name of the book?” the other cop asked me. “The Search for the Lost Mother of Infancy” I said. “”Whats the color of the book?” he asked. I wondered how many copies of that book they had found in the last few minutes with that name, and said “its a black hardcover version” Still unwilling to return my book, he said “can I see your identity?” There was no reason for him to ask for my identity, of course, because my name was not on the book, and my relationship with the book could not be directly established, but even if it were the case, I was inside the security zone, and the two – boarding pass and identity – had been already correlated. he could just have used my boarding pass! The hungry wolves just wanted to play with the food as long as it breathed. Surrounded by cops, and under their watchful eye, I knelt on the ground, emptied my backpack for the third time in the last 30 minutes, and handed him my driving license. He didn’t even bother to look at it, and handed the book back. I remembered reading somewhere that “cops are just a bunch of bad guys on the good side of the law.”  At this moment I seemed to have become the butt of jokes. I pushed the stuff back into my backpack, and a warmth washed over me, the warmth of embarassment and shame. Its an alien emotion for me, and I realised that the cops were well trained to induce that. In the background, the big screen TV was blaring about Obama’s visit to India, where he had gone to woo a billion and a half Indians to help him infuse new blood into the dying American economy. Was it the shame of having to go to a third world country for business, was it that shame that the cops were projecting on me?  Or was it my name that had an Arabic ring to it? Was it the envy and fear that the success of Indian immigrants in US evoked? Or were they as charming to their own as well? A feeling of sadness and a sense of pity for the typical American women enveloped me. I have travelled widely in the world, and lived in many countries, but I have never experienced such general disrespect for women and children, and for the welfare of women and children, in any other country. I certainly don’t think generally women as a gender, in Eastern countries are disrespected. Erich Noumann’s thesis on “The Fear of the Feminine” arose in my imagination. Once again I could only feel sorrow for the American women and childen trapped in such a masculine society that had no sense of respect for vulnerability. There was more to come…

I reached BDL at 12:00 in the night, and took a bus to Enterprise Rent A Car. I had booked the car many months ago. I looked for my credit card, but couldn’t find it. Regretfully, I realised that the lady that helped me at the check-in at SFO, had probably walked away with it. But I had a debit card, my bank had plenty of cash in it, and I had a pile of $100 bills so I felt safe, or so I thought. The man at the counter refused to accept the debit card. I repeatedly requested him to call my bank to check, I offered to log into my account and show him the cash that I had, I offered he take a blank cheque as a deposit, anything in return for the car. He refused. I tried to point out that I had booked the flight, the hotel, the car with my debit card, and they were under a contract to rent me the car, I pointed out that I was a very frequent and regular customer at Enterprise Fresno, and he could have access to information pertaining to me on the Enterprise database, and I even said that I was a woman stranded in an alien place 2000 miles from home and it was well past midnight. Nothing. It just irritated him. I felt this surge of pity for his wife, and his daughter, and his mother. A man so devoid of compassion and gentleness and helpfulness – what would he have to offer to the women in his family? These behaviors are not in isolation, they represent a general pattern of relating. I wondered how he traumatised them in their everyday life? I also wondered how he had been traumatised by his mother, to reach a state of such disconnection from the world. I then asked him what I could do, given the circumstances – and he said he did not care, maybe I could take a cab! “In the middle of the night? Two hours drive thru deserted highways? I would be too scared!” He just shrugged his shoulders and left.

I tried two other car rental agencies, but all had the same response. I cursed myself for leaving my own country and coming to US. In India, even today, most people would offer a solution, even offer to drive 2 hours to make sure the woman stranded in an alien place, remained safe. I pondered on the role of early object relationships. Especially the very early interaction. The infant doesn’t sleep with the mother here. It sleeps in the cold isolation of a crib! As a consequence the bond with the feminine, the nurturing aspect, the anima, is significantly weak. What you haven’t got in life, you cannot give to others. It was this cold isolation that was being projected on me at this time. I was used to the warmth of the mothers touch in bed, in infancy and thru childhood, and how I missed that warmth at this time.

I stayed the night at a nearby hotel run by an Indian couple who pampered me to no end which helped me repair myself. Next morning, they ordered a cab for me, and helped me load my bags into the cab, and gave me a hug on my way out. I drove straight to the conference, and totally exhausted by the end of the way, looked forward to sleeping at the small hotel I had booked in. The hotel – a motel actually – also happened to be run by an Indian couple. I reached there at 9:00pm, exhaustion etched on my face and demeanor. The owner, a middle aged guy, expressed profuse concern and empathy at my condition. Before he went to bed the night before, he had turned on the heater in my room, and had left a map with a list of eating places where I could find food if I had wanted to eat. In the morning when he realized I hadn’t checked in at night, he had become worried and had called my cellphone (which I had turned off) to find out if I had been safe. When I explained to him what happened (over a cup of coffee), he waived the charges for the previous night, and helped me into what he said was the biggest and the best room in the hotel, for the same rate. I insisted on paying at least $20 to cover his expenses from the missed night. He asked me what time I had to leave in the morning, and where my conference was being held. I told him the address, and asked him if he could call a cab for me at 8:50 am. He thought for a moment, and then said “This place is about 10-12 miles from here. It will cost you about $30. You’ve been through a lot, just come out to the front desk in the morning and I will drive you there.” After the ordeal and the coldness I had experienced, his words made my eyes misty.  On the way to the conference next morning we briefly  shared our history.

Saving $30 wasn’t what made me emotional. It was the feeling of not being isolated, of having someone I could turn to if things got worse. I had felt starved of humanity, now I felt I wasn’t alone – isolated and cold – in my “crib.” I had human connection, a world that cared about what happened to me. A world that was not exploitative, nor harsh. A world that saw me as a human being, rather than as an opportunity, an object to be exploited for money. I knew some of my previous experiences in US formed a template for this experience of the moment, and I struggled to separate the moment from its past.

In the last analysis, it isn’t how much money we make, and how big a car, or a house we have. In the end, all that matters is how we have touched the life of others, and how we have been touched in turn. For those who are incapable of touching others, or being touched, money becomes a compensatory mechanism – a sadomasochistic tool that is as numinous as the human soul, except that it is a soul taken over by the devil. Those of us who can experience the vulnerability of a human soul, are blessed with humanity, with emotion, with compassion. We can experience the fullness of life, and share that fullness with others. Those that do not retain human characteristics, they become dissociated automata…like those cops who caused and openly reveled in the misery of the passengers, Rent-A-Car guys who were rigid about their policies and procedures to the exclusion of human behavior, and their humanity.

On the next day, a wonderful lady from New Mexico offered, and when I expressed reluctance, insisted on driving me back to BDL. It was a 3 hour trip for her. Such random acts of kindness surprise me, but keep my hope alive in humanity so I gratefully accepted her offer. On the way to the airport, she told me her stories, of how she had spent a good part of her life in India, and with American Indian tribes in New Mexico where she had had learnt compassion and love, and I told her my stories and how I had to learn to be rational, learning to be afraid and mistrustful in this society. A moving towards and meeting of cultures. A connection was established, an emotional connection that would never have been possible had I refused her offer and taken the cab back (which I did contemplate for a while). From her ways, I knew that she had been contained, either by her mother, and/or by other people in her life, or by her deities…and she was passing that containment, compassion, love and caring onwards to the world….we could only give what we had received, and love was the only wealth that mattered anyway…

Since the next conference is in SFO, I insisted that she had to come and spend at least a week with me exploring the Yosemite mountains. A beautiful human bond was born out of her compassion and care.

Many more glitches dogged my trip. At each stage, I felt brutalised by the masculine businesses and institutions that represented the reality of American life – and I was nurtured by the feminine, that represents its traumatised people who suffer silently, and can only heal themselves thru compassion and love, by sharing trauma that is inflicted on them by the callous, linear, unemotional patriarchical system. Devoid of any contextual reference, a referential benchmark of another (nurturing) culture, most aren’t even aware of the extent of their traumatisation except through the expression of their unconscious rage that manifests itself in the million wars that US government mandates, through the million wars that the US soldiers fight all over the world and through the disillusionment of the returning war veterans.

To this day I, and countless South East Asians, continue to consider America as a transitional place, we are unable to associate the label of home with it, because the home that we have experienced in our childhood had not been only a place of opportunity and wealth creation, it was not exploitative, nor punitive, it had always been nurturing and tender, home was never associated with cold, callous, ruthless and traumatising. Our developmental lenses are the only tools we have to make meaning out of our experiences, and they are deterministic. Hence when immigrants are asked for their unquestioned loyalty, the interpersonal relating experiences with individuals native to this country encourage us, but the lack of home-like experiences, lack of benevolent institutions, laws, lack of a societal mother, cause most immigrants to remains suspended in the transitional space, for our experience of our own culture is maternal, and nurturing, not paternal and punitive.



10 responses to “The way we are…”

  1. Good morning Madhu.

    Nice resonance of Schopenhauer. I like it that your thesis started with this.

    For me too boundaries are of endless interest. All my training/reading suggests having clear (but permeable) boundaries is part of the process of moving from dependence through independence to interdependence, and part of being a healthy mature being. Your insights into the Asian psyche certainly raise some interesting questions around this, and the implicit links of boundaries with closedness vs openness (closeness).

    I don’t know what you shared with the Indian couple of course, but it saddens me to think that you feel/believe sharing the same things with any and every Caucasian would be shocking or unacceptable. Is there not a bond or connection that runs deeper potentially?

    I like your analysis, Madhu, but it doesn’t quite work for all Western countries – certainly not for the UK – or all of it anyway….maybe it works for Western countries where there is lots of space (US) and also where there is an organic community giving a perception/feeling (illusion?) of cohesion and safety (not sure about this latter, but this is certainly no longer true of the UK) . I think of the more recently arisen gated communities in the US where the very rich create a boundary to protect them from the very poor.

    In the UK many homes have very clear boundaries with little picket fences or the ubiquitous privet (private?) hedge separating/protecting the occupants.

    A boundary is a defence. Defences protect us but also entrap us in habits of which we are unaware. Perhaps as true of external boundaries as internal.

    Is there a linkage of boundaries with wealth (and in the UK, class), I wonder? Need to do a google search on this or there’s a PhD waiting to be written on it (not by me!)

    And in the East is the clarity of demarcation always linked with family relationships? How is the boundary defined in relation to friends? Who is inside the house boundary and who out? A neighbour is not necessarily a friend but may be.

    Lots of thoughts as ever, perhaps a little more unconnected today…


    1. Karin,

      I wouldn’t share it because the proximics is different. Most Caucasian couples would think of such disclosures as boundary transgression unless there is an established prior relationship. Too Much Information. We can’t wish the differences away. Rather than saying there isn’t, or should be no difference, it is much more beneficial to accept the diversity, for then these differences can be understood and contextualised. One has a choice. But these are realities of life.

      I had a Caucasian client once long ago, who lost her young son. The son’s Indian girlfriend was devastated, asked to attend the funeral and wanted to speak at the funeral. She had written a prose poem which essentially said how much she loved him, and how utterly empty her life was without him, and how she wished he had taken her with him so they would never be separated even in death. She also said his death had left a hole in her life that no one else could fulfil. I had been about to remark that it was one of the most eloquent piece of poetry I had come across – she must have loved him a lot, until my client said “we didn’t let her speak, of course. Her poem clearly shows she is unbalanced and psychotic!” She was speaking from her own experience – where love was considered transitory, elusive, and there *needed* to be a ready acceptance of loss. Stiff upper lip – if you know what I mean. Boy, was I glad I had kept my mouth shut!!!

      The way we hold attachments, the way we experience and express our grief is crafted in response to our early object relationships, how we were held, and how long we were held by our mothers. There isn’t anything right and wrong about it – it just is. That episode, taught me a lesson and I don’t take anything for granted now.

      Picket fenses are porous boundaries. I wonder what that represents. I am not aware of British culture in any great detail…We have concrete, brick and mortar 4′ – 5′ tall boundary walls. That must mean something !!! LOL! As for boundaries with friends, and I talk about Hindu culture only, traditionally everyone except partner/wife is a mother or a sister/brother. And everyone is family, neighbors, employers, colleagues included. Of course we have arranged marriages, and almost no premarital sex, so friends, neighbors etc never (very rarely?) are perceived to have relationship potential. Very rigidly enforced boundaries, as you can see. I called all my neighborhood boys bhaiya (brother) and had been reminiscing with a close friend of mine who complained that his sister had tons of very beautiful friends, but when they came home to visit her, their mother would say “bubba come out and say hello to your sisters!” Sisters friends were all supposed to be his sisters too, in the purest emotional sense! LOL! I can identify with that too. Anything less is considered incestuous. Talk about rigid boundaries…!

      Things are changing now, but still, this is the norm, more or less.

      Hope this helps.

  2. Madhu,
    I am glad your story has a happy ending – in a way….though your reflections, as a South East Asian, on life in the US are, to say the least, disturbing. As a product of that culture, do I recognise what you describe and experience? Yes and no. ‘Cold, callous, ruthless and traumatising’ feels beyond the pale of my childhood experience, yet ‘nurturing and tender’ is certainly not accurate for me either. I think on balance I recognise what you are describing as endemic in the US culture, and I am struck by the luck (or was any of it design?) of your late encounters with Indians (from near and far) who redeemed the horrors of your experiences on your journey.

    To share my own reflections on cultural nuances…as a US citizen who has lived for decades in another country and culture, I wonder if being away from whatever home is or was, leaves one feeling at least a little alienated. I miss the enthusiasm, energy, welcome spirit and belief in opportunity that I remember in the America of my childhood (or is/was this just my American dream? I sometimes wonder). Of course, the counter side of this is the over-emphasis on individualism and independence – you’re in it on your own, for better and worse – as your story demonstrates.

    While I enjoy aspects of the English character, sometimes the irony and humour for example, on the other hand the dullness of spirit, passive-aggression, and lack of direct expression I encounter on a fairly regular basis, gets me down. And I have noticed, even after all these years, a fairly regular peppering of disparaging comments made about Americans generically in my presence (sometimes deliberately aimed at me but almost always presented as a generic racial comment for me to take as I will – an example of passive-aggression in action).

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and reflections – thought-provoking as ever.


    1. Karin,

      Thanks for your gentle words. They say the creator rarely stretches us beyond our endurance. If I hadn’t found the intermittent kindness, I may have aborted my speaking assignment and asked any one of my friends from NY to pick me up and take me home instead. In fact I was almost tempted to do that on Friday night.

      All experiences are felt and measured against a benchmark. It is only against the backdrop of my nurturing culture that I can assign the term ruthless and punitive to these experiences. If I did not have that experience, this wouldn’t seem so horrible – if that makes sense? So given the same situation, my experiences will not resonate with those of someone from Australia for example. Someone who is born and brought up in US would probably not feel so traumatized because their expectations from the environment are not of nurturance. What makes us vulnerable is our own interdependability. One readily gives what one has received, but then it comes with the expectation that one will continue receiving from the environment. Covery talks about the concept of an emotional bank account – if the environment keeps drawing from us without replenishing the bank account, soon it is bankrupt. For these guys, their bank account was indeed bankrupt. And one often keeps hearing the words “be gentle to yourself,” or “pamper yourself”. These words are alien to our culture because the environment does pamper us, and constantly replenish the bank account.

      Being away from home is indeed terrible. As I grow older, I feel it more and more. Perhaps the resiliance thins, or perhaps the Self is more secure and there is less acceptance of what is deemed to be substandard behavior from the Other. Or perhaps there is more wisdom and growth and one recognizes that the economic welfare isn’t worth all the trouble that are part and parcel of being an immigrant, far away from home.

      Just my 2c. These are just personal experiences, nothing right and wrong about them. They just are.

      1. Madhu, I understand why your nurturing cultural background makes the experiences you describe so horrible, and your sharing of that experience also helps me understand some of my own often very strong and seemingly irrational responses to my own experiences.

        So thanks for these further comments – for reminding me of Covey and also for putting in perspective a comment I received last week about some work I am doing. I had requested direct face-to-face feedback from the group and received some, generally positive, but one individual sent an e-mail to my colleague (who is commissioning me to do this work) saying that she had been surprised there was not enough about ‘loving ourselves’ in the work I was doing (this was not the brief at all). She then went on to give the website of someone else who provides input on ‘loving ourselves’.

        It seems to me that if one/you has had the benefit of growing up in a nurturing society, and indeed still lives there within yourself (even if the external world all around fails to reinforce these values), then there is no need to request ‘input on loving ourselves’ or directions to ‘be gentle/pamper yourself’.

        I was offended on two counts – one that the person did not have the courage to give me this feedback directly when I had requested any/all feedback and indeed was indirectly suggesting to my colleague that she employ someone else instead of me; and two for the reasons you have illuminated to me, and this also explains to me why I am somewhat repelled by the ‘pamper yourself’ culture we live in. If I am honest, I often find myself impatient with people in reasonably comfortable and well-paid jobs (such as this woman) who present like ‘victims’ and seem not to be able to have their own resilience in facing the everyday demands of those jobs, especially in the current climate when so many people’s jobs are at risk; but now I wonder if this response is at least in part because they do not have the experience of a truly nurturing (as opposed to pampering) society/community where their resilience and self-esteem would be fostered and would grow its own deep roots, receiving water and nutrients from the natural exchanges with people in their community.


    2. Interesting post Karin. I am sorry about the way your colleague decided to give her feedback. That was certainly inappropriate. This is what is defined as the personna in Jungian. She wanted you to continue liking her, even in that dishonesty. Probably her mother was never direct to her…..or was aggressive, which left her with the burden of finding creative ways to present her offerings….

      About why a well paid woman presents as a victim, the question being external to you, is partly irrelevant. We don’t know. What first becomes necessary is to understand why we are irritated by such a presentation. Only when we understand this, can we objectively (as objective as it is humanely possible) look at the other person. To be meaningful, everything needs to be in relation to something else. The bi-polarity is necessary – remember?

      When one puts the newborn infant in a crib, one taxes its resources to the extreme, and this much etch an unforgettable experience of being alone, and insufficient/incapable on the infant psyche. The polarity of animus and anima, yin and yang is prematurely taxed. Freud would say that the thanatos (the death instinct) is activated. One learns to be hard on themselves and pushes themselves relentlessly. I use the term “crib” as a metaphor for childhood experiences, though the crib indeed is the first of the series of those experiences. What I mean is the early emphasis on self sufficiency.

      The psyche rises to the occasion and meets this debilitating anxiety by promoting a feeling of self sufficiency and independence. “I have to do this alone”. This psychic experience carries with the child, the adolescent and the adult. It cannot be unlearnt in any significant way – but then that becomes the goal of psychotherapy – to relive those formative experiences, unlearn the independence, unlearn the constant pushing ourselves, and learn to relate in a more inter-dependent ways.

      The independence is isolating, and animus driven. The main task in life becomes “I have to do it alone!” which transforms into “I can do it alone.” Because one pushes themselves, therefore one has the same attitude towards others. In its extreme it manifests as cruelty and lack of empathy for oneself, which further translates to lack of empathy for others (if I can do it alone, why the hell can’t you? ). So the “love yourself first” becomes a goal (not the verbalised message though!) of therapeutic intervention. Such a person will carry genuine compassion for others because he or she has now experienced compassion for self.

      For the Asian psyche, on the other had, there is no crib – we sleep with our mothers sometimes till 10 ! I did! So the guiding experience is not “I have to do it alone” but “I am loved, therefore I am loveable!” For both Eastern and the Western psyche, the pain arises where these early life experiences are not allowed to manifest. In traumatic situations, we tend to regress to the early childhood levels in order to overcome the trauma – simply because those methods had worked (we’re still alive!). At that time of the regression, if the environment is not consistent with what we had experienced as children, it causes extreme distress because it is the only way we have learnt to heal. I would turn to family and friends for support as a child in distress, and am grateful the universe provided that intermittent relief even now. I suppose both extremes of dependency and counter dependency are to be tempered – a middle path is always the best. Do your experiences vs my own experiences in the same situation make sense now?

      All the cognitive stuff about “love yourself” isn’t very effective in my opinion, because the person has no awareness of how relentless they are deep down inside. In sessions, the sadomachism comes alive repetitively and is lived thru, with awareness, pain, sorrow of understanding WHY they feel the way they do – about themselves, and about others. That is truly a transformational experience.

      I hope the person did no damage to your assignment? I have been exhausted after the trip, hosted two birthday parties in the last 4 days, and the work and kids stuff as usual – all of which kept me on my toes. I saw your email, but haven’t really gone thru it in detail. Promise to respond very soon.


      1. Hi again,
        in fact the person who gave the feedback (a client on the programme) did not expect/intend her message to be copied verbatim to me by my colleague. Perhaps as you say, her behaviour is the consequence of her early family behaviours towards her, or just as much a product of cultural norms in the UK where many people shy away from giving direct ‘critical’ feedback and prefer to hide using forms such as e-mail. Perhaps this reflects on a macro level what goes on in family life on a micro level.

        I do agree that what is truly interesting is why it irritates me, and I ponder on this from time to time. I have an issue with victims and helpless women, which does indeed stretch back to my own childhood family environment.

        I like your analogy of the crib. Some people spend a lot of theirlives in ‘cribs’, don’t they? And some of us quite like the space of the crib.

        Your comments about interdependence etc are interesting, not least because they link with the theme of the workshop I was following on from, in working with this woman in a group. The morning was led by someone else. We spent some of the morning reflecting on the hedgehog’s dilemma, Schopenhauer’s description of how porcupines in the cold huddle together until their quills start to poke each other and cause discomfort such that they move away from each other and then they get cold so they move together again….the dynamic between self-sufficiency (independence) and interdependency (intimacy, trust). How is the hedgehog’s dilemma reflected in this woman’s behaviour?

        I am curious – if there is no crib – literal or metaphoric – in the Asian experience, then how do boundaries develop? What is the attitude towards boundaries?

        The assignment is ongoing, but this is an interesting start. I think you are right about the cognitive approach to ‘loving yourself’ making little difference in touching the deeper habits.

        I hope you have time to recover from your trip soon. Good to have you back!


      2. Ah Karin, Boundaries….thats an interesting concept I have touched in my own analysis. The concept itself would surprise most Asians who usually do not experience any need for personal space. Could it be because the space between the self and Other is missing in infancy by design ? Interesting ponderings. And who – except the psychology professionals from the West – are to say separation is essential and necessary ? Or that being enmeshed and vulnerable is wrong? The terms right and wrong are merely hollow constructs – essentially meaningless. Cause and effect are more accurate ways of describing behaviors. Shopenhaur’s was the opening quote on my PhD dissertation, mediated by Sudhir Kakkar and Salman Akhtar.

        Asians and Middle Easterners have enmeshed and symbiotic relationships. You can see this meshing in the behavior of the two motel owner couples – who took me in as their own and had no qualms asking me questions that were extremely personal in nature. I had no problems being forthright. If I shared that stuff so readily with a Caucasian couple, they’d think there was something wrong with me ! But its my faith in the goodness of the universe, people, and the concept of Oneness from Advaita Vedanta.

        But…and this is amazing…we are very protective of our external space. So houses will have clear demarcations walls, which is unheard of in the Western countries (where front lawns are without boundary walls) and everything external is clearly outlined as mine and yours. Our relationships are well labelled and inflexibly rigid in their modes of relating. And I often wondered why this was so.

        Till Jung made me realize what it was. The external compensates for the internal. Need I say any more?

        If we didn’t build external boundry walls, our neighbors would move in with us, and we’d be too polite to protest !!! 🙂


  3. why do u think that the world can be judged by how its treated u?
    next time be more careful and try n repeat the journey with docs. intact and then repost on this blog.
    Lets judge it then!
    simple but effective way of telling ….the herd…. about it.

    1. Will do Rajeev. Thanx for your comment.

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